Mary Bateman (ne Harker) was born to a farming family at Asenby (parish of Topcliffe nr Thirsk) in 1769. She started working life working as a household servant in the homes of the well to do of first Thirsk and then York before moving to Leeds in 1888 following one too many visits to York Assizes for theft from her employers.
Upon arriving in Leeds Mary took a position as a seamstress and soon married John Bateman in the Parish Church of St Peter’s, who was originally from Thirsk. The pair took rooms in and around the Kirgate area of Leeds, moving from tenancy to tenancy frequently, mostly likely because Mary had a habit of steeling from fellow tenants.
As a seamstress Mary came into the servant and poor classes of the city and found that she was able to supplement her income and theft by drawing on the connection between country dwellers and the old ways. She starting out by selling simple fortune telling’s, charms and love philtres but soon branched out to professing to own a prophetic chicken which could be witnessed laying eggs reading “Crist is come” for a penny a time. In time Mary began to present herself as the agent of a wise woman called Mrs Moor.
Mrs Moor was the seventh child of a seventh child, skilled in the Old Ways particularly charms and a process known as “screwing down”. Screwing down was a way in which a troublesome person or situation could be “fixed” to the benefit of the client. The client would receive a fortune from Mary, usually predicting some form of financial worry in the form of the rent man or some other debt collector. Mary would offer to write to Mrs Moor and, for a fee, perform the appropriate charm that was suggested in the reply.
For example – in response to a request for a fortune telling one Mrs Greenwood was advised that her husband would soon be accused of a crime and confined by four men. For the price of …
- Four pieces of leather
- Four pieces of blotting paper
- Four brass pins
- Four gold coins
Mrs Moor would use these objects to “screw down” the guards to ensure that Mr Greenwood would not die as a result of their attentions.
When Mrs Moor became too successful and overly in demand she unfortunately passed away and Mary replaced her patroness with Miss Blythe from Scarborough who particularly specialised in astrology and detecting witchcraft. It was for consultation with Miss Blythe what Mary was approached in the summer of 1806 by a man by the name of William Perigo from Bramley. William’s wife Rebecca was in poor health and his doctor, having exhausting all medical possibilities, had suggested that he approach a Witch to discover if she had been the victim of an ill wish.
Mary initially requested an item of Rebecca’s clothing, wore close to the skin, to be sent to Miss Blythe for instruction. One flannel petticoat was provided and a series of letters followed with Miss Blythe confirming the presence of an ill wish and the Pergio’s asking for guidance. Instructions soon followed in October 1806
My Dear Friend – you must go down to Mary Bateman’s on Tuesday next, and take four guineas notes with you and she will give you other four in exchange for them, which I have send, and when you have read this letter it nest be burned.
William duly visited Mary with the notes and soon she visited the Perigo home to sew linin pouches containing the be spelled notes into the corners of the couples mattress. A month later, following a further letter from Miss Blythe, Mary visited the home to mount a horseshoe above their front door using the handle end of a pair or pincers which would then be held in trust for 18 months whilst the magic worked.
These transactions continued in this fashion for 18 months in a similar fashion but Miss Blythe would also request other items from the Perigo’s such as;
- Camp bed and bedding, including two pillow slips,
- Three yards of Knarsebrogh linen cloth
- Two Barrels
- Three bottles of spirits etc
For example in March 1807 Miss Blythe wrote
Mr Dear Friends – I will be obliged to you if you will let me have half a dozen of your china, three silver spoons, half a pound of tea, two pounds of load sugar and a tea cannister to put the tea in, or else it will not do – U durst not drink out of my own china. You must burn this with a candle.
Eventually a letter arrived in April 1807
My Dear Friends – I am sorry to tell you, you will take an illness in the month of May next, either t’one or both, but I think both but the works of God must have its course … your wife must take half a pound of honey from Bramley to Mary Bateman’s at Leeds, and it must remain there till you go down yourself, and she will put in such like stuff as I have sent from Scarbro’ to her…. You must eat pudding for six days, and you must put in such like stuff as I have sent to Mary Bateman…. If ever you find yourself sickly at any time, you must take each of you a ten-spoonful of this honey… you must bring this down to Mary Bateman’s and burn it at her house when you come down the next time.
