A one-of-a-kind 17th century ‘witch bottle’ has been uncovered at Rochester Independent College in Kent.
The stoneware bottle is the 147th of its kind ever found in England and is the only known example never to have had its contents examined.
Experts at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) confirmed that the anti-witchcraft device has lain underneath the independent school undiscovered for over 300 years.
The bottles were used by professional healers to ‘cure’ a person when the cause of their illness was diagnosed as bewitchment. The victim or their family would take the victim’s hair, and sometimes urine, before adding other ‘protective’ items such as pins, nails or thorns. The resulting mix was sealed within a bottle and then placed around the hearth or buried under floorboards.
These items have since been rediscovered from house renovations since the mid 19th century, as well as in churchyards, ditches, riverbanks and on archaeological sites.
We are very excited about the creative and academic opportunities it affords – Ellen Crozier, Rochester Independent College
Rochester Independent College’s bottle was originally found in a cesspit during an archaeological excavation in 2004. At the time, it was not identified as a witch bottle and its contents went unnoticed. The bottle, along with glassware and pottery, was stored in the school’s cellars where it has been ever since.
This autumn, when the school invited local artists and mudlarkers, Kate and Fleur Alston, to metal detect in their gardens, the finds were remembered, examined and brought to the attention of MOLA.
Ellen Crozier, assistant principal and history teacher at Rochester Independent College, said: “I had laid out the finds in one of the classrooms and immediately drew Kate and Fleur’s attention to the bottle as it was the only intact item and very beautiful. Fleur said jokingly that it could be a witch bottle and I told her that there was something inside it. When we investigated, Kate and Fleur were able to identify it. There was quite a buzz as colleagues and visitors came in to take a look.
“It is just so exciting to be able to stand with the bottle in the building in which it was made and take students to the Computer Science classroom under which it was buried. To be able to tell them that, sometime around the 1680s, an inhabitant of this building believed they had been cursed by a witch and buried a bottle here and this building provides such a tangible and magical connection to the past. We are very excited about the creative and academic opportunities it affords.”
The bottle will now be examined by MOLA working on Bottles concealed and revealed, a three-year project with the University of Hertfordshire led by principal investigator, Nigel Jeffries.
Students from Rochester Independent College will visit MOLA to observe the X-ray and recording process. They will also make their own exhibition featuring the bottle as a centrepiece.