The four-hundredth anniversary of the trials and executions of the so-called Lancashire Witches will be with us in 2012, of which the Pendle Forest contingent seems to have been the most famous of them all. Perhaps it could be regarded as a kind of Harry Potter saga of its day.
Had it not been for the trouble taken by a solicitor by the name of Thomas Potts, to record all the evidence taken in Ashlar House, Fence, Read Hall and, finally, Lancaster, which he made public in a book published later, we may have heard little or nothing at all about those witches. The Sovereign at the time was King James I who was a fervent believer in witchcraft so we are told and it was probably as a result of this, that Potts had been sent up here to deal with such activities in the North Partes.
So far as we know, all the characters and deeds perpetrated in the Harry Potter series are fictitious. So the characters mentioned in the Lancashire Witches who, so far as is known, were all factual and, according to Mr Potts, so were their deeds including the encounters with the two talking dogs. One was called Tibb who spoke to Alison Device or Davies, the granddaughter of Demdike at Colne and the other was a black dog encountered by a stone quarry in the vicinity of Newchurch in the Parish of Goldshaw. Had this book been written today, whether it would been as financially viable as a J.K. Rowling’s edition, is debateable.
The location of Malkin Tower is unknown but, according to Mr Potts, it was the venue of the great feast held on Good Friday of that year. The main contents of that feast seem to have been a sheep stolen by James Device or Davies, grandson of Demdike, from a farm in Barley. How he managed to get the animal home to Malkin Tower, slaughter it and cook it is left to one’s imagination. Similarly is the location of Malkin Tower, as yet unknown. It has been suggested it was located in Well Head Road, the lane that runs from Sabden Fold to Newchurch. If so, at that time there would have been no reservoir in Ogden Clough or, as today, a culvert above to help gather water to keep the reservoir up to a reasonable level of water.
At that time, of course, the moorland between Barley and Well Head Lane would, no doubt, be barren with little or nothing growing on it and would have been easier to drag or drive a sheep over it than today. Whatever the case, whether some future Tony Robinson-style time team will ever uncover the location of the tower, we may never know. However, what we may be more certain of is the difficulty that will be encountered by visitors in their cars who choose to approach the area from Thorneyholme, via Jinny Lane or from Fence, via Heights Lane and Spen Brook Lane to Newchurch village. Both ways are steep and narrow, then continuing up through the village by Cross Road up and over the hill to descend by the long, steep and narrow road into Barley, could well test any driver’s steering and manoeuvring skills to avoid the cars parked at times on the main street at Newchurch and any vehicles there may be coming in the opposite direction up the steep incline from Barley.
For anyone not familiar with the area, the best way to approach it by car is probably from Fence, along Noggarth Road and down to Thorneyholme Cross Roads, where it meets Blacko Bar Road which is traversed by vehicles to and from Barrowford and Blacko via the village of Roughlee. Here both roads meet the Barley New Road which leads into Barley and whether you reach the area by car, on foot by use of the extensive rights-of-way system around the Pendle area or on one of the hourly Monday to Saturday Witch Hopper bus service vehicles operating between Nelson and Clitheroe, or the summer Sunday bi-directional two-hourly circular Hopper service from Nelson serving Barley, Downham, Clitheroe, Sabden, Padiham and Burnley, is the choice of the individual.
And witches or no witches, an enjoyable day can be spent exploring the area and for those who wish, climbing the “big hill” or just sitting about on the village green, next to the car park at Barley and probably having some refreshment at one of the catering establishments in the area before the return journey home, having spent a memorable day in Pendle.
Bird Street, Brierfield