Welcome to part 2 of history of Lancaster Castle. In this final instalment we cover Pendle Witch Trials, Take a brief glimpse into life at debtor’s prison, and discover what would happen to you as a child if you got caught committing an offence.
One of most famous events at Lancaster castle was Pendle Witch trials of 1612. During reign of King James I, he passed laws which forbid any act of “making a covenant with an evil spirit, hurting life or limb, injuring live stock by means of charms or procuring love”. All of these acts were subject to death penalty.
The trial was centred on two families in which five of their members were accused (Elizabeth Southern, Anne Whittle, Ann Redfern, Elizabeth Device and Alison and James Device). Another five from same locality (Jane Bulcock and her son John, Alice Grey, Alice Nutter and Katherine Hewitt) also stood accused. While awaiting trial, 80 year old Elizabeth Southern passed away in her cell.
The trial began in August of same year and was presided over by Judge Bromley and Judge Altham. Lord Gerard and Sir Richard Hoghton were in assistance.
The prisoners were deprived of any counsel and could not call witnesses. On top of original ten another ten defendants, also accused of witchcraft (The Samlesbury witches, also from Pendle along with Isobel Robey from Windle, near St Helens and Margaret Pearson, Padiham Witch) were to stand trial.
In total, 20 people stood accused and their ages ranged from 9 years old to 80 years. The evidence produced stemmed from idle gossip, false accusations and rumours.
At conclusion of three day event, Anne Whittle, Anne Redfern, Elizabeth Device, Alice Nutter, Alison and James Device, Katherine Hewitt, Jane and John Bulcock, as well as Isobel Robey were all found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on moor above Town. Margaret Pearson was sentenced to be pilloried on four successive market days at Padiham, Clitheroe, Whalley and Lancaster. Once this was carried out, Margaret was to spend a further year in prison as part of her punishment. The Samlesbury witches and Alice Grey were not found guilty and set free.
Public executions took place at Lancaster Castle right up until 1800’s at a place called Gallows Hill. The prisoners would be taken from their cells in a cart and pass along Moor lane and Moor gate. They would pause briefly at a local public house where they could take their last drink with family and friends before proceeding to gallows. People from all around north west of England would congregate out in Lancaster’s streets to watch these public hangings. After 1800 hangings were shifted from moor to a place within castles confines. It was to become known as "The Hanging Corner".
Of all executions carried out, a total of 265 in all, 43 were for murder and other crimes which included burglary, forgery, robbery and cattle stealing. 131 of these hangings were carried out by one person – Old Ned Barlow. The last person to be publicly hanged was Stephen Burke in 1865.
Between 1788 and 1868, if you found yourself lucky enough to escape hangman’s noose, you may have found yourself being transported to a new penal colony called Australia. In total 200, 000 people found themselves ship bound to face uncertainties of a hostile environment in NSW and Tasmania.