There was an excellent audience in the Methodist Chapel, including a goodly number of ‘new faces’. This is always cheering in a heritage organisation where many of us are heading for heritage, ourselves!
Hampton Creer told us that he had become very interested in Manx witches because his ancestors, the Hamptons of Ballabunt, had been defence witnesses at the trial of Joney ( Jinny) Lowney (Lewney) in 1716 who was accused of being a witch. She had been tried, earlier, in 1715 and sentenced to reform but her second trial, the following year in front of Bishop Wilson, took place over four months. There were many prosecution witnesses.
Beliefs in witchcraft and the like were commonplace in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Much of it was the result of people jumping to conclusions, (not the correct ones in these cases) and for many thousands in mainland Britain, a horrible death was the harsh punishment. Most of the accused were poor, vagrant women and not witches.
The terrible scenes of a woman and her son burned alive at the stake in Castletown were not repeated in Joney’s case but she was found guilty. Her punishment was to wear a white robe and go to each parish and publicly repent.
Witchcraft is not dead, of course. Indeed, I believe that our present Vicar General is also Witchfinder General so do accord her appropriate respect.
Hampton went on to describe the Manx tradition of decorating turnips and going around singing about Jinny in our hop tu naa songs. It is well worthwhile looking up Jinny the Witch in Google, Wikipedia. There are several versions of the song or chant, one being rather rude!
Jinny lived in Braddan and was tried at Bishop’s Court on both occasions. Her greatest ‘crime’ was stopping the Ballaughton Corn Mill. She was sentenced for the first ‘offence’ to 14 days imprisonment, fined £3 and made to stand at all the four market crosses, dressed in sackcloth.
We have to remember that this was before universal education and superstition was an attempt at interpreting events, seeking to find a link between cause and effect. Accusing people of witchcraft was often a fail-safe way of getting rid of them for your own reasons!
When children arrive at your door on the 31st October singing one version or another of hop tu naa, you might ask them what they know about this poor woman!
Thank you Hampton and the Methodist Church for providing the refreshments and the warm welcome.
Our next meeting is back in the Centenary Centre on Wednesday, 21st November at 7.30pm. Val Cottle will be ‘Desperately Seeking Thomas’.