Monday, 9 July 2012

Malkin Tower - Good Friday

                You might imagine that all the legal goings-on in Lancashire would have encouraged people to lay low and keep quiet for a while. You might imagine that, but it didn’t happen. Word soon reached Roger Nowell, Justice of the Peace at Read Hall, that on Good Friday, just four days after he had committed four women from Pendle to the assizes at Lancaster Castle on charges of witchcraft, there had been a meeting of witches at Malkin Tower, on the slopes of Pendle Hill. 

At the house of James Wilsey, Nowell and Nicholas Bannister, a magistrate from Altham, began another series of investigations. They began with James Device, brother of Alizon. ‘Soft Jamie’ was a large, lumbering lad, a labourer, and mentally sub-normal. When pressed by the magistrates, he admitted that he had stolen ‘a wether’ (a sheep) from John Robinson of Barley, taken it to Malkin Tower and slaughtered it to provide meat for dinner at about noon, on Good Friday, April 6th. He was asked who had been at this meal, and listed himself, his mother Elizabeth, the wife of Hugh Hargreaves, Jane Bulcock and her son John, Alice Nutter of Roughlee, Elizabeth Hargreaves, Alice Grey, Katherine Hewitt and some others whose names he did not know. 

Witches abroad

He said his mother had told him that they were meeting for three reasons; to name the spirit, or familiar, of Alizon Device, to kill Thomas Covell, gaoler at Lancaster and blow up the castle to free the four women held there, and to help Jennet Preston of Gisburn kill Mr Lister of Westby as ‘her power was not strong enough to do it herself.’ His mother, Elizabeth Device, confirmed the names given by her son, adding two more women from Burnley ‘whose names Alice Nutter knew’, and Anne Cronkshaw of Marsden. She remembered ‘The Christening of the Spirit’ and talk of killing Mr Lister, but could not remember talk of blowing up the castle and killing the gaoler. 

Her nine-year-old daughter, Jennet, was questioned, and she said there had been about twenty witches present, of whom she knew the names of about six. Nowell and Bannister then further examined James and Elizabeth Device, and were told how James had been told to go to Communion on the Thursday before Easter 1610, but not to eat the bread but give it instead to a ‘thing’ he would meet on the way home. James did eat the host, and when a thing shaped like a hare confronted him, he crossed himself and it disappeared. On Easter Monday, a black dog came to him at Newchurch and asked for his soul, but he refused, saying it belonged to ‘Saviour Jesus Christ’ but it could have the rest of him. From then on, he was a witch with a spirit called ‘Dandy’, by whose power he had killed two people. 

A witch with her familiars

Elizabeth said her spirit was called ‘Ball’, and she had, with Demdike and Alice Nutter, made a clay figure of Henry Mitton, who later died. She told how Jane Bulcock and her son John had bewitched Jenet Dean, making her lose her reason, and had agreed to kill Mr Lister for Jennet Preston. Katherine Hewitt and Alice Gray, both of Colne, had killed by witchcraft a child, Ann Foulds, and they ‘held in hanck’ a child of Michael Hartley of Colne (too close to home for me). James Device went on to tell how Demdike, Chattox and Anne Redferne had taken teeth from skulls in Newchurch graveyard, and had made clay images at Malkin Tower. 

Another familiar, another witch

As a result of these further enquiries, eight more people from the Pendle Forest (not a wooded area, a ‘forest’ in this sense is an area of open land set aside for hunting), were accused of witchcraft, arraigned and sent for trial. Jennet Preston, from Gisburn (which was then in Yorkshire), was sent to York Assizes. She had been accused of the same crime in the previous year; on July 27th 1612 she was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged two days later at York Castle, after confessing nothing and dying impenitent.

The other seven were sent to the assizes at Lancaster. They were Elizabeth Device (daughter of Demdike, and mother of Alizon), and her son James Device. Also accused were Alice Nutter, a gentlewoman, the mother and son Jane and John Bulcock, Katherine Hewitt (known, splendidly, as Mouldheels), and Alice Gray.

Blacko Tower

The exact location of Malkin Tower, home of Demdike and her family, is not known. At Blacko, near to Malkin Tower Farm, is a tower, but this is a Victorian folly, built in 1890 by the eccentric Jonathan Stansfield, a grocer from Barrowford, who used it ‘to see into Yorkshire.’ A ruined cottage was excavated near Black Moss reservoir in late 2011, which some have claimed may be the remains of Malkin Tower. 

The name is echoed in the name of the familiar of one of the witches in Shakespeare’s MacBeth – Gray-Malkin, and is an archaic word for a cat, a female servant and a slut or slattern. It appears in Chaucer, in The Man of Law’s Prologue (c. 1386) : - 

It will not come again, once it has fled,
Not any more than will Malkin's maidenhead 
When she has lost it in her wantonness.

Chaucer - Canterbury Tales - Man of Law's Prologue c. 1386

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