The following story is taken from ‘Anecdotes 2: Bicester’ by John Dunkin, September 1826.
James Jagger was a natural child (illegitimate), brought up by Mr George Gurden and his wife from an infant, who, having no children, adopted him as their own. At a proper age, Mr Gurden taught him his own business, that of a slipper, clog, and pattin-maker, and it is probable this sedentary life led him, in moments of relaxation, to amuse himself with reading. Bicester was never noted for facilities of literature, and it appears that the few books which fell into his hands were chiefly works upon heraldry.
Awakened to look beyond his neighbours, he became desirous of some further knowledge of the earth on which he trod, and the stars above his head. Excepting the learned parson of the parish, Jagger had never heard of anyone in Bicester who had the least pretension to learning besides Dick Dodd and John Haines, who had made themselves notorious by jointly compiling an Almanac. Dodd got involved in a lawsuit and was compelled to leave the town, but Haines readily undertook his instruction. A pair of globes and a telescope were procured and the master and scholar went on harmoniously until the death of the former about 1792.
Jagger’s interest in astrology led to him being used to try to raise the Devil. The invocation of spirits proceeded, according to the best authorities, up to a certain point when a horrid form covered with black hair and having huge horns, suddenly presented itself before him and endeavoured to seize him. Half dead with terror, he instantly fled, and a loud explosion was heard, which his confidants affirmed was a clap of thunder in which the devil flew away carrying the top of one of their chimneys with him. They afterwards acknowledged that the spectre was no other than Charles Parkins dressed in a bull’s hide, and sent in to frighten Jagger.
One would have thought the ridicule attached to this transaction would have completely cured him of all magical propensities – and so it did for a time, at least publicly: though he has often assured the writer that he continued to practice the invocation of demons until he became such an adept that the spirits instantly appeared at his call!
The lapse of years generated an opinion that his knowledge might be rendered useful, if directed toward the discovery of thieves and recovery of property by superhuman agency. Accordingly, one night being at the Rose and Crown public house, Mrs. Saunders, the landlady, having lose a silver clasp, asked Jagger if he could “conjour for it.” Jagger assured her he could, and promised to restore the article, if she would set a tub of water in the passage, allow him to perform his incantations in the adjoining parlous, and secure him from interruption. At last a splash was heard, and the magician called for the landlady to examine the tub - where the clasp was found.
Jagger was, however, confoundedly frightened, and soon returned home. Just as he reached his foster-father’s dwelling, the turnpike-house, he found himself suddenly raised from the ground, and borne over the tops of the lofty trees in Coker’s close, by the hair of his head and an unseen hand.
In this way he appeared hurried forward, attended by numerous shapeless creatures, which, as they passed along, gradually assumed a form somewhat like asses, with panniers on their backs. From the elevation necessary to clear the trees, he was gradually lowered in Kings-end field, dragged along through bushes, hedges, ditches and ponds, until he was half- drowned, his clothes almost torn from his back, and his body bleeding from innumerable scratches.
In this horrid company, he passed the whole night, none of the demons leaving him till daylight, when he was discovered by some labourers, almost dying with fear, in Kirtlington-bottom, about four miles distant from Bicester. Seeing him in this deplorable plight, one of them compassionately accompanied him home.