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Witch Marks of the West Midlands  

July 4, 2023
Author: Emily Johnson, Volunteer Blogger.

Witches, demons, and evil spirits played a key role in many historic belief systems and popular cultures. This is demonstrated from the witch hunts of the early modern period, to their presence in popular culture, spanning from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and even modern-day Halloween costumes. The seriousness of the presence of witches might have changed but one thing has not – the need to protect yourself from them. This is made clear by the presence of marks found in the some of Coventry and Warwickshire’s most renowned buildings. In this blog post we look at some of the best examples, including the witch marks in the Treasury of St Mary’s Guildhall.  

Witch marks are often called apotropaic marks, finding their name from the Greek meaning of “diverting evil’ and they are thought to have done just that. Here are some that you may find:

  1. The Auseklis cross: this is the rarest of these three examples and is often shown as a cross within a star. It features a star as they were believed to have powers to bring light and banish the dark.  
  2. The Daisy Wheel: these are often called hexafoils and resemble a six-lobed flower within a circle. This is by far the most common type of mark.  
  3. The overlapping Vs: these are often overlapping Vs to represent the virgin of virgins: Mary. These are the oldest and often hardest to find yet are the only type of mark at St Mary’s Guildhall. 
  4. Burnmarks – these are known to be very common, and often present as tadpole-shaped-burn on fireplaces and wooden entrances. This is thought to have been a ritualistic protection from fire.  

Often appearing at the entrance or exits of rooms which contained food, documents, and resources, these marks may refer to supernatural powers that will protect the rooms from evil. They can often tell us about the culture, struggles, and priorities of the people from an area based on where these marks are found. For example: a 14th Century grain ark (a metal hutch used to store corn) in Stratford-Upon-Avon appears to have the daisy wheel on it. This would make sense, as the 1300’s were a very religious time and people were struggling with famine and would have done everything they could to protect their food supplies, like using a metal hutch adorned with protective marks.  

These marks don’t stop with the ark. They are also found in Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Within Shakespeare’s home, the daisy-like mark is found in the cellar, which again is not surprising. In this period, beer was a key part of the diet and thus played a monumental role in people’s survival. The beer would have been stored in the cellars of houses to keep it fresh and cool and so these marks here may have been placed to prevent evil from contaminating the beer supply.  

Anne Hathaway’s cottage, however, appears to have a different style of witch marks, ones which would be familiar to a visitor to St Mary’s Guildhall. These are a fairly common type of marking called Marian marks. These appear as an “M”, or overlapping “V”s, thought to be a sign of the Virgin Mary. This design of mark is found in the guildhall’s Treasury. This room was built in the 14th Century as part of Caesar’s Tower, and housed many important treasures over the years, including the crown jewels during the Wars of the Roses from 1456-1460. These marks are often found in threes, thought to be a reference to the Holy Trinity. The marks in the Treasury are lucky survivors, as the vast majority of Caesar’s Tower was destroyed during World War Two, but the wall with the marks has survived.  

Why not pay us a visit and see the mysterious marks for yourself? And find out more in another volunteer blog post about the medieval wood carvings in the Treasury.  

Image taken by Volunteer Photographer – Lucy Swain.

Sources Used  

Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/features/discovering-witches-marks/what-are-witches-marks/ 

https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/features/discovering-witches-marks/

National Trust, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/discover/history/warding-off-evil-with-witch-marks 

Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/caring-for-our-collections-grain-arks-and-witchs-marks/ 

St Mary’s Guildhall: Timeline, https://www.stmarysguildhall.co.uk/timeline/  

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Please note: the Guildhall will be closed on 19th June for a private event. The Tales of Tea restaurant will remain open during this time.
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