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Malkin Tower: Rachel and Andrew Turner on their quest to find the witches’ house
Interview by Sue Marsden & Evangeline Atkinson
Owners Rachel and Andrew Turner, have been welcoming guests to their self-catered holiday cottages at Malkin Tower Farm since 2004. The cottages provide opportunity for escape; for families, couples, or the lone traveler to shut off from the world and enjoy the beauty of the Pendle Hill countryside.
This summer the land will become the site of an archaeological dig in the quest to reveal the actual location of Malkin Tower. Said to have been the home of alleged witch Elizabeth Southerns (popularly known as Demdyke) and her grand daughter Alizon Device, the story of Malkin Tower has captured the curiosity of locals and visitors to the Pendle area for centuries. Yet its location has been the subject of continued debate and disagreement.
On arrival at the farm we were welcomed with stunning panoramas, hot tea and the Turner family’s three wonderfully friendly Labradors before learning more about the forthcoming project.
How do you feel being part of this archaeology project?
R: Its very interesting, I’m very open minded about it
A: I think it would be very good to have a question answered. This has been going on for centuries, is it here or is it somewhere else? Put it on the map or close the book on it.
There has long been speculation around the location of Malkin Tower and your farm is named Malkin Tower farm…
A: One of the fields is called Malkin Yard and this was named well before the witches of 1612. Field names don’t change, they keep their name even though the house was probably pulled down and rebuilt.
R: We have had a lot of people come up to us very interested in our location. It hasn’t changed its name, it’s always been called Malkin Tower of some description no matter how you spell it. I think Mike has found seven different spellings. I don’t think that our house is the original house.
A: Maybe the stone from it. We know Richard Townley rebuilt it and moved in in the 1700s.
Is Mike the student who has worked on the initial stages of the project?
A: Yes, Mike Woods from UCLAN is the archaeologist who has done the geophysics. His research has indicated that there were two houses on the same site. We have his thesis and results of the tests, you can see a definite outline of a building. He has pinpointed exactly where he wants to excavate – two areas.
R: Mike is very keen and sure that they will find something.
The dig is being led by a professor from the USA so Mike’s findings must be reasonably convincing if they have persuaded the professor to bring his students all the way to Blacko.
A: There is an American archaeologist, Chuck Osar from Vanderbilt University. He’s a specialist in poverty. He was given three or four different sites and after speaking with Mike Woods has chosen the Malkin Tower project. The fact that there is a professor coming over from America shows that there is international interest not just local interest. I think that its going to be very exciting and hopefully good for the area too.
Did it come as a surprise that the mystery of Malkin Tower has international significance?
A: Not really, we have had people visit from all over the world – Norway, Belgium and Holland.
R: Yes Americans, Australians and a lot of Canadians.
When will the dig begin?
R: It starts on the 19th June to the 28th July 2018. I can’t wait for it to start. They say they are going to do it in sections.
A: They are going to do a grid survey and then dig in a section before moving on just like on Time Team.
And where will everybody stay?
R: The professor is staying with us for the duration of the project and the students will be staying down at Whitehough. They will be bussed up everyday for the dig.
Have you had people dig on the land before or come with metal detectors?
R: No metal detectors … The only people we have let on the land before were Blacko School. We let some of the pupils come because if we don’t keep them interested in it will just fade.
A: That is one of the things we have said about the project, we would like the school to come up to see what is actually happening.
It’s a great opportunity for children to engage with local history.
Yes they will be invited and if they don’t want to come that’s fine but we would like to give them the chance to be involved. We never had the chance to learn about anything like this when we were younger and I think I would have been interested.
Do you know much of the history around Malkin Tower already?
R: We don’t know the full history of it all. We know that The Diaries of Thomas Potts were the first to document a witch trial and its taking pieces out of here to try and fit the landscape. For example one of the witches came from Gisburn and it says that she rode across the moor to Malkin Tower but which moor?
A: It is an interesting bit of land with a panoramic view, any building on that land would have stood out like a tower. It’s interesting because at the time you had James I a protestant king and Lancashire which was steeped in the old catholic faith. They were raided on Good Friday which was a big mass day for the Catholics. Were the witches actually just at a mass? Were they described as witches to discredit them? We are interested in the history side of it. I think that it will be great for the area.
Are you keen to get involved with the dig yourselves?
R: Oh I’ll be there supervising it! I will be watching them in case they find something and it goes in their pocket …*laughs* no seriously we will be there living only 20 metres away. I don’t think I’ll be there on my hands and knees though, its back breaking work, but I would like to be there to see it. I think that they will be respectful and do the work.
Do you have any predictions of what they might find?
R: Mike says most of the things they find will probably be broken. We aren’t expecting anything valuable because these people were poor. if they were witches they wouldn’t have lived in fancy houses, they were poor women.
A: It’s very difficult. Just down the road they found the cat in the wall and it was all over the news that it could have been the witches house but the witches wouldn’t have had a cat in the wall. That was actually to ward off witches.
If they do find anything of significance do you know how the results will be presented?
R: At the moment we don’t know. If they find something in the field (which is a nice field) I will try and put something back there.
A: Yes if they did find something I would like to keep the ruins exposed as a place of interest.
R: We have signed to say that they can come but we do have to be careful as we do get a lot of people coming up to see where the witches lived. I don’t want to find that we are inundated with people because if that happens I will put gates at the bottom to stop people coming up. I suppose it depends on what they find
Most people’s interest in this will be sparked by the mention of witchcraft, what are you thoughts on the stories of witchcraft from this area?
A: R: We don’t think that they were witches, they were wise women.
R: Anecdotes have just been passed down through families like the old brown paper and vinegar from Jack and Jill.
A: The case of the pedlar being struck down by a child and a child’s testimony being used to hang all those people. They were different times. Today the pedlar would have been described as having a stroke. People found an explanation for something that they didn’t understand.
R: There are still witches about and books like Harry Potter have revived the interest in witchcraft. They even used the name ‘Malkin’ in Harry Potter
Does that mean you haven’t had any spooky experiences on the farm?
A: We walk in the fields at the back and don’t feel that there is anything bad. You don’t feel uncomfortable or anything, there is quite a warm feeling …the dogs don’t run away but we have had friends who believe it might be haunted. We haven’t had any problems, nothing has really happened
R: we have a lot of psychics coming up. Some bring other people to look. We don’t see anything but we do have people who say “a door shut on its own in the cottage…” I had a dreadful joiner you know … We don’t worry about witchcraft at all.
Are you concerned at all that if you find answers to these centuries old questions it will take away the mystery of it which could take away the fun of it a bit?
R: It doesn’t worry me all because if it does it does. If it is the place, it’s the place and if it isn’t then it isn’t. Some people have strong opinions about the location. You are right it could well do but I don’t think that anyone will even 100% solve the mystery.
A: No-one will ever really know what went on then.