The Pendle Witches Part 2: Walking in witches’ footsteps


Following my recent visit to the Pendle Heritage Centre (See Pendle Witches Part 1) I embarked on my next adventure which was to see for myself some of the key locations in the story of the Pendle Witches. I couldn’t have picked a better day for it, as it was unseasonably warm, and the sunshine was glorious – perfect for getting out and about in the beautiful Lancashire countryside.


As readers of some of my other blogs will know, I don’t drive and therefore a lot of my journeying involves public transport. In this part of rural Lancashire this proved to be a challenge. Not very interesting, I know, but I mention it as it is something people should bear in mind if planning a similar day out. I was very glad I had put in the research and planned my day beforehand.


My first destination was Barley, a tiny village in the foothills of Pendle Hill and the suggested starting point for those who want to make the climb. The village lies between Black Moss and Ogden reservoirs within the Forest of Bowland designated Area Of Natural Beauty. There are fine walks to be enjoyed nearby, including a nature sculpture trail within the forest.


As I had so much to fit in on a day when the sun was due to set before six o’clock, I had to leave these pleasures for a return visit. It has been thought by some that the area around Black Moss is the possible location of Malkin Tower, home of the Device family of witches, though there is no definitive evidence.

On 21st March 1612 Alison Device approached John Law, essentially a mediaeval travelling salesman, and asked him for some pins. Although this might seem to the modern mind like a meagre request, pins were expensive to make, and it was well known that they were used in casting spells (one piece of incriminating evidence later brought against the Device family was the finding of clay figures at their home into which pins had been stabbed); Law refused. Alison is said to have cursed him, and shortly after he fell from his horse. The modern take on this is that he suffered a stroke, though Alison was accused of using witchcraft and, believing herself to possess such powers, she confessed. This was the single event – the catalyst – which marked the beginning of the investigation, the trials and finally the executions of ten people five months later. Three of these were Alison’s grandmother, mother and brother, who also confessed. Her nine-year-old sister, Jennet, was the main witness against the family, whether through innocently telling the truth about their practices, or through manipulation by those who wanted to impress the King by rooting out witches and/or secret Catholics.

Barley really is tiny, though until the mid-19th century it had two small weaving mills. With the decline of the water-powered textiles industry, many people moved towards the nearest towns, Burnley and Nelson, to find work in the modern mills. The mill workers’ cottages are still there, though now with other occupants. Farming is still going strong in Barley and the hospitality industry is well-represented in the Pendle Inn and the award-winning Barley Mow restaurant. The busiest place in Barley is the car park, the assembly point for walking groups and site of a lauded café. I didn’t stop off at any of these locations on this occasion, as it was time to explore my next destination.DSCF4275DSCF4278

My plans were best laid, but they did go awry at this point. I had intended to walk next to Newchurch-in-Pendle, another key location in the witches’ narrative, just one mile from Barley. The problem with street maps is that they don’t show elevation. As I approached Cross Lane, the road to Newchurch, I dismissed immediately the idea of attempting such a hike, since I didn’t have my climbing gear with me! Yes – it really was a very steep road! It is at such moments that I am in awe of our forebears who walked those paths every day without recourse to any kind of transport, and when I pity the poor horses and mules which would have pulled heavy burdens up such inclines. A quick change of plan then, and a new course was set.

My revised route turned out to be a blessing! Under the bluest of autumn skies, I made my way at a leisurely pace to Roughlee, which originally was to have been my final destination of the day. The walk was just under two miles and I enjoyed the tranquillity of having the road to myself much of the way.



Roughlee is another tiny village with a very cute school and one pub which is closed for refurbishment. Pendle Water runs through, and the little waterfall is lovely to sit by.


The main point of interest for me was the sculpture of Alice Nutter, another of the Pendle accused. It was commissioned in 2012, the 400th anniversary of the Witch Trials. I was struck by the power of the sculpture when it first came into view, large as life in the middle of the footpath. On closer inspection I observed that despite the 17th century attire, ‘Alice’ had a very modern and ordinary face. For me, this added to the disturbing effect; she was a woman above all else – the rest was supposition and superstition, and political expediency. Feelings clearly still run strong, as somebody had placed a cross and chain around her neck.


