Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Witches of Pendle




Hello and welcome
Do you like spooky stories? I am a big scaredy cat but I love a good spooky story, particularly if it is a real life spooky. As it is a Halloween I thought it would be a good idea to let Sooty tell you a story. After all he is a black cat.



The Witches of Pendle

Tales of witches and witchcraft go as far back as the 14th century, and there were associations of black cats with witches; that is were superstitions about black cats arose.

The tale of The Pendle Witches dates back to 400 years, in fact 17th August 2012  marked the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials in 1612.


Pendle Hill Shrouded in Mist

The area of Pendle can be found in Lancashire, in the North West of England; Pendle is a borough of the county of Lancashire in England.

Pendle Hill rises from an ancient hunting ground, the summit of the hill was a Bronze Age burial ground.  In 1652 a man named George Fox climbed up Pendle Hill. It was there he was inspired to found the Quaker movement.

The villages of Sabden, Newchurch and Roughlee all have connections to the Pendle witches.



In the late 16th century the area of Pendle was considered by the authorities as being wild and lawless. The Pendle witches lived in the early 17th century. At this time religious persecution and superstitions were rife.
Their monarch King James I was a Protestant and it was a criminal offence for anyone not to attend the Church of England services and receive communion. Yearly the Justice of the Peace compiled a list of non conformists, the JP for the area of Pendle was called Roger Nowell.

James I had survived an assassination attempt Catholics called The Gunpowder Plot; this plot involved blowing up, the predominantly Protestant members of the Houses of Parliament when the King was in attendance. He was also convinced in 1590 (before he became king) that an assassination attempt was plotted by Scottish witches. In 1604 he imposed a law that carried the death penalty for anyone causing death or harm through the use of magic.

The trial of the Pendle Witches is one of the most famous witchcraft trials in British history, it all began on Sunday 18th March 1612:

There were two rival peasant families who were each lead by a matriarch, they were commonly known as Chaddox (Ann Whittle) and Demdike (Elizabeth Southerns) The families lived in poverty and they often begged and found work where they could. Both families were often the subject of local gossip, as the matriarchs often boasted about the cures and "spells" they offered to the local villagers.  

On the 18th March Alison Device, the granddaughter of Demdike begged some pins from a peddler named John Law of Halifax. He refused to give her any pins and Alison cursed him. Shortly after John Law fell to the ground paralysed.

Adam the son of John Law made a complaint to the Justice of the Peace, Roger Nowell, Alison was interrogated and made a confession of witchcraft and also incriminated her mother Elizabeth and brother James. When Alison was summoned to appear before Roger Nowell on March 30th 1612 she took the opportunity to accused Chaddox and her family of being involved in witchcraft.


On April 3rd  Alison Device, Demdike, Chaddox and her daughter Anne Redferne were interrogated. Demdike claimed she had given her soul to the devil 20 years previously and Chaddox also claims to have given her soul to a "Christian like man." They were all committed for a witchcraft trial at Lancaster Castle.

Elizabeth Device organised a meeting at the Demdikes home, Malkin Tower on Good Friday; 6th April 1612. Relatives and supporters of the families attended.  James Device stole a neighbours sheep for them to feast upon. The news of the meeting and the stolen sheep reached Roger Nowell he send a local constable to Malkin Tower. There accusation flew that at the meeting a plot was hatched to free the imprisoned women by blowing up Lancaster Castle.

The constable found human bones and teeth,apparently stolen from a graveyard at St.Mary's church in Newchurch. He also found a clay image.  James Device confesses to using the image to cause the death of a woman called Anne Townley.  All others attending the "Witches Sabbath" meeting were arrested and imprisoned Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock and Alice Gray in Lancaster Castle and Jennet Preston who was from Yorkshire she was imprisoned in York, she was tried and found guilty of murder by witchcraft and was sentenced to death by hanging. She was executed on the 29th July 1612.


The Trial of the Pendle witches started at Lancaster Assizes on August 17th 1612. They were all accused of murder and witchcraft. The key witness was Jennet the nine year old daughter of Elizabeth Device. It was unusual, even in the 17th century for a nine year old child to give witness at a trial. Normal rules were suspended for evidence given in witchcraft trials, as stated in King James I's Daemonologie.

In order to please King James the trial lasted for only three days; of the accused only one suspect, Alice Grey was found Not Guilty. Elizabeth Southerns (Demdike) died while awaiting trial, the other nine were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. They were executed at Gallows Hill in Lancaster on August 20th 1612.

Modern times brought "Dark Tourism" to the Pendle area, thousands of visitor come yearly to visit the area, they can follow the witches walks or travel on The Witch Way buses. There is even a beer produced in Burnley called Witches Brew. You can also find shops selling witch related gifts.

Witches Galore


There is a shop (see above) in Newchurch-in-Pendle called Witches Galore, were you can buy souvenirs and all things witchy.

You can read more about the Pendle witches here: http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/

Witch Facts

Image via Wikimedia commons.
  • The word witch come from the Anglo-Saxon word Wicca or Wise one.
  • The Pagans used Wicca (magic) in their pagan rites, usually to bring a good harvest.
  • Witchcraft had become sinister by the 14th century.
  • The witches hat is an exaggeration of a Puritan hat, the point is said to have been a representation of the devils horns
  • Unmarried women or widows would earn money by practising healing, this lead to accusations of witchcraft.
  • The Puritans believed that black cats were in league with the devil, the 17th pilgrims that went to America passed a law forbidding anyone to own a black cat. The punishment for owning a black cat was death.
  • In the 15th century witches were portrayed flying astride wolves & goats, eventually a broomstick became a more common image.
  • It was thought that the sound of church bells could bring down a flying witch.
  • James I recommended that suspected witches should be searched for the devil's mark, usually a birthmark. This "devil's mark" was seen as a sign that the suspect had made a covenant with the devil.
  • Matthew Hopkins was the England's "Witchfinder General" from 1645, he was responsible for the hanging of 68 witches.
  • In a book by James I one of the techniques of proving someone was a witch was to use " ducking" or "swimming." The suspect's right thumb was tied to their left toe, a roped was tied around their waist. They were then thrown into a deep river or pond. If the suspected witch sank to the bottom they were deemed innocent if they floated they were in league with the devil for rejecting the baptismal water.

I hope you enjoyed reading the fascinating and true story, all that is left for me to say is:
 HAPPY HALLOWEEN
All other images ©P.M. Christou