British witches demand justice for the Bideford Three executed 300 years ago

Kunal Dutta joins Exeter coven seeking pardon  for trio executed for witchcraft 300 years ago

Under the shadow of Exeter Castle, a sea of besom brooms and black hats stretched as far as the eye can see. The smell of jasmine incense filled the air. At one point a collective cackle was heard. The Grand Witches’ Tea Party was under way.

It was in this part of Devon, during the height of England’s witch trials some 322 years ago, that three women were sent to the gallows for crimes that ultimately amounted to little more than being old and senile.

The so-called Bideford witches – Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susannah Edwards – were accused by their neighbours of casting spells, and sentenced to death. The three were killed just as the 17th-century witch-hunts came to an end in England, making theirs some of the last official public hangings in England.

The scar of that incident remains. This weekend more than 300 witches and other supporters gathered to draw attention to the plight of the Devonshire trio and campaign for a posthumous pardon.

That looked close to happening last year when the Exeter MP, and former Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, described the executions as a “stain on our history”.

But the petition gained just 426 signatories and the campaign’s momentum gradually slowed. Now campaigners are trying again.

“By getting them pardoned we are making a statement that this bigoted behaviour should not be tolerated nowadays,” explained Jackie Juno, the event’s 51-year-old co-founder, and self-confessed contemporary witch, from Bovey Tracey. “It would prove that humanity could change for the better.”

Throughout the day, the green patches of Rougemont Gardens near the castle were dotted with black-clad attendees of all ages. Rebecca Hanson, 34, from Instow, North Devon, came with her son and described herself as a follower of “Wiccan principles”.

“Misogyny is still a massive part of our culture,” she told The Independent. “It’s symbolic to get together to remember how women were being persecuted.”

A plaque at Exeter’s Rougemont Castle commemorates the 1682 Bideford witch trial A plaque at Exeter’s Rougemont Castle commemorates the 1682 Bideford witch trial

But the tea party was not just about local history. The event was designed to draw attention to the struggles faced by women the world over

Flyers for the charity Womankind were distributed alerting people to issues affecting women around the world today, including female genitalia mutilation (FGM).

A poem was read during a distinctly sombre ceremony: “I’m your mother dragged from my bed to the gallows. I am your sister, a conquest of war at gunpoint. I am your daughter, a victim online at some point.” Some ceremonial brooms went up in solidarity.

Most of the witches in attendance were keen to bury popular myths. “Spells? This is not Harry Potter,” the schoolteacher and “old ways” witch Selkie Shell told The Independent.

“It’s about intent and people having good intentions. If everyone had good intent the world would be a better place. Magic is that simple – it’s about good intent.”

Later, after the deaths of the Bideford witches were commemorated and flowers laid, the party hit a more cheery note. Tea was served and various bands played, including The Mysterious Freakshow.

Its lead singer Fay Pink is a 37-year-old “pink witch” who like many of her contemporaries intends to vote for the Green Party next year. “We are living under a government that has no idea about the people of this country, let alone those of developing countries or elsewhere,” she says.

The conversation turns to Isis and the oppression of women under the guise of Islam. “There is a real beauty around tradition – but it also is responsible for a lot of evil.

“Oppressed women are often too afraid to disrupt entrenched positions in patriarchal societies.

“But many are beginning to break through and realise that we need more women in power in society. That’s still a long way away.”

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama