Aberdeen has quite a brutal history of witchcraft accusations, and other dark events such as mass kidnappings. This post details the start of my research in those areas.
Aberdeen’s Cowdray Hall doubles as a war memorial and a venue for classical concerts, and it’s where I started my wee tour of the city on this day.
Leaving grand places behind, I journeyed on to the Tolbooth Museum, a 17th and 18th century gaol. Unlike the pristine war memorial, the prison exhibits the dark nature of its origin for all to see. The small cells are stifling and scary. They smell stale. There are a few of those terrifying pretend people; some of them talk, regaling you with tales of their mistreatment.
The 18th century record of prisoners reveals many debtors, a murder spree and one intriguing entry of unspecified ‘outrages’.
History of Witchcraft Accusations
An interesting fact gleaned behind the bars and bolts and padlocks of the jail was that people accused of witchcraft were once imprisoned in the steeple of St. Nicholas Kirk. Out the door I went.
The present day kirk is serene and beautiful and open to visitors in the afternoons. The steeple sits just above the part pictured below. It’s not the same one that was used as a prison in the 16th century, but it is situated in exactly the same place.
Those boards on the left display a detailed history of the church, but there was no mention of witchcraft.
There was an excavation happening in the east part of the building. Lots of skeletons were uncovered along with a metal ring that ‘witches’ were once tied to.
The 12th century St. John’s Chapel houses a memorial to those killed in the Piper Alpha oil disaster. These amazing chairs are part of it. They sit right underneath the steeple.
This window depicts the history of Aberdeen. It was paid for by the oil and gas industry so those themes dominate.
I walked down steps and cobbled streets in search of comfort, hot chocolate and books.
Unfortunately there’s not much comfort to be found in researching The Witchcraft Act and all that followed.
The Witch Stone
It is said that witches were tied to the witch stone near Fraserburgh, and burnt. The landowner questions whether this was the case as no documentation exists on the subject. But such evidence was often destroyed, or omitted from written history. After the burnings and ‘dookings’ and other well specified outrages by church and state had ended, people were ashamed. And rightly so. But where’s the memorial in that?
Memorial through Dance
70 years since D-Day, BalletBoyz pay tribute to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives with a specially commissioned short film for Channel 4:
More Witch-Related Posts
- Walking the Witchy Ways of Aberdeen
- Wild Violets Round the Witch Stone
- A Map of Witches and Some Autumn Beauty
- My Witchy Debut Novel is Published
- Apology for Scotland’s Witchcraft Trials and an Anniversary
The book that eventually sprang from all this is out in both paperback and Kindle now.
Article in the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland
Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.
My Other Books
Set in 1st century Scotland, my latest novel, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance!
See the press release here
“Ethereal and spellbinding….” Historical Novel Society
Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.
FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!
See the publisher’s Press Release here
Review from the Historical Novel Society
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