Up early, not bright eyed and bushy tailed,but a breakfast of pancakes and bacon sets us up for the day.
The plan is to visit Joan Whytte to honour the ancestors, pave a walk from Boscastle up to the Minster, woods and hills where she is buried in a secret area. We went last year so it’s feels like a pilgrimage.
Who is Joan Wytte?
Original text by Cecil Williamson:
‘You are looking at the mortal remains of Joan Wytte of Bodmin, Cornwall, a witch known in her day as the fighting fairy woman of Bodmin, Joan Wytte was born in Bodmin in 1775 and she died in 1813 from bronchial pneumonia in Bodmin jail, aged 38.
Town records of 1524 list a John Wytte as being a weaver and yarn twister. By 1780 to 1790 weaving and yarn spinning had gone into a decline, and a Wytte of back street, now Pool Street, Bodmin, was listed as a “tawner” that is maker of white leather, a trade for which Bodmin by then had become renowned.
This white leather of finest quality was in demand for ladies’ and gentlemen’s gloves, gauntlets, boots and shoes etc.
This skeleton has been submitted to inspection by a home office forensic expert the report states that the skeleton is that of a female person, aged about 38. That she was a heavy tobacco smoker and used a clay pipe. Her diet included a large consumption of stone ground flour. That in stature she was a small, short person, undernourished and very slim.
Her arms were long for her height and her hands slender with bird-like claw fingers. The body does not show any sign of arthritis, but the bones are exceptional in that they show two things.
One that the water supply source used by the Wytte household was exceptionally rich in natural fluoride, the other that the bones show that she was in long contact with kaolin or china clay.
The report concluded by pointing to the huge abscess cavity in the right wisdom tooth. It is of interest to know that James Chappel, governor of Bodmin jail from 1780 to 1827 stated in an interview with the press that, “yes, I admit that we have had women that we could not tame, but never a man,” poor Joan Wytte, she must have endured considerable pain over a long period from the abscess under her wisdom tooth. As the home office expert said, anyone with a thing like that would certainly be bad tempered and aggressive, which would account for her being dubbed, when one also takes into account the smallness of her body, “the fighting fairy woman of Bodmin” and it was her fighting spirit that landed her in jail.
For many years she was used in Bodmin jail as a parlor tricks and entertainment, and then onto the Witchcraft Museum where she was displayed outside.
Thankfully modern day witches and the curator of the museum at the time in 1998 buried her in a secret area, and put no longer abused on her headstone.
It was a hard walk for me, the old hip issues rearing their head up again. But pain aside, the day was deeply emotive, and reflective too.
Though Boscastle felt wrong with no drummers, no dark Morris dancers and pagans as far as the eyes can see. However we did the exact walk, and watched the sun go down, with our hearts and minds thinking of the past and future.