Sawley (Lancashire): Pendle Hill and Sawley AbbeyElizabeth Gaskell
Sawley (Lancashire): Pendle Hill and Sawley Abbey, Sawley
Richard Rothwell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Located on the River Ribble, Sawley is a village in Lancashire near Pendle Hill. Pendle Hill overlooks the village of Sawley and the ruins of Sawley Abbey, a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument originally built in the 12th century. Lancashire, and in particular Pendle Hill, is almost synonymous with the Lancashire witches and their infamous 17th century witch trial. Although the Bowland Fells are nearby, Pendle Hill is a solitary and isolated hill: with several dedicated walks, including the Lancashire Witches walk, its summit boasts beautiful views of the surrounding scenery and maintains a persistent association with witchcraft to this day.

Gothic heritage

Elizabeth Gaskell was a prolific writer of Ghost stories in the nineteenth centuries, although her novels, such North and South, and contributed to her popularity. First published in 1850 in Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words, Gaskell’s short story ‘The Heart of John Middleton’ draws upon the Gothic legacy of Sawley Abbey and Pendle Hill. The narrator of the story states:

“I was born at Sawley, where the shadow of Pendle Hill falls at sunrise. I suppose Sawley sprang up into a village in the time of the monks, who had an abbey there. Many of the cottages are strange old places; others, again, are built of the abbey stones, mixed up with the shale from the neighbouring quarries; and you may see many a quaint bit of carving worked into the walls, or forming the lintels of the doors.”

Falling in love Nelly Hadfield who’s grandmother was “reputed as a witch […] such as were burnt long ago on Pendle Hill”, the narrator intervenes during an interaction between Nelly and John Middleton, who throws a stone at Nelly. Decades later, John Middleton stumbles across the narrator now married to Nelly (who is bed-bound due to her injury) and discovering their identities emotionally reveals he has been haunted by the spirit of Nelly ever since.

Other Literary heritage

Pendle Hill and the 17th century witch trials is the setting of Mist Over Pendle (1951), an historical novel by Robert Neil. Also taking inspiration from the historical witch trials, Jeanette Winterson’s 2012 novel The Daylight Gate is an enthralling, though fictional retelling of the Pendle witches.

Further information

As well as Pendle Hill, Lancashire is also home to several castles including Lancaster Castle, where the 1612 Witch trials took place. Nearby, Clitheroe Castle stands on Castle Hill in the Ribbel valley.

Interesting fact

After experiencing a religious vision on Pendle Hill in 1652, George Fox, founder of the Quakers, detailed this event in his autobiography. To this day, Pendle remains importantly to the Quakers.

For Visitors

You can find more information about visiting Sawley Abbey and Pendle Hill at the following links: