AN IRVINE historian has launched a campaign for a permanent memorial to a woman burned at the stake 400 years ago in a shameful ‘witch trial’.

The Memorial for Margaret Campaign was launched last week by Billy Kerr in the hopes of having memorial commissioned in memory of Margaret Barclay the Irvine woman burned alive in 1618 for being a ‘witch’.

Margaret Barclay’s story is one of intrigue, horror and shame.

The young mother, known for her fiery temper, was married to Archibald Dean, a respected citizen of Irvine.

After a row erupted between Margaret and her in-laws in 1618 over an alleged theft, Margaret was accused of cursing her sister-in-law Janet Dean and her husband’s brother John Dean.

Margaret was said to have cursed a cargo boat called The Gift Of God, owned by her brother-in-law John Dean. When the boat was recorded as lost at sea - with John onboard - Janet reported her sister-inlaw and Margaret was arrested on suspicion of witchcraft.

Interrogaters placed iron A depiction of the burning of Margaret Barclay. bars upon the young mum’s outstretched legs one at a time until the pain became unbearable, eventually drawing a forced confession out of her.

She was sentenced to death by strangulation followed by burning at the stake.

Billy said: “It really is a quite horrific tale. A lot of people think these witch trials were conducted on the really old or the really poor, but that’s not the case with Margaret Barclay.

"She was a young married mother. There are documents which say she had a servant girl and her husband was well respected Merchant so she would have been middle class.

“After she fell out with her in laws she was alleged to have said she hoped her brother-in-law’s boat sank ‘and their bodies be eaten by crabs at the bottom of the sea’.

So when the boat never returned she was accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death.

“She would have lived in either Bridgegate, Townhead or High Street at the time and on the day of her death sentence she would have been taken through the town to what is now Malcolm Gardens, but was known as Springfield then.”

Margaret was also forced to name a co-accused because authorities didn’t believe witches worked alone, so long with her others charged with supernatural crimes were three other innocents.

The first was a girl called Isobel Crawford, who was to suffer the same fate as Margaret.

Another was Isobel Inch an elderly widow who was locked in the church belfry until she confessed.

However the night before promising a confession, Isobel tried to escape, but fell from the belfry and suffered catastrophic injuries which resulted in a slow, agonising death, five days later, made worse by the fact that she too, was tortured, even as she lay dying from her injuries.

The fourth accused was John Stewart a wandering tramp who was locked inside the Toll Booth, which is now the Townhouse.

After spending weeks tied up he managed to convince a visiting minister to free his hands, just to relieve him from the pain for a short while.

However he managed to hang himself whist he was free and avoided what would have surely been a gruesome death at the hands of his accusers.

Billy said he feels a Memorial For Margaret is important for the town to recognise the wrongs committed against innocents accused of supernatural crimes.

He said: “ I think it would honour her memory and of course all the poor wretches in Irvine accused of witchcraft.

It would be good to have it on the very site where she and others were cruelly executed. “I often wonder what was going through that poor girl’s head as they took her through the town to her death.

It’s actually quite horrifying to think of.”

It is estimated that about 2,500 women in Scotland were executed for witchcraft between the mid-16th and early18th centuries, yet there is no large-scale public memorial to the fact.

Earlier this year Ayrshire MSP Ruth Maguire tabled a motion in Scottish Parliament, which mentioned The Trial of Margaret Barclay, to ask government for memorials to be created to mark the deaths of the thousands who were brutally tortured and killed under the Witchcraft Act 1563.

The motion also said that while the Scottish Government could not fund such memorials it “wishes all involved every success as they strive to raise national awareness of the thousands of people who were tortured and killed during the Scottish Witch Trials”.