Curator's Choice: Norris Museum, Huntingdon

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The Independent Culture
We are looking at what is called a Bellarmine jug which was used as a 'witch bottle', a charm against witchcraft and is often found in rural places like Huntingdonshire. It's a clay bottle with a salt glaze and is moulded with a kind of fierce face on the neck.

They were imported from Germany and used as ordinary beer or wine bottles, but they had this extra use among country people who would buy them and bury them somewhere in their homes. Traditional places were under the hearth or threshold of the cottage so as to protect the whole house against a witch coming in either down the chimney or through the door.

The jug itself dates to the 17th or 18th centuries and there were several famous witchcraft cases in Huntingdonshire about that time. The Witches of Warboys is one of the most famous cases: in 1593 three villagers were hanged for witchcraft and one of their alleged victims was Lady Cromwell, the aunt of Oliver Cromwell, the future Lord Protector. Her husband bequeathed the confiscated goods of the supposed witches to pay for an annual sermon against witchcraft.

The appearance is very attractive, the salt glaze gives it a lovely popply effect and the moulding of the face is a very striking piece of folk art. We are often groping in the dark to get any sort of idea at all from mere objects, but to have something that is so intimately in touch with people's deepest beliefs is, I think, very special indeed.

Bob Murdoch is curator of the Norris Museum, St Ives, Cambridgeshire (0480 465101). Mon-Fri 10am-1pm & 2-5pm, Sat 10am-12 noon & 2-5pm, Sun 2-5pm

(Photograph omitted)

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