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Pendle Hill - The friendly face of witchcraft

PUBLISHED: 20:45 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 18:12 21 October 2015

Jim Ashworth at home with a witch friend

Jim Ashworth at home with a witch friend

Paul Mackenzie meets Pendle's witchmaster and gets a glimpse of Alice Nutter's undies<br/>PHOTOGRAPHS BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

Various Pendle witches Various Pendle witches

WITCHES have had a bad press over the years but they're not all evil, cackling hags who'd turn you into a frog soon as look at you. The coven on an industrial estate just off the M65, for instance, are a genial bunch with gentle smiling faces.

And you can forget the old image of the tatty black rags, too - these witches wear glam spangly leggings, jewellery and, for those chilly Hallowe'en flights, woolly jumpers.

Even their cats, bats and spiders are cuddly. Their witchmaster general is Jim Ashworth, the jovial managing director of Sawley Fine Arts, whose Witches of Pendle brand has taken off in the last three years. 'Most of our witches are not scary,' he said. 'They are comparatively good looking.'

Of the 132 witches in Jim's current range, some are big, some small, some stand, some sit and others are astride their broomstick, but all have porcelain faces which smile benignly without a hi
nt of menace.

'They all have names,' added Jim, growing increasingly enthusiastic. 'A lot of them are named after the Pendle witches and every one comes with accessories, jewellery, fragrances and a little booklet about the Pendle Witch trail. 'We do the witches in different sizes and in different coloured clothes.We do a couple of wizards as well as well as spiders, cats, bats, keyrings, jewellery and fridge magnets.

This is a nice witch, with some lovely undergarments.' And with that he peeks under Alice Nutter's hessian cloak and silky robes at her cobweb-patterned fishnet slip. Jim is a former printing company boss who came out of his early retirement to produce a range of soft toy cats and dogs in the early 1990s. The witches are a more recent innovation, brought about by a conversation with Maureen Stopforth at the Witches Galore shop in Newchurch.

'I supplied Maureen with black cats,' Jim said. 'She suggested we should do some witches. A few weeks later I was at a trade fair in Hong Kong when I met a young Thai lad on a stall. He sent me some examples of what he could do and I met Maureen to show her.We thought it would work so we got some samples over and developed the range.

'I think Pendle, and Lancashire in general, are massively under-rated tourism areas and we are trying to do what we can to raise the profile a little bit.

'We send the witches all over the UK and across Europe but we realise it's a niche market.We know they aren't everyone's cup of tea and they're never going to fly off the shelves,' he adds without irony, as he straightens Demdike's broomstick.

'They're not toys for children to play with, they are collectibles but for next season we are doing a range of smaller, funky witches in pinks and blues and we're developing a fibre optic witch.'

The witches - made by co-operative in Thailand - make up about 20 per cent of the total turnover for Sawley Fine Arts, with the remainder accounted for by soft toys. Cats and dogs make up the bulk of the range but they share the warehouse with a zoo-full of creatures including seals, puffins, sheep and a highland cow wearing a tartan scarf and tam o'shanter.

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