Feature

THE KNOWSLEY WITCH

Across Knowsley in the early 1994, strange rumours circulated about a woman who was said to be a real-life witch and her ability to cure all sorts of ailments and conditions.

Raymond Gallantree, a 57-year-old doctor who had a practice in the Huyton area, learned of the so-called witch when his patient - 40-year-old Mrs Scott – arrived for her annual medical check-up – minus her fibromyalgia.

She said a white witch named Jane Thorogood had cured her of the debilitating condition with a special soup she had to drink once a week.

“Quackery, Mrs Scott,” Dr Gallantree told his patient with a lopsided smile. “There is no known cure for fibromyalgia syndrome, so this white witch is a con woman.”

“She is not, Dr Gallantree,” protested Mrs Scott, tapping her index finger hard on the doctor’s desk.

“She has cured me, I tell you. All the muscle spasms, pain and the irritable bowel thing have gone, and my mind’s clear as crystal.”

“They call it the placebo effect Mrs Scott,” said the doctor, glancing at his patient’s records, “but let’s come into the 20th century; I think we could try a new drug.”

Mrs Scott got up, shaking her head. “I don’t need any of your drugs, doctor – I’m cured, thanks to Mrs Thorogood.” She left the surgery, and Dr Gallantree sighed and minutes later the next patient – 35-year-old Peter Cheeseman – came in to see him.

Mr Cheeseman had been suffering from chronic insomnia ever since he’d been made redundant, and he’d been given mild sleeping pills, but they had given Cheeseman graphic nightmares.

He was also a hypochondriac who was convinced he’d die of heart-failure from these nightmares.

Cheeseman said he had gone to see a woman – a Mrs Thorogood – recommended by his aunt.

This lady dealt in alternative medicine and she had given him some special pillow which contained lavender and various herbs – and although Mr Cheeseman was now sleeping for eight hours at a time, he wanted to know if the pillow’s herbs could have any side effects.

Dr Gallantree advised him to: “sling that pillow away” and claimed its soporific effects were all down to autosuggestion.

Dr Gallantree heard of the white witch more and more as the months went on, and even a nurse at the practice told the doctor how she had visited Jane Thorogood herself because of her arthritis, and the witch had given her gin-soaked golden raisins and some purple potion to sip, and now all the joint pain had ceased.

“I’m surprised you of all people would fall for this mumbo-jumbo, nurse,” said Gallantree – but then he heard more of the white witch from Mike Carson – a doctor who had a practice in Prescot.

Dr Carson joked, “I’m rapidly losing half of my patients to this hag who’s haggling for business!”

“She should be investigated,” suggested Gallantree, “heaven knows what her potions contain.”

Then a friend of the two men – Richard Randall – another doctor from the Melling area – met them on a golf course, and he also spoke of “some woman who claims to be a witch convinced one of my patients that her sciatica had gone.”

“This witch isn’t a Jane Thorogood by any chance, is she?” Dr Carson asked. Dr Randall seemed very surprised at the question and slowly nodded.

“You’ve come across her too, then?” Randall asked.

Days later, an old patient being treated for warts came into Dr Gallantree’s surgery and said a woman his sister knew had put some tape around his fingers which had warts on, and she had told him that the warts would suffocate and fall off.

Gallantree tried to remove the tape from his patient’s fingers, but the elderly man said he’d rather “try the witch’s old remedy first.”

Dr Gallantree contacted the other two doctor friends and they arranged a meet-up at the Philharmonic pub in Liverpool with a solicitor to discuss a way of confronting this so-called witch.

As the four men debated how they should tackle the charlatan, a beautiful red-haired woman standing nearby suddenly turned to face them, and to Dr Gallantree, she said: “I have succeeded where your medicine has failed! Your people bled patients to death with leeches once!”

“Who the devil are you?’ asked Dr Randall, and before the woman answered, Dr Gallantree said: “Jane Thorogood – I presume?”

“You see me as a threat, doctors,” said Jane, “but before this week is through, one of you will ask for my help.”

And then suddenly – she was no longer there. She vanished before their eyes.

On the following day, Dr Randall’s wife broke down and said she’d been diagnosed with a serious life-threatening illness some time back, but she had kept the diagnosis from him. She had less than a year to live.

As predicted by the white witch, Dr Randall put out his feelers and asked his patients to contact Jane Thorogood on his behalf.

When the witch turned up at his surgery, Randall begged her to cure his wife and said he’d give her a blank cheque.

For a month, Jane gave Mrs Randall all sorts of potions, and the woman made a full recovery. Jane took no payment in return.

Dr Gallantree still believed the witch’s cures were all down to suggestion, and he tried to find her so he could accuse her – in the presence of his solicitor – of being a charlatan, but he never heard from her again, and gradually, all of Gallantree’s patients came back to him with their incurable ailments.

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