The White Wizard

We are saving that one
Packed house at HOFS

Thursday 21st February 2019 saw another full house at HOFS for the Hadleigh Gardening Association!
The capacity audience enjoyed an assured presentation on the famous local herbalist James Murrell (Baptised 1785 in Hawkwell – buried 1860, Hadleigh, Essex)

Bob Delderfield gave one of his exciting talks about historic Hadleigh; with a focus on our famous Cunning Man. Population of a mere 200 grew to 400 in his lifetime, and the attractive assistant, Bill Clements, worked the projector to illustrate the talk with some well-chosen views of Hadleigh: starting with Sayers Lane, later called Workhouse Lane and now Chapel Lane;
then we saw the village lock-up and Hadleigh High Street in the years before there was traffic.

Bob’s rolling tones declaimed extracts from:

“Witches over the Crouch”, The Times Tuesday 27th January 1959,

“The Magician and the Thief” in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 20th February 1857,

“A Study of a 19th Century Cunning Man” by folklorist Eric Maple from March 1960.

A Cunning Man of those times was an intelligent user of locally foraged herbs, and Cunning Murrell had gathered quite a collection of information from his work in different professions, including a knowledge of chemistry, astronomy, astrology, medicine and physiology of the time.

{Before we dismiss the knowledge of the time, alchemy in seventeenth-century England was often called chymistry. Worth noting at this point, that the terminology witch, wizard, magician may be viewed in the context of Arthur C Clarke’s third law, i.e. any sufficiently  advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.}

Was there evidence of real ability? Philip Benton (1815-1898) included a piece on Murrell in his scholarly work “History of Rochford Hundred” in two volumes published in 1867. Benton took a somewhat dim view of Murrell’s activities, suggesting that some of his roles were questionable.

Arthur Morrison, novelist (1863 – 1945) developed a more pragmatic view, first from his 1890 visit to Hadleigh and then in more detail in his 1900 work “A Wizard of Yesterday” published in the Strand Magazine Volume XX, 1900. This included an artist’s impression of the Choppen forge where Stephen Choppen and Cunning Murrell combine forces to create the first “Witch bottle.”

The engraving of the Choppen forge, located as it was through the arch still on the north side of the High Street, brought to life the well-attested appearance of the practical Stephen Choppen and the short, pebble-lensed, hard hatted Cunning Murrell. The latter achieved renown across much of Essex, north Kent and Suffolk.

In 1968, Bob had talked with a Choppen grandson, gaining an insight into the thinking of a quick-witted “quack” doctor, as he was known when buried. In summary, there were surprisingly few complaints and several attested reports of his advice and treatment being beneficial.

The local Reverend T E Espin of St James had engaged Murrell in religious discussions and was impressed. The Reverend E A Maley, Rector (1915 to 1952) of St Peter’s Thundersley was the author of the famous “The Ancient History of Thundersley” which included first person testimony from the patient that Murrell had “charmed” five warts off her hand for a halfpenny!

The audience clearly demonstrated how appreciative they were of a presentation expertly woven from fact, pictures and some informed speculation.

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