THE “harrowing” stories of witches, fornicators and other women “criminals” through the age will come under the spotlight at a new exhibition this week.

Drawn from original records found in Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives, Outcasts: Women, Crime and Society reveals forgotten cases dating from the 16th-20th centuries.

Part of the Granite Noir International Crime Writing Festival, it will run at The Music Hall and Lemon Tree venues from Thursday until Sunday as audiences are asked to consider the “morbid fascination” around women who are seen to be on the wrong side of the law.

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The free show explores how society has been “all too comfortable casting disproportionate blame on women for certain types of crimes and misdemeanours”, according to organisers.

From the Enactment Book to the Kirk Session records, the exhibition highlights the position of poverty-stricken women across the centuries. From prostitution to infanticide, petty theft to pre-marital sex records show how many individuals in desperate circumstances fell foul of the law.

Senior archivist Katy Kavanagh said: “Some of the cases are truly harrowing, and it really makes you appreciate the progress that has been made towards equality.”

The material spans from the late 1500s, when witchcraft paranoia began in Aberdeen. Over two years, around 40 cases were recorded, with many women executed following imprisonment and torture.

In one case, Isobel Strathanchyn – also known as “Skuddie” – was accused of casting love spells and using human remains to work magic. The records show the accounts payable for the costs of her imprisonment and execution, from 26 loads of peats, four barrels of tar and six loads of firewood for burning her to the executioner’s fee.

Entries from the Kirk Sessions show how one woman, Margaret Dunbar, was brought to face punishment for having a child out of wedlock – even though the court acknowledged she had been raped and had identified her attacker.

Another tells how Pitfodels outworker Catherine Anderson was accused of concealing her pregnancy and smothering her newborn. Her counsel, a Mr J C Wilson, argued for clemency on her behalf, stating that she was “in the most wretched circumstances – without food, without clothing, and without the means of procuring them, and altogether alone and in her misery, her child was born, and this child unfortunately met its death.”

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In another incident from the 1740s, Anna Durward and Margaret Campbell elected to leave Scotland for “some of His Majesty’s plantations in America” after “several years” in the Tolbooth on suspicion of murdering their children. Records show that if the pair did not leave, they would have been imprisoned again for three months and publicly “scourged”, or whipped, every market day by the common hangman.

Aberdeen City Council culture spokesperson Councillor Marie Boulton said: “We’re delighted to see our UNESCO recognised archives being used to tell the tragic stories of women who were on the fringes of society, perhaps because of poverty or persecution, and in some cases because they sought a life of crime. These fascinating women have much to teach us about our city’s past and perhaps even our present.”

Full details can be found at