On a drizzly Cold Moor this morning I was reminded of one of Richard Blakeborough’s tales about a witch who lived at Broughton.
That’s Great Broughton on the Cleveland plain below, just left of centre. The peak of Roseberry Topping is on the skyline just right of centre.
Blakeborough’s story appeared in the Northern Weekly Gazette on 22 March 19021BLAKEBOROUGH, RICHARD ‘Nanny Newgill, the Broughton Witch’. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 22 March 1902 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0003075/19020322/130/0012?browse=true> [accessed 23 October 2022]. It was published in two parts, on consecutive weeks. I will follow the same format.
Note: dialogue is written in the vernacular; this makes difficult reading but adds atmosphere.
NANNY NEWGILL, THE BROUGHTON WITCH.
BY RICHARD BLAKEBOROUGH
“You will have heard of the old witch who once lived at Broughton, near to Stokesley? Whya, then, I once heard a bit of a tale about her, which was, if all they say be true, very much in her favour. You know there is a sort of feeling in our minds, like, ‘at a witch never did ought of a menseful nature. But they did, now and again, take sides with them ‘at were being putten on. There war times when they, in a way, gat ther backs up, and stuck up for them what war being held down with the wrondoing of others. And the tale l am now going to tell you shows the truth o’ what I’ve just said. In a general way, I know the old dame, whose name was Nanny Newgill, did work her charms and evil spells to the ill of her neighbours, and was by them held in great fear; but it is only fair to her memory it should be known that on more than one occasion she used her wonderful skill in the helping of those who were being, as I have said, wrongfully put on.
“To give you an instance of her despert great power, I will tell you first of a thing that happened when my own grandmother was a lass—and she kenn’d Nanny well. Whya, then, a lass, a friend of my grandmother’s, whose name was Annie Reed—a Broughton lass, born and bred in the village—had a sheep which had two lambs, one a black ‘un, and t’other a white ‘un. It happened that one day Annie was feeding her lambs, when the ewe was ill and likely for to die. She saw Au’d Nanny pass, and she aimed ‘at sha seed the au’d witch kest her een on ’em; and she said to a friend of hers that she feared the au’d lass—meaning Nanny—had keesen an evil look upon ’em.
” Noo, this friend of hers went straight away to Nanny and tell’d her what Annie had said about her, which warn’t a friendly act, non war it? But it was thought ‘at she aimed to carry favour wi’ t’au’d witch. But no sooner had the tell-tale told her story, than Nanny shouted : —
” ‘Thoo flang thi pattens frerv off tin shoon,
Ti flam tihi tale i’ t’hig,
Ti lame her; an’ ma kest wo’d gain;
Ill o’ thi tongue weean’t lig.
All thoo wad a’e ma kest on her,
Ah present noo ti thee;
All t’ spleen thoo puked again her luck,
Again tha hick let it be. ‘
“And it fell out in this road. The day following, when this friend was crossing the pasture where them tweea lambs war laarkin’, both on ’em takking fright at a dog sha ‘ed wiv her, and mebbins mistaking her for Annie, ran to her for protection, like; wi’ sikan a force did they run up again her, ‘at they laid her on her rig, and a thorn or summat ran intiv her knee, an’ sha ommaist lost her leg through it. Ay, sha, war lame for months efter, so sha got naught but bad luck with her caling tongue. Noo, I know that tale’s true, ivvery wo’d on’t, and so is the one I am going to tell you, at least my grandmother always said it was, and it’ll have to stand at that.”
There was a lass once lived just out o’ Broughton, and they called her Dinah Curry. She lived with her uncle, and had done ever since she was a wee bairn. I don’t think it was ever rightly known wheea her mother an’ father war; bud that’s nowght. She always aimed to make a weel-shaped, bonny lass, and so, at the age of eighteen, she was spokken of as being the Rose o’ Broughton. Noo, mind you, she was always held to be a well-behaved lass. There was nowght neeabody could ivver fetch against her, and there was plenty on the leeak oot for onny bit slip sha mud happen ti mak. Ommaist ivvery lass in or near to Broughton war a lahl bit jillous on her. Ay, an’ t’ Stowsla lass hardlings ‘ed a good wo’d ti say in her favour. Tha said “at ‘Dinah war a goodish enew leeaking lass,” bud ‘at “ she spoilt hersen wi’ her air an’ graces.”
