The Pendle Witch Trials of 1612

fascinating
compelling
  • Pendle Witch Trials - my initial interest
  • -
  • David Holding
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Why this subject?

How I Became Interested in the Pendle Witch Trials

“Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name” - Katherine Arden, The Girl in the Tower (from Goodreads)

My interest in the Lancashire Witches in general, and the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 in particular, arose during my undergraduate time in Manchester where I read history. At this time, I was a Reader at the John Rylands University Library and the Chetham's Library. Both of these institutions house collections of rare manuscripts and books going back to the 16th and 17th centuries. In particular, Chetham's Library hold copies of King James the First's work “Demonology” (or Daemonologie), together with Thomas Potts' 'Discovery of Witches'. Both of these works are considered to be the seminal works on Witchcraft in 17th century Britain. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to read these works in their entirety, no mean task!  In particular, Potts' verbatim account of the Trials is very enlightening but a little difficult for the general reader, mainly due to the English prose of the time. My conclusion was that the trial transcripts could benefit from including a brief but detailed enough chapter outlining the criminal law procedures at the time of the trials. This would enable the reader to place the events within the prevailing legal framework of the time. I also included additional material to provide valuable background to the Pendle Witches. The work concludes by drawing readers' attention to the Statutory position as regards 'Witchcraft' over the ages. I believe that my approach enhances readers' enjoyment and understanding of this fascinating period in British history.

Lesley Atherton's story, The Pendle Witches

In 'Can't Sleep, Won't Sleep, Tales for Travellers, Vol 1'

"She was telling me a tale to protect me. She was jollying me along to give me strength. I do the same myself now. Sometimes, when the witches strike..."

My mum told me all about the Pendle Witches: how, centuries past their dispossessions, trials and burnings, their spirits still live amongst their hill’s grasses and heather, and how their usual white-witch tendencies are occasionally eclipsed by their desires to cause mischief.


Earlier that day we’d carefully studied the cute model witches suspended from the ceilings of a local tea room - witches made of sticks and modelling clay, hessian and straw - and judged which were the scariest, the most well-made, and the ugliest.


I was still at infant school when the witches pushed me down their hill during one of our family’s Sunday walks. That’s what my mum said, anyway, and I was grateful for it, because I knew, even then, that the reality was more embarrassing - I’d got my small wellington booted foot caught in a croquet hoop of heather roots, bare and gnarled and obviously sticking out of an eroded peaty hillside. I only saw the hoop when I was already falling. By that moment it was too late.


My mind was always in a different place to my body. That was the problem; the excuse for clumsiness. I was a brave girl, apparently, though I don’t remember much other than the fall itself (or the ‘push’). I got back to the car without a tantrum and I barely cried, but I’ve been told on many an occasion since then that I crawled into bed on our return home and sobbed myself to sleep under the blankets. It was perceived as character building to leave me to it. They left me to it.


The following day was Monday. I liked my teacher, Mrs Barton, very much and liked school too, but didn’t want to be there at all that Monday. I couldn’t concentrate, I was silly and I was thoughtless, and, that afternoon, I clumsily overbalanced my chair. Four legs - steady on the parquet floor - became two, and then became a tangled mass of metal and flesh: tubular metal, blue moulded plastic, and screaming little girl not knowing whether to use her one good hand to cradle her bleeding skull or to cradle her wrist, twice damaged in as many days.


Later, and removed from my accident, I sat, quietly sobbing with a Magic Paint book on the desk in front of me, watching while watery tears blotched and changed the colours of the pages in circular splashes. Miserable, I ate raisins and drank orange cordial till my mum turned up half an hour later, informing the teacher caring for me in the head’s tiny office that the Pendle Witches were, once again, to blame for my ills.


Later still, the hospital discovered that my arm was broken at the wrist - in two places - and I found out just how much a broken arm does hurt. Forty years later I don’t remember the pain or much else about that day. Only two things really stick in my mind. Firstly, the wonderful way that the Magic Paint book coloured up with each of my falling tears, and secondly, the way my mum laughed as she talked to my teachers. At the time I was upset. It felt as if she was disregarding my pain, but she wasn’t. She was being brave to make me brave. She was telling me a tale to protect me. She was jollying me along to give me strength. I do the same myself now. Sometimes, when the witches strike...


This story and others are available in 'Can't Sleep, Won't Sleep, Volume 1'.

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