Weʼre raising £1,500 to create a memorial that remembers Ruth Osborne as a Woman not Witch. As a book group we take for granted the right to have an opinion.
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RUTH OSBORNE WOMAN NOT WITCH (1680 -1751)
If Ruth Osborne could hear us talking about her now what would she think? Sadly, we know very little about her history, apart from the fact that she was an elderly woman who somehow ended up homeless and hungry and was murdered you could say, for daring to speak her mind when a man refused to help her. All she wanted was some buttermilk and when John Butterworth the farmer she approached sent her packing, she dared to retaliate muttering that ‘the Pretender would pay him out’.
It would be easy to demonise John Butterworth but this was a time when loyalties were divided. The Jacobite rebellion, an attempt to put catholic James Stuart on the throne had been crushed in 1715 but that wasn’t an end to it and in 1745, the year the buttermilk incident took place, Edward Stuart was leading his army into England in a final attempt to depose King George and put his father James on the throne. Unable to muster sufficient support, he was ultimately defeated in 1746 at the battle of Culloden but down and out Ruth’s remark to a farmer and protestant loyalist would have seemed highly contentious and even treasonable.
As luck would have it, not long after the incident, John Butterworth’s cattle became ill and he began to suffer from epileptic fits and had to give up farming.
He then became innkeeper of the Black Horse in Gubblecote. No doubt, when he’d had a few drinks with his clientele he would have a good grumble about his bad luck and the encounter with the annoying Ruth, which still rankled. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one she’d upset, for somehow the idea took hold that she was to blame and must be a witch, a notion that soon got out of hand when exploited for personal gain by the unscrupulous chimney sweep Thomas Collet and which ultimately was to cost him and Ruth and her husband, their lives.
Like so many others throughout the ages, women who dared to be different in some way or heaven forfend, wise, or just old or poor or annoying like Ruth, who was possibly all of these, this accusation led to her being brutally murdered by a thrill seeking mob. And this didn’t happen in the middle ages or in some faraway land, it was here in the Hertfordshire countryside in the rural community of Long Marston, Wilstone and Gubblecote, in preindustrial Georgian times.
In case you don’t know the full story or haven’t read John Noakes play about what happened, Ruth and her husband John were living rough on land belonging to her brother who owned Folly Farm in Long Marston, but being warned of the oncoming danger they took shelter in the workhouse in Tring. Collet and his cronies had organised a witch ducking, which they advertised by means of posters and town criers as far afield as Hemel Hempstead, Leighton Buzzard and Winslow. On the chosen day, a mob reported to have been some four thousand strong descended on Tring, eager for entertainment. Fearing violence, Ruth and John were taken to Tring Church for sanctuary but the mob was not to be deterred. They forced their way in and dragged the terrified couple away to be subjected to a medieval form of torture, where they were stripped naked, tied by their thumbs and toes and hauled by ropes three times through a pond, the idea being that if they sank they were innocent, if they floated they were witches. Either way, they had little or no chance of survival. Ruth died choking on the muddy water after being repeatedly prodded with a stick to encourage her to sink by the over zealous Collet, who once the ducking was over went round collecting money from the onlookers. Her husband John survived the ducking but never fully recovered and died not long afterwards.
Of course, not everyone in the area took part and Robert Gregory, one of local farmer Ivor Gregory’s forbears, tried to stop the ducking but was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the mob. In the end no one would or could stop it, it had gained such momentum but afterwards people were shocked and shamed by what had happened to this helpless old couple and the full force of the law was brought to bear to ensure this illegal and barbaric act (the ducking of witches had already been outlawed in the Witchcraft Act of 1735) would never happen again. Collet was found guilty and hung from a gibbet in Gubblecote, as a stark warning to others.
Like many who preceded her, Ruth Osborne might have been forgotten had she not been the last so called ‘witch’ to suffer this brutal treatment. And let us not forget that random acts of violence against women are still happening all over the world, take the recent case of Sarah Everard, murdered by a serving police officer in the UK. And the often violent repression of women in countries like Afghanistan, where for the Taliban, prejudice and discrimination of women is an accepted part of their culture and everyday life. And they are by no means the only ones.
For all these reasons, the Ruth Osbornes of this world should not be forgotten and the Long Marston Book Group want to pay tribute to her and all those who went before her. Whatever her beliefs or circumstances, she did not deserve to be brutally murdered. No one does. There is a rose called the Bloom of Ruth which Book Club members are going to plant in gardens around the villages and they hope to raise enough money in 2022 to create a memorial for her and all those killed in the name of prejudice and superstition. We hope you will all support us.
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May 9, 2022
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Apr 24, 2022
This is a wonderful idea. Good luck.
Apr 23, 2022
Great cause x
Collection at the Ruth Osborne Memorial Event
Apr 23, 2022
Apr 23, 2022
Beautiful service and memorial . Well done all involved .
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About the fundraiser
Amber raising on behalf of Long Marston book Group - Our campaign Woman not Witch -Ruth Osborne remembered as a woman not for being the last Witch to be dunked . We want to put a memorial up to remember Ruth Osborne and have a service on the 22 April 2022 in Long Marston.