Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

The Yorkshire witch: A story of murder and witchcraft

 In 1809 Mary Bateman, aged 40 years, was hanged in front of thousands of people. Her body was put on public display with over 2500 people going to see it. Strips of her skin were made into leather and sold as magic charms to ward off evil spirits.

Drawing of Mary Bateman.  She is shown sitting in a chair, wearing a white skirt and hat with a dark coloured shirt.  she is holding out an egg shaped object.
Drawing of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch

Some people believe that the spirit of Mary Bateman still haunts the halls of Thackray Medical Museum, where her skeleton was on display for many years.

  • But why was her skeleton on display there?
  • What did she do to gain the name ‘the Yorkshire witch’?
  • And why was she executed?

Mary Bateman started her criminal life early. She was born in 1768 on a farm in North Yorkshire and became a servant girl but was sacked because she was caught stealing. In the 1780s she became a minor thief and con artist.

She convinced lots of people that she had supernatural powers. She became a fortune teller in Leeds and sold potions that she said would ward off evil spirits.

In the late 1700s Mary was responsible for many frauds, petty thefts, poisonings and deaths but she managed to avoid being caught.

In 1806 William and Rebecca Perigo came to see Mary because they thought that Rebecca had been cursed. She had been having chest pains and asked Mary to help lift the curse. Over several months Mary tricked the couple into giving her more and more money. She prescribed a pudding secretly laced with poison. But it was only Rebecca that ate the pudding. Her condition got worse as the poison took effect and she died in May 1806. William Perigo continued to pay Mary for more than 2 years until he discovered that one of the “charms” he had bought from her was worthless. He went to the police who arrested Bateman the next day. Mary claimed that she was innocent but during a search of her home poison was found along with many of her victim’s personal items. In March 1809 she was tried and found guilty of fraud and murder. She was sentenced to death and tried to avoid execution by falsely claiming she was pregnant. She was hanged at York Castle.

After she was hanged her body was put on display and then given to Leeds Infirmary for dissection. Her skeleton was loaned to Thackray Medical Museum to be part of an exhibition there. Her skeleton is now at Leeds University.