Travelling home after watching Burnley’s opening match against Bolton last Saturday I looked over towards Pendle Hill to see this impressive yet chilling sight. The numbers mark the date of the trial and execution of ten women branded as the “Pendle Witches”, created as an art installation using horticultural fleece. The results are very impressive. Summarily tried on the evidence of hearsay and superstition, the lives of these women were taken without contemporary protest or outrage. This lack of concern has modern echoes. In 1998 Jack Straw the MP for neighbouring Blackburn and then Home Secretary refused pleas for pardon for the executed women from petitioners stating that the convictions should stand. How very noble of him!
The Bishop of Burnley the Rt Rev John Goddard has spoken out against the artwork saying it celebrates the date of these “unjust” and “oppressive” trials. Good for him – in one respect. He’s right about the trials of course, but, methinks he’s wrong about the artwork. The installation is a brave and worthy idea that, for me, simply highlights the date of the trials in a very clear dramatic manner. And so it should. We ought to have this date and what it represents imprinted on our national psyche – we who are so quick to condemn other cultures for their acts of religious persecution.
Seven hundred and fifty people walked up Pendle Hill and raised an awful lot of money for the marvellous Pendleside Hospice to draw attention to these dreadful events four hundred years ago. Good for them. Let’s never forget this date:-