The shocking end of the witch Nanny Morgan

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This is a folklore tale about a renowned witch from Shropshire, Nanny Morgan, and her violent death. The story has been taken from Shropshire Folklore: a Sheaf of Gleanings. Edited by Charlotte S Burne.

Our folktale starts in 1809: Nanny Morgan was concerned in a robbery at the house of a Mrs Powell at Bourton near Wenlock, together with Mary Beamond, a servant of the house. The clothes which the latter stole were found in Nanny’s possession, and both were tried for the offence at Shrewsbury Assizes, and found guilty. The girl Beamond was transported, it is said, but her companion escaped with imprisonment.

After she came out of gaol, Nanny joined a party of gypsies from whom she learned to tell fortunes with cards. In the course of time, she settled in her native place (probably her father’s house) at Westwood Common between Much Wenlock and the village of Bourton. Here she told fortunes to all the country-side and gained a reputation for the truth in her foresight.

She was consulted by servant girls for miles round. After her death a quantity of jewellery was found in her house, obtained from her customers in payment for her services; besides many letters, bearing (it was reported) the signatures of ladies of education and position in the neighbourhood.

She was supposed to practise in witchcraft and have the evil eye. She kept a box full of live toads and her house was swarming with cats. The people of Wenlock were frightened of her.

In her 69th year, Nanny Morgan came to a shocking end. On the 12th September 1857, she was found lying dead in her house, stabbed on face and neck and wrist. Just as she lay, they tell us, she was buried. No one was found to pay the last offices for the detested witch and not even the shoes were removed from her corpse.

On the day of her death, a young man who lodged with her was seen leaving the house with blood upon his clothes. He was arrested and tried for the murder. It appeared that the old woman had had a violent affection for him and the was he completely under her influence. It was known that he had often wished to escape from the thraldom in which she held him, but he believed that she could by her arts force him to return to her and he dreaded her spells too much to venture to break free.

On the day in question, he returned home to be greeted by her with a storm of abusive taunts. It was said that maddened with rage and fear, he stabbed her recklessly and repeatedly, – not with any thought of murder but simply to free himself from the witch’s power – and then fled the cottage. He was however condemned to death but many petitioned for a commutation of the sentence and it was not carried out. Instead, the criminal was sentenced to be transported but the vessel in which he sailed went down on the voyage, and the man who escaped hanging could not escape drowning. The popular verdict – implied if not expressed – would seem to be: ‘surely this man is a murderer whom vengeance suffereth not to live.’

Here is my retelling of the folklore tale: Nanny Morgan’s watch.

Here is also a link for details on this folklore tale that I cam across when researching my retelling of this story: Much Wenlock town Hall and Market with Nanny Morgan the witch