Wednesday, April 07, 2010


We’ve been here before, but it’s ground worth re-covering briefly to set the scene for the rest of this article. According to the Lancashire County Quarter Sessions (check them out at the records office if you want) in 1627 ‘Dorothie, wife of Thomas Shawe of Skippool’ stood accused of practising witchcraft. (Remember now? Probably not, but we’re digressing.)
Such indictments were never made lightly, King James’ hatred of all matters relating to the dark crafts having resulted several years previously in one of Lancashire’s darkest hours.
Which is what this article’s really about.
However, more background first.
James I considered himself a bit of an expert on witches (well, his mother was Mary Queen of Scots and she was a witch and a half if ever there was one, especially if you happened to be protestant). In fact he wrote a book about witches and how nasty they were, entitled ‘Demononlogie’. It wasn’t exactly a flattering portrait.
In 1590 three hundred witches were accused of plotting James’ death, allegedly using such diabolical props to attain this goal as melting wax effigies of him.
Hold on, let’s have a picture of James himself, shall we, to ascertain why everybody loathed him so much?

There he is, look, bearing an abnormally inbred similarity to Charles I, but there you go, such is the divine right of kings, as James himself claimed in another of his bestsellers.
With Christian theologians backing James all the way (if not actually inspiring him, because James loved a good bit of P.R.) understandably witchcraft was taken very seriously amongst the general populace.
Take a look at this.

That’s a drawing of what’s known as a witchpost (or, at any rate, a section of a witchpost because the original was considerably longer and had more carvings in it), found embedded in one of the walls at Mains Hall when the place was being renovated a few years ago. Adele Yeomans showed it to us when we visited. Such devices were stuck into walls by priests to keep witches at bay, although exactly how they worked is a bit beyond me.
Anyhow…returning to our tale, Dorothie’s neighbour -- Dorothie being the woman in Skippool, in case you’d forgotten, which, by coincidence, is just across the creek from Mains Hall, so, who knows, the witchpost might have been meant for her – where was I? Oh yes, Dorothie’s neighbour William Wilkinson, insisted that she was ‘a witch and a demdyke’, claiming: “Thou art a witch…God bless me…I am affrayed for my wife, children and goods…
What became of Dorothie we don’t actually know, because we’ve never bothered following up the records, but the mention of ‘demdyke’ makes this an opportune moment to get back to our subject for this article proper, that being the famous, or rather infamous, Lancashire Witch Trials, not just because of their importance in the history of the county, but also because of their somewhat surprising connection to Thornton Cleveleys.
Give us a few moments to get my breath back here. After that last sentence I’m knackered.
Right, the trial took place at Lancaster Castle and was unusual for such cases because Thomas Potts, the court clerk, recorded it all in his ‘Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster’.
You want a drawing of Lancaster Castle now as well, don’t you? Well, you’ll have to make do with the gatehouse, because I haven’t got enough time to draw up the whole building.

The whole sorry affair began when Alizon Device encountered a certain John Law (a peddler from Halifax) early one morning and asked him for some pins (as you do). Law, apparently, refused and, unfortunately, suffered a stroke immediately afterwards, which he blamed on Alizon. (As you would.)
Along with her mother Elizabeth, and her brother James, Alizon was summoned to court on March the thirtieth 1612 (as she should have been) where she quickly confessed to having sold her soul to the devil (as one might). Her brother, true to the spirit of siblings the world over, went on to explain that Alizon had also bewitched a local child. (Nowadays there’s a legal term for that. It’s called being a b****rd.) Elizabeth then claimed that her own mother, Demdyke, had a mark on her body -- proof if proof were needed that Satan had been sucking her blood.
Now, as everyone knows, where’s there’s one witch at work there are always others lurking in the shadows or, preferably, dancing naked on some blasted heath (or at least, that was the theory put about by the church back in those days).
When questioned about Anne Chattox, head of the family who’d allegedly stolen one pound’s worth of goods from the Device’s home at Malkin Tower in 1601 (a terrible crime as I’ve no doubt you’ll agree) Alizon saw an opportunity for revenge.
Matters soon spiralled out of control, as often happens between feuding families. Claim led to counter claim and, to cut a long story short, eleven people ended up swinging from the gallows.
Amongst other accusations between the two warring families were diabolical murder effected by means of effigies moulded from clay, cavorting with familiars (namely the family dog), causing sickness, and most heinous of all, in the case of Anne Chattox, turning Robert Nutter’s beer sour.
On August the twentieth 1612, as already mentioned, ten people in all were hanged at Lancaster Castle. (I know…I know…I said eleven, but we’ll get round to the other one in a moment.) These included Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Amie Williamson, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Nutter (pay attention to her), Anne Redfern, Isobel Robey, and Anne Whittle (a.k.a. Chattox).
Margaret Pearson was also found guilty of witchcraft and was sentenced to one year in prison.
Jennet Preston was hanged at York (making eleven in all, see?) and Elizabeth Southerns died in prison awaiting trial.
The illustration below is based on a contemporary woodcut depicting the final few moments of several of the ‘witches’. (The trial itself, as evidenced by the drawing, became an overnight sensation.)

