“A Coven A Grove A Stand”: Revisiting the history of UK witch hunts
Liz Williams By Liz Williams | April 4, 2019
COLCHESTER, U. K. – The subject of witch hunts in the UK are a perennial topic of fascination to researchers and indeed reporters: the East Anglian Times this week featured the story of a 16 year old girl, tried as a witch because she was ‘too beautiful, ’ who is still said to haunt the village of Denham today. Meanwhile in Orkney, a memorial to the witches who were executed there has now been unveiled at a ceremony in March (the Wild Hunt featured a report on this last year). And a new exhibition, ‘A Coven A Grove A Stand’, from London-based artist Susan Pui San Lok, is running now at the art gallery and cultural centre of Firstsite in Colchester, not far from the scene of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins’ depredations.
So what is the background to these recent news stories and arts projects? The history of the witch trials in Britain is relatively well researched, but complicated by the loss of records – particularly in Scotland, where we have a ballpark number of some 1100 to 2500 executions, compared to 400 to 1000 in England (there is a rough consensus of 500 people killed). Only Wales has a solid figure, of 5 people killed. Unlike Europe, people accused of witchcraft in Britain were hanged or drowned rather than burned.
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