The confession of Thomas Colley to the murder of Ruth Osborne, a suspected witch, 1751
The events leading up to this horrific ‘witch swimming’ seem to have begun when sixty-nine year old Ruth Osborne, begging for food, was turned away from a farm in Gubblecote, near Tring. Rumours spread that the old woman had cast a spell on the farmer and a notice circulated of a ducking.
Ruth and her husband were taken to Tring workhouse for protection, but the mob broke in and dragged them away. They were stripped naked and beaten; Colley, the ringleader, used his pole to hold her underwater and she drowned, though John survived.
The authorities acted belatedly in bringing about justice and although three people were indicted, only Colley was tried.
At the time, a lot of effort was put into inducing condemned men to confess. The chaplains who escorted them to the scaffold were anxious that they unburden their souls to God and the confession was frequently published as part of a pamphlet describing the crime. The handwriting may not be Colley’s own but he signed it on the day he was hanged.