SIX WITCHES BURNT AT THE WITCH-LOAN, and Two others Die in Prison. -
This was a great witch-catching and witch-burning year in Dunfermline. A staff of officials called, "witch-watchers" and "witch-catchers," had been appointed early in 1643 to seize and put in ward (prison) all reputed witches, in order that they might be tried for their "horrid and abominable crime of witchcraft." Accordingly, "a great many old shrivelled-up women, with woe-begone countenances, were warded, and if any of them used the long staff in walking, so much the better for the catchers." In Dunfermline Register of Deaths, notice is taken of the poor, innocent unfortunates.
During the month of May, July, and August, it seems no less than six poor women were burnt for being reputed witches! Their names were Grissel Morris, Margaret Brand, Katherine Elder, Agnes Kirk, Margaret Donaldson, and Isobel Millar. These victims, having been tried and condemned to be burnt, were accordingly carted east to the loan (witch-loan), and being placed in the middle of a pile of wood, with feet and legs tied, the pile was set on fire, their bodies were soon consumed, and, it is to be hoped, that their better part received that mercy which had been denied to them on earth. In "the loan" many criminals in the olden time suffered. At the foot of the "the loan," near where the railway bridge crosses the road, there was the institution of "the witches' dub." Sometimes an old frail woman was thrown into it. If she sank, and was drowned, then it was supposed that "judgement had found her out;" if she swam on the surface, which by the bulk of her clothing she might sometimes do, then it was judged that there was something "no cannie aboot her," and on some pretence the victim got to the flames at last. Determined not to lose their victim, they appear to have acted on the principle of "Heads, I win; tails, you lose!" Ascending the loan (the witch-loan), and about 100 yards from "the witch-dub," and on the east side of the loan road, there was a small knowe on which the witches suffered, and still further up the loan stood "the gallows" where execution was done."
WILLIAM CRICHTON, THE WARLOCK, BURNT. - The following minute is from the
Dunfermline Kirk Session Records:- "6th August: This day Wm Cricktoun compeired, and being posed upon the declatn given in against him, he was remitted to the magistrates to be imprisoned, whch was done; and some few days yraftir being straitlie posed and dealt with be the ministers and watchers, he came to a confession of sundrie things, and yt he hade made a paction wt the Devill to be his servand 24 zeirs and more since. He was condemned to be burnt; and a few days yraftr he was burnt" - most likely burnt on the Witches' Knowe, Townmill Road (Witch Loan). Probably Crichton was one of the great originals who "came out in 1627."
1732.-EXECUTION OF JAMES RAMSAY AT TOP OF WITCH-LOAN ROAD.
James Ramsay of Lambhill in Perthshire, his brother Andrew, his sister Helen and her husband, Andrew Hutson, in Pliverhall, of Drumtuthell, near Dunfermline, were tried by the Regality Court of Dumfermline in February, 1732, for cattle stealing, &c. The Judges at the trial were James Dewar of Lassodie, CAPTAIN PETER HALKET, YOUNGER OF PITFIRRANE, and Henry Wellwood of Garvock, and a jury of fifteen. The following notes regarding Ramsay's apprehension and execution are from the Burgh Records:- "James and Andrew Ramsay, after a long and violent resistance, were apprehended within a hut in Pitconochie, dean-park, in the BARONY OF PITFIRRANE. The place where the hut stood, on a small eminence, was much covered with whins and broom to screen it from observation. In the hut there were found a quantity of straw, two pairs of blankets, a bee-hive with some honey in it, the foot of a sheep, raw, a timber-plate, with mutton-collops, a cap which contained honey, and in which there were large lumps of fat, and livers, and also the lead of a window."
The crimes which the Jury found proven against James Ramsay were, the stealing four oxen and a quey from John Carswell, tenant in South Cults, in the parish of Saline, AND A BEE-HIVE OUT OF THE GARDENS OF PITFIRRANE. The Sentenceof the Court is dated 8th February, 1732, and so far as it relates to James Ramsay, was as follows:- "The Judges of the Courts of Justiciary and Regality of Dunfermline Having considered the foregoing Verdict of Assyze, of the date 5th current, Returned against James Ramsay, Andrew Ramsay, Andrew Hutson and Helen Ramsay pannells: They in respect whereof, by the Mouth of John Cummin, dempster of court - Decern and Adjudge the sd James Ramsay to be taken fra the tolbooth of Dunfermline Upon Wednesday being the twenty second day of March next to come, to that place of the common Muir of Dunfermline, called the witch Loan; and there betwixt the hours of two and four o'Clock afternoon of the said day to be hanged by the neck upon a gibbet, till he be dead. And ordains all his moveable goods and gear to be escheat and inbrought for the use of the ffiscal of court. Which is pronounced for Doom." (Regality Records, and Fernie's Hist. Dunf. pp. 170-172.)
In the Caledonian Mercury newpaper for 11th February, 1732, there is the following paragraph regarding this trial, &c:- "Dunfermline, February 8th, 1732. - This day was finished here a very tedious trial of four gypses (or gypses habit and repute), strollers, or vagabonds, which lasted between 18 and 19 hours, by the honoured CAPTAIN HALKETT, James Dewar of Lassodie, and Henry Wellwood of Garvock - deputies of the most Honourable the Marquis of Tweeddale, as hereditary bailie of the justiciary and regality courts of Dunfermline; when on a full and plain
proof James Ramsay, one of the gang, was sentenced to be hanged the 22d March next; and the other three to be whipped the first Wednesday of each month, for one half year, and afterwards to be banished the regality for ever." (!!!)
"James Ramsay has, since his sentence was pronounced, confessed to the Rev. Mr. Ralph Erskine that he stole the four oxen and young cow - one of the branches of the indictment. During his confinement in prison the Rev. Ralph Erskine frequently visited Ramsay for spiritual advice and consolation; he also went with him to his place of execution, soothing his
mind, and offered up a fervent prayer in his behalf to the fountain of mercy, as he was turned off."
The following extract is from the Burgh Records of 15th March, 1732:- _"The said day the baillies acquainted the Councill that they had this day _received a letter from James Dewar of Lassody, and Henry Wellwood of Garvock, two of the baillies deputes of the regality of Dunfermline, signifying to them that they heard that some of the members of the Councill are making some difficulty anent the obeying the dead warrant, directed to the magistrates, in
consequence of the sd baillies deputes their sentence pronounced against James Ramsay on the 8th of February last; and in order to obviate any inconveniences thereanent, they desire the magistrates to see the said sentence put into execution in the usual manner. And thereby declare that by their former dead warrant, they meant not to bring any new hardship or burden on the burgh of Dunfermline further than what the law and practice of this burgh requires, nor thereby to invalidate the baillie heretable of the regality his right in cases of that nature. And they desire the magistrates to send their guard to the execution - which guard they will pay. The Council having considered the import of the said letter, agreed to grant to the baillies of the regality the favour of the malitia to guard James Ramsay at his execution. And accordingly appointed the baillies