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The Lancashire Witches

Author: 
Chris Satori

In 1612, forty years before the English civil war, 9 people were hanged for witchcraft, on the edge of the old city, where now there are playing fields, across the Quernmore Road from Williamson Park. 

In March 1612, young Alison Device (pro. 'deviss') was walking the road to Colne begging. She asked a pedler, John Law, of Halifax to open his pack to give her pins and when he refused, she cursed him. Whereupon he collapsed with a stroke and was carried, half-paralysed, to a local hostelry, claiming that he was bewitched. His son, Abraham Law, sought out Alison, and brought her to his father's bedside. She freely confessed she had cursed him, and apologised for doing him harm.

She was then taken to Roger Nowell, at Lancaster, who was the Crown Prosecution Service of the time. Not only did Alison confess to being a servant of Satan, but so, eventually, did her mother, Elizabeth Device, and her mother, 'Old Demdyke'. All the accused were held at Lancaster Castle in the cells of the 'Witches' Tower', where Mother Demdyke, being aged, died awaiting trial.

As the investigations continued others were also implicated in witchcraft, being either previously suspected of it, or having some connection with the families that were. There was a long-standing fued between the Demdikes and the Chattox family, who seemed to be in competition when it came to extorting benefits through threats of dark art. 

According to the trial records, copies of which are held at Lancaster Library, the confessions and the conviction were not related to the popular current understanding of witchcraft as the belief system based on Wicca but detailed the worship of 'Satan', a deviancy specific to the patriarchal religions originating with the prophet Abraham. However ancient clay 'egyptian' effigies found at Malkin Towers, Pendle, through the evidence of Alison's 9 year old sister might lead one to speculate that the 'confessions', based mainly as they were on the evidence of children, owed more to what the prosecution wanted to hear than what the illiterate Devices, who were not allowed a defence at their trial, had to say. Nevertheless, several of the accused did seem to believe that they had made use of supernatural powers, and admitted it. 

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Interestingly, one of the charges brought against Old Demdyke was that she had failed to heal a cow when she was supposed to.

Local legend has it that the nine executed, being refused burial in the town cemetery, were interred in the old Quaker cemetery. If so, there can be few resting places more peaceful and lovely. However, George Fox, principle founder of the Quaker movement, did not experience his inspirational vision on Pendle Hill until 40 years later. Possibly the site, being just a few yards outside the old city boundaries, was originally used as the burial ground for executed heretics, and others not deemed worthy of burial in consecrated ground, or within the city boundary.  This may have been the same land later purchased by the Society of Friends and made into an enclosed and secluded garden.

There is a lot more detail available online about the Pendle Witch Trials but the reality of their situation becomes clearer if you see the places where they were kept in Lancaster Castle and follow their story there. 

Guided Walks around Lancaster illustrating the stories of the individuals involved in the Lancashire Witch trials are regularly scheduled throughout the season.
Check our our EVENTS section for details, or visit 
http://www.catwalks-lancaster.co.uk/ for their schedule of Guided Walks. 

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