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You are in: Devon > History > Local history > When witchcraft was a hanging offence

Alison Fairlove, Jo Fallaize, Stephanie Easton

Actresses in the BBC Radio Devon play

When witchcraft was a hanging offence

Three women from Bideford went down in the history books in 1682, when they became the last women in England to be hanged for witchcraft.

In 1682, three women from Bideford were hanged - their crime was witchcraft. They were the last women in England to be executed for this crime.

The unfortunate women were Temperance Lloyd, Susanna Edwards and Mary Trembles.

All lived in Bideford although little is known about them beyond their arrests, trial and execution. The women were tried at the assizes of Exeter Castle.

According to the official record of the trial, all three pleaded not guilty. They were hanged at Heavitree, just outside the city.

More than 300 years later, their story was told in a radio play produced by BBC Radio Devon. The play, The Witches of Bideford, was scripted by Dartington writer Heidi Stephenson.

A plaque to the Witches of Bideford

A plaque to the women. Photo: Zealonline

The story was originally researched by local historian Frank Gent in 1982. His book, The Trial of the Bideford Witches, was published to commemorate the 300th anniversary of their deaths in Exeter in the summer of 1682.

At that time, Bideford was an important part of a growing transatlantic trade route with Newfoundland and Virginia.

The port on the North Devon coast was cosmopolitan and thriving as a result of trade with the American colonies. Despite deaths from the plague and smallpox epidemics, by 1680 the crowded town had a population of 2,600.

Religion and folklore played key parts in the beliefs of those living in the 17th Century. At this time, there was also a reviving interest in and fear of witchcraft.

Witchcraft trials were a source of great popular interest at the time - resulting in the publication of pamphlets, booklets and songs. These, along with records of the trial itself, are vital primary source material on the history of the event.

In the BBC Radio Devon play, Temperance Lloyd was played by Stephanie Easton, Susanna Edwards by Jo Fallaize, and Mary Trembles by Alison Fairlove.

The radio play was recorded on location throughout North Devon. Settings included St Mary's Church, Bideford - the site of the original church where the three women were questioned; Bideford Town Hall; and the Torrington 1646 civil war heritage centre.

If you missed the play when it was broadcast, you can hear it on the Radio Devon Listen Again facility - see the link to BBC Radio Devon on this page.

last updated: 05/03/2008 at 09:43
created: 10/08/2006

You are in: Devon > History > Local history > When witchcraft was a hanging offence

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