Home » The Lancashire witch trials

The Lancashire witch trials

The waning summer of 1612 saw the trial and execution of a host of supposed witches at Lancaster and York, who were primarily associated with two rival families based in the Forest of Pendle.

The same year also saw a number of people from in and around the parish of Samlesbury in Blackburnshire stand trial at the Lancaster Assizes for their own supposed participation in the dark arts. They were fortunate to have for their accusers members of the hated Roman Catholic church, a persuasion which persisted in Lancashire far more stubbornly than elsewhere in England. This fact, more than the supposed strength of the evidence, led to their acquittal.

A generation later, Pendle was again ablaze with allegations, centring upon one Edmund Robinson, a young lad who, mainly thanks to the agency of his father and others, gained some local infamy as a supposed witchfinder. No charges could be made to stick, as times had changed and the widespread panic about witches and warlocks held less appeal among the great and the good of the kingdom.

This page presents a rough timeline of these and other trials involving Lancashire "witches."

  • 1454

    Sinister goings on at Burscough Priory

    Before the European witch mania hit fever pitch and spilled over into England during the Early Modern period, the practice of the diabolical arts was confined mainly to the great and the (supposedly) good. This is certainly the case in the earliest record of black magic in Lancashire.

    In 1454, three men with close associations with Burscough Priory stood accused of divination, sacrilege and the practice of dark magic: -

    • Robert Woodward, prior
    • Thomas Fairwise, canon
    • William Bolton, Vicar of Ormskirk and canon

    Leading the enquiry into their activities was the senior clergyman in the diocese, Bishop Boulers of Lichfield, who discovered that a man by the name of Robert, who was regarded as a wizard, had been commissioned for the fee of £10 to uncover hidden treasure. The three men from the Priory aided in a ceremony, and swearing upon the host to keep quiet, passed it to Robert in the pyx. Three "circuli trianguli" were etched for the canons to stand inside, with the vicar having the host suspended on his chest and holding a rod in his hand. The three denied invoking or supplicating demons.

    As a result, Bolton lost his vicarage, Woodward was compelled to resign and all three were suspended from participation in the sacraments for two years, though this was soon revoked.

  • 1519

    Elizabeth Robinson of Bowland

    One Elizabeth Robinson of Bowland (which at that time straddled the Lancashire-Yorkshire border) was brought before the ecclesiastical court at Whalley on charges that she had stated her intention to carry out a "black fast" against Edmund Parker.

  • 1546

    William Walker of Yealand

    On the 23rd August, William Walker arrived at Lancaster Castle charged with practicing magic: -

    William Walker of Yeland, labourer, on 18 June, 38 Hen. VII, at Wygan in Lancs., by arts magic procured and conjured evil spirits to carry and deliver a silver spoon of the goods and chattels of James Standisshe, worth 3s. 4d. to the said James at Wygan.
  • 1554

    William and Janet Dunerdill of Whalley

    A William and Janet Dunerdill of Whalley were brought to the attention of the vicar-general of Chester for divination.

  • 1594

    The death of Ferdinando Stanley

    Ferdinando StanleyBy far the most prominant noble family in the County were the Stanleys, at this point having made a number of clever alliances giving the present generation a very real claim to the English throne. The major title associated with the family was that of the Earl of Derby, which was conferred upon the first Earl, Thomas, by a grateful Henry VII after Lord Stanley's decisive intervention on his behalf at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

    Tragedy struck the Stanleys on 16th April 1594 when the 5th Earl of Derby, Ferdinando Stanley, died after a short and mysterious illness, which some suspected had to do with the nefarious activities of powerful witches. In particular, the chronicler John Stowe, who provides an expansive account of His Lordship's final illness, gathers a good deal of evidence for the witchcraft hypothesis: -

    The first of Aprill being the mondaie before his honor fell sicke, a woman offered unto him a supplication, or petition, wherein her request was, that it would please him to give, or assigen her a dwelling place neere unto himselfe, that she might from time to time reveale unto him such thinges with speede, which God revealed unto her for his good. This petition was thought vaine therefore refused.
    On the fift of Aprill, in his chamber at Knowsley about five of the clocke at night, there appeared sodainly a tall man, with a gastly and threatening countenance, who twice or thrice seemed to crosse him, as he was passing through the chamber, and when he came unto the same part of the chamber where this shadow appeared, he presently fell sicke, and there vomited twice.
    The 10. of Aprill about midnight, was founde in his bed chamber by one master Halsall, an Image of waxe with haire, like unto the haire of his honors head, twisted through the belly thereof, from the navell to the secrets: This Image was spotted, as the same master Halsall reported unto master Smith, one of his secretaries, a daie before anie paine grew, and spots appeared on his sides and bellie. This Image was hastely cast into the fire by master Halsall, before it was viewed, because he thought by burning thereof, as he said, he should relieve his lord from witchcraft, and burne the witch who so much tormented his lord, but it fell out contrary to his love and affection, for after the melting thereof, he more and more declined.
    The 12. of Aprill, one Iane a witch demanded of master Goborne, whether his honor felt no paine in his lower parts, and whether he made water as yet or no: and at that verie time notwithstanding all helpes, his water utterlie stopped, and so remained till he died.
    A homely woman, about the age of fiftie yeeres, was found mumbling in a corner of his honors chamber, but what God knoweth. This wise woman (as they termed her) seemed often to ease his honor both of his vomiting and hickocke, but so it fell out, which was strange, that when so long as hee was eased, the woman her selfe was troubled most vehemently in the same maner, the matter which she vomited, being like also unto that which passed from him. But at the last, when this woman was espied by one of the doctors tempering and blessing (after her maner) the juice of certaine herbes, her pot where into she streined the juice, was tumbled downe by the said doctor, and she rated out of the chamber, notwithstanding she did still saie that she would not cease to ease him, although she could not perfectly helpe him, because hee was so strongly bewitched. [...] He himselfe in all the time of his sicknesse cried out that the doctors laboured in vaine, because he was certainly bewitched. He fell twice into a traunce, not able to moove, hand, head, or foote, when he would have taken physicke to doe him good. In the ende, he cried out often against all witches and witchcraft, reposing his onely hope of salvation upon the merits of Christ Jesus his Saviour.

