Elizabethan, Burnley Grammar School boys, well versed in Latin might have read “Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) written by two of those keen Dominican friars, and noted that ”Not to believe in witchcraft is the greatest of ‘eresies,” and persuaded their parents to watch as seven of the local “Pendle witches” were punished by hanging in 1612 after a trial at Lancaster Assizes. Book learning apart, perhaps they thought they deserved it for having the suspiciously witchy names of “Demdike” or “Chattox.” They probably stocked up with a few things from Burnley Market and had a 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.
It could well be that 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 at St. Peter’s a priest could always point you in the direction of Leviticus, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
Isolated, windswept Pendle Hill, all 1827 feet of it, has always featured in Burnley’s story, its graceful outline visible from the town. When you can see it, that is. Locals say that, “If you can see Pendle Hill then it’s about to rain, if you can’t then it’s already started.”
At the time of the Pendle Witch Trials it was regarded by the “authorities” as, “a wild and lawless region…. fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity.”
Nowadays you’re more likely to find walkers, runners, picnickers, sheep and hang gliders using the hill with 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 number of black cats around.
It was from Pendle’s mossy summit that George Fox the 17th century Founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), looked west and “saw” a great gathering of people.
He wrote it down later: “We came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.”
Whether or not this was a vision of 19th century Blackpool transforming itself into the world’s first working-class holiday resort, courtesy of northern millworkers and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, we shall never know. It’s a good job George didn’t live to see Blackpool when it had acquired a Tower and was described by a Methodist Minister as a worse place than Sodom and Gomorrah.