Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Horsingdon Transmissions No.46: Witch Steps

The name of the witch responsible for the blighting of Whitton Green is recorded as one Mrs Bennett who, it is said, made obseisance to Those Who Wait and other ancient powers at the wych elm that stands to this day in the nearby Horsingdon Woods; it is also said that grotesque clay figurines depicting such powers decorated the interior of her cottage in the days before the hamlet met its demise.

Elderly and widowed, and all of her children already gone to an early grave, Mrs Bennett had increasingly become dependent upon the charity of her neighbours. Wider social and economic changes had been sweeping through England at the time, and the hamlet itself had prospered, with most of its inhabitants pursuing opporunities to participate in new and profitable forms of mercantilism; the incursions of capitalism - even in its incipient forms - into the then-rural life of the region had, however, increasingly led to a re-evaluation of the social status quo which proved less than beneficial to the more needy inhabitants, resulting in a rash of witchcraft accusations levelled at those who were seen as a burden and a barrier to economic growth.

Where once the redistribution of goods was seen as both a moral duty and necessity, reciprocated via the less-tangible reward of affirming community solidarity, the desire to participate in the new, acquisitive economic modernity and increase one's capital (and thereby one's status) by selling surplus at the local market day had became too much of a temptation for the emergent middle classes in places like Whitton Green. In any case, accusations of witchcraft were made, the righteous indignation of the inhabitants of the hamlet was roused, and justice was swiftly and irrevocably enacted as Mrs Bennett was hanged from the highest branch of the wych elm in Horsingdon Woods.

That same night a great storm lashed the area, the fury of which causing great distress and significant damage to property in and around Horsingdon. More alarming was the fact that, the following morning, Whitton Green was discovered to be deserted. Every single member of the small community had, it seems, disappeared overnight.

Indeed, the question as to whether the demise of Mrs Bennett fully erased her baleful presence from the area remains unresolved: there is a series of steps leading from the crown of Horsingdon Hill to the clearing in Horsingdon Woods where the wych elm stands, along which a cloaked, bent and wizened old woman has often been spied, croaking evil words in an unknown language as she passes.

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