Pentreath, Dolly

Dolly Pentreath (1692–1777) was a wise woman, Witch and Pellar of great repute in Cornwall, England.

Dolly (Dorothy) Pentreath was born in the parish Paul in Cornwall in 1692. She never married, but bore a son in her twenties. She lived in mousehole and worked as a fishmonger, and was renowned for her skill in fortune-telling, charms, Divination, expelling bewitchments and so on. She is credited with a rudimentary knowledge of astrology, as it was said that she knew the hours, days and minutes that were right for conjuring and the casting of spells.

Except when people needed her for magical skills, Pentreath was generally avoided, perhaps because of her illegitimate child, and also because she was “dirty about her person and habits and very coarsely spoken when she chose,” according to one description of her.

Pentreath was fluent in Cornish, a language that even then was disappearing from society. When excited, she would let loose a torrent of Cornish, which, unintelligible to others, sounded like fearsome cursing. According to one story, a man named mr. Price was riding a skittish horse past Pentreath and her cowl full of fish one day. He accidentally upset the cowl, spilling the fish into a ditch. Pentreath screamed at him in Cornish while heaving mud and rocks at him. Every sentence ended with cronnack an haga dhu, which sounded to Price like a curse.

He offered money to Pentreath to learn the meaning of what she was saying. She said,

“Give me the money first then, and I must call ye a fool for your pains; all I said was to call ye a fool for your pains; as all I said was to call ye the ugly black toad that ye art.”

At that, Price threatened to horsewhip her. Pentreath retorted that if he did so, she would lay a spell on him that would cause his arm to rot from the shoulder. Price sped off.

Pentreath was also credited with good deeds. She once gave refuge to a deserter sailor, hiding him in a cavity of the chimney of her house. She lit a fire, put a kettle of water on to boil and got out a keeve, or basin, for washing. Soon enough, a naval party burst in and demanded to search the premises for the deserter. They found Pentreath sitting on a stool at the keeve with her skirts hiked up. She screamed at them that she was about to wash her feet and cursed them in Cornish. When they would not leave, she ran to her door and screamed out to her neighbours that the men were going to ransack all the houses. The men left. Later that night, the deserter escaped on a fishing boat.

By her late eighties, Pentreath was partially deaf and severely bent with age, but was in good enough health to regularly walk several miles even in bad weather. When she died on December 26, 1777, she was buried in the churchyard of the parish Paul.

Further Reading:

  • Jones, Kelvin I. Seven Cornish Witches. Penzance: Oakmagic Publications, 1998.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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