'We were so sickened by witch deaths, we've erected a memorial'

A SCOTTISH couple has erected a memorial to 22 "witches" killed when their hometown was convulsed by witch-hunting hysteria.

Mark and Marie Cashley were shocked to learn of how the often widowed or impoverished women were targeted, tormented and killed in the quiet, Angus market town of Forfar as recently as the 17th century.

They were even more astounded to learn that no memorial existed to those innocent women killed during some of the last witch-hunts in Scotland.

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But now, the pair, who are both chiropractors, are to pay for a permanent memorial to the witches with their own money.

They have constructed a drystane "cauldron" close to a public park popular with dogwalkers, and commissioned a stonemason to construct a memorial stone in memory of the witches.

The memorial stone is simply dedicated to the "Forfar Witches", and features 22 dots that represent each of the women who were killed for the "abominable cryme of witchcraft." At the bottom, the legend reads, "Just people".

Mrs Cashley said: "When we heard about it, we thought it was incredibly sad. Forfar was the last place where a large number of women were killed. We got to thinking that life is all about timing, and for these women, they were incredibly unlucky to be around at this time.

"It is a remarkable story and a major part of Forfar's history.

"We believed that it was time that something was done to remember these poor women."

In 1563, the Church of Scotland made witchcraft illegal through an act of parliament that continued until 1736. By then, around 1,500 people had been executed.

There were three main witch-hunts, and the last one of 1660-1663, was particularly brutal in Forfar, which then had a population of around 1,000.

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The town retains some particularly gruesome instruments of that period, in particular the Forfar Bridle – a hinged steel collar with a metal prong to the front which entered the mouth as the collar was fastened around the victim's neck, acting as a gag during the execution.

Mrs Cashley said: "We have a bit of land right on the edge of the park beside the loch.

" There are loads of dogwalkers and passers-by, and we thought it was a good spot to place a memorial."

Sculptor Tom Church, from nearby Brechin, said: "I get some strange commissions, but this one is right up there."

The Cashleys said they don't want any major unveilings, ceremonies, or fanfare, but hope people enjoy what they have done.

Mrs Cashley added: "We've had a few positive comments, but people are awfully reserved around here. I just hope they don't think we're witches, or some sort of weirdos."


ONE local woman, Helen Guthrie, played a vital role in the Forfar witch-hunt.

A self-confessed drunken and wicked woman, she had murdered her own stepsister when they were both children.

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Helen and her 13-year-old daughter Janet Howat were both accused of being witches, and proceeded to identify more witches as star witness for the prosecutors, telling of drunken midnight parties in Forfar Kirkyard, of women cavorting with the devil and of the desecration of graves.

Witches were generally accepted to be poor women or widows on the fringes of respectable, church-going society. They included anyone with knowledge of herbal medicine, or a squint – the evil eye – or who suffered from epilepsy, considered to be possession by the devil.

The hapless women were held in Forfar's tolbooth where they were tortured and made to wear vinegar-soaked hair shirts, which pulled the skin off the body, to obtain a confession.

Then a swift and perfunctory trial was held, usually ending with a guilty verdict.