WEIRD SUFFOLK: The Wizard of Ipswich who bewitched a man to sit all night in a cabbage patch
- Credit: Wellcome Collection
Old Winter is Coming: The wizard of Ipswich who possessed hypnotic powers which he used to punish wrong-doers, like the Derren Brown of his day.
If Old Winter was coming, criminals knew their number might be up…because The Wizard of Ipswich had hypnotic skills to punish them.
In The History of Stowmarket: The Ancient County Town of Suffolk, written in 1844 by Arthur George Harper Hollingsworth, one story about the wizard was recounted. “The most famous man in these parts as a wizard was Old Winter of Ipswich. My father was in early life apprentice to him…” it reads.
“A farmer lost some blocks of wood from his yard and consulted Winter about the thief… Winter spent the night at the farmer’s house and set the latter to watch, telling him not to speak to anyone he saw.
“About 12, a labourer living near came into the wood-yard and hoisted a block on his shoulder. He left the yard and entered the meadow, out of which lay a style into his own garden.
“But when he got into the field, he could neither find the style nor leave the field. And round and round the field he had to march with the heavy block on his shoulder, affrighted, yet not able to stop walking, until ready to die with exhaustion, the farmer and Winter watching him from the window, until ‘from pure compassion Winter went up to him, spoke, dissolved the charm, and relieved him from his load’
Winter was one of a legion of wise men and women who practiced their art, using spells and charms to combat malevolent witchcraft, to find (or punish!) criminals, missing people or stolen property, to tell fortunes or to offer love potions. Known as either “cunning” women or men, wizards, wise men or women or conjurors, those who offered help to others would do so in a variety of ways, including offering witch bottles which would contain items such as urine, metal nails, nail clippings and hair which it was believed in unison would cause harm to evil witches. Regular Weird Suffolk readers may remember Old Winter from a previous story about Grace Pett, the Suffolk woman thought to have been the first documented case of spontaneous combustion in 1744…or possibly she was the victim of anti-witchcraft magic.
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A farmer near Ipswich went to see Old Winter when his sheep were ‘bewitched’ by a strange disease which caused them to “whirl around around and cut sundry strange capers” before they turned up their hooves and either died or were stricken. After consulting Winter, he was instructed to burn one of his diseased sheep alive and that if he did so, the witch who had cursed the poor beasts would appear at the scene and – if everyone remained silent – the witch, like the sheep, would be consumed by flames. A fire was duly set up but the poor beast struggled so much that it had to be crammed in an oven instead, its bound feet hanging out. When Grace Pett burnt to death in her front room, her head, arms and legs were slightly fire-damaged but her torso was so burnt that it resembled a lump of charcoal – could her death have been caused by magic. Another tale claimed that when Old Winter caught a man stealing vegetables from a doctor’s garden, he bewitched him into sitting all night in a cabbage patch.
In another story from Some Materials for the History of Wherstead By Foster Barham Zincke, written in 1887, there are reports of witnesses seeing Winter with half-a-dozen “black imps” on his table, the size of rats or bats, talking to him or, rather, ‘twittering’ (not to be confused with social media).
Benevolent sorcerers were popular in rural areas and worked within a Christian context, therefore their magic was tolerated and, indeed, believed in by mainstream churchgoers.