Inside goddess worshipping UK cult where witch led women to reject modern world

An all-female order shunned modern life, including electricity and spoke in pseudo-medieval English as they carried out their work.

The Madrian Order originated in Oxford in the 1970s before relocating to Yorkshire.

Centred around a person best known as 'Marianne Martindale', who also went under the aliases Catherine Tyrell and Mary Scarlett, the group worshipped a female god.

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They believed in a society ran by women and referred to the outside world as “the pit”, which they viewed as miserable and loveless.

Information about the Order's time in Hebden Bridge is limited but some residents of the Calder Valley town are able to recollect their activities there in the early 80s.

Yorkshire Live reports that locals say the Madrians lived at Machpelah House, a moderately large, detached, early Victorian house.

Some remember them wearing 'Laura Ashley' style dresses and 'teatowels' as headscarves, while others remember members wearing plain white dresses.

Eileen O'Brien remembered the Order during its brief time in Hebden Bridge.

She said: "The Madrians lived in the big house opposite the road down to the station. I remember them wearing all white – a bit like nuns.

"I was roped in at one time to babysit during one of their weddings at the Birchcliffe Centre.

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“I remember a circle was drawn on the floor and the woman stood in the circle and invited the man to join her there.

"No idea how I got involved. They were intriguing, seemed intelligent and then disappeared."

The Order produced a periodical called 'The Coming Age' which was advertised for sale in the now-defunct feminist magazine Spare Rib.

For a copy, buyers were asked to post 45p to a house on Industrial Street in the centre of Todmorden.

The Order stayed in the Calder Valley for around 18 months between 1981 and 1982 before moving to Ireland in September 1982, where it gained fame and notoriety.

The group moved into a large detached house called An Droichead Beo ('The Bridge of Life' in Irish) in the remote fishing village of Burtonport, Donegal, and began calling itself 'The Silver Sisterhood'.

They lived without electricity, dressed in medieval peasant clothes including wimples and made instruments, textiles, jewellery and ornaments.

The group was captured on film by the Irish TV channel RTE, with the style of dress having turned early Victorian and Martindale – then calling herself 'Sister Breca' – talking of opening a tearoom, cafe and craft shop from the house.

When RTE returned again in 1984 things got even weirder. The society had transformed into St Bride's, a Victorian-style boarding school for adult women.

Martindale – then calling herself 'Brighe Dachcolwyn' – was the headmistress. As well as 'teaching' a traditional curriculum, the house used corporal punishment when pupils stepped out of line.

For an income, the school began programming several text adventure games for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

These early home computers weren't capable of spectacular graphics and so the games primarily comprised text – you'd type in what you wanted your character to do – and the odd illustration.

The games, which received relatively favourable reviews, included the saucy Secret of St Bride's and the gory Jack the Ripper which was the first video game to receive an 18 certificate.

Martindale, calling herself 'Catherine Tyrell', and another St Bride's resident called 'Miss Reiner' were interviewed by Gay Byrne on RTE's Late Late Show in 1988.

The school continued until 1992. The following year Martindale was convicted of assault for caning one of the 'girls' – alleged to be an older woman – at the school.

Martindale returned to England and ran a society called 'Aristasia' from a house on a middle-class street near Epping Forest, London.

Martindale would later re-emerge as the wife of Hollywood film director John Guillermin, whose credits include The Towering Inferno (1974) and King Kong (1976).

Today she calls herself Mary Guillermin and lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a marriage and family therapist.

The Order were not the last alternative inhabitants to show an interest in Hebden Bridge, as a couple of years after their departure modern-day witch Barbara Brandolani attempted to buy a former church in the nearby hamlet of slack.

However, upon learning of her plans for the former Mount Zion Baptist Chapel, angry Christians – including Cliff Richard – fundraised the money to purchase the property instead.


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