17th century Pendle Witch’s Cottage with a bricked-in mummified cat at Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Dark traces of England’s most notorious campaign against witches appear to have been unearthed by water engineers engaged in improvements to a Pennine reservoir at Pendle Hill.

A buried 17th century cottage with a sealed room and a mummified cat bricked up in a wall has been discovered in the heart of the “witching country” of Pendle in Lancashire. Historians are now speculating that the well-preserved cottage could have belonged to one of the infamous Pendle Witches. The practice of walling up a cat, with the animal sometimes still alive, is known to have been a medieval precaution against evil spirits. The tradition survived into later centuries in remote areas such as the high Pennines.

The site is close to the supposed location of Malkin Tower, a ruin whose name echoes the spectral witches’ cat Graymalkin in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Three wizards and 17 witches were supposed to have plotted at Malkin Tower to blow up Lancaster Castle in 1612, to free an 85-year-old woman and her daughter accused of selling themselves to the devil.

The Lancaster Witch Trials were held at Lancaster Castle in August 1612. Ten people were found guilty and hanged; one died while awaiting trial and one was found not guilty. The trials were made famous by the publication of The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (1612-1618) by Thomas Potts, a clerk of court.

History has never decided whether there was a genuine occult conspiracy or if unfortunate village herbalists were persecuted for religious reasons or because of personal vendettas.

Thomas Pott’s book is available to read free online:

Discovery of Witches 1612-1618 by Thomas Potts