‘We need to right a terrible wrong’

Leonard Low
Leonard Low
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AN expert on the history of the ‘Pittenweem Witches’ is pushing for a memorial to be erected in the burgh.

Leonard Low is preparing for a fresh wave of interest in the terrible chapter in the burgh’s past, in which 26 men and women were accused of witchcraft and 18 were killed, after the story was the subject of a major feature last week in a national daily newspaper.

He thinks the time is now right for a long overdue monument that would give public recognition to the people who were tortured and killed.

And a Bafta-winning musician who has penned a song about one of the ‘witches’ has pledged to perform at any occasion when a memorial was being unveiled.

Leonard has already approached Fife Council and is looking to get support from Pittenweem Community Council.

Now London-based, Leonard grew up in Upper Largo and has spent years researching the little-known chapter in the East Neuk’s, and Scotland’s, history after discovering old church records from Pittenweem among papers left by his late historian father.

He wrote a book, “The Weem Witch”, and conducts regular tours at the Tolbooth in Pittenweem, the tower where, 300 years ago, the accused were held and tortured until they confessed. The feature in the national tabloid last week describes the tower as one of the most haunted places in Scotland.

“What happened to these people is horrific and it is time we had some kind of public memorial that acknowledged and put right the terrible wrong that was done to them,” said Leonard.

“It doesn’t have to be a grand monument, it could be something only a few feet high, for example, on the Western Braes, where Janet Cornfoot, one of those falsely accused and brutally murdered, was buried.”

The story of Janet Cornfoot, who was captured by a mob, tortured, stoned and then crushed to death at the harbour, inspired the singer songwriter Emily Barker to write “Witch of Pittenweem” for her latest album. She has been in touch with Leonard and said if he could get a memorial built, she would play at its unveiling.

Sandy Guthrie, chairman of the local community council, said they had not yet received any proposals or details about a memorial but he would raise it for discussion at the December meeting.