The Witch stories of William Bottrell

The reawakened Victorian concern to record and retell Cornish folk tales had its origins in the lives of historical individuals. So too did many of the stories they told. William Bottrell’s obituary in the Cornishman newspaper imagined the folklore characters he had made known walking mournfully behind his coffin. William Bottrell was one of the main informants of the folklorist Robert Hunt. Bottrell then emerged as a writer, publishing Cornish folklore and traditions in newspapers and journals, as well as three books, from the late 1860s. When William Bottrell heard or wrote about the White Witch and Charmer of Zennor, or the Witch of Kerrow, he was learning and writing partly about his own family history and Georgian individuals who lived in West Penwith. Where the esoteric, witchcraft, and magic seamlessly intertwined with industrialising early, mining technology, and the invention of the steam engine which brought the Victorian railways.


Charlotte MacKenzie is a writer and researcher in Cornwall. Currently writing a book on Cornish legends. Her recent publications focused on the lives and writing of women in Women writers and Georgian Cornwall (2020), and Mary Broad the documentary (2021). She is interested in the relationships between lived experience, history, and place in Cornwall and the impacts of Cornish participation in global exchanges, particularly in the eighteenth century. She is a former senior lecturer in History at Bath Spa University. Please feel free to contact her @HistoryCornwall.

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