The Curse of John Wood Of Newhouse

David Bower relates a case of a concealed ‘witch bottle’ in West Yorkshire


I read with interest John Billingsley’s article about witch bottles [1]. It reminded me of a discovery I came across when researching for a book on local Quaker history [2]. A lead plaque was discovered during the late 1980s, concealed in a dry stone wall adjoining a house called Newhouse near High Flatts Quaker Meeting House (High Flatts is a small settlement between Huddersfield and Sheffield). The plaque measured 21 x 21cms and had been inscribed with the following wording:

O thou tretcherous rogue John Wood of Newhouse Denby Dale I make this that thou rest not night nor day but be like the waters of the troubled sea tossed too and fro without a resting place and that thou cannot sleep night nor day nor that thou cannot die untill thou confess the wrong that thou hast done me TG & JG and my fathers house by aiding and assisting a forged will and robbing him and all his sons out of land and money signed in the mighty name of God   AMEN

The back of the plaque is inscribed with a matrix of numbers which on further investigation turned out to be a 9 x 9 magic square, which is often identified with the moon – perhaps added to give potency to the curse? It is thought the plaque was made and hidden in the second half of the 19th century.

John Wood (1822-1896), a farmer and manure merchant, was part of a prominent local family who had been Quakers for a number of generations. He was a well-respected member of the local community, a member of the Temperance Society, instrumental in founding the Birdsedge Day School and was involved in other local charitable works. We were unable to trace any mishap to him or his family and so cannot comment on the potency of the curse. The identities of TG & JG, who claimed to have been wronged, we were also not able to trace and so they remain a mystery.


John Billingsley, ‘P is for – witchery!’, NE119, Autumn 2009, p.19-20.

David Bower & John Knight, Plain Country Friends – The Quakers of Wooldale High Flatts & Midhope, Wooldale Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1987 


Published in NE121, Spring 2010, p.17