Ann Izzard
The Great Paxton Witch


The Short Version

Ann Izzard of Great Paxton was accused of being a witch in 1808.

She was regarded as an outsider and was seen as “different” in a number of ways.

The early 1800's were a difficult time for Great Paxton, there was much hardship, misfortune and poverty.

Ann was blamed for many of the ills that befell the villagers.

She was attacked as a witch by villagers (about half the adult population at the time) who were trying to break the curses they believed she had placed on them.

In earlier times the law would have supported the villagers, but led by the vicar Rev. Nicholson, nine of Ann’s tormentors were prosecuted for their assault.

They were tried twice at Huntingdon where the case was considered too significant to be dealt with by a provincial court.

They were then tried at Westminster where their crimes though relatively minor set an important precedent, eight were imprisoned for a month with two months for the ring-leader.

Ann left Great Paxton after her attack and moved to Little Paxton where she was again assaulted though less seriously.

She moved to St. Neots which was better though she was still teased by children and lived in three different places.

She died in 1838 said to be aged 91, though none of the given birthdates and apparent age at death match up.

The Ann Izzard story is an age old one of a woman persecuted and blamed by people who wanted a scapegoat. It marked an important change in official response from one supportive of the existence and persecution of witches to one that denied the existence of witches and prosecuted those who attacked those they claimed were witches.

A result of the English enlightenment at the end of the "European witch craze".

Ann Izzard wasn't really a witch and the accusations were false.



The Longer Version

The Izzards in Great Paxton

There have been many specific published "facts" about Ann Izzard that are contradictory, especially about her age, the more “witchy” accounts paint her as older, particularly as a mother which for the time make her somewhat more other. I approached her family as if I were a genealogist compiling a family tree and with the aid of family history websites have found Ann and Wright's family to be much more typical for the time.

Ann Rowe was born in Little Gidding in 1760 or 1765, she was baptized in 1765 in Little Gidding. Some accounts suggest that she was born in Offord in 1752 though this refers to a different "Rowe" family.

She worked as a live-in servant at College Farm in Great Paxton and married Wright Izzard (actually Henry Wright Izzard, but known as Wright perhaps to avoid confusion with his father, also Henry) a hand on the same farm when in her teens but no older than 20 on the 21st of Nov 1780. They moved to Great Staughton shortly afterwards and had a son, Henry in 1783. By this time Ann and Wright were without work and applied for “parish relief”, the benefits system at the time which was paid directly by the local parish. Claimants were often moved on to another parish whenever possible by officials if they could establish that responsibility for them lay elsewhere, so they came back to Great Paxton where Wright had been born and where they had been married.

An order from Great Staughton for Wright Izzard, his wife Ann and son Henry, to return to Great Paxton, 3rd March 1784.

Back in Great Paxton they were housed in a small wattle and daub thatched cottage some way from the centre of the village along Long Doles, where the spinney now is, possibly about half way down or maybe at the end where it opens out, one of the most isolated cottages in the parish.


Approximate position of the Izzards dwelling along the Long Doles.


Ann was an outsider within the village somewhat different, and unusual in appearance. One old and respected resident of St. Neots described Ann in later years as rather peculiar looking but really very inoffensive.

Wright Izzard continued to have problems supporting his children and applied for poor relief from the village again for his family in 1804, the Izzards would have been seen by some as a burden on the village.

These payments ended in 1808 when a son, Miles aged 15 or 16 found work with a farmer leading to the family becoming even poorer, there are stories from this time of Ann begging for food. Ann and Wright were living with four surviving children.

Wright Izzard was known as a wizard and Ann was a herbalist in an age when most could not afford medical care she was said to be “skilled in herbs and dimples”*, probably a means by which she could help to boost the family’s meagre income.

In the years 1808-09 life took an altogether different turn for the couple. Ann was accused of witchcraft by a number of villagers.


Great Paxton at the time:

1808 was a bad time in Great Paxton. A publication that year called “The Beauties of England and Wales” describes it as a “small mean village” made of scattered mud-walled and thatched cottages. There were 36 dwellings in 1801 with a population of 217 people, about half the size it had been at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 and probably a historical low.

In 1804 the King’s charity (named for a Mr. King and not the monarch) gave a shilling to every poor person in the village, 32 distributions were made to 114 individuals including the Izzards and the families of many of those who would persecute Ann.

This was the time of the Napoleonic wars in Europe and taxes were being levied to pay for them. There was a high death rate, a lack of permanent employment and housing was poor.

Very few villagers had livestock to take advantage of the grazing commons, though the Lord of the Manor was able to put out over 400 sheep in 1811.

The enclosures, a series of acts of parliament were under discussion for Huntingdonshire and were authorized shortly after the events described here. Enclosures denied ordinary people long standing historical free access to common land and resources such as grazing for animals and gleaned grain to make bread, so making life more difficult and expensive causing real hardship for many.


Events in Great Paxton

1799 - A 70 year old labourer named Tom Russell, (the husband of Alice Russell who will later help Ann Izzard) had a fit and died at the bottom of Paxton hill.

1801 - James Anvill accidentally drowned.

1803 - James Staughton, the six-year-old son of James and Kesiah Staughton "accidentally drowned in a pond in the [High] Street".

1808, Feb 17th. late afternoon – A young Great Paxton woman called Alice Brown (age 18) tried to walk across the frozen river to Little Paxton which cracked and she fell through. She scrambled out on the opposite bank where her friend Fanny Amey (age 17) helped her out and took her to her father’s house. On arrival Alice had an epileptic fit, almost immediately Fanny (who had a history of epilepsy) also had a fit, other versions say that it was Alice who had the