A LONGNIDDRY resident has delved into Musselburgh’s history of witchcraft to publish a new book inspired by the town’s burgh records.

David Robertson, whose former research into the witchcraft of East Lothian was featured in his book Goodnight My Servants All, published in 2007, found references in recently rediscovered trial records to 17th-century “black magic” charms – which were actually pre-Reformation Christian prayers.

David, 75, has combined the details of these previously unknown trials with other cases of Musselburgh witchcraft in his new book, A Calendar of Musselburgh Witchcraft.

The Forthview Road resident said: “There were very few Musselburgh records in Register House, and they were supposed to have been lost, but a few years ago they were discovered in a locked room in the town hall in Musselburgh.

“There was a real treasure trove of old burgh records, including two court books.”

The rediscovered records were moved to Haddington’s John Gray Centre, where David read through them to look for witchcraft trials.

He found two cases, from 1624, of young women named Jonet Little and Agnes Mitchell who were found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to be strangled then burnt.

David said: “That was the stock punishment for witchcraft. People run away with the idea that witches in Scotland were burnt alive but that is nonsense. They were strangled at the stake and then their corpse was burned.”

The records of their trial quoted the “diabolic” charms the women were said to have used – actually Catholic prayers.

David said: “There were references to the Virgin Mary and to the saints and angels, which was not the sort of thing the new Protestant church in Scotland liked to hear about.

“They thought these Catholic prayers were so beyond the pale they could be used to invoke the Devil. But I don’t think that’s what the women who used them thought.”

But David’s book also seeks to point out that some of the women accused of witchcraft were not necessarily innocent of all crimes.

He explained: “Obviously it’s a good thing if people are trying to cure other people of illnesses and diseases, no matter how useless the cures may be.

“But after all the research I’ve done, I think at least some of these people were prepared to take on more dubious jobs.

“People would come to them for cures but sometimes people would come to them and ask to get rid of an unwanted husband or a sick child that had become a nuisance.

“While the majority of these professional healers was just what these women were, I do think there was at least the odd one that was prepared to take on a contract that was basically criminal.

“One plant commonly used was foxglove leaves and the healer would use the phrase: ‘This will end or mend.’”

A Calendar of Musselburgh Witchcraft is available via troubador.co.uk/bookshop/history-politics-society/a-calendar-of-musselburgh-witchcraft