The Mystery of Maggie Wall

Witches are sometimes recalled in local memory through the names of wells or caves where they reputedly practised their arts. Uniquely, Maggie Wall has a monument located beside the B8062 close to Dunning in Perthshire. The monument carries the daubed inscription ‘Maggie Wall burnt here 1657 as a Witch’. Some people clearly come here in the knowledge of what the memorial represents – there are many small tokens left as offerings on the cairn below the cross. Reputedly, a wreath is left here to Maggie on occasion. Someone certainly repaints the inscription regularly. Unlike these ‘pilgrims’ I just stumbled upon the site on my way past and in the assumption that it marked a battle from Scotland’s history came back to take a look. What I found was a mystery!

In 17th century Scotland and England, not to mention much of Europe, fear of witchcraft combined with religious fervour and resulted in the deaths of many women. It was the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 that made witchcraft, or consulting with witches, capital crimes in Scotland though the peak period of burnings appears to have been 1658 and 1662. In general these were faithfully recorded by clerks of the law courts or the church’s own court. Historians can read about the witch burnings of 16th and 17th century Scotland for they were very well chronicled by the courts of the time – Some of the records are even available online. Six witches were tried in Dunning in 1662, an event which is faithfully recorded. However, there is no record of a witch trial in 1657 nor any reference to a witch called Maggie Wall. The Scotsman newspaper has a number of interesting articles about this mystery and a good starting point for any of my readers wishing to learn a bit more would be their article here. Another source to visit is the Dunning Parish Historical Society website where you can read more about the local events of the period. There appears to have been a lot of local unrest in the area around the time and the local laird, Lord Rollo, would seem to be implicated along with the priest of St. Serf’s church.

One thing that does seem clear is that the monument itself is much more recent. Like the professional historians I’ve done a bit of checking on old maps in the National Library of Scotland’s archive. The earliest map that I have found a reference to the monument on it is the 1862 25 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map which was surveyed in 1859. The monument sits beside the road as it does today but it is in the edge of a plantation of trees called Maggie Walls Wood. The wood appears on the John Stobie map of 1783 but is not named and the scale is too small to categorically state that the wood was named or had a monument. So the earliest date we have for the monument is 1859. A theory put forward on the Dunning Parish website suggests that the monument may have been constructed by Lord Rollo. This carries the assumption that there was some historical family guilt in the matter. Was Maggie Wall murdered without trial on suspicion of witchcraft by an earlier Laird? Or perhaps she was a servant girl on the estate who died at the hands of one of the Laird’s sons? A story of burning a witch would have been a good way to cover up the crime and that would explain why there is no recorded trial! Another thought that occurs to me is the nature of the monument. Was it really erected to the memory of a witch? The scrawled text is hardly in keeping with the quality of the stonework. Perhaps it was intended to mark the Battle of Dorsum Crup in 965AD which may have been fought in the valley below (appearing on maps now as Duncrub) – historians are still debating where this battle actually took place! So perhaps it was never inscribed and its purpose was then suborned by some Victorian graffiti artist?

All this is just supposition. The truth seems destined to remain hidden in the ashes of long dead pyres. Today the monument stands stark against the sky for even the wood is just a memory – cleared and the land given over to grazing sheep. You can see the view from the memorial in the last picture of my Ochil Hills post – the sheep are walking in Maggie Walls Wood.

Advertisements

A Photo a Week Challenge: Over 100 Years Old

I decided for Nancy’s challenge I’d pick one of our local buildings that has quite a bit of history although much of its fabric is Victorian or newer. This is the parish church of St.Mary-at-Finchley. The name itself implies antiquity. Here is a shot of the current exterior of the church…It’s actually quite a challenge to photograph it at all with all the surrounding trees. Here’s the tower with a clock that is hidden from most angles of view…It’s a tower now but apparently there was once a spire before the rebuild of the church in the Victorian period. Here’s the porch…You see what I mean about the clock! Lets talk history.

Reputedly a church was founded on this site as the Church of Our Ladye Saint Marye at Fynceslea by Bishop Erkenwald around AD675. It was to serve the workmen who felled the timber used in the construction of the second Saint Paul’s Cathedral replacing the first that had been destroyed by fire. The land which formed part of the Bishop’s estates was forested in those days. Fynceslea is Anglo-Saxon and translates as Finches Clearing – it’s tempting to think that the leader of the workforce cutting the trees for the new cathedral went by the name of Finch but it’s more probably a reference to local bird life. The church would also have served as a resting-place for the pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of Saint Alban at Verulamium. Sadly there is no current physical evidence for this first church.

The church was rebuilt in Norman times circa 1100AD and some archaeological evidence of this building exists. The font is a 12th century bowl that was found buried in the rectory garden and was restored on a modern plinth in 1891. During the Victorian restoration in 1872, a lancet window of about 1150, a piscina (recess with drain where the sacred vessels were washed), sedilia (stone seats for the clergy) and a fresco of St. George and the Dragon were also discovered. An aumbry (locker where the vessels were kept) was disclosed during the restoration of 1953.

The main body of the current church dates to the 15th century. The north side and the base of the tower date from this period – though the chantry chapel was already in existence having been built by the Lord of the Manor in 1334. There are many commemorative plates to be found along the north wall the oldest of which dates back to 1487 which in turn probably places the actual 15th century rebuild at circa 1460. The south aisle was added in 1872 and extended to its current state in 1932. Here is an interior view looking down the nave towards the altar…The toys scattered on the carpet by the altar are there for the resident play-group who were coming in as I was taking the photos. The altar end of the church was damaged by bombing in 1940 and was rebuilt in 1953 when the church was given its current makeover.

One outstanding memorial is mounted on the wall of the south aisle though it must have been mounted elsewhere originally as it predates the building of the aisle (probably on the original south wall). It is the memorial to Alexander Kinge who died in 1618 and is an excellent example of its type……though originally it may have had cherubs mounted on the plinths at the top on either side. If so they’ve been lost somewhere along the way as the church has grown. Alexander Kinge was an Auditor of the Exchequer and the Royal Mint for Queen Elizabeth I and he continued in royal service under King James I.

There are many old graves in the churchyard. Here’s one I picked at random that has withstood the British climate well for over 250 years…

I hope this slice of Finchley history was of interest 🙂

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Letter L

Needs to have at least two syllables…

Litter, or more specifically, Leaf Litter…
Lorry – MAN Heavy duty 8 wheeler in Barcelona…
Ladies – Representing our kit sponsors this season…
Leyland Leopard – a blast from the past. 1970’s coach travel in the UK. The Leyland chassis carries a Duple body.   This is a scan of an old Kodachrome 64 slide taken in August 1978…

Catch up with Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge Here.