The Ghost Keeper of York

Anne Pierson Part one


Part One

Nowadays, the many visitors to Goathland, in the North York Moors, enjoy the breathtaking scenery, pretty little cottages, the Steam Railway and of course, the connection to the hugely-popular TV series, “Heartbeat”. Yet few would realise that, at one time, this pleasant village was once a hotbed of witchcraft in the county. During the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and James I, this secluded place housed many families who practiced the dark arts from one generation to the next and people would come from far and wide to benefit from their skills.

In earlier years, not a few ordinary folk regarded sorcery and spells as being legitimate ways of gaining good luck or of banishing bad and would pay in coin or farming produce for a local witch to improve their lot, whether that be for a better harvest, an end to livestock disease or perhaps for an enhancement to their own health and well-being. However, this all began to change when stricter laws were brought in to control witchcraft - especially under King James, who was obsessed with the matter.

As a result, the number of witches began to diminish, not just through arrests and executions of the practitioners themselves but also through a decrease in demand, either because folk were afraid to visit them for fear of being condemned, or due to increased hostility as time went on.

Yet some held out.

One such was Anne Pierson, who lived just outside Goathland in the 17th Century. Times had been hard for her, she’d had an accident, which left her with a permanent eye injury, love had passed her by and over the years, she had become bitter and resentful toward others in her old age. Whereas before, she might have been upset by the horrified reaction people had when they saw her injured “evil” eye, now she merely smirked with disdain. She positively enjoyed scaring the children. Yet, the increasing hostility of the locals had eventually forced her to move from the village into an old cabin in the woods.

Even so, the wily Sorceress had devised a way of venturing out from her hovel without being noticed by the villagers - she had discovered a spell that could transform her into a large Wild Hare. In this guise, she would run about the woods and fields, gleaning whatever she needed in order to sustain herself. At times, whe would even sneak into the village and steal bread and sweetmeats.

After a while, some of the villagers began to suspect what was happening and word gradually spread of this strange creature which, although shaped like an animal, had human mannerisms and, of course, the unmistakable “evil” eye. Now, only those who were brave - and desperate - enough to find her out, came by the cabin in the woods.

So it was that one cold drizzly night, a caller visited Anne Pierson. He was not the usual kind at all - this was no farmer’s wife or lovelorn cattle drover but a fine gentleman, well known in the area. He refused her offer of a drink and a seat, instead choosing to remain standing and to launch straight into his problem. To his immense disdain, he explained, his daughter had foolishly fallen in love, not with a man of means but instead with a young farm labourer - a Ploughswain. This situation of course, could not be allowed to continue, he argued with mounting agitation. Why, it was obviously a passing phase, a mere fancy and.. one day.. one day, she would realise the error of her ways and would.. well.. come to her senses! Until such time, however, he needed something to put her off the boy. A spell? A potion, perhaps?

The Witch was silent for what seemed like an age. Her face though twitched excitedly all the while and her one good eye darted about her as if she were imagining something. Eventually, the Squire took a breath to speak but she quieted him with a raised finger and fixed him in her gaze. “Never fear”, she whispered, “I have just the thing”. She went to her store of elixirs in the corner of the room and spent some time rummaging to the bottom of a pile of small containers, finally pulling out a dusty bottle. “Take this and give half to your daughter in the morning after the cock has crowed and half in the evening just before sundown. There will be a change, mark my words”.

By now, the Squire was becoming unsettled by the Witch’s unnerving stare, so he hurriedly made his payment, took the bottle and left. When he finally got home to his mansion after a long, cold, damp horse ride, the Nobleman locked himself in his study and took a look at the contents of the vessel. Inside, there was an amber-coloured liquid with a spicy smell. For a fleeting moment, he questioned what he was about to do but then dismissed the thought and became more determined than ever. This nonsense must stop!