The town earned itself a notorious reputation in the 17th century, due to the number of women burned for witchcraft. The executions took place on land just north of the town which is still known as "The Witches' Hollow". The town retains some particularly gruesome instruments of that period, in particular the Forfar Bridle. This was a hinged metal collar with a metal prong to the front which entered the mouth as the collar was fastened around the victim's neck, it acting as a gag during the execution.
According to the town council's records, the witch hunt appears to have been triggered in 1661 by an argument between Isobel Shyrie, a poor woman who was unable to pay her taxes, and Baillie George Wood, a tax collector. During the quarrel, Isobel cursed Baillie Wood. When the unfortunate man suddenly dropped dead, all fingers pointed at Isobel.
In those days, it was considered that there were three ways to spot a witch - she went by a nickname instead of the name she was baptised with; there was a mark on her body that was impervious to pain; or she practiced 'malefice', which was the use of supernatural means to do evil. Isobel was widely believed to be guilty of malefice, which was sufficient for her to be sent to the dungeon below the Tolbooth, situated on the road next to the Town House in Forfar town centre.
Find out more about the Forfar witches at the Meffan Museum.