Few witches have their image preserved, or are permanently on display in a glass case. One such is Old Kattie of Ruswarp, whose diminutive form can be seen in Whitby Museum’s toy and doll section.
Sometimes spelled Katy or Kathy, this unpleasant old lady was avoided by all who lived in, or passed through Ruswarp.
Except for travelling salesman Abe Rogers.
He would visit Ruswarp three times a year and, without fail, would call on Kattie, without knocking or asking permission to enter her home.
How could Abe succeed where others failed?
My version is based on Whitby Lore and Legend (1923) where Percy Shaw Jeffrey tells us the tale…
It is said that one night Abe and Kattie had a terrible quarrel on the moor.
No-one knows the subject, but they fought, Kattie seemingly tried to stab Abe with a sharp bodkin or needle.
Finally he grabbed hold of her, threw her to the ground and threatened to choke her.
But she wasn’t beaten even though she was now unarmed; she screamed some words and a group of a dozen imps surrounded them, closing in.
Abe released Kattie, who began screaming again ‘Deean’t let him git away.’
But just as it looked as if he would lose, Abe also started to make an incantation and, reaching into his bag he threw a pinch of something over his shoulder, causing a whirlwind to spring up, scattering the imps.
Using Kattie’s sharp bodkin Abe disabled each of the imps, and left the moor.
From that day Kattie treated Abe with respect, as she didn’t know what other powers he might have.
There are several published versions of the story; mine is based on that in Percy Shaw Jeffrey’s Whitby Lore and Legend, 1923 edition.
The Museum’s figure of Kattie, with a clay face, probably came from the collection of John Hall, a local schoolmaster.
Unfortunately the Museum seems to have no accurate information as to its origin, other than a reference in a 1968 book on witches; was it given by Mr Hall, or his family, or by some other person?
Who was Mr Hall, do you know any more about him? If so, please let us know.
The Toys and Dolls collection has many familiar and less familiar childhood pastimes, from dolls of the 18th Century to advertising dolls of the 20th, such as Bertie Bassett.
There are doll’s tea sets, toy soldiers, ABC books, jigsaw puzzles, and even a Rubik’s cube or two.
Nearby is a Noah’s Ark, dating to Napoleonic times, and probably imported from the Baltic area with which Whitby had important trade links.
l You can see this column on our website www.whitbygazette.co.uk - next week, we look at drawings of local villages in a book which belonged to the museum’s first curator John Bird.