The History Of The Pendle Hill Witches
Our spooky saga of the Pendle Hill Witches begins in the early 17th century. In 1612, one of – if not the most – famous witch trials in the UK took place near Pendle Hill, in Lancashire, England. Pendle Hill is also known as Penhul.
Over the years, this event has been called the “Lancashire Witch Trials” or the “Pendle Witch Trial”.
Our story involves two families, the Demdikes and the Chattoxs.
Both were led by two poor widows, Anne Whittle (known as Mother Chattox) and Elizabeth Southerns (known as Old Demdike). Old Demdike lived with her daughter, Elizabeth Device, as well as her three children, Alizon, James, and Jennet Device.
How it started
Legend has it that the two families were great rivals. Some say it started when the Chattox family broke into Malkin Tower – the limestone tower where the Demdikes lived – and stole goods to the value of £1 (about £100 in today’s value).
Others say it was because John Device (Elizabeth’s husband) accused Mother Chattox of the illness that led to his death. The illness was brought on when the Demdikes couldn’t repay their debt to the Chattoxs.
Back in those times, it wasn’t unusual for some to dabble with herbs and medicines. These ‘witches’ often earned themselves a pretty penny and was the way of ‘old village life’.
Old Demdike and Mother Chattox had something in common: They shared the secret of practising black magic.
King James I took a keen interest in the subject. This was after his marriage to Anne of Denmark in 1589. Denmark has a long, spooky history of witch hunts. After James visited the country, he became obsessed with sniffing out witches in England and even had a book, Daemonologie, published. It told his readers to “prosecute both supporters and practitioners of witchcraft”.
The King’s uneasiness towards sorcery set the tone, with the rest of the country following his hated view. Witchcraft became the talk of the 1612 town but was also greatly feared. All accused witches would perish at the stake or be hanged!
What did the Lancashire witches do?
Old Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, set the tragic event in motion when she came across a travelling salesman, John Law, on the road. Supposedly, Alizon asked Law for a few pins and when he refused, Alizon cursed him. A little while later, John Law suffered a stroke and pinned (no pun intended) the dreadful deed on Alizon.
When local magistrate Roger Nowell undertook the case, Alizon confessed that she had asked the Devil to “lame John Law”. It was at this point that she said her grandmother, Old Demdike, and the Chattox family practised magic and witchcraft.
Years before the witch trials, four deaths occurred in the village. Nowell blamed these murders on the Chattox family.
James Demdike (sometimes confused with James Device) – Alizon’s brother – confessed that Alizon had once bewitched a local child in the village.
This was when everything began to unravel…
Upon further questioning by Nowell, Old Demdike and Mother Chattox – who were both in their 80s and completely blind – confessed to selling their souls to the Devil.
Old Demdike confessed she had a mark on her body where “the Devil sucked her blood” and Nowell took this as ‘proof’.
Amongst all of this, Anne Whittle (Mother Chattox) accused her daughter, Anne Redferne, of making clay figures, a practice associated with witchcraft during this era (similar to Voodoo magic). And so, Old Demdike, Mother Chattox, Anne Redferne and Alizon Device were sent to Lancaster Castle to await their trial.
The story would end here, but there’s another twist to our tale.
The Pendle Witches
On Good Friday in April 1612, Elizabeth Device held a meeting at Malkin Tower. This was in connection with James (her son) stealing the neighbour’s sheep to feed his family. When Judge Nowell heard of the gathering, he swiftly arrested another 8 ‘accused witches’, namely:
- Elizabeth Device
- James Device
- Katherine Hewitt
- Alice Nutter
- Jane Bulcock
- John Bulcock
- Alice Grey
- Jennet Device (who was 9 years old!)
Jennet turned on her family, accusing them of witchcraft and wizardry. Her evidence was held up in court during the witch trials, as she condemned her family as witches. James also confessed that his mother, grandmother, and sister were witches. But Jennet testified that he too dabbled in sorcery, and he became one of the convicted.
We don’t know why Jennet turned on her family, some say it was in connection with seeking a reward for ratting out witches. She was released – possibly due to her age – and vanished from history until 1634. In March of that same year, Edmund Robinson accused 20 witches of the death of a woman named Isabel Nutter – Jennet being one of them.
Edmund was 10 years old at the time and later admitted that he made up the story. The 20 accused witches were not executed but were believed to have been imprisoned in Lancaster Castle. This turn of events leads us to believe that Jennet spent her remaining days, locked up in the castle without a trial until her final days.
The Pendle Witch Trials
The Pendle witches were on trial for two days (18-19 August 1612) and were denied any witnesses.
Out of the 11 accused witches, 10 were found guilty and were hanged. Alice Grey was the only one to be found not guilty and was released. Many owned up to their guilt and wrongdoings, while others continued to protest their innocence.
There would have been another accused witch at the Pendle Witch Trial but Old Demdike died while she was in custody at Lancaster Castle.
The Pendle witches were hung on 20 August 1612 at Gallows Hill.
2012 marked 400 years since the Pendle Witch Trials and Lancashire has since been called the “witch country”. A statue of Alice Nutter can be seen in the town to commemorate one of the darkest times in Lancashire’s history.
Pendle Hill is still believed to be haunted by the spirits of those killed.
Today, Pendle Hill has become a point of interest for those interested in the supernatural, especially around Halloween. There is even a Pendle Witch Weekend, hosted by Haunted Happenings, that delves into the history of Pendle Hill and the witches of Lancashire.
Where is Pendle Hill?
Pendle Hill is situated in East Lancashire in England. It is the highest point in the area (557 meters) and separates Lancashire and Yorkshire.
There you have it, the complete spooky sage of the witches from Lancashire. The accused witches lived in Malkin Tower and were found guilty of witchcraft in 1612; an era that marked a witch-hunting frenzy.
Don’t believe the story? Go take a look then for yourself…