This post was written by Charlie Turpie, Principal Archivist at the London Metropolitan Archives. It forms part of a series of blog posts on the theme of Halloween in libraries and archives.
London Metropolitan Archives might not be the first place you think of when considering the supernatural but as our collections are so large, we do have interesting documents and images in this vein.
Amongst the Middlesex Sessions records, the result of judicial and administrative processes carried out by the Justices of the Peace and those who worked under them, are many instances of accusations of witchcraft, mostly laid against women but including some men. Here’s an example of the charges laid against one woman:
JOAN ELLYSE, 1572-3: Four indictments for Joan Ellyse accuse her of practising witchcraft. The top indictment accuses Joan of practising witchcraft on and against four horses worth eight pounds belonging to Edward Williamson. The other indictments which appear at the same time are:
- for bewitching William Crowche, labourer of Westminster
- for bewitching, and causing the death of, a cow worth forty shillings belonging to Edward Williamson
- for bewitching Edward Williamson so he lay languishing and mutilated, and was wasted and consumed in his body for three months
Joan pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty of all the indictments. She had already been sentenced to be hung having been found guilty on a previous occasion for witchcraft. Unfortunately the record of this does not appear to survive. (Middlesex Sessions Records, Sessions roll: Gaol Delivery, 1574, MJ/SR/0185/001-004)
This and three other examples of 16th and 17th century witches on trial featured in our 2014 exhibition on London Gothic which certainly fits the Halloween theme. The exhibition covered many different aspects of Gothic including the birth of Goth music in late 20th century by showing clips taken from the raw camera footage shot inside the Batcave club for an episode of ‘Reporting London’, broadcast in October 1983. The Batcave, a club night hosted at the rooftop Gargoyle Club at 69 Dean Street, Soho, is generally considered to be the birthplace of the English Goth subculture. Opened in July 1982, the night was run by Ollie Wisdom, the lead singer in the house band Specimen. Famous regulars included Siouxsie Sioux, Marc Almond and Nick Cave.
The notes inside the 1983 compilation album produced by the Batcave, ‘Young Limbs and Numb Hymns’, provide this invitation:
Look past the slow black rain of a chill night in Soho; Ignore the lures of a thousand neon fire-flies, fall deft to the sighs of street corner sirens — come walk with me between heaven and hell. Here there is a club lost in its own feverish limbo, where sin becomes salvation and only the dark angels tread. For here is a BATCAVE. This screaming legend of blasphemy, Lechery, and Blood persists in the face of adversity. For some the Batcave has become an icon, but for those that know it is an iconoclast, it is the avenging spirit of nightlife’s badlands — its shadow looms large over London’s demi-Monde: It is a challenge to the false Idol. It Will Endure.
The footage of the Batcave is rough and raw but it was very popular during the London Gothic exhibition and an unfeasible number of very soberly dressed middle-aged visitors to the exhibition claimed to have been Batcave habitués!
LMA’s free online image database, Collage, includes a gallery “London Gothic” which displays some of our more macabre images.