MARY BATEMAN, THE YORKSHIRE WITCH

LEEDS, WEST YORKSHIRE

The Yorkshire Witch, Mary Bateman started her career as a petty thief. But it wasn’t long before her greed outgrew the small Thirsk village in which she was born, so in 1787 she moved to prey on the city of Leeds.

To set the scene, it had been over 80 years since the last Witch had burnt at a stake in Yorkshire, so witchcraft was no longer feared as it once was. Medical advancements were emerging but experimental if anything, therefore many people continued to look back to the traditional methods to cure ailments.

Bateman spotted the opportunity and was quick to profit from the gullible.

Branding herself a Witch, Bateman began to make good money from fortune telling and selling potions. Two sisters by the name of Kitchen, lived in St Peter’s Square, Quarry Hill. One of them was feeling unwell so called upon the services of the so-called Yorkshire Witch. Bateman gave the woman a potion and within a week, she was dead. Days later, the other sister took a turn for the worse, so her mother came to help. With Bateman still on scene, both mother and remaining daughter died within two days. When the remaining family members came to clear out the house, it was already stripped bare and the Yorkshire Witch was nowhere to be seen.

Shortly after the newly built Leeds Infirmary was constructed, nurses were sent out to request linen from the textile mills that had forged the fortunes of Leeds. Bateman, again seeing an opportunity, dressed as a nurse and went around the mills requesting their support. All the linen she gained, she pawned. The Infirmary were left with next to nothing.

The Witch got her comeuppance when she was called in to help the Perigos family from Bramley. Rebecca Perigos had been suffering from severe pains and had requested the help of Bateman. After two days of the Witch’s treatment, Rebecca deteriorated. William Perigos, Rebecca’s husband, called in a physician but Rebecca had passed away before he arrived.

Becoming suspicious, William Perigos decided to lay a trap for the Witch. William pretended to be ill and called for Bateman’s help. With the constabulary watching every move, they saw the Witch exchanged a bottle of potion for cash. Upon testing its contents, it was made up of 10% rum and 90% arsenic. The Yorkshire Witch was arrested and sent to stand trial in York.

Found guilty of Rebecca Perigos’ murder (based on reputation rather than evidence), the Yorkshire Witch was sentenced to hang. On 20 March 1809, 20,000 people lined the street to watch her execution.

Bateman’s corpse was given to the Infirmary to recompense the linen she had deprived them of. It was time for the Witch to repay her debt.

Such was her notoriety, the Infirmary put her corpse on public display and charged visitors for the privilege of looking. Then, a public dissection was performed on her, again with seats being sold to observe. The surgeon played to a full house and made over £200 for the Infirmary.

But that wasn’t the end of the profiteering. The Witch’s skin was then flayed and tanned, as is the process with leather. It was then cut to workable sizes and sold as souvenirs, with the intention for the recipient to make something from it. Finally, her bones and strips of her skull were sold as magical good luck charms.

Until 2015, the remains of Mary Bateman’s skeleton were displayed in the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds. There are hundreds of tales purporting to have witnessed the ghost of the Yorkshire Witch throughout Leeds. Some of the most notable have taken place at Thackray Museum. The figure of a woman has been seen on a number of occasions in close proximity to Bateman’s remains. In 1990, when the Museum was being reconstructed, a workman refused to return to the site after he came face to face with the dark shadow of the Witch. Friends said he turned grey overnight.

Her skeleton now resides at Leeds University, but many believe that her restless soul still walks the streets of Leeds, looking for the skin and bone that were taken from her. Until they are reunited, the ghost of the Yorkshire Witch will never rest.

Mary Bateman, The Yorkshire Witch