Touching tribute to Paisley’s so-called witches of the 17th century is held on anniversary of hangings
ONE of the darkest chapters in Paisley’s past was revisited when a poignant ceremony took place in memory of seven people who were killed and then set on fire 300 years ago after being labelled witches.
Mystery and intrigue has long surrounded the slaying of the so-called ‘Paisley witches’ back in the 17th century.
They were strangled at the stake on the Gallow Green in the West End of Paisley and then their bodies were burned on a blazing bonfire.
Afterwards, their charred remains were buried at Maxwellton Cross at a site marked by a horseshoe and a circle of cobblestones.
Now the victims have been remembered at a special service arranged by the Paisley Development Trust and held at the Gallow Green, off Queen Street, to mark the anniversary of the deaths.
Paisley businessman Piero Pieraccini, chairman of the PDT, and local historian Les Fernie both spoke at the service, which was attended by Paisley councillor Eileen McCartin and film-maker Paul Mothersole, who previously produced The Legacy of the Glen Cinema documentary.
A wreath carrying the message ‘Pain inflicted, suffering endured, injustice done’ was also laid at the site on behalf of the people of Paisley.
Piero said: “Les gave a short story about each of the seven people who were killed. It was a gruesome event.
“Then I spoke about how Paisley folk made a mistake back then as they were led by their masters. We laid that mistake to rest by acknowledging the fact that we were wrong and that it is time to look to the future.
“The seven people were condemned, executed and sentenced by law at that time and we would like a pardon for them. We have asked Provost Celia Lawson about getting a symbolic pardon but she can’t do this because it is a legal matter.”
The alleged Paisley witches – who were simply ordinary countrymen and women who used herbal remedies and forecast the weather by studying natural phenomena such as the flight patterns of birds and the behaviour of cattle – had been found guilty of putting a spell on 11-year-old Christian Shaw, the daughter of the wealthy Laird of Bargarran.
The child, who nowadays may have been diagnosed with the attention-seeking Munchausen’s Syndrome, accused the ‘witches’ of causing her to float through the air and regurgitate bones, fur, feathers, sticks and stones.
They vigorously denied the allegations but a court consisting of local ministers, wealthy landowners and government officials found them guilty and sentenced them to death.
In accordance with the laws of the time, they were taken to the Gallow Green and executed on June 10, 1697.
The gruesome scenes included the sorry spectacle of young brothers John and James Lindsay, from Formakin Mill, near Houston, aged just 11 and 14, clutching each other’s hands as they were garrotted together.
Katherine Campbell was carried struggling and screaming to the stake, where she called down the wrath of God and the Devil on her accusers.
The other victims were Margaret Fulton, John Lindsay, Margaret Lang and Agnes Naysmith, who laid ‘a dying woman’s curse’ on all those present at the scene and their descendents.
For many years afterwards, Paisley tragedies – including the Paisley Canal disaster in 1810, which claimed 85 lives – were attributed to what many Buddies described as ‘the witches’ curse.’