From the Darlington & Stockton Times of June 18, 1921

THE equivalent of this column 100 years ago was obsessed, quite rightly, with witches, and especially Moll Cass of Leeming, who was “with great dordum dragged to the dam and there ducked, October 8, 1776”.

Among Moll’s many crimes was predicting the future by the time honoured device of a witch’s garter, which she tied around her calf. She inserted a magic cube into the fold and her client, who was after information about the future, then chose at random one of the tabs dangling from the magic garter. The tab provided the key to the witch’s magic and predictive tables, which only she could understand.

Moll had committed many other crimes, as this poem, composed in Leeming to commemorate her ducking, told:

For smiting Mary’s bairn wi’ t’pock

For setting Willie’s stack on fire

With some Hell flames she gat

And being so very kind with Nick

That the devil went and spat

Near t’altar rails and in t’church porch

And three times on t’toon Brig

And mair ‘an yance she spelled awd Tom

And laid him on his rig

For working much fildeed

With Tommy’s sheep and Hannah’s ducks

And makking Sally bleed

Worse than a stuck pig forsooth

And likewise we all swear

For casting pains in Martha’s bed

Past what a wife can bear

For drying up Ann Jepson’s breasts

Afore her bairn was speaned

For causing strife ‘mang wedded folks

We yan and all have deemed

That thoo shall be a water queen.

This is a long and devastating indictment of Moll who clearly set fire to chimneys, struck people with the pox, was in league with the Devil, did dreadful things on the land, caused poor Martha unbearable pain and sucked the life-giving milk out of Ann Jepson’s breasts. So it was quite right that she be ducked.

The description suggests that the punishment was meted out in Bedale Beck, perhaps near Leeming Mill where there used to be a dam to provide enough waterpower to turn the wheel.

The poet tells how it happened:

To the iron hoop we tied her wrist

All bone and wrassled skin

And to its legs her legs were bun’

Afore we dipped her in.

And to its seat her seat was tied

With t’rope about her waist

And over both her hips was laid

The seat beam to our taste.

Her e’en from sockets almost strained

With shaking gums and chin

With quivering brow and blanched cheek

T’old witch we dipped her in.

Despite being repeatedly ducked, “the amazement is that it was not her end for she amost drownded”.

And despite the ducking, Moll continued to practise her dark arts, predicting the future from her magic garter until her natural death in 1795.