The deliberate drowning of two women for refusing to betray their beliefs was an act that continues to horrify even though it took place during an historic period more than three hundred years ago known as The Killing Times.
Despite some disputing that the execution ever took place, people from around the world continue to visit Wigtown in south west Scotland not just because of its status as a book town but because of the story of the town’s Martyrs.
One of these pilgrims will be journeying from her home on the west coast of Canada to the small Galloway town next month to attend the world premiere of a new musical production based on the story of the two women – Angels of the Tide.
But an extraordinary family history marks Sharlene Winram out from other people with links to this period in the 17th century when Scotland witnessed a terrifying and bloody crisis of faith and identity.
Anyone familiar with the story of Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson will immediately recognise that she shares her name with the army officer, Major George Winram, who oversaw the execution.
Sharlene, though, can trace her ancestry back not only to the man responsible for the deaths of the women, McLachalan aged 63 and Wilson aged just 18, but also to the family of the younger of the two women. This combination has caused an heritage of shame and difficulty for her family that has passed through the generations.
In communications with Donna Brewster, a writer and local historian in Wigtown, Sharlene wrote: “My grandma told me about it when I was six or seven, she knew the story from her husband, my grandfather Ralph Foley Winram. It was told to her as it was to each generation before in my grandfathers line, I’m sure to the very Winram who performed the act. He never got over it and passed on his regret.”
For years members of Sharlene’s family have visited Wigtown because of the connection to the tragic story and in recent years she has been researching her family history along with other people descended from Margaret Wilson.
The new musical, Angels of the Tide, has been described as a “Le Miserables comes to Wigtown.” Written by talented singer and composer Geoff Davidson, the world premiere will be performed by the Dumfries Musical Theatre Company during the Whisky Words and Wisdom Festival in Wigtown on Saturday 3rd May, followed by further performances in Dumfries.
The premiere will be held in Wigtown Parish Church, just yards from the sea where the dramatic events took place in May 1685 and where the women were buried following their deaths. Donna Brewster explained that they are hoping that as many descendants of the two women as possible will come along to see the musical.
The production promises sweeping melodies, dramatic choruses, anthems and moving and uplifting songs that “highlight a dazzling array of characters.”