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Arrested for Palmistry at St John's College

3 July 2021 (Updated 7 September 2021)

Allowing a 'wise woman' to read your palm seems like a fairly harmless bit of fun, but in the late 19th century the authorities in Oxford took a more dim view of such practices.

Elizabeth Collingridge, Palmist

On 29 August 1893, a woman named Elizabeth Collingridge was charged with being a 'rogue and a vagabond' after being found to have been charging young women a shilling to read their palm in the gardens at St John's College.

Mrs. Collingridge was described as a 'well-dressed lady of about fifty years of age', and was clearly aware that such practices were against the law.

She had given her card to a clerk at the Oxford Chronicle but declined his offer to place an advertisement in the newspaper, saying she had heard of a woman being prosecuted for palmistry at Margate.

A trap is set at St. John's College

The card was brought to the attention of Detective Sergeant Prior of the Oxford police force, who hid in the garden at St John's College on 26 August and caught Mrs. Collingridge in the act.

Although there were no complaints made by any of the young women whose palms she read, Mrs. Collingridge was still fined 10s plus 7s 6d costs, and warned to desist from such practices in the future!


  1. 'A Grim Almanac of Oxfordshire' by Nicola Sly (The History Press, 2013, ISBN: 978752465814)