Old Mother Nightshade of Gedney Dyke
Until the middle of the 20th century the villages of the Lincolnshire fens were isolated, insular places. Everyone tended to know everyone else and a stranger in town would be cause for much suspicion and gossip. It was during the early 18th century, that an old fenwoman who lived in the village of Gedney Dyke, became the subject of much gossip and rumour.
The old woman lived alone in a cottage on the outskirts of the village. She never had visitors, but the villagers often heard a strange howling coming from her house and the few village children that had dared sneak up to her window and peek inside had seen the caged jackdaw in the window and the two cats hissing at it. Because of this, the old woman gained a reputation as a witch. The villagers called her ‘Old Mother Nightshade’ and gave her a wide berth.
In the same village was simple lad named John Culpepper who had the reputation as the local idiot. Culpepper was in love with Rose Taylor, the most popular girl in Gedney Dyke. Rose, however, repeatedly led the poor youth on before spurning and teasing him, leaving him feeling hurt and humiliated. Culpepper’s love turned to hatred. He went to Old Mother Nightshade’s cottage to ask for help taking his revenge. The old woman welcomed him in and gave him a box of sweetmeats to give to Rose. She then told him he was to report back to her in a few days when the moon was full.
John Culpepper did as he was instructed and watched as Rose greedily scoffed down the sweets. When the moon was full, he made his way to the witch’s house for further instruction. “Sit down in the chair,” Old Mother Nightshade bade him “and close your eyes until I tell you. Soon all will be revealed!”
John did as he was told, and when his eyes were closed he felt his arms and legs being fastened to the chair. He waited patiently until he heard the old woman’s voice tell him to open his eyes. No sooner had he done so than he let out a terrified scream. Old Mother Nightshade had vanished, and in her place was an enormous grey wolf! It had no tail, but had a hideous snarl which showed deadly, dripping fangs.
That night the villagers heard bloodcurdling cries of terror and agony coming from the witch’s cottage as well as the usual howls and growling. The menfolk of Gedney Dyke all went up to the cottage to investigate in the morning, but all they found were a bloody heap of bones and torn clothing and wolf’s footprints leading away from the house. The villagers buried the remains of the unfortunate John Culpepper then burned the cottage to the ground. Nobody ever heard from the old woman again, but to this day, when the moon is full, the people of Gedney Dyke claim they often hear the eerie howling of a wolf.
Rose Taylor eventually married a wealthy farmer in Norfolk and spent the rest of her life happily, never giving a though to the poor simpleton who had loved her.
Author: P A McHugh