Carrying on from our rebutting of the claim that Helen Duncan was the last person to be tried as a witch under the Witchcraft Act of 1735 – the truth may actually shock you.
The Last Witch Trial
Again, it was not a witch, and yet again, it was another medium who was targetted as a witch because of her claims of communicating with the dead post-war. Her name was Jane Rebecca York and she was tried after the war and after the time of Helen Duncan whose case preceded this case. Jane Rebecca Yorke was an English medium who was the last person convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. In the official records, it states that
“YORKE, Jane Rebecca. Charge: Pretending to exercise conjuration contrary to Witchcraft Act 1735”
Believe it or not, in 1944, she was arrested and convicted of being a witch because of claims she was defrauding the public by exploiting wartime fears. During séances with Yorke, undercover police were told to ask about non-existent family members. Yorke provided elaborate details on them (which she claimed had been provided by her spirit guide) such as telling an officer that his non-existent brother had been burned alive on a bombing mission. Yorke’s alleged spirit guide was a Zulu and she also frequently claimed to summon Queen Victoria. She was arrested in July 1944. At her trial in September at London’s Central Criminal Court, she was found guilty on seven counts against the Witchcraft Act of 1735.
This was more a political case that was dealt with because of the uproar caused when Helen Duncan was tried and convicted under the very same act of 1735. The director of public prosecutions decided the act was very handy to deal with questionable matters of mediumship and mediums and therefore exercised the right to use this ambiguous and questionable law. It seems the boom of mediumship that soared after the war due to the immense loss of life also stirred up major controversy and especially after the conviction and then subsequent passing of Helen Duncan. The act continued to be used against mediums and several cases saw the threat of the employment of convictions under it right up to 1950. However, the last recorded conviction was not Helen but Jane Rebecca Yorke.
It seems the boom of mediumship that soared after the war due to the immense loss of life also stirred up major controversy and especially after the conviction and then subsequent passing of Helen Duncan. The act continued to be used against mediums and several cases saw the threat of the employment of convictions under it right up to 1950. However, the last recorded conviction was not Helen but Jane Rebecca Yorke in Sept of 1944.
She did, it seemed, have a rather dramatic way of dealing with her seances and it was because of these, she became a target of the authorities. However, because she was advanced in her years, the sentence was very light indeed and she was only fined 5 pounds. It is not clear wether Jane was a real medium or indeed a spiritualist, and unlike Helen who had scores of witnesses to support her claims – Jane did not and very little is known about this Medium to date.
- Gaskill, Malcolm (2001), Hellish Nell: the Last of Britain’s Witches, Fourth Estate
- Photo courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch_trials_in_the_early_modern_period