Wicked Wessex!

Scold's bridle

Object from: The Salisbury Museum

In the 1600s, this sinister contraption was used to punish people who were suspected of witchcraft.

Witchcraft in Wessex

A scold’s bridle, or witch’s bridle, was used to punish people who were suspected of witchcraft. It was placed over the victim’s head, so they couldn’t speak, or more importantly, curse anyone!

This is one of the horrible punishments used during the 17th century witch trials that took place not just in Wessex, but across the whole of Europe. Some witches faced the stocks or ducking stool, others were hanged.

More frightful facts

  • The first known use of a scold’s bridle was in Scotland in 1567, and the last in 1856.
  • The scold’s bridle was sometimes used on men, not just women.
  • Salisbury has two reported witch hangings – Anne Bodenham, ‘the Wiltshire Witch’, in 1653 for poisoning, and widow ‘Goody’ Orchard in 1658 for cursing a young girl.
  • The last known use of The Salisbury Museum’s scold’s bridle was near Leeds, around 1774.

Sad fate of the Handsel sisters

Local folklore tells the story of the Handsel sisters, three Danish girls who arrived in Wilton, near Salisbury, in 1737. Their arrival coincided with an outbreak of smallpox which killed 132 people in the town. The sisters were branded as witches, bludgeoned to death and buried in separate graves. 

Read more in the museum’s volunteer blog about witchcraft.

Salisbury Museum's scold's bridle

The Salisbury Museum chose the scold’s bridle to tell the story of the persecution of witches – truly an example of Wicked Wessex.

The bridle was given to the museum by W Blackmore and it originally came from Leeds. 

Old black and white of illustration showing an old woman wearing a scold's bridle.
Scold's bridle
Lithograph illustration of two witches in t he stocks
The Witch, No.2, 1892 lithograph by Joseph E Baker. Creative Commons
Black and white sketch of a witch in a ducking stool.
Ducking stool by John Ashton (1834)

The maquette is a miniature version of the haunting martyrs’ memorial that still stands where Dorchester town gallows were located.