Tag Archives: pendle

Heritage on a bus

I live in Pendle, Lancashire. If I travel into Manchester by bus I take a the X43 transdev route, entitled the ‘Witch Way’. The name comes from the dark history of the Pendle Witch Trials; a rich source of tourism for the area and a lot of fun at Halloween.

In recent years, the Witch Way buses have been rebranded. Gone is the full-moon silhouette of a witch on a broomstick and in its place is a young, blond, sexualised witch as though plucked straight from the 1960s ‘Bewitched’ TV show.

Witch Way Bus X43

Current Transdev Bus X43 ‘Witch Way’ [Photo: Robert Wade (flickr, Creative Commons: Attribution-non-commercial-sharealike)]

The bus company is, of course, trying to distinguish itself with a memorable image. I don’t expect transdev to think deeply about the history of the witch trials and the associated issues, but it does seem to me that the the current Witch Way motif is symptomatic of the heritage approach to the Pendle Witch Trials, not to mention the portrayal of women more generally.

The Pendle Heritage Centre offers a permanent exhibition which tells the story of the women accused of being witches. Interestingly, the display boards which tell this story do not make it clear who is narrating. The women are described as witches and reference is made to the magic they are said to have performed. These may be extracts from contemporary court reports, but they may have been written by the heritage centre. The effect is that there is no humanising discussion of the women (and men) who were subjected to anguishing ordeals of imprisonment and execution. The centre portrays them as witches. As part of the exhibit, a video production tells the tale of the trials with dark stylised images and atmospheric music, all narrated by Tom Baker’s deep voice of foreboding.

In some respects the exhibit offers the visitor a chance to interpret the history for themselves through a creative interpretation; since the curatorial voice is not identified clearly then the visitor may feel as though they can react as they wish. But here the theatrical and emotional aim of the exhibit is to create an aura of mystery and otherness; otherness of the past and otherness of the women who were persecuted. This approach skirts the horrifying issue of 17th century misogyny and instead almost normalises the masculine religious and social ideology of the time: as if to pass on the message: “there really was something strange about those women, so it’s not surprising that society acted against them in this way.”

It seems to me that the approach prevents visitors from seeing the event as a context for the current status of women in society: women’s intuition as mysterious power; the portrayal of domestic skills as arcane and their incompatibility with the ‘real’ world of work; perceived unstable and emotional reactions compounded by menstrual cycles; even the way that women hold their faces (as with recent online references to ‘resting bitch face’). And, of course most recently, the recent comments made by Sir Tim Hunt.

So, within this context, when I see the X43 and its witch-based motif, I see a veneer of commercialism, marketing and sexualisation; a male gaze echoing on through the centuries which denies the relevance of the witch trials to our world today.

Or am I being po-faced?

Pendle Hill

Pendle Hill all frosty

Pendle Hill all frosty

Last month the frost visited and crisped Pendle Hill with a white coating. It was pretty. I enjoy seeing the hill from various points throughout Pendle and find it a comforting landmark as I return home from work or longer trips away. Its prominence makes me think about the impact of landscape on us; how it subtly becomes part of our subjective interpretation of the world. When I worked in the nearby town of Nelson I used to enjoy seeing Pendle Hill standing tall behind the library as I walked down Market Street. The hill is no Mount Olympus, but I still had to lift my head to take in its horizon. That particular viewpoint seems to highlight the size of the hill, but it isn’t just the physical magnitude of the landmark that makes it so effective.

Symbolically linked with the trial of the Pendle witches and an important aspect of Pendle’s tourism, the hill represents the history and heritage of the area. It is woven into the discourse of life in the region with a local saying suggesting that if you can’t see Pendle then it’s raining and if you can see Pendle then it’s about to rain. From the top you can see for a considerable distance, with many claiming to see as far as Blackpool Tower – perhaps I’ve not had lucky enough weather…

View from Pendle near the bottom

View from Pendle near the bottom

Its impact as a feature of the landscape is, I think, enhanced by its accessibility; it is a steep climb, but achievable by a wide range of people. The hill works as a common ground for conversation because you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who has not climbed it once. As a consequence there is shared use of landscape and spatial heritage, but also of corporeal heritage; while I am reticent to imply concepts of common sense based on the body (all of our experiences are different, affected by society, culture, history etc.), we nonetheless feel that we have a common frame of reference as our bodies tend broadly to be similar. For me, to learn that somebody else has climbed Pendle is to be sure that they have been to the same place as me and also that they have learned some of the same things that I have.


View from the slope of Pendle

View from the slope of Pendle

We feel the work in our thighs and in our lungs as we climb and we see the effect of these exertions in our perception of the landscape or the world – the fruit of the climber’s labour is to see, hear and feel all the things about being on a tall hill that you don’t feel at the bottom. Some of these things are sensual: the wind on our skin or in our ears; the view of the towns and villages. But there are also intangible elements associated with these, such as the concept of space and the awareness that we gain of being within a landscape. The view demonstrates geographical context for us; we perceive ourselves at once to be both in one place and not in the neighbouring places that we see. It is one of the most fundamental othering effects of phenomenology; a simple reminder of the multiplicity of the world and of reality.

From the top of Pendle

From the top of Pendle

De Certeau discusses the hyperreal effect of viewing a city from above, how we feel as though we are seeing the city as a whole; it’s essence captured for us in one vision. But we are unable to see the detail of the functions and lived experience that make a city real. So it is with the view from Pendle Hill. What we see is simplified, like a map of the land reduced to the distant Yorkshire landscape, the towns on Nelson and Colne and the misty horizon towards the west coast. This hyperrealised representation is not a bad thing. It is a beautiful and different perspective.

And afterwards, when we reach the bottom with tired legs and hungry bellies, there are even more subjective experiences to be enjoyed in the Barley pubs.