The Witches Hammer.

Inquisition chair.

Burnley established a Grammar School in 1559. It was a school I was to enter, free, 394 years later courtesy of a Labour Government and a controversial examination called the “Eleven-Plus.”

Latin was still being taught there in the 1950’s but

Pendle Hill

"Witch" country, Pendle Hill.

17th century pupils would have been well-versed in its clauses and may well have had their attention brought to bear on the book, “The Malleus Maleficarum,” (The Witches Hammer) written by two zealous Dominican friars. After  the Bible it was the next best selling book.  The boys would have noted that, “Not to believe in witchcraft is the greatest of heresies.”

There was no denying this because then, of course, you would have become a heretic.

They would have read how God gives the Devil permission to tempt people and how “witches” cast spells, make pacts with the devil, sacrifice children and have intercourse with Satan.

Finding themselves intrigued by the book, perhaps some of the boys persuaded their parents to watch with them as seven of the local Pendle “witches” were hung in 1612 after a trial at Lancaster assizes. Book learning apart, they might have thought the women deserved it for having the suspiciously “witchy” names of “Chattox” or “Demdike.”

They probably stocked up with a few things from Burnley Market and had a family day out at Lancaster Castle. A goodly journey but well worth the effort with a good hanging, or seven, to look forward to,especially if you also had an interest in Norman Keeps. Perhaps the sight of seven hangings might put you off your bread and cheese and make you wonder if the women really were guilty but, back in Burnley at St. Peter’s Church, a priest could always point you towards Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Isolated, windswept, Pendle Hill all 1827 feet of it, has always figured in Burnley’s story. When you can see it, that is. Locals say,”If you can see Pendle Hill, it’s about to rain, if you can’t, then it’s already started.” At the time of the Witch Trials the “authorities” saw it as, “A wild and lawless region, fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity.”

These days you’re more likely to find walkers, runners, picnickers , sheep and hang gliders using the hill and not a broomstick in sight and who knows but on a warm Midsummer’s night, it might still be used for the odd bit of sexual laxity. Afterwards the lax-ees can stop off at one of the local pubs for a pint of “Pendle Witches Brew” and not even notice the large number of black cats around.

In 1736 the Witchcraft Laws were repealed. I bet you could hear the cackling all over Pendle.

Pity Exodus has not been amended as well.


2 thoughts on “The Witches Hammer.

  1. Well they didn’t have horror movies in those days so a good hanging did the trick.

    They don’t have hanging in Britian any more .. but you still have to pass the eleven plus to get into my old school and they still have it around here. So much for controversy.. My Madeleine is sweating over her latin declensions and I am damn sure they still have witches. Plus ca change.

    I love the line about hearing the cackling all over Pendle – an entertaining read altogether

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