We look back on 400 years of history

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Lancastrians are very familiar with the story of the Lancashire Witches.

The tale has made its way around the globe over the past four centuries, stirring the imagination and prompting many to speculate on and record their own version of events.

It is enshrined in the county’s folklore, yet the fact still remains that on August 18 and 19, 1612 – 400 years ago this weekend – 19 men and women were tried for murder by the use of witchcraft at Lancaster Castle, and 10 were executed by hanging the next day on the moors near Lancaster.

The events of that year have left their mark on the landscape and on the consciousness of those that live close to the locations of note.

In 1998 a petition was presented to then Home Secretary Jack Straw asking for those convicted to be pardoned. But it was decided that their convictions should stand.

Ten years later another petition was organised in an attempt to obtain pardons for Chattox and Demdike. Nothing has so far come of this. Their descendants are still waiting.

As the county this year commemorates the infamous events, many people have reflected on the circumstances surrounding the trials and hangings, the mood of the county at the time, and issues of persecution, superstition, religion and education that still resonate today.

Many too are unsure of how to remember what essentially amounts to a witch hunt. Some have chosen to dress up and ascend Pendle Hill for charity, others to attend an organised event, workshop or talk, and still others to quietly contemplate what actually happened 400 years ago in this city.

There is no doubt that tourism in the Lancashire area has seen a huge benefit, and the co-ordinated efforts of many organisations will see a dedicated 51-mile Lancashire Witches Walk across the Trough of Bowland unveiled this month.

Statues, sculptures and plaques will also ensure the legend, and the facts, of the events 400 years ago will live on for centuries to come.

In this special edition of the Lancaster Guardian, we look at what this commemorative year means to charities, writers, cultural figures and historians, as well as providing a comprehensive list of events taking place in Lancaster and the surrounding area over the next few weeks.

Coun Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for culture and tourism, said: “There’s no doubt that Lancaster has a fascinating history, but no episode in that history is more fascinating or darker than the story of the Lancashire Witches.

“It is important to separate fact from centuries of fiction. We must learn from history and never repeat such dreadful inhumanities.

“We hope the anniversary year will help put Lancaster firmly on the map as a major part of the story and encourage new and old visitors to visit and explore the many facets of our historic city.”