In February 2010 Owen Davies was contacted by Danny Rippon about some very interesting concealed objects he’d uncovered. Danny was living in France at the time, in a sixteenth-century farmhouse in Asse-le-Boisne, Normandy. He’d hired a builder to do some renovation work and, while he was raising a door lintel in a part of the house that was originally a barn, he came across what he initially took to be a nest. He intended to discard it as rubbish. However, on closer inspection the builder realised that it was a ball of hay and, unpacking it, discovered a rather odd assortment of objects inside: a child’s leather glove and a corked glass bottle containing a feather.
Gloves, bottles, and feathers aren’t uncommon apotropaic devices. Gloves have been found concealed within buildings in Britain (e.g. the Cupar Glove: details here). The corked glass bottle, which contained dark staining as well as the feather – suggesting it once held liquid (possibly blood) – has an obvious parallel in the British witch-bottle (details here). While the feather itself may have parallels with the concealed chickens found in England and with the string of feathers discovered in a Somerset attic, believed to have been a ‘witch’s ladder’ (details here). However, their French location makes them very unusual, as similar finds really haven’t been recorded in the area – and as Danny tells me, a close friend of his, who had renovated dozens of old French farmhouses, has never made any similar discoveries. So this certainly isn’t a common find.
Danny and his wife kept their finds out for a few days, photographing them and conducting research into why such items might have been revealed – research that led them to Owen, and subsequently led to their contact details being passed onto me. Five years after their discovery, I was fortunate enough to speak with Danny via Skype and find out what became of these concealed objects.
One of my first questions to Danny was what had been his reaction at the time of discovery? In a word: curiosity. ‘Lots of curiosity about why was it put there. But other curiosities…like I wonder who on earth ever wore the glove? Did this glove belong to somebody who had helped build the house and maybe there were children involved in building the house? Or maybe it was somebody’s child that had died, that they put in as a memento for them. You know, lots and lots of questions’.
When I asked Danny how the objects had been treated upon discovery, one word really stood out: reverently. ‘We brought them inside and we looked at them and we studied them and we photographed them and we researched them. But we treated them very reverently. We kept them in their straw ball that they had been originally bound in. I think we probably even put them back in that area of the house close to where they were [found] during nights when we weren’t handling them. So I’d say it was almost like a religious artefact or something, the way we kept them, very reverently’.
And what did they decide to do with them in the end? Apparently this had been a subject of much discussion, and while Danny and his wife did weigh up the option of donating the finds to a local museum, it was their ‘gut’ feeling that they should re-conceal them – and as soon as possible: they ‘felt very strongly very quickly that we wanted it to be back in the wall where it was uncovered, because it was there for a reason’. And so, only three days after they’d been found, the glove, feather, bottle, and ball of straw were placed back within the wall, about a metre and half above their original place of concealment. The builder – who apparently was also ‘quite keen to get it back’ within the wall – placed it just behind the new keystone while Danny and his family watched on with some ceremony. They moved out of the farmhouse in 2011, leaving the concealed objects in situ ‘so that any…spirits that it’d captured or any power that it held was still being kept with the house where it belonged and where it was originally intended’.