Halloween Blog Post – Myths about Witches

As you may already know Epping Forest District Museum has a selection of Touring Exhibitions available for hire – one of which covers the theme of Witch Hunts. For our Halloween Special Blog here is a little bit of information from that exhibition.

Many people imagine that witches were lonely old hags tending cauldrons and casting spells. This image recurs in many novels, plays and films, like the much-loved Wizard of Oz and the more recent Harry Potter stories. However, many of the ideas and characteristics associated with witches are actually myths. Here are some of the common ones:

Witches were all women
Women were associated with witchcraft because of links between femininity and weakness to temptation. Many deaths blamed on witchcraft occurred in female spheres within households and neighbourhoods. Despite this, 20% of witches were male. An infamous case involved John Lowes, the vicar of Brandeston in Suffolk. He confessed to sinking ships and other terrible crimes, and was hanged at Bury St Edmunds in August 1645.

Witches rode on broomsticks
Some believed that witches met at night in remote places, to which they travelled through the air on broomsticks. This is rarely mentioned in legal records relating to witchcraft. In 1712 an English judge is said to have laughed at the suggestion that a Hertfordshire witch had a magic broom, declaring that there was no law against flying!

Witches were all burned at the stake
The terrifying image of English witches being burned at the stake has featured in horror films like Witchfinder General (1968). Although witches were burned on the continent and in Scotland, other types of execution included beheading, drowning and burial alive. Some were merely imprisoned, banished or forced to repent. In England, the punishment for invoking demons and murder by witchcraft was hanging. A rare witch-burning took place at Ipswich in 1645, when Mary Lakeland was executed by these means for bewitching her husband to death – the crime of petty treason.

Millions died in the witch-hunts
Estimates of the number of people executed for witchcraft varies wildly, reaching as high as 9 million. Legal records show there were around 100,000 witch-trials in early modern Europe, and that death sentences were passed in about half of these. This may seem a lot for an impossible crime, but compared with the size of the population witchcraft prosecutions were quite rare.

Here are some objects from our collections relating to the Witch Hunt topic:
BELLARMINE
Bellarmine jugs have often been used as ‘witch bottles’ and the bearded or ‘wild’ man figure was even thought to scare off witches. When used as ‘witch bottles’, these jugs would contain hair, nail clippings and urine, all believed to help capture evil spirits. Witches spells were considered harmless if these bottles were burned at midnight.

bottle
Small glass bottles, like the type shown here, have been found in many 16th and 17th century houses. Many contained salt or nails- all considered effective safeguards against witches.
This and other glass bottles were found in 1966 during the excavation of 46/48 Sewardstone Street, Waltham Abbey.

1840StocksNWhip
This image shows the pillory which stood in Waltham Abbey’s churchyard. Sited next to the pillory was the Tudor stocks (or whipping post). The Elizabethan Act (1563) prescribes that for a first offence of any attempt to use witchcraft that did not result in the death of a victim, the punishment would be one year in prision and “once in every Quarter of the said yere shall in some Market Town, upon Market day or at suche tyme as any Fayer shall be kept there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the space of Sixe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Error and Offence”

This exhibition was put together by Epping Forest District Museum in conjunction with Malcolm Gaskill.
To find out more about our Touring Exhibitions email us at museum@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Update on our Heritage Lottery Fund Project

Finally we can share with you some of the updates on our Heritage Lottery Fund Project and the redevelopment of the Museum!

A lot has been going on behind the scenes with the Museum project. Although the building work is yet to begin there are some very exciting updates that we wanted to share with you.

Before the building work can start all the plans and designs for the building, provided by Hawkins Brown, have to be finalised. One of the key missions of this project is to make the museum and its collection accessible to all and this is something that we have been working on with the architects.

The team and people involved with the project have been very excited to see the developments of the plans and it is fantastic for us to finally be able to share with you some of the updated plans and some proposed images of how the museum is going to look when we reopen!

Entrance to the Museum
Part of the project is the plan to reopen the original entrance on Sun Street. In this image you can see what would have been the original front door to the house and this will become the new main entrance to the museum.

Image showing the original entrance to the house that is now the museum

Tudor Gallery
Another key area for the project is a chance to interpret the Tudor part of the building. The house itself has a fascinating history and the team are very keen to share and expose the story of the building.

tudor gallery

Community and Education Room
Along with new galleries and a new entrance the museum will have a dedicated community and education space. The room will be able to fit a class of 30 children making a better visitor experience for school groups but the space will have open arts and craft storage to allow for creativity but also be equipped for lectures, talks and presentations providing a fantastic new space for the museum.

activity room

The Core Gallery
As you may already be aware the redevelopment of the museum will allow for on-site collections storage and a new gallery ‘The Core Gallery’ this space will feature key objects from the collection and give visitors the opportunity to see behind the scenes into the stores, and people at work caring for the collection.

