Scared to death of Faeries

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THEY have long been regarded as a myth but now it’s official … four people were scared to death by fairies in West Cumbria between 1656 and 1663. Deadly duels fought with frying pans and pitchforks and drunken brawls waged with bar stools and beer jugs claimed lives in the village of Lamplugh during the 17th century.

Details of the mysterious deaths have emerged after an old manuscript painting a picture of murder, mayhem and misadventure was found by Cumbria Archives. Parish burial records show death by gluttony at a house warming party and a fatal reaction to the squire’s wife’s cordial water. In those days, superstition played an important role in people’s lives and deaths.

Lamplugh’s records show how three women were drowned as witches and another unlucky parishioner was led to a watery grave by a will-o’-the-wisp. Other deaths listed in the document include:

  • Attacked by the parson’s bull
  • Choked from eating barley
  • A frying pan and pitchforks duel
  • Crossed in love
  • Took cold sleeping at church

But not all residents suffered such surprising ends; 57 people died of old age. Anne Rowe, county archivist of Cumbria Archive Service, said: “It’s great to unearth a document like this in our collection and gives people a chance to discover a more quirky side to history.

“I’m not sure whether to attribute this list to our ancestors’ superstitions or just their sense of humour.”

“These were insecure social times and many folk in the 17th century would have been scared of fairies and ‘will o’the wisps’ with many natural deaths put down to the ‘evil witchcraft’ of a harmless old widow. “The document is also revealing in its historical details, such as drunken brawls being fought with frying pans and pitchforks.”

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