The Witches

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The Witches 1697

In 1697, when witchcraft was against the law in Scotland, Paisley saw a famous case of witch-hunting. Christian Shaw, the ten-year-old daughter of the laird of Bargarran near Erskine, fell mysteriously ill.

Katherine had shouted curses at Christian in a fit of rage, but nowadays we do not think that Christian was bewitched. Perhaps, after their quarrel, she accused Katherine out of spite. Perhaps, afraid of witches and shocked by Katherine’s words, she believed that she had been bewitched, and the belief itself made her ill.

Whatever the explanation the men and woman she accused were tried as witches, and seven of them were found guilty. One died in prison and the others were executed on Gallow Green, at the west end of Paisley. Their remains were buried at a crossroad’s and a horseshoe set in the road; this was suppose to prevent their spirits from returning to trouble the living. The horseshoe can still be seen where Maxwellton Street crosses George Street, a reminder of an unhappy part of Paisley’s history.

313th Wreath Laying Ceremony: “Paisley Development Trust” ” Councillor Eileen McCartin ”

A POIGNANT ceremony took take place in Paisley today in memory of seven people who were killed and then set on fire 313 years ago after being labelled witches.

Mystery and intrigue has long surrounded the slaying of the so-called ‘Paisley witches’ back in the 17th century.

They were strangled at the stake on the Gallow Green in the West End of Paisley and then had their bodies burned on a blazing bonfire.

Afterwards, their charred remains were buried at Maxwellton Cross at a site marked by a horseshoe and a circle of cobblestones.

Paisley folklore at the time decreed that, so long as the horseshoe was there, the town would prosper and many people believed that, when the original horseshoe disappeared in the 1970s, that led to a period of decline for Buddies.

The mass execution at the Gallow Green was one of the darkest days in Paisley’s history.

At 1.30pm today, a wreath was laid at the site, just off Queen Street and next to Tannahill’s Cottage, in honour of the victims.

The ceremony has been organised by the Paisley Development Trust and Councillor Eileen McCartin attended the event as well as members of the public.

The alleged Paisley witches – who were simply ordinary countrymen and women who used herbal remedies and forecast the weather by studying natural phenomena such as the flight patterns of birds and the behaviour of cattle – had been found guilty of putting a spell on 11-year-old Christian Shaw, the daughter of the wealthy Laird of Bargarran.

The child, who nowadays may have been diagnosed with the attention-seeking Munchausen’s Syndrome, accused the ‘witches'; of causing her to float through the air and regurgitate bones, fur, feathers, sticks and stones.

They vigorously denied the allegations but a court consisting of local ministers, wealthy landowners and government officials found them guilty and sentenced them to death.

In accordance with the laws of the time, they were taken to the Gallow Green, just off Castle Street, and executed on June 10, 1697.

The gruesome scenes included the sorry spectacle of young brothers Thomas and James Lindsay (who were also known as Bishop and Curate), from Formakin Mill, near Houston, aged just 11 and 14, clutching each other’s hands as they were garrotted together. (This has since been found out to be untrue and the two brothers had not been executed, probably another fate ensued)

Katherine Campbell was carried struggling and screaming to the stake, where she called down the wrath of God and the Devil on her accusers.

The other victims were Margaret Fulton, John Lindsay, Margaret Lang and Agnes Naysmith, who laid ‘a dying woman’s curse’ on all those present at the scene and their descendents.

For many years afterwards, Paisley tragedies – including the Paisley Canal disaster in 1810, which claimed 85 lives – were attributed to what many Buddies described as ‘the witches’ curse’.