‘T’would be better for you if you did!’ These simple words, uttered by Goody Orchard to the 10 year old Mary Barthomlew in 1645, started a tragic story.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1672, 14 residents of Malmesbury were accused of witchcraft and 4 tried. Two were publicly hanged.

A programme of events commemorating the 350th anniversary of this episode in Malmesbury’s history has now been launched.

Speaking at the launch event at Malmesbury Town Hall, local historian Tony McAleavy described how Thomas Hobbes, the internationally famous philosopher born in Malmesbury, knew of the belief a cabal of witches were operating in Malmesbury from the 1590’s and of Goody Orchard, and that this influenced his writing on witchcraft.

 

Local historian Tony McAleavy

Local historian Tony McAleavy

 

The response to Hobbes by scientists of the early Royal Society in London in turn affected the course of the famous witch trials in Salem in the USA.

Filming has also taken place for two short films telling the story of Goody Orchard and the later Malmesbury Witch Trial of 1672.

Project leader for the commemoration, Campbell Ritchie, chair of Malmesbury Town Team, said: "When Tony highlighted that 2022 is the 350th anniversary of the Malmesbury Witch Trial of 1672 there was immediately a strong desire to discover more in Malmesbury about what happened then and why.

"This has led to a wide range of community groups and individual volunteers working together to create a programme which will run across this summer, with a highlight of a live weekend of activities, experiences and street theatre in Malmesbury town centre on the 16th and 17th July."

Notable speakers at Malmesbury Witch Trial 350 include Professor Ronald Hutton, Dr Helen Cornish, the Rev Oliver Ross and Sam Entwistle, while a weekly seventeenth century style newsletter will tell the emerging story.

Other highlights include a new Witch Trial trail in Explore Malmesbury, exploremalmesbury.com, from the 6th June, an exhibition in Athelstan Museum, the premieres of the films being made by final year students from Bath Spa with local writers and actors, and a performance in October by the Scratchworks Theatre Company.

Tickets are available at Malmesbury Town Hall and Eventbrite and updates and the full programme can be seen at the Facebook Page ‘Malmesbury Witch Trial 350’.

Speaking about the filming Campbell said: "It has been four days of hard work but hugely rewarding to see the joint endeavour and teamwork of the final year students from Bath Spa University and our cast.

 

Filming in Salisbury

Filming in Salisbury

 

"We have been able to film at some great locations in Malmesbury and Salisbury, where the trial took place, and we are really looking forward to being able to show the films this summer.

"We are now preparing for the Live Weekend and all our other events in Malmesbury Witch Trial 350.

"Malmesbury has a rich history that you can see and feel. Discovering the story of our Witch Trial in 1672 and why it is important is another reason to spend time in our wonderful town this summer."