Alice Nutter was an enigmatic character. The nine-year-old chief witness, Jennet Device, claimed that Alice was at a gathering of witches at Malkin Tower on Good Friday 1612; the purpose of the meeting, Jennet claimed and the authorities believed, was to plot the blowing up of Lancaster Castle in order to release from its dungeons those who were already being held there awaiting trial for witchcraft. Alice was different to the other accused women and men: they were very poor and uneducated labourers; she was the widow of a yeoman farmer, respected and of much higher status. At trial, Alice spoke only to plead not guilty to witchcraft. She never explained why she was at Malkin Tower on that day, or even to deny she was there at all. It is widely thought that Alice Nutter was a secret Catholic and that it was convenient to be rid of her. This was just five years after the gunpowder plot against Parliament and the King.

I soaked up some more sunshine and bird song before boarding the next bus back to Nelson, my starting point. From there, a taxi was my only option to my final destination: Newchurch-in-Pendle. The driver was baffled as to why I was going to a place where, apparently, there was nothing to see. I decided not to bother with the history angle; if he’d been interested, he’d have known already.


Sixteenth century St Mary’s Church has a supposed link to Alice Nutter. She, along with the others accused of witchcraft, was hanged at Lancaster on 20th August 1612. It was unheard of for convicted witches to be buried in consecrated ground; after execution, they would usually be buried secretly in unmarked graves. Despite this, many believe that Alice is buried in a family grave at St Mary’s. I am very sceptical. Nutter is – and was – a popular name in this neck of the woods, and I believe that the Alice beneath the tombstone at St Mary’s is a name sake. In this photo of the grave you can just about make out the Nutter surname on the headstone and the skull and cross bones on the slab.


The church was open and a notice invited visitors to enter. Nobody else was there, so I sat for a while to reflect on the day and to enjoy the ambience. I was so glad that I did, as I had the opportunity to see an intriguing painting by artist Joan Parsons, ‘Mary, the mystic rose, mother of our lord, the peacock of heaven’. It was unlike any other depiction of Jesus and Mary that I had seen before.



Newchurch’s other place of interest is its only shop, Witches Galore. This wonderful little place sells a whole range of things connected to witchcraft, from Halloween nick-nacks to symbolic jewellery, incense and pagan art . A little incongruously, it also sells ice creams and sweets………but then it is the ONLY shop within a radius of several miles. I smiled to myself when I remembered Hansel and Gretel and the witch’s tempting gingerbread and candy house. Outside, the message in old Lancashire dialect above the shop door gave rise to more amusement.



‘Gerrit spent. They dont pupockits i shrouds’

As I embarked on the mile-long trek downhill through farm land back to Roughlee (the reverse journey of that which I couldn’t have contemplated earlier in the day) I thought about the festival of Halloween, preparations for which were taking place across the world: fun, entertaining and secular; dressing up as witches and celebrating the dark side. I also thought about those local people who 400 years ago had been sent to the gallows for the mere suggestion of the same.

The world turns, and we all turn with it……………

The Pendle Witches part 1: a visit to Pendle Heritage Centre


The village of Barrowford, the location of Pendle Heritage Centre, is in East Lancashire at the foot of Pendle Hill, a powerful brooding presence which dominates the landscape for miles around. It is about 150ft short of qualifying as a mountain. Pendle Hill is popular with hikers, especially those who have been captivated by the surrounding area and its dark history. Even on a glorious summer’s day, Pendle Hill has an eeriness about it; in grey October, as Halloween approaches and the nights draw in, the imagination can run riot.


OK, a little bit of history in a nutshell to set the scene………

The notorious Lancashire witch trials took place just over four hundred years ago in a turbulent time when religious suppression and fear of the supernatural were rife. In 1603, King James I (and VI of Scotland) came to the English throne. The new King was exceptionally superstitious, even for the time, and was obsessed with witchcraft, believing that attempts had been made on his own and his wife’s lives through the agency of black magic. His wife, Queen Anne, was from Denmark, which was in the grip of witchcraft mania.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420In addition to that of the occult, another fear weighed heavy on the King and Parliament: Roman Catholicism. The Protestant Reformation in England had begun about 75 years earlier, but during the reigns of King Henry VIII – the architect of reformation – and Queen Elizabeth I, there had been greater tolerance of ordinary Catholics who were still following ‘the old religion’ as long as they were very discreet, posed no threat and gave no offence to The Crown. Those times had gone, and the beginning of the 17th century brought with it a climate of fear and suspicion of English Catholics to the extent that they were regarded as enemies of the state; traitors who were seen as loyal to a faith which had at its head a foreign pope, not their own King. Practising as a Roman Catholic was considered to be an act of treason, and priests – when discovered – were punished by gruesome execution. Spies for the Crown were at large throughout society; all who adhered to this ‘foreign’ faith apparently posed a threat. Only seven years earlier Guy Fawkes and his associates had attempted to blow up parliament, an extreme act of rebellion against the oppression of Catholics.

