Hi! Sorry I went MIA again for a while – no particular reason, I was simply kind of tired of blogging and of (gasp) visiting museums, mostly because it was just too damn hot for most of this summer, and there ain’t no way I’m hopping on public transport when it’s a million degrees outside. But the break has made me realise that I’m not inclined to blog as frequently as I used to going forward – for one thing, I’ve exhausted most of the museums in London, and I’m sick of paying to go to exhibitions I don’t care about just for the sake of blogging about them, and for another, I’m still getting a lot of headaches and eye strain so I’d prefer to limit the time I spend on computers when I’m not at work (but I am sorry that I haven’t been able to comment on my blogger friends’ posts as much as I used to. Miss seeing what everyone is up to, and hope to catch up with you all one of these days!). However, although blogging here will be more sporadic going forward, I don’t plan to stop entirely, and there is absolutely no way I could let the spooky season go by without my usual series of posts on creepy locations, so you’ll see a lot of me this month! 🎃
This is one I’ve been saving up for a while (which I guess is not a surprise given how long I went without blogging). At the end of July, we spent a week up in Lancashire, which included a visit to the “Best Show Caves in Britain” (their words, not mine), a surprisingly fun day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a stop at the Potteries on the way home, and a couple days pootling around Pendle Witch Trial related-sites, which is what I’ll be talking about today.
The Pendle Witch Trials are one of the most notorious witch trials in English history. In 1612, twelve people from the villages around Pendle Hill in Lancashire were accused of witchcraft. Eleven of them – nine women and two men – were taken to trial in the county town of Lancaster, and ten of them were found guilty and executed (one woman was acquitted). This was an unusually large number of people to have been executed at one time for witchcraft, which is why Pendle is one of the most famous witchcraft trials, much like Salem is in the US. I should also note, because this is one of my biggest pet peeves when people talk about witchcraft trials, is that just like at Salem (apart from Giles Corey in Salem, who was pressed to death), everyone was executed by hanging, NOT by burning at the stake. I see people talk all the time about being witches being burned at Salem, and it drives me absolutely nuts. Yes, they were often burned in Scotland and on the Continent, but not in Salem and not in England either. Plenty of women were burned at the stake for petty treason (i.e. killing their husbands) and heresy, but not for witchcraft, at least, not in the early modern era, which is when the bulk of witchcraft trials took place. So now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on.
I don’t really have the space to go into the whole of the Pendle trials here, and there’s plenty about them elsewhere on the internet if you’re interested, but to summarise, they started when the local JP was required to produce a list of people who refused to attend church or take communion, which triggered local people to make complaints about alleged witches in their area. The spurious accusations were pursued by judges looking to further their careers and hoping that James I’s fondness for a good witch hunt would lead him into giving them a promotion. The first to be accused was Alizon Device, on the basis of her asking a peddler for some pins, which were commonly used in magic (but also have about a million other prosaic uses that we’ll just ignore, I guess), and after he refused to give them to her, he tripped and fell over, so obviously she must have been a witch. The accusations spread from there, fueled by various feuds between local families who finally saw a chance to get even, and culminated in a farce of a trial at Lancaster Castle followed by the executions of almost all the unfortunate accused.
One of the most appalling things about Pendle, other than the executions, obviously, is that the convictions stand to this day! Most other people accused of witchcraft have had their convictions overturned in the modern era (not that it does them any good now, but at least the government eventually did the right thing), but not the Pendle witches. Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, was petitioned to pardon them in 1998 and refused to do so. However, that hasn’t stopped people from taking matters into their own hands and creating memorials to the accused, so there is now a statue of Alice Nutter standing alongside the road outside Roughlee, which was her home village. If you’re a fellow Good Omens fan (of the book, not so much the TV series, though I do of course totally ship Aziraphale and Crowley, because how can you not?), the name may sound familiar, as the witch whose prophecies are unveiled throughout the book is called Agnes Nutter. This was very much intentional, as was Anathema Device, another character, who was named after the Device family, three of whom were accused in the Pendle trials. Anyway, the statue of Alice is suitably solemn and austere – there wasn’t really anywhere to park nearby, so we just pulled into a layby for a minute so I could get out and snap a photo.