    Lady Margaret CliffordFerdinando's mother was Lady Margaret Clifford, the daughter of Henry Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, and Lady Eleanor Brandon, a daughter of Sir Charles Brandon, the great friend of Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor, dowager queen of France and younger daughter of Henry VII. Lady Margaret was a cousin of Jane Grey, who was briefly queen of England. Thus, Lady Margaret was recognised as having a strong claim to the English throne, then occupied by the redoubtable Elizabeth I, in accordance with the Third Succession Act of Henry VIII. As such, Lady Margaret, a practicing Catholic, became the unwitting focus of a number of whispers at court during 1579 and 1580, as the Elizabeth's advancing age made it apparent that no prince or princess would be emerging from the loins of the "Virgin Queen."

    However, these mutterings came to have a sinister side, with Lady Margaret implicated in certain sorceries, the ends of which were to determine what would happen in the wake of the Queen's demise. These testimonies shed some light on what part - if any - Lady Margaret may have played in these cabals.

  • 1596-1597

    Edmund Hartley and the "Lancashire Seven"

    John and Anne Starkie of Cleworth Hall near Leigh are amongst those supposedly possessed by demons. The conjurer Edmund Hartley was brought in to cure them but made repeated demands for money with threats of trouble. Subsequently, Hartley was arrested, convicted and hanged (at the second attempt) at Lancaster for witchcraft in March 1597.

    Meanwhile, the children's father Nicholas Starkie procured the services of a Puritan exorcist, John Darrel, whose ministrations are recorded in his own words and those of his acolyte George More, whilst Samuel Harsnett wrote a polemic criticising Darrel & his endeavours. Much later, the sceptic Zachary Taylor also had his say on Darrel & his methods.

    Along with John & Anne, the following persons were affected: -

    • Margaret Hardman, a ward of the family
    • Elinor Hardman, her sister
    • Ellin Holland, another ward
    • Margaret Byrom, one of Mrs. Starkie's
    • Jane Ashton, a servant of the Starkies

    John Darrel gives some evidences of Hartley's supposed misdeeds: -

    M Starchie seeking for remidy, after 9 or 10 weekes, heard of one Edmund Hartlay a coniurer to whom he repaired, made knowne his greife, & with large profers craued his helpe. Hartlay comes, and after he had vsed certaine popish charmes and hearbs by degrees, the children were at quiet, and so continued, seeming to be well almost a yeare and halfe.
    On a certaine time Hartlay went with M Starchy to his fathers house in Whally parishe, where he was tormented sore all night. The next day, beinge recouered, he went into a little wood, not farr from the house where he maide a circle about a yarde and halfe wyde, deuidingit into 4 partes, making a crosse at every Diuision: and when he had finished his worke, he came to M Starchie and desiered him to go and tread out the circle, saying, I may not treade it out my selfe, and further, I will meete with them that went about my death.
  • 1597

    Alice Brerely of Castleton

    Previously convicted of witchcraft, Alice Brerely is granted a pardon: -

    May 3. Pardon to Alice Brerely, of Castleton, co. Lancaster, spinster, condemned for kelling Jas. Kirshaw and Rob. Scolefeld by witchcraft.

    The names Brerly and Scolefeld reappear in a simiar context 44 years later.

  • 1612

    The Pendle witch trials

    The end of the Pendle accusedTowards the end of March, a fateful meeting took place on the road through Colne, between John Law, an itinerant salesman from Halifax, and a young girl by the name of Alizon Device. Though the accounts of what took place during their brief intercourse and immediately afterwards are contradictory, what is clear is that, soon after their parting, Law fell seriously ill and was taken to a nearby inn, the Greyhound. Some days later, alerted to his father's condition and seeking to discover the cause, Law's son Abraham arrived in Pendle and sought out Alizon, who tearfully admitted to having bewitched the stricken pedlar.

    This set off a tragic chain of events which would uncover a story of the black arts being rife in the Forest of Pendle, which primarily centred upon two families who had, since the beginning of the century at the latest, been in a condition of severe enmity. These were led by two beldams reputed to be gravely powerful witches: -

    • Elizabeth Southerns, a.k.a. Demdike, Alizon's grandmother
    • Anne Whittle, a.k.a. Chattox

    Eventually, these two, along with Alizon and Chattox's luckless daughter Anne Redferne, were hauled off to Lancaster gaol.

