On the morning of Thursday 29 June 1682, a magpie came tapping at the window of a prosperous Devon merchant. Within hours, his household had convinced itself that the bird was an emissary of the devil sent by witches to destroy their lives. As the result of these allegations, three old beggar women from Bideford – Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards, and Mary Trembles - came to be identified as witches and a full-scale witch hunt shook the town. A Secretary of State brushed aside their case and condemned them to hang, as the last group of women to be executed for the crime in English history. Yet, the hatred of their neighbours endured. For Bideford, it was said, remained a place of witches.
Ignored, reviled, and extinguished but never more than half-forgotten, the memory of these three women - their deeds and sufferings, both real and imagined – has been transformed from hatred to regret, and from regret into celebration. The horror of their judicial murder was discussed in the Parliamentary debates that saw the last of the witchcraft acts repealed, while their names were chanted, as both inspiration and incantation, by women far beyond the wire at Greenham Common.
In this talk, Dr John Callow explores this remarkable reversal of fate, and the tale of want, sorcery and savage persecution that created the Bideford Witches.
You can purchase Dr Callow's book through our online store.