Pittenweem say “no” to witch memorial


A SCOTTISH village has voted against creating the country’s first official memorial to witches tortured and killed by vengeful mobs.

The 1,600 citizens of Pitenweem in Fife, took part in a controversial referendum last month on whether they wanted a memorial and where it should be built.

But after the community delivered a 50-50 split result, the community council has decided they will not be supporting the monument.

This woodcutting shows a Scottish witch-hunt in progress.


A leading supporter of the memorial has called the council’s decision “pathetic,” and described the vote result as a “complete joke”.

At least 26 “witches” were tortured and 18 of them killed in the picturesque fishing village in the early 18th Century.

Sandy Guthrie, community council chairman, said: “The opinion in Pittenweem is completely divided half and half and so we are not supporting it.

“If there had been an overwhelming support then we would have gone ahead but as far as the council is concerned it will have to be done privately and without our support.

“I was expecting the vote to be quite divided, but as there was no positive reaction then we have gone down that road,” he added.

The local council had written to every adult in the community asking if they agreed in principle with the plan to build memorial.

The campaign to build the country’s first witch monument was spear-headed by local historian Leonard Low, author of the Weem Witch.

Low, whose family have lived for generations in Pittenweem, had proposed the memorial be built at the village’s West Brae, in memory of 26 local victims who was falsely accused of witchcraft.

During the witch trials at Pittenweem, sixteen of the accused were burnt at the stake, and one died during torture.

The most notorious witch killing was that of Janet Cornfoot.

Sir Sean Connery’s ancestors were reportedly among the lynch mob that tortured and killed her in 1705.

After she was accused of witchcraft, Cornfoot was swung from a rope, stoned, and then crushed under a heavy door piled high with boulders.

To make quite certain she was dead, a horse and cart was repeatedly driven over her body and her remains buried in the area called West Braes.

Mr Low today called the community council’s decision not to honour the Pittenweem witches  “pathetic”.

He said: “Even though I knew in my heart that it would fail, I am still very disappointed.

“The Pittenween community council say they are scared of getting a bad image, but they had the chance to put themselves on the map, as the place with the first official apology to witches in the UK.

“To say there was a 50-50 split is a complete joke. The decision will have come down to the church and they are not budging on it. I actually think it’s pathetic.

“In Salem they had the exact same scenario but the church backed a motion to build a memorial, and it has become a massive tourist attraction, bringing in millions of pounds a year.

“I have received a lot of support for the monument and even though it is very disappointing result, I think the fact that it came this far, after 300 years, and has got people talking, is a success,” he added.


  1. Excuse me, but there is already a long standing memorial to those killed by “witchhunters”, in the Esplanad of Edinburgh Castle. This failed referendum would not have initiated the first.

    • Long standing memorial?……Its a biscuit tin lid, at knee height, funded privately by a relation of the Witches murdered here.

  2. Some “people” still claim the Holocaust was a hoax. For shame. Those people were tortured and persecuted by decree of the church. A memorial is the least they deserve. If it were up to me, I’d demand reparation to their descendants as well.

  3. In Paisley there is a roundel in the cross roads at Maxwellton St/ Canal St.commemmorating 7 people who were put to death accused of being witches on10th June 1697

    • Theses were the Bargarren Witches, a young girl, Christian accused her maids as Witches, it ended up in 7 burnings and a suicide, then the girl admitted she only made the whole thing up because a maid scolded her., This story of the Bargarren case was told to a young boy in Pittenweem called “Patrick Morton” by a Minister, he would create the exact accusations as Christian,resulting in the 1704-5 Witch hunt in Pittenweem within 10 jailed and two killed, and the others hounded to death……I cover the basics of the Balgarren case in my book “the Weem Witch” but an In depth look at what went on in Balgarren can be read in the excellent book ..1567 Scottish Witch hunt, by “Isobel Adam..( spookily Isobel Adam was the name of one of the Pittenweem Witches of the 1704-5 case)

  4. Scotland has both a strong pagan past and a powerful orthodox heritage and they are not going to find peace quickly. I personally think it is a victory for the matter to have even been pursued openly, and am quite sure that it is only a matter of time before calcified old positions give way to a new spirit of reconciliation between camps.

    • My thoughts entirely, Im a much hated man for even getting this far ! Im watching out for an Albino monk stalking me…… (Divinci code style)

  5. They have a memorial in Salem,Mass. So,why not in Pittenweem? The christian churches are fading away.I’m sad that ‘Atheists’ are growing in numbers.These people have forgotten their ‘Pagan’ heritage.Not forgotten by choice,yet through torture and death.I hope that people begin to rediscover their heathen roots and work towards improving the environment and reducing pollution.

  6. The memorial in Edinburgh like the Stone in Dornoch for Janet Horne, and the stone cross in Perth for Maggie wall were all Privately funded, something I will have to do in Pittenweem if the Witches are to be remembered. When we have the religious Martyrs monument in St Andrews ,Which is massive, getting a further £130,000 spent on it. How does the councils find funds for Ministers monuments, and not the poor victims that were murdered in their thousands by ministers? I was looking at a small monument costing £20,000…..yet they find £130,000 for a monument that already exists?

  7. I can think only of the words of George Santayana, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What a shame the Fife Council and residents of Pittenweem are determined to remain so short-sighted.

    Visited often, I find Pittenweem to be a beautiful little village steeped in history and intrigue. My children and I have routinely spent our summer holidays in the East Neuk. We always find ourselves taking day trips to Pittenweem. We love its history and architecture. Upon returning from the Isle of Mae, we were thrilled to discover the Pittenweem cave used by the Augustine monks.