    That Good Friday, which fell on 10th April, Demdike's daughter and Alizon's mother Elizabeth Device hosted a gathering of friends and well-wishers at the notorious Malkin Tower, which came to be interpreted as a general assembly of witches from thereabouts. Present on that occasion were a number of those who were subsequently involved intimately with the infamous trial, includind many who were arrested and dispatched to the tower (and eventually the gallows on Lancaster Moor): -

    • Elizabeth Device
    • James Device, her son
    • Jennet Device, her daughter, who was the star witness at the trial of her family and neighbours
    • Alice Nutter, a.k.a. Dick Miles' wife or the mother of Miles Nutter)
    • Jane Bulcock
    • John Bulcock, her son
    • Katherine Hewit, a.k.a. Mouldheels' wife of Colne

    Others were present who were either acquitted or were not arrested: -

    • Alice Gray of Colne
    • Hugh Hargreaves' wife
    • Christopher and Elizabeth Hargreaves or Jacks
    • Christopher Howgate, Demdike's son, and his wife Elizabeth

    Other supposed witches from the area escaped justice, most likely by having predeceased this mayhem: -

    • Widow Lomshawe of Burnley
    • Another woman (or perhaps two women) of the same parish
    • Anne Crouckshey of Marsden

    Additionally, Anne Redferne's daughter Marie was not arrested, despite testimonies suggesting that she participated in the same rituals as her mother and grandmother. Likewise, perhaps, Anne's husband Thomas.

    Eventually, of this group, nine were to hang, Demdike having cheated the noose by virtue of her dying in prison. They met their sad end on 20th August.

    Though she survived the depredation which had all but annihilated her family, Bessie Whittle, another daughter of Chattox, appears to have been no stranger to Lancaster. The Shuttleworth accounts for 1613 state: -

    Aprill 24, a gald laide after vjd le pound, for West Close, towardes the bringinge upp of Besse Chattockes clothes, vjd.
  • 1612

    Jennet Preston of Gisburn

    Also alleged to be present with the Pendle coven at Malkin Tower on Good Friday 1612 was one Jennet Preston of Gisburn, then just over the county boundary in Yorkshire, fresh from her acquittal at the York Assizes on a charge of having betwitched one Dodgeson's child to death. She had earned the enmity of Thomas Lister, the local landowner, who would react to this circumstance by building a case against her for having murdered his father through her malpractise.

    Jennet Preston was tried a second time, found guilty, and executed at York on the 27th July.

  • 1612

    The Samlesbury "witches"

    A witches' sabbatEight reputed witches from Samlesbury were also arrested and tried at Lancaster in 1612. Of five of these, little else is known apart from the fact that they were acquitted by the jury. Their names are: -

    • Elizabeth Astley
    • John Ramsden
    • Alice Gray (if this is not Alice Gray of Colne placed here in error)
    • Isabell Sidegraves
    • Lawrence Haye

    The other three, Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley and her daughter Ellen Bierley, along with a mysterious figure known as Old Doewife or Doewise, were the subject of a host of lurid tales by the chief witness against them, Jennet's own granddaughter Grace Sowerbutts, though the judge at the trial, Sir Edward Bromley, decided to bind them over rather than hang them as it transpired that Sowerbutts had been under the tutelage of one Christopher Southworth, a.k.a. Thompson, a Catholic priest, presumed to be pursuing a vendetta against the group due to their attendance at the Anglican church.

  • 1612

    Isabel Robey of Windle

    Alongside the Pendle witches on the gallows was Isabel Robey of the village of Windle near St. Helen's, who seems to have proven a general nuisance in the area. One witness testimony, that of Peter Chaddock, taken before Sir Thomas Gerrard, notes that, in order to counteract Robey's malevolence, he had secured the services of one James the Glover, reputed to be a cunning man, who told him: -

    take that drinke, and in the name of the Father, the Sonne, and the Holy Ghost, drinke it, saying; The Deuill and Witches are not able to preuaile against God and his Word.
  • 1612

    Margaret Pearson of Padiham

    Another witch, Margaret Pearson of Padiham - who had previously been convicted twice of the same offence - was sentenced to imprisonment and a spell in the pillory.

  • 1614

    Cicilia Dawson of Walton-le-Dale

    Sir Edward Bromley is back up to his old tricks at Lancaster, sentencing Cicilia (or Cecilia) Dawson, wife of William, of Walton-le-Dale, to the gallows for bewitching Elena Moldinge (or Modinge) of Hoghton to death, and having "wasted and destroyed" George Harrison of Cuerdale and Thomas Wynkeley during a career spanning some six years.

    Dawson is said to have: -

    diabolically and feloniously used, practiced and exercised certain evil and diabolical arts, in English called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms and sorceries.
  • 1620

    Watching "witches" in Padiham

    The Shuttleworth accounts note that, on 26th May, payment was made: -

    to the constable of Padiham, halffe a xvth towards the watching of the supposed witches, xxijd ob.
  • 1621

    Poor Henry Robinson

    Fewston, near Harrogate in Yorkshire, was the scene of accusations of witchcraft after three daughters of local man of letters Edward Fairfax - whose account of these events survives - were said to be bewitched. Among the neighbours mentioned by Fairfax was one Henry Robinson. The wife of this luckless fellow began to make threats to kill others and/or herself, with Fairfax noting that Robinson had previously lost a former spouse due to the actions of the Lancashire witch brood.

  • 1623

    Anne Butterworth of Butterworth

    Anne Butterworth, a widow, was tried before the Manchester Session on the 23rd January on charges of having killed John Haighe and Elizabeth Broadbente in 1606 and 1607. She was acquitted.

  • 1627

    Elizabeth Londesdale of Simonstone

    Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Londesdale, was supported by her neighbours having been accused of witchcraft: a certificate was produced on the 24th July attesting that she was "no sorceress or user of charms, or any such wicked art, but a good, honest, orderly neighbour."

