Dr Thomas Waters: Cursed Britain (1862)

Witches, spells, black magic and shape-shifting combine in unsettling ways for this special Halloween episode of Travels Through Time.

Britain, 1862. An age of modernity characterised by pioneering projects like the world’s first underground railway in London; hot air balloons soaring to the top of the troposphere; scientists engaging in the new fad for weather “forecasting”. And in the Midlands a new football club, Notts County, are formed – later to become the oldest of all the association football clubs in the world.

Yet running in tandem with this thrilling new world was an older, persistent belief in hidden supernatural forces. It was more than a century since Parliament had repealed the laws against witchcraft but, rather than being eradicated by the Enlightenment, folklore remained an active and potent force in everyday life. 

This is where we join Dr Thomas Waters, who takes us on a tour through 1862 to see examples of all of this: from the isolated Scottish islands, to the heart of Imperial London. In doing so he provides a striking and memorable portrait of a lesser-known side to the Victorian world.


Show notes: 

Scene One: Spring, 1862. On the tiny Scottish Western Isle of Gigha. James Smith watches as Catherine McGougan “shapeshifts”Scene Two: 13th April 1862, 31 Charles Street, Westminster. 74-year-old Mary King is attacked by her grandson.Scene Three: A little terrace house in Ancoats, Manchester, 1862. A fortune-teller named Alice is doing a consultation for a client, waxing lyrical about mystical things



Presenter: Peter MooreGuest: Dr Thomas WatersEditorial: Paul Lay / Artemis IrvineProduction: Maria Nolan / John Hillman