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In the 16th and 17th centuries people across England, irrespective of status, believed in witches. Witch fever swept across the country when witchcraft was made a capital offence in 1563. This led to thousands of people, mostly women, being falsely accused, forced to confess under torture and punished.

Colchester Castle

Self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, was the most notorious witch-hunter in the 1640s. Colchester Castle served as the place where he jailed and interrogated the women and men believed to be witches. The interrogation took place in the dark cells of the castle, where many are believed to have died as a result of their incarceration before even being brought to court.

Black and white aerial photo of Colchester Castle
Men and women imprisoned as witches are believed to have died in the cells of Colchester Castle. © Historic England Ref EAW008091

Tuesday's Market Place, Kings Lynn

For many years during the 16th century, the market place in Kings Lynn was the scene of public executions of alleged witches. The most famous execution was of Margaret Read, who was found guilty of witchcraft in 1590 and burned alive. Legend has it that whilst being consumed by flames, Margaret's heart jumped from her body and hit the wall opposite, leaving a permanent burn on the brick, which is still marked today.

Close up of Witch's heart on Tuesday's market place
The heart of alleged witch Margaret Read jumped from her body and hit the wall opposite in Tuesday's Market Place, King's Lynn. © meatcher-imaging via Flickr

Mother Shipton's Cave, Knaresborough

Mother Shipton is believed to have been a witch and an oracle, morbidly predicting days of reckoning and tragedies that were to befall the Tudor reign. Some of her predictions for the future were amazingly accurate as she prophesied the invention of iron ships and the destruction of London. Mother Shipton's Cave in Knaresborough and a nearby 'petrifying well' are among the country's oldest visitor attractions.

Black and white photo of petrifying well near Mother Shipton's Cave
The cave of Mother Shipton who was believed to have been a Yorkshire witch and oracle. © Historic England Ref AA96_04839

Pendle Hill

Pendle Hill in Lancashire is well known for its associations with witches. One of the most famous witch trials in British history is that of the Pendle witches in 1612, where 12 'witches' who lived around Pendle Hill, mostly women, were charged with the murders of 10 people using witchcraft. One of the accused died in custody, another was found not guilty and the other ten were found guilty and hanged.


Ariel photo of Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill, where 12 'witches' were charged with the murder of tem people. © Hornbeam Arts via Flickr

Lancaster Castle

All but two of the Pendle witches were tried at Lancaster Assizes on the 18th and 19th August 1612. Lancaster Castle's monumental gatehouse would have welcomed the ten accused who would have trekked 50 miles or so from Pendle to be thrown into the castle's damp cells and left for months.

Rear view of Lancaster Castle
The Pendle witches were kept in Lancaster Castle's damp cells in 1612. © srietzke via Flickr

Roughlee Old Hall, Nelson, Lancashire

A statue to commemorate one of the Pendle witches can be found in Roughlee, where the alleged witch Alice Nutter is thought to have lived. Alice Nutter was the wealthy widow of a farmer. She remained silent throughout her trial except in her plea of not guilty of murder by 'witchcraft'. She was later hanged after being found guilty following a statement given by a nine-year old witness.

Side view of Alice Nutter statue found at Roughlee Old Hall
Statue to Alice Nutter, one of the Pendle witches who was executed in 1612. © Hornbeam Arts via Flickr

This Halloween, why not go out and visit a historic place, soak up the spooky atmosphere, and learn something about our fascinating history?

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