The Pergio’s were fully under the thrall of Mary and Miss Blythe so from the 11th May, after receiving further instruction and said pudding from Mary, Rebecca Perigo began to eat the pudding. For the first five days neither William nor Rebecca noted anything particular about the pudding but on the 6th both noted that the pudding tasted bad. William Perigo did not finish eating it but Rebecca did, and when both began to feel unwell they took doses of the honey as per instruction. William took 2 spoonful’s whilst Rebecca took between 7 or 8.
The couple experienced various symptoms including a violent heat came out of the mouth, a pain in the head “20 times worse than any common headache” and skin changes around the mouth to the point the skin turned black. Rebecca tongue also swelled so that she could not shut her mouth, leaving her constantly thirsty. Rebecca was by far most affected by this illness whilst William was ill but recovered with a lingering nervous stomach. After an extended illness Mary died in extremis on Sunday 24th May.
Shortly following his wife’s death William contacted a surgeon in the town, Mr Chorley, who examined him and advised him he had been poisoned by mercury chloride which had undoubtably been added to the pudding and/or honey. This did not move William to action and from May to September 1808 he received a number of letters from Miss Blythe. These ranged in terms as words of comfort for his loss, requesting and accepting gifts of Rebecca’s belongings, providing further advice, charms and fortunes and offering dire warning should he take action against Miss Blythe and her agent based on his clearly waning confidence.
In the final letter in September 1808 Miss Blythe lamented her clients lack of faith saing
My Dear Friend – I am sorry to tell you, that should you think so much evil of Mary Bateman, when she has been such a trusty servant to you. I wonder that you should think that I have destroyed your property, to think what I have done for you, it has cost me many a hundred pounds; and it is the last time that I shall take any one under hand again for it has nearly killed me. You must burn this letter at some public house in Leeds, and get a pint of beer, and burn the letter in the same fire at the house you got the beer.
On the 19th October 1808 William Perigo opened the bedding into which the magic pouches had been sewn and opened the silk and linin bags. Where he expected to find guinea notes he found only paper. Where he expected to find gold, he found a halfpenny, a farthing or pieces of lead. He went straight away to Mary to ask about the matter who proceeded to chide him for opening the bags before the appointed day. This, she said, had broken the magic and turned such treasures into the dross he found.
William returned the following day with Constable Driffield who finds many of Rebecca’s belongings and the items gifted to Miss Blyth over the years in Mary’s home.
On the 17th March 1809 Mary Bateman is brought to trial at York Assizes for the extortion of the Pergio family, the value of which was states as £100 (approximate 2017 value £4,652.52), the attempted murder of William Pergio and murder of Rebecca Pergio.
A number of frauds and con’s came to light during the trial, including the mysterious deaths of the Kitchen family, a mother and two adult daughters, who rang a small drapery shop in the city. The women received fortunes from Miss Blythe, as well as charms, spells and “country medicine” when they one by one fell ill and died, diagnosis Cholera. After the death of the last Kitchen’s it was found that their entire estate and home had been plundered for all it was worth and it wasn’t fully realised until the trial that it was Mary who had done the plundering.
Mary’s defence was to deny everything in a written statement and then refuse to speak except to profess her innocence. The Local Packet stated that Mary looked “very plausible and not like someone who is hiding poison in her potions … she looks polite and respectable …. despite having a tongue in her head to wheedle the devil.”
The jury went out for a short period of time, let’s say a fag and a good chin wag, and returned a guilty verdict. The judge, donning the black cap, stated that “for crimes like yours the gates of mercy are closed”.
In a last ditched effort to avoid the inevitable Mary declared that she was 22 weeks pregnant – resulting in a stampede as all the women in the courtroom to attempt to escape. Why? well because none of them wanted to be called upon to examine Mary to verify the proof of her claim. The judge however barred the doors and a second jury of 12 women were sworn in to confirm, or more accurately refute, Mary’s claim. Following the examination, she was declared to have lied to the court and she was taken down to be transferred to York and the place of execution.
