Witchcraft, Persecution and a 'orrible history.

There's a lot of witchcraft in Blackenrock; white magic, black magic, divination and curses, for example. There's also a hidden history, something that Saxton is none too proud of. You see the Witch Trails of Saxton started early and ended horribly late, whether legal or not. And what, exactly, was 'legal' anyway?

I took a brilliant trip to Pendle Hill, the land of the famous Witch Trails of 1612, a couple of years ago for research purposes. It happened to coincide with an important anniversary, too. It was exactly 400 years since the Witches of Pendle were tried and then executed.

So, come with me, and Matt Clark, on a trip into the past of Lancashire, to discover more…

It was quite a trip to Lancashire, passing through a multitude of enticing historical locations, but we were set on a destination, and determined to make it there with no-stops, before night fall. The landscape changed dramatically, as we passed through the Midlands of Great Britain. Up, down, across, under, and then up again, as we arrived in 'The North'. It was getting dark.

A B&B had been booked (http://www.angramgreenfarm.co.uk/), in the shadow of Pendle Hill, so it was important to arrive before night fall. Partly out of courtesy, but mostly because we both knew driving around a strange rural landscape, in the middle of the night, was never wise. I write ghost-stories for pity's sake! There could be anything hiding in the hedgerows and fields!

But, we arrived safely, with no confusion, and no supernatural traumas. The B&B was near the beautifully preserved village of Downham, which we immediately nicknamed Downton, as it reeked of conservative preservation and committee meetings, the ultimate Village Green Preservation Society ruled over by the 2nd Lord Clitheroe, who, according to Wikipedia 'does not allow overhead electricity lines, aerials or satellite dishes, making the village a popular location for filming period dramas'. It's very likely that you may have seen Downham on the telly or in a film. It has featured in Secret of Crickley Hall, Whistle Down the Wind and Born and Bred. It was certainly pretty, the village, and the pub served us well, during our stay.

But what of the witches…?!

The Pendle Inn, Barley, hub of activity during the Pendle Witch Walk

There was a buzz in the area, the weekend of our stay, as there was an attempt to create/break the Guinness Book of Records entry for 'Most Witches in One Place', as part of the 400 year recognition of the Witch Trials. We had come prepared for the event, which would also include a 'run' across Pendle Hill, to make money for a local Children's Hospice. 

To qualify as a witch, and enter the event, you had to wear certain attire, 'witches clothes':

Black Cloak.

Pointy Black Hat.


Nice one, Pendle, you really rocked those witch stereotypes. It was kind of ironic that a four hundred year old injustice would be marked by hundreds of walking clichรฉs! But, what else could they do? If REAL witches turned up in their civvies it was likely to look like a Goth concert, or something. Or maybe Lordi? Or The Mediaeval Baebes??

But anyway, we had purchased our 'witch' outfits from a costumier in Bristol. £40 for the hat, cloak and broom! Each. In the words of Dolly Parton, 'it costs a lot of money to look this cheap'.

Thankfully, when it came to Wiccan High Fashion, everyone seemed to have visited the same costumier, as there was little variation between one witch to the next. We added a couple of 'familiars' to our party, in the form of Tawny the Owl and Patsy the Bear. Neither were particularly chuffed with the idea of trampling over a rainy, muddy Pendle Hill, in the AM, but it was for a good cause, which I mentioned mercilessly until the big event arrived!

So, did we do it? Did we break the World Record? Watch the video to find out.

Hurrah!! Yes! World Record Smashed with nearly 500 witches waving their broomsticks in triumph!
Next up, the big run! The hill had been marked, very effectively, with the number 1612. The all important date! It was huge too, the hill. It dominates the area, like a big green whale, resting atop farming fields, dotted with sheep, and small honey coloured villages, made of local stone. Basically, Pendle Hill is as majestic and charismatic as you would hope. 

The walk took its toll on some, who reverted back to familiars and just died there. So sad.

The terrain was not dissimilar to the moors and hill-fields of Cornwall, but the land in the North of England has a distinctly different quality. Dunno what. It's hard to say. But, I certainly felt something, along with the drizzle dripping down my neck.

