The Stroking Boy of Wysall

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A Nottinghamshire healer

By R B Parish

It would appear, if ecclesiastical records are to be believed, that for a short period of time, around Michaelmas 1623, Wysall was a place of pilgrimage to see the ‘stroking boy’.  During this period twenty individuals are named as going to see this curious figure and such was its popularity that inquiries were made in other parishes to ascertain his popularity.

What was he and what did he do?

Although it is difficult to say exactly who he was or what he was famed for, it is clear from the records that he formed the function of a sort of faith healer. This view is evident from the testimony of the Presentation in 

West Bridgford of Richard Garton, husbandman, for carrying his child to Wisall to be cured by the 'stroaking boy'.”

Wise men or women were probably popular in this period, for in the Presentation Bills of Trowell, a Robert Shaw :

“ is commonly reported that, having certain money stolen from him, he consulted with a wizard, wise man, or wise woman to recover it.”

Interestingly although such prosecutions for witchcraft are well known in the reign of James I, it appears that the authorities did not formally charge the stroking boy, or if they did it is not recorded.

Who came and from where?

The records report that in the parish of Broughton Sulney an Ane (sic) Brett, Edward Weston and his wife, Thomas Lister with his son and Margerie Frances, and probably William Hemsley although the script says ‘bone’, were penalised:  “for going to the boy at Wysall”. At West Bridgford, a whole calvacade of devotees sought his healing hand: consisting of an Elizabeth Harding, wife of Walter Harding of Bridgford, Jone Seemons, wife of Michaell Seemons of Bassingfeild, Katherine Whitworth, wife of Reginald Whitworth of Bridgford, Anne Wright, Marie Dauson, Elizabeth Coopers and Isabell Hilton of Bridgford, as they were:

 “going to and seeking unlawful means of help from the stroking boy who was at Wisall.”

Considerable distances

One wonders how people heard of his power. It is understandable that those from nearby parishes such as Broughton Solney (two hours walking) and West Bridgford (two and a half) would draw upon his powers, but what is remarkable is that individuals from Wollaton (4 hours) and even Trowell (5 hours) had heard of his ‘services’ and travelled those distances in the hope that he could cure them.  At Wollaton, Churchwardens present

“Elline Bruchouse, Ellizabeth Simmones, Elline Browne, and Alles Skillinton for going to the wise boy.”

At Trowell Gabriel Eaton and Nicholas Lansdale were noted:

“for resorting to the boy at Wysall, commonly called the wise child and for being touched of the said child in hope of some miraculous healing, contrary, as they are persuaded, to God's word and the ecclesiastical laws.”

The detail here clearly emphasising the established Church's disdain for the practice. Interestingly, the courts investigated in Lenton, East Leake and Costock and the churchwardens were asked to present:

“the names of those that by report and fame went to the child at Wisall [Wysall], 'but of our own knowledge we cannot say.”

Similarly, Costock states:

“concerning any that were supposed to go to the child at Wysall for any manner of cure, they cannot find any.”

Now of course, whether this was because none went or none were found out is never to be known, but the fact these parishes were asked, and no record of nearer parishes being asked survives suggests that the authorities were all too aware that something was going on, but no one was identified. Nevertheless, all those accused pleaded guilty and were dismissed and never charged. Nothing is ever heard of the Wysall boy in 1624 nor were any other wise boys (or even girls) recorded after. So the Stroking Boy of Wysall remains a curious enigmatic footnote in the county’s religious history.


Bennett, M., (2006) Society, Religion and Culture in Seventeenth Century Nottinghamshire (Edwin Mellen Press 2006).   

Primary sources

AN/PB 297/22, AN/PB 297/35, AN/PB 297/49,  AN/PB 297/51, AN/PB 297/11, AN/PB 297/20, AN/PB 297/22

This page was added by R B Parish on 01/02/2013.
Comments about this page

Thanks for this article.  You've answered a question posed back in 1926 by a local historian called R.F.B. Hodgkinson.  He uncovered references to Notts people in the 17the century being censured by the Archdeacons of Nottingham for seeking cures from the 'wise boye' or 'stroaking boye' at 'Wisall'.  Hodgkinson asked "Are there any other records in existence which will throw any light on [this]?"  The article above shows that there are!

By Martin Ballance
On 08/01/2016

Many thanks for your Comment above, Martin.  Do you have the 17c references to people who visited the Stroking Boy?

By Website Administrator
On 11/01/2016

Here are the entries I found regarding people being censured for visiting the Stroking Boy:-

8 Nov 1623 - Ellen Backhous and 3 other women of Wollaton "for goinge to the wise boye"

8 Nov 1623 - Agnes, the wife of William Greasley senr. and 3 other women of Lenton "for goinge to the childe at Wisall"

8 Nov 1623 - Thomas Litster and his son, another man and a woman of Broughton Soulney "gor goinge to the boye at Wisall"

8 Non 1623 - Elizabeth Hardinge and Anne Wrighte of West Bridgford "for goinge to the boye at Wisall"

22 Nov 1623 - Richard Garton of West Bridgford "for carryinge his childe to Wysall to be cured by the stroaking boye"

22 Nov 1623 - Gabriel Eaton of Trowell "for resortinge to the boye at Wysall"

These all come from ppage 57 of R.F.B. Hodgkinson's article "Extracts from the Act Books of the Archdeacons of Nottingham" published in the Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire in 1926.

By Martin Ballance
On 12/01/2016

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