Whya, then, when Dinah was, ez I ‘ev said, about eighteen, she went away to stay with somebody somewhere. I don’t ken where it was, bud she war away nigh on ti six months, and when sha came back there was a young spark soon followed at her heels, and stuck to her like her shadow. But the look in her eyes, and the colour on her cheek, she didn’t seem to show any objection to him following her, and it warn’t long afore folk began bouldly out with it ‘at they war keeping company. Who the young spark nobody seemed rightlings to know, though they tried to find out by all the ways they kenn’d hoo. They sattled at last that hewas some gentleman’s son, wheea ‘ed gitten smitten wi’ Dinah’s charms whahl sha ‘ed been staying away, and followed her and hanted her like a shadow noo that sha war at home again. Monny a las of a Sunday don’d her best tucker, and her smartest shoon and stockings, ay, and monny a lass cast a sly glance at the young swell baith in and out o’ chetch; but fo’ther ‘an being civil like, an’ allus riddy to pass the time o’ day wi’ yan an’ all, it was seean plain ‘at he nobbut ‘ed eyes for Dinah. At last, when this did get made plain for ’em all, they began ti talk like lasses allus deea. They said that Mr Garrett (that was the young chap’s name) meant no good by Dinah; sike like carryings on nivver did end weal. Some a’ the mair bitter tongued ‘uns went so far as to hint that, “If tha nebbut cared to tell all what they’d heeard an’ seen, they well kenn’d ‘at ther wasn’t a lass in all t’country side wad pass time o’ day wi’ sike shameless faced weean ez Dinah Curry.” When these caretakers of public morals began to doubt the good faith of the young fellow, which they did the moment they discovered for certain their own charms failed to allure, they decided that it was high time Dinah’s uncle had his eyes opened, and made acquainted with the shameful carryings on which were then taking place, and which they had utterly failed in their endeavours to take part. This last bit they failed to mention.
Dinah’s uncle was an easy-going, unsuspicious man. He knew his niece better than they did, and he believed no harm would befall her. “And,” said he “if she is ‘evving a bit of a gan wi’ t’young chap, Ah can trust Dinah. Young fau’k will be young, decant you fear fer my Dinah.”
But when a few weeks afterwards it became known that Dinah had run away with young Garrett, then it was that a very jubilee of jealous venom fell from many a lovely pair of ruby lips; then it was that they failed not to question the uncle as to “what he thought of his innocent niece ?”
“Just what Ah allus did, don’t you mak up your minds acoz sha’s ta’en off wi’ a chap ‘at sha’s gahin owther ti disgrace hersel or me, an’ that’s all Ah’ve gitten ti say.” Nothing more could they get out of the old man. Naturally, such an occurrence caused no little scandal, an’ few were found who had a good word to say for the absent one.
About two months after, and when Dinah’s escapade was growing to be a thing forgotten, news flew from house to house “that she was back again with her uncle. Ay, and looking as brazen’d as if sha’d never misbehaved herself.”
In this they were not speaking the truth, for poor Dinah looked, what she was indeed and truth, broken-hearted. Her one-time friends and companions had not failed to observe that she was wearing a wedding ring. By degrees it became known that, for reasons which she did not give, she had consented to a secret marriage. Her husband had gone out one day, and had never returned. Why, he had not come back to hers could not imagine. She believed that his friends had discovered where they were hiding, and had torn him from her arms by force; but that she was really and truly a wedded woman she begged and prayed them to believe.
But the poor girl saw deeply marked on every face scorn and unbelief. Indeed, one middle-aged spinster amongst the little crowd which had gathered around the heart-broken girl stood forth and thus addressed her:
“Dinah Curry, you were cautioned; you were advised; nay, we prayed you to be mindful that the evil course you led with that young man could end in nothing but your disgrace and ruin; and now, after having scouted and scorned the advice of those who would have saved you; after running away, and for nigh on two months living a shameless and abandoned life, you dare to return, impudently wearing a wedding ring, and with a wicked lie upon your lips. I would bid you pray earnestly that your wickedness is not made further public by a living pledge of your sin, for if such judgment do fall upon your head, I, for one, shall look upon it as a Divine demand that we bring you to public shame, and I hold but little doubt that all present will join me in seeing that you do not escape from the just punishment. of your sin.”
It was evident from the look of jealous hate, so plainly stamped upon every face, that, given the opportunity, it was certain that every one of them would relish torturing Dinah to the very utmost of the cruel laws then common in every village. Great was the glee when it was whispered that hopes for her downfall and degradation would shortly become an accomplished fact. All this time Dinah’s daily life was a sad and unhappy one. Had it not that her uncle believed her story, and promised that no harm should come to her, “that he would be to her child, when it came, the same kindly protector and father that he had been to her,” the poor heart-broken girl must have sunk under her terrible sorrow.
But when clouds gather over any like they often gather thickly. Of a truth it was so in Dinah’s case, her only stay and hope in life—her uncle—was seized with a sudden illness and died. During his last moments it was plain to those about him that he was most wishful to tell them something of importance but could not make himself understood; and so, with a loving look which he never took from his niece’s face, he passed away resting in her arms.
His brother, with whom he had not been on friendly terms for many years, came to the funeral, claimed everything, called Dinah “a shameless drab” and bade her get about her business, as his daughters would never live under the same roof with such a hussy. To the honour of many a kind-hearted villager, they would have given Dinah the comfort and security of their own humble roof had they dared so to do, but those in power had taken again her, and said that it must not be. Dinah had chosen her own bed, and she must lie on it.
