Bottles concealed and revealed: examining the phenomena of stone and glass ‘witch bottles’ and their concealment in mid to late 17th-century England

Partners: Principal Investigator: Nigel Jeffries (Senior Specialist – Medieval and later pottery, glass and pipes), MOLA. Co-Investigators: Dr Ceri Houlbrook and Prof Owen Davies, Department of History, University of Hertfordshire

Start date/ end date: April 2019 – March 2022

Type of collaboration: Collaborative research project funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Standard Grant

Motivation for collaboration: MOLA’s status as a UKRI Independent Research Organisation (IRO) means that the organisation and its staff are eligible to apply for research council grants and fellowships. Increasing our grant funded research activity allows us to develop synthetic and thematic research projects, and to enhance MOLA staff research skills and develop them as research leaders.

How the collaboration was formed: The project emerged from Inner Lives, a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which looked at emotions, identity and the supernatural between 1300 and 1900. As part of this project, Owen Davies and Ceri Houlbrook were studying the practice of object concealment from 1700 – 1900, of which witch bottles formed part, and they visited MOLA to look at examples in the archive. Conversations with Nigel Jeffries revealed significant gaps in our understanding regarding the origins and development of the practice, and some research questions which needed answering.

Benefits derived from collaboration: Working with Owen and Ceri has brought new specialisms and networks to this project, perspectives that might not otherwise have benefited the project. Ultimately this will ensure that the project has greater research impact.

Legacy of collaboration: The research project is ongoing until March 2022, but the project has already had extensive reach in the press and social media. MOLA staff working on the project have been able to enhance their research skills, and MOLA has adapted its processes to apply for and undertake more grant-funded collaborative research. This has included the introduction of collaboration agreements, which set out all parties’ roles and expectations.

Lessons learned: Be ambitious, and think ahead to how your research and collaboration can be further developed after your project. Think about how your research can impact audiences outside of archaeology and heritage.

Further information:

MOLA: ‘Witch bottles’ concealed and revealed

UKRI article: Bottles concealed and revealed