Last weekend was the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch trials - the most sensational witch trial in English history. For a great summary of events, check the story out here.
To commemorate the event we decided to have a bit of a driving tour around the area. It coincided with my birthday, and this also counts as research for me. :) I learned a hell of a lot along the way thanks to the commemorative events Lancaster put on, and the excellent historians at Lancaster castle.
The group of witches that went on trial were from a small area in Pendle Forest. First up we went to Roughlee, because I wanted to visit a commemorative sculpture there - that of Alice Nutter, one of the women who was charged and hanged. What's fascinating about Alice is that she seems unconnected to the rest. The majority were indeed a ragtag bunch, impoverished con artists and grave robbers who sold enchantments and the like - courting the image of witchcraft and leading a dangerous life. Alice was from a family of yeomen, respected in the area, and not impoverished. It is thought that the possible reason she did not defend herself from the charges of witchcraft was because she was a catholic, and on the day she was said to be heading to a coven meet she might have been on her way to a secret mass. Her two brothers were priests and her son was in Europe training to be a priest. At the time being a catholic was almost as heinous as being a witch. Did she stay silent to protect her loved ones? We will never know. You can read more about the statue here.
On to Newchurch in Pendle. Here in the church of Saint Mary's many of the Nutter family are buried and Alice's family brought her remains back to be buried here. Check out the church tower - that carving below the clock is an "eye of God" added to protect the locals from pagans and witchcraft. Baffling - wasn't the presence of god in the church/crosses etc enough? Apparently not. It's also interesting to note that the eye of god symbol seems almost pagan in its design. The plot thickens.
Below, looking out across the graveyard with the Pendle Hills in the back ground.
Pendle Witches Brew. How did that get in here? Ahem. Hey, it was my birthday!
Let's shop! Witches Galore in Newchurch is a treasure trove of goodies to buy, fun stuff and excellent resources.
One of the commemorative events run by Lancaster council was this exhibition. It has toured but we saw it at Lancaster Museum. Two rooms with items relating to witchcraft and artists interpretations of the Pendle story. One of the fun things was an interactive feature for the kids (hah!) a wheel of fortune you could spin that decided whether or not you were a witch. Try as I might, I was found innocent on every turn. Damn. Mark, however, was found guilty first spin.
Above, this is a window display in Waterstones in Lancaster. Underneath the feature were many of the books written about trials and the witches. Noteworthy - on our tour of the courts/jail in Lancaster Castle, the guide said there were no records extant. The only record is a slim pamphlet "The wonderful discoverie of Witches in the countie of Lancashire" that was written by the court clerk, Thomas Potts, during the two day trial, and which many much longer books have evolved from - i.e. most of what is written as history is in fact speculative fiction.
This is Barley. Barley is such a pretty village and is most notable because of the very recent discovery of a buried cottage thought to be the home of a practitioner of witchcraft - complete with walled in cat. Is it the home of one of the people charged? We don't know. Archaeologists are working on it now and I'm hoping that we will be able to see it all one day in the not too distant future. You can read about the discovery here.
Barley is the starting point for the witch walk, a path around Pendle Hill. As a special commemoration, people were invited to attend in costume. On the day the witch trials began in Lancaster, the world record for the most people dressed as witches in one place was set. Four hundred and eighty-two people set the new record, which has never been previously attempted. You can read about the event and see some great photos here.
Lancashire really love their witchcraft heritage - witches are everywhere! Buses, pub signs, you name it.
Lancaster Castle, the only working castle in the UK, i.e. the courts are still held here. Up until 2011 it was also a functioning jail. If you get to the area, a tour is a must. So much to see and learn! On the 18th August - 400 years to the day the trial opened - we stood in the very place it happened. The room had changed function over the years, but it was nevertheless a special experience to be there where it happened, and to see the old cells (and the various devices used to elicit confessions, ugh!) Alas photos are not allowed inside (because it's a working court) but you can check out many of the details online, here and here or google Lancaster Castle for some pictures. You could also visit the witches' dungeon, where they were kept for many months before the assizes (i.e. the travelling judge came to town.)
Below, spotted close to the castle, this ballgown in a window - made entirely from book pages. Don't ask me why or what for, I haven't a clue, but had to snap it.
So much to see, fun to be had, and alongside all of that, the 12 Shades of Surrender books launched in print and I got to see them in W H Smiths. Yay! First in Burnley, then (last pic below) in Lancaster the next day.
Thank you Lancashire! I'll leave you with a fun clip from the witch gathering - enjoy!