All of which brings us back to the Wyre and Alice Nutter’s connection with Thornton Cleveleys.
The drawing below is based on a photograph taken during the 1880s.

It shows a relatively building-free Victoria Road, with the Cleveleys Inn on the left…or rather more like the centre-left…and the summer residence of a certain Major Nutter, descendent of Alice Nutter (one of the aforementioned witches, of course) on the right.
Major Nutter carried some considerable influence around Cleveleys back in those days, which is where Nutter Road and Rough Lea Road (Roughlee Hall in Pendle, according to the Victoria County History, being Alice’s home) derive their names.
Another of Alice’s descendents, Elizabeth Nutter, donated the font at Christ Church on Meadows Avenue in Thornton, on July the thirteenth 1874.
Not a massive link, it must be said, but one that amply provided us with this excuse of an article and no doubt wasted a few harmless minutes of our reader’s time.


Hels said...

Great story. Why Lancashire, do you think?

And why men as well? Most witch experts believed that only women were weak enough to be seduced by Satan or his evil offsiders.

I suppose that since the last execution for witchcraft in England was later that very century (1684), the authorities wanted to hang as many people as possible, while the going was still good.

Brian Hughes said...


I'm not quite sure why Lancashire. Possibly because the old ways linger on around these parts due to our geological/psychological isolation from the rest of Blighty. The same thing happened with the Norse, and Catholicism and even Celtic lore (teanleas fires still being lit every November as recently as the last century). We're just not good at adapting to new stuff, I guess.

BwcaBrownie said...

oh poor Dorothie Shawe. she probably just wised up to Thomas having a bit on the side, and he wanted to be rid of her. Divorce Skipool Style.
Beautiful drawings my lord.

Brian Hughes said...


It's good old Christianity turning the other cheek again, which, of course, they never do...unless it's a priest and a choirboy, that is.

John said...

Wow, one of your best posts to date, and that's saying sumptin! Delightful, if not frightening in its look into human nature.

Lots of comments, so let's start at the top. "Demononlogie". Did the good king have a stutter? Seams like there's an extra 'on' in there, innit? If I were James, i would have left off the witches, and gone after the Artist who made that portrait... not very flattering at all, specially about the chin. Rather weak chin, there.

Heis mentioned about men being hanged, which also made me think. Of course, since witchcraft trials everywhere were mostly an excuse to even scores and imbalance local politics, it is quite possible that the men were hanged as a matter of 'cleaning up', but is it not also possible that they were hung for harboring, abetting, or just getting it on with the witches themselves? I mean, live with a witch, hang with a witch, what?

Good to see the Witch Stick you saw at Mains again... ahve you learned anything new since yo first showed it to me 2 years ago? I still think those are Runes of some sort, but wouldn't there be a dictionary of runes lying about so people could make their own Witch Sticks?

Love the pic of Lancaster Castle, by the way. I was looking into the place way back when I was planning on visiting your way, and didn't see much about it. It looks quite impressive and worth visiting!

Well, i have more to say, but I fear I have gone beyond your attention span.

Thanks for a great post!
JOHN :0)

PS New book out... please bestow hurrahs accordingly and dish out some best wishes. :0)

Brian Hughes said...


There were male witches. Warlocks. No honest, it's true. (Boom boom.)

"Did the good king have a stutter?"

No, but my keyboard does have a tendency to jam.

"Rather weak chin, there."

That's the monarchy for you. They've either got too many chins or none at all.

"New book out..."

Well done and all that. Now I'm off for a massive hot toddy 'cos I've got a sore throat that I've been unable to shift for the past week and a half.

John said...

Warlocks don't seem to get much press, do they? See, those witches were smart, coverting through the woods sans knickers... that kind of stuff always gets attention!

I must say that I'm quite surprised we got this far without someone quoting a Monty Python film! Shows that human being types can mature, eventually. :0)

and thanks! JOHN ;0)

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

That's a lie! I never said "This post has been removed by the author."

There was just a bit of double talk as my keyboard stuttered.

Forget I never said anything, and go back to what I did say before I said nothing.

Thanks, and feel better,
JOHN :0)

Jayne said...

That bloke on the throne had issues...weak chins was just the tip of the ice berg.

Brian Hughes said...


"Warlocks don't seem to get much press, do they?"

Well, nobody wants their warlocks pressing.

"...those witches were smart, coverting through the woods sans knickers... that kind of stuff always gets attention!"

Especially if their warlocks are on view.

n.b. If you'd like to see your own 'Carry On' style Warlocks innuendo on this board, then please e-mail Peter Rogers at


When one is sat on the throne all day, icebergs are usually the last of one's worries...although tips often aren't.