'Witch's cottage' unearthed near Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Nick Ravenscroft visited the derelict house near the mysterious Pendle Hill

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Engineers have said they were "stunned" to unearth a 17th Century cottage, complete with a cat skeleton, during a construction project in Lancashire.

The cottage was discovered near Lower Black Moss reservoir in the village of Barley, in the shadow of Pendle Hill.

Archaeologists brought in by United Utilities to survey the area found the building under a grass mound.

Historians are now speculating that the well-preserved cottage could have belonged to one of the Pendle witches.

The building contained a sealed room, with the bones of a cat bricked into the wall.

It is believed the cat was buried alive to protect the cottage's inhabitants from evil spirits.

'Tutankhamen's tomb'

Carl Sanders, United Utilities' project manager, said: "It's not often you come across a fairytale cottage complete with witch's cat.

"The building is in remarkable condition. You can walk through it and get a real sense that you're peering into the past.

Lancaster witch trials

  • Held at Lancaster Castle in August 1612
  • Eleven Pendle people charged with murder by witchcraft
  • Additional alleged Pendle witch tried at York Castle
  • Ten found guilty and hanged, one died while awaiting trial, one found not guilty
  • Trials made famous by publication of The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (by clerk of the court Thomas Potts)

"Pendle Hill has a real aura about it, and it's hard not to be affected by the place.

"Even before we discovered the building, there were lots of jokes from the lads about broomsticks and black cats. The find has really stunned us all."

Simon Entwistle, an expert on the Pendle witches, said: "In terms of significance, it's like discovering Tutankhamen's tomb.

"We are just a few months away from the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials, and here we have an incredibly rare find, right in the heart of witching country. This could well be the famous Malkin Tower - which has been a source of speculation and rumour for centuries.

"Cats feature prominently in folklore about witches. Whoever consigned this cat to such a horrible fate was clearly seeking protection from evil spirits."

'Something special'

United Utilities routinely brings in experts before turning the topsoil in areas believed to have archaeological significance.

Frank Giecco, from NP Archaeology, who unearthed the building, said: "It's like discovering your own little Pompeii. We rarely get the opportunity to work with something so well preserved.

The remains of the building The engineering project has been put on hold while archaeologists investigate the site

"As soon as we started digging, we found the tops of doors, and knew we were on to something special.

"The building is a microcosm for the rise and fall of this area, from the time of the Pendle witches to the industrial age. There are layers of local history right before your eyes."

The engineering project has been put on hold while the archaeologists complete their investigation of the site.

The building also contains a 19th Century kitchen range, still in its original position.

Many artefacts from the building's latter years, such as Victorian crockery, a tin bath and a bedstead, were discovered around the site.

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