Me, Jonathan Boakes, coming down Pendle Hill, with my witch's familar 'Tawny'.

Matt Clark, with Patsy the Bear, his faithful familiar.
After a quick, free, mineral water pit stop, we trudged to the finish line, with our damp witches familiars. A couple of press pics (they liked the owl) and a pint in the local pub, and the big event was over. It was a brilliant day, a really cool way to experience a new place, and do something good too!

All in a good cause, but a medal is always nice!

But, still no real witches! As a fascinated fan, I wanted to find the locations from the old stories. Demdike (the head of the Pendle coven) held meetings in Malkin Tower. Where was it? Plus, where was Pendle? I always presumed it was a village. There's a Pendleton, and the weirdly named Sabden, plus there's was a place called Barrow, which is thought to be near the Geographical Centre of the United Kingdom. What was significant and what wasn't? A trip to Clitheroe was planned for that afternoon. It was the nearest town, with the Museum and Castle at its centre, offering a chance to dig a bit deeper. There's got to be more to this than Fun Runs, no?

Clitheroe Castle, with it's big hole.

Clitheroe Castle and Museum are excellent, and the town boasts about a zillion bakeries too. My kind of place! There was a ton of info regarding the Pendle Witches, plus other esoteric items, mostly donated, revealing the Lancashire landscape of old was steeped in folklore, superstition and fear. 

Charms and oddments at Clitheroe Museum

Charms to protect against the Dark Arts, stories of the Devil hiding under bridges, dark meetings on the Sabbath and whole villages afraid of the 'beautiful folk', who wandered amongst the norms, dishing out wisdom and curses alike. I was right, the landscape around Pendle is different! It is steeped in all sorts of zany and spooky stuff. A lot to take in!

Thankfully, we had all day, and the Museum was quiet. There's nothing like old places, filled with vaguely random stuff, that gets me quite excited. I guess I always think back to Steel (Sapphire & Steel, 1980, Tv Series), and that junk shop, full of 'triggers'. He believed all old items had a kind of time residue, that they could cause harm to the 'present', damage to time itself. In other words, he was talking about 'cursed' objects, pseudo-scientifically. There were a lot of objects that whispered 'curse' to me, but sadly there was little to show of the actual Pendle Witches, apart from the same info you could glean online. It's an interesting story, historically, but there's no mention of anything particularly spooky or devilish.

Tales from Clitheroe, indeed!

You may already know the facts, that led to the arrest of the Pendle Coven, but just in case, this is how the story goes…

In the land around Pendle Hill, two families were known to dabble in Witchcraft. This would have included healing, consultation, love spells and…umm…supernatural murder via curse dolls. Each family was led by a matriarchal figure, the Mother. The two families were poor, very poor, and relied on their 'craft' to get by. Oh, they hated each other as well. Nearly forgot to mention that! They were, supposedly, in a supernatural war.

The Whittle Family were led by Anne, her Wiccan Codename: Chattox

Description: Living in what was pretty much a stony, manmade cave, Anne Whittle could be seen as the archetypal witch. She was a crone, bent and twisted, with one manky eye. Her children, Elizabeth and Anne, lived with her, along with Anne's husband, Thomas. Cosy! Imagine the cauldron-side chats, about curses, gammy eyes and Satan. Lovely.

The Southerns Family were led by Elizabeth, her Wiccan Codename: Demdike

Description: Demdike was about 80 in 1612, blind and notoriously nasty and spiteful. She lived at Malkin Tower, with her daughter, said to be a grotesque, twisted crone, with one squinty eye (again?!). She too had a daughter, Alizon Device, described as wild and emotional.  

It is Alizon Device who kicks things off, when she (rather stupidly) thought she had cursed a passing pedlar (mobile trader) and bragged about it in the local pub. She had asked John Law for some silver pins, after meeting him at a crossroads, while travelling to Trawden Forest. But, for whatever reason, he didn't want to do business with Alizon. Perhaps he couldn't be bothered, or just didn't like the look of her? Who knows. 

Two of the accused witches, Anne Whittle (Chattox) and her daughter Anne Redferne. Illustration from William Harrison Ainsworth's 1849 novel, The Lancashire Witches.

