Hidden Highgate Canvas

Lauderdale House (c) Max Sycamore

Lauderdale House

The secretion of a hoard of objects in a hidden compartment at Lauderdale House, a mansion dating from 1582 which is situate in Waterlow Park, Highgate, lends itself not to the question of WHETHER witchcraft was practiced there – but by who and when.

The discovery of these artifacts took place at some stage between 1961 and 1963, some 300 years after the house’s occupants carried out whatever macabre rite preceded their interment. It is certain that Lauderdale House was badly damaged by fire in 1963, but I am unclear at present if the fire occurred after the removal of the objects (which were conceivably in part intended to protect the house as much as its occupants) or if they were found during the restoration process after the fire. If anyone remembers, I would love to know. If the objects’ purpose was to protect the house, then the spell certainly worked for generations.

Lauderdale House in 1872

Lauderdale House in 1872

What we do know is that a collection of objects was found nestled in a wicker basket during renovation work, in a recess of the chimney breast in what is now the long Tudor gallery on the first floor of Lauderdale House.

The gallery at Lauderdale House where the sacrifial remains were discovered.

The gallery at Lauderdale House where the sacrifial remains were discovered.

These artifacts included 4 chickens (2 strangled and 2 possibly bricked up alive), a candlestick, a drinking vessel and plate, a pair of unmatching shoes and a braided cord of rush matting (and an egg – possibly laid by one of the chickens in its death throes). One of the shoes has been dated to 1650 and the other objects appear to be of later date. Of particular interest is the combination of objects; to a casual observer they may appear to be typical examples of domestic practical magic. But upon closer analysis they could represent the remains of some kind of ritual magic, especially considering the plaited rush which seems to resemble a kind of knot magic, and the apparent presence of a chalice.

Today stone eagles guard Lauderdale House, in the place of ritually sacrificed poultry (c) Max Sycamore

Today stone eagles guard Lauderdale House, in the place of ritually sacrificed poultry (c) Max Sycamore

Chris Laoutaris, in his work Shakespearean Maternities (2008) notes that ‘a witchcraft case involving the maleficium of Anne Kerke against a child was presided over by one Sir Richard Martin, who had himself indulged in […] ritual countermagic […] ordering the cutting of the witch’s hair which he attempted to burn …’ Laoutaris continues: ‘Could this be the same Richard Martin who originally instructed the erection of  Lauderdale House? Martin was Lord Mayor in 1589 and in 1594, just five years before this incident, and his position of influence may well have led to him serving as a ‘justice’ in important trials. This, if confirmed, along with the findings presented in this study, would suggest that ritual acts, like that reflected by the Lauderdale hoard, could sometimes constitute more than a ‘builder’s sacrifice’, representing a richer and more complicated social and legal dynamic between victim and witch than has hitherto been understood.’

Stone tablet at Lauderdale House (c) Max Sycamore

Stone tablet at Lauderdale House (c) Max Sycamore

The dating of the objects seems slightly out of step with the traditional assumption that they were placed in the house at the time of its construction, but Laourtaris’ comments certainly merit further research about the subsequent owners of the house and their connections.

The hoard, minus the basket which was discarded by careless workmen, is presently housed in the Museum of London.

Lauderdale House runs a fantastic programme of musical, educational and artistic events. The fire badly damaged the house, which has been sensitively restored by dedicated volunteers. But they need your help to complete the fundraising drive which will ensure that they can preserve the house’s heritage for future generations, and increase the activities which are so popular with the local community.

Find out how you can help here:



Want to visit Lauderdale House? Here are their details:



Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park,  Highgate Hill N6 5HG

0208 348 8716


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