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Shoo, ye witches!

You might have seen this story floating around this week. They’ve been doing some work on Knole House, the enormous Grade I listed pile in Sevenoaks, Kent.

They were renovating a room that had originally been remodelled for a visit from King James I and found these crude gouges in the wood on the beams under the floorboards and around the fireplace. Specifically, they found straight lines and crosshatches and V marks cut deep in the wood. Experts say these are apotropaic marks — folk magic intended to ward off witches and other evil.

What’s interesting about them is they’ve done tree ring analysis on the wood and they reckon they can pin the beams down to 1606. That’s just after the Gunpowder Plot. So, they figure, these marks were made to keep evil away from the King at a time he had just survived an assassination attempt.

Actually, I’m lying. That’s not the most interesting thing about them. The most interesting thing is, the picture above isn’t from Knole House, it’s from this house. That carving is on an exposed ceiling beam about ten feet from where I’m sitting right now. We always assumed they were just marks the workmen made to tally something or identify the piece of wood, but they look exactly like the marks at Knole.

No wonder the witches never come to visit.

How impossibly cool is that?

Good weekend, all!


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 7, 2014, 10:25 pm

King James never did visit, in the end. Old Sackville died first.

Knole, by the way, is Vita Sackville-West’s ancestral home. She was born there, and she would have inherited the lot had she been male (“‘Balls!’ cried the Queen, ‘If I had two, I’d be King!'”). One of the biggest estates in England. As it was, the whole thing went to a distant relation.

I’ve always thought that contributed to the mad, sexually confused cray-cray she turned out to be. Anyway, she went on to marry the equally sexually odd Harold Nicolson and they lived and renovated the buildings and gardens at Sissinghurst. You may recall the name. Sissinghurst is nearby and we go there often.

Haven’t been to Knole yet. It’s a ways away, but it’s on our list.

Comment from Janna
Time: November 7, 2014, 10:35 pm

That is sublimely cool. My house was built 1910 around the time of the my towns founding and is considered “old”
Can’t imagine how fun it’d be rooting around looking for old stuff. Does Charlotte still stare at the wall for no reason?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 7, 2014, 10:40 pm

Funny you should mention that, Janna. She did it just a couple of days ago.

There is NO sense in which this house feels haunted or spooky, though. Or perhaps I’m just as unpsychic as I’ve always claimed to be.

Comment from Janna
Time: November 8, 2014, 2:37 am

How in the world do you bring the house up to “modern”, ya know, like indoor plumbing. Do you just add on or do you try to retrofit.
Was it Uncle B’s ancestral home? 😉

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 8, 2014, 1:13 pm

Uncle B’s a Londoner. We bought this after looking at old piles in the area for…honestly, I think it was almost a decade. Many lovely old houses here, but most were either too expensive, or needed too much work, or didn’t have any garden at all. A spooky old lady in the town told us, if this place wants you, it’ll make room for you. And eventually it did.

Plumbing and electricity arrived after the War. They do it by running the pipes and wires along the outside of the interior walls, which can be pretty unsightly. Though a chunk of the house, including the kitchen, is 1970s and not wired like that.

Actually, the kitchen is old, but it was open to the air. I’m pretty sure it was for the animals originally.

There’s definitely a necessary mindset to live in a place this old. You have to accept a certain level of discomfort and oddity.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 8, 2014, 1:28 pm

Heavens, no! My ancestral home was a hole in the ground, Janna 🙂

We bought it about seven years ago.

It’s surprisingly easy to handle things like plumbing and wiring, because wiring runs along walls and pipes hide away beneath floorboards, but you are always left with the problem that ‘insulation’ was an unknown concept until relatively recently.

The worst part is that many old building are ‘listed’ under a gummint scheme, which strictly controls what you are allowed to do with them – and how. There is a point to this but, as ever, bureaucrats make ridiculous demands, presumably ‘because they can’, that can be a problem.

Having said that, I’ve lived in old and new houses and infinitely prefer the latter. I’m not even sure they are more trouble.

Comment from Janna
Time: November 8, 2014, 3:34 pm

I’m in Oklahoma, insulation is a necessity.

Last winter we were at -2 degrees F for a week and in the summer 102 is not uncommon.

