Witchcraft, Kidnapping, and the Cobbles Between

I do seem to have a habit of running up and down the medieval cobbles of Aberdeen in the name of research.

Correction Wynd

Here I am again, travelling down Correction Wynd, site of the 17th century House of Correction. But it’s not the old poorhouse/jail that I’m investigating. Not today anyway…

I pass St Nicholas Kirk, where people accused of witchcraft were held in the 16th century.


It’s time to move on from that now.


Researching and writing those times have led me to another.

Over the cobbles towards The Green, in Aberdeen

Over the cobbles I go, glancing up at the modern city above.

Archway in Correction Wynd, Aberdeen

Over the Cobbles to the Green

Through the beam of light and into the, also rather modern seeming, Green.

The Green, Aberdeen

The kidnapped children of Aberdeen were held here in the 1740s. In a barn.

Cobbles of The Green in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Passers by sometimes heard music coming from the place, as the kidnappers tried to keep the children entertained.

The Green is mentioned in Fireflies and Chocolate (out today!):

“Another barn,” notes Peter, when we are ushered into a large ramshackle wooden building. Again we find a space to sit together, among the others. Again, we are on the floor, this time an earthen one. No chairs are provided for the likes of us anywhere now it seems. “I was kept in a barn in Aberdeen,” he tells me. “Down at The Green.”

I ken The Green. I used to think it was a nice place to walk through, a space between buildings, like a city version of a forest glade.

The Tolbooth

The children were also kept in the Tolbooth at times. There are tales of desperate parents trying to break down the door to get to them. Peter Williamson, who appears in the above quote, would be held there again in later life as punishment for his book, in which he accused the town magistrates of involvement in the kidnappings. You can read a large print version in the Tolbooth museum today beside a life size cut out of Peter!

He’s not the main character in Fireflies and Chocolate though. That’s Elizabeth Manteith, who is entirely fictional. But I love her. In their press release about the book the publisher describes her like this:

Fiery and forthright, Elizabeth isn’t someone to be argued with. She knows her own mind, and isn’t afraid to speak it. Through her experiences, the reader sees her grow from a girl, into a woman with a powerful voice… a woman of her time, but very much of ours too.

The cobbles of Correction Wynd in Aberdeen, dark Kirk behind.

Those dark cobbles do take me places!

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE, inspired by the 600 children and young people who were kidnapped from Aberdeen during the 1740s and sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies, is out now. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s proper derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

Amazon UK

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Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

49 Replies to “Witchcraft, Kidnapping, and the Cobbles Between”

  1. Thank You for the wonderful article and the amazing photos …. You took me to those alleys … and a note of how some heard the music that the kidnappers tried to confiscate the children … and the photo … my jaw completely dropped in amazement, how it fit together ….. and traveling through a flash of light on photo…. a real journey through time … a very hilarious article … congratulations, Ailish,

    I will have to improve my English even more, so that I can read your book one day!

  2. Great post. I live in Lancashire right at the foot of Pendle Witch and all its appalling history. Sometimes I’ll go back and start reading up all the details and each time is more horrifying than the last at how horrendous the whole thing really was.

    More recently I discovered “The Ninth Wave” by Kate Bush and in particular the track “Waking the Witch” in which she is dreaming of being tried by a perverse witchhunter who has tied a rock to her leg in the aim of her being found guilty by the baying crowds.

    Absolutely horrifying what those women must have endured.

  3. You mean that some parents knew where their children were, but nobody helped them? That seems to be a strong indication that the town magistrates were indeed involved.
    I am looking forward to reeding it.
    I have seen so little of Aberdeen, when I passed through in 1973, just a parking place somewhere down at the waterfront.

    1. The fact they were able to utilise the town jail at all is a strong indicator against the magistrates too. I hope you enjoy the book!

  4. Great photos (although I prefer those you take in the rural outdoors). My dad, who was a brick mason, would love the designs in those cobblestones! Congratulations, by the way, on the release of your new book! I hope that it sells well and gives you great encouragement on your NEXT book!

  5. I am reading Little Immigrants by Kenneth Bagnell about those children. So incredibly sad and important to remember. Beautiful pictures.

  6. These pictures are fascinating. I ordered your book today. I will read it with your blog at hand so I can see these places as the story unfolds. your photography is beautiful.

  7. Loved your photographs, there is this sort of calming beauty to it, and the story kind of adds more mystery to the streets.
    Never seen a cobbled street… It looks cool.

  8. A fascinating thought – so valuable to read a fresh perspective. There’s a cobbled passage, right through our house – and I’d been taking it for granted.
    Even our back yard’s cobbled… Lesson learned.

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