Historical Events  Religion

Last witchcraft trial in England was in 1744

Last witchcraft trial in England was in 1944

A bad spell

The idea of witches goes back thousands of years the world over, and has gone by many names.

One who seems to process supernatural powers, is some kind of outcast, or even, more often, is just on the wrong side of a superstitious mob, can be classed as a witch. Modern society tends to scoff at witchcraft as a mere historical quirk, but in fact it's seen as a real issue in several countries today.

The term "witch" over a thousand  years old and came from England. It comes from the even older "wicca", and originally described men - a far cry from the hooded black flying female figure on a broomstick.

It's this idea that it's all from the middle ages that causes many to be shocked when they hear the last official trial for witchcraft took place in 1944 in England.

The Witchcraft Act, 1735

The story of the last witchcraft trail in England has a few twists and turns. For a start, it's not one where some village outcast was charged with casting spells on people, far from it. In fact, that particular act, which was still a law at the time, was used because it was the best way to secure a the conviction required for fraud. The wording of the act was such that it was not an offence to produce spirits, only to pretend to do so.

Yorke was 72. She was fined £5.

It's a popular mistake to describe Helen Duncan as the last to be convicted under this act, but she was found guilty of it a few months earlier, and she went to jail for 9 months because she'd been convicted of something very similar a decade earlier in Scotland. 

Both were "cashing in" on the macabre business of the many deaths during the second world war, and grieving families willing to pay for any kind of news of their deceased loved ones. The law at the time was such that these ancient witchcraft ones were the most appropriate to secure a conviction.