  • 1628-1629

    Dorothy Shawe of Skippool

    Dorothy, wife of Thomas Shawe was accused by William Wilkinson, a.k.a. William Johnson, of being "a witche and Demdyke."

    It is interesting to note that the nickname of the notorious Elizabeth Southerns had achieved such currency throughout the County Palatine in association with the dark arts.

  • 1629

    Jennett Wilkinson of Ellel

    Ellel man John Willson alleged on 20th August that he had been bewitched by Jennett Wilkinson. Furthermore, he explains that: -

    suspectinge hee was bewitched hee sent his wyfe twoe severall tymes to a woman whose name hee knoweth not who dwelleth in Forton, which is holden to be a skillfull woman.

    Wilkinson was also accused of bewitching Thomas Harrison nine or ten years previously, and of killing John Clarke of Ellel in around 1625 through her arts.

    Both Jennett and Robert appear in the records appertaining to the trials in the spring of 1634 and Jennet was still being held in Lancaster Castle as late as 1636 on charges of witchcraft.

  • 1629-1630

    James Brewerworth of Penwortham

    Evidence was taken at Preston that James Brewerworth had claimed to have in his possession "a stone which would bleed." The evidence suggests that Brewerworth had been making these claims for up to twenty years.

  • 1630

    Mary Shawe of Croft

    Mary Shawe of Crofte appears at the Quarter Sessions on 22nd July on accusations of healing and magic, with Anne Urmeston stating: -

    that shee might gyve god thankes for her amendment, for shee hadd not amended but for other helpe.

    Urmston also stated that Shawe had told her that "she hadd done good, and never did any Hurt, but that shee could doe some litle thinges, but never tooke any money, but what she would geve her of good will," and that she had healed the swine of one Nicholas Hadfield, after which she had become "very sicke," and Hadfield himself said she affected the cure with "some swyne grasse [...] in sweete milke."

    Another witness, Robert Gaskell, also claimed to have witnessed Shawe: -

    helpe upp a Cow of the said Nicholas Hadfeilds, but did not see her [...] use any Charme to his knowledge, but further saith that shee ys generallie suspected to bee a blesser.
  • 1630-1631

    Margaret Withnell of Euxton

    Margaret Withnell, a spinster, was ordered to present herself at the next court session at Wigan to answer charges of witchcraft.

  • 1633

    The death of Richard Assheton

    Assheton of Middleton and DownhamRichard Uttley of Langfield, Yorkshire, aided by Henry Boardman of Bury and Radcliffe couple Robert & Elizabeth Smethehurste, accused of bewitching Richard son of Ralph Assheton to death. They pleaded not guilty, but were condemned and hanged. Burke's A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England, Ireland, and Scotland of 1844 gives the following notice: -

    Richard, d. vita patris [his father being Ralph Assheton, esq. of Middleton] 25th March, 1631. His death was supposed to have been the effect of witchcraft, the work of one Utley, who in consequence was hanged at Lancaster.

    Richard, who was a boy of around five years old at the time of his demise, was buried at Middleton two days after his death.

  • 1633-1634

    Edmund Robinson, witchfinder

    On All Saints' Day 1633, one Edmund Robinson, a lad of about ten years, claimed to have a strange encounter with two greyhounds, one of which transformed into a neighbour of his, Frances Dicconson. Eventually, according to young Robinson, he was spirited off to Hoarstones, a newly-built house (incidentally, his father, also Edmund, a.k.a. Roughs, had worked in construction thereof), where he witnessed a great feast attended by a vast array of witches, wizards and warlocks. Robinson was examined at Gawthorpe Hall on 10th February 1634.

    In total, Robinson's allegations implicated between eighteen and twenty people, with several distinct lists of names showing slight differences. The names of those present can perhaps be gleaned as: -

    • Frances Dicconson
    • The wife (Alice) and son of Henry Priestley
    • Alice Hargreaves
    • Jennet Davies (quite possibly the star witness of 1612 being hoisted by her own petard, so to speak)
    • William Davies, Jennet's half-brother
    • Jennet Hargreaves, a.k.a. Henry Jacks' wife
    • John Jacks, her son
    • Miles Jacks, his brother
    • James Hargreaves of Marsden
    • the wife of one Dicks, Duckers, or Denneries
    • the wife of one James
    • Jennet Loynd
    • One Saunders and his wife
    • An individual by the name of Lawrence
    • the wife of Alexander Pyn or Buys of Barrowford
    • Christopher Holgate and Elizabeth Holgate (probably Christopher and Elizabeth Howgate from the 1612 accounts)
    • Little Robin
    • the wife of one Leonard of West Close

    These poor unfortunates were duly rounded up for trial at Lancaster on 24th March 1634. Among those convicted who were likely denounced by Robinson, but not named above, were the following: -

    • Jane Hargrave
    • Ellen, wife of Nicholas Harsley or Brunsswicke
    • Alice Higgins of Marsden
    • Isabell, wife of James Hargraves

    Others brought to trial were: -

    • Mary Sheare or Shuttleworth
    • Mary Aynsworth
    • Jennet Cronckshawe
    • Christopher Pigles
    • Ellen Easthead, a.k.a. Woolpacke wife, "against whom there is no evidence found, only in search a mark found of her body."

    By this point, young Edmund was getting a reputation as a witchfinder: according to John Webster, the esotericist who was, in 1634, curate at Kildwick in Yorkshire, Edmund, his father and another man appeared in his parish one Sunday. Tellingly, his attempts at getting a one-to-one interview with young Robinson were strongly rebuffed.

