My hometown is Clitheroe, a bustling settlement nestling at the foot of Pendle Hill in Lancashire. You may have heard of Pendle, the hill and the whole area is famed for its legendary association with witches.
It was in 1612 that twelve people from the Pendle area were put on trial for witchcraft . Lancashire in those days was mired in superstition. Seen as a remote and heathern backwater , accusations of sorcery were rife. Several of the accused ‘witches’ were made to walk the 40 miles from Barrowford to Lancaster Castle , where they were imprisoned underground , awaiting their fate.
The trouble started when one Alizon Device was accused by a pedlar of putting a curse on him, causing the man to become crippled on the spot. Under questioning the young girl confessed to being a witch and members of her family too.
Alizon’s family were headed by her 80 year old Grandmother Elizabeth Southernes, known as Demdike. These simple folk were dirt poor and made their living begging, often cursing those who wouldn’t entertain them. Demdike in particular had the appearance of an old hag, and had begun to believe in her own witchy powers, especially as people were prone to dying after her hexes. Of course in the seventeenth century illness and death were coincidentally common.
As more of the family were implicated in witchy goings on, another local family become embroiled in the accusations. Also headed by an elderly matriarch , known as Chattox , she and her relatives made a living from begging as well. Demdike and Chattox did not get on and both accused each other of and admited to being witches.
With their loved ones incarcerated, a gathering was then held at Malkin Tower. Possibly hoping to find a way to prove the prisoners innocence, things would only go from bad to worse for the ‘ witches ‘ remaining family members, friends and allies. When word got around about the meeting at Malkin Tower, chief prosecutor and magistrate Roger Nowell rounded up the attendees. For surely it had been a devious covern, plotting their kins escape.
It was on the evidence of a nine year old Star Witness that dammed yet more suspected witches. Jennet Device , the younger sister of Alizon and grandaughter of Demdike spoke out against her own mother and brother. She also confirmed the attendance of and gave evidence against several of the folk allegedly seen by her at Malkin Tower. These included landowner Alice Nutter, the only one of the accused who wasn’t of low birth. It seems that although Alice denied being there, she didnt offer up where she was at the time. Some say that Alice may have in fact been with Catholic friends. Being Catholic in protestant ruled England in 1612 was highly dangerous and Alice would not have wanted to implicate them.
So it was that of the 12 people accused of witchcraft, 10 were hanged from the gallows on moorland just above Lancaster. Demdike had already died in prison, and one lucky person, Alice Grey, was actually found innocent. All of the accused were not allowed any defence council, many were put to death on the hearsay of a nine year old child and two families were almost completely wiped out.
Here is a list of the 10 people who were hung as witches in Lancaster.
- Anne Whittle ( “Chattox”)
- Ann Redfearn
- Elizabeth Device
- Alice Nutter
- Alizon Device
- James Device
- Katherine Hewitt
- Jane Bulcock
- John Bulcock
- Isobel Robey
The Pendle Witches live on today in the hearts and in the imaginations of many Lancashire people and visitors to the county. There is a 52 mile walking trail that follows in the prisoners footsteps from Barrowford to Lancaster , complete with 10 Tercet waymarkers, one for each of the 10 lives taken.
Visitors to Pendle can also discover the Pendle Sculpture Trail in Aitken Wood near Barley or buy spooky gifts from Witches Galore in the village of Newchurch. Clitheroe too has a new shop devoted to all things Wiccan, The Cackling Witch is located on Castle Gate.
Whether the Pendle Witches were indeed Witches or simply innocent victims of another era, there is no doubt that the scattered villages and wild countryside here hold a quiet air of mystery. And sometimes Pendle Hill itself has been known to cast a spell. After a heavy snowfall melts away, what remains in the ditches and gullys , could be seen to resemble……a Witch on a broomstick.
Thanks for reading. 🍁