The Pendle district of Lancashire is infamous for its history of witches. Back in the 15-16th centuries witches made a living from herbal remedies, bone-setting and midwifery [humans and animals] and dabbled in curses and spells. Usually single women they lived on the edges of society. Things came to a head in April 1612 when Alizon Device, a Demdike, had an argument with a pedlar and he suffered what was probably a stoke. The landed gentry, who were also the magistrates, were keen to support the monarchy, James 1st who was opposed to ‘witchcraft’ and hoping to put themselves in a good light saw an opportunity to prosecute Alizon. Things then became complicated as other families, such as Chattox, were embroiled in the plots. Eventually twenty local ‘witches’ were arrested and brought before the magistrates and taken to Lancaster Castle for trial. Ten were hung in August of that year. Over the years a great deal of folklore has developed from this story. The walk, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the events, was designed to follow roughly the route from Pendle to Lancaster and include some notable locations. Alongside this again to celebrate the 400 years the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has written a poem in ten tercets to comment on the proceedings. To reflect the poem 10 cast iron installations have been placed along the route each with a tercet from the poem and the name of a witch.
‘The Lancashire Witches’ by Carol Ann Duffy
One voice for ten dragged this way once
by superstition, ignorance.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Witch: female, cunning, manless, old,
daughter of such, of evil faith;
in the murk of Pendle Hill, a crone.
Here, heavy storm-clouds, ill-will brewed,
over fields, fells, farms, blighted woods.
On the wind’s breath, curse of crow and rook.
From poverty, no poetry
but weird spells, half-prayer, half-threat;
sharp pins in the little dolls of death.
At daylight’s gate, the things we fear darken and form. That tree, that rock,
a slattern’s shape with the devil’s dog.
Something upholds us in its palm-
landscape, history, place and time-
and, above, the same old witness moon
below which Demdike, Chattox, shrieked,
like hags, unloved, an underclass,
badly fed, unwell. Their eyes were red.
But that was then- when difference
made ghouls of neighbours; child beggars feral, filthy, threatened in their cowls.
Grim skies, the grey remorse of rain;
sunset’s crimson shame; four seasons,
centuries, turning, in Lancashire,
away from Castle, Jury, Judge,
huge crowd, rough rope, short drop, no grave
only future tourists who might grieve.
The walk is 51miles long and divides neatly into 5 sections, which being relatively short would give us time to explore. Following on from our successful Wainwright’s Outliers venture Sir Hugh and I have joined forces to complete the walk which is fairly local to both of us. This also will facilitate car sharing logistics for daily ventures. The path has been well waymarked and much of the scenery will have changed little in the 400 years.
There are a couple of guide books available as well as a wealth of information on the web.
The Lancashire Witches Walk Guide. Ian Thornton-Bryar and John Sparshatt, who developed the route.
The Lancashire Witches Walk. Sue and Peter Flowers, Artistic Directors of Green Close who developed the Lancashire Witches 400 program and involved the various artists and Carol Duffy.
A good summary. you say there are 10 tercets. Have we missed some? Did you find your guide-book?
I thought there where 10 tercets, one for each witch hung – if I could find my guide I would be sure! I think we have come across them all so far.
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