Saturday, October 31, 2015

Morris Dancing outside the Museum

A fantastic crowd outside the Museum this afternoon.

Still to come...pumpkin carving competition winners, a visit from the osses and a candlelit evening.

Many thanks to Gillian Nott (Friend of the Museum) for providing the photos below which show the events from a different angle (nice to see the Museum behind it all!)  Lovely snaps!  PS It was great that so many Friends of the Museum were at the event to support it.

This young morris dancer was enthusiastic and adorable!

Mask making mayhem outside the Museum!

To celebrate All Hallows Eve we have put on a mask making workshop outside the Museum.  It's been really busy!  It wasn't mayhem that was just a way to alliterate the title!

Kids made masks inspired by Museum objects (Hare Lady, Green Men etc.), others made their own spooky creations...bats, monsters, witches (of course), Kabuki (!?), and so on...

Here are a few photos of the day so far:

Next up:  Catseye Morris and Dark Morris (from 2pm)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cakes and ale

We're gearing up for the pwnco ceremony tomorrow.  We've been told that we need to provide sustenance in the form of cakes and ale to the osses and their friends.  So we have made some traditional cakes for All Hallow's Eve - soul cakes!

Here is the recipe if you want to make your own...

You will need:

2 teaspoons mixed-spice
175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
450g plain flour
100g currrants 

Soul cakes were eaten in the past around the time of Hallowmass or Hallowtide (the Medieval festival extended from the night of October 31st til November 2nd to incorporate Halloween or All Hallows, October 31st, All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on November 2nd).  These days were a time to remember and pray for all saints and all souls i.e., all people who had died.  People would go from house to house singing and receiving soul cakes in return.  There are various versions of the song that they would sing and the significance of this ritual.  Some say that the poor (who were given the cake) would then offer their prayers on the following day for those in that family who had died as a way of lessening their time in purgatory.  It seems like an early version of trick or treat and is still performed in some parts of the country (  The significance of various foods will play a part in our exhibition for 2016 which is on Halloween's history and customs.

Soul Songs

Soul cakes were piled high and given to guests, usually after they had sung for them.  Various old rhymes and songs include:

“A soule cake, a soule cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a soule-cake.”  

“God have your soul, Bones and all.”  (This is recorded in 1674).

“Peter stands at yonder gate Waiting for a Soul Cake."

Another slightly later one is:

“For we are all poor people,
Well known to you before.
So give us a cake for charity’s sake,
And our blessing we leave at the door.” 

The traditional shape is round with a cross through the centre so we made some like that but we also used our Halloween cookie cutters to make soul cakes of various designs.

Ever the greedy optimist, Tom, the Museum dog, is literally licking his lips in anticipation.  They will be eaten tomorrow as is custom. 

And now to purchase some ale...

Museum Halloween event appears in lots of local media

We're very grateful for the support of the local media in promoting tomorrow's event.  We have appeared on BBC Radio Cornwall and also in The Cornish Times and the Cornishman newspapers.  The event has also been mentioned on several blogs and on the What's On Cornwall website.  We've also been hugely supported on social media (and in other various ways!) by the Boscastle Chamber of Trade and Commerce and the National Trust.  Lots of people in the village have been really helpful and enthusiastic too.  

Thanks for all the support and promotion.  We look forward to a good turnout tomorrow!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Carve your pumpkin/turnip today!

Here are two of the first entries for our Halloween Pumpkin/Turnip Carving Competition!  (Thanks to the staff at the Riverside). 

Think you can do better?  Bring yours to the Museum before 12 noon on Saturday 31st October.  All entries will be displayed in and around the Harbour and Museum.  Prizes for the best!
Make sure to write your name, age and contact details on them so we can send you your prize.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Not long til October 31st

The Museum will be visited by morris dancers at around 2pm and the amazing osses who will perform a pwnco ceremony at the door of the Museum at around 5pm (a little like what is happening in this old photo).  It should sound something like this:

If you're entering a carved vegetable lantern, remember you only have until 12noon on Saturday to submit your entry to our competition!

Hope to see lots of people here on Saturday!  Remember mask making for under 16s is also running in the Museum from 11am-2pm.

Object of the month - Scold's Bridle

Judith Hewitt, co-manager of the Museum writes...

Recently, the Museum was approached by the Travel Channel to appear on their Mysteries of the Museum programme.  They wanted to focus on one specific case that of Jane Wenham in 1712 and on one specific object - the Scold's Bridle.  As part of my preparation for this interview (which lasted three hours!) I researched the Scold's Bridle in detail and this research forms the basis of this month's object of the month.

The Museum has two scold's bridles in its collection (object numbers 161 and 162).  Object number 162 is said to have come from Exeter Castle.

