Japonica Cottage, Walcote



As a child, in the 1940's, we were often told by our parents, about a witch that use to live in this house. In fact every child in Haselor School would have known and talked about a witch living here. I thought that the witch could have lived here hundreds of years previously, but now we have a first hand account by William Sykes meeting the witch in the late1870's. The house use to be called Holloway Cottage.


Now a days, not many families stay in the village for several generations and therefore these stories do not get passed on.

The Legend of the Witch as told in the 1940's

Holloway Cottage is on the side of a hill, called Walcote Hill and one day a horse and cart got stuck trying to go up the hill. After many attempts to get up the hill, a witch then came out of the cottage and said, "I can see your problem", and then proceeded to remove a piece of straw from in front of the cart wheel, and the horse and cart was then able to continue up the hill.


Extract taken from Life At Haselor Vicarage by William Sykes.

He was not the only unusual character that held our childhood’s imagination, for there was still a belief in witches, and furthermore, that a certain old woman in the village was one. She certainly looked the part. Her name was Mary Savage. For no known reason she ‘took to her bed’ during our early years at Haselor.


I remember being sent, as a small boy, with some cooked fish for her from my mother. The door of her cottage opened straight into the room where she lived. In response to my timid knock, a cracked voice bade me come in. I opened the door, and nearly fell into the room which was on a lower level than the threshold.


There she was, perched up in bed, her wrinkled face yellow as parchment, with a hooked nose that almost met her pointed chin. She wore a greasy old nightcap, and was smoking a short clay pipe.  Timidly I approached her with the fish which seemed to be my only security in this ominous atmosphere. Upon seeing the gift, however, she cried out in a querulous voice, ‘Feesh! feesh! I thought I told yer mother I didn’t like feesh!’ I stood there nonplussed, my eyes riveted on her witch like feature. Slowly she took the pipe from her mouth, and pointing with it to a tall wooden chest at the foot of the bed, she said in a low, impressive voice ‘I keeps ‘im in the top left hand drawer’. Overcome by a sudden fearful curiosity I whispered, ‘Who, Mother Savage?’ Her answer came in a sepulchral tone that made my hair rise from the roots. ‘The Devil’. Never had I covered any distance with such speed as I wheeled round and bolted through her door making for the safety of home!


Yet even after that, I would find myself drawn irresistibly to her cottage as I grew more confident, and on one occasion she told me in a solemn and lowered voice of her experience in church many years before. ‘I looked up towards the East End, and there, plain as daylight, I saw the Virgin Mary. I half turned in my pew and looked at Farmer L - and sure enough he just nodded slowly at me, as much as to say, “Yes, Mary Savage, I saw ‘er too!”


Charles Greenhill farmer at Walcote Manor

At one time before she became bedridden, she had a quarrel with a certain Farmer Greenhill. The story was that some days after their dispute, the farmer was driving an empty wagon past her cottage, on his way to fetch a load of corn at harvest time. Mary Savage came out of her doorway and leaned on the garden wall with arms folded. As the wagon drew abreast of the waiting figure, the horses suddenly stopped, and, in spite of the farmer’s shouting and floggings, they would not move an inch. Exasperated, he turned to Mary and said, “Come on now Mary, I’m busy. You let the horses go.” With a malicious smile on her face she replied. ‘You can go on when I’ve a mind, and not afore’. After a considerable period of immobility she said quietly, ‘You can go on now, Farmer Greenfield’, and the horses went into their collars and proceeded up the hill.


It was so firmly rooted in the minds of the villagers that Mary was a witch that one woman told me she would never let her enter her house. One day Mary came to the gate of this old woman’s garden, but, as she recounted ‘I watched ‘er stop all of a sudden. For why? Because I’d an ‘orseshoe nailed over my front door, and witches can’t face ‘em, so ‘er just turned round and walked away.’


Another woman who lived to be ninety-four told me with great solemnity that some time after Mary had died, a cat had come into the house which she declared was Mary reincarnated! ‘Aye’ she said, ‘er come in the other day, and I got the mop and chased ‘er out. I knew it was Mary - ‘tis an evil cat all right’. The same woman, on another occasion chased the cat away with a broom, and was heard to say ‘Confound your politics!’