Witch Cecil Williamson tried to open a museum to hold his collection of witchcraft and occult artifacts in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1947, but faced local opposition and had to abandon his plans. In 1951, Williamson opened the museum, under the name of the Folklore Center of Superstition and Witchcraft at Castletown on the Isle of Man. He had it set up in a dilapidated old mill known locally as the Witches' Mill which he had purchased in 1948, and, at the advice of his wife, opened an adjacent restaurant, known as the Witches' Kitchen. There then followed a spell of coven in-fighting which resulted in Ripleys gaing control and Williamson residing in England. On his return to England in 1954, Williamson opened the museum, now known as the Museum of Witchcraft, in Windsor. Here it stayed open for the tourist season, and was quite successful, but local opinion was still against it, and so Williamson decided to move it again. In 1954 Williamson moved the museum to Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. The museum suffered various persecutions, including signs being painted on walls and dead cats hung from trees, and eventually it was largely damaged in an arson attack.
In 1960 Williamson moved the museum to Boscastle in Cornwall. Williamson retired in 1996, selling the museum to Graham King and Liz Crow. A practicing Pagan with interests in witchcraft, King owned a business manufacturing specialist cameras in Hampshire when he discovered that the museum was for sale in a newspaper article. King and Williamson finalised the purchase at midnight on Halloween 1996. On Halloween 2014 King transferred ownership of the Museum, its collection and library, to the set designer Simon Costin, who had founded the Museum of British Folklore in 2009. In keeping with Williamson's original plan, most of the exhibits in the museum feature artefacts related to historical folk magic and the cunning folk. This includes a room which recreates a tradition cunning woman's cottage, with a mannequin of a wise woman, surrounded by various herbs and divination tools.
The museum also contains exhibits devoted to the witch trials in the early modern period, the modern Pagan religion of Wicca, as well as other esoteric practices such as ceremonial magic, Freemasonry, and alchemy. There is also a small case on modern religious Satanism, in which a distinction is drawn between it and modern Pagan witchcraft. A number of artefacts in the collection were owned by prominent figures in the history of magic and witchcraft; it contains a ritual chalice used by the Thelemite magician Aleister Crowley, talismans created by Gerald Gardner, and ritual swords and an altar slab formerly owned by the noted Wiccan Alex Sanders. The museum's collection of artefacts continues to grow with new acquisitions. Many contemporary practitioners of witchcraft and magic have bequeathed their working tools to the museum in their wills. The Museum also has the largest occult library in the South West which is viewable by appointment.
The Museum is a 5 minute, flat walk from the village car park. Access for wheelchair users has been improved but the museum is an old building on two levels so a stair lift has been fitted (not a chair lift). Those who cannot access the upper floor may view the lower galleries free of charge. A large print guide is available. Assistance dogs (and well-behaved dogs on a leash) are welcome.
Location : The Harbour, Boscastle, Cornwall PL35 0HD
Transport: Bodmin Parkway (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 595 stops nearby.
Opening Times : Daily 10:30 to 18:00. Sunday from 11:30.
Tickets : Adults £5.00; Child/Senior £4.00; Naughty Children & Monsters £10.00
Tel: 01840 250111