Daughters of Pendle
The musical Daughters of Pendle is based on a series of events which took place in the forest of Pendle in the year 1612.
On 18th March, Alizon Device was begging on the road to Trawden, near Colne. She met John Law, a pedlar, and asked him for some pins. He refused to give her the pins and she became angry with him. He had no sooner parted from her that he fell to the ground lame. Shortly after this, she her immediate family and some neighbours were arrested and questioned by Roger Nowell, the local magistrate and squire. Alizon, Demdike (her grandmother) and Chattox (a neighbour) were sent to Lancaster to await trial on a charge of witchcraft. On 10th April, Good Friday, a group of people, many known to be relatives and neighbours of those arrested, met at Malkin Tower, the home of Alizon Device and her family. On 27th April, all those present at Malkin Tower on that day were arrested and questioned by Roger Nowell and other local magistrates. On August 18th and 19th, all were tried at the Assizes in Lancaster. On 20th August, ten, having been found guilty, were taken from the castle and hanged.
These are the basic facts. The account of the trials given by Thomas Potts, however, contains isolated details, such as the fact that John Nutter of Bull Hole Farm asked Demdike to “mend” a sick cow, which subsequently died. Using details such as this and remembering the times and the place in which these people lived, it is possible to deduce much more about them. The area in which they lived (on the north east side of Pendle) is a harsh environment even today, in sharp contrast to the rich agricultural land of the Ribble Valley on the other side of the hill. In those days, to eke out a livelihood there must have been hard indeed. Moreover, most of the people involved were clearly destitute. The Device family certainly had neither land nor animals. They did not even have an able-bodied male who could have earned a small wage by labouring. Their only hope would have been James but unfortunately, he was a half-wit. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Alizon was begging on that fateful day in 1612. Begging must have been their chief means of support.
Their only other potential for income must have been the herbal knowledge of the old woman, no doubt handed down to the younger members of the families. Not long ago, there were still many old country people who had knowledge of the healing and harming properties of the plants that grew in their area. Indeed, there is now revival of interest in these properties even among established medical practitioners. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in Pendle in 1612, there should have been old people who were very experienced in the uses of the local plants. It is also hardly surprising that even relatively well-off people such as John Nutter should have consulted them, since at that time doctors and vets were rare, expensive and ignorant.
It was in such a setting that the events of “Daughters of Pendle” took place. In writing the musical, we have tried to be true to the facts recorded by Potts but we have also tried to present these facts in a sympathetic way, hoping to reach some understanding of what life must have been like for these real people living in such terrible poverty in a world full of ignorance and superstition.
Alice Nutter, Demdyke, Chattox, John Nutter, James Devize, Elizabeth Devize, Alizon Devize, Jennett Devize
Pedlar, Henry Hargreaves, Judge, Jury, The People of Pendle.
Piano Vocal Score: in preparation.
Stage Band Score and Parts: in preparation
DVD and Archive CD of the live performance by St Augustine's RC High School, Billington, Lancashire are available on request.