Updated date:

Mary Bateman: The Yorkshire Witch

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

In the late 1700s, Mary Bateman started out telling fortunes but realized those seeking her alleged clairvoyance were vulnerable to swindles. She became an accomplished con artist able to relieve her clients of their valuables and, in one case, their life.

Mary Bateman’s Early Life

She was born Mary Harker to a farmer and his wife in 1768. An 1811 biography noted that “So early as at five years of age, Mary Bateman began to display a knavish and vicious disposition.” She went into domestic service at the age of 12, but she stole from her employers, leading to dismissal.

Her reputation as a thief grew and yet she was able to find employment, albeit short term, until her latest bout of larceny was uncovered. Eventually, of course, the job offers ran out in her locality so she moved to the city of Leeds where her penchant for thievery was, as yet, unknown.

Venturing Into Witchcraft

She was about 20 years old when she arrived in Leeds and found work as a seamstress. As a child she had spent time around the Romani and, no doubt, picked up some of their reputed skills of divination.

She now used this knowledge to supplement her meagre needlework income by fortune telling, and added witchcraft to her suite of services. “Need a rival in romance to be stricken with the palsy? I have a potion for that.”

Bark of hawthorn, tongue of mouse, and seed of nettle.

Bark of hawthorn, tongue of mouse, and seed of nettle.

In 1792, Mary married a wheelwright named John Bateman, a union he came to regret. According to accounts, Bateman was an honest man, but the couple had to keep moving lest people from whom she had stolen find them.

She tricked her husband into leaving Leeds to visit his father on the pretext he was ill. In his absence she sold John’s clothes and furniture to pay off some angry victims of her thefts. John had had enough and left to join the army.

As with all the practitioners of the dark arts of the swindle, Mary Bateman was said to be charming and charismatic with a feral understanding of how to exploit the weaknesses of her targets.

[Mary Bateman] once roamed the streets of Leeds after a major fire begging for money and goods for victims, but that she kept all of this for herself.”

The Yorkshire Post

The Prophetic Hen of Leeds

Early in the nineteenth century, Mary Bateman’s trade in spells and elixirs aimed at warding off evil went into decline; probably because they didn’t work. She needed something to boost sales, so she invented the apocalypse predicting chicken.

In 1806, her hen started laying eggs upon which was written “Crist is coming.” (This was the world before Auto Correct). Fortunately, for the people of Leeds Ms. Bateman was able to alleviate their fears by selling them blessings; these came in the form of pieces of paper with the initials “JC” written on them.

Presumably, this was a door pass to Heaven when the Rapture came.

But, people can be so suspicious. One night a local hid out near Mary’s house and saw her stuffing a pre-inscribed egg up a hen’s oviduct. Busted.

The end times are a-coming. Yes they are.

The end times are a-coming. Yes they are.

The Invention of Miss Blythe

Ever inventive, Mary Bateman conjured up the character of Miss Blythe a woman possessed of phenomenal powers for soothsaying. And, (wouldn’t you know?), Mary Bateman was the only person Miss Blythe would accept as an intermediary.

A go-between has to be paid of course, but such was the reputation of Miss Blythe as a reader of the future that clients were pleased to open their purses. In addition, the oracle had an amazing appetite for the possessions of those who sought her counsel. She might suddenly develop a need for a family’s cookware or bedding to aid her in her spirit communications.

She was an acquisitive lass.

Mary Bateman’s Downfall

A woman called Rebecca Perigo had the notion that the devil had possessed her and was causing her heart to quiver; she went to Mary Bateman for relief. Coins were exchanged, and as Bateman gained the couple’s confidence she was able to swindle them out of what little they possessed.

To head off possibly intrusive inquiries, Bateman convinced both Perigos to eat some pudding that Miss Blythe recommended. The pudding was laced with mercury chloride. An agonizing death resulted.

Mary Bateman seasoning a pudding with poison. Note the body hanging from the gallows outside the window.

Mary Bateman seasoning a pudding with poison. Note the body hanging from the gallows outside the window.

At Mary Bateman’s trial William Perigo said of the pudding he “ate a single mouthful, but it was so nauseous that he could eat no more of it, his wife however swallowed three or four mouthfuls, but was unable to eat more, and she carried the pudding into the cellar, and was there seized with the most violent vomitings.” Her tongue swelled so large that she was unable to close her mouth and she suffered from an unquenchable thirst.

He testified that his wife refused to have a doctor called because the instructions from Miss Blythe were that this would disrupt the mystical healing process.

The Yorkshire Post reports that Bateman’s “trial for the murder of Rebecca was a national sensation and she was found guilty and hanged at York Castle in March 17, 1809.”

Thousands of people turned out for the public execution and many were happy to pay money to view her corpse. Souvenir hunters even bought pieces of the woman’s tanned skin as charms.

Bonus Factoids

  • England’s Witchcraft Act of 1735 was still the law until it was replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951. In 1944, a woman called Jane Rebecca Yorke was convicted under the 1735 act of defrauding clients during séances. She was the last person convicted under the old law. Her sentence was little more than a slap on the wrist.
  • Book challenging is a request to have a book removed from the shelves of public and school libraries. Between 2000 and 2009, the most challenged books in the United States were the Harry Potter novels written by J.K. Rowling on the grounds that they dealt with witchcraft.
  • According to the United Kingdom’s Parliament “Overall, some 500 people in England are believed to have been executed for witchcraft.”

Sources

  • “Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch.” Davies and Company, 1811.
  • “The Terrible Crimes and False Wonders of Mary Bateman, the Witch of Yorkshire.” Catherine Curzon, Mental Floss, March 29, 2019.
  • “How a Con Artist Used Basic Chemistry to Prophesize the Apocalypse.” Esther Inglis-Arkell, Gizmodo.com, November 17, 2014.
  • “The Yorkshire Witches: Mary Bateman, Mary Pannal and Mother Shipton.” Yorkshire Post, October 31, 2018.
  • “Mary Bateman: The Leeds Witch.” Keith Spence, ON: Yorkshire Magazine, undated.

© 2020 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 24, 2020:

Rochelle. One of the sources I used said the people of Leeds were more annoyed at the abuse of the chicken than they were of being swindled.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on November 24, 2020:

Wat a terrible person who used,deceived, robbed and murdered. I also feel bad for the chicken.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 24, 2020:

Indeed, Rupert! I can't imagine to whom that refers!

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on November 24, 2020:

And some people who direct all their energies into doing evil end up becoming president of powerful countries. Not that I have any particular person called Trump in mind.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 24, 2020:

Interesting, though macabre. Sad that such people put their energies into doing evil instead of good. A remarkable story though. I'd never heard of her; I'll have to ask my sister who lives in Yorkshire if she knows anything about her!

Ann

Related Articles