‘Trial of the Huntingdon Nine’ re-told to mark museum’s re-opening

Stuart Orme is the curator of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon. 

Stuart Orme is the curator of the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon. - Credit: CROMWELL MUSEUM

THE Cromwell Museum, in Huntingdon, is poised to re-open this month following the easing of lockdown restrictions – with some local 'horrible histories' to thrill visitors.

After closing its doors for a second time in December 2020 due to the pandemic, the team at the museum has been working behind the scenes, to not only make the attraction Covid-safe to welcome back visitors from May 19, but has been running successful online lectures and educational events for school children.

As part of the Government's roadmap and further lockdown easing, museums, theatres, cinemas and indoor hospitality can now reopen, however, there are still some restrictions and social distancing measures in place.

The Cromwell Museum will kick off a new season of exhibitions, with a new display explaining how nine local people became victims of the infamous Witchfinder General in one of the darker episodes in Huntingdon’s history.

This year is the 375th anniversary of the visitation of one of the most sinister figures in 17th Century history to the town, the infamous, self-styled ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins.

Matthew Hopkins was the Witchfinder General 

Matthew Hopkins was the Witchfinder General - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

In May 1646,  nine women and men from Huntingdonshire were accused and tried for witchcraft; at least four were condemned and hanged on Mill Common in Huntingdon.

Museum curator, Stuart Orme, said: “In the 1600s, many people still believed in magic as a way of explaining the world around them, at a time when scientific knowledge was limited.

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"This wasn’t the first time that Huntingdon had seen people accused of witchcraft, another famous case being in 1593, with infamous ‘Witches of Warboys’. The trials in 1646 were part of Hopkins’ reign of terror across East Anglia, in which more than 100 people were executed.”

The exhibition looks at the Witchfinder trials in Huntingdon in the 16th Century.

The exhibition looks at the Witchfinder trials in Huntingdon in the 16th Century. - Credit: CROMWELL MUSEUM

This exhibition is one of a series of planned events to allow people to re-engage with the museum and will be followed by an exciting outdoor display of Cromwell-related artwork at locations around the town with the support of local businesses.

It is hoped that as restrictions ease further, the museum will continue to feature highly on families’ and history lovers’ ‘go to’ stay-cation attraction.

Stuart added: “We are thrilled to soon be welcoming visitors back, and although our overseas visitors are not yet able to see us in person, our online lectures and events will continue for enthusiasts who are unable to travel to the museum.”

“For the many who can, there is plenty in the pipeline which we hope we build on the stay-cation audience and help to rejuvenate the town centre.” For more details about the Cromwell Museum visit www.cromwellmuseum.org

Fact file:

· The Cromwell Museum, in Grammar School Walk, Huntingdon, opened in 1962. The building, which dates back to the 14th Century, was used as a monastic hospital and in the 1600s was a school – attended by Oliver Cromwell himself.

· Threatened with closure in 2015, the museum (already established as a significant tourist attraction) underwent a £170,000 revamp – thanks to grant funding – and received its official opening by its Patron the Rt Hon Sir John Major in March 2020.

· It houses the best collection of Cromwell artefacts in the world, including the rare felt hat reputed to have been worn by Cromwell whilst dismissing the Rump Parliament in April 1653, a hand-written letter telling a friend of his depressive state of mind, lavish gifts from diplomats and an early death mask.

· Around 15 per cent of visitors to the museum come from overseas, including Australia, the USA and China.

· As one of the most famous and controversial figures in British history, Cromwell’s name helps to sell many commodities; including sherry, chocolate, beers and gin – a bottle of which is exhibited in the museum.