Another site you can see in the area is Samlesbury Hall, which as far as I can work out is only tangentially connected at best to the witchcraft trials, but as you can see it is a cool building. I was anticipating there would be quite a lot to see here, so was somewhat disappointed to come across a fairly empty building with limited signage. On the upside, admission was free, so I couldn’t be too upset. There was a sign here telling the story of the Samlesbury Witch Trials, in which three women were accused, but anti-Catholic sentiment outweighed anti-witch sentiment – the accuser was thought to have been coached by a Catholic priest in what to say, so the women were all acquitted. However, other than the women being from Samlesbury, I don’t think there is any real connection to the hall. Their trial took place in Lancaster, not here.
Speaking of Lancaster, you can visit Lancaster Castle, where the trials took place, however, entry is by guided tour only and we arrived too late in the day to catch one, so had to settle for just snapping a pic out front. It is suitably imposing though, as you can see, and may still be used as a prison today (there were signs on it implying as much, but it seems a bit weird that you can just walk right up to it if that’s the case).
But I saved the best Pendle witch site for last – the Pendle Sculpture Trail! The trail is located about a mile and a half walk outside of the village of Barley (and you do have to walk from Barley; there’s nowhere closer to park), but you get to pass shops with witch-themed signage (alas, none of the shops actually sell witchy paraphernalia), including a pub (expected) and a auto repair shop (much less expected). Once you get outside the village, the scenery is incredibly picturesque, but also inevitably overcast and rainy, because you are in the north of England.
We followed the guide found here, and I was particularly excited to see the boggart, which was meant to be the first sculpture on the trail, so I was quite disappointed to find there was no boggart to be seen. We even backtracked and walked a fair way back to the start of the trail, but nope, still no boggart. We eventually found an empty concrete base where he presumably once stood, and the plaque telling his story, but no boggart. Clearly quite a few things have weathered and even straight-up disappeared since the trail opened in 2012. We also found a hell hound with a poor bashed-in nose, and quite a lot of plaques with entire words worn off, which elevated one of the trail’s challenges, where you were meant to find the missing words in each poem and put them together to find the solution, from challenging to nigh on impossible.
But never mind. Apart from when one of my feet slipped off the branch it was precariously balanced on and right into the middle of a giant mud puddle (wet wipes could only do so much, so I had to walk around with an extremely muddy foot until we got to the hotel, and my shoe hasn’t been the same since), this was a very enjoyable walk. We were the only people on it (possibly on account of all the rain earlier that day and the, you know, mud puddles), and it was fun walking through the slightly creepy forest to discover the sculptures. Although the boggart was missing, there was still the aforementioned hellhound, a unicorn, a dryad/fairy, and a very creepy Witchfinder, in addition to some more abstract shapes and a cool monstery chair carved out of a stump. And of course the tribute to the Pendle “witches” themselves, which was a sculpture showing the silhouettes of a group of women in chains. I know those silhouettery metal sculptures seem to be all the rage lately (like all the WWI ones they made for the centenery), but I’m not crazy about them. If they’re in front of a varied landscape, as these were, it’s quite hard to see what you’re looking at.
In addition to the poems containing clues, the trail was also lined with stones, each with a different symbol on them. It was clear these had a meaning, but due to the non-existent 4G in the countryside, I wasn’t able to look it up until we got to our hotel. Turns out that each stone represented one of the accused, and you were supposed to work out which belonged to who based on the symbols, which were related to their alleged familiars or specific witchy interests. I would have enjoyed doing this if I’d be able to access the internet, but I’m afraid I simply didn’t know enough about the trials off the top of my head to have worked it out then and there. Maybe there could be a pamphlet of some sort in the nearest carpark? Just a thought. However, I can’t really hate on a free trail, and to that effect, I’d suggest maybe having a donation box somewhere so they could afford to replace the boggart and repair the other damaged sculptures. I have subsequently learned that there is an addition to the trail, in the form of another smaller sculpture park located in a nearby village, but I didn’t find out about it until I was researching this post, so I guess that’s one for another trip.
Although I can’t say I learned a huge amount about the trials themselves at the sites we visited, I did very much enjoy visiting them just the same, particularly the trail (and if I’ve managed to go this whole post without typing trial when I meant trail and vice versa, I think I’ve done quite well!). Since it’s the North, everything is appropriately cold and gloomy even at the height of summer, so you can get an idea of how difficult the lives of the people who lived here must have been, and why they were so eager to pin the blame for any misfortunes on anyone they could, but it is still a very beautiful part of England, and well-worth seeing!