In 2009, as a leaving present from work, I was given a copy of ‘Southwold: An Earthly Paradise’ by Geoffrey Munn. Tucked amongst the art and culture of the town were brief details of a woman who was tried three times for witchcraft – Ann Camell.
I have always been fascinated by stories of witchcraft and it seemed like a good omen that Southwold had a witch of its own.
Ann sat in the back of my mind until 2019 when I idly tapped her name into a genealogy search engine. I hadn’t expected to find anything and was thrilled when record after record popped up.
I then searched for Thomas Camell, her husband, and William Whitton, her accuser, and gradually built up a picture of a woman who was not the poor, elderly hag so often portrayed, but one who had lived and loved, who had given birth to seven children and who was probably only in her early 60’s when she was put on trial.
Ann Camell was accused of bewitching a local sailor, William Whitton in Southwold, on 10th September 1645, employing ‘…divers evil and wicked spirits…’ and I discovered that research is a rabbit hole down which I could happily spend the rest of my days!
I became so engrossed in her story that, when I had exhausted Google, I extended my search to the National Archives at Kew.
I used a researcher who found not only a request from the Justices of the King’s Bench at Westminster for further information on her case, dated 28 November 1645 but a reply from Southwold describing her indictment for bewitching William Whitton, a sailor, dated 14 January 1646, together with a piece of parchment naming the Bailiffs who had to provide the information and the Justices at Westminster who requested it. (KB 9/831, TNA).
This original indictment still exists at the National Archives in Kew and they have kindly allowed me to show an image of it here.
The more I found out about Ann’s life the more I began to wonder how it would have felt to be a woman accused in those days. That thought wouldn’t go away, and so ‘This Fearful Thing’ was born…
You can read the full details of my research at the end of ‘This Fearful Thing‘. I decided not to include them on this page so as to avoid any possible spoilers.
And in the future…
During my research I discovered the story of a witchcraft trial in nearby Aldeburgh that took place around the same period.
In the original Town records, there are details of payments for guards for the trial, the names of the judges, the name of the carpenter who built the scaffold, the man who made the ropes (with knots).
Of the seven women hung, only two are named. The other five have slipped into history unmarked.
So, if you enjoyed ‘This Fearful Thing’, do sign up for my newsletter and look out for updates on my next book, ‘The Unnamed’, due for publication in early 2022.
Behind the Covers
The books would not be the same without the amazing artwork by Sandy Horsley.
Sandy is a Suffolk-based printmaker and illustrator, with a BA in graphics/illustration and an MA in children’s book illustration.
In her illustration work, she combines traditional printmaking and drawing with digital processes, developing the textured and unpredictable marks created when printmaking.
The artwork for ‘This Fearful Thing’ was carved from rubber blocks and then hand-printed, before being scanned and edited in Photoshop.