Folklore and Superstitions

Rebecca Swan, the Kidderminster Witch


Category: Folklore
In the 1850s, few people living within ten miles of Kidderminster doubted that Becky Swan was a witch. She won her reputation when, being found guilty of obtaining money by false pretences from a servant girl, she prophesied that the magistrate who convicted her would not live till she came out of prison. He died a few days later. From that time many people slipped into her house to learn the future. The house was easily distinguished, for over the door hung this sign: 'Rebecca Swan, town and county letter writer to all parts, gives advise in all periods. No need to apply without recommendation. I have been wrongfully used. Wishes to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God'.

She had three large cats. and they were always present when she gave audience to clients. They were named Queen of Sheba, Queen Caroline, and Princess Charlotte. The cats would leap on her shoulders and purr in her ear, her clients being told what she pretended to have heard from them. She also had four magic dogs, Liverpool, Victoria, Pretty, and St.John. The latter was once stolen by 'some waggish limbs of the law' who paid her a visit. She lived in a dirty, delapidated cottage which stood on what is now Station Hill. The duskey interior was bedecked with bats, stuffed owl, and snake skins. Becky then past 70, had elf locks, a haggard face, eagle beak and wild eyes. All of which greatly impressed her clients.

She claimed to be able to recover stolen property, but when she lost 12 half-crowns and several gold rings, her art did not enable her to find them. In one account she is called an 'arrant rogue, a confederate of thieves, and played the game of restitution of property which had been 'lost'. A family lost their donkey and sent an embassy to Becky with an offering. She listened to the story, and consulted her cats, and said Neddy would return the following afternoon. And of coarse the donkey was found, 'a gipsey had found Neddy straying on Hartlebury Common and had learnt from friends who was enquiring, and he restored it to its house, hoping the young ladies would think of his trouble and loss of time'. of coarse, they were delighted, and not a word was spoken of Becky, but all concerned knew who was responsible.

Among other failings, Becky Swan was very fond of gin, and would frequently get drunk and pass the night in a chair by the fire-side, in conference (so she said) with the invisible world. She would exhibit a face scratched and bruised, caused she claimed with mighty struggles with witches and devils. On the night of her death, in November 1850, she was completely saturated with gin, and in rising from her chair, it was supposed she slipped on to the fire and was unable to put out the blaze. At an inquest, held at Worcester Cross, a verdict of accidential death was recorded. Her neighbours and clients heard groans, but was accustomed to such, and consudered that she was brewing some potent spell and forgot the usual precaution. In proof of this they pointed out the disappearance of the cats. which were never seen again after the death of their mistress. Huge crowds attended the buriel of her ashes, but the remains were not taken into church.


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