Pendle Hill lies in east Lancashire, separated from the central belt of the Pennines by the River Ribble. It takes its name from the Cumbric ‘pen’ and the old English ‘hyll’ – both meaning hill. The hill broods over a spot of great natural beauty near the towns of Burnley, Colne, and Padiham. A Bronze Age burial site was found at the hill’s summit- a testament to this remote area’s continued settlement. However, it is events in the seventeenth century that Pendle is most famous.
In 1661, local mathematician Richard Townley conducted a barometer experiment on the hill, testing the surrounding air pressure at different altitudes. But Pendle Hill’s reputation rests more with mystical events than in science. In 1652, George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, felt compelled to climb the summit of hill ‘by God.’ There, he had a vision of “a great people to be gathered.”
However, Pendle is most famous for its witches. In 1612, twelve local people, ten women, and two men were arrested, tried and executed for witchcraft. The investigation began when John Law, a peddler, accused one Alison Device of striking him down with witchcraft.
Alison, who lived in a run-down hovel, grandly known a Malkin Tower, admitted it. Her family, which included her eighty-year-old grandmother Elizabeth Southerns, known as Mother Demdike, her mother Elizabeth Device, brother James and nine-year-old sister Jennet, likewise fell under suspicion.
Alison’s family may well have regarded themselves as cunning folk. It was the only living open to them and a way of gaining some standing in life. However, now they were accused of murder. They quickly implicated a rival family: “Old Chattel,” aka Anne Whittle and her daughter Anne Redferne. The accusations soon spread to outside individuals: Jane Bulcock and her son John, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston. All were named as members of a coven- and identified by the nine-year-old Jennet Device.
The Pendle witches, as they became known may have been tried and executed at Lancaster. But their story- and some say actual spirits- haunt the area of Pendle Hill still. Every Halloween, large numbers of visitors climb Pendle Hill trying to experience a fragment of the supernatural spirit for which the area is famous. Witnesses claim to have glimpsed ghosts and spirits on Pendle Hill and its surrounding area. Whether the real ghosts of the accused witches haunt Pendle Hill is debatable. But this episode in the areas’ history certainly adds to the hill’s mystical reputation.