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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Cumbrian witch's cursed tea set promises disaster for new owners

In 1817 a mysterious old woman known as the Brampton Witch gifted a set of china to a local friend on her death bed.

Tea set photo
Elizabeth Baty's china tea set

Builder John Parker was summoned to 88-year-old Lizzie Baty’s cottage at Craw Hall in her dying hours.

He was given the tea set but, according to legend, the gift was bound by a spell. Any member of the family who drank from the cups would be visited by good luck. But if the china ever left the family it would be the harbinger of disaster for the new owner.

Now, nearly 200 years later, the antique china is still in mint condition and being looked after by the extended Parker family at a house in Carlisle.

Jim Parker Templeton – whose mother Mary was John Parker’s great niece – said the mystery of the cursed gift has gripped his family ever since.

Jim, 90, grew up listening to tales about the Brampton Witch, from her predictions of the future to the grisly fate of those who crossed her. His sister Marion Reed inherited the antique, and since her death 12 years ago it has stayed with her family in the city.

But Jim, who lives at Coledale Meadows, feels he may owe his life to the superstition of the gifted china.

When war was declared in 1939, he was in one of the first groups of young men called up to fight. But before he left for duty, Mary sent him to seek out some good luck.

“She told me to cycle from our home in Belle Vue all the way to a family member’s house in Brampton to drink a cup of tea from the china. At the time I wasn’t convinced but did it because I was told too.”

Just days later Jim joined the Royal Medical Corps which is where he stayed until the end of the war in 1945. But of the 500 men sent to fight with him, Jim was one of only 37 who returned.

“We lost most men in the battle for Salerno, in southern Italy. I would get these feelings as if I were being prompted to move. So I did. And then something would land on the place I had been standing – a shell.”

After returning home Jim went on to work as a fireman, he married Annie and they had three daughters.

Neither Jim nor his daughters were keen to taken on the china and it has remained within the extended family for fear of the consequences.

Jim said: “We grew up with stories of Lizzie. She wasn’t known as a witch in her time but a wise woman. People would go to ask her to tell them about their future or would ask her for advice.”

Stories about the legend of Lizzie Baty, who was married to Brampton headmaster John Baty, still circulate in Brampton, from the tale of how the market stallholder who stopped giving her rations of butter suddenly found she couldn’t get the lard to set, to her prediction of the
death of a young bride-to-be whom she warned “you’ll get a white dress soon enough” – it turned out to be a funeral gown. Jim said there was also a possibility that some of the spell might have rubbed off on his family.

“When my mother was dying she said to myself and my father ‘You will see my coffin three times’. My dad told us she was just rambling, she was very sick.”

But when she died and was buried in Brampton churchyard, the following day there was a landslide. The coffin was buried again only to be pulled out of the ground after it was discovered that Mary’s uncle had not been placed in the ground beneath her as he should have been.

“That was the third time we saw her coffin,” said Jim. “We couldn’t believe it.”

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