MAGICIAN, an astrologer, an anti-conjuror or simply a doctor - Dr. William Farrar was all these things and more. He lived at Redgill near Orton and Tebay in the first half of the 18th century and, from what little we know, led a distinguished and upright life. But his interest in astrology, science and 'the black arts' led to him gaining a reputation after his death which he probably didn't deserve: Nearly 150 years after his demise Dr. Farrar's dealings with the devil were being written about in poems and ballads
Gibson, in his ballad Our
Village (1887) wrote:
just across the Lune's broad stream
A man once lived could solve a dream
Or by the stars could fortunes tell;
Circumvent a witch; love philters sell;
Old Dr Farrar's bones amongst us lie,
Who read black art, which others mystify,
Malevolent spirits held in check,
And laid them low in nearest beck."
Most commentators seem keen to stress that Dr Farrar worked only for good but any dabbling in mystical sciences was bound to create suspicion. In 1857 Jeremiah Sullivan wrote in Cumberland and Westmorland, Ancient and Modern, said that one of his books, inscribed Dr Farrer's Book of Black Art, covered "the motions of the heavenly bodies and shows some knowledge of astronomy". But even Mr Sullivan added menacingly, "until very lately it was believed there was great danger in opening this book".
So what are the facts behind the myths of the mysterious Dr Farrar? We know very little but an article was written in the Monthly Magazine and British Register published in 1803, just 47 years after Dr Farrar's death.
The author gives an account of the parish of Orton (where Dr Farrer lived) and in it describes Dr Fairer as an ‘anti-conjuror’, ie someone working for good. He details many of his magical skills (even suggesting that he had spoken to at least one eye witness who knew Dr Farrer personally):
“Fortunately however for this part of the country during the life of Mr Fairer, the people were provided with an anti-conjuror who was able to defeat the combined efforts of them and their able patron. His fame became widely discussed and wherever the account of his actions was reported he seemed like Virgil’s allegorical figure crescere eundo. If the spouse was jealous that the heart of her husband was estranged from her, she immediately consulted the anti-conjuror, and desired him to restore the affections of her bewitched partner. If a friend or relative was confined to the bed of sickness, relief and convalescence could not be expected without the supernatural assistance and balsamic medicines of Mr Fairer. If a person became deranged in his intellects the injured cells of the brain were to be healed and adjusted by the magic charms of this celebrated man. If a farmer happened to lose his cattle it was necessary to purify the walls of the house with water sprinkled by this famous conjuror; and in endeavouring to account for the latent cause of this disaster, he generally found small parcels of heterogeneous matter deposited in the walls and consisting of the legs of mice and the wings of bats; which he affirmed to be the work of witches. If a person was desirous of knowing the issue of any event he repaired to Mr Fairer who failed not to satisfy him in this particular."
But the author could not resist expressing his own cynicism, particularly as to what money Dr Farrar gained from his mystical practices:
“In short very few things appeared to be too arduous for this gentleman’s abilities, and though, like Paracelsus, he boasted not of having discovered the long-sought philosopher’s stone yet we may venture to assume that he found what was nearly equivalent; by the power of his occult sciences he attracted gold from the pocket of his customers and by this mean contrived to acquire for himself and his family. What Dryden said of the immortal Shakespeare, may with propriety, be applied to this celebrated man: Shakespeare’s magic could not copied be; Within that circle none durst move but he.”
Dr Farrar's tomb still exists in Orton churchyard (pictured above). It is opposite the chancel door and the vicar had an inscription put on it to remind people that, no matter how great someone’s powers might appear to be, in the end, no one escapes the greatest master of us all: Death. The inscription reads:
Under this stone lie the remains of Dr William Farrar, of Redgill, whom long experience rendered eminent in his profession and who was an instance that knowledge in the ways of death doth not exempt from its approach. Reader, in this thy day live well, that thou mayest have hope of a joyful resurrection, He died July 31st, 1756, aged 75 years.
Dr Farrar's former home, Redgill, also remains but it is private property.
Dr. Farrars Will