Pittenweem ‘witch’ inspires songstress

Emily Barker'Janet Cornfoot song
Emily Barker'Janet Cornfoot song

AN 18th century Pittenweem woman who was stoned and crushed to death after being accused of witchcraft has been immortalised in song.

Australian singer songwriter Emily Barker was so moved by the tragic story of Janet Cornfoot – one of four East Neuk people persecuted in the infamous 1704 incident, when locals turned into a murderous mob driven on by an obsessed local minister – that she penned the song Witch of Pittenweem for her new album, Almanac.

“I was appalled to discover this was quite commonplace at the time and felt the story must be told,” she explained.

Together with her band The Red Clay Halo, Emily has recorded three albums and seen her song Nostalgia become the Bafta-winning theme tune to BBC One drama Wallander starring actor Kenneth Branagh. As well as playing music festivals, she has just completed a sold-out national tour and has had further mainstream exposure following the release of Alamanac, including live performances on BBC 6 Music, Radio 2 and Radio 4.

The story of the ‘Pittenweem Witches’ started when a teenager, encouraged by a local minister, accused several people of being witches.

There were tortured until they confessed and the tragedy reached its brutal zenith when Janet was captured by an angry mob. She was dragged by her heels to the harbour, submerged in the water, stoned and then crushed to death under a door, on which heavy boulders were placed and a carriage driven over.

•All Emily’s music is available for download from www.emilybarker.bandcamp.com and the latest album is also available on vinyl.