Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Pendle Witches

On December 8, 2011 the BBC News website featured an article about the discovery of the archaeological remains of a 17th century cottage.  The building was found under a grass mound, when workers from United Utilities were sent to survey an area of the Lower Black Moss reservoir in the village of Barley, in the shadow of Pendle Hill.

The bones of a cat were found bricked into one wall of the cottage.  It's believed that the cat may have been buried alive to protect the inhabitants from evil.

From an archaeological standpoint, the discovery of the cottage was a treasure trove of information about daily life for the poor in 17th century England.  However, it's the assumption that was made about the people who lived there that leads us into the paranormal.

Pendle Hill is well known for a series of witch trials held in 1612. In all, twenty people were accused of witchcraft and tried.  Ten of them were hanged, and one died in jail.  One was sentenced to stand in the pillory, and the rest were acquitted.

In what almost feels like a precursor to the Salem Witch trials of 1692, the testimony of a child was key to the proceedings.  Nine year old Jennet Device gave evidence against her mother, brother, and several other members of her family and neighbors.  Jennet's testimony, even at that young age, was allowed under King James' rules.  Under his system, all the normal rules of evidence were suspended for witch trials.

There are other similarities to the Salem Witch trials as well.  The families involved in the Pendle trials were long time rivals, much like the many of the families involved at Salem were.  Elizabeth Southerns (Old Demdike) and Anne Whittle (Mother Chattox) and their families, had been at odds for years.  In those days, women who were known as witches didn't just perform hexes and cause the neighbors milk to spoil in the cow.  They were also the local healers and even midwives, using herbs for their medicinal properties to help the sick and ease childbirth.   Both Chattox and Demdike were known as witches and were obviously competitors for whatever business was to be had in the area.  Both families were also known as beggars and there was likely competition there as well.

All in all, the story of the Pendle Witches is fascinating and well worth looking into!

If you're interested in knowing more about the Pendle Witches, and young Jennet Device in particular, there is an excellent documentary called The Pendle Witch Child.

You can read more about the witches at The Pendle Witches.

Also, this page on Google is where I started my research for this article.

NOTE:  The cottage was reburied in 2012 to prevent further damage harsh weather, and overzealous tourists.  You can read the BBC article here.

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