Hampshire (G-B): Bearded men bottles could have been filled with urine and hair to ward off 17th century witches

Ben Miller

Source - http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art524115-bearded-men-bottles-could-have-been-filled-with-urine-and-hair-to-ward-off-17th-century-witches

Bottles found beneath a hearth in Hampshire contained bent bronze pins, human hair and cork bungs

A set of four salt-glazed bottles, adorned with stylised face masks of bearded men who seem to be showing varying levels of malevolence, could have been used as protective charms or as antidotes to witchcraft, according to new speculation surrounding the excavation of two Hampshire cottages in 1981.

Anne Leaver, who lived opposite the construction site for a British Telecom exchange building in Abbotts Ann, led members of the Andover Archaeological Society to the suspected former homes, where mechanical removal of surface layers revealed brick flooring and footings, a flint-lined wall and a bottle in an upright position beneath a hearth.

A second, inverted bottle was found under a hearth. Two more – one inverted, one upright – surfaced nearby, each containing a cork bung and reflecting designs from the early 16th century Rhineland, commonly found in England from the 17th century.
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The inner surface of one of the vessels had been coated with yellow powder© Hampshire Cultural Trust

The threshold or hearth is the traditional place for protective charms,” says Dave Allen, the Keeper of Archaeology at Hampshire County Council.

“Contemporary accounts indicate that the purpose of such bottle burials was as an antidote to witchcraft – hence the name witch bottles.

“Typical contents included bent bronze pins, bent nails, human hair, nail clippings and urine. It is assumed that the deposits were intended to throw back an evil spell on the witch who had cast it by using the sympathetic power of the hair or urine of the supposed victim.

“The two upright bottles contained a coil of hair and each inverted vessel contained three bent bronze pins.

“All of them were complete except one, which was broken across the middle with some small pieces missing. The inner surface of this vessel was coated with yellow powder.

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The faces tended to become less friendly as the bottles degenerated© Hampshire Cultural Trust

Writing in 1671, Joseph Blagrave, a Reading man known to have studied astronomy, astrology, philosophy and physics, advised that a witch’s powers could be counteracted by closing urine in a bottle for a prolonged spell, accompanied by three nails, pins or needles.

“The practice was described in various accounts in the late 17th century, no doubt stimulating its rapid spread,” says Allen.

“It turned out that another complete bottle had been found five years earlier in another house in the village, buried in a chalk floor immediately in front of the hearth and chimney stack.”

Known as Bartmann vessels, the bottles were also named after Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, an important figure in the Catholic church during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Cardinal’s involvement in contentious issues made him unpopular, causing people to bestow his surname upon bottles with fearsome faces.

“But he was far from bad, giving all his worldly goods to the poor and dying a pauper himself,” says Allen.

“The first Bartmann vessels had friendly faces. But as the masks degenerated, it may have encouraged their use as witch bottles.”

One of the roundels is “exceedingly rare.”

“The medallion has the initials ‘W K’ and the date 1672. ‘W K’ is probably Captain William Killigrew of Chelsea, who attempted to manufacture stoneware in England with the help of Symon Wooltus, a Dutch émigré. Their first bottles were made at Southampton.”

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