The Amazing Story of the Pendle Witches
Pendle Hill rises majestically above an ancient hunting ground, once the home of wolves and wild boar, a wild and mysterious place. Beneath the hill lie pretty villages which tell a story of intrigue and witchcraft nearly 400 years old. Many novels have been written about the world famous Pendle Witches but reality in this case turns out to be stranger than fiction. You can retrace their steps on our Pendle Witches Walking Trail, or the Pendle Witches Road Trail, as well as the Pendle Sculpture Trail, where you have to find our “ witches” dotted through the woodland.
A HISTORY OF THE PENDLE WITCHES
The Pendle Witches lived in the early 1600’s at a time of religious persecution and superstition. The protestant king, James I, had just survived the catholic gunpowder plot. Catholics and those suspected of witchcraft came under more scrutiny than ever, and the king brought in the death penalty for those found guilty of witchcraft.
It was a dangerous time for two Pendle families, led by two wily old matriarchs, Demdike and Chattox. Long since widowed their existence depended on exaggerating the cures they offered to local villagers. It would prove to be their undoing.
A MAN IS PARALYSED
On a cold lonely road to Colne on a March day in 1612 a man collapsed to the ground paralysed. His name is John Law, a pedlar from Halifax. Just moments before Demdike’s grand-daughter, Alison Device, had cursed him. He would not give her the pins that her grandmother wanted for a spell.
Abraham Law, the pedlar’s son, hauled Alison infront of local magistrate, Roger Nowell, Alison, overawed by the situation confesses and incriminates both her grandmother, Demdike, and her local rival, Chattox.
The two are interrogated at Ashlar House, and perhaps wishing to enhance their local reputation try to outdo each other with their stories, including the story of meeting the devil in a local quarry. On April 3rd 1612 Demdike, Chattox, Device, and Redfearn are committed for trial for witchcraft at Lancaster Castle.
On Good Friday the Demdike and Device families meet at Malkin Tower and feast on stolen mutton. Later when Nowell hears of this meeting he sends a local constable, Henry Hargreaves to Malkin Tower. There are accusations that they were plotting to free the imprisoned women and blow up the castle.
A constable finds human bones and teeth stolen from graveyard at St Mary’s and a clay image. James Demdike confesses to using the image to cause the death of Anne Townley. The others at the alleged “Witches Sabbath” meeting are all rounded up and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle.
On August 17th the trial began. The prosecution’s star witness was nine year old Jennet Device who in court identifies those who attended the Good Friday meeting, including her mother Elizabeth and Alice Nutter. This evidence, the confessions already given, and the vigour of the prosecutors, keen to ingratiate themselves to James I, meant that, after just three days the trial was over. All the accused swung from the gallows, except for Demdike, who died as a prisoner before the trial.