    Eventually, Dicconson, Alice Higgin, Jennet Loynd and Jennet Hargreaves, along with Margaret Johnson, Mary Spencer and John Spencer (probably Mary's father), along with the Robinsons, were summoned by the Privy Council to London. Fortunately for them, Charles I was far less sympathetic to lurid claims of witchcraft such as these than his father was, though this would not save them from an extended spell in gruelling conditions, which claimed the lives of Higgin, Loynd and John Spencer. Whilst in London, Edmund Jr. - who was examined three times between the 10th and 15th July - admitted that he had made up much of his story, though based upon local whisperings of witches, as well as stories he was told of the Good Friday meeting at "Mocking Tower," which influenced his description of the feast at Hoarstones. His final testimony mentions "Frances, wife of John Dicconson, Jennet, wife of Henry Hargreaves, Jennet Devys, William Devys, her half brother, and [...] Beawse," and "the wife of John Loynd." Edmund Sr. appears to have got his comeuppance, being confined to the Gatehouse jail on the 28th June.

    Though largely forgotten now, when it is largely seen as a footnote to the tumultuous events of 1612, this case gained some notoriety in its own day, inspiring two stage works during the 17th century.

    A brief postscript: an entry in the Newchurch-in-Pendle burial records dated 22nd December 1635 bears the name "Jennet Seller alias Devis." The mother of Jennet Device, Elizabeth, was said in Thomas Potts' account of the 1612 trial to have been accused of having a bastard by a man named Sellers. It should be noted, however, that this entry was written retrospectively, and Jennett Device is, along with Jennett Hargreaves and ffrances Dicconson, mentioned in a list of witches held at Lancaster at the time of the Assizes on 22nd August 1636.

  • 1633-1634

    Margaret Johnson of Marsden

    The furore surrounding young Edmund Robinson and his burgeoniong career in witchfinding led to a number of further arrests. Margaret Johnson of Marsden (now Nelson in eastern Lancashire) confessed to having been a witch of long standing, and, repenting, seemed to save herself from the gallows, though her testimonies paint a melancholy tale.

    Her description of her dealings with the demon Mamilion represent an evolution from the rather more simple familiars associated with the 1612 accused.

  • 1633-1634

    Mary Spencer and her parents

    Mary Spencer, along with her parents John and Mary (who died in prison), were implicated in the second great Pendle witchhunt, seemingly at the instigation of one Nicholas Cunliffe, who bore some malice towards the Spencers.

  • 1634

    Raising a right royal storm

    On 16th May, Sir William Pelham writes a letter to Edward, Viscount Conway and Killultagh, in which a report is made of the progress of the Lancashire witchfinding mission, along with a striking accusation: -

    The greatest news from the country is of a huge pack of witches which are lately discovered in Lancashire, whereof it is said 19 are condemned, and that there are at least 60 already discovered, and yet daily there are more revealed; there are divers of them of good ability and they have done much harm. It is suspected that they had a hand in raising the great storm wherein his Majesty was in so great danger at sea in Scotland.
  • 1634

    Nuttall's mother of Bolton

    The mother of Richard Nuttall of the parish of Great Bolton is brought to the house of one William Chisnall, believed to have been bewitched by her due to a prior insult. She offered her help, but said: -

    she could not tell when she could come because that she was very busy for that a man had ridden his horse sixe dayes about to get some body to helpe his wife being overwrought [i.e. bewitched].
  • 1634

    Henry Baggilie of Oldham

    On 26th May, Henry Baggilie of Oldham confessed to having healed people and animals, claiming that he had been taught a charm by his father, which he had learned from a Dutchman, which made reference to the Holy Trinity: -

    I tell thou forspoken Toothe and Tonge: Hearte and Heart Aike: Three thinges thee Boote moste the Father, Sonne, and Holighoste with the Lordes praier and the Beleeve three tymes over.

    He added that "frequently for theese two years last paste" he had been employed by clients in order "to bless there freindes or cattell," receiving "onely [...] Meale, or sheep, or comodities of that nature" in payment.

    A note written at the bottom of his deposition bears the ominous word: -

  • 1634

    John Garnet

    A John Garnet is held at Lancaster on suspicion of witchcraft. Lewis and William Rigby, from Upholland, on 21st August, claimed that they had been wrongfully accused of murdering one Humphrey Morecroft of Scarisbrook, after Morecroft's confederates sought to discover from Garnet "what was becomen of him." Garnet apparently stated that the murdered Morecroft's body had been disposed of in the marl-pits near Upholland.

  • 1634

    Margaret Boulton of Biggar

    Margaret Boulton and her accuser John Richardson are ordered to appear before the court at the next quarter session in Lancaster.

  • 1634-1639

    Sibill Fairclough or Fantcliffe of Orrell

    On the 21st June, Margery Ireland lodges a petition against Sibill Fantcliffe - descibed as "a very wicked lewd and malicious woman" prone to "violent and wicked speeches" - for damage by witchcraft. Ireland had suffered a number of mysterious losses of goods, including her sister's child after an encounter with Fantcliffe.

    Some years later, a Sibill, wife of Thomas Fairclough of Orrell, is ordered to appear in court at Winwick to answer charges on Monday 29th October.

    Please note these may be two separate individuals.

  • 1635

    Four Wigan witches

    Ellen Pennington and Elizabeth Barker were among four women from Wigan held at Lancaster on charges of witchcraft. The pair were examined by John Bridgeman, Bishop of Chester, shortly before the 11th May, the other two having previously died in custody.

