With Halloween and the Pendle Witch trial anniversary, it's a good time to be a Lancashire hag

PUBLISHED: 23:11 30 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:16 20 February 2013

Joanne knocks spots off other hags

Joanne knocks spots off other hags

With Halloween and the Pendle Witch trial anniversary, it's a wizard time to meet a Lancashire hag. Roger Borrell does just that

Joanne Halliwell can be forgiven for being a little flustered. She has just become a grandmother for the first time, but the news isnt all good.
My wart has fallen off, she complains, sitting in the bar at Samlesbury Hall. It was a particularly fine one with a lot of nice whiskers.

For most women, this would be a blessing, but not Joanne. You see, she is a hag a professional hag, warts and all. They are a very important part of the armoury when you are in this line of business.

I spent quite a lot of time getting it just right, she sighs. I made it from the end of an old spring onion that Id dried out and I dyed it ginger. The roots made excellent whiskers. Unfortunately, it fell off when I was trimming it and the wart disintegrated.

Fortunately, Joanne has enough buboes, boil and assorted blemishes to keep a coven of old crones contented. But you could tell she was attached to that wart, in all senses.

Joanne, when not being a hag, is an effervescent redhead who once occupied a checkout at a Booths supermarket in Preston. Unknown to shoppers, she had a passion for scriptwriting, so much so she gained an MA in the subject.

She had always been keen on combining role playing with writing, particularly for historic characters. Then one day her husband challenged her to make a living from it. So she quit the tills and set up JH Comedy Roles at her home in Fulwood.

Its a feast or a famine, but with Halloween coming up, my diary is just packed, says the 44-year-old mother-of-two. Im at the Museum of Lancashire, the Judges Lodgings in Lancaster and several parties. This time of year is a sell-out. The rest of the year she spends as a guest speaker hired by various organisations such as the WI and Probus Clubs.

The Pendle Witch trial anniversary has made her particularly popular and shes a regular hag at Samlesbury Hall, said to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain.

There, she is one of the team who take visitors on guided tours. Her repertoire is wide but generally her characters are, in her own words, aesthetically and hygienically challenged.

One of the most popular is a dizzy maid called Betsy, says Joanne. Shes dolally, not the full shilling so you can say all sorts to people and they arent insulted. Another is a flirt looking for a husband. Some of the men in the audience can get quite flustered when I offer to let them tickle my wart.

There can be a serious side to Joannes performances. She spends a lot of time researching characters so there is a strong element of historic authenticity and she has a powerful performance about the Irish Potato Famines. But generally, the emphasis is on fun.

Working as a hag in Samlesbury Hall must have its scary moments? Dont let on I said this, she whispers conspiratorially. But I dont believe in ghosts. And we dont believe in hags.

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