The founder of the Museum, Cecil Williamson, wrote of it: "A so-called scold's bridle, but in actual fact this bridle is reported to have come from Exeter castle where it was kept to clap on any female prisoner who gave way to shouting, swearing or screaming abuse during the night hours, it is highly uncomfortable to wear, for discomfort is the name of the game." and "The purpose of the bridle was to prevent the witch shouting and cursing the town or persons in authority."

It is said that the earliest reference to a bridle worn by a woman is made in the 1380s by Geoffrey Chaucer who has one of his characters say:
“But for my daughter Julian
I would she were bolted with a Bridle
That leaves her work to play the clak
And lets her Wheel stand idle.”
Allegorically, the figure of Temperance is often shown with a bridle.  The bridle was said to represent a control of all the appetites, not specifically the control of the tongue.  

Above: Temperance with a Bridle (after Raphael) by Samuel Woodforde

The scold's bridle was never a national legal punishment endorsed by legislation.  It was a local measure adopted in some areas but not used in other (women in Derbyshire, for example, were said to be so calm and such good wives that the scold's bridle was never needed there!).  It was a humiliating punishment and could function as a method of torture in some cases.  The scold's bridle in the past was more commonly referred to as the branks.  The reasons for this name are unclear but it may derive some lost North European or Viking expression.  One other theory is that it derives from the Old French "bernac" for barnacle (which was an instrument put on a horse's nose to keep it quiet).

Most people assume the bridle was only ever used on women as “Scolding women in the olden times were treated as offenders against the public peace…” but the earliest documented examples of its use in Britain refer to its use on any person of guilty of the specific crime of blasphemy (a law from Edinburgh in 1560 stated that all persons guilty of blasphemy should be punished by the iron brank) or the more general crime of immorality.  On 7th October 1560, David Persoun of Canongate, Edinburgh was found guilty of fornication and forced to “be brankit for four houres” The woman he fornicated with was banished from the city!

Later examples of its use give clues as to why it is sometimes called "the scolds or gossip's bridle".  In 1574, records from Glasgow record the punishment: “two scauldes to be branket.”  In 1600, the "brankes" is mentioned in Stirling as punishment for a shrew.  In 1699, Cecily Pewsill “a notorious scold in the workhouse” had to wear the branks in the street for half an hour.  In 1741, Elizabeth, wife of George Holborn in Northumberland was tied to the market-cross for two hours for “scandalous and opprobrious language to several people.” In 1789, the branks was used in Lichfield.  A local farmer enclosed a woman’s head “to silence her clamorous Tongue” and led her round a field while boys and girls “hooted at her”  “Nobody pitied her because she was very much disliked by her neighbours.”

The bridle was often used as part of a public display and is similar in intention to the ducking stool - the aim was to humiliate the "offender" before their community and to titillate the spectators,“such a bridle as not only quite deprives them of speech, but brings shame for the transgression, and humility thereupon.”

The earliest known reference to the bridle in England comes from Macclesfield.  In the town records mention is made of “ a bridle for a curste queane” assumed to be prostitutes or women or “lighte behaviour and loose morals.” 

An interesting case from 1655 sheds some light on the use of the bridle to silence women as well as religious dissent.  Quaker women in Carlisle, “…were led through the Street with each an Iron Instrument of Torture call’d a Bridle on their Heads to prevent their speaking the Truth to the People.  Having been so expos’d to the Scorne and Derision of the Rablle they were turn’s out of the City.”

Some call the bridle the witch's bridle and associate it primarily with that time of misogyny and persecution: the Witch Trials.  While there are cases of the bridle being used on accused witches who were later executed, there are far more examples of its use as a general punishment for scolds (for whom this was probably the only punishment).  To historian James Sharpe, these are two facets of the same intolerance as he refers to "The witch and her sister the scold."  Part of the cultural idea that noisy, quarrelsome women were dangerous.  There was a genuine fear of female conspiracy and the power of female words in the early modern period.  Doctor Johnson probably spoke the view of the majority when he said “I am very fond of ladies, I like their beauty, I like their delicacy, and I like their silence.” The ideal of the quiet woman can be found in 18th century ballads such as this one:

“A woman should like echo true
Speak but when she’s spoken to
But not like echo still be heard
Contending for the final word.” 

One of the theories of the persecution of witches at this time is that they were intelligent women who would not be silenced, 
“Deprived of virtually all political influence the woman was left with one weapon of freedom her tongue, the liberal use of which branded her a “scould” possessed of unwomanly aggressiveness.”

