Among the older people there were a great many who believed in supernatural powers.
There were certain old ladies who were supposed to have the power of overlooking any unfortunate person who came under their disapproval. There were others who were sought after because they had the power of curing ills, after the local doctors had failed to give relief. I knew of one man who went to such a witch doctor when his pig was taken sick. The prescription he obtained affected a cure. Another man who had incurred the wrath of a certain woman was so worried by lice, in spite of persistent cleansings, that he had to seek the advice of another so-called witch to find the cure.
The charming of warts was considered by most people as the only effective cure. We had a most efficient charmer in our village, and during his lifetime he must have sent thousands of ugly skin protuberances away to the moon. Two of his cures I can vouch for, as the ladies concerned are Iiving today.
One lady, who had a troublesome wart on her hand, was visiting the home, when a daughter of the charmer said to her, "You ought to let my father see your hand. He can get rid of that wart." She consented and they went to the shop where he was working. On being asked for help he said, " Come with me into the garden and I'll treat it." She went with him and he took her hand, said a few words she could not understand and then came away. Some days after she noticed that the wart had disappeared.
Quite recently a friend of mine told me that the same charmer had cured her sister whose hands were covered with warts. She had over 80 on both hands and they all disappeared at the same time after a visit to our wonderful charmer.
On one occasion I overheard the following conversation at a Christmas party between two local farmers, one of whom later became a councillor and Justice of the Peace.
They were playing draughts when one said to the other, " Walter ! what has become of the warts you had all over your hand " We all listened eagerly to his reply. " Well, it was like this ! About three months ago I was in the Barnstaple Cattle Market talking to a friend. when a farmer from Exmoor way came over. When I was introduced to him he took my hand and said. " What 'ave 'ee got they things vor ?" I replied, " I don't want them and should be glad to get rid of them." " Come over yer. then." he said and took me to a quiet corner and taking my hand in his, said some words, finishing up with " Get away to the moon.'' I quite forgot the incident, but some days later, when I was out attending to the sheep, I looked at my hand and the warts were gone."
Such cures seem incredible, but when they come so near home and to personal friends - for a member of my own family was relieved of two troublesome warts in a similar way - then one's doubts must be removed. Witchcraft ? No ! Faith ? Yes !
I remember on one occasion picking up a small white cloth bag which was stitched up. On opening it I found five small white stones. The meaning of this puzzled me for some time, but later I found one of the old prescriptions for curing warts. "Take the same number of small white stones as you have warts and place them in a white cloth bag. Sew up the bag. drop it into a flowing stream and your warts will disappear when the bag is washed away."
Other local cures for warts were rubbing them with snails, eels, pods of broad beans, which were afterwards buried. As they decayed the warts disappeared.
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There were quite a number of haunted houses where ghostly manifestations frightened the inhabitants. At certain times a figure in clerical garb was supposed to have been seen moving among the ruins of St. Michael's Chapel on Chapel Hill. A local photographer turned this story to financial profit by making faked photographs, which he sold to credulous villagers.
Another figure in white, supposed to have been a former inhabitant of Buckland House. often frightened passers-by in Buckland Wood. Riding on horseback at the time of the full moon it dismounted at a certain spot and there began digging for buried treasure.
One incident disturbed the villagers in the 1890's. Night after night a ghostly appearance was observed through the windows in the boys' school after the caretaker had locked up. Crowds gathered for several nights trying to probe the mystery and not until the caretaker could be persuaded to come and open up the school did the ghost disappear. What had caused such a flutter was a pair of white fantail pigeons, from a neighbouring dovecote. which had entered by the left open window.
3. EFFIGY BURNING
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Effigy burning was quite a common practice. A certain section of the community, mainly sailors, were always ready to be ringleaders in the creation of excitement especially if they wished to pay back old grievances against unpopular villagers.
People of both sexes. who shocked the good taste of the villagers in various ways, often paid the penalty by being publicly ridiculed around a bonfire on East Hill. Should they be found guilty of annoying neighbours, coming home in a drunken condition or being too familiar with other people's wives or husbands they were liable to suffer the public punishment of being burnt in effigy.
The history of the construction of the Southern Railway from Exeter to Ilfracombe gives the account of an effigy being burnt in the neighbouring village of Heanton. When the powers for the extension of the railway and the compulsory purchase of land through the village of Wrafton were sought the opposition of the lord of the manor was so great, that the necessary bill was defeated in Parliament on more than one occasion. After the third defeat the local sailors who met at the Exeter Inn, Wrafton, decided to burn the effigy of the greatest opponent of the scheme, the local steward of the land owner. They accordingly made an effigy and dressed it with old clothes.
One dark night they marched to the top of Heanton Hill, accompanied by a large crowd of villagers from Wrafton and Braunton.
The effigy was set alight and the crowd danced around the fire. Their jubilation. however, was disturbed by the steward, accompanied by the police. who scattered the flames, after the crowd had quickly disappeared.
Among the unburnt fragments of the effigy was a sailor's blue jersey.
This was produced as evidence against a local sailor when charged with a breach of the peace. The evidence was insufficient and he was acquitted.
In more recent years others have been brought before the magistrates for the same offence, and the only effigy burnt by our villagers today is that of "Guy Fawkes".
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