Surrey: Mother Ludlam and the Devil

This is going to end up a very witch-orientated series of Halloween posts, which wasn’t entirely intentional (I was hoping to focus more on different aspects of the weird and creepy), but I do love witchy stuff, and this is what I’ve been up to lately, so here we are. Today’s post is about Mother Ludlam and the Devil, and our day gallivanting around Surrey to retrace their steps.

This came about thanks to my new book, Cloven Country: the Devil and the English Landscape by Jeremy Harte, which discusses the many, many sites named after the Devil around England, and the stories behind them. Being of a spooky persuasion, I’d already seen most of the ones within an easy driving distance, including the Devil’s Punch Bowl and the Devil’s Dyke, but the Devil’s Jumps were a new one to me, as was the legend of Mother Ludlam (and don’t worry, for once we have a story that doesn’t end in tragedy for the witch).

 

The story goes that Mother Ludlam was an old woman of a witchy persuasion who lived in a cave near the ruins of Waverley Abbey (there are no dates assigned to Mother Ludlam, so this may or may not have been when the Abbey was still active, not that any of this is historically accurate) and would grant the unspoken wishes of visitors who threw a coin in the cauldron she kept outside the cave. One day, she had a visitor who left some suspicious footprints in the sand, ones that looked like goat footprints, so Mother Ludlam was able to quickly twig that it was in fact the Devil. This not being a time when witches were said to be in league with the Devil, Mother Ludlam was not best pleased, particularly when Satan picked up the cauldron and made off with it.

 

Mother Ludlam immediately gave chase, and apparently had the power of flight, so the Devil was forced to jump from the nearby Devil’s Jumps to try to get away. However, the cauldron was just too heavy, so he had to drop it in a field in order to escape. To stop him from stealing it in case he ever tried to come back, the cauldron was moved to a nearby church, as the Devil obviously wouldn’t be able to enter holy ground. Now, I can’t say how true this story is, but the fact remains that there is a cave you can visit (called Mother Ludlam’s Cave), as well as a church that contains a large cauldron said to belong to Mother Ludlam, and there are also Devil’s Jumps that you can hike up.

 

You’ve been seeing pictures of our journey throughout the post, but we began by parking in the Waverley Abbey carpark, as Mother Ludlam’s Cave is a short walk away, down a public trail. The cave is barred off to protect the bats that live inside, but you can walk up and peer through the gate to get an idea of the inside. We did also visit Waverley Abbey, where I was hit pretty hard on the ankle on the way in by their stupid gate, but it’s not Halloweeny (unless it’s haunted, but I don’t know if it is) and is just some ruins in a field, so I’m not going to talk about it now. We then headed to St Mary the Virgin, near Frensham Little Pond, where we went into the church to see the cauldron. I’m not a church person, but c’mon, any church that has a witch’s cauldron inside is pretty cool. They also had very neat handmade cushions/kneelers, many depicting beloved pets and other animals, and a nice little churchyard with a few interesting old tombstones.

We then drove to one of the Devil’s Jumps, which is right next to the Sculpture Park that we visited last year, though we somehow missed the devilish aspects at the time. It was an unpleasant slog up a bramble filled path, followed by a clamber up some rocks, though we did discover a much easier, gently sloping path not through brambles on the way down, and I enjoyed eating a pretzel at the top whilst sitting on a bench dedicated to what I think was a deceased dog (judging by the paw prints on the back). There is a sign up here that tells you more about the legend of the Devil’s Jumps, and there are two more jumps that you can hike, but after bashing my ankle on that stupid gate and stabbing myself with brambles, I wasn’t much inclined to do it, so we headed back to the car. Apart from the brambles, however, it was a good day out! I love discovering new bits of folklore, and Mother Ludlam’s story is a good one, not least because there’s actually a cauldron to visit. Will definitely be visiting more Devil-related sites when I can.

9 comments

    1. She does! I love all the stories of various old women besting the Devil. They didn’t specify whether they used the cauldron for anything other than a really big donation bowl (we threw some coins in as directed by the sign in the cauldron), but the guy who wrote the book I mentioned speculated that it might have been used to serve punch at church functions.

  1. I like a walk with a bit of a story to it. I like a good church and church yard too- never come across one with a cauldron though. There may be grains of truth in the old tales, hey?

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