  • 1636

    Ten witches held at Lancaster

    William Ffarington, then Sheriff of Lancaster, lists the names of ten prisoners in Lancaster at the time of the Assizes on 22nd August, described as follows: -

    Witches remaining in his Matys Gaole

    They are: -

    • Robert Wilkinson
    • Jennett His Wife (these two are to be identified with John Willson of Ellel's accusations of 1629)
    • Marie Shuttleworth (convicted in 1634)
    • Jennett Device (of 1612 fame perhaps, among those accused by Edmund Robinson)
    • Alice Priestley (convicted in 1634 on the evidence of Robinson)
    • Jennett Cronkshawe (convicted in 1634)
    • Marie Spencer (the Pendle girl accused by Nicholas Cunliffe)
    • Jennett Hargreaves (another accused by Robinson)
    • ffrances Dicconson (according to Edmund Robinson, the prime mover in the Pendle coven)
    • Agnes Rawsterne
  • 1636

    Giles Smith

    Giles Smith is the subject of a testimonial signed by five divines, testifying that he has never practiced sorcery.

  • 1636

    Joan Elderson of Newton-in-Makerfield

    Joan Elderson accused of bewitching the children of Thomas and Elizabeth Baxter.

  • 1638

    Anne Spencer of Lathom

    Anne Spencer of Lathom was committed for trial on charges of having bewitched Sara, late wife of Richard Cross.

  • 1638

    A Todmorden coven uncovered

    At the Lancaster Assizes on 27th March, a number of witches were presented before Sir George Vernon and Sir Robert Barkley. Among them were: -

    • Margaret Wood, widow, of Todmorden
    • Mary Smith, widow, of Todmorden
    • Mary Smith, spinster, of Colne
    • Margery Eastwood, spinster, of Cliviger
    • Mary Smith, widow, of Colne
    • Alice Wilkinson of Cliviger
    • Mary Crosley, widow
    • Alice Kirshawe, wife of William, of Wallsden
    • Alice Lord, widow, of Todmorden

    Other possible accused are: -

    • Ambrose Greenewood of Stansfield
    • Edward son of Edward Crosley
    • Anne Wood
    • Nathaniel Wheywall
    • Richard Marsden

    All of the accused appear to have been active in the general area of Todmorden from as early as the late 1620s. At least some were convicted of activities which included bringing about some seven deaths: -

    • Mary Froste
    • Margaret Crosley
    • John Crabtree
    • William Roberts
    • Martha Dobson
    • Ambrose Ingham
    • Robert Hollingworth

    Interestingly, some of the membranes have been removed from the roll. Little else about this outbreak of witch mania is known.

  • 1638

    Thomas Hope of Aspull

    Aspull blacksmith Thomas Hope is accused of witchcraft and healing after a complaint by Christopher Leigh that Hope had visited one Margery Mullineux. In his statement of 11th May, Hope claimed that, as a boy of ten years, his uncle had taken him to Rome where he was: -

    washed in a chamber with water by vertue of which water he hath helped horses, beasts, and sondrie children.
  • 1641

    Alice Scholfield of Castleton

    Alice Scholfield of Castleton appears at a Quarter Session on 11th August and confesses to having used "the devellish practiseing with a sive & a paire of sheeres" in order to see if a woman was with child, as well as a means to glean the whereabouts of stolen goods. She further stated that: -

    she did learne to set the sive and a pare of sheeres of Jane Brearly alias Ogden. And that together with the sayd Jane did practise to know whether Mary Feilden [...] were with child. And whether the said Jane Brearley [...] were with Child. And who stole James Newbold his sheepe - and who stole John Feilden his hen. And that the sive did turne about when John Chadwicke of Belfield, and Samuell Greene alias Nichaltie his servant were named.

    Brearley stated that, during the ritual, "Alis Scholfeild did use many strang words, which this Examinant did not nowe nor understand," while Mary Feilden of Belfield deposed that: -

    the syd Ales did say divers words wch were to this effect. That if Samuel Greane al[ias] Nichaltie stoule the hen Saint Peter sayd soe, St Paule sayd noe.
  • 1649

    A Lancashire witch in Worcestershire

    Famine in Lancashire at this time caused locals to head off elsewhere in search of sustenance. Among these was an anonymous Lancashire woman who ended up involved in a witchcraft trial in Worcester, accused of bewitching a young Droitwich lad.

  • c.1650

    The Radcliffes and Holliday

    A certain Holliday brought charges against Jo. Radcliffe and his wife for witchcraft at some point in the 17th century.

  • 1655

    Isabel Croston of Skelmersdale

    Isabel Croston was tried on 18th September at Skelmersdale, and stood accused of invoking evil spirits on the 18th April that year to kill or injure Jane and Thomas, wife and son of Edward Ascrofte, and Margaret Rowley, as well as a cow belonging to Ascrofte. She was acquitted.

  • 1657-1673

    Margery Greene of Ince-in-Makerfield

    A letter dated to October 1657 contains Margery Greene's petition against a host of accusers. This would not be the end of her involvement with the law, however: she was delivered to Lancaster on the 29th March 1666 charged with killing three-month-old Henry Blackhurst and Anne Boothe by means of witchcraft.

    Though acquitted, it may well be that the stink of suspicion clung to her. A Margaret Green was charged and acquitted in 1673 of having murdered Thomas Hodgkinson of Westhoughton by witchcraft.

