Whittiford Cures

       Chris Perera / Humor
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© Copyright Chris Perera 2016

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The right of Chris Perera to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Cover design: BRADLEY STAPLEGUN © Chris Perera

Acknowledgements:

For design intervention: Andre Soukias.
Chris Perera is the sole and exclusive owner of Whittifordshire, a fictional county in the West Midlands, where most of his writing is set.
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Whittiford Cures is currently available as a free eBook only and is published in conjunction with Whittiford Wilds and Eugene in His Own Words which may be purchased here:

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Whittiford Cures


Taken from the


THE FOLK-LORE

of

WHITTIFORDSHIRE


As collected by Mr Bentley P Peabody - Whittiford Folklorist

From various oral and printed sources

With an introduction by Mr Bentley P Peabody





Introduction


“T'ent no use if'n you tells someone.” Sally Gobhook 1853 – well known Whittiford ‘wise woman’ who spent her final years in Peoghbury Workhouse.

Ask any old soul to tell you how a charm works prior to the outbreak of World War One (and in certain Whittifordshire villages, well into the middle of the 20th Century) and something akin to those very words, recorded well over a century ago, would most certainly have been your answer.

Don't tell anyone!

Charming, you may think. But the reply was never meant as a personal slight. Ironically, those gifted individuals blessed with the ability to charm were often those most lacking in it. Sally Gobhook herself, was considered the bluntest of women, even referring to the local squire himself as a “dozy old turnip what a swine shat out” when he failed to take one of her cures correctly.


Charms. Spells. Divination. Herbal lore. These were the medicines and cures for the majority of Whittifordians whether born of noble blood or the lowest of humblest peasant stock. Even now, with Whittiford blood diluted as never before due to increased migration into and out of the county, vestiges of these rural beliefs may be found in small outposts. Now, however, they are under siege by the relentless forces of modernity, and what some locals witheringly call “proper medicine what works”. Undoubtedly, the old ways are on the cusp of disappearing forever, along with other fondly remembered oral habits and traditions.

I, myself, am the seventh son of a seventh son – rare in these days of an average 2.4 children, although, I confess, I have included in my calculations, three of my siblings who are “half-brothers” by a first marriage (both my parents remarried) and also, my own dear sister Jerry (Geraldine) a self-confessed Daughter of Sappho, who insisted she be included in this mystical septet (and nobody argues with Jerry).

Born the seventh son of a seventh son, or thereabouts, I am a natural charmer by birth, and if you don’t believe me, ask the former barmaid from The Cock at Berkin Green, who not only yielded to my charms but subsequently became Mrs Peabody! As every denizen of Whittiford would once have known, this is my birth-right.

Nevertheless, my own ability, mostly accomplished by slight-of-hand and a tot of brandy, is humble beyond belief when compared to the vast horde of lore once known to those in the know.

Of course, until recently, the practice of medicine (especially in rural areas) was little better than the peasant lore that it purported to surpass. With the cost of a “quack” beyond the means of most rustic labourers, including those who were semi-skilled and even those with a trade, it is no wonder that superstitions lingered on far longer out in the sticks than in the more sophisticated metropolises of Whittiford, Gloucester, Shrewsbury, Worcester, Hereford and so on.

It is worth noting here, that it was not only humans that could be charmed. Charming livestock was very popular in the remoter areas. The Wiltoch Hills were said to be particularly profligate, with locals often interfering in the affairs of their sheep and cattle against the advice of what we now call veterinarians. Nevertheless, many in remoter areas would argue (even today) that interfering with animals is perfectly natural, as long as the livestock is given a thorough seeing to by a sympathetic body experienced in such matters. The swine of Thruckmore (and some of the remoter farmsteads of Peogh Woods) were said to be no worse off in the hands of these spirited amateurs than if the so-called professionals had got stuck in.

One lady, a widow named Flo Gibber, is on record as being particularly delighted at the way in which a well-known charmer saved her old ass, which she depended on for her livelihood. And that, as recently as 1907!

Surprisingly, the bible, too, plays an important part in this form of rustic healing. It was long believed by the Whittiford peasantry that in the hands of a powerful charmer, the correct passage would bring comfort to many a tumescence.

Many of the following cures and remedies are taken from an old book belonging to a Mr E. Kersal written in his charming Whittiford dialect. These remedies, and indeed many of the symptoms, have been obscured by the passage of time. For the sake of authenticity, I have attempted to keep some of the entries exactly as recorded by Mr Kersal but in order to be more clearly understood by the modern reader, I have edited them into modern English, or embellished them with annotations of my own where I have felt it preferable to do so, though I have attempted to keep this to a minimum and hope that the reader will forgive my intrusions, finding them useful and practicable wherever they may be found and not (as found in many similarly edited tomes on local history) as overly long-winded as this sentence might imply.

Sincerely,

Bentley P Peabody
Whittiford Folklorist


LEECHCRAFT, CHARMS and HERBAL LORE



Chilblains

For the releasement of suffering in children as recorded by Mr E Kersal:

Lower the child into a well by use of a bucket. When the bucket is full of ice cold water, bring it back up and tip child and water out onto the grass, reciting the following prayer: “Jesus Christ, I hopes them chilblains has gone, Amen to that”. It is said that the child will never again suffer chilblains as long as they do live, which sadly, often wasn’t long.

In years gone by, an old woman from Blednock was said to have drowned two of her own children using this cure for chilblains and a third died of pneumonia. But when challenged by a rural magistrate, she was able to prove the efficacy of the cure by demonstrating that none of her offspring had subsequently suffered from chilblains. The woman was let off with a pardon and poultry compensation, which lead to a rash of copycat cures.

This practice was stamped out by the County Wartfynder, a zealous former Shrewman, who despite his title, was tasked with seeking out any form of misconduct involving most types of skin blemish.


Knobworm


Beware the merrye monthe of May
For tho' tis mostly glad and gaye
Ne'er into water stray
Lest the knobworm hav its way

Up until the final days of the reign of Queen Victoria, when knobworm (Tellus Manubrio Vermis) was entirely eradicated from all English water-courses, every Whittiford child would have known this ditty. The air beginning to warm with the season, most peasants took their first, and in many cases, only ablution of the year in May. Those with access to a babbling brook had little to worry about. A quick dip in the clean but chilly water and all would be well and sanitary. Not so for those who only had access to a pond. Though the water would be warmer, heated by the natural rays of the sun, the wily knobworm (so-called because the shape of its head resembled a ceramic door handle) buried in a state of suspension in the depths of the pond while the ravages of winter raged above them, would emerge from their slimy bottoms and make their way towards the warmth. Tiny and almost transparent with hunger, these bottom-dwellers would seek out the warm bodies of mammals in which to reproduce. The scrawny, near-hairless bodies of splashing humans were not, it was well-known, the natural home of these peculiar creatures. Nevertheless, they could be indiscriminate in their choice of burrow and when the more hirsute cavities of the larger domestic mammals were unavailable, they would settle for a
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