28th January 1914
Guernsey’s last witch trial takes place
Belief in witches was still so strong in Guernsey, as late as 1914, that one woman – Aimee Lake – found herself before the court charged with witchcraft. She was accused not only of fortune telling and reading tea leaves, but of putting a mortal curse on one of her neighbours.
Lake, who frequently told fortunes and interpreted the dreams of anyone who came to her for insight, never made any charge for her services (donations were accepted). She did charge for remedies, like magic powders to be burnt or buried in the client’s garden to ward off evil spirits, which had led to a few complaints. However, it was only when she spooked Mrs Houtin, a farmer from St Martin, that things came to a head.
Extortion or witchcraft?
Houtin claimed that Lake had put a curse on her, demanding £3 by the end of January. Lake had said that if payment wasn’t received by then, Houtin would die. Naturally, Houtin was in a state, and having complained to both a priest and the harbourmaster at St Sampson, she was reluctant to open her door to the police for fear of who might have been knocking.
Lake initially denied a charge of extortion – until the police found several charms and powders buried in her own garden. Then the witnesses started to talk. One had seen her reading cards, one seen her burning powder and another told to wear a ring to ward off spells.
The powders she dispensed turned out to be baking powder, ground rice and corn starch, but that was not sufficient to see her let off with a warning.
It’s unlikely that such a case would ever come to trial today, and even if it did the charge would be one of menacing and extortion, not witchcraft. But this was 1914, and despite the powders being harmless, Lake was convicted as a witch and sentenced to serve eight days in prison. The court, led by Bailiff William Carey, lamented its inability to send her away for longer.