Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Pendle Witches....

Last week we had a coach trip booked which involved lunch, shopping, afternoon tea and even more exciting a tour of Pendle Witch country, an absolute must as it being the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witch Trials.

We joined the coach which took us to Boundary Mill in Colne, Lancashire

a huge store on two floors where they sell branded goods up to 70% cheaper and a haven for shoppers.  We had an hour to look round before making our way across the huge car park to Banny's Restaurant for our included lunch of fish, chips, bread and butter and a pot of tea, which was delicious.

After lunch the coach picked us and a guide up to take us on the Pendle Witch Tour.  The Lancashire Witch Trials, when 20 people, of whom sixteen were women, took took place at Lancaster assizes in the autumn of 1612. No fewer than ten of these unfortunate people were found guilty at Lancaster, and hung altogether, witches were not burned in England.     Eight others were acquitted; why, it is not easy to see, for the evidence appears to have been equally strong, or rather equally weak and absurd, against all. 

The trials were unusual for England at that time in two respects: the official publication of the proceedings by the clerk to the court, Thomas Potts, in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, and in the number of witches hanged together: ten at Lancaster and one at York. It has been estimated that all of the English witch trials between the early 15th and early 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions, so this series of trials during the summer of 1612 accounts for more than 2 per cent of that total.

Six of the Pendle witches came from one of two families, each headed by a female in her eighties at the time of the trials: Elizabeth Southerns (aka Demdike) , her daughter Elizabeth Device, and her grandchildren James and Alizon Device; Anne Whittle (aka Chattox), and her daughter Anne Redferne. The others accused were Jane Bulcock and her son John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Gray, and Jennet Preston. The outbreaks of witchcraft in and around Pendle may demonstrate the extent to which people could make a living by posing as witches. Many of the allegations resulted from accusations that members of the Demdike and Chattox families made against each other, perhaps because they were in competition, both trying to make a living from healing, begging, and extortion.

Pendle Hill dominates the skyline, a foreboding place even on a bright day,

Pendle Hill

 Village of Pendleton

but the surrounding countryside is quite beautiful.

The last person to be tried under the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was Medium Helen Duncan in 1944.  She had come to the attention of the authorities after the spirit of a sailor reportedly appeared at one of her seances announcing that he had just gone down on a vessel called the Barham.   HMS 'Barham' was not officially declared lost until several months later, its sinking having been kept secret to mislead the enemy and protect  morale. One of her seances was interrupted by a police raid during which she and three memebers of her audience were arrested.  Duncan was remanded in custody by Portsmouth magistrates.  She was originally charged under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act (1824), under which most charges related to fortune-telling, astrology and spiritualism were prosecuted by magistrates in the 20th centruy.  This was considered a relatively petty charge and usually resulted in a fine if proved.  She was eventually tried by jury at the Old Bailey for contravening section 4 of the Witchcraft Act of 1835, which carried the heavier potential penalty of a prison sentence.

Duncan was found guilty as charged under the Witchcraft Act and sentenced to nine months in Holloway Prison, London.   She was the last person in Britain to be jailed under the act, which was repealed in 1951 and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act, following a campaign by spiritualist and member of Parliament Thomas Brooks.
It has often been suggested that the reason for Duncan's imprisonmenet was the authorities' fear that details of the imminent D-Day landings might be revealed, and given the revelation about the Barham it is clear to see why the Duncan might be considered a potential risk.  Nonetheless, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote to the home secretary branding the charge 'obselete tomfoolery'.
Helen Duncan was released from prison on 22nd September 1944 and seems to have avoided further trouble until November 1956 when the police raided a private seance in Nottingham where they grabbed the presiding medium, Duncan,  strip searched her and took endless flashlight photographs. They shouted at her that they were looking for beards, masks and shrouds. But they found nothing.  In their ignorance the police had committed the worst possible sin of physical phenomena; that a medium in trance must NEVER, ever be touched. As the Spirit World's teachers have patiently explained so many times when this happens the ectoplasm returns to the medium's body far too quickly and can cause immense - sometimes even fatal - damage.

And so it was in this case. A doctor was summoned and discovered two second degree burns across Helen's stomach. She was so ill that she was immediately taken back to her Scottish home and later rushed to hospital.   Helen Duncan died five weeks later on 6th December 1956.  There is an ongoing campaign to secure a pardon for Helen.

During the tour we also stopped at Sawley Abbey long enough to take a few photos.

The Cistercian Monastery was founded in January 1147 by monks from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland.  Although never particularly wealthy, the Abbey survived for almost 400 years until its Dissolution in 1536 by Henry VIII. 

We also passed an interesting pub.

At the end of a fascinating tour we returned to Boundary Mill where we had two hours to shop to our heart's content.   MWM went to the cafe for a cup of coffee and read his Kindle until I joined him after 90 minutes, during which I bought two pairs of Clarks shoes at half price.  We had a lovely cup of coffee and a fresh cream scone, which was included in the price of the excursion, before boarding the coach for the journey home.

We really enjoyed the day - me for the shopping and both of us for the tour, the lunch and the afternoon tea treat.


