Scotland's Year of Stories Project: The Calder Witch Hunt

The Calder witch hunt started in December 1643 and lasted about 18 months. At Calder all of the people who were accused of witchcraft were women. At least five of them were executed: Helen Stewart, Jonet Bruce, Agnes Bischope, Agnes Vassie and Marion Gibsone. We know that people at Calder were kept in stocks, made to wear sackcloth, were sleep deprived (Margret Thomsone was kept awake for 26 days), and beaten. They were also forced to name other people as witches.

In 1644 the minister, Hew Kennedie, wrote to the minister at Carnwath to say that a woman from Calder had named women from Carnwath as witches. This led to the execution of at least four women: Katherin Shaw, Margaret Reid, Jeane Lachlane and Margaret Watson. The Calder kirk session also aided South Leith parish in trying to track down women who had escaped custody there and fled to Calder.

Videos telling the stories of these persecuted women were told to camera by local residents as part of this project, in addition to local trails and maps created to help people understand the history of witchcraft prosecutions in Scotland. You can watch the stories here:

The stories of accused witches from across West Lothian were displayed at various locations during the run of the project - at the Kirk of Calder, East Calder Partnership Centre, Linlithgow Museum, the Wee Museum of Memory and The Centre Livingston.

This event was supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. This fund was delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.

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