'A Northumberland Menagerie' is a stunning series of new exhibitions by artist Bethan Maddocks. Explore the extraordinary new animal-themed exhibitions at Hexham Old Gaol, Woodhorn Museum, Berwick Museum and Art Gallery and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum until Sunday October 30.

Discover stories of Northumberland's animals - past and present, real and imagined - through Bethan’s magical, paper-cut installations.  

Hexham Courant:

‘Over Familiars’ at Hexham Old Gaol reveals animal stories connected to witchcraft, trials and incarceration in Northumberland. The title of the artwork ‘Over Familiars’ is taken from the term ‘witch’s familiar’, a supernatural entity believed to accompany witches that often took the form of an animal. Most of the information we have about ‘witch’s familiars’ is taken from records of the English and Scottish witch trials of the 15th to 18th century. The animals that feature in these historic accusations of witchcraft are usually very ordinary animals such as cats, birds and hares.

 Hexham Courant:

“The Gaol would have been used as a prison during ages of upheaval, development and changing social norms. Using the stories of witch trials and historic incarceration, I wanted to explore subject matter relevant to today's changing social fabric - stories of persecution, equality and unravelling hierarchy. The histories of witch trials are horrific and yet elements of the persecution, the ‘othering’ of ,people in society can be seen mirrored in today's political rhetoric. Using playful imagery of domestic animals, wild creatures and hunting scenes I wanted to help celebrate stories of plucky wit, of class struggle and liberation, of the underdog’s victory over the powerful”.  Bethan Maddocks 

Plunge into the depths of the oldest gaol in England to discover the shadowy creatures imprisoned within the dungeon.  

Travel up through the building to spot cats dancing and hares leaping through the lift shaft.  

Upstairs in the museum, a curious collection of elevated spinning plates - inspired by the story of the Witch of Seaton Sluice – invites visitors to consider gender and class inequality within the historic witch trials and within the walls of the Old Gaol itself. 

Hexham Courant:

The papercut animals that feature on the plates are all drawn from Northumberland stories of witches and witchcraft. Witches make a popular subject for folk tales and Halloween, but the real stories of historic witch trials tell of harrowing historic persecution. It is estimated that in England between 500 and 1000 people were put to death based on accusations of witchcraft, with the vast majority being poor and older women.  

The Northumberland stories that have inspired the artworks have been sourced from community held folk stories, as well as historic records (session court papers) held by the Northumberland Archives. Through the work, Bethan invites visitors to consider gender and class inequality in society in the historic witch trails, and within the walls of Hexham Old Gaol itself. 

Find out more at www.museumsnorthumberland.org.uk   

Hexham Old Gaol is open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm and every day of the Northumberland School holidays.  

Admission is £5 adults | £4 concessions and 16s and under visit for free. Pay once and enjoy unlimited repeat visits for 12 months.