MorningAJ said...

Interesting that you've taken the 'official' line that the trials "demonstrate the extent to which people could make a living by posing as witches".

As you know, we were in Lancashire last week and we did a few Witch stops too. I've already written something about it, but I'm doing the holiday posts in small batches so I've not published it on my blog yet.

I see the Lancashire case as an appalling example of how innocent people could be accused of witchcraft by their neighbours and how the 'evidence' against them was often acquired by torture. The result was inevitably death by hanging (before they invented the long drop) unless you turned King's evidence against your fellow accused.

But I noticed that the publicity materials produced for the 400th anniversary still claim that these people might have been in league with the devil.

There's actually no evidence that any of the accused had any connection with witchcraft at all. There was no mention of it in their lives before the case started. It all began with a peddlar having a stroke shortly after refusing to give pins to a young girl who was begging.

OK - I'm starting to lecture now. And I'm going to be doing enough of that when I post my Witch Trials installment.

I didn't mean to take over. It would be interesting to have this discussion over a couple of pints of a good Lancashire ale in a comfortable Lancashire pub!

Akelamalu said...

I don't believe they were witches in tne sense of 'being in league with the devil' AJ. I think they were people who took advantage of their knowledge of herbal remedies and the superstitions of others to make a living in very hard times. I understand that practically all the evidence against them was heresay and hysterics by people who either bore a grudge or were trying to make themselves less accountable.

Daryl Edelstein said...

What a truly fascinating excursion .. so the burning of witches was an all American idea? Lovely.

Banker Chick said...

No, Daryl. We hung our witches too. Burning at the stake began in ancient times and was practiced all over Europe. Remember Joan D'Arc burned for Heresy?
Sounds like an excellent tour, Akela, and you still are my favorite tour guide.

Valerie said...

Fascinating topic and, it seems, a good day out. Fear and suspicion played a big part in days gone by.

Akelamalu said...

The burning of witches was a European thing as far as I know Daryl. It was a fascinating tour.

Ah you answered Daryl's question Bankerchick, thanks. Glad you enjoy our little excursions. x

Yes fear an suspicion got a lot of people in trouble in those days Valerie. It was a great day out.

Ron said...

Utterly fascinating post!

OMG...I so enjoyed reading this!

Excellent photographs! Enjoyed them all, but especially enthralled with the ones of Sawley Abbey. That ominous cloudy sky against the ruins is stunning!

"We had a lovely cup of coffee and a fresh cream scone"

I adore fresh cream scones!

Thank you for sharing this trip, m'dear!


cheshire wife said...

Just reading your post about your day out as worn me out!

Kirstin said...

Great post and pics :)

Dianne said...

what a great day trip!!

I love the stone work, all of your photos are wonderful

I thought all the crazy witch crap was only part of America's history

Akelamalu said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this trip Ron. The scenery in that part of Lancashire is just stunning and my photos don't really do it justice.

I have to admit it was rather tiring Cheshire Wife LOL

Thanks Kirstin x

It was a very enjoyable trip Dianne. I think the crazy witch crap was part of everyone history!

Secret Agent Woman said...

The witch trials (on both side of the pond) are such a blot on history. What a show of intolerance, fear and hatred.

cloudia charters said...

fascinating post. Being from Penn's Woods (Pennsylvania, the Quaker Commonwealth) I am more familiar with the connection to the society of Friends:

"As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered."
—George Fox: An Autobiography

Warm Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

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Travis Cody said...

What a fascinating story about Helen Duncan.

Mama Zen said...

That story about Helen Duncan is fascinating!

Akelamalu said...

Totally agree with you SAW

That's a much nicer thing to remember about Pendle Hill Cloudia

I found it fascination too Trav & Mama Zen

Maggie May said...

The Pendle witches were in a programme on TV not long ago and I believe that a small child in the family was the main witness that led to all the deaths. It was purely hearsay and imagination.
I am surprised that this nonsense went on as recently as 1944.
Very interesting.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

David Petro said...

A wonderful place. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Is was as if I was there.

Gledwood said...

What a weird coincidence. I'm about to start reading A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness. First book I've bought brand new in a LONG time. It looks pretty good too.

Akelamalu said...

I was shocked to hear the Witchcraft Act wasn't repealed until 1951 Maggie!

Glaad you enjoyed it David

That is a coincidence Gleds

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I've been in the Pendle Witch many times, many years ago. I also used to go up Rivington regularly which is close to Pendle Hill. It's a fascinating story isn't it, one that has a continuous stream of paranormal investigators seeking out the tormented witches.

CJ x

MorningAJ said...

Just thought I'd drop you a note to let you know you won the anniversary giveaway. I shall be making an inchie for you when inspiration strikes. Let me have your address (you've got my email haven't you? If not you can find it through my profile)

Akelamalu said...

Yes Rivington Pike is close to Pendle CJ.

WOW thanks AJ, I'm thrilled!

Lorraine said...

Fraudulent Mediumship Act done by a spiritualist - not that made me laugh. (You'll know why Pearl)xxx

Akelamalu said...

I do Lorraine!