Maidstone Witches

June 17, 2007 at 12:34 am (love, maidstone, shotgun, William Burroughs, witches)

I was in Maidstone on the 16th after a disatrous lunch at the reputedly haunted Ringlestone Inn – formerly run by a mother and daughter, Florence and Dora Gasking, who greeted casual drinkers with a shotgun (locals were admitted after a series of coded knocks). This noble and defiant heritage now reduced to an unenjoyable meal and a sign inside the door asking visitors if they had seen the pub featured in Eastenders on Easter Monday. Give me a stroppy, unhinged woman with a shotgun over that any day.

Then I went to Maidstone for this Reframing Maidstone event. I was sidetracked by something interesting about Penenden Heath and the execution of seven witches at that place in 1652. Which I shall reproduce below:

From Saxon times down to 1830 condemned malefactors were executed on Penenden Heath, a common situated about a mile north-east of Maidstone, now a public recreation ground.

Last month I met with John Rogers, an East London-based Deep Topographer, in the centre of Maidstone and we made to walk to Peneden Heath – certainly on my part as an act of remembrance of the state murders of suspected witches. The last confirmed witchcraft executions in England took place on 25th August 1682. (The Bideford Witches, Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards & Mary Trembles were hanged for witchcraft at Heavitree gallows, Exeter.)

At Maidstone in 1652 ‘Anne Ashby, alias Cobler, Anne Martyn, Mary Browne, Anne Wilson, and Mildred Wright of Cranbrook, and Mary Read, of Lenham, being legally convicted, were according to the Laws of this Nation, adjudged to be hanged, at the common place of Execution. Some there were that wished rather, they might be burnt to Ashes; alledging that it was a received opinion among many, that the body of a witch being burnt, her bloud is prevented thereby from becomming hereditary to her Progeny in the same evill.’

Our walk started in heavy rain, and with the perverse logic of the Deep Topographer, John, the designated map-holder (my glasses making rain vision impossible) set us off on the exact opposite direction to that we should be taking. A half-hour spirited trudge in the direction of Hastings braced us for what was to come. In fact as soon as we re-oriented, the foul weather abated and we were on our way. Back through town for drab and sullen sandwiches and the spectre of a pint of Goacher’s Gold Star (I failed to seize the moment) and we were back on track to visit the hanging grounds of shame.

The Heath, on approach, is a bare and forsaken looking stretch of municipal unoriginality. The dullness of the aspect is leavened only by vintage signage prohibiting locomotives, heavy tractors and motor cars with seating for more than 15 people. We entered the car park and I read the names of those hanged in what I had hoped to be a sonorous and profound manner – but more likely sounded slightly camp and irritating. The seven sticks of incense I had thought to pack with me were pulled from my bag – at which point I realised that since neither John or I are smokers – so we couldn’t light them. So we commemorated the executions with some footage from The Witchfinder General on John’s phone.

Wright, Mildred f Hanged

Wilson, Anne f Hanged

Reade, Mary f Hanged

Ashby, Anne f Hanged

Martyn, Anne f Hanged

Browne, Mary f Hanged

Hynes, Elizabeth f Hanged

The prisoners were arraigned before Sir Peter Warburton at the Lower Court, Maidstone on the 30th July. A pamphlet printed sat Smithfield in the same year states that two of them confessed to the judge that they had been in communication with the devil, whereupon Anne Ashby, one of the accused, “fell into an extasie before the bench, and swell’d into a monstrous and vast bigness, screeching and crying out very dolefully; and being recovered, and demanded if the devil at that time had possessed her, she replyed that she knew not that, but she said that the Spirit Rug came out of her mouth like a mouse.” A piece of flesh, which Ashby confessed to have been given by an evil spirit was shown to the public at the Swan Inn.

It was interesting to note that the hawthorn was in full bloom – the hawthorn or may, Crataegus oxyacantha, is traditionally used as a protection against witchcraft, often being built into the foundations of houses to prevent witches gaining access to the home. This ancient lore seems to have been taken to heart by the good burghers of Maidstone either suffused with guilt or terrified of witchy vengeance.

John’s dash to the bushes for a leak was watched with interest by a fat man in jogging bottoms looking for all the world like someone cruising for a quick al-fresco blow job – the jaded look on his Jack Russell’s face said it all. This tawdry search for physical comfort appeared to be the only form of recreation currently taking place on the blasted heath.

As we left I noticed the gallows like angle of the welded rsj’s forming the car park barrier – a chilling reminder of the death by hanging that took place here. A closer look and I saw a single word of graffiti. LOVE. A final healing.

There is no final enough of wisdom, experience- any fucking thing. No Holy Grail, No Final Satori, no solution. Just conflict. Only thing that can resolve conflict is love… Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.” The last word of William S. Burroughs

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