Following the passage of legislation making witchcraft a capital crime during the mid-sixteenth century, magistrates across England found themselves under increasing pressure to investigate the activities of supposed ‘witches’. The present article explores how the Justices of the Peace of one urban community – the city of Exeter – reacted to those pressures. The article shows that, in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Elizabethan statute of 1563, the Exeter magistrates were still prepared to punish those who had been accused of witchcraft in the ‘traditional’ way – by simply banishing them from the city. Attitudes soon became harsher, however, and by 1581, at the very latest, the first execution of a convicted witch at the city gallows can be shown to have occurred. At least one further execution was to follow, in 1610, but – although these cases reveal that the hanging of supposed witches in the south-west began at least a century earlier than was previously thought – the evidence suggests that the Exeter JPs were generally more keen to restrain than to encourage the popular enthusiasm for witch-hunting.