On the 20th March 1809 Mary Bateman was executed at York Castle to a large crowd, somewhat disappointed that she didn’t use her magic to escape death at the last moment. Her body was returned to Leeds and put on display for the two and half thousand people who paid 3pence (in advance) to view it as it is taken to Leeds Hospital for dissection.
As part of the dissection, she was skinned so that, like many other notorious Georgian murders, she could be included into a tradition known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. Her skin was tanned and used to bind books including Sir John Cheeke’s Hurt of Sedition: How Grievous it is to a Common Wealth (1569), and Richard Braithwaite’s Arcadian Princess (1635). In the case Arcadian Princess the book existed in the library of Mexborough House until it mysteriously went missing when the library was being catalogued for sale in the mid-nineteenth century. There is also said to be a medical textbook which came into the possession of George VI, but I am unable to provide a title for this volume. Needless to say, one Yorkshire witch translates into three books and a dozen or so curios, including a folding cup.
Mary’s skeleton was preserved and put-on display at Leeds Medical School, and was moved to Thackery Medical Museum. It is still housed there but no longer on display following a BBC documentary focused on the familial descendant of Mary’s and a successful petition for the respectful treatment of human remains.
Taking a Closer Look – Screwing Down
Screwing Down is probably best described as a form of binding, magically constraining someone from doing harm to others. The details of how Mary practiced screwing down is limited to the list of items requested of the client but we can make some educated guesses how we might use those items today.
Let’s modify this a little and reduce the number of items to one a piece and replace the gold coin with a representation of money, because there was no way Mary would have put a gold coin in anyone’s charm.
- A piece of leather – for creating a pouch/packet, replace with a pouch
- A piece of blotting paper – for a written charm
- a brass pin – to seal everything
a gold coina representation of money / representation of the situation
A similar written charm in this instance would be to write the name of the person who needs to be bound in the centre of the blotting paper a magical number of times (lets say three times). The name of the charm holder, or one of the many names of God is then written over their name multiple times, until the first name is entirely blotted out or “overcome”. Whilst doing so a psalm could be recited. There are lots of possibilities but for example Psalm 9 (for overcoming enemies), 10 (to prevail against all odds) or Psalm 59 (to be rid of enemies) would be appropriate. Once finished the written charm is placed within the leather, folded into a pouch with the coin and everything secured with the brass pin. The charm can then be carried on the person, or placed somewhere intimate such as under the bed.
Another way to construct the charm, using a pouch, would be to fold the paper charm three times away from you (still reciting the psalm) and securing the paper with the pin. The pinned charm is then placed in the pouch along with the coin representing the financial matter, though the coin is really unnecessary.
In the case of the Greenwood’s it had been decreed that Mr Greenwood was being pursued by four men wishing to obtain money from him and that Mr Greenwood was at risk of “dying of their attention”. The written charm can be adorned with imagery associated with the financial matter, be that currency symbols as well as other symbols and sigils associated with financial matters (saturnian symbolism would be most appropriate in this place as we are wanting to restrict the target).
A charm to constrain an enemy aka Screwing Down
You will need
- A piece of paper
- A black pen
- A pin (either dressmaking or safety pin)
- A pouch
Identify an appropriate Psalm and personalise it to yourself and your enemy. For example;
- Psalm 9 (for overcoming enemies)
- Psalm 10 (to prevail against all odds)
- Psalm 59 (to be rid of enemies)
Recite your personalised psalm throughout the operation until complete.
Write the name of your enemy three times in the centre of the piece of paper. Around the names illustrate the situation in which they are troubling you along with the planetary symbol for Saturn and associated sigils. Once completed proceed to write your own full name across each of those of the target until their name is entirely obscured by yours.
Once completed turn the written charm so that the writing is facing away from you and then fold the paper in half away from you. Turn the paper anti clockwise 90 degrees, fold in half away from you. Turn again anti clockwise and fold a away from you a third time.
Secure the paper charm using your pin and place it into the pouch. Carry the spell, or keep within a secure place until your enemy has withdrawn from the conflict. Dispose of the charm as appropriate.
The Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch by Davies and Company, Stanhope Press, Leeds, 1811
The Yorkshire Witch – The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman by Summer Strevens, Pen & Sword History, Barnsley, 2017