Witches, murder and retribution

In April 1751, John Butterfield, the publican of the Black Horse in Gubblecote accused Old Mother Osborne and her husband John of witchcraft: she had allegedly made his cows ill and made him suffer from fits - and all because he had once refused to give her some buttermilk!

Anonymous letters were  written to the town criers in Leighton (Buzzard), (Hemel) Hempstead and elsewhere to announce a trial by ducking at Long Marston on the 22nd. A large crowd gathered and the accused couple were taken by the parish officers from the Tring Workhouse to the church for sanctuary.

Unable to find them at first, the mob smashed the windows and demolished part of the Workhouse; they seized the Governor and threatened to burn down the town! As the threat was very real, the poor couple, both over 70, were eventually given up to the mob and dragged to the pond at Wilstone where they were tied in sacking and ducked under: Ruth was soon dead and her husband died later.

At the coroner's inquest 30 men were found guilty of murder and one, Thomas Colley, sentenced to death. In August 1751 he was taken from gaol in Hertford to Gubblecote Cross with an escort of nearly 120 cavalrymen to ensure sentence was carried out - local people were certainly on his side for having rid them of a witch. Nevertheless, he was hanged and his body left on the gibbet for some years - as a lesson to all.

Before he died, the minister of Tring read out Colley's dying declaration , expressing his penitence and rejection of his belief in witchcraft.

But there are still tales of a large black dog haunting Gubblecote Cross...

(There are more tales of old Hertfordshire in 'Gothick Hertfordshire' by Jennifer Westwood, Shire Publications 1989. Contemporary reports are to be found in 'Hertfordshire 1731-1800 as recorded in The Gentleman's Magazine', Hertfordshire Publications 1993)