BARRY McCann looks at ‘Lancashire’s Tutankhamen’s Tomb’ – a supposed witches’ cottage near Pendle Hill that had been buried for unknown reasons…
At the time, it was declared “Lancashire’s Tutankhamen’s tomb”, and its discovery could not have been timelier. In late 2011, engineers were contracted by United Utilities to survey an area near Lower Black Moss reservoir by the village of Barley and in the shadow of Pendle Hill.
When investigating a grass mound, they were surprised to unearth a 17th Century cottage, complete with the skeleton of a cat evidently placed there with deliberation.
Archaeology uncovers strange Pendle Hill discovery
Archaeologists had been brought in by United Utilities to survey the grass mound, as is routine before turning the topsoil in areas believed to have archaeological significance.
One of the archaeologists, Frank Giecco commented at the time “It’s like discovering your own little Pompeii. We rarely get the opportunity to work with something so well preserved.
“As soon as we started digging, we found the tops of doors, and knew we were on to something special.
“The building is a microcosm for the rise and fall of this area, from the time of the Pendle witches to the industrial age. There are layers of local history right before your eyes.”
The building was said to be in remarkable well preserved condition and contained a sealed room with the bones of a cat bricked into the wall, probably buried alive to protect the structure from evil spirits.
Was this the witch’s cottage home to the Devices?
Not surprisingly, speculation ran rife as to whether this was a witch’s cottage, in particular Malkin Tower, home of the Device’s.
The building was thought to have originally been a pele tower, erected to guard against Brigand raids from the north.
It became the residence of Elizabeth Southern, known as Demdike, her daughter Elizabeth and grandchildren Alizon, James and Jennet, all of whom were swept up in allegations of witchcraft. Demdike died in gaol while awaiting trial and the nine year old Jennet testified against the remaining family members at the 1612 Lancaster assizes, sealing their fate with the hangman.
There is an assumption that following the trial and executions, Malkin Tower was deliberately demolished and foundations hidden because of its “evil” association, thus losing it to the mists of time. Apparently turning up just prior to the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials seemed as if it wanted to be found.
Sources say Malkin Tower in different location
However, other sources suggest Malkin Tower was actually located south of Newchurch in the vicinity of Tynedale Farm and that the cottage now standing there, Lower Well Head, was built on its original foundations.
Similarly, archaeologists subsequently brought in to investigate unearthed the building played down the witch connection, reporting that the building contained a 19th Century kitchen range and that Victorian crockery, a tin bath and a bedstead were discovered around the site, and they concluded it was more likely to have been home to a weaver.
Only months later, the building was reburied, the reason given to keep it preserved. Spokeswoman Helen Wilson said “Since the ruin was uncovered, it has suffered considerably, due to winter weather which has loosened mortar and stones, and also due to souvenir hunters who have prised away parts of the ruin.”
It does seem an odd decision to rebury such a historic find when it could have been cordoned off and put under protective cover, even turned into a tourist attraction like Stonehenge. And while it may have become a weaver’s cottage in later years, the presence of the mummified cat in its structure does point to a witch’s presence earlier in its existence.
So, is there another reason the cottage was reburied? And will it return again?
Malkin Tower was not at this location. Jennet Device was more likely 11 years old, not 9. Her big sister Alizon was the first accused. They were not witches – although tried for witchcraft there was no real evidence, just spurious lies and ‘confessions’ dragged out of terrified people, enhanced, embroidered and made to fit an agenda by the authorities. They were not even permitted a defence which would have shredded the accusers. They were poor forest folk who presented a ‘blot’ on the landscape to the rich. Times haven’t changed that much.
They were murdered to suit the wishes of the rich landowners and thrown into a mass grave with no compassion for their dignity or humanity. Shame on all those responsible. They should all be pardoned. Sensational stories like this just add to the misinformation.
RIP Alizon Device, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Anne Whittle, Anne Redfern, Katherine Hewitt, Jane Bulcock, John Bulcock, Alice Nutter, Isobel Roby.
Elizabeth Southern died in gaol before being tried.
Hi Christine. Yes they were victims of political machination which is why I stated they were “swept up in allegations of witchcraft.” Jennet may have been 11 but her age was recorded as being 9 at the time, and that is the age given in the official histories. The article does not state this to be Malkin Tower, only the speculation, and acknowledges it may well have been somewhere else though it is still not known exactly where. So I do not agree that I am adding to any misinformation.
I do agree they should all be pardoned. In fact, everyone tried and found guilty under the witchcraft laws should be pardoned.
I have read through this article carefully in light of Christine’s comments and find nothing in it that goes beyond the facts as far as we know them. It certainly makes no claim that this was Malkin Tower but simply comments on the speculation surrounding the possibility, which was rife at the time. And there is nothing misinformative given it offers reasons why it probably isn’t. So I have to question whether Christine actually read the piece at all?
I also question un substantive claims she makes without the benefit of citation or reference. Firstly, as no one actually knows where it stood, can she be sure of the statement “Malkin Tower was not at this location”? The fact that parts of this building have been identified as Victorian is not conclusive, as it was not uncommon for builds of this kind to be erected on the foundations of previous structures. And how is the presence of the mummified cat explained?
Secondly, where does the suggestion about Jennet being more likely 11 at the time come from? The court record of the Lancaster Assizes states ” The said Jennet Device, being a yong maide, about the age of nine yeares…” Yes records made at these times can be questionable but since Roger Nowell had a good four months to prepare his case – during which the child was doubtless under his custody – I cannot see an experienced court appointed magistrate getting that detail wrong.
Thirdly, stating the accused were not witches overlooks one niggling point. They were certainly not genuine sorcerers and most were not witches at all, but there is that core group who readily claimed to be witches without forced or extracted confession. Okay we are talking about two senile old women and persons of diminished responsibility, but if they went through the motions of curses and spell making, and identified themselves as such, then that technically makes them witches (and I speak as a Wicca myself). And referring to the collective as “The Pendle Witches” is not to demean them, it is simply a recognisable term of reference like “The Birmingham Six.”
As Barry McCann points out the article does acknowledge these were victims of political machination and prejudice, and I agree with him that all victims of the witch craft laws should be pardoned.
Jennet Device was 11 or possibly even 12 years old at the time of the trials according to her baptism record, as the month isn’t given. The Registers of Newchurch in Pendle 1574 – 1754, Vol 154, page 24 contains the baptism record of Jeneta Denis (Devis) 1600, along with those of her family and mothers marriage in 1590.
Thanks for the information Thomas, that explains where Christine got that snippet from. Assuming Jeneta Denis and Jennet Device are one and the same it seems strange that, with the existence of this evidence, the child being aged 9 in 1612 is still the accepted received wisdom. Also strange Nowell got that wrong given he would have had access to said baptism record, so what did he go on? Interesting that the month of baptism isn’t recorded which suggests the possibility it may have been recorded after the event, and how long after could be a factor. Still, it all adds to the intrigue.