But, anyway, a few moments later he's struck down by forces unknown (stroke, being the likely cause, after his run-in and argument). Why pins? It is known that silver pins are used in love spells, curses, and the curing of warts, I'll have you know! Alizon obviously believed in the 'craft' as she became quite convinced she had struck the man down with her supernatural powers. He lived, John Law, by the way. There's no exciting wiccan murders, in this story, so before I bore you, I'll move on to the Trials.

The son of John Law, the sinister sounding Abraham Law, made official complaint to the, err, LAW. Alizon was questioned, in Lancaster Gaol, along with her Mother and brother. But, instead of hiding the facts, Alizon saw an opportunity to throw blame onto the rival family: Chattox and the Whittle kids. Alizon also thought she'd mention having her blood sucked by the devil in the form of a monstrous black dog called Tibb, who also changed into a boy now and then.

Oh silly silly Alizon, what have you gone and done? 1612 was a miserable time, in the Lancaster area; the last remaining Catholics were still hiding in priest holes and King James the 1st had published his ' Daemonologie' some 15 years previous. He was madly obsessed with witchcraft, and passed a law allowing the execution of anyone thought to practise 'magic'. It's all a bit weird really, given how he thought himself the highest academic authority on the issue, more informed than the actual witches he was seeking out, to kill! 

At the time of the Pendle incident, his Demon Hunter Guide was well used, for identifying witches and bad sorts throughout Europe. By this time, of course, James was busy copying and pasting bits and bobs he liked to create his next book; The King James Bible. It was actually completed and printed in 1612. What a coincidence. 

Anyway, long story short, before you can say 'eye of newt', the Chattox and Demdike kith and kin were rounded up, taken to Lancaster Castle (Goal) and thrown in a hole, awaiting trail. Which, has it happened, was our next stop.

Lancaster Castle, or Jail, it served until 10 years ago.

 Rain. Heavy rain. Is there any other way to explore creepy old jails in the North? I don't think so. The gates of the prison are as foreboding as you would expect, as are the towers within. Prisons are supposed to be gloomy and oppressive. But, we shall not dwell above ground. For on that rainy day we had a date, underground, with the ghost witches. 

Descending the old stone steps to the Witches Dungeon

As part of the recognition of the Pendle Witch Trails, parts of the prison had been opened to the public. It presented a rare opportunity to see where the Pendle Witches would have been incarcerated awaiting trial. To reveal the subterranean cells had taken some doing. The excellent tour guide (very dramatic, arms waving, r's rolling) was keen to point out that the old cells and tunnels had been flooded, for decades. Now, anyone who knows my writing, will know I have a bit of a fascination for water and ghosts. 

Water floods the old cells.

If 'water' can have 'memory', can it act as a conduit for paranormal forces. My fictional town of Saxton (The Lost Crown 2007, Blackenrock 2015) is constantly swirling with fog, the idea being that the spirits exist within the mist. Thinking back to that cold, wet afternoon, and the Witches Dungeon (as it was promoted at the time) has brought me out in goose bumps, the hairs on my arm pricked, and a chill ran down my back. In fact, I've taken a bit of a pause. 

The cells beneath Lancaster. The Pendle Witches were imprisoned here.

It was a HORRIBLE place.

I don’t know why, but I always imagined a tower, with slit windows and gloomy Lancashire grey skies. Wrong! They were underground. At the time, in 1612, it contained quite a collection of local raggedy men, crones and… one Alice Nutter, who was quite well-to-do, in comparison to the others. There is debateable evidence that suggests Nutter was dragged into all this chicanery because of her steadfast Catholic religion, so damning her would likely please the King. A promotion sir? Oh yes!

Chained in the dark.

