The Pendle witches were a group of people in Lancashire, north-west England, who were hanged for using witchcraft in the seventeenth century. Recently, the remains of a seventeenth century house which may be linked to the witches was found in Pendle Hill.
Michelle: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Michelle and joining me today is Neil.
Neil: Hello there.
Michelle: Now it may be well past Halloween but our topic today is a tale of the strange and supernatural. We’re talking about witches.
But before we start on our mysterious journey, I’ve got a quiz question for you Neil. Are you ready?
Neil: Yes come on then.
Michelle: How many people across Europe do you think were executed for witchcraft – that’s the practice of magic – between the years 1500 and 1800?
Was it: a) 10,000 people
b) 20,000 people
c) 50,000 people
Neil: Well, you’d hope it was none of them really – that sounds awful to be executed for making magic. But let’s go with a) 10,000 because I hope it’s nobody really.
Michelle: OK, well you’ll find out the answer at the end of the programme. Our scene is set in Pendle Hill in the north-west of England. Engineers doing maintenance work there were extremely surprised to find the remains of a seventeenth century house, which some people believe may be linked to a group of witches.
Neil: Yes, the Pendle witches were a group of people who were famously tried for murder for witchcraft in the seventeenth century. Ten of them were found guilty and they were hanged.
Michelle: So Pendle Hill has strong links with witchcraft and folklore. And the history of the area remains a tourist attraction today.
Neil: There’s even a special traffic sign warning witches not to fly low on their broomsticks or any faster than 30 miles per hour!
Michelle: And now some people think that the hidden cottage discovered by engineers may have belonged to one of the Pendle witches.
Neil: But what’s the real story behind these people who were so treated unfairly – or persecuted – for being witches?
Michelle: Let’s listen to local tourist guide Simon Entwistle talking about the story behind the Pendle witches. What does he say was their real crime?
Simon Entwistle, tourist guide
Their only crime in life was to be poor really, and they would beg off local people. And if local people wouldn’t cough up any money, they would curse them and some of them actually believed they did in fact have witches’ powers.
BBC reporter: Ten villagers were hanged. Simon believes the house just dug up is where they’d met.
Simon Entwistle: For a historian tour guide like me, it’s like finding Tutankhamen’s tomb, it’s of such great significance.
Michelle: So did you catch what he said the witches’ only real crime was?
Neil: Yes. He said their only real crime was to be poor.
Michelle: So it’s a really sad story really isn’t it?
Neil: The so-called witches may have begged people for money. And then if people didn’t give them any, they would curse them. This means to use supernatural powers to hurt someone.
Michelle: Tourist guide Simon Entwistle said they would curse local people if they wouldn’t ‘cough up any money’. To cough up is a way of saying to produce something, normally money.
Neil: But he certainly sounds very excited about the discovery of what could be a witches’ house. He even says that to him, it’s like finding Tutankhamen’s tomb!
Michelle: And he might be right, because when an archaeologist was brought in, he found the bones of a cat which had apparently been mummified.
Neil: Mummification is a way the ancient Egyptians preserved a person’s, or in this case animal’s body, after they had died.
Michelle: And even more strangely, the mummified cat was found hidden in one of the walls of the house.
Neil: And of course witches are often associated with magical animals, especially cats.
Michelle: Let’s hear from archaeologist Frank Giecco. Does he think that the evidence points to a witch having lived in the house centuries ago?
Frank Giecco, Archaeologist
So here’s the cat, in all its glory.
BBC reporter: When an archaeologist was brought in, he found the remains of a mummified cat sealed into a wall.
How old is that?
Well the hallway was blocked about two hundred years ago, judging by the bricks in it. The building’s definitely going back to the 17th Century so that fits in with the period. But we’ve got no evidence to actually concrete connect this up with the witches; that’s just a stab in the dark.
Michelle: So what do you think Neil? Does it sound like there’s much evidence for the cottage having belonged to witches?
Neil: Well, he said there’s no real evidence connecting the house to witches. But he did say that the building goes all the way back to the seventeenth century, which is around the time of the witches’ trial in Pendle Hill. And of course there’s that mummified cat found hidden in a wall. Very strange!
Michelle: It all sounds very intriguing doesn’t it? But you’re right, the archaeologist thinks there’s no real evidence connecting the house to the Pendle witches. And he uses an interesting expression. He says it’s a stab in the dark, meaning it’s a guess or speculation.
Neil: But whether the new discovery is connected to witches or not, Pendle Hill still has an eerie story to tell.
Michelle: Absolutely. Now Neil it’s time to find out if you got your quiz question right. I asked you how many people across Europe were executed for witchcraft between 1500 and 1800? And what was your answer?
Neil: I said a) 10,000.
Michelle: Well, I can tell you that unfortunately you were wrong. The answer is c) 50,000 people, which is quite shocking really.
Neil: That’s awful! 50,000!
Michelle: Could you remind us of today’s words please Neil?
Neil: We had:
tried for murder
to cough up
a stab in the dark
Michelle: Thanks very much Neil. And thank you for listening. Bye.
Vocabulary and definitions
supernatural – unexplainable or abnormal. Often used in reference to ghostly or magical events
witchcraft – the practice of magic
tried for murder – accused of murder and taken to trial in court
folklore – traditional stories or myths passed down through generations
persecuted – treated unfairly or victimised
to curse – verb meaning to use a supernatural power to hurt someone
to cough up – to produce something, usually money
a stab in the dark – a wild guess
eerie – adjective meaning creepy, strange or frightening
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