Creative programme marks 400th anniversary of Lancashire Witches trials

Lancashire Witches 400 is a magical mix of walking performances, exhibitions, community workshops, talks and a poem written by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to commemorate the Lancashire Witch Trials.

Green Close Studios, based in Melling near Lancaster, was awarded its largest ever Arts Council grant of £100,000 through our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts scheme, to take an innovative and ambitious approach to the anniversary. Run by Sue and Pete Flowers, the organisation aims to regenerate rural areas by applying arts development in a rural context. Their mission is to develop a greater awareness of cultural diversity and to empower rural communities and their young people through creative project development, artistic residencies, workshops and regular collaborations with UK and international professional artists.

They have applied these aims to the Lancashire Witches 400 project which began in the spring with school sessions supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Environmental artist Sue and fine artist Pete, worked in two of the primary schools, Padiham Green and Quernmore respectively, while fellow artist Kate Eggleston-Wirtz worked with children at Brennand’s Endowed School in Slaidburn. The schools chosen were all located on the Pendle to Lancaster route said to have been taken by the Lancashire Witches on their way to be tried at Lancaster Castle in 1612.

The educational work culminated with an event at Slaidburn Village Hall on 13 July when all three schools came together to share their experiences. Art created by the children is on display at the Platform Gallery in Clitheroe until 6 October alongside that of some of the professional artists involved.

Spring also saw the launch of a series of community art workshops. Ceramacist Julie Miles led brickmaking sessions to create waymarkers for the witches walking route; photographer Veronica Caperon led Photowalks where people learned the basics of digital photography and tried it out at sites connected to the witches; and audio artist Jennifer Ford invited people to share their thoughts and stories about the witches.

Sue Flowers led workshops to produce drawings for a paper quilt of images inspired by the history of the Lancashire witches while theatre designer and artist Hilli McManus encouraged people to contribute a panel to a batik patterned quilt that will be auctioned to raise money for Stepping Stones Nigeria, a Lancaster-based charity working in Africa with children being accused of witchcraft today. The enduring issue of persecution in some modern-day societies is a cause close to the heart of Lancashire Witches 400.

The principal legacy of the project will be the creation and celebration of a new walking route from Pendle to Lancaster called the Witches Walk and supported by the Lancashire Environmental Fund.  Several organised walks along all or part of the route have taken place as part of the project and all the major performance events have been, or will be, outdoors.

In August, specialist site specific performers from the Satellite Project Team of Wrights & Sites will create a unique four-day event called Signs & Wonders. They will dress as pedlars to interact with the public at various locations in Lancaster associated with the witches. A stall will be set up in the Market Square where they will sell specially made objects and pamphlets and lead a performance walk in Newchurch at the heart of Pendle Witch Country.

In September Lancaster-based artist Louise Ann Wilson, who produced the much praised Jack Scout performance at Silverdale in 2010, will present Ghost Bird in the Bowland Forest. This inter-disciplinary, site-specific walking performance is inspired by the hen harrier, a rare bird found in Bowland.  It will become a metaphorical ‘bird’s eye view’ and meditation on the journey over Bowland Fell to Lancaster Castle that the persecuted Pendle Witches took.

Carol Ann Duffy, thePoet Laureate, has given her support to the programme by writing a piece inspired by the events of 1612. Her words will be installed along the 50-plus mile walking route as a series of stone carvings.

Lancashire Witches 400 is supported by the Arts Council England and also the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Lancashire Environmental Fund, the the Forest of Bowland AONB, Ribble Valley Borough Council, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council, and Live at LICA.

To find out more details about the Lancashire Witches 400 project visit their website.

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