Lancashire had the largest number of recusant Catholics in the country. Folk traditions were also still popular, and the people were considered to be less conforming than in many other regions. The trial of the witches of Pendle is one of the most famous in British history. It has been the subject of much academic analysis, and has been depicted in novels, films and TV programmes. A lot is known about the Pendle witches, though much is still open to debate and speculation.


Pendle Heritage Centre is within a gorgeous Tudor building, Park Hill, formerly home of the wealthy and influential Bannister family. I was fascinated to discover that Sir Roger Bannister, the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, descends from that same family. There has been a settlement on the site – farming and later textile production – since the 1200s. The present building was rescued and preserved by Heritage for the North West.

Entrance to Park Hill takes visitors past the first of a trail of tercet way markers commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witch trials. There are ten in total and they are positioned along the 51 mile route which the accused followed on the route to Lancaster Castle where they were imprisoned and tried. Each way marker displays a stanza of the poem ‘The Lancashire Witches’ written by poet Laureate, Carole Ann Duffy.


Admission is through a small reception area which offers the usual selection of leaflets, postcards etc. The nice lady behind the counter then showed me to an ancient-looking door which she invited me to pass through. I stepped into a paradox: the modern steel, glass and audio-visual displays that were the exhibition, housed in the remains of a dim, musty mediaeval building, complete with crumbled stone walls and the smell of damp. This combination of ancient and contemporary was slightly unsettling. Perfect!SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The history of Park Hill is told through displays and an audio recording which visitors activate by pressing a button. This continues as you make your way up the stairs to the next level. The early exhibits are about the Bannister family and the house, and include some examples of authentic 17th century household items. There is even a sitting room set up as it would have been about 400 years ago, though I felt that the dodgy mannequins with their rather comical wigs, in addition to the faux-flame pantomime-style fire detracted somewhat from the intended effect. This was all very interesting, and perhaps the topic of a future blog post, but the main interest of most visitors (including me), I suspect, is the next part of the exhibition, which is about the Pendle witches.


Next, I found myself in a tiny, dark room where there were three simple wooden benches, the front one occupied by a couple engrossed in a short film about the infamous witches. I don’t know if the siting of that auditorium was deliberate, or whether it was the only space left over once the displays had been placed, but it was spot on! Pitch black apart from the TV, and malodorous from the pervading dampness; closed-in and slightly unnerving, it was the perfect place to watch a film about dark arts.

The story of two feuding families, Chattox and Demdike, headed up by aged matriarchs who scraped a sort of living through begging, petty crime and perhaps a bit of ‘wise-woman’ healing over 400 years earlier, and their executions on a hill above Lancaster Castle is a complex one. It is a story about fear of women who were unmarried and outspoken; about the interpretation of mental health conditions, learning difficulties and dementia through the supernatural explanations prevalent at the time. It is also a story about the melding of ancient folk lore and remnants of old Catholic practices which still lingered in rural Lancashire at a time when both were feared, the latter considered a threat to King and country. Ambitious, powerful men, out to gain the King’s favour, found convenient offerings in Pendle. It is a story about scapegoats.SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420


Undoubtedly, some of those accused were involved in the practice of casting spells; there is evidence of that. More about that next time!

The warmth, light and delectable aromas of the Heritage restaurant downstairs was a world apart from the exhibition area, and a welcome contrast. Home-cooked food is served every day except Christmas day and the restaurant is popular, not just with people visiting the exhibition. I enjoyed a cup of peppermint tea in a snug corner before stepping out into the traditional garden to appreciate the turning of the season.


Pendle Heritage Centre is a smashing place to visit if you’re in the area. A couple of hours is enough time to spend there before exploring the other villages and hamlets that sit in the shadow of Pendle Hill along the ‘Witch Trail’. More witches, magic and nature will follow, so watch this space.



Bronte Country – Haworth, Yorkshire


The moors seen at a distance, broken into cool, dusky dells, but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze.” Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte.