I worked in Dallas (mumble) years ago and a fellow came in from England. In May (80ish degrees) he wanted to know if “it was always so bloody hot?” We just laughed. He absolutely withered in August, poor guy.

Y’all don’t have that much of a temperature swing.
Is your fireplace for enough for heat?

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 8, 2014, 3:50 pm

It is, Janna. We have oil central heating as well but frankly that’s a bit feeble, so we tend to use the stove more. That pushes out around 12-14KW so it does fine.

I can’t imagine what -2F must be like!

Comment from Janna
Time: November 8, 2014, 3:59 pm

Hopefully it was a one time deal.

You just sit wrapped in anything warm, and cuss algore.

It’s a cryin’ shame you can’t really freeze your butt off.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: November 8, 2014, 11:35 pm

Husband and I just bought a house that we hope will (finally) let us enjoy all four seasons. It has a sun porch, a sunny courtyard, an airy canopied patio, and a swimming pool (and very little grass to mow). We’re in San Antonio, so we have one week of freezing temps, then warm, hot, and roasting. The sun porch will make a nice plant room, I hope. I have visions of dwarf citrus trees and fresh herbs.

Comment from Oceania
Time: November 9, 2014, 5:14 am

Looking pretty quiet around here?

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: November 9, 2014, 5:28 am

I stumbled across the article below which gives some background and explanation of “witch marks”. Very interesting, and yup. You definitely got ya some witch marks there. Betcha that Mad Jack avoids that spot



Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 9, 2014, 12:13 pm

Oh my gosh, Some Veg — thanks so much for that .pdf! It turns out, per your link, we’ve got more witch marks in the master bedroom! We assumed it was the initials “TW” — but the exact same marks show up twice as witch marks in Wookey Hole.

That’s on the chimney breast in the master bedroom, presumably to keep evil from coming down the chimney as we sleep.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 9, 2014, 12:24 pm

Ha! Explains the marked absence of a certain portly gentleman with a sack stuffed full of Aston Martins and Hassleblads!

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: November 9, 2014, 2:30 pm

Meanwhile, the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society (UBSS) is wondering why they are getting hundreds of hits from America on their website!

What a fascinating story. And Badger House has its own collection of ritual protection marks.

Comment from Mojo
Time: November 9, 2014, 6:01 pm

I once lived in an old Victorian pile in North Dakota, built around 1880 by a well to do farmer. When we had trouble with the electric, the electricians found it had been wired using barbed wire and glass insulators.

Not up to code, needless to say.

Comment from Spad13
Time: November 9, 2014, 8:55 pm


I can’t imagine what it cost to try to push electrons down old iron barbwire.

I guess it might have worked as auxiliary heat in the winter though.

Comment from Bob Mulroy
Time: November 9, 2014, 9:48 pm

Here in Eugene, we have two seasons. Three to four months of uninterrupted blue sky, and the the wet season.

We found this lot at the tail end of the of a real estate recession, and we knew we had to build here.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 9, 2014, 11:51 pm

Mojo, that is one of the scariest things I ever read. Far, far worse than witch marks!

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: November 10, 2014, 1:19 pm

You’d think you’d want to leave the chimney open to witches. Makes ’em easier to burn when they’re already in the right place.

Comment from Anonymous
Time: November 10, 2014, 2:52 pm

Sneer all you want at Witch Marks, but just note this headline before you do:


Comment from tibby
Time: November 10, 2014, 5:19 pm

That is beyond cool! I wonder if it was a common code that everyone knew…
Ah well, guess I should have read all the comments before adding the above.

Comment from Sigivald
Time: November 10, 2014, 8:57 pm

I dunno.

From Vegetable’s link, it looks more like:

1) Witches liked Volkswagen.
2) Your marks still look a lot more like tally-marks, since none of the witch-marks cross under the “W” portion.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 10, 2014, 9:20 pm

The ones at Knole do, Sigivald. In the original post.

I’ll have to photograph the ones upstairs — the ones that look like TW.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: November 11, 2014, 6:23 am

-2 is not hard to take, if there is no wind, says the Wisconsin Badger. -40, with 30 MPH winds, now that will make your eyes water.

Comment from Janna
Time: November 12, 2014, 12:33 am

-40 WITH 30 MPH wind?!?? Jesus, and you live there why?? That’s much too cold for this lil’ Oklahoma girl.
You could freeze your little heiney plumb off.

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