Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No witches at our house then

Being a complete history nut I have metal detected every square inch of our two and a half acres of land many many times over. I have kept every single sherd of pottery, no matter how small and anything I have found of human manufacture has been washed, cleaned and sorted catalogued and boxed. Obviously, as this place has been inhabited at least since the early 1600s and one part built in the late 1500s, there was a lot of stuff to dig out and most of the various stages of building I have been able to date from coin and pottery finds.

I was also lucky enough to find the loo pit which was under the holly tree and which contained coins, beautifully stratified, from the 1580s up to the mid-1800s set in beautiful rich earth.

Oddly enough there are almost no finds from the 20th century – there are more finds from the early 1600s than the whole of the1900s which ties in with my archive research. The original family who had been here since the start sold it off in the late 1800s reducing the population here from a fluctuating 3 families to one man (who later married and had a small family). Where they went I never found out but the finds reflect this change in circumstances.

One extremely remarkable thing though that I have not found is glass. I have more than a dozen kilos of potter sherds but no more than a handful of bits of glass and that very thin and ancient. Two or three bottles of wine of recent date and a couple of smashed bottles from the 1800s were in a corner midden in one of the rooms on top of mound of 18th century pottery sherds but other than that none at all. So when I found two bottle ends deliberately cemented with clay into the back wall of the house in a place where no one would ever see them and with no reason for being there that I could see I began to get interested in their significance and eventually contacted Brian Hoggard http://www.apotropaios.co.uk/index.html who is researching such things. He concluded that these were to ward off witches and has similar examples from the UK. I have since found other bottle ends clayed into other hidden walls in other buildings of similar age in the valley. So I started looking at the house carefully. On one of the door panels, a door lintel and on one of the stones in the front wall of the house daisy wheels have been carved also used to ward off witches or maske as they are called here. The daisy wheel on the stone had been gone over at a later date but smaller than the almost invisible original. In addition, something that went unnoticed at the time until I had thrown them all away except the three shown in the photo below, were the single boots and shoes one and only one in each of the lofts. 9 in total. This too apparently is a common and powerful find used to ward off witches though I have not had time to try and date the shoes. There were only 3 chimneys here. One was modern, one I bricked up and has not been examined and the thirds was removed. I think that as there were no chimneys the lofts were where you would be worried about things coming in. The crowning find, when we were removing the old roof to put a new one on, was tucked in a niche in the chimney, near the top. It was a single flat dish originally with two handles but now only with one. I have a couple of friends (this house loves me) who just happened to be potters and even better, consultants to archaeologists on pottery finds (How neat is that?) and I showed it to them. They concluded that in England at least (they’s anglo-welsh potters), this type of dish would have probably been a leech dish which strangely enough were used to hold leeches. I was able to date the dish, by comparing it to pottery and associated coin finds from quite a few places in the valley, to the 17th century or earlier. This would tie in with the chimney too as it is in the oldest room in the house (I also checked the records in the archives to be sure though got back to the early 1600s only). So back to Brian Hoggard again with another question and again the same answer, witches. The same principle as a witch bottle, well hidden in a chimney to prevent them entering the house, though I’m not sure if there was ever anything in the dish. All this has prompted me to start to look at other houses in the area. There are dozens of abandoned houses and villages here most with their 18th century doors and windows still in place just waiting to be scanned for carvings and the like. Roll on the holidays!

One thing that the wife noticed was that here most houses in the mountains in the protestant valleys have box trees and holly trees near them. We reckon our box trees are several hundred years old which is odd if they were used for tools as they would have been younger. The holly trees too are odd as we haven’t seen this in other, catholic valleys.

I’m currently, slowly, very slowly researching holly in connection with protestant belief. If there are no holly trees in catholic valleys there could be and interesting story to tell.

1 comment:

muireann04 said...

Very interesting, I am looking forward to reading what else you find out, happy hunting ( not witches lol)