This was another very successful sell-out visit for the Questers Group, who once again enjoyed hearing our Blue Badge Guide David Richards share some of his comprehensive knowledge about the city he so clearly loves. This new tour was entitled ‘Wizards, Witches and Wiltshire Folklore’ and explored the history of each of these subjects, commencing from the very start of the city construction around 1220, with the cathedral following on a year later utilising stone originating from the old Norman building at Old Sarum.
The Bishops had complete control within the confines of the new city, and it was no surprise to learn that severity of life varied over the years according to which Bishop held office. There was common belief in the supernatural combined with sorcery and witchcraft which culminated during the 16th and 17th centuries with the hanging of 5 so called witches. Many lesser sentences were handed out at the same period with up to 3 days in the pillory, which was a far more unpleasant experience than many imagine, and often resulting in broken bones from heavy stoning. The courts also issued many lashing sentences. We passed by some of the places where the ‘witches’ lived and the sites of long gone courts.
Because perceived medical wisdom was limited to activities which were painful, ineffective and expensive; local knowledge of herbal remedies became increasingly valuable and if a person lived long enough, they gained more knowledge of these remedies. Therefore it is not surprising that the church sometimes felt threatened by these practitioners and did nothing to prevent their persecution.
Some old and often incredible beliefs and wise sayings were explained which gave us some idea of the darker side of medieval life and which forms the basis for some folklore, no doubt still repeated in the more remote areas of the county. There are many ley lines in the area, and close to the cathedral we passed over one. To prove it, David produced a couple of dowsing rods and we watched them twitch and converge at the line. Having watched him, we were given the opportunity of trying a little dowsing for ourselves, and most of us succeeded! David Rogers was in his usual sparkling form and he provided a most entertaining and informative illustrated walk. The visit ended with an enjoyable snack at a nearby pub.