The Museum of Witchcraft

In 2007, I did some local history research. It seemed at the time as if everyone was looking into their own histories, in one way or another. I, however, was only interested in local history of the cold war period. At the time I was living in my ancestral seat – Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire. I did a fair amount of original research in the archives, but only got as far as publishing it on a website I designed myself and which was taken down because I stopped paying the subs to the hosting company. Or I forgot, or something. History is a difficult thing, because memory so quickly slips into dreams. I think the fad for history was really a consequence of the fag-end of Labour rule: it was a kind of recognition that the utterly fake forward-looking ideals we had bought into (in English, literally, “bought into”) were no more real than the individualism of Thatcher or the communalism of Wilson or Attlee). It’s funny how quickly these fads die. The local history explosion is itself now dead and no-one gives a toss, again. That’s because, once again, we’re all terrified about the future and don’t have the underpants to worry about the past. For similar cultural experiences, check out: 1947, 1948, 1962, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1984, 2001.

Anyway, while I was doing all of that, I wrote a number of things that are sadly no longer visible online. So I am going to re-publish them or some of them, for several of the articles I wrote were unbelievably dull, a real consequence of endless hours waiting for disorganised documents in the Gloucester Record Office.

Here’s the shortest, about a weird museum sited in Bourton on the Water in the 1950s:

The Museum of Witchcraft, 1954-56

This is the subject I have asked for more information about: a museum, in the village, dedicated to the history and practice of witchcraft. Mentions of the place are sketchy and I’ve tracked down only a couple of newspaper cuttings, one of which I’ll discuss below.
A google search brings up http://www.controverscial[sic].com, who have this to say, in the context of a far wider article on the man who ran the museum, Cecil Hugh Williamson:

In 1954 he relocated to Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. There he was treated to the same kind of harassment he had met in other locations, included: Sigils painted on his doors, dead cats left on his doorstep at night and even had a wing of the museum destroyed by arson. Williamson moved several more times due to this sort of antagonism…

Document D2871 2/33 in the Gloucestershire Record Office [assuming the place is still there after the floods – Ed] contains a snippet, undated and untitled, but on which the depositor has scribbled “10-iv-56,B Post” discussing this very problem.

The article refers to a Parish Council meeting on the topic, but the Council have yet to reply to my repeated requests for information. Nonetheless, the article does not confirm’s claim that the museum was subject to a campaign of harassment. Mrs Williamson is quoted as saying:

The only complaints we have had in Bourton have been from people standing outside the exhibition – two in particular – without coming in, and who have been heard to say they were going to get it closed down. The best idea for those who object is for them to come and see it first.

The article -unbylined- insists that Wg-Cdr Hugh Paton complained about the exhibition in a letter to the Parish Council, and that one other villager had also complained. However, the Council’s chairman, Mr A Pain,

said that while there were one or two ‘doubtful’ objects, the exhibition was otherwise harmless. Much depended on whether, in granting permission for a folklore exhibition, the planning authority had agreed to one confined to witchcraft…

As only Mr Pain admitted to having actually seen the exhibition, the council convened a special sub-committee of 3 to investigate: Mr Pain, Mr F Alder and Mr E Evans, to report in a month’s time.

Interestingly, the Rev John Nettlefold, Rector of the parish, is quoted as telling the Birmingham Post:

Some people have said it is not proper for children. I think that children now are generally harder than their parents. The exhibition is quite comprehensive. I did hear that one or two people were shocked. There is a lifesize wax figure of a young woman lying on an altar. She is a young witch with chiffon round her – a good deal more than appears round figures photographed in the daily press. There is also the body of a dead vat, a complete skull with some skin attached to it, and a lot of rams’ horns. It is quite a serious exhibition.[my emphasis – Ed]

The article notes that Mr Williamson was unavailable for comment, being, according to his wife, “in Barcelona on film work…”.

About Kevin Donnelly

I'm also known as Lawrence George, which is the name I write for Helium under. I think I ought to ditch my pseudonyms before I forget which one is me.
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9 Responses to The Museum of Witchcraft

  1. Cecil Williamson eventually moved his museum to Boscastle, and it is still there. It even has a website:

  2. Yes, I’ve seen that website before. I should have updated the original piece! He sounds like an extraordinary fellow…

  3. Pingback: Nuclear War in 2011 | History of the Internet-and the Cold War

  4. Pingback: The Museum of Witchcraft | Turn On The Dark

  5. Dee says:

    I remember visiting the Museum of Witchcraft at Bourton on the Water – I was probably eight or nine years old. I think that must have been the start of my interest in witchcraft and anything out of the ordinary. My main memory is of a preserved two-headed piglet in a jar – I was only young and had never seen or heard of such a thing! I wonder if they still have it……

    • We do still have the two headed pig but it is on loan to The National Maritime Museum.
      We also have a good archive including a lot of letters from Williamson -researchers are welcome to view these in Boscastle (with an apointment).
      The Museum of Witchcraft

      • That would be amazing. I wonder if any of them could be digitised? I’d be particularly interested in the ones relating to the museum in Bourton on the Water.

    • Ian Martin says:

      Remember visiting this Museum in the early 1960s. On a recent visit to Bourton on the Water was disappointed to find that it was no longer there. Good to hear that it is still going at Boscastle.

  6. Guy Rowe says:

    I was very interested to read your page. Recently I happened on an antiques book published in 1968 written by Jane Toller. There is a section in it referring to antiques and the uncanny. Interestingly, the book refers to a gentleman interested in buying a bag of finger bones that he thought were aboriginal, found in a pouch of kangaroo skin and hidden in a secret drawer in a Carlton desk. This gentleman was in fact too late to obtain the item, but that he came from the Cotswolds and had a Witchcraft Museum there. The bones would have been used to direct ill thoughts at the intended victim, he thought. The author appeared glad that the items had been thrown away.

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