The History of Witchcraft Accusations in Aberdeen

leg fetters
The Steeple of St Nicholas Kirk

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.

Memorial

Cowdray Hall War Memorial and the history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

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.

Gaol!

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.

leg fetters: history of witchcraft
bars in the 17th century gaol

The 18th century record of prisoners reveals many debtors, a murder spree and one intriguing entry of unspecified ‘outrages’.

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.

door to the cells: history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

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.

church and history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

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.

archaeology: history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

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.

carved furniture as a memorial

This window depicts the history of Aberdeen. It was paid for by the oil and gas industry so those themes dominate.

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I walked down steps and cobbled streets in search of comfort, hot chocolate and books.

research

Unfortunately there’s not much comfort to be found in researching The Witchcraft Act and all that followed.

The Witch Stone

History of Witchcraft: the witch stone near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire

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

The Book

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 

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

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.

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A Dancer’s Journey – a contemporary series

A Dancer's Journey, a 3 book series by Ailish Sinclair. Dark and romantic books.

These books are so naughty that I’m a little worried nobody will be able to look me in the face again after reading them. But not that worried. They’re heading out into the world anyway.

When dance student Amalphia Treadwell embarks on a secret relationship with her charismatic new teacher, she has no idea of the danger that lurks in his school in Scotland…

See the series page here on the site for full blurbs and quotes

Series on Amazon UK

Series on Amazon worldwide

On the flat stone of Aikey Brae Stone Circle

Historical Dark and Romantic Books

My historical novels all combine little-known dark events with love stories and a hint of magic.

The historical novels of Ailish Sinclair

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Ailish Sinclair romps in the loch

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The Land Girls Gate

The Women's Land Army Memorial in Clochan, or Land Girls Gate - Ailish Sinclair, author
The Women’s Land Army Memorial in Clochan

The Land Girls Gate in Clochan is a memorial to all those that served in the Women’s Land Army during the world wars. The Army was formed in 1917, and then again in 1939 when WWII broke out. Women as young as 17 signed up for the duration of the war and took on all forms of farming and food production. The Army was eventually disbanded in 1950. There’s lots more information about the Land Girls here.

The memorial at Clochan in Moray is a joyous piece of art, paying tribute to the women who served in the Land Army throughout Scotland. Stones from various farms across the country have been incorporated into the ground around the gate. The fact that the memorial is surrounded by working farmland feels perfectly fitting too.

If you visit the Land Girls Gate on a Sunday morning, as I did, there’s a small car boot sale going on just down the road in Clochan, with pancakes and tea being served in the village hall. It’s rather lovely and feels a bit like stepping back into a simpler time.

The Land Girls Gate in Clochan, colourful farmland beyond
The Land Girls, farmland beyond

Don’t miss a single pancake or post from me…

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SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair. "Ethereal and spellbinding..." says The Historical Novel Society

Set in 1st century Scotland, 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…

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See the press release here

Read the article New Novel Highlights Roman History in North East from Grampian Online.

THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, 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. There’s 6 chapters of medieval Christmas too.

See the press release here

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Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was 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. 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!

See the publisher’s Press Release here

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“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

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