Memorial sites identified to honour Peebles tortured and executed witches

A dark part of Peebles history is to be recognised with the erection of a memorial to honour the memory of local people brutally executed under the Witchcraft Act.

By Hilary Scott
Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 2:51 pm
Elisa Smith and Simon Ritchie with author and historian Mary W. Craig discussing plans for the memorial.
Elisa Smith and Simon Ritchie with author and historian Mary W. Craig discussing plans for the memorial.

Plans are being drawn up for a national monument in Scotland in memory of more than 4,000 killed between the 12th and 18th centuries who were accused of practising witchcraft.

Within Peeblesshire, during 1629, 27 locals were killed and their bodies burned, with no memorial to mark their grim fate in the town.

Local campaigners Elisa Smith and Simon Ritchie, passionately believe these people should be remembered, and commissioned a survey which garnered overwhelming support of a memorial.

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Elisa Smith said: “There are different views on where it should be. Venlaw being one of the most obvious places, which is where we believe that the people of witchcraft were actually executed, although we are still to find the exact spot.

Many are keen to see the memorial being erected on Tweed Green which will be more accessible to locals and tourists.

“It’s huge thing in our history that has never been addressed until now,” said Elisa.

"I was astounded that 27 poor souls were tried and executed in this town. It’s a very dark part of our history.

"For me, it’s about recognising these people. Their bodies were burned and they were never buried.

"I think as a town we should acknowledge what’s happened and just be able to have a place where people can go and have a think about what’s happened and what is still happening in other parts of the world. In Africa people are still being accused and executed under the Witchcraft Act.”

The campaigners say they are not looking for public funding for their project, and a local undertaker has offered an engraved stone.

Peebles Community Council has given its full support to the erection of a memorial.

Graham Mackie said: “I’ve lived in Peebles for best part of 30 years and this is first I’ve heard of it. It’s a very unpleasant part of our history and I think it’s right there should be some sort of recognition of it in a prominent place. I would favour Venlaw Hill on the basis that’s close to where it happened.”

Further discussion and consultation is to take place on the design and preferred site.