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Clock Tower at St. Nicholas Kirk  /


During King James VI’s rule, the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597 took place. King James had a voracious interest in the subject and considered witchcraft to be a form of theology.  He believed that all witches deserved death by fire. 


William Shakespeare visited the city at this time with a company of comedians at the behest of the King. His experiences formed the inspiration for the Weird Sisters in Macbeth. 


Throughout this period Aberdonians were tortured and forced confessions formed the basis of dittays, the accusations used for executions. In the old steeple of St. Nicholas, the site of the current clock tower, the first witches were imprisoned. One of the accused, Mantieth, hung herself here. There are many substantial records relating to the witch trials (in secretary hand) that show receipts for each execution; the provost’s signature for bitumen and tar barrels, a hangman’s fee or the blacksmith’s bill for forging shackles.  


Women were dragged to their death from the steeple by cart as huge crowds jeered from the street. Many of their imaginary crimes were based in gossip from rural districts at the time. Some were charged with making healing potions, leading dances in the countryside, causing cows to milk venom, or raising destructive winds at sea. Others simply were born with a birthmark, known as the mark of the devil. 


The clock tower’s original spire, built in the 1500s, was made from lead-covered wood. In 1874 it burned down when a chandelier caught fire and its peal of bells destroyed. The granite façade and current steeple bear little resemblance to what went before.  It is now the home to one of the largest carillons in Britain and 48 bells which ring out across the city. 



Only the ghost of Mantieth remains. 


This project was a collaboration with writer Adelle Stripe who explored the city with me and created the stories and histories that sit alongside the thirteen main images from the exhibition. Secret Cities Aberdeen was part of the SPECTRA Festival of Light 2017 in Aberdeen and commissioned by Curated Place. 

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