It is clear that in the past there was a strong belief in the power of witchcraft, evidence of which can be viewed on old buildings throughout the county.
The famous Eye of God carved into the tower at Newchurch near Pendle Hill was said to keep evil at bay and similar symbols can be seen in ancient houses in the area. At a cottage in Rawtenstall is a witch�s post designed to stop evil coming down the chimney.
This pamphlet tells some of these stories.
The Witch of the Fylde
At the graveyard in Woodplumpton by the Ribble is the grave of a woman, Meg Shelton ‘The Witch of the Fylde’ whose body was found crushed between a barrel and a wall in the early 18th Century.There are many stories of this mischievous individual, the most bizarre being that she kept rising from the grave! Three times the townsfolk buried her but each time she scratched her way to the surface. Eventually it was decided that she should be buried face down and that a great granite slab be placed over her grave. This seemed to work as she was never seen again, although in the 1920’s a young boy said that he had seen a woman dressed in ‘funny’ clothes wandering in the graveyard.
Many of the stories associated with Meg tell of her ability to change her appearance and how she would use this ability to cause mischief and steal from the local farmers. On one occasion a farmer became suspicious when he discovered that he had more sacks of corn piled up than there should have been. He grabbed a pitchfork and began to prod the sacks. Suddenly one of the sacks let out a scream and turned into Meg.
On another occasion a farmer looking into one of his fields where he kept his cows saw an old woman with a goose which was feeding on the grass. He thought nothing of it until he noticed that from the goose�s bill was dripping a white liquid. He rushed into the field and kicked the goose at which point it shattered into a thousand pieces spraying milk everywhere. Meg had been stealing milk and had turned her jug into a goose to fool the farmer. Meg screeched with rage and flew off.
One day a farmer saw a hare in one of his fields and set his great black dog after it. The hare moved like the wind but the dog was even faster and a desperate race ensued. Gradually the great black dog moved closer and closer but mysteriously the hare headed straight for Meg’s cottage and escaped through the front door but just at the last moment the dog managed to nip one of its hind legs. From that time on it was said that Meg walked with a pronounced limp!
The Dun Cow and the Longridge Witch
On the road from Whittingham to Longridge is a 17th Century stone house over the front door of which is a curious bow shaped object long associated with an evil witch.
Centuries ago there was a long hot drought and the countryfolk of the area struggled to survive. The fields grew brown and the wells began to dry up but one kind farmer did his best to alleviate the sufferings of his neighbours. He owned a huge dun cow that he allowed to wander freely so that any in need could take its milk.
The Longridge Witch heard of this generosity and decided to put an end to it so one morning she arose before anyone else, found the cow and proceeded to milk it to exhaustion, at which point the poor beast died – much to the delight of the old hag and the sorrow of everyone else.
The skeleton of the cow was preserved and one of its huge ribs was placed above the doorway of the house where it remains to this day.
Peg o’Nell and the Witch of Wado Hall
Many areas of Lancashire have legends associated with the rivers that run through County. They relate to the belief in demons who lived there and probably originated with the gods of the Brigantes, the Celtic tribe who worshipped them long ago.
One such story is of Peg o’Nell who is said to live under the Ribble bridge near Clitheroe.
Long ago an ugly witch lived at Wado Hall with a young servant girl of whom the old crone became more and more jealous as it became clear that she was growing into a beautiful young woman. One day the witch sent her servant to fetch water from the Ribble and as she left she concocted a terrible spell in which she caused the young girl to slip and fall into the water where she drowned.
The spirit of this poor girl is said to haunt the Ribble and she demands a terrible vengeance on any mortals who cross her path. It is said that every seven years she seeks a human life and any soul unwary enough to get too close to the river at this time will be dragged into the water to join Peg o’Nell.
There is a similar story referring to Ginny Greenteeth who is said to live in the Conder in north west Lancashire.
Remedies to the power of Witches
Although it is easy to scoff at these old legends today we are still surrounded by ideas that are based on superstition and folklore. Who among us likes to walk under ladders if they can help it and the number 13 is looked on with such trepidation that it is not unusual for hotels not to use it.
The act of tapping wood for good luck is a very ancient belief. Black cats were also believed to be familiars of witches.
So if you think someone has given you the evil eye, here are some remedies: –
If you are bewitched, a cross made from rowan twigs is said to be effective
- A lump of metal, such as an old key or sickle, put under the threshold stone or a broom laid across the doorway will keep evil at bay
- Horseshoes nailed onto doors keep the luck in
- Stones with holes in them, called hag stones or hex-stones, are very good when hung up at keeping out witches or devil-doings
- In old houses have been found glass jars filled with bent nails. These were designed not only to ward off spells but to return the evil to those who had sent it
- If this doesn’t work try salt. The purifying properties of salt are renown for destroying a witch’s power
- Don’t forget to crumple old eggshells to prevent witches using them as boats or hiding in them
…sounding church bells is a sure way to stop witches flying on their broomsticks.