    Please note Margery and Margaret need not be the same individual, though their area of operations was similar.

  • 1658

    Ann Baker of Warrington

    At Michaelmas, Ann Baker was released from prison, where she had been held on charges of witchcraft which she strenuously denied.

  • 1661

    A cure for witchcraft?

    An October Quarter Session features a petition which mentions the mother of a child suspected of having been bewitched being "tought to get blud [...] to cure the child," which was done, "and the child recovered well."

  • 1663

    Elizabeth Tippinge

    Elizabeth Tippinge was delivered to Lancaster Castle on 18th March, before being acquitted at trial.

  • 1664-1665

    John Rosthorn of Little Bolton

    A petition of John Rosthorn, accused of witchcraft, is held in the Lancashire archives.

  • 1664-1667

    Two Liverpool sisters

    On 10th March 1664, Margaret Loy arrived at Lancaster Gaol, standing accused of the murders of James Burton and Thomas Radcliffe by witchcraft. She was acquitted.

    Three years later, the following entry into the Moore Rental supplies further details: -

    Bridge, Widow: A poor old woman. Her own sister, Margaret Loy, being arraigned for a witch confessed she was one; and when she was asked how long she had so been, replied, Since the death of her mother, who died thirty years ago; and at her decease she had nothing to leave her, and this widow Bridge, that were sisters, but her two spirits; and named them, the eldest spirit to this widow, and the other spirit to her the said Margaret Loy. God bless me and all mine from such legacies: amen. This house is out of lease, yet for charity I permit this old woman to be in it only for the old rent; whenever she dies put her daughter out of it, for she is one of the wicked, drunken, swearing, and cursing women in England, and a lewd woman besides.
  • 1664-1671

    Richard Greenhalgh of Edgworth

    Richard Greenhalgh appeared at the Spring Assizes in 1664, accused of killing Abraham, the son of Roger Brindwood of Entwistle. He was in Lancaster again seven years later, charged with the same offence, as well as wasting Roger and bewitching Jennett, daughter of Thomas Entwistle some years prior. An Andrew Knowles is also mentioned as falling prey to Greenhalgh's sorcery.

    In a letter dated to 11th October 1671, John Warren informs Roger Kenyon that Anne Entwistle and Roger Brindwood, two of Greenhalgh's accusers, had been bound over to give evidence against him.

  • 1666

    Four witches from Haigh

    Four alleged witches from Haigh are examined, with half their number being committed. The details appear in a letter written by Sir Roger Bradshaigh, who states that he: -

    Has examined four reputed witches; one confessed that she, her father, and mother each rode on a black cat to Warrington, nine miles off, and that the cats sucked at her mother till they sucked blood. Has little faith in this, though given on oath, and has sent two of them to the gaol.
  • 1666

    Isabella Rigby of Hindley

    A possible confederate of Margery Greene, Isabella Rigby was delivered for trial in Lancaster on the 29th March 1666 charged with three counts of bewitching her neighbours. She was found guilty and hanged.

  • 1666-1667

    Margery Sharples alias Ward

    Margery Sharples or Ward was delivered from Manchester to Lancaster on the 23rd March to stand trial for having betwitched Elizabeth Lomax and Elizabeth Hough at Bolton. She was found not guilty.

  • 1666-1668

    Agnes and Margaret Hurst

    Agnes Hurst - a suspected witch of twenty years' standing - and Margaret, her daughter, were examined at Hindley on the 29th January, on the basis of evidence given by Jane Gregory regarding her husband Thomas, who suspected that he had been bewitched by the pair.

    The previous Whitsun Eve, Thomas had found Agnes being carried to Dasy Hillock by eight or nine people. He gave his assistance and she took his hand. On his way home the following day, he thought he saw someone pulling down the chimney of his house, but it disappeared as he approached. Upon entering, Thomas was struck by a pain in his back, as if "pricked with an awl," and suspected Agnes and Margaret were behind this worrying turn of events. Proceeding to the Hursts' house, he accused Agnes who denounced him as a "rogue," adding that "she hoped to get an end of him."

    The Hursts were delivered to Lancaster Gaol on the 13th August, where they were found not guilty.

  • 1667-1668

    Alice Dewhurst of Duxbury

    Alice Dewhurst was acquitted at Lancaster of having bewitched Elizabeth Hodgson on Christmas Day 1666. Elizabeth had died a year to the day thereafter.

  • 1668

    Alice Parr

    Alice Parr was found not guilty of wasting Issabell Low by witchcraft at the Lancaster Assizes in August.

  • 1670

    Christopher Blakey

    Christopher Blakey was tried for using "devilish arts" to discern the whereabouts of two shifts belonging to Margery Hartley, which had been purloined from her home.

  • 1674-1675

    Joseph and Susan Hinchcliff

    Joseph Hinchcliff and his wife Susan are ordered to appear at the Assizes as a result of accusations detailed in a Deposition at York Castle, which implicates Susan and the Hinchcliffs' daughter Ann Shillitoe, on the word of one Mary Moor.

    Joseph, however, took his own life, and was followed to the grave shortly thereafter by his spouse. Rev. Oliver Heywood describes this sad circumstance thus: -

    One Joseph Hinchliue and his wife being accused of witchcraft, and upon depositions on oath being bound to the assizes, he could not bear it but fainted, went out one thursday morning Feb 4 1674-5 hanged himself in a wood near his house, was not found till the Lords day, his wife dyed in her bed, spoke and acted as a Christian praying for her adversarys that falsely accused her, was buryed on Feb 4 - before he was found, - I hope she was a good woman -

    NB this was listed as having taken place in Lancashire by Wallace Notestein, but, while Heywood was a Lancashire man, it appears more likely it was in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Nevertheless, it is included here as a testimony to the deleterious effect such spurious allegations might have on the poor souls thus accused.

