The Witches Tale

This strange story starts with an elderly couple from Long Marston, John and Ruth Osborne begging at a Gubblecote farm. When refused her mutterings were taken as a curse. Some time later when the farmer suffered some ill, the couples’ curse was deemed the cause of the ill and they were accused of being a wizard and witch. This led to a notice being at cried in Hemel Hempstead market on 14th April 1751-

" This is to give notice that on Munay next there is to be at Long Marcon in the Parish of Tring two ill desposed persons to be ducked by the neighbours consent".

This same notice was also cried at Winslow and Leighton Buzzard on their respective market days around this date and led to the last ducking to take place in the county and some 16 years after it had be made illegal.

An Inquisition taken the Twenty fifth Day of April in the year of Our Lord 1751

At the Dwelling house of Baylis Malins called the Half Moon Alehouse at Wilstone Green in the Parish of Tring in the County of Hertford aforesaid Before me Samuel Atkinson His Majesty Coroner for the said County on view of the Body of Ruth Osborne late the wife of John Osborne of the Parish of Tring aforesaid Labourer then and there lying dead on the oaths of Amos Lord Mathew Barton William George William Parkins William Fenn Ambrose Haliday Thomas Bray Mathew Littleton Thomas Kerne Thomas Wilkinson Walter Stubbs Thomas Lake John Calverhouse William Halroy Thomas Earl John Slater William Birth William Putnam Thomas Field James Lovatt William Coles John Chapple Joseph Knowles and John Lovatt [25 in total] honest and lawful men of several parishes adjoining who upon voice said Oaths Say that on Monday last the twenty second instant between the hours of five and six in the Evening of the same day One Thosmas Colley of Tring aforesaid Chimney sweeper together with divers others persons to the Jury at present unknown being unlawfully and tumultuously assembled at Wilstone Green aforesaid Did Kill and Murder the Ruth Osborne by suffocating her with mudd and water in a certain pond of water called Wilstone Wear lying and being on Wilstone Green aforesaid .

To continue, as the time went on, feelings towards the old couple grew more hostile and they were taken into Tring workhouse for their safety. On the 21st of April fears for their lives increased and they were moved to the vestry of Tring Church. The next day matters got out of hand and a huge crowd broke into the Workhouse doing much damage in spite of the demands of the Tring Constable 'that the peace be kept'. The Master of the Workhouse had little choice but to reveal their whereabouts. The crowd estimated at 4000 seized the wretched couple and carried them off towards Wilstone. At this point the details become confused. According to the statement of John Osborne the couple were initially taken to Gubblecote to the sign of the Black Horse, here they were tied up and left for a time and then later moved to the Half Moon at Wilstone. A statement of Mr Nott Gregory, Yeoman farmer of Wilstone said he left his house and saw from Days Field a huge crowd going towards some running water in Ten Acres Field. They blocked the stream to 'pen' a head of water so to duck the couple. The farmer intervened and the crowd moved off. According to the statement of Landlord of the Half Moon, Ruth Osborne was brought to his house and kept there for some 3/4 of an hour. Between 5 and 6 O'clock on that fateful Monday evening the couple were tried by ducking, dragged across the pond about 5 feet deep wrapped in a sheet and tied to rope. A Tring Chimney sweep Thomas Colley was seen to turn and prod Ruth with a stick and two other men one “de Umbles” and another 'Red Beard' both from Leighton Buzzard were also involved. One of the men finally dragged her to the bank. After they had finished with her they then turned to John and hauled him across the pond. Eventually three or four men carried Ruth to the Half Moon were they placed her in a bed. The landlord said after 15 minutes, when the men had left he went to see Ruth and she was dead.

The Examination of Bolos Molongs of Wilstone Green aforesaid
Victualler taken on Oath the day and year aforesaid.

This Examinant on his Oath says that about three in the afternoon on Monday last the said Ruth Osborne was brought to his house at Wilstone Green aforesaid by a very great mobb of people in a riotous manner and carried her up stairs where she was kept nealy three quarters of an hour afterwards she was brought in again by some of the mobb but she was dead. As this examinant believes and he further says that they put her into a bed and there left her. That no sooner the mobb was dispersed he went to see her and she was dead which was about a quarter of an hour after she was brought into his house and he also says that he does not know any one of the persons concerned in the said mobb.
Sworn the day and year aforsaid
Before Me
Samuel Atkinson
His Majesty Coroner for the said County

Meanwhile Colley had been collecting money from the crowd 'for the enjoyment the ducking had provided' an act for which he was to later pay dearly. The Coroners report states that crime took place in pond known as Wilston Wear on Wilston Green but its exact whereabouts remain a mystery. At that time the whole village was referred to as Wilstone Green.
To be continued