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History / New memorial in Scalloway remembers victims of witchcraft trials

A memorial stone with an inscription and flowers on top sits in a grassy field under a cloudy sky.

A NEW memorial has been erected in Scalloway to commemorate the people who were killed during the Shetland witchcraft trials in the 17th century.

Following the Witchcraft Act in 1563, many people were killed under the accusation of being allegedly witches during the 17th century.

A new monument has now been placed in Scalloway to commemorate the victims of these trials in Shetland.

The memorial was erected on Gallow Hill, where the last woman accused of being a witch was burnt in the early 1700s.

The last executions recorded in Shetland, in fact, are those of Barbara Tulloch and her daughter Helen.

Mark Burgess, member of the Scalloway Community Council, was one of the organisers behind the memorial.

He told Shetland News: “The Gallow Hill in effect is the last resting place of the people who were killed for witchcraft, so it is a burial site in its own right. I think it’s important to get a permanent marker there.

“It has always been notable that there has been a layer of peat ash on the ground that confirms the fact of a large mound of peat being burned and that would only be for the purpose of cremating human remains.”

Burgess continued: “Scalloway’s community has a very rich history spanning several thousand years.

“The scale of Scalloway’s history that is around us at all times is a strong part of the community itself, and a draw to people from elsewhere: it’s important to acknowledge both the good and the darker side of history for future generations.”

Some of the accusations for these executions were things such as the raising of trows, crop failure and consorting with the devil.

“These crimes are quite laughable from a modern perspective, but we have to bear in mind that people were executed because of them,” Burgess added.

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“The level of coercion that people must’ve been under to confess to those crimes is testament to the brutality of that era in itself.

“This memorial is very much tied in with the movement throughout Europe and Scotland to memorialise the unjust execution of people for reasons of prejudice, difference or superstition.”

The stone used for the memorial comes from Bressay and was carved by a local stonemason.

Funding for the memorial was received by the Scalloway Community Council from the Shetland Islands Council’s special project fund.

Brian Smith, archivist at the Shetland Museum and Archives, said: “It is splendid that at long last an effort has been made in Shetland to commemorate the poor women and men who have found themselves in this terrible position: they were accused of witchcraft which is a crime that of course does not exist.”

During these witch trials, men were also targeted along with a majority of women.

Smith continued: “There was a guy called Andrew Stephenson who lived in Califf, in Tingwall, who was executed in the early 1640s because he was alleged to have put a fishing line down into a hill and caught a boiled fish.

“Fortunately in Shetland the number of women and men killed in this way was small compared with some places such as northern Norway, where a huge slaughter of alleged witches happened – but even one person executed in this way is one too many.”

The memorial was finished last week and can now be visited by the public.

Burgess said it is a “stark reminder to us all to acknowledge difference and not see it as grounds for persecution”.

By Erin Rizzato Devlin

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