Core gallery

Art Stores
Along with the new on-site storage there will be the chance for visitors to see into the stores through glass viewing areas. This will include views of the picture stores which will be on a new racking system. This is great because the team will be able to showcase some of the fantastic pieces of art in the museum’s collection even when they aren’t on display.

art stores

We would love to hear what you think via Facebook, Twitter, comments on the blog or through the contact us links on the menu above. We will have more updates for you soon!

Takeover Day

Takeover Day is an annual day on which museums, galleries and historic homes invite children and young people in and give them a meaningful role. Children are in charge, making decisions and participating fully in the life of the museum. Young people have a say and contribute to the work of the museum. All of which is supported by Kids in Museums. To find out more about Kids in Museums or Takeover day visit their website http://kidsinmuseums.org.uk/takeoverday/

This year we are running our Takeover day project from our sister site Lowewood Museum. Students from The Broxbourne School will be taking over the museum on Friday 21st November and taking on the roles of the the curating, education and marketing teams. They had there first day on site on Friday 17th November and here is what some of them had to say about the project so far.

Today we started our work at Lowewood Museum. After a guided tour, where we saw everything from wild boar jaws to Victorian wedding dresses, we had the chance to handle some artefacts which was a really unique and enjoyable experience. We decided the theme of the exhibition we will be working on and split off into our groups. We started to organise how to make sure the exhibition runs smoothly. Next time I am looking forward to helping design the leaflets and posters that will be the main form of advertising our event on 21st November.
Liam

Today I visited Lowewood Museum and started off with a tour. We looked at all the variety of artefacts and learnt about the local history. Everything was described to us about what they were and how they were found around the Borough of Broxbourne. We got to handle and have a close look at some artefacts. We then discussed what we were going to do for our exhibition and event on the 21st November.
Rachel

Lowewood Museum contains numerous things, stretching across multiple ages and centuries, all of which is interesting and all linking to the area. Some of its artefacts are invaluable, and all of them have intrigue behind them. I am delighted that it frequently changes its exhibition and I look forward to what it holds in the future. Thank you to Lowewood Museum for giving me such an experience today!
Benjamin

My visit to Lowewood Museum today was great fun and very interesting. I learnt all about Hoddesdon and Broxbourne and we are beginning to come to come to terms with the momentous task of organising our event. It has been very tiring and we have only just started but we have an idea of what we would like to do. I can’t wait for the next visit and the grand opening day and I hope it all goes to plan!
James

King Harold Day

On Saturday 11th October the museum team will be at King Harold Day in Waltham Abbey. A yearly event that takes place in the Abbey Gardens to commemorate the last Saxon King of England, King Harold.

Come along on the day to see the museum’s stand and information as well as all the other events including archery, re-enactments, music and much more.

Meet the Team – Lowewood Museum Development Officer

Name
Carly Hearn

Job title
Lowewood Museum Development Officer

Describe a typical working day at Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums.
The best part about working in a museum is that every day is very different. You really don’t know what will turn up next…literally!
A day in the museum can include setting up volunteering projects, which may include working with the collection or registering new items into the museum. We also help with public enquiries, ranging from family history research to identifying an object which someone may have found locally or even in their back yard- this is where it can get really interesting  A typical working day for me also includes planning and organising the museum’s yearly programme of events and exhibitions, as well as the day to day management of the Grade II listed building in which the museum is housed.

What is your favourite thing about working at the Museum?
My favourite part about working for a museum is the opportunity to curate new displays and workshops for the public to see. I especially enjoy hearing good feedback from visitors when a new display has been opened, or when we have showcased an object within an education workshop or adult study day session. I recently helped our Education Officer with a pre-history workshop for schools where children were able to handle a mammoths tooth. Their faces lit up with amazement (some with horror) when we explained what the object was. One pupil even dragged her Dad into the museum later that week to show him what she’d held. This for me is what a museum is all about… learning something new and providing enjoyment.

Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
Volunteer! Helping out at your local museum can provide invaluable experience for a future museum career. Museums today would be lost without volunteer support so you’d really be helping them as much as they you.

Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
Yuri Gagarin. I find outer space fascinating , so it would be very interesting to hear what it felt like to be the first person to go into space. What was going through his mind at the launch? What did it feel like to look down on Earth? It must be an experience like no other.

Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
One of the biggest things to do on my bucket list is a safari. I would probably go to the Maasai Mara in Kenya to see the lions or to see the silverbacks in Rwanda.

What was the first music track or album you bought?
I am ashamed to say it was Chesney Hawkes!