Joe Hesketh: A Pendle Witch Trial Investigation
Artist JOE HESKETH seeks to understand the horrors of the Pendle Witch Trial through art
Being a child in Pendle was like living on, what would now be familiar as, a Harry Potter film set. Some of the older children thought I was a bit odd, so I took advantage of this and played on being different and standing out. I played at making up my own spells, creating perfume from petals, and things like that. These games made me happy and I thought they gave me the upper hand and made me special – just like the witches, I guess. Over the years people have bought me spell books and I still do well wishes today.
I’ve always been intrigued with the Pendle story and wanted to look at it closer and, through doing this, A Pendle Investigation developed. I wanted to connect with the story in celebration of the 400th anniversary by investigating the known facts to build a body of work.
My work is mainly about my life and, for me, Pendle, was the natural step and progression in my artistic journey. Lots of things have changed in 400 years but, you know, lots have not. The Pendle Witch Trials are revered in popular culture but usually misunderstood in the context of their time. I really want people to see the true story of injustice and the real story about people of the land who were basically healers rather than evil magicians.
In 1612, these people were dreadfully misjudged and, even today, some are still quick to judge a book by its cover. I get this all the time, people judge me instantly and it seemed to be the same with the witches, that people judged them for being different. I’m not saying that people don’t accept me, but that people like to put other people in boxes. I think this shows the shallow nature of our society. People are not always what they seem to others.
The twelve accused of witchcraft lived around Pendle Hill and were charged with the murders of ten people. Of the eleven who went to trial – nine women and two men – ten were found guilty and hanged. It has been estimated that all of the English witch trials that took place between the 15th and 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions; the Pendle Witch Trials account for more than two per cent of that total.