Afterword from Widdershins

I’m sharing the afterword from Widdershins for anyone who has listened to the audiobook as they may want to refer to it. (The audio book does contain the list of the people executed for witchcraft in the Newcastle witch trials.)

Drawing showing Newcastle's Castle Keep with a gallows to one side with women hanging by the neck.
Picture from Ralph Gardiner’s 1655 book, England’s Grievance Discovered, showing some of the women hanged in the Newcastle witch trials. On the right is the Scottish witchfinder receiving his pay. On the left is the bellman who went around Newcastle ringing his bell and inviting people to send out their witches. This book contains a deposition from eyewitnesses at the witch trials and executions.

This novel was inspired by the Newcastle witch trials in 1650 when either fifteen or sixteen people were executed on the same day. There is a discrepancy in the number executed. The parish burial records for St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle list fifteen women and one man buried as witches in the graveyard. However, according to John Wheeler’s deposition in Ralph Gardiner’s book, England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal-Trade (1655), fourteen women and one man were executed for witchcraft; this list does not include the name of Jane Martin. I have erred on the side of caution and included her name in the list of those executed. This particular witch trial took place after a Scottish witch-finder rounded up people from the streets of Newcastle. According to John Wheeler, the witch-finder was revealed as a fraud and one girl was set free. However, the others were still executed and the witch-finder escaped. There are no details about the freed girl or the witch-finder. So Widdershins is my imagined story of the girl who escaped the hangman’s noose. This book and its characters are a work of fiction. However, the witch trials were real, and I hope the people killed will forgive my addition of Annie Chandler to their number. Here are the names of those executed:

  • Elizabeth Anderson
  • Elizabeth Brown
  • Margaret Brown
  • Matthew Bulmer
  • Jane Copeland
  • Katherine Coulter
  • Elizabeth Dobson
  • Elianor Henderson
  • Alice Hume
  • Jane Hunter
  • Margaret Maddison
  • Jane Martin
  • Margaret Muffet
  • Mary Pots
  • Elianor Rogerson
  • Ann Watson

These names are taken from the parish register from St Andrew’s church in Newcastle. I don’t own the copyright, so I can’t share a picture of the parish records here. However, Northumberland Archives have kindly shared a picture of parish records, which you can access here.

The bodies of those executed were buried in the churchyard. (Witches were often buried near the north wall of churchyards as this was considered less holy.) During some excavation work, the bones came to the surface and were subsequently reburied. On my last visit there, the graves were not marked but the new burial place was marked with a small metal plaque, which would be easily missed.

Please see my blog for further articles about witches, witch trials and witchfinders.

Categories Audio books, witches, writingTags , , , , , , , , , , ,
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