The numbers had swelled after wiccan conspirators had been sought out. There was talk, after the arrest of Alizon, her Mother and brother, of a daring rescue! Or, depending on what you read, they planned the destruction of Lancaster Gaol using paranormal powers, as revenge!
Awaiting trial, in the cells, were:

Elizabeth Southerns, alias Demdike
Elizabeth Device daughter of Demdike
James Device son of Elizabeth Device
Alizon Device daughter of Elizabeth Device
Anne Whittle alias Chattox
Anne Redferne daughter of Chattox
Alice Nutter
Jane Bulcock
John Bulcock son of Jane Bulcock
Katherine Hewitt alias Mould-heels
Isabel Robey
Margaret Pearson

Old Demdike did not survive the wait. She died in the cell, but the others stood trial along with the (less famous now) Samlesbury witches. The trial did not happen, straight away, as by an unfortunate twist, the Justice (Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley) were rather tied up for a few months. It must have been a long, long wait in that dark, damp cell. But, the big day arrived. 

The Trial of the Pendle Witches!

The evidence, the main evidence I should say, came from the confessions and testimony of Jennet Device (grand-daughter of Demdike) who was nine years old. Nine!! King James own words made this possible, when he wrote 'Children, women and liars can be witnesses over high treason against God.' This influenced the justice system and led to Jennet as a key witness. Oh what a big shambles! She condemned pretty much all of the accused, citing Devil Worship, murder, fornicating with beasts, communing with familiars, curses, black magic and…ummm… theft. 

Not helping matters at all, is the small matter of the confessions given by the accused. Demdike, before her death, claimed she had sold  her soul to the Devil some 20 years past. Chattox, too, made a similar claim. But, I do wonder if this was two old broads trying to out-do each other. But, at the end of three long wretched days, it was a child's evidence that condemned the Pendle Witches.

Jennet's evidence in the 1612 Pendle Witch Trial in Lancashire led to the execution of 10 people, including all of her own family. Her convincing evidence was believed by the jury and after a two-day trial all her family and most of her neighbours were found guilty of causing death or harm by witchcraft.

Back into the light... towards death.
Leaving the cells (still with us? I wouldn't want to loose you down there), there was one last stop, on our Pendle Witch Tour: Gallows Hill, the place of execution. The area is a park, with fine views across the landscape. The witches and their conspirators were all hung by the neck until dead, such was the practise. The bodies were removed, and likely buried nearby, on non-consecrated ground. Old lore tells us that large boulders or heaps of stones were placed upon the burial, to stop the witches from rising and seeking revenge. There are no signs of anything at old Gallows Hill, which for me, was more disturbing. The bodies could be anywhere!

That night we talked about our witchy experience. The Record Breaker run and the cells were a highlight, and the landscape around Pendle Hill. A nocturnal drive around the old lanes was a fun, final experience. I was looking for a crossroads, (quite common in Kent and Cornwall, imbued with superstition), to say a few pretentious words (or call up an Imp). It was a chilly night, with an owl hooting somewhere in the dark fields, and I did get a little spooked. No matter what you think, whether you believe Chattox and Demdike raised a brood of witches, or whether it was a dark time for clear thinking, it makes a cracking story, and lives on in people's minds to this day.

The famous Witch Hunter, Mathew Hopkins, had yet to be born (1620), The Salem Witch Trials (1692-1693) could be argued as a continuation of the Pendle Trials, or at least spurned on by them, thanks to the publication of ' The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster ', a lively account of the Pendle Trials, by the Thomas Potts, the clerk to the Lancaster Assizes. He, and the big wigs probably did quite well from the publication. The King would have been most pleased.

If any of this has piqued your interest, I strongly suggest looking into the history. There are loads of websites, some more reliable than others, which explore the story from different perspectives. It rattles some, all this talk of witchcraft. There was an appeal, in 1998, to Jack Straw (Home Secretary at the time) to officially pardon the 'witches', but he decided their convictions should stand. So, there you have it. They were rightfully tried and executed, according to modern law. There is talk that the Pendle lot were thieves, too, so any conviction is a righteous one? No? Not really. They were tried and executed as witches, not thieves, so it's a load of old crystal balls.

A haunting reminder.

In 2012, during our visit, the Bishop of Burnley was making a lot of noise about his discomfort with the big '1612' on the side of Pendle Hill. I guess he thought celebrating the witches or remembering the injustice of 1612 was unhealthy, or even anti-Christian. So, in some respects, the story of Demdike, Chattox and the others is never going away.



Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy my wiccan wanderings in Blackenrock!