Guest Blog: Catherine Cavendish – Horror Author

Today my guest is Catherine Cavendish, author of The Pendle Curse. Cat is here to tell us some of the story behind the persecution of so-called ‘witches’ in the era and location in which the novel is set.

The Samlesbury Witches

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My new novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches.

They were not alone.

At the same Lancaster Assizes, on 19th August 1612, that saw the conviction and hanging of the 10 Lancashire – Pendle – Witches, three women from the nearby village of Samlesbury were also tried.

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As with their hapless counterparts, the Samlesbury witches were in court largely as a result of the accusations and testimony of a young girl. Grace Sowerbutts, variously reported as being thirteen or fourteen years old at the time, was somewhat older than Jennet Device, but – because of her – Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley and Ellen Bierley faced the distinct possibility of conviction and hanging. Lancaster hanged more witches than any other Assizes in the whole of the UK outside of London. As with the Pendle witches, their trial was faithfully recorded by clerk of the court, Thomas Potts, who published it in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster – the book that found its way across the Atlantic to the town of Salem, Massachusetts where it proved a convenient handbook for trials there in 1692.

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The women stood accused of child murder and even cannibalism. Jane Southworth was the widow of John Southworth, eldest son of the owner of Samlesbury Hall – Sir John Southworth, a staunch Catholic who had been imprisoned on a number of occasions for refusing to renounce his faith. When Jane’s husband converted to the Protestant faith, his father disinherited him and apparently avoided Jane wherever possible, believing her to be a witch who would inevitably cause his son’s death. In fact the Southworth family was firmly split along religious lines.

Sir John died in 1595 and Jane’s husband died (of natural causes) in 1612. She had been a widow for just a few months when she was arrested – along with Jennet and Ellen Bierley – for using, “diverse devillish and wicked Arts, called Witchcrafts, Inchauntments, Charmes, and Sorceries, in and upon one Grace Sowerbutts”.

At the trial, Grace claimed that Jennet and Ellen Bierley (her grandmother and aunt) had transported her up to the top of a hayrick by her hair and ‘haunted and vexed’ her for years. They could transform themselves into dogs, she said, for which they needed the body of a baby they killed. Thomas Walshman’s baby to be precise. Grace said her aunt and grandmother had taken her to the Walshmans’ house, stolen the baby and sucked its blood. The next day, the child died and was buried in Samlesbury Church, but Ellen and Jennet dug up the body, took it home, cooked and ate part of it and used the rest to aid their fiendish shapeshifting.

Grace also claimed her aunt and grandmother attended sabbats with Jane Southworth twice weekly, at which dancing, feasting and sex with ‘foure black things, upright, and yet not like men,’ took place.

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Thomas Walshman confirmed that his child had died of unknown causes and said he had found Grace Sowerbutts collapsed in his father’s barn, a condition from which she didn’t recover until the following day.

The trial of the Samlesbury Three didn’t go as did the trials of the Pendle witches. Under questioning by the Judge, the witnesses began to quarrel with each other and eventually admitted that Grace had been ‘coached’ by a Catholic priest named Thompson. The defendants sank to their knees and begged Grace to withdraw her accusations. The Judge ordered two JPs to question her. They did so and, sure enough, Grace admitted her story was untrue. She said she had been told what to say by Jane Southworth’s uncle by marriage– Christopher Southworth, a Jesuit priest. As Jesuits were being persecuted at the time, he was in hiding. He had been chaplain at Samlesbury Hall – and probably still was, secretly. His motive in causing Grace to accuse Jane and the Bierleys appears to have been simply because of their religion.

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The judge ordered the jury to find the three women not guilty, describing Grace as ‘the perjuring tool of a Catholic priest.’

The last words on this surely belong to Thomas Potts as he concluded his account of the trial of the Samlesbury Witches:

“Thus were these poore Innocent creatures, by the great care and paines of this honourable Judge, delivered from the danger of this Conspiracie; this bloudie practise of the Priest laid open”.

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Now, here’s the blurb for The Pendle Curse:

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.

Here’s a short extract from the beginning:

His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest.

He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her.

Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child.

The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.

His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!”

She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.”

He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them.

Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw.

“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment.

Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time.

“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.”

From somewhere, he heard an echo…

You can buy The Pendle Curse here:

Samhain Publishing


Barnes and Noble


About the author

Catherine Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish – Cat to her friends – lives with her husband in a haunted 18th century building in North Wales. Fortunately for all concerned, the ghost is friendly and contents herself (she’s definitely female) with switching on lights, and attempting to discover how the TV and washing machine work (it’s a long story!).

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She is the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits In The Shadows. The Pendle Curse is her latest novel for Samhain; her first – Saving Grace Devine – was published in 2014.

Her daily walks have so far provided the inspiration for two short stories and a novella. As she says, “It’s amazing what you see down by the river, as it flows through a sleepy rural community.” Those with delicate constitutions are advised not to ask!
You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish






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