Witchcraft for long held a spell over Sussex folk and Sussex ways.
Mabel Briggs was charged with this heinous crime at Lewes Assizes in 1538. It was alleged that for many years she had been preparing potions and powders ‘used by the fair maidens of Sussex for winning over country yokels’.
Her home was found to contain a big stash of herbs and potions and her accusers said these had but one purpose and that was to inflame the passions of young men and damsels. It is said that one jar – dubbed ‘Devil’s Delight’ – contained a concoction of sweet marjoram, wild thyme and lavender calculated ‘to make the olde younge’. She also had an ‘elixir of beauty’ made up of elecampane, vervain and mistletoe berries; when applied to the complexion it was said to be ideal for the removal of freckles.
Bearing in mind there were no Boots the Chemist or Superdrug stores in the 16th century, it strikes me that Mabel Briggs was nothing less than a pioneer in the beauty business, preceding Nivea and Olay et al by a good 400 years or so. But sadly, being first in the face cream field didn’t do much for hapless Mabel’s own health. The jury found her guilty of witchcraft despite her protestations that she was no more than ‘an old countrywoman believing that herbs are the means of promoting beauty of the body’. Her terrible fate was to be burned alive at the stake.