Bewitching mystery at historic Barnstaple building
- Credit: Archant
Historians fascinated by discovery of protective ‘witches marks’ at St Anne’s Arts and Community Centre.
A hidden reminder of Barnstaple’s superstitious past has been revealed with the discovery of a rare ‘witches mark’ on one of the town’s best known historic buildings.
A visitor to St Anne’s Arts and Community Centre spotted the double triangle mark on the lock of the main door, where it had hidden in plain sight.
It was common for 16th and 17th century builders to carve ritual or ‘witches marks’ into doors, windows and fire places, to ‘protect’ them from witches and evil spirits.
None had been found at the 14th century building before and its original use as a chapel would have provided all the protection needed as far as its builders were concerned.
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From the early 1600s the building became the town grammar school.
Unconvinced there was evidence of ‘witchery’ afoot, Heritage Centre manager Denise Holton took photographs and set out to discover the story.
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“Witches marks were more commonly carved into wood or stone — it is more unusual for them to be in metal,” she said.
“The mark is of two triangles meeting at one point, like simplistic butterfly wings. It was particularly exciting to come across a documented design called the ‘butterfly cross’, used to block entrances and were made by a blacksmith to go on door latches.”
It is thought the wooden door is part of the building’s 1869 restoration, but the iron fastenings were probably re-used from an earlier door. Now a similar mark has been found on an interior door.
“Perhaps the infamous Bideford witches had made the people of Barnstaple particularly cautious?” asked Denise.
“We wonder how many Barnstaple witches this little cross was protecting the school boys within from? If you haven’t been to St Anne’s yet please come and visit.
“It is free and open every Tuesday and Thursday when our volunteer guides can tell you all the stories of the building and you can hunt for more witches marks.”