Whilst doing some research on the history of a house in Pirbright, I came across the tale of an old lady and a witches cave near Farnham, always one for a good witch story I delved deeper into it and decided to combine my trip to Waverley Abbey with a wander into the woods to find Mother Ludlams Cave. I was particularly excited to find this eighteenth century print on ebay the week after I made my discovery of the cave – it seemed like fate.
For hundreds of years witches have roamed the land, disguised as elderly ladies, hiding moles and birthmarks from prying eyes, stealing animals and destroying crops. Many had black cats as their familiar, turned milk sour and spread disease. Witch fever gripped Europe from the fifteenth to the late eighteenth century and it became a very real concern to people in England. Henry VIII passed the first witchcraft law banning it in 1542 but it was in 1562 that it became illegal. James I of England was noted for his interest in the occult. During the sixteenth century England was noted for its attempts to find and try witches and by the seventeenth century there was a notable witch hunter, a man called Matthew Hopkins who became feared as the leading witch hunter of his day, condemning over 300 women to death in his time.
One Surrey witch seemed to have escaped capture in the time of witch fever and became somewhat of a local legend was Mother Ludlam. There is a cave in the sandstone hills near Frensham in Surrey, only a few minutes walk from Waverley Abbey. Many legends surround this, but one favourite is that this was the home of Mother Ludlam, a friendly witch who provided for the local community. If the villagers wanted anything then they would visit the cave, stand on a boulder outside and ask Mother Ludlam for it. if she was so inclined and they had asked nicely then when they returned home, there it was on the front door step of their homes. The only requirement was that it was returned within two days.
Legend has it that one day a man requested the witches cauldron. Reluctantly, as it was her property, she did grant his wish with the usual condition that it was returned within two days. However, the man failed to bring it back and Mother Ludlam left her cave in search of the man, angered that he had failed to comply with the agreement. She chased him from his home and he fled apparently taking refuge in Frensham Church. Unable to get the cauldron out, it is still there to this day and has been used over the years for many things including festivals.
A great local legend and I love the many tales of folklore we have in this country.
The cave is easily accessed from the small car park at Waverley Abbey. With the car park behind you walk along the main road with the pond on your left and the old mil house on your right.
Go straight ahead up Camp Hill and almost right away there is a gravel driveway on your left signposted to Moor Park and this beautiful old Lodge house.
Continue along the driveway and you will find the footpath that runs along the fence and there is a gate at the end which leads into the footpath into the woods. The cave is a short stroll down on the right hand side. It does get a bit muddy if you want to get up to the cave entrance so be careful and bring your wellies in wet weather.
Sadly you can’t go in anymore, but you can see inside. William was very disappointed not to be able to meet the witch but I span quite a convincing story about witches being asleep in the daytime and her needing her beauty sleep which he seemed to buy. We then went on a beautiful walk through the woods.
However on our way back, there were two boys inside the cave – they certainly hadn’t come through the front gate so not sure how they got in. but needless to say William was mortified and started yelling at them to get out so they didn’t wake up the witch. Cue embarrassed mother. They appeared sometime later up the hill so maybe Mother Ludlam had a back door!
This is a nice little addition to a trip to the abbey and also the walk through the woods is beautiful and peaceful and I always love finding new places to go for a country walk.
Of course by this time I was gripped by witch fever and wanted to know more and by coincidence I then made a discovery about witch marks in the house I was researching.
As the fear of witches gripped the nation, people began to take measures to stop witches from entering their homes. Witch Marks were made on chimneys, doors and windows – the places where they were most likely to enter the house. Two of the most common forms are a capital W, which is two interlinked V’s for Virgo Virginum and a Daisy wheel made by a compass.
Many Witch Marks exist and have been identified in barns and churches across England but until autumn 2016 there had been no formal collection of data to see how these marks were used in secular properties. Historic England undertook a survey and asked people to submit photos of the marks in their home and are currently analysing the results.
Perhaps this room saw the trial of witches local to Pirbright? In the grounds of the manor there are two ponds which were part of the Mill House. Maybe these saw some ‘swimming’ or ‘ducking’. This was a Medieval idea of ordeal by water and resulted in the woman having her hands and feet tied and being ducked under the water. If she floated then she was said to be a witch as God’s water had rejected her, if she sunk then she wasn’t. An act of Parliament in 1736 meant that Ducking witches was now illegal but that didn’t stop the practice from happening.
My research continues……
Photos of the wicthmakrs can be found on the following sites:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-37824761 and https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/bmwewz/ritual-graffiti-witch-marks-and-the-medieval-churches-who-cast-curses