Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Horsingdon Transmissions No.117: Toad Well

Toad Well is a small, weed-strewn body of water - nothing more than a pond, really - which rests atop the crest of Burn Hill, overlooking Horsingdon and Northwich. It's name apparently derives from the colony of a protected species of toad which has made a habitation of the pond.

During the infamous witch trials of 1678, suspected members of the Burn Hill coven were subjected to the practice of ducking here in order to determine either their guilt or innocence. One of the suspects was Abigail Boreham of Northwich Village - an ancestor of James Boreham - who, coincidentally, had been accused of engaging in 'unlawful relations' with a demon in the form of an immense toad in the vicinity of the pond. The rope attached to her waist came loose during the ducking, after which her body failed to rise from beneath the pond's stagnant waters - a sure sign of her guilt.

When one of the accusers (a man from the same village as Abigail) went to pull the suspected witch out from Toad Well, he himself was dragged under - by what is described in some accounts as a slimy webbed claw. The shocked onlookers refused to take further action until Thomas Hobson - a local squire who was both a Puritan of unpleasantly ascetic demeanour, as well as a self-styled witch hunter who had largely been responsible for whipping up fanatical anti-witchcraft sentiments in the region - threatened to accuse all present as accomplices to the witchery of Abigail Boreham. Three men from the gathered crowd eventually dredged the pond - which they discovered was hardly deep enough to hide a body - only to discover that the remains of neither Abigail Boreham or her presumed victim were anywhere to be found. In and of itself this was seen as evidence enough to convict the other accused witches present at the trial, all of who were hanged in short order from trees overlooking Toad Well. As a consequence, the witches of Horsingdon have maintained a grudge against both the Boreham and Hobson families ever since.

This being Horsingdon, where the past and the present so often intermingle, the aftermath of these events continue to haunt the popular imagination; thus to this day one may still encounter reports - usually provided by miscreant souls who have had occasion to visit the top of Burn Hill on moonless lights - of something squat that hops and croaks in the most appalling manner around the pond: something not entirely dissimilar to a hunched woman, and not entirely unlike a bloated, monstrous toad.

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