The first time I read Wuthering Heights I was thirteen years old. It was unlike anything else I had read before, and I was mesmerised. It was not an easy read, containing many scenes of brutality and unlikable characters. Brooding northern skies and foreboding moorland are the backdrop to this celebrated story of intense love which survives death. My thirteen-year-old self was captivated by the character of Heathcliff: wronged, maligned; the victim child turned vengeful man and romantic hero. I read it again a decade later and my take on it changed somewhat: the woman saw Heathcliff’s brutality, raw, and minus the romanticised notions of the teenaged girl. I have read Wuthering Heights maybe five times in my life, and on each occasion I have read a different story: time – and living in the world – changes our responses as readers, and language resonates in new ways. One thing that has remained constant, reading after reading, is my sense of the great beauty and power present in the descriptions of the landscape.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420‘My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath.’

”I shall never be there but once more when I die…..and shall remain there forever.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte


‘In summer, Miss Catherine delighted to climb along these trunks, and sit in the branches.’  Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

The Bronte sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, are amongst the best-known authors in English literature. They lived for most of their lives in Haworth, west Yorkshire, where their father was vicar of the parish church. The parsonage was the place where Wuthering Heights was written, and it is clear to see how the surrounding moors and heathland inspired such a dark, gothic and intense story of passion and extremes.

This is not a blog about English literature or even about history; it is, like my others, me sharing with you an experience and my impressions. The Bronte sisters are fascinating characters as writers and as women, and their personal stories hold their own tragedies which are equal to those of some of their characters. The name of Bronte is synonymous with Haworth, but the place has charms of its own to recommend it to visitors.

‘Bronte Country’, as Haworth and its environs is known, has not changed much in appearance since the time of its most well-known residents. It goes without saying that the literary connection attracts visitors from all over the globe; another notable attraction is the restored railway with operational steam trains which pulls in hundreds of 1940s vintage enthusiasts every year (more about them in a future diary entry).

Haworth’s main street (it is actually called Main Street) is home to some lovely shops, amongst them a vendor of occult services, a lovely tea room and various arts and crafts gift shops. The Cookhouse is a friendly attractive café which offers a good range of veggie/vegan/gluten free lunch options. It can be hard to get in anywhere at busy times as Haworth is essentially a one-street village; it can be a bit frustrating, but better that than sacrificing its character on the altar of commerce.


The cobbled length of Main Street rises at a fairly steep gradient towards the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels. This newer building has replaced the original church where Reverend Bronte presided. I was a tad disappointed when I realised that it was not possible to see the Bronte tomb. A plaque indicates the place where the family lies buried below this newer building, which was raised above the level of the old . Anne Bronte is buried not with her sisters at Haworth Church, but at Scarborough, where she died whilst on holiday, hoping that the sea air would  restore good health. The tragedy of it all………. You couldn’t make it up! (OK, you could.)

BronteHaworth Church


Haworth parsonage is situated close to the church and now serves as the Bronte Museum. Sadly, I can’t show any photographs of the interior or exhibits, as photography is not allowed and this rule is strictly enforced by the vigilant staff there. Some of the family’s original furniture has been purchased by the Museum (at great expense) and has been set up as it was thought to have been when the family lived there. The couch upon which Emily died is in situ in the front parlour, which is where the sisters are said to have shared their ideas and written their novels at the table. Some of the exhibits are fascinating, including several items of the sisters’ clothing which demonstrates how tiny they were. The place is well worth a visit.



A narrow path between the museum and church took me to a public footpath leading out into the fields and from there to open moorland. On a windy day beneath a heavy grey sky it is very easy to make a connection to the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. This is a harsh place where the forces of nature rule.

On the way back, I met a beautiful horse whose name I didn’t quite catch when she introduced her splendid teeth to my arm. It was only a slight graze, so no harm done, and it was entirely my own fault for not offering her a treat of some kind – or so I was advised by a fascinating local woman who witnessed the equine assault. Apparently, the horse is usually very sweet. I am certain this is true and that her out-of-character behaviour was the result of the powerful energies of the landscape. After all, even Heathcliff was sweet once………..


‘On one side of the road rose a high, rough bank, where hazels and stunted oaks, with their roots half exposed, held uncertain tenure.’

‘I wish you were a mile or two up those hills. The air blows so sweetly.’

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte