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WEIRD NORFOLK: A village row in Runhall which became a witch hunt

PUBLISHED: 18:00 18 January 2020

The village of Runhall was home to a woman accused of witchcraft. 

Byline: Sonya Duncan 
(C) Archant 2020

The village of Runhall was home to a woman accused of witchcraft. Byline: Sonya Duncan (C) Archant 2020

Archant 2020

It's a tale as old as time: neighbours falling out over a petty dispute - but in this Norfolk case, it ended with an enchanted cow and an accusation of witchcraft.

In the village of Runhall, at the time when Matthew Hopkins was still a feared name passed down as a threat to those whose work with herbs and magic was seen as witchcraft, two neighbours had a disagreement.

Thomas Cutting alleged, in 1679 (the same year that Thomas Oliver, the man linked to two Norwich women accused of being witches died) that a local woman, Anne Diver, had put an enchantment on his cow and bewitched his family. He said she had acted after he had refused to give her some herbs from his garden and that, after the refusal, he broke his leg and his wife and daughter both became ill.

As with so many other similar cases, other 'witnesses' began to come out of the woodwork with their own stories which damned poor Anne. John Calfe claimed that his illness, a year previously, had led him to a cunning man who in turn had shown him the image of Anne Diver in a glass (a case of a 'witch' condemning a 'witch'). John Castleton, who distributed money left to give to the poor of the parish chose to give Anne less than she had been given the year previously and she is said to have warned him that he should "take heed lest some mischief came to him or his."

Elizabeth Pitts went back further in a bid to add fuel to the fire. She claimed that in 1673, she had bought a goose from Diver and was then ill for four months after she ate it - imagine how long Pitts had stewed about that goose, and the sweet taste of revenge. Francis Beale decided to give Pitts a run for her money and told authorities that in 1669, a full decade before Cutting's claim, she had refused to give Anne some beer on a hot summer's day and then, when she drank the alcohol herself, had fallen sick for three weeks.

But all the above witnesses were outclassed by the memory of Susan Major, who rummaged in the attic of time to bring out a story that was 20 years old and involved Diver going to her master's house to beg some meat for her father. Before the meat could be brought out to her, Diver changed her mind and claimed she was too proud to take it: a week later, Susan fell ill, losing her sight and the ability to speak and suffering from stranger fits.

Keith Parry's Blog: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, adds further flesh to the bones and yet another example of contradiction in the case of suspected witchcraft, in this case, repelling witchcraft with counter-magic. "When Thomas Cutting believed that Anne Diver had bewitched one of his master's cows he threw a horseshoe with seven nail holes into the fire," he writes. "Elizabeth Pitts made an almost instant recovery from her bewitchment when she threw thatch from above the door of Anne Diver's house into the fire.

"Daniel Jecks, another of Diver's 'victims', chose another popular measure and went to a cunning man to seek help."

By the time that Anne was accused, accused witches in Britain spent a year in prison for a minor offence and faced death for a second -within 50 years, the same crimes would be dealt with the same penalties given to vagrants and con artists.

Across the Channel, however, the witch-hunting fever was burning out of control. In the same year that Anne was accused, the Liechtenstein witch trials began and around 100 people were killed over a three-year period and in France, Peronne Goguillon - an alleged French witch - and her accomplices were burned at the stake for witchcraft.

As for Anne, the trail runs cold after the accusations she faced in court, leading to hope that she lived to annoy her neighbours for some time to come.

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