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A Street Named Maggie

Remembering the Accused Witches of Scotland are thrilled to have been instrumental in having another street named after an accused witch.

Plan of new development in Lochay, St Monans. Photo credit: Bill Morris, St Monans & Abercrombie Community Council

In 2019, five streets in South Queensferry were named after accused witches: Helen Thompson, Marion Dauline, Marion Stern, Marion Little and Isabel Young, although the streets only bear their surnames. In 2021, Kilwinning named a street after Bessie Grahame, this was down to the hard work conducted by Heather Upfield, local historian and member of RAWS. And now, Maggie Morgan is being remembered, by having a street in the new development by Lochay in St Monans named after her: Maggie Morgan Drive.

Men are currently honoured by many statues, plaques and street names in Scotland. However, women continue to be under-represented and at times even invisible.

Men are currently honoured by many statues, plaques, and street names in Scotland. However, women continue to be under-represented and at times even invisible, nearly all the victims of the Witch Trials, which took place in Scotland from 1563 to 1736, are forgotten. The Scottish Witch Trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, often referred to as the burning times, are generally overlooked, a forgotten part of Scotland’s heritage.

Remembering The Accused Witches of Scotland are working towards changing this, the witch hunts that took place affected both women and men, with 85% of the accused being female and only 15% being male. We believe all the victims should be remembered. So, when campaign follower Barbara Cockburn, a resident of St Monans, approached RAWS asking us to support her request that a new street be named after Maggie Morgan, we were fully supportive of the idea.

Barbara had read about Maggie in Leonard Low's book The Weem Witch. This sparked her interest and in April 2021, in conjunction with RAWS committee member, researcher and author Greg Stewart, and RAWS chairperson and researcher, Sheila Gaul they compiled a letter to the Community Council to support the street naming and telling Maggie’s story. You can view the full letter here, along with Maggie's tragic story.

During the Witch Hunt years there were approximately 350 known accused witches in Fife, from this figure, the East Neuk has approximately 60, most notably in Crail with 25, Pittenweem with 21 and St Monans with two that can be found in records and one for the 15th century in folklore.

Maggie was not extraordinary, she was just a normal teenager. Her story is not well documented but it is a sad tale and one as old as time.

Maggie was not extraordinary, she was just a normal teenager. Her story is not well documented, unlike some of the later trials in Fife, but it is a sad tale and one as old as time. She was pretty, innocent and caught the eye of a local gentleman, one of the Anstruthers of Elie. Maggie, as a young woman in 1650, would have been a god-fearing person, she would have dressed modestly and adhered to all the social and religious rules for the time, and her place in it. Maggie and her family would not have wanted her to have a bad reputation or shame herself and her family in this close-knit community. When Maggie found herself pregnant, no one would believe her claims about identify of child's the father: why would a gentleman from a good family do such a thing? After all, this never happens, the misuse of power, privilege and status has and continues to allow men to get away with offences toward women and girls: nothing has changed in 400 years.

Maggie was angered and when the father of her child later drowned in the Firth of Forth, she was blamed and accused of witchcraft, tortured, found guilty, strangled and burnt. Any hope that having confessed she would have a swift end were short lived. Although the documents indicate a confession was forthcoming from Maggie upon her arrest, the reality is, this is likely to have been obtained through torture. Maggie was kept awake by her guards who sounded a horn directly into her ear, and beat her with a paddle covered in spikes, known as a witch’s goad.

It is believed that Maggie was burnt in the southwest corner of the church yard and her ashes placed in the open loft on the spire of St Monans Church, known as the Burnt Loft, to blow away and not settle on consecrated ground. It is believed that the Minister, along with other dignitaries, took the Baillies Chairs out of the church to sit and watch Maggie’s demise.

The Ballies Chairs. Photo credit: Bill Morris, St Monans and Abercrombie Community Council.

As stand-in curator of the heritage collection in St Monans with a passion for local history, Bill Morris explained that the Baillies Chairs are in the custody of the East Neuk o’ Fife Preservation Society having been returned to the town when NEFDC took over all the old town council. These chairs had until recently been used in the crowning of the sea queen, due to their age and historical importance, and perhaps their dark past. “These chairs date back to 1618 and I’m sure the then Minister Robert or David Rankine sat in them to watch young Maggie burn", Bill told RAWS in February 2022.

Her tragic story has not only caught Barbara and the Community Council’s attention but also Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. Maggie was one of the main characters in Laura’s 2019 YA book The Burning, which clearly shows the parallels between the 1600s and the 2000’s. When contacted in April 2021, Laura Bates stated, “what a wonderful idea, I would certainly support this campaign”.

Bruce Bishop, historian and author who assisted with the research for The Burning, told RAWS in April 2021, “I would certainly give my support to the idea of naming streets in memory of such ladies who were so often ill-considered by the annals of history. Often they were the women who held the only available remedies, especially to the poorer people, and you wonder how many of our modern remedies owe their origins to the folk memories and traditions of these 'witches'. So I would happily give my support to your project".

RAWS agree that this is a wonderful, respectful opportunity for St Monans to show that it is a community proud of its colourful past.


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