  • 1680

    Mary Turner of Moorhouse infra Butterworth

    Mary Turner, a widow, was acquitted of having bewitched Sarah, Mary and Abigail Stocke.

  • 1680

    Richard Dugdale and Sadler's wife

    The career of the supposed "Surey Demoniac" Richard Dugdale, who experienced a prolonged series of what are described as "fits," as well as an insatiable urge to dance and various other uncanny manifestations, between the 26th July 1688 and the 25th March 1690.

    His case was eventually taken up by a group of Nonconformist divines, led by Rev. Thomas Jollie, who wrote extensively about the case. Jollie's conclusion, that Satan was behind Dugdale's bizarre behavious, was dismissed in a tract by the ever-sceptical Zachary Taylor.

    Among the revelations which emerge during the investigation into Dugdale's reliability and character, the testimony of one Edward Slaytor of Billington, a former classmate of Dugdale's at Whalley School, reveal a penchant for histrionics, including allegations of encounters with a witch, one Sadler's wife: -

    he often said he met an old Witch in his coming and going betwixt his Fathers House and the School, which he called Sadler's Wife; and that she had Tew'd him (as he calls it) in his coming or going, as made him sweat extreamly; besides many unusual Vaultings and Leapings which is rarely seen in any. [...] Many a time I have seen him come into the School gazing as before, and pretended that he had seen a Woman, which he called by the Name of Sadler's Wife, who had grievously frighted him
  • 1681

    Mary and John Ashworth of Rossendale Forest

    Mary Ashworth, the wife of Robert, and John Ashworth charged with bewitching Mary and Elizaneth Nuttall on 2nd February. They were acquitted.

  • 1689

    The husband of Mary Carley of Chowbent

    In October, Mary Carley petitoned the overseers of the Lancaster court for assistance for her desperate family, her husband having been "Indicted at this session for witchcraft, sorcery or Inchantment."

    [Clerk of the Peace's note]
    Overseer to take care of wife and children.
  • 1700-1710

    Katherine Walkden of Chowbent

    Katherine Walkden, a woman from Chowbent near Atherton was committed for trial, but died prior to the Assizes.

  • 1705

    Mag Shelton, the "Fylde Hag"

    Death of Mag or Meg Shelton, a.k.a. the "Fylde Hag." She is buried at Woodplumpton near Preston. Meg, also known as Margery Hilton, is reputed to have been a witch particularly associated with the villages of Cottam, Singleton and Catforth in addition to her place of burial. She supposedly dwelt at Cuckoo Hall in Wesham, on the path between Kirkham and Singleton.

    Her best-known power was her ability to change her shape, with some legends featuring Meg as a white hart in a forest, associated with William Haydock, the Lord of Cottam, for whose sporting purposes she had agreed to supply a hare as quarry.

    On another occasion, she inveigled her way into a farmer's barn in order to purloin grain for her chickens, transforming herself into a sack when she heard the farmer approach. The wise farmer subsequently noticed the surplus sack and prodded it with an implement, causing it to let go a scream and turn back into Shelton's human form.

    Her demise came when she was pinned between a wall and a barrel and her burial was attended by strange circumstances: despite the large rock which today marks the spot, Meg managed to claw her way out twice, being buried face down on the third occasion, which seemed to confuse her - for a time.

    In all probability, the legend is not ancient (John Porter, in his survey of the Fylde, makes no mention of it). One of the earliest sources for the legend is Joseph Gillow, and is found in his The Haydock Papers, published in 1888. Thereafter, Allen Clarke, a local historian, wrote a series of short stories in the 1920s, which works seem to be the well-spring of the folklore surrounding the Fylde Witch.

  • 1750

    Anti-witchcraft charms

    Around this time, "wise men" in Lancashire were called upon to furnish charms to those who believed themselves a target for witches around this time. One, from near Burnley, reads as follows (Harland & Wilkinson 1882, p.62-3): -

    Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Trine, Sextile, Dragon's Head, Dragon's Tail, I charge you all to gard this hause from all evils spirits whatever, and gard it from all Desorders, and from aney thing being taken wrangasly, and give this family good Ealth & Welth.

    Another such charm, written in mystical hieroglyphs and strange symbols, was discovered in a barn or shippon at West Bradford near Clitheroe. This was sealed with divine names as follows: -

    Agla + On [or En] Tetragrammaton.
  • 1757-1758

    Ann A---n of Colne

    John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, in his diary for 1766, reports a meeting, in Colne, with a certain Ann A---n, who seems to have had something of the "second sight," being able to see the luminous shades of the recently dead or soon-to-be-dead from the ages of around four to seveneen. By the end of this period, poor Ann was becoming increasingly concerned by whispers in the neighbourhood that she was a witch and prayed for these visions to end, which they subsequently did.

  • 1871

    A bad Burnley husband

    John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson mention a Burnley woman who suspected her husband of having bewitched her several times over some years.

  • 1871

    A bad Manchester mother

    Even as late as the mid-Victorian period, witchcraft still loomed large in Lancashire - and not merely in remote rural areas: John Harland & T.T. Wilkinson report the case of a young man living in the Manchester area who believed himself in hank to his mother's dark arts.

Sir Graham