Patty Parsons the witch and other village characters

Superstition, belief in the evil eye, witchcraft and witch-hunting no doubt have their part in Weston's story as in the history of other places. Around the year 1810 there was a witch getting

Superstition, belief in the evil eye, witchcraft and witch-hunting no doubt have their part in Weston's story as in the history of other places. Around the year 1810 there was a witch getting around this district. She was Patty Parsons, who lived at Kewstoke in a cottage on the side of the hill near where the toll gate lodge stands.Local historian Ernest Baker wrote about her. He would not vouch for the truth of all the stories told of Patty, but set them down as they were told to him. "When I was a child it was my great delight to sit at my mother's knee and listen to stories of old Westonians, and especially of Patty the witch," he wrote.All the people round about were afraid of Patty we are told. They would quickly get out of the way if they saw her coming, and apparently she traded on their fears. Boldly she would call at house or cottage, and everything of the best - eggs, butter, and cheese - were handed her. No one would risk giving her offence."Witches, they say, can't touch the first-born," Ernest Baker commented, "so my father, who was the eldest son, and who was apprenticed to Mr Day, a farmer, at Kewstoke, used to tease this old witch finely. He would sit on the farmyard gate and tell her she couldn't pass through it or come into the farm; she never hurt him, and he was the only man in the place who durst say a word to her."A farmer who lived in the North Marsh offended Patty, and to pay him out she bewitched all his cheese and turned his butter and bread. The cheese went bad, the butter couldn't be churned, nor the bread baked.The last straw in Patty's tricks on this farmer came at haymaking time. He was hauling hay with a wagon and couple of horses at Congresbury, and had to cross a narrow bridge on the Yeo. When the wagon was in the middle of the bridge Patty switched the load to the top of the parapet.The farmer decided the time had come for action. He got out a big stick and went in search of Patty. When he found her he wielded the stick in the air and vowed that if she didn't stop 'witching' him he would give her a big beating.Faced with the imminence of a good hiding and presumably not having the power to waft the farmer into the River Yeo, Patty promised to leave him alone, and said he would find everything all right. When he went back to his hay-hauling, cart and horses were already on their way again. Ever after he kept the stick in the chimney corner and over many a mug of cider told how he had put Patty the witch in her place.Even the rulers of Weston, the Rev Wadham Pigott and squire John Pigott at Grove House, and Richard Parsley, big landowner and farmer, were said to be afraid of Patty, and servants were under orders to give her a meal and a basket of food when she called.The story is told of a Mr G who fell out with Patty. One day when he was in the Eastfield locality on the hill he saw her getting over a stile. Then she suddenly changed herself into a ferocious dog which ran at him and bit him. He lashed back with a stick, but his weapon went right through the dog without any impact. Then Patty became Patty again, jumped over a stile and was gone.There was the winter hare hunt over the hill in days before the hillside was covered with woods. The hare gave the huntsmen a fine run across the hill to Kewstoke and bolted into Patty's cottage. A moment afterwards a huntsman rushed into the cottage. No hare could be seen. The room only contained cats and Patty, sitting in her straight-back chair, with a very red, hot face, puffing and panting. Nobody could say what happened to the hare but with Patty so hot and breathless the inference was obvious.In 1882-1883 Ernest Baker interviewed several of the older residents, all about 80, who had seen the growth of Weston from the time when its population was only just over 150.Mrs Howell, born in 1801, had memories of Patty Parsons: "I went to her cottage on the hill by Kewstoke toll house, when I was a child, with my first cousin and a friend of hers, to have their fortunes told," she said. "Her cottage was the colour of smoke in side, very black and dirty: a tree stood at one corner outside, and some of its branches grew through the roof. She was a tall and thin woman, and as upright as if she had a stake down her back."Mrs Howell recalled that in village Weston the centre of Weston, the High Street-Regent Street crossroads, was then the village green. Meadow Street was Meadow Lane, and the first cottage in it was that of a widow Sally Coombs. "The first Sunday school in the place was opened in her house," said Mrs Howell, "and I was one of the scholars. The Methodists held their meetings for prayer there." Farmer King lived in the Old Farmhouse at the corner of Orchard Place. His premises barred the way to any extension of Meadow Lane. "We cannot go any further without trespassing in Farmer King's pen and orchard, for which he would probably come out and abuse us, as he was a crotchety old man."I have previously mentioned how sand-swept Weston was in its village days, when there was vastly more sand than today, and sand dunes all along the front. Mrs Howell describes Mr Gill's house, near Regent Street. It was surrounded by sand tots, and Mrs Howell said that "After he left in 1911 the sand blew and drifted in such quantities upon the roof that it weighed it down, and finally broke it. Then house was entirely removed in 1813, and a good thing it was too, as it latterly swarmed with fleas and sand flies. I never saw the like."High Street was then known as The Street. Adjoining the rough track was the goose pen of William Gould, whose geese would come home from the moor every evening of their own accord. Mr Gould lived just behind the now vanished Plough Hotel "and if we look into his cottage we may perchance find him at home, plucking his geese alive, a common practice".Thomas Hodges was a shoemaker, and used to work at his trade in the front shop, which was only about six feet square, with a sloping roof. By the side of the cottage was an orchard which extended down the side of Meadow Lane, and was a goodish size.Near what is now the High Street-Waterloo Street corner were three cottages that were pulled down to make way for the building of Waterloo House in 1816. In one of the lived Mr Norvill, a shoemaker.In the middle of where South Parade now stands was the house of the parish clerk, Francis Collings. "Every Easter he had a sale of cakes and cider, and everybody came around to the sale, as there was no public house and no shop; it was always called 'the clerk's sale'."Another old Weston custom Mrs Howell recalled was that connected with christenings: "Whenever there was a christening the parents of the child to be christened prepared what was called 'the lump', which consisted of a big hunch of bread and a piece of cheese, often caraway cheese. This lump had to be given to the first person they met after leaving their own house to go to church for the ceremony. Consequently, at every christening, the village children would wait outside the door and have a fine scramble to be the first to receive it."In the Wadham Street locality was Richard Parsley's farmhouse, with its barns, ox-pens, and milking houses. Richard Parsley was a very big man in the place, a very kind man and a good neighbour, too.Among the characters Mrs Howell recalled was a "Betty, a very old woman who used an hour-glass to tell the time. She would sit by her table all day long with this hour glass, watching it and turning it as the sand ran through, and counting the hours as they passed away".Weston had no shops in Mrs Howell's early years. The nearest was that at Worle kept by a man named Henville. There were no public houses closer than The Ship and Dolphin at Uphill."An old woman called Banwell would come round with her basket on her arms, selling tapes, buttons, ribbons and such like, but she didn't come very often, as she knew her customers, and how few were their wants. A bread cart came round regularly, and Wm Gould's wife bought a quantity of loaves, and retailed them to the people as they required them. She used to keep all the loaves on her table covered with a cloth until they were sold, to prevent them getting stale."Bread was very dear then. I have fetched many a loaf at 20 pence a quartern; the year I was born was a very scarce time owing to the French wars and partly to the bad harvests, and the poor people ate what they could get, cabbages or anything; fortunately fish was plentiful that year, so sprats made up for bread, which they couldn't afford to buy at two shillings a quartern."A butcher drove his cart through the place sometimes, but people didn't eat much meat; you see, they kept pigs and lived on pig meat - a Worle man sold it."Hard times indeed in village Weston.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on June 9, 1967

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