What would have become of the poor girl in her sore strait, had she not found a friend in a most unexpected quarter, is hard to imagine. Her few belongings having been put in a cart, her uncle bade her get in, telling the driver to set her down a mile from the house, assuring her that if she dared to show her face in the village again, he would have her ducked, and whipped through the town street.
Left with her box and bundle by the road-side, Dinah sat with a heart sunk in the depths of despair. Hopeless and friendless she thought she was, knowing not where to go, or which way to turn. Was it to be wondered at if, at such a trying moment, a feeling of doubt struggled to gain a hold upon her young heart, a doubt as to the truth and faith in her lost husband? It was whilst thus sitting and trying to collect her scattered thoughts, that three of her companions—three who had once been her dearest friends—would have passed her by without a word of kindly sympathy had she not begged of them, for the love of old times, to bring her a little food and a drink of milk. But their hearts were hardened. One laughed and jeered at her helpless condition; another upbraided her for her sin; but the third bade them at least spare their fallen friend their gibes and jeers, for, said she, “If it be that Dinah has done a wrong thing, she hath been sorely punished; and besides we who have judged her so harshly know not for certain that she spake not the truth when she swore to us that she was a wedded wife. For myself, I have long thought that we have not dealt fairly by our old companion.”
Then those two turned upon her who had spoken thus fairly, and others drew near, having hurried after the cart the moment they heard that Dinah had been turned adrift, and a great altercation took place. Amongst those then gathered together only three took Dinah’s part.
“Three is a lucky number,” cried the voice of Au’d Nanny Newgill, suddenly pushing her way to the young wife’s side.
“The witch, the witch!” they all whispered under their breath, and would have turned about and striven to walk away in an unconcerned and careless manner had they not been peremptorily bidden to remain where they were, every one of them, at their peril. Then the old dame read many of them such a lesson as they had never listened to before, and their faces burnt with shame as each undiscovered sin of their own was almost screamed in their ears.
“You lift your finger and wag shame,” she cried, first at one and then another. “You aimed that bit would be kept dark, did you? Bud Ah knew! Ah knew! And you dare to stand there and cry scorn ! Fie upon, all such ! For always the lass or woman who has the most to say against a fallen sister, or one they would glory in making such by their lying, evil, back-biting tongues, have always a bad bit hidden away in their own black hearts! Come wi’ me, Dinah ; heed them not. Them wheea darr, efter, this, to fling muck at your good name, fling it at mine; and it’s me, efter this, they mun leeak teea for makking ’em pay fer onny ill tha wark.”
When it was known that Nanny had given Dinah shelter, the uncle, almost mad with passion, demanded that she be turned adrift at once.
” Git thisen back ti wheear thoo cam fra, floe slather gob! Bud be mindful ti tak an’ pack nobbut what’s thi awn, an’ let theease wo’ds warm thi lugs : —
” Thoff thoo awns
A thieving neif,
An’ a leeing gob,
What thoo ta’en by guile
Thoo’ll nivver ho’d. “
There was something about the witch as she thus addressed him which inspired him with fear, and so, muttering curses and threats, he slunk away.
That every evening Dinah’s baby was born, and, during the days which followed, those who had determined upon her punishment, headed and urged on by her heartless and cruel uncle, met together so that they might so arrange matters that both she and the witch should fall into her power. The uncle went to Stokesley and induced the powers that be to take action. He swore that several sheep had died owing to a spell cast upon them by Nanny. He declared that she had either cast poison into the water of his pond, or had cast an evil eye thereon, so that his kie2cows would not drink therefrom, or that those that by reason of a great thirst did drink therefrom were instantly seized with a dangerous murrain3infectious disease affecting cattle.
So Nanny was cited to appear before her betters on a certain day at Stokesley. Amongst other items, the following charges were sworn to by several witnesses:—
“That a black figure in the shape of a man had been seen to enter Nanny’s house, when at the same instant blue flame shot from her chimney.”
“That on more than one occasion a creature like unto a flaming pig had been observed guarding her door.”
“That both owls and flittermice4bats had been seen to fly down her chimney; and a stench such as no man ever smelt on earth had been known to reek and stower from the thack of her roof, yet no flame was seen, and no harm was seemingly done to her theeak.”
It was furthermore set forth “that one Dinah Curry, of ill-fame and a proved drab, had lately taken up her abode with the witch, to the discomfort, and fear of all modest and well-behaved folk.”
(To be Concluded next week.)
- 1BLAKEBOROUGH, RICHARD ‘Nanny Newgill, the Broughton Witch’. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 22 March 1902 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0003075/19020322/130/0012?browse=true> [accessed 23 October 2022]
- 3infectious disease affecting cattle