One crisp and cold day in March 1612 a young beggar, Alizon Device, meets a Pedlar, John Law, on the Colne road in the shadow of Pendle Hill. She asks him for some pins and he declines. She curses him. He then promptly has a stroke and is carried to a local alehouse where he accuses her of bewitching him.
The pedlar’s son, Abraham, marches Alizon to magistrate Roger Nowell, where she confesses and rats out her grandmother, Demdike, and her grandmother’s rival, Chattox. Initially four people, including Alison, Demdike, and Chattox end up awaiting trial for witchcraft at Lancaster Castle.
Worried friends and family meet up on Good Friday in April following the arrests to discuss the situation. News of their meeting fast becomes rumour of a ‘Satanic Sabbath,’ and two of Demdike’s grandchildren – James and Jennet Device – are questioned at home. James, who ‘has a childlike mind,’ confesses to killing a local woman by crumbling a clay effigy of her, and incriminates a whole web of family members while he’s at it, including his mother Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is described by Thomas Potts, clerk to Lancaster Assize Court who was documenting the trial at the time, as having a facial deformity that leaves ‘the left eye standing lower than the other, the one looking down and the other looking up.’
Seven people, including James and Jennet, join the first four in their crammed dungeon at Lancaster Castle to await trial.
Old Demdike dies in the cold, dark and filth of the dungeon and James is left mute and unable to stand when all are brought out for the trial, months later, on 17th August 1612.
During the three day trial, nine year-old Jennet Device identifies all those who were present at the ‘Satanic Sabbath,’ including her furious and screaming mother, who is dragged from the court room. Ten of the accused end up sentenced to ‘hang until they be dead.’
There are three attractions relating to the witches in Lancashire. Lancaster Castle, where the witches were detained and tried, the walk around Pendle Hill and the Pendle Heritage Centre.
How to visit the Pendle Heritage Centre
A good place to start your historical tour of the areas connected with the Pendle witches is the Pendle Heritage Centre. It’s on the Colne Road that Alizon Device was walking along when she met the pedlar. It is also not far from Roughlee where some of the others accused lived. The museum is in a cottage which originally dates from the fifteenth century, although it has since been updated. It has adjoining tearooms and an eighteenth-century walled garden. The museum charts the history of the Pendle Witches and the tea rooms do traditional afternoon teas. Entry to the museum is £3.30 and to the English Heritage Garden is £1.60
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How to visit Lancaster Castle
Lancaster Castle was a working prison until 2011 when it was decommissioned, and it is now open to the public. The castle is central and not far from Lancaster Railway station. The Pendle Witch trials were held in the courtroom here and the dungeon the accused were kept in is at the base of the fourteenth-century Witches Tower. Tours of the castle are available and it’s well worth phoning ahead to check the dungeon is open. The castle has a long history of trials and there are many artefacts relating to criminals in Hadrian’s Tower, which was once the lunatic asylum, as well as instruments of torture some well-known English phrases relate to, such as the ball and chain.
Information about castle tours can be found at lancastercastle.com
Walking, bus and self-drive witch tours of Lancashire
Visit Lancashire, the official tourism organisation for the county, have created a series of comprehensive driving and walking maps that are available to download as PDF documents from visitlancashire.com
There is a bus that travels all the way from Manchester and back via many of the places of interest relating to the witches. More information, timetables and an animated map of the route can be found at lancashirebus.co.uk
Many thanks to Visit Lancashire for their advice and support