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Bo’ness Greenways: Bo’ness Witches

Falkirk Community Trust has been collaborating with Sustrans on their wonderful Greenways project to bring some local heritage to life along the foreshore at Bo’ness. This is one of the stories from the project.

“Although witchcraft has been legally abolished, the cult of the witch is so dear to humanity that it is, in some aspects, prevalent today as it was some centuries ago.”

Historian TJ Salmon, 1913

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Witch Trails

December 23, 1679: five women and one man were burned at the stake at the glebe of Corbiehall (west of the current Corbie Inn pub). The six had been found guilty of the “abominable cryme of witchcraft.” The court ordered that they were to be “wirried at a steak till they be dead … and thereafter to have their bodies burned to ashes.”

The six – Annaple Thomsone, Margaret Pringle, Margaret Hamilton, Bessie Vickar, another Margaret Hamilton and William Craw – had been held and tried in the town’s tollbooth in South Street. The building still stands to this day, and is now run as a café. Local historian TJ Salmon said the 1679 indictment made “painful, and in some places, revolting reading.” The court papers accused the six of giving their “souls and bodies to the devil,” having “several meetings with the devil and with sundrie witches in diverse places” and eating and drinking with Lucifer himself.

From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, an estimated 4,000 people in Scotland—overwhelmingly women—were tried for witchcraft. Often the accused had simply upset those in power or looked a bit different. Academics from the University of Edinburgh found records relating to 51 people accused of witchcraft in the Bo’ness area. You can see their interactive map here.

Bo’ness Witches

Historian Ian Scott, from Falkirk Local History Society, turned the 1679 Bo’ness witch case into a community play. “We don’t have any evidence to suggest they were tortured, but that would have been the normal procedure,” he said. “It’s a pretty gruesome story altogether. They were strangled with wire before they were burned. So they were dead before they went to the fire. It shows a smidgeon of mercy.”

Did You Know?

A stone marked “The Witches Stone” still exists in the woods at Carriden – a short walk south of the John Muir Way.

Read next:

Nearby: Bo'ness

Bo’ness Greenways: Bridgeness Harbour

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Nearby: Bo'ness

Bo’ness Greenways: Bo’ness Station

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  • References & Bibliography
  • Illustration: “North Berwick Witches.” Origin unknown. Wikimedia Public Domain.
  • Photograph: “The Witches Stone at Carriden, Bo’ness.” 2021. Courtesy of Adrian Mahoney.
  • Photograph: “The Nosh Café in South Street Bo’ness.” 2021. Courtesy of Adrian Mahoney.
  • See also: https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk/
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