As a kid growing up in Lancashire, my parents used to take my sister and I on little road trips over yonder ‘ill (that’s ‘over the next hill’ in plain English). We’d usually go to Blackpool or Formby, and if we were really lucky, Beatrix Potter’s favourite place, the Lake District. One place that sticks out in my mind though is Pendle Hill. Probably due to my mother telling us that if we were naughty, the dead witches will come for us! I know right, what a meany! Despite as a kid thinking I would get carried away on some craggy, old woman’s broomstick; Pendle Hill holds a very dear place in my heart. Sure, there a number of fantastic little pubs knocking around (The Pendle Inn is great; they even have a witchy-themed menu) and a couple of truly great gift shops, however it is the eerie, fascinating history, and my love for all things morbid, that makes Pendle Hill such a captivating place to visit. If you don’t know anything about the area of Pendleside, know this…the story of the Pendle Witches is one the most well-documented examples of alleged witchcraft in 17th-century England. How’s that for some dark history! The area continues, to this day, to be associated with witchcraft. Every Halloween, large numbers of visitors don their witches hats and climb the foreboding Pendle Hill, broomsticks in tow.
So What Actually Happened?
Back in 1612, twelve people who lived in the area surrounding Pendle Hill were charged with the murder of ten people, by means of witchcraft. It is worth noting that not all the accused were women. That’s right fella’s, even you didn’t get off lightly! Of the twelve accused, one died in prison (Elizabeth Southerns, alias Demdike), one was found not guilty (Alice Gray), and the remaining ten were hanged.
The Pendle Witches.
Names of The Executed:
- Elizabeth Device (Demdikes’ daughter)
- James and Alizon Device (Devices’ children)
- Anne Whittle (alias Chattox)
- Anne Redferne (Chattox’s daughter)
- Jane Bulcock
- John Bulcock (Bulcocks’ son)
- Alice Nutter (great name!)
- Katherine Hewitt (alias Mould-heels – grim name!)
- Jennet Preston
It’s funny how the North has often been regarded in history and literature as ‘wild’, ‘unruly’ and ‘desolate’(the Bronte’s were all about the pathetic fallacy of the moors); apparently us Northerners were a bunch of roaming, bad-ass vagabonds. Back in the day, this ‘lawless’ region was regarded by the authorities as an area where people had pretty low morals, and were quite violent. No surprise that the Demdike and Chattox families were caught up in disputes over apparent thieving, cheating and lying, and a competitiveness of trying to earn a living by healing, begging and extorting others. It is well documented that James I was convinced that he was being plotted against by witches, and witch hunting during his reign became pretty obsessive. Despite this mad reputation for burning witches, fewer than 500 witches were actually convicted and executed between the early 1500’s-early 1800’; the Pendle Witches account for 2% of that total. Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials; Pendle Hill itself was emblazoned with ‘1612’ in 400ft tall numbers. The witches, unknowingly, founded the whole culture of Pendle’s tourism and heritage industries; not limited to a multitude of trinkets and books, a bus route between Burnley and Pendle (inspiringly named the ‘Witch Way’), and a special local beer; the Pendle Witches Brew. A petition in 1998, to the Home Secretary of the time Jack Straw, called for the Pendle Witches to be pardoned, however their convictions stand to this day.
Pendle Hill in 2012, 400 years after the famous witch trials.
Interesting Fact Alert!
Back in 2011, United Utilities, with the help of archaeologist Frank Giecco, unearthed a 17th century cottage it the village of Barley (one of the villages near Pendle Hill), complete with a walled-up cat skeleton. Although covered by a grassy mound, the building was in astonishing condition. It is thought that the cat was buried alive between the walls to ward off dark spirits, most probably around the time of the Pendle Witch Trials. Source: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk