Poet Laureate writes poem to mark 400th anniversary of Pendle Witch trials

Carol Ann Duffy
Carol Ann Duffy

A POIGNANT verse commemorating the 400th anniversary of the trials of the Lancashire Witches has been penned by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

And rather than being published in a book where few people may get the opportunity to see it, the verse is to appear on the route of the Lancashire Witches Walk from Pendle to Lancaster.

Walkers can get a taste of what the 10 men and women who were executed as witches in August 1612 felt as they trekked to their trial and death.

The poem was commissioned by North Lancashire-based arts organisation Green Close as part of their programme of artistic events to mark the witches’ anniversary this summer.

The poem mileposts, 30 carved brick waymarkers, signposts and a booklet about the footpath will be ready in the autumn when there are guided walks planned. Manchester-based textural artist Stephen Raw is creating the ten mileposts and each will feature the full poem, the name of one of the ‘witches’ and a verse in specially designed letters so a rubbing can be taken.

In writing the poem, “The Lancashire Witches,’’ Duffy said she was inspired by “the echoes of under-privilege and hostility to the poor, the outsider, the desperate, which are audible still.’’

The footpath from Pendle to Lancaster traverses the beautiful Bowland Fells, valleys, fields and moorland with stunning views over the remote Lancashire landscape, skirting around the famous Pendle Hill where the ‘witches’ lived.

The footpath was the brainchild of Sue Flowers, artistic director of Green Close in the Lune Valley. Working with the Ramblers’ Association, Long Distance Walkers’ Association and council and countryside services, the sustainable footpath has been created within 12 months and is funded by Arts Council England, Lancashire Environmental Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Sue said: “There’s been a real momentum with this project. It’s an incredible landscape. This walk is about connecting communities across Lancashire and connecting ourselves to history and a sense of place, people have really related to that,”

In addition Green Close has commissioned nationally renowned site-specific performers, who will also add their own magic to the commemorations.

Here is a taster of “The Lancashire Witches.’’

By superstition, ignorance.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Witch: female, cunning, manless, old,

daughter of such, of evil faith;

in the murk of Pendle Hill, a crone.

Heavy storm-clouds here, ill-will brewed,

over fields, fells, farms, blighted woods.

On the wind’s breath, curse of crow and rook.