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Working with the Pendle witches

Category: England

Published: 18th Aug 2012 15:43:38

The story of the Pendle witch trials helps bring in over £85m to the local economy each year, according to council figures.

The town is littered with references to the 1612 trials which resulted in 10 people being hanged for witchcraft.

They have spawned many commercial spin offs today - including the name of an express bus service to Manchester and a brand of beer.

But not everyone wants to bask in the area's association with the trials. The Bishop of Burnley campaigned against a giant artwork installation on Pendle Hill to mark the anniversary of the trials.

But there are some who make a living from the town's notorious history.

Maureen Stopforth, 72, runs the Witches Galore shop Newchurch-in-Pendle.

She said: "Every day is different. I get people coming in from all over the world - I've had people from Russia to Australia visit and even a Canadian couple on their honeymoon."

She said Americans in particular are fascinated by the area's heritage.

"I think they're intrigued because they haven't got our history and when they come here they love it because the countryside is so stunning and unspoilt.

"They say it is like stepping back in time."

The shop and tearoom sells witch memorabilia ranging from crystals to cards and handmade models of witches. Mrs Stopforth added: "A lot of customers collect them - one woman has a collection of over 300."

Her best seller is Robert Neill's book Mist Over Pendle. "I can't be without that book; it flies off the shelf.".

Neil McDonald, 50, has been running tours for nine years with his 15-seater minibus.

Even now he said the hairs on the back of his neck stand up when he traces the gruelling journey the witches made from Pendle to their trial at Lancaster Castle in 1612.

"I still get an eerie feeling when I take people on the journey over the tops," he said.

"They (the witches) will have been exhausted, hungry and frightened. They probably knew they were being dragged to their death.

"I love anything to do with cults or anything that is hidden.

"And the people who come on the tour are the same. They love the story but then it has all ingredients of a blockbuster novel."

He said his favourite part of his 10-hour tour is at St Mary the Virgin Church in Gisburn, where a cast iron unmarked grave is rumoured to be Jennet Preston's.

Author of Wardstone Chronicles Joseph Delaney, from Preston, was so fascinated by the Pendle witches he devoted two of his best-selling books to them.

The Spooks series are all set in a mythical Lancashire, which he calls County, and he decided "to confront the Pendle Witches" in the fourth book, the Spook's Battle.

He invented his own version of Pendle witches because "otherwise I would have been a prisoner of the historical events".

"The trials really stimulated my imagination," he said, "and [Pendle Hill] too casts a spell over me with its brooding presence."

He said the Spook's Battle is his favourite book from the series.

"I discover my plots and often they need a lot of re-drafting to achieve a sound structure but that was the exception.

"It flowed from my imagination as if it already existed."

Mr Delaney often does talks in Lancashire schools and said children are "fascinated by the fact that the events happened so close to home".

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BBC News, 2012. Working with the Pendle witches [Online] (Updated 18th Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1446974/Working-with-the-Pendle-witches [Accessed 3rd Sep 2014]

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