And so we come to the bridle and witchcraft accusations.  One particularly gruesome account was that of Agnes Sampson, who was examined by King James himself at his palace of Holyrood Palace in 1590. She was fastened to the wall of her cell by a “witch's bridle” an iron instrument with four sharp prongs forced into the mouth, so that two prongs pressed against the tongue, and the two others against the cheeks. She was kept without sleep, thrown with a rope around her head, and only after these ordeals did Agnes Sampson confess to the fifty-three indictments against her. She was finally strangled and burned as a witch.

In 1661 we find a reference to “The Bridle with which the wretched victims of superstition were led to execution.” in Forfar in Scotland.  In 1676 there is a reference in West Yorkshire to the “scolds brank” made of iron “with an iron gag that fitted into the mouth” The records indicate that it could be fitted with a spiked collar when used on alleged witches.

There are many examples of the use of the bridle after the end of the period of intense persecution of alleged witches.  In 1799, it was used on an imprisoned murderer in Nottingham to keep him quiet in his cell while he awaited his execution.  These branks were nicknamed "The Iron Gag".  In 1807, the branks were publicly displayed in the police court at Shrewsbury as a deterrent.  In 1876, a magistrate silenced arguing women in his court by pointing to the branks hanging on the wall of the Newcastle courtroom. Branks could be found hanging outside the office of the Mayor in some towns as a warning and deterrent.

According to one account, in Chester, “In the old…houses of the borough, there was generally fixed on one side of the large open fire-places a hook, so that, when a man’s wife indulged her scolding propensities, the husband sent for the town jailor to bring the bridle, and had her bridled and chained to the hook until she promised to behave herself better in future…I…have heard husbands say to their wives “If you don’t rest your tongue I’ll send for the bridle and hook you up.”

By 1900, there were an estimated 33 branks still in existence in Britain.  Their use had gradually diminished as the Victorians eradicated punishments which they saw as old fashioned, irrational and too boisterous.  In 1821 a Nottingham ordered for the branks there to be destroyed, saying only “Take away that relic of barbarism.”  By the end of the 19th century, women had more legal rights than before and this punishment seemed outdated.  Interestingly, it is at this time that many Victorian collectors began to collect and create reproductions of the branks and to write books on "bygone" punishments congratulating themselves on their modernity while at the same time exhibiting a voyeuristic and fetishized interest in the punishments of women in the past.

All information in this article derived from the following texts in the Museum library:
James Sharpe, Instruments of Darkness (1996)
William Andrews, Bygone Punishments (1899)
E.J. Burford & Sandra Shulman, Of Bridles & Burnings, The Punishment of Women (1992)

Mike Howard obituary in Pagan Dawn

Mike Howard was a Friend of the Museum and his passing has affected many people associated with the Museum.  This obituary provides a thoughtful overview of his life and work.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Donation of books

We recently had this book and CD donated to the library.

We were also visited by the author of these poems who said that the Museum had been a major inspiration for his work.  

Many thanks to both authors for their donations.  

Pagan Dawn article previews "Of Shadows" book

There is a lovely write up of "Of Shadows: 100 objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic" by Sara Hannant and Simon Costin with an introduction by Professor Ronald Hutton in the current edition of Pagan Dawn.  The photos of Museum objects look amazing.  The book will be released in 2016 and will be available to buy from the Museum shop and online shop.  £20 paperback and £30 hardback.

Read a blog about our recent talk in Nottingham

Many thanks to "The Chattering Magpie" for the positive review - we really enjoyed doing this talk and appreciated the warm welcome!

John Dee exhibition at Royal College of Physicians in 2016

An interesting article about John Dee.  This looks like a fascinating exhibition.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book donated to library by author

Lu Hersey dropped into the Museum this afternoon to donate a copy of her book Deep Water.  She will be appearing at the North Cornwall Book Festival tomorrow.  She had lots of objects with her when she visited which relate to magic and witchcraft which she was going to be using during her talk.

To quote from the North Cornwall book festival's website:
"When her mum vanishes, Danni moves to a tiny Cornish fishing village where the locals treat her like a monster. As the village's disturbing past bubbles to the surface, Danni discovers that she's not who – or what – she thought she was. Taking her debut novel Deep Water as an exciting starting point, Lu will discuss writing stories inspired by local myths, legends and magic."

Many thanks to Lu for the book (and also for joining our Friends of the Museum organisation).

Winter Crafts workshop now full

On Saturday 28th November, we are holding a Winter Crafts Workshop led by Gillian Nott.  Places for this event were very limited and we are now fully booked for it.  If you were thinking of coming but haven't booked, please contact the Museum as we can add your name to a reserve list in case of cancellations.  We're really pleased that this event has proven so popular and we hope to run similar events in future.  Keep an eye on our news section for future events.

A blast from the past...

An old photo of the Museum from 1991.  Do you recognise the young lady in it?

