Tales of the Unexpected: Local Histories of English Magic and the Supernatural


We associate belief in magic and the supernatural with the superstitions of the distant past. But belief in fairies, boggarts, ghosts and witches persisted in the countryside, towns and cities, right up to the modern age.

Join four leading historians of the supernatural as they explore stories of the uncanny and how these were shaped by their own times and different geographical spaces, from the rural Oxfordshire of Lark Rise to Candleford, to the heart of English witch-hunting in East Anglia, to industrial Manchester and the Victorian city.

How this lecture series will work

A new recorded lecture will be released weekly each Monday, for the four weeks of the series. (See release dates below.)

There will be a live, online Q&A sessions for you to join - your chance to ask questions of the speakers. This will be held from 5-6pm (UTC) on Thursday 17 February.

The recorded lectures will remain online and available to watch and review until Thursday 24 February. (For reasons of data privacy, the Q&A sessions will not be recorded.)

Programme details

Monday 24 January: ‘Bogies, witches and fairies of East Anglia'

Dr Francis Young

Monday 31 January: ‘Evolution of the boggart: 150 years of a local folktale' 

Dr Ceri Houlbrook

Monday 7 February: 'Witchcraft in nineteenth-century Britain: local dimensions of the history of magic'

Dr Tom Waters

Monday 14 February: 'Magic and modernity: exploring the supernatural in the Victorian City'

Dr Karl Bell

Thursday 17 February, 5-6pm (UTC): LIVE Q&A


Description Costs
4 lectures, 1 live interactive session £60.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Francis Young


Writer, historian and folklorist specialising in the history of religion and supernatural belief

Dr Ceri Houlbrook


Lecturer in History, University of Hertfordshire

Dr Tom Waters


Lecturer in History, Imperial College, London

Dr Karl Bell


Reader in Cultural and Social History, University of Portsmouth

IT requirements

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment, where students and tutors will discuss and interact in real time. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.

You will be able to access online lectures until a week after the end of the course.