Keepsake and other stories

Lies, All Lies

by Jenny Palmer

Yes, I heard tell there were witches around the Burnley and Padiham area. Who didn’t? But I wasn’t one of them and my son John is but a boy. We confess to nothing. My husband Christopher and I were an ordinary couple just like anyone else round here, until he was taken from me during one of those cold winter months. Who knew what it was that took him? A pestilence the like of which we had never seen before. We used to make a good living. We had our oxen. We tilled the land and kept sheep. We wove our wool. There were only the three of us so we could easily manage. We were law-abiding. We went to Divine Service. My husband was a God-fearing man. He knew his Bible.

‘Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.’ Isn’t that what the Bible says?

After my dear Christopher departed from this life, it was hard for me and John. They threw us off our land. They said I had no claim to it, being a widow. They said it was my husband’s name on the copyhold agreement. What were we to do? We got by, in whatever way I could.


So, what, if I turned to begging! What is a poor woman to do? I had my child to think of. I relied on people’s generosity. They gave us what they could. Nobody had much. We lived on their scraps. Sometimes I’d walk to Burnley or Padiham, where the pickings were good. That
took up the whole day. It was there I heard rumours, the rumours about witches and such like.

After my husband died, we slept wherever we could find a roof over our heads. In summer, we would go around the fields, picking up the bits of wool that had fallen from the sheep’s backs. Wool made a good price. We could almost make a living out of that. It was the winter I dreaded most. It snowed all last winter and I got chilblains on my feet. I was only too glad when spring came. How nice it was to walk on the soft grass and to hear the birds all atwitter in the trees!

What is that you say? You accuse us of devilish and wicked acts. You say we practised witchcraft, used enchantments, sorceries and charms upon the body of Jennet Deane, that she wasted away, was consumed and eventually went mad. She was mad already, I tell you. Had been for ages. Everyone knew that. You accuse us of being at the Good Friday meeting
with that group of witches. You claim that my son John turned the spit there that roasted the mutton of a sheep that was stolen. But we were not there, I tell you.

I can remember that Friday clear as day. We’d been out doing the rounds when I saw a group of people trooping over towards Malkin Tower, the house where old mother Demdike lived. It was the usual crowd.

‘Come on,’ I said to my son John. ‘Let’s be off. They are up to no good.’

I could see it from the looks on their faces. It was only a week since the four of them, Chattox, Demdike and the other two, had been carted off to Lancaster Castle where they were being held until the trial. Everyone had heard about it. But I don’t go looking for trouble. We did not go to any meeting, either of us. And we had nothing to do with any plot to blow up the Castle, or kill any jailer or free the prisoners. That’s just talk.

We went home as soon as we saw them. The night before I had heard some scuffling sounds in the rafters of the barn we were sleeping in. I was hopeful we might find a pigeon up there or two. A pigeon would go down nicely with the ale and bread we had scavenged in the morning. What would we need to be going to any meeting for?

Yes, I knew Elizabeth Device. Who doesn’t? I’ve known her for years and her family. Why do you want to go believing what she says? Her mother, old mother Demdike, as they call her, she was one of those taken to the prison in Lancaster. Now she is a witch, if ever there was one. She was always up to no good. I saw her many a time, creeping around the graveyard at night, digging up bones, fashioning clay figures. She could spin a yarn, that one. And I heard her talking to that dog of hers. ‘Ball’ she used to call it. She thought it was a spirit, come to keep her company. How mad is that? Elizabeth, her daughter, was only after copying her mother.

Now James, that son of hers. Everyone knows he can’t think for himself. So, what if he claims we were there on Good Friday? He makes stuff up. He said the meeting was to christen a spirit. Have you ever heard of such a thing? What would he know about spirits? He wouldn’t know one if he saw one. If he was at that meeting, doesn’t that make him a witch too? He talks rubbish, he does. One time he claimed we had gone out of the house in our own shapes and likenesses had got on horseback and vanished into thin air. What cloud is he on? Where were we going to find a horse and who else’s likenesses would we be in? He’s deluded, that one.

As for Jennet, that daughter of Elizabeth’s. I’d like to give her a piece of my mind. A nine-year-old girl calling her own mother a witch. What sort of child is that? She wouldn’t know a witch if she saw one. She doesn’t know the first thing about it. They are all as bad as each other, if you ask me. They made up that story about us assisting in the murder of Mr. Lister. If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

It’s lies, I tell you, all lies. Why do you choose to believe the testimony of a nine-year-old child and that poor deluded mother and brother of hers? Me and my son John were not even at that Good Friday meeting. We know nothing about any spirits or plots. Would we be standing here today, if we did? If we were truly witches, we would have cursed you to high heaven by now and sent you to an early grave, believe me. Or failing that, we would have turned you into stone and ridden away on our broomsticks, laughing our heads off. We are innocent, I tell you. Why won’t you believe us?

An excerpt from ‘Keepsake and other stories’ available on Amazon

Despite protesting their innocence in a violent and outrageous manner, Jane Bulcock and her son John were both found guilty of witchcraft at the Lancaster Assizes on August 9th 1612 and were hanged along with the other so-called Lancashire witches.