    As you have taken such lengths to preserve this rich religious history, so should you take care to preserve the history of those persecuted by that same religion. It is your heritage, your responsibility to educate future generations. Lest we forget, we must all own our histories, taking responsibility to ensure we learn from that past and avoid repeating these same mistakes.

    Not only is it morally reprehensible to ignore this part of the village’s past and refuse to pay homage to those who suffered, but it is also economically short-sighted. A monument and witch-related tours are low-hanging fruit, my friends. In the US, Salem, Massachusetts has become a tourist destination. An entire industry has resulted out of catering to visitors eager to learn about the likes of Rev. Cotton Mather (coincidentally a Glasgow Ph.D.), his followers and the psyches that would be responsible for such atrocities.

    And, on a final note, to the good people who voted on this matter, I must ask how one arrives at the decision to dismiss the matter after a 50/50 vote. I must acknowledge my own suspicious nature and my personal difficulty in believing that statistically there could have been such a vote. That aside, I am curious to know whether – should a political race end in such a manner – would the Fife Council then simply dismiss the election? Would there be no elected candidate? I’m really struggling to understand.

    Clearly, it is my goal here to encourage you to consider not only your obligation to properly memorialize these martyrs, but also to realize the potential return on investment your area could see in short order should you make the right and responsible decision. If you cannot justify the expenditure, then – at the very least – put your support behind this project and wage a far-reaching fundraising campaign to raise private funds for the creation of this long-overdue monument.

  8. “Clearly, it is my goal here to encourage you to consider not only your obligation to properly memorialize these martyrs”

    Really? Gosh, that’s affy grand of you.

    Remind me again, what are americans doing in respect of their obligations to the First Nation peoples who had their country stolen from them?

    • Ken, while you do have a point, I’m curious as to why the people of the UK seem to have to reply in condescending and/or sarcastic messages when someone from the US makes a point?

  9. I think the memorial is a great idea. However, I wonder whether the objection of many was actually to do with tourism rather than religion. Pittenweem already attracts quite a bit of tourism. Was there a concern (probably unfounded, but it would only take a rumour or two…) that this memorial might attract the “wrong” kind of tourists? I can imagine people thinking “Pagans = hippies = new age travellers” and that will drive the “proper” tourists away.

  10. Hello. I lived in Pittenweem (35 High Street, above Margaret Peebles wool and clothing shop) in the early seventies with my husband and small children. There was then an information board in the square outside the small supermarket and car-park, and this described the murder of Janet Cornfoot, placing it in the context of persecution of witches throughout Scotland, as well as mentioning St Fillan and his cave, and links with St Aidan and the May Island. I used to take our small daughter, Jess, down to the beach where Janet was put to death, and eventually wrote the poem ‘Pittenweem Beach’, which was published in my first collection, “Skating Out of the House”, as well as on my website. I hope room can be found to remember Janet without local people feeling that their ancestors are being demonised. We all need to face up to personal and collective histories. I’m very sorry that the people is Pittenweem are cold-shouldering poor Janet Cornfoot again, and hope they can be a bit braver.

  11. I went to school in Pittenweem. The reason the locals don’t want to remember the witches is that they are very much the same now as they were then.

  12. Did they take a town referendum?
    Was it a council decision?
    People would come and pay homage to innocent people who lost their lives through ignorance.
    Clear that guilt which hangs whether we know it or not.
    Awarenes would be heightened.

  13. Witch hunting is still alive and kicking in our society – try being a non Scottish person at a community council meeting and note how many “real” Scottish people mutter “go home” etc. I have seen and heard this phenomena, now, here in Scotland – on some occasions it has come to near violence. I don’t know whether I was more shocked that there was such a prevalence of this behaviour or that the behaviour was not denounced by the council officials attending the meeting, who obviously harboured the same feelings – however, this is not peculiar to Scotland.
    Perhaps a memorial is needed and is very relevant today, the memorial should note and explore that many of those burned around the country were people who may have been seen as “outsiders” for one reason or another, and that “mob think” is shallow and self centred

  14. I think the Bargarren witches were hanged, (and burned after). Also, Leonard, you say that Christina Shaw later confessed she had made the whole thing up, but I wasnt aware she had ever admitted that she lied. Do you have sources you could point me to?

  15. I am saddened that the people of Pittenweem have voted this way. I for one would visit the village with my family to view such a monument. History needs to be remembered the good and the bad. If William Wallace had been born in Pittenweem there would be a massive monument, every public house would have a Wallace connection and the streets would all be Wallace this and Wallace that. The least we can do for those poor victims is to remember and commemorate them.

  16. What does it matter if it’s not the first memorial. The fact is that these innocent women were murdered by a serial killer of the time. If this kind of thing was to happen in the present time, there would most certainly be some sort of public recognition of the injustice and horror of the events. Come on people of Pittenweem, this is a part of your history that deserves commemoration.

  17. I have to say, having lived here 7 years, that I was never polled on this.
    Who conducted said poll? It clearly never covered the village!
    15a Cove Wynd, Pittenweem

  18. I feel personally that Mr Low has not only taken advantage of the trapped/lost souls within the Tolbooth Tower but that he has also distrubed many of these spirits and caused them distress when they had perhaps managed to settle down – he prays upon these poor souls for profit and should not be trusted. Leave the Tower and the spirits there alone and stop holding your seances and ‘tours’.

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