It is our very own Hannah Fox!  Here she is on the same visit standing outside another Boscastle landmark - this building is now the Otherworld.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

'Magica Sexualis' exhibition in New York

Friends of the Museum Gemma Gary and Jane Cox are exhibiting art works in this fascinating new exhibition in Brooklyn, NY.

Art works are previewed here:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Chat and Spin Radio Appearances

Judith Hewitt, one of the managers of the Museum, was interviewed this morning on Chat and Spin Radio.  She spoke about our upcoming event on October 31st.  She will be interviewed again on Friday at 4.30-4.35pm.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 31st event on Facebook

An event page has been created on Facebook called "A Dark Gathering in Boscastle."  If you're going to come down here on October 31st why not sign up to the event and invite others to come as well?  There is currently the very healthy number of 144 people who have said they are going! 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pumpkin/Vegetable Carving Competition

As part of our October 31st celebrations this year, the Museum is taking part in a Boscastle wide pumpkin carving competition (organised by Denise Tillinghast on behalf of the Boscastle Chamber of Trade and Commerce).

Anyone can enter.  Please drop off your carved pumpkins to the Museum (preferably with your contacts on a sticker on the pumpkin and with a tealight inside).  If you don't have stickers or tealights the Museum will have a store of them.  The pumpkins will be lit and displayed in the Harbour area from around 3pm on Halloween.

If you want to enter, drop off your pumpkin at the Museum.  We will be accepting pumpkins from Thursday October 29th until Saturday October 31st (closing time for entrants: 12 noon).  Judging will commence at 4pm and you will be contacted if you have won a prize.  You will then have 24 hours to collect your pumpkin again (if you want it).  After that time all pumpkins will be disposed of.

The pumpkins will really help the Harbour to create a fabulous atmosphere for the other events outside the Museum that day

Why do people carve pumpkins on Halloween? (a little sneak peak of our forthcoming exhibition on Halloween)...

There is great debate about the carved vegetable.  Is it just a bit of fun?  Is it part of a harvest festival tradition?  Is it part of a guising tradition (when people often travelled from house to house with lanterns made of various things)?  Was the vegetable originally a skull with a lamp inside (like a witch's lamp)?  Does it represent a soul in Purgatory or is it seasonal reminder of our ancestors?  There are no clear answers but lots of interesting speculation.  Here is an (uncomprehensive) summary of its history...

Many people might think that carved vegetables are an American invention (or incursion depending on your attitude) but October 31st has a long association with vegetables, nuts and fruits of various kinds (many of which will be explored in our 2016 exhibition).  Pumpkins have been used more recently due to their colour, the ease of their carving and the influence of American culture.  There are examples of carved turnips in the Museum of Ireland (photograph above) and there is a long tradition of vegetable carving in the English village of Hinton St George (where lots or root vegetables are carved see photo below).

Carved vegetables are often called Jack O'Lanterns.  The first known reference to "Jack with the Lantern" was in 1663.  He may have been a figure linked to Jack O'Lent (a figure who was pelted on Ash Wednesday).

In 1704, there is a reference to Jack of Lanthorns.  In 1773, a play by Sheridan contains the line, “I have followed Cupid’s jack-a-lantern, and found myself in a quagmire.”  This may link with the idea that Jack O'Lantern is another name for a will o the wisp (mysterious lights which were said to lead travellers into marshes and which have been associated with souls in Purgatory amongst other things).  By 1807, Jack O'Lanterns were associated with what came to be seen as typical Halloween activities - giving people a scare and pranking.  Coleridge spoke of, “Jack o’Lantern lights which mischievous boys…throw looking glass on the faces of their opposite neighbours.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was published in 1807.  Although it makes no reference to Halloween and the vegetable of the headless horseman is without a carved face, this is the "first spooky use of a pumpkin." (Lisa Morton)  In 1949, Walt Disney released their own version of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (with narration by Bing Crosby!) which placed a Jack O'Lantern in the hands of the horseman.  Since that time, the Jack O'Lantern has been indelibly linked with Halloween.

Who was Jack O'Lantern?
In many folktales, Jack was a perennial trickster.  He offended not only God but the Devil with his many pranks and transgressions.  Upon death he was denied entrance to Heaven and Hell.  The Devil threw a fiery coal from Hell at him which Jack caught in a hollowed turnip.  This lantern would light his night-walk on earth until Judgement Day.  Jack’s perpetual prank is said to be the decoying of hapless travellers into the murky mire.  The Jack O'Lantern may date back to this ancient tale.  

So there you have a brief overview of the carved vegetable lantern, its origins and possible symbolism.  If you are able to bring a carved vegetable (pumpkin, turnip, whatever!) we would be very happy to see you here at the Museum.