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 on this occasion as it was time to explore my next destination.
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……………