Museum recreates a time when Huntingdon experienced witch trials

The Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon recreated witch trials held in the old county.

The Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon recreated witch trials held in the old county. - Credit: HUNTS POST

Huntingdon could be considered the witch-trial capital of England with victims being put to death over three time periods, says Cromwell Museum curator Stuart Orme.

Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins paid a visit to the old county of Huntingdonshire during his reign of terror which saw him seek out people accused of being witches.

Witch trials saw the deaths of up to 1,000 people across the country, 90 per cent were women, between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Last weekend, the museum created a dramatised version of the trial of nine people accused of being witches 375 years ago, using contemporary documents and set in the historic town hall where members of the Sealed Knot re-enactment group took part.

After the original trial four people, three of whom were women, were found guilty and hanged at Mill Common.

Mr Orme said: "The performances were very well attended and we have had some very good feedback from people who said they had both enjoyed and been moved by it."

Mr Orme said: “Huntingdon is arguably the witch-trial capital of England, with people tried for witchcraft here in 1593, 1646 and 1716.

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“The largest of these trials took place against the turmoil of the Civil Wars, which we recreated as part of the event. It’s a way of bringing to life the stories of the poor souls who were victims of these terrible persecutions three centuries ago.”

The performance told how Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins came to the Huntingdon area in 1646 and accused six women and three and three men of witchcraft.

Hopkins, the son of a Suffolk clergyman, claimed he had been given the Witchfinder General title by Parliament, although he is thought to have taken it on himself.

He was active between 1644 and 1647 when  more than 100 people are thought to have been put to death as a result of his actions.

His campaign of terror had a religious basis, with victims being branded heretics, although Hopkins was said to have been motivated by money paid for his work.

Hopkins used methods such sleep deprivation  to force confessions, as well as cutting victims' arms off with a blunt knife to see if they bled or "swimming" them in water to see if they floated.

Hopkins’ methods of rooting out alleged witchcraft prompted local vicar John Gaule to write a pamphlet decrying his activities which helped bring witch-hunting to an end.

The Witches of Warboys case saw Alice Samuel, her daughter Agnes and husband John, being put to death in 1593 for supposedly bewitching the five daughters of Robert Throckmorton as well as bewitching to death Lady Cromwell, second wife of Sir Henry Cromwell.