When one thinks of persecuting and burning witches, one imagines long-ago rural England or Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s. However in England persecution of “witches” lasted well into the 1950s , at least in the form of attacks on the Museum of Witchcraft.
As a young man Cecil Williamson stayed with his uncle, the vicar of North Bovey, in Devon. It was there he met a woman accused of witchcraft and, after intervening to stop local teens from harassing her, the he and the “witch” became friends. Williamson later is said to have been the “occult advisor” to the British secret service during the war.
Cecil went on to start the Museum of Witchcraft with his friend and occultist Gerald Gardner, but during its early years the museum faced some harsh persecution as well as problems from within. Eventually, Gardner and Williamson had a falling out, resulting in the museum being split into two entities.
Williamson’s new Museum of Witchcraft was forced to move three times due to vandalism and pressure from the locals in the towns. In Bourton-on-the-Water dead cats were strung up outside the museum and the museum was set on fire, a kind of modern day witch burning.
Finally, Williamson settled the museum in the picturesque fishing port of Boscastle where it remains today. Williamson died in 1999 leaving the museum in the hands of Graham King, who organized a burial for the skeleton of accused witch Joan Wytte, which was in the museum’s collection and had been on display for many years.
Today the museum has a very large collection of occult- and witch-related history and artifacts and among the exhibits are “Images of Witchcraft,” “Devil Worship and Satanism,” “The Hare and Shape Shifting,” and appropriately an exhibition on the “Persecution of Witches.”
In 2014, the museum came under the auspices of the Museum of British Folklore who added “Magic” to the museum’s title to better encapsulate the breadth of their interests, which include exhibits on “Crowleyian,” “Gardnerian,” and “Alexandrian,” practices alongside the traditional witchcraft displays.
Know Before You Go
Located by The Harbour in Boscastle, Cornwall.