Two new mini-exhibitions have been installed in Sidmouth’s telephone box micro-museums, themed around harvest, Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve.

‘Witches Away’, in the box named the Museum of Antiquities, features objects that were traditionally believed to ward off witches and evil spirits, in the days when witches were blamed for illness and bad luck. The exhibits include a ‘hag stone’ – a pebble with a natural hole in it – along with a gargoyle, an iron horseshoe and an old boot. A boot or shoe would be placed in the rafters of a house in the belief that a witch or her familiar would fall into it. There’s also holly and yew, which were both thought to be sacred and would repel evil; holly was planted in hedgerows in the hope of knocking flying witches off their broomsticks.

The mini-exhibition was curated by Barbara Farquharson, a former Professor of Anthropology at University College London. Barbara is known locally for her Branscombe Project work over the last 30 years.

‘Witches Present’, in the Museum of Contemporary Art box, was curated by Sidmouth School of Art. It features objects relating to white witchcraft or natural magic, using the power of nature for good, for healing, protecting and making peace. The exhibits include a cauldron, candles, crystals, healing herbs and a five-pointed pentacle representing air, earth, fire, water and spirit. This exhibition highlights the way natural or household objects became associated with ‘dark magic’ during the persecution of witches.

Sidmouth School of Art’s Director of Development Louise Cole said: “The exhibitions are designed for all ages, to spark curiosity in the fascinating objects themselves, and maybe to question the legends of witchcraft to harm or hurt that have grown up through the ages. Stories which were and still are about persecution and blaming misfortune on those whose beliefs or knowledge was misunderstood or who challenge power, such as women, healers, heretics and midwives.”

The current exhibitions will be in place until mid-November.

The phone boxes in Market Place were repurposed into exhibition spaces by Sidmouth School of Art earlier this year. They had been decommissioned by BT in 2021 and taken over by Sidmouth Town Council.