Corstorphine Trust erects plaque to remember those in local area accused and killed as witches

A plaque in Edinburgh has been erected to remember all those in the local Corstorphine area who were killed as ‘witches’.

Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 7:16 am
The plaque remembering the Corstorphine witches has been erected outside Dower House in Edinburgh.
The plaque remembering the Corstorphine witches has been erected outside Dower House in Edinburgh.

The plaque is erected in St Margaret’s Park next to the Corstorphine Trust’s Dower House and pays tribute to six women and one man accused of witchcraft in the local area.

The accusations and executions of these people under the Witchcraft Act 1563 took place between May and September of 1649.

Those wrongly accused were Beatrix Watson, Margaret Bell, Marion Inglis, Katharin Gib, Elizabeth Scott, Margaret Baillie and William Scott.

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Having looked into the work of local historian Norah Carlin who studied the witch hunts, Corstorphine resident Emma Cowan contacted the Trust to erect the plaque.

Emma Cowan said: "As soon as I read Norah’s work, I burst into tears and felt so angry because of the devastating stories.

"I just thought I’ve been to these places like the church so many times and I didn’t know anything about this history which surrounds them.”

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The plaque recounts the story of each person wrongly accused of witchcraft in Corstorphine in 1649 (Photo: Claire Mitchell).

Accusations included having ‘an evil eye’, charming and harming by magic and having a pact and sex with the devil on Clermiston hill.

Some were executed and others died during ‘cross examination’ with 80-year-old Katharin Gib dying whilst kept awake in a barn in Gogar and Beatrix Watson hanging herself whilst imprisoned in Corstorphine Kirk Tower.

Those executed for witchcraft in Scotland tended to be strangled and a fire would be lit under the dead bodies.

Witch hunters in the Corstorphine area included the laird of Corstorphine George Lord Forrester.

Ms Cowan added: "He was one of the witch hunters but there’s so many places where his family’s name is remembered like Forrester High School and nothing about the women and one man persecuted under this irrational and sensational act.”

Ms Cowan has got together a group of friends to create a tapestry to remember the local victims of the Witchcraft Act.

The artwork will have sections dedicated to each wrongly accused with local symbols such as a lantern and a sycamore leaf in the centre.

The tapestry will be shown in Dower House when it is finished.

Historian Norah Carlin has said it has been ‘great’ to see the history of the ‘Corstorphine witches’ unearthed again after she started researching the ‘witches’ 30 years ago.

The historian who grew up in Corstorphine said: "The main record is the Kirk session minute book where all the accusations and alleged confessions are.

“It’s very detailed and I believe the confessions were extracted from people most commonly from keeping them awake.

"For example, you can feel the confession of Kate Gibs was made because people were telling her these things and she was wanting to get out of that situation.

“The experience that the women and one man went through was absolutely horrible and when you read about it you shudder about what must have been done.”

Carlin has written 10,000 words on the history which has been printed out and is being sold to raise money for the Corstorphine trust.

Frances MacRae, Corstorphine Trust Archivsit said: “After some discussion, The Corstorphine Trust decided to fund and erect a permanent memorial plaque to the seven accused.

"This plaque has now been unveiled in St Margaret’s Park close to The Dower House, headquarters of The Corstorphine Trust.”

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