Sirius Scarcliff’s disfigured existence brought terror and trepidation to those facing his judgement. Those gathered to witness his deathly endeavours prayed in fear of avoiding a similar predicament. A short reading from his black leather Bible and a slight nod of his cloaked head, the hangman pulled the rope, the final whimpered cry as the struggling torso swung from the water bank and then slowly stillness. Silence. The wretched soul of his latest victim departed from their mortal existence. Upon the execution of his deadly deed, Sirius would turn to those gathered, warning them of the dangers of witchcraft in the village. To be vigilant of their friends, neighbours and family. The witchfinder for Brislington, Bristol 1694-1696. Sirius had been appointed by the Puritans of the village who wanted to purify their church and community. Sirius was tasked with undertaking the exorcisms of demonic possession. He had come to prominence during the Salem witch trials of 1692–1693. During his ruthless charge, he showed no mercy in applying his judgement regardless of age or circumstances. His youngest known victim was a seven-month baby boy, whose parents had reported the child for demonic possession. A 70-year old village elder fell foul of his judgement for speaking in the tongue to other witches, when alone, although the most notorious case that set off a sequence of events, which ultimately led to his demise, is the case of the Morgan Family.
The head of the Morgan Family was Oswyn 38 years old. His wife Katherine was 33 years old. Their two sons were Daniel (12 years old) and Samuel (8 years old). Following accusations of witchcraft Sirius consulted his book of Daemonologia (published in 1567) and the whole family were subject to persecution. Katherine Morgan was thrown into the nearby river Avon with her thumbs tied to her opposite big toes. If she were to float, she would be guilty of witchcraft, but if Katherine sank then she was innocent. Kathrine Morgan was to die from her experience. After initially submerging below the current her body surfaced and floated on the river. Her body was brought back for judgement, alongside the rest of the Morgan family. The sentence of death for witchcraft was given. Oswyn, Daniel and Samuel were simultaneously executed from the village hanging tree, which to this day can be found on the Brislington Brook trail. Katherines lifeless body was burnt nearby. The persecution and subsequent execution of the Morgan family had caused both anger and revulsion, which also came at a time of growing unrest at Sirius’s murderous reign of terror.
On the evening of 13th September 1696, the villagers gathered around Sirius’s house and summarily dragged him, his wife, Martha and their young daughter Isabel down to the hanging tree. Each member of the family was branded with a crucifix on their foreheads, but instead of being hanged they were entombed alive in the hollow of the hanging tree. As the days went by their cries because more and more faint, until silent.
To this date, this incident has divided ancestors of the Puritans. On the anniversary of the entombment of the Scarcliff family, a small gathering of Puritans leave offerings of fresh fruit, burn candles and prays are given. It is said by locals that on dark winter evenings when the wind is blowing through the trees a murmured cry can be heard from the direction of the hanging tree. During the winter months of 1976, Sidney Thompson, a local resident, claimed to have caught a black and white grainy image of Sirius and Martha Scarcliff walking and searching the woods. To his dying day, Mr Thompson claimed to have heard them repeatedly call the name, “Isabel.”
Additional photographs can be found at the lost woods