Witching bottle at the ancient home of the National Civil War Centre hints at hunts and superstitions centuries ago
A green glass vessel could date from the witch hunts of the 18th century, when bottles were filled with fingernails, hair and urine possessing spell-stopping capabilities, according to archaeologists digging at a Grade II-listed Georgian building in Newark.
© Courtesy National Civil War Centre
Evil spells were warded off with witch bottles during the Civil War, although Matthew Hopkins – the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General of eastern England – took superstition to an extreme by executing hundreds of people during a three-year period from 1644. Laws against the crime of witchcraft were only repealed in 1736.
“Finding this very fragile bottle in one piece supports the idea that it was carefully placed in the ground,” says Will Munford, of Pre-construct Archaeological Services, discussing the 15-centimetre tall bottle.
“Perhaps it was buried during the construction of the Georgian part of the Old Magnus Building, but we can't be certain.
“It is the first time we have encountered a suspected witch bottle, but we did find a probable witching shoe – which had a similar purpose – in Worlaby, Lincolnshire.
“We often forget that people were very superstitious – it was part of their everyday lives.
“They thought that secreting such personal objects would offer protection from malign forces.”
The excavation is part of a £5.4 million restoration of the building taking place as part of the creation of the country’s first National Civil War Centre.
Backed by a £3.5 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the centre is expected to open in spring 2015.
“It's a fascinating object and part of the history of Newark,” says Bryony Robins, the Project Manager for Newark and Sherwood District Council.
“If it is a witching bottle it tells us a great deal about how people once viewed the world.
“If it really can ward off evil spells, it will be good to have it back.”
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