The Bakewell Witches, music composed by Lynn Wise (1973)

Performed by Shivelights, Manon McCoy (Celtic harp, vocals), Juliana Day (recorder, vocals), Johnny Keating (guitar, vocals)

Recorded and mixed by Thomas Lebioda at the Laundry Rooms Studio III, Sheffield.

The Story

Bakewell’s Old House Museum successfully applied for funding made available by Arts Council England and the National Lottery Fund during the first lockdown of 2020.

This emergency funding made it possible to develop QR codes as a way of sharing the story of the museum and its history with visitors to the Old House and to its new website.

Thomas Lebioda, a Sheffield based musician and sound engineer, came on board to help record the informative sound clips for the QR codes. He also suggested that a musical background would work well as an accompaniment to the spoken word.

Our museum manager, Anita Spencer, suggested the song 'The Bakewell Witches' by Lynn Wise for that purpose. The sheet music and lyrics had several years ago been brought into the museum by an acquaintance of the author and had been archived. They researched the song and found a performance of it by Mr Gladstone's Bag at the Sidmouth Folk Festival of 1974. They also managed to contact the composer of the song, Lynn Wise and obtained permission to record the song.

He researched the song and found a performance of it by Mr Gladstone’s Bag at the Sidmouth Folk Festival of 1974. He also managed to contact the composer of the song, Lynn Wise who had written it in 1973.

Sheffield based band Shivelights came up with an instrumental and vocal arrangement and a recording session was arranged.

The original lyrics were slightly abridged for this recording in favour of a more dulcet song arrangement.

See the full original lyrics on this page

The subject of the song is a particularly powerful event in Bakewell’s history too.

It is a tragic tale with resonance over the centuries, raising the questions of who is to be believed, no matter how unlikely their story might be, and who are the victims of prejudice.

It’s a story that is sometimes attributed to White Watson (1760- 1835) the Bakewell antiquarian and historian. It is one of the few published legends about Bakewell and has inspired stories told and shared in recent local history books and on the Bakewell Ghost Walks. Bakewell Youth Theatre created and performed a powerful promenade play based on this story, using the historic buildings of the town as a setting. Lynn Wise adapted the story into a contemporary folk song.

There’s both tragedy and a dark kind of comedy in the story of the two women, hat makers, living in Bakewell at the beginning of the seventeenth century. They took in lodgers to supplement their income. Some say they were sisters, others that it was a widow, Mrs Stafford, and her maid. They lived below the churchyard, perhaps in the area that is now on King Street.

They had the misfortune to take in a Scottish pedlar, an itinerant door to door salesman. Taking advantage of the two women, he left without paying his bill in the middle of the night and made his way to London. In his haste he left some of his belongings behind. The two women put it down to experience and kept his shirts in place of payment.

Once in London the pedlar was discovered by a nightwatchman, trespassing in the cellar of a merchant’s house. Hauled up before the local magistrate he spun a fantastic tale about how he had got there. He claimed to have flown through the air and landed in the basement, thanks to a spell the two women in Bakewell had placed on him. He claimed to have witnessed them casting the spell through a hole in the floorboards. He also said that they had kept some of his personal possessions for that purpose.

Ridiculous as this story is to our ears, these were difficult times for women without the protection of a man. King James 1st had revived the Witchcraft Act in 1604 after a claimed attempt on his life, and witchhunters were out and about up and down the country accusing innocent women of witchcraft with hideous trials by ordeal to prove innocence.

The witchhunters made their way to Bakewell, found the women and discovered the pedlar’s possessions as so called proof. A confession was forced out of the women, they were sent to Derby Assizes and hung for witchcraft in 1607.

The Song

A Scotsman on his travels, for London being bound.
He chanced to spend some time in fair Bakewell Town.
He enquired after lodgings to rest his weary frame.
And shortly into Mrs Stafford's house he came.

And it's over thick and over thin.
Now devil to the cellar in London!

'Twas but a few days later, his rest there did expire.
When Mrs Stafford for the lodgings some payment 
did require.
But he had not the money to pay all that he owed.
So she seized on his possessions, threw him out upon 
the road.

So he journeyed into london with vengeance in his mind.
But when he reached the city, no lodgings could he find.
At length into some cellar for rest he had to creep.
Where a watchman came upon him as he lay there asleep.

So the  watchman then arrested him and took him to Newgate.
Where the following day he did appear before the Magistrate.
And to maintain his liberty, to vengeance he did resort.
He said it was by Witchcraft to the cellar he was 

For last night I stopped to take a rest in Derby's 
pleasant land.
Being in the town of Bakewell, as you might understand.
Mrs Stafford and her sister, my lodgings did supply.
And these words I overheard as in my bed I did lie.

I mumbled these words in my sleep when a strange 
wind then blew.
And it was in some London cellar that my senses I came to.
Where Mrs Stafford and her sister were bundling up 
some clothes.
They gave to me a sleeping draught, then to Bakewell 
they did go.

Now the Scotsman, by his story, his liberty has gained.
Mrs Stafford and her sister to Derby Gaol are ta'en.
Where his story and the clothing did prove their overthrow.
And, despite their pleas of innocence, to the gallows 
they did go.