Edmundbyers - Churches & Witches

Only a stones throw from Castleside lies the small hamlet of Edmundbyers. Its archaeological origins dating back to as early as the Mesolithic period with the hunter gatherers. There are also signs of later habitation during the bronze age, sometime between 2100 – 700 BC. The first documented history however can be found, like many of our area, within the Boldon Book.

The Boldon book was ordered by Bishop Hugh du Pudsey in 1183, one hundred years after the Doomsday book which had missed everything north of the Tees. Lord Hugh was made Bishop of Durham in 1153 and was said to have been a very ambitious man. He died on 11 March 1195. The Boldon Book was in fact a survey giving a basic inventory of land values and annual yield. The entry for Edmundbyers states: Alan of Bruntoft holds Edmundbires for his service in the forest, as is expressed in his charter. The land of Blanchland, which belongs to Alan Marshall, yields ½ mark.

The name Edmundbyers comes from the old English “Eadmunds” Barn or Byre giving historical weight to the area being settled well before the Boldon Books account. The history of the Church of St Edmunds dates back to at least the Medieval period, c1100, although it is strongly believed that this building stands on even older foundations, possibly back into the Anglo-Saxon and beyond. The village is of picturesque and historical nature as though time had stood still and is now a conservation area.

Edmundbyers - Churches & Witches

However, the village has also had its share of grisly goings on. In November 1641, Margaret Hooper, a local women, had visited a farm just up the road at Huntstanworth. On her way back home it is said that she become possessed and showed signs of derangement. Terrified she tried to chant the Lord’s Prayer but was unable to and began to foam at the mouth. She then saw what she could only describe as a black beast, which knocked her off her feet and dragged her kicking and screaming into the near by hall. The people who witnessed the event talked of the presence of a terrible stench as well as flames and smoke emanating from the monster. They immediately dropped to their knees and prayed for help. All present described seeing the presence of an angelic child like being which dismissed the evil and Mrs Hooper began to recover almost immediately.

Another well documented event was that of the Derwent witches trial. The Newcastle Assizes of Apri 13rd 1673, states that Ann Armstrong of Edmundbyers attended a witch’s meeting. During the said trial Ann went on to name several individuals who had also taken part. These people including Dorothy Green, John and Ann Whitfield of her village of Edmundbyers, Mary Hunter of Birkenside, as well as many others. The main accusations were that the accused had bewitched horses and oxen causing trouble and problems for their owners. Also that Mary Hunter was said to have transformed into a swallow after which she flew around and under her neighbour’s horse cursing it. The poor horse was said to have died in less than a week.





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