When witches ruled in Forfar?

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For Hallowe’en, the Meffan Museum & Art Gallery has The Gruesome Story of the Forfar Witches, a free temporary exhibition.

It opened on Tuesday, and will run until November 14.

The exhibition shows how much of a barbaric bunch the people of Forfar were, during a truly terrifying time in the town’s past. It includes original witches’ confessions, dating from the 1660s, on loan to the Meffan from Angus Archives.

The exhibition can be visited during normal Meffan opening hours, 10 am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

According to the town council’s records, the witch hunt appears to have been triggered in 1661 by an argument between Isobel Shyrie, a poor woman unable to pay her taxes, and Baillie George Wood, a tax collector. During the quarrel, Isobel cursed Baillie Wood. When the unfortunate man suddenly dropped dead, all fingers pointed at Isobel.

In those days, it was considered that there were three ways to spot a witch - she went by a nickname instead of the name she was baptised with; there was a mark on her body that was impervious to pain; or she practiced ‘malefice’, which was the use of supernatural means to do evil.

Isobel was widely believed to be guilty of malefice, which was sufficient for her to be sent to the dungeon below the Tolbooth, situated on the road next to the Town House in Forfar town centre.

Stirred up by the burgh’s zealous new minister, James Robertsone, the hunt was soon under way for the other witches in Isobel’s coven.

Further information is available on 01307 476482, from the. meffan@angus.gov.uk or on Facebook – Angus Museums.