Claire Cassidy (Witches Project)
AN enthusiastic teacher is bringing history to life for schoolkids by carrying out research on the Renfrewshire Witch Hunt of 1697.
Mystery and intrigue has long surrounded the slaying of the so-called witches more than three centuries ago.
The four women and three men were strangled at the stake on the Gallow Green, just off Castle Street, in the West End of Paisley, and then had their bodies 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 cobbled stones.
They had been found guilty of putting a spell on 11-year-old Christian Shaw, who was the daughter of the wealthy Laird of Bargarran.
This summer, a new festival with re-enactments and entertainment, will take place in Paisley to commemorate those grisly events of June 10, 1697.
And Claire Cassidy, from Erskine, has created learning and teaching packs for teachers and pupils at Renfrewshire schools.
She has researched the disturbingly black period in Renfrewshire’s history and hopes her work will inspire youngsters to get excited about past events.
The Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 1697 Project, spearheaded by the Paisley Development Trust (PDT), involves schools, community groups and businesses.
Claire, who teaches history and modern studies in Glasgow, said: “I read an article in the Paisley Daily Express last summer saying the PDT was looking for volunteers and thought I would like to get involved.
“There is now a pupils’ pack, teachers’ pack and a framework for lessons for pupils in S1 to S3.”
The Paisley witches 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 and sheep.
The accusing child, who nowadays would probably have been diagnosed with the attention-seeking Munchausen’s Syndrome, accused the seven of causing her to float through the air and regurgitate bones, fur, feathers, sticks and stones.
The men and women vigorously denied the allegations but the court, which comprised local ministers, wealthy landowners and government officials, found them guilty and sentenced them to death.
Claire, who is a former pupil of Park Mains High School in Erskine, said: “It is really interesting to look into whether she was bewitched or if it was made up. The pack looks at all the possible reasons, including that she was ill.”
Claire’s packs are designed to slot in with Curriculum For Excellence and she hopes children in all secondary schools will get right into the spirit of the story.
She added: “The feedback from the schools has been positive and the next step is offering teachers further training in how to use the pack.
“The interest is clearly there and places like ACCORD Hospice, in Paisley, are going to use it.
“I think children will find it all interesting because this is history that happened on their doorstep, and there is a possible excursion for outdoor learning for them to see the sites involved.
“It was fun for me to put the packs together and it is fantastic to think I can give something back to Renfrewshire’s schools.”
The festival takes place in Paisley town centre on Saturday, June 9, from 10am until 5pm.
The town will be transported back to 1697 and everyone going along is asked to dress in historic clothes from that time.
You can find out more about the project by going online to www.thepdt.org. uk/rwh1697/ and the site also has the school resources.