Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 2013 festival huge success as thousand strong-crowd gathers to replay events of 1697

On Saturday 5th of October we successfully took Paisley Town Centre back to the 17th century, to a time when accusation and fear was palpable. Our annual re-enactment festival, which explores an incredibly dark period in Renfrewshire’s past, was a massive hit.

The crowd were treated to performances from community groups from across Renfrewshire, Karen E Moir dance & drama ,Turning point Scotland, Kibble Education & care centre, Bargarran Youth club, Erskine Girls brigade, Sma Shot cottages, Momentum, Capability Scotland, Razzamataz Theatre School,  Sonas Gaelic Choir and Historical Adventures. They all performed at various points throughout the six hour long event after been provided Outreach Drama Workshops from John Adam, Fablevision Studios in the months leading up to the event.

Erskine Theatre Company, who wrote the re-enactment and taught the actors who performed the main re-enactment on the stage that was erected in the towns County Square. The actors range from 7 years old to 70 years old with different backgrounds and abilities. Months of rehearsals in West College Scotland Paisley Campus the strong group of 50 actors came together on the 5th and put on a show that they will never forget and neither will the people of Paisley.

Saturday’s re-enactment was the second annual festival, but the first after Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 1697 since being its own Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation that was formed by young core group members from the Paisley Development Trust Project the previous year. Despite last year’s being a considerable success, this year’s event firmly set the bar drawing in a remarkably bigger audience. Finishing with a public procession led by a horse and cart, the crowd followed the actors from the County Square down to the Paisley Abbey, where torches were lit to signify the burning of the witches. The cast were then greeted by rapturous applause before returning to the Renfrewshire Witch Hunt shop to put their 21st century clothes back on and return to the present day. The festival event manager Ian Findlay (Fablevision Studios), brought the festival together after having to make changes last minute due to unforeseen circumstances.

Academics, local business people and community activists had attended a conference at the University of the West of Scotland the previous day, entitled: ‘Building Paisley’s Heritage: A Resource for Tourism and Regeneration?” to discuss the heritage of the town and consider case studies from other areas where urban regeneration has been led by cultural tourism.

Salem in the USA has used its dark witch history to great effect as a tourist attraction. Most notably in the UK, Salford and Gateshead are examples where manufacturing industries have decayed but regeneration has occurred through investment in major cultural and heritage projects. The Lowry in the former and the Sage in the latter, have created a new identity and generated fresh prosperity in these areas.

With the Mod also coming to Paisley this month, it’s quite clear to us that Paisley’s economy benefits greatly from such cultural events. Many of those executed in 1697 were Gaels from the Western Isles who had come to the town seeking work (their strange, incomprehensible tongue sounding threatening and foreign to lowland Paisley buddies).Saturday was therefore filled with Gaelic speech and song, acting as a precursor of what is to come with the Mod fest next week.

Perhaps an 11 year old girl from the 17th century is still influencing the fortunes of her local area.

RWH will now continue to do touring exhibitions, outreach work and it will also continue to visit Renfrewshire Schools, community centres, libraries and museums to put on smaller re-enactments and teach local people about the history of their hometown and heritage. Saturday’s success will be used a platform to build on and work towards achieving the SCIO’s strategic ambitions of growth and development into a fully established social enterprise.

If you would like to get involved with the project, have our actors come out and perform or anything else then please email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.