It is an isolated hill in the Pennines, the range of hills and mountains that separates North West England from Yorkshire and North East England. It lies within the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The hill is famous for its walks and links with the Pendle witch trials and the Quakers.
The walk up Pendle Hill is rewarding. The majority of people climbing to the summit start their walk in Barley, a village to the east of the hill.
The base of the hill is around a mile from the centre of Barley. At the base visitors have the choice of reaching the top by climbing the steep ‘steps’ or taking a longer route up a more gentle ‘slope’. Our walk up Pendle Hill takes the steps and returns via the slope.
The triangulation pillar (trig point) at the top of the hill is known as the ‘Big End’. Reach it to be rewarded with superb views of Barley, the Black Moss Reservoirs, Ogden Reservoirs, Colne, and Nelson.
The walk to the top of Pendle Hill is also part of the Pendle Way. This 45-mile long distance footpath encircles the borough of Pendle. The route is circular and can be started at any point.
Pendle Witches and the Pendle Witch Trials
Pendle Hill and the surrounding area became notorious in the 17th century for the trial of the Pendle witches.
The story began in March 1612 when a pedlar from Halifax named John Law refused to give some pins to a beggar named Alison Device. After the rebuke, Alison cursed John and he immediately fell ill.
Although his sudden illness was probably coincidental stroke, the pedlar’s son brought Alison to the attention of a local magistrate, Roger Nowell.
James I was on the throne at the time. He was superstitious about witches and had even written a book on the subject; Daemonologie. The Witchcraft Act 1604 was one of the first pieces of legislation passed under his reign as King of England.
The king was also Protestant and fearful of Catholics. In 1605 Guy Fawkes and other Catholics had attempted to assassinate him in the Gunpowder Plot. To Protestants there was little difference between Catholic prayers and the curses of witches. Arresting and prosecuting witches or Catholics would have curried favour with the monarch.
Alison confessed to witchcraft. She told Nowell that she had lamed Law with the aid of a black dog that appeared to her. She also incriminated her grandmother, Elizabeth Southerns (nicknamed Old Demdike) and members of a rival family, Anne Whittle (aka Old Chattox) and Anne Redfearn.
Both families lived around Pendle Hill. They were poor and lived by begging and posing as witches in order to extract money from fearful villagers. Their willingness to confess was perhaps due to a reluctance of the rival families to admit their income was based on fallacies.
On 2 April 1612, Nowell sent Device, Southerns, Whittle, and Redfearn to Lancaster to be tried for witchcraft.
The trial of the four women might have been the end of the story. However a meeting on 10 April 1612 led to further developments.
The meeting was organised by Elizabeth Device (aka Squinting Lizzie), mother of Alison Device and daughter of Elizabeth Southerns. It was held at the family home, Malkin Tower, and attended by family and friends sympathetic to the plight of her family.
Nowell heard of the meeting and investigated. There was wild talk they were plotting to blow up Lancaster Castle and free the imprisoned women.
Although it was extremely doubtful this assembly of peasants could have pulled off such an act, Nowell took no chances. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was fresh in his mind. As a result, eight more people were accused of witchcraft and committed to trial.
Eleven of the twelve accused were sent to Lancaster to await trial. Elizabeth Southerns (Old Demdike) died in prison before the trial commenced. One was tried in York.
The Lancaster trial took place 18 – 19 August 1612. The key witness was Jennet Device, the 9 year old daughter of Elizabeth Device and sister of Alison Device. Her evidence would lead to the execution of her mother, sister, and her brother.
Nine of the ten Pendle witches that made it to trial were found guilty. They were hanged on 20 August 1612 at Gallows Hill (now the location of Williamson Park).
There were many witch trials at the time. The trial of the Pendle Witches is well known because it was fairly unusual for so many witches to be tried at once. It was also documented in an official account of the proceedings. The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster was written by Thomas Potts, clerk to the court, and published in 1613.
The story of Alice Nutter is intriguing. While most of the Pendle witches were poor, Alice Nutter was a woman of substance. It is thought she was spotted at Malkin Tower and implicated while merely on her way to a secret, and illegal, meeting of Catholics.
Alice Nutter did not give evidence at the trial. It is thought she may have kept silent to avoid revealing her real motives for being around Malkin Tower and betraying fellow Catholics. There’s a statue of Alice Nutter on Blacko Bar Road in Roughlee.
George Fox was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers.
In 1652 he climbed Pendle Hill and had a vision that led to him founding the movement. He wrote in his autobiography:
As we travelled we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered. As I went down, I found a spring of water in the side of the hill, with which I refreshed myself, having eaten or drunk but little for several days before.
Pendle Hill is a combination of the words for ‘hill’ in three different languages. In the Middle Ages the hill was called Pennehill. The name was a combination of ‘pen’, a Celtic word for ‘hill’, and ‘hyll’, the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) name.
Over the years this was corrupted to ‘Pendle’. Modern English added the suffix ‘hill’, when the origin of the name had been forgotten.
‘Pendle Hill’ is a tautology; a needless repetition of a word. It literally means ‘Hill-hill Hill’.
Pendle Hill is located in the borough of Pendle, on the eastern side of Lancashire. It is between the towns of Clitheroe, Burnley, and Colne.
Villages around Pendle Hill include Barley, Chatburn, Downham, Roughlee, and Sabden.
Pendle Hill does not have a postcode. Most walks up Pendle Hill start in the village of Barley. Users of satellite navigation systems can use the postcode BB12 9JX to reach the car park at Barley Picnic Site.