Members of Newcastle Common Council in 1649

As part of my research into the 1650 Newcastle witch trials, ahead of writing my historical novels, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise, I’ve tried to uncover the name of the Scottish witchfinder employed by the Newcastle Common Council to rid the town of its witches.

While I haven’t yet managed to uncover the name of the witchfinder, I can reveal the names of the 36 members of Newcastle Common Council who most likely sent for the Scottish witchfinder.

Newcastle witch trials 21 August 1650. The picture is from Ralph Gardiner’s 1655 book, England’s Grievance Discovered, which also contains a deposition from eyewitnesses at the trial and execution. The picture shows the Scottish witchfinder on the right receiving his pay and on the left is the bellman, who rode around Newcastle, inviting people to bring out their witches.

I’ve not managed to visit any archives since the emergence of Covid-19, but I finally managed to go last week – rather ominously, it was Friday the thirteenth of August, but so far, I’ve lived to tell the tale, thanks to the strenuous efforts of the staff at Tyne and Wear Archives to make everything as safe as possible.*

As usual, the staff at Tyne and Wear Archives were very helpful, and with many thanks to them, I was able to read the Quarter Sessions Books, the Chamberlain’s Accounts and the Common Council Books for 1649/50. It was a real privilege to handle these documents from almost four hundred years ago. Unsurprisingly, they are extremely fragile and required very careful handling. Below is the list of names of the 36 members of Newcastle’s Common Council.

Newcastle Common Council 1649
Christopher EllisonPeter Burrell
Christopher Nicholson (sheriff, 1645)Peter Sanderson (sheriff, 1651)
Francis GrayPhineas Allen Junior
George CarrRichard March
George Dawson (mayor, 1657)Richard Readhead
Henry BarrasRobert Plumpton
Henry Dawson (mayor, 1646)Robert Shafto
Henry Rawling (mayor, 1656; sheriff, 1646)Robert Young (sheriff, 1647)
Henry WallRoger Halton
Henry WarmouthSamuell Rawling (sheriff)
John Hall SeniorThomas Bonner (mayor, 1651)
John HancockThomas Errington
John Lodge (sheriff, 1650)Thomas Ledgard
John SpurneThomas Smith
Joseph TulleyThomas Stobbs
Leonard CarrThomas Wilson
Mark MillbankTimothy Bonner (clerk, 1657)
Matthewe KirkleyWilliam Dawson (mayor)

As you can see, recruiting a fraudulent witchfinder which led to the killing of 16 innocent people didn’t have a negative effect on any of these members’ political careers, with many of them going on to hold high office after the trials. (And one of Robert Shafto’s descendants went on to the House of Commons and is the subject of the famous north east song, Bobby Shafto.)

It was quite chilling to see the names of those who commissioned the witchfinder, which resulted in the execution of fifteen women and one man for witchcraft. Following a petition from the Newcastle people, which was read out to the Common Council on 26 March 1649, the Newcastle councillors gave thanks to the townspeople and sent to Scotland for a witchfinder. While that council bears ultimate responsibility for what happened almost four hundred years ago, perhaps 371 years later, the current members of Newcastle City Council could begin to make amends to the Newcastle 16 by granting an official pardon.

People executed for witchcraft at the Newcastle Witch Trials
Elizabeth AndersonAlice Hume
Elizabeth BrownJane Hunter
Margaret BrownMargaret Maddison
Matthew BulmerJane Martin
Jane CopelandMargaret Muffet
Katherine CoulterMary Pots
Elizabeth DobsonElianor Rogerson
Elianor HendersonAnn Watson

*At the time of writing, visits to the Tyne and Wear Archives are by appointment only. Documents need to be booked at least seven days in advance so they can be quarantined. All visitors were wearing masks and there were perspex screens to keep visitors apart. All documents are quarantined afterwards and document rests etc are sent for cleaning.

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