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Prestonpans 2005 Hallowe'en Remembrance of our 81 Witches

As Required by Barons' Courts Declarator ...

The first annual Remembrance of the unjust execution of Prestonpans' 81 Witches took place at the season of Hallowe'en on October 30th at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg. John Smith, The Town Crier, had previously announced it far and wide.

Click on all images throughout to enlarge

During the week prior to the formal act of Remembrance a new play entitled Witch! had been performed by Port Seton Drama Group.

The Final Act of Remembrance was attended by more than 300 in-dwellers of Prestonpans on the Baronial Foreshore.

The Murals 'Witch Experience'

October 30th also saw the dedication by Guest of Honour, Mary Martin, of The Murals' Witch Experience in the Garden Courtyard and on each side of the southern Staircase of The Prestoungrange Gothenburg. Mary Martin is grand daughter of Helen Duncan, a Scot and the last lady to be imprisoned for witchcraft in Britain in 1944, who has never been pardoned. Andrew Crummy, who led the murals team, is shown giving his interpretation of them, and Mary Martin laying her wreath of herbs along with the Baron of Prestoungrange and many others who came to bear witness at the Remembrance ceremonies.

Annemarie Allan has also penned a new volume in the Prestoungrange Historical Series, No. 21: 81 Witches of Prestonpans. This includes all the murals and artefacts from the Witches Experience but also tells the full story of all 81 Witches in Prestonpans who were pardoned in 2004. [A Guided Tour leaflet is currently in production.]

Microbrewer Prestonpans Ales offered a Witches porter called Absolut Pardon both on draught and in commemorative 500ml bottles, which sold out. And Chef offered a very popular Witches' Menu throughout the week.

Premiere of Roy Pugh's new play - Witch!

The Prestoungrange Arts Festival had commisioned distinguished witch expert Roy Pugh to write a wholly new play depicting the trial of two of the 81 witches executed in Prestonpans where the presiding magistrate was the then Baron of Prestoungrange, Sir Alexander Morrison. It took place in the Prestonpans Tollbooth in 1678.

The play tells how they were interrogated by the Kirk after being deprived of sleep for 14 days and proven as witches by the local pricker and myriad local witnesses. The Kirk's evidence is presented to the Court by the Minister of the time, Rev James Buchanan. The full cast list at the Assize from Port Seton Drama Group is given below. Click here link to the full text.

The production was extremely well received and reported throughout the day on BBC Scotland tv, and in the evening also by Scottish Independent tv.. Its success has already led to plans for the play to be presented next year in the Fringe of the Edinburgh Festival; and it is scheduled in part for presentation to the Global Murals Congress in August 2006.

Final Act of Remembrance on the Foreshore

All three presentations of the play during the week had their finale on October 30th in the Judgement and Execution scenes. At 7 pm precisely from the north balcony of The Prestoungrange Gothenburg our Poet Laureate, John Lindsay, offered his poem in remembrance, A Red Lambent Flame. Then the two actors who had portrayed Agnes Kelly and Marjorie Anderson release 81 white balloons into the south westerly wind and the Baron of Prestoungrange led the 300 present in a prayer of remembrance.

Finally, 10 archers from the Dunbar Archery Society released 81 flaming arrows across the Firth of Forth in a moving climax to the evening.

Reflections on the First Remembrance

The overwhelming consensus was that this first annual Hallowe'en Week of events had very much exceeded expectations. The quality of theatrical presentation in Witches! and of mural artistry and stone carving in the Witches 'Experience' was greatly appreciated. And the Foreshore Finale had been an appropriate and moving event to round off the act of Remembrance. Mary Martin was amongst those who expressed their heartfelt appreciation. It was, and of course remains, the Arts Festival's determination to keep its focus for Hallowe'en on the injustices that were done - and which could so easily be done again when any community takes against a minority within it. Thus emboldened, and reassured, plans for October 2006 are already being set.

... and one event that will be certainly be repeated is the Hallowe'en 'guising' that many youngsters enjoyed at the Prestoungrange Gothenburg on the evening of Monday October 31st!

All accomplished with 'Support from the Heritage Lottery'

The programme offered throughout the week was sponsored by Prestoungrange Arts Festival, but the Festival was especially pleased to receive a grant-in-aid of 14,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It went towards the presentation of the play, the publication of the historical study and a new discrete Witch Trial mural to be painted by Tom Ewing at Cuthill Park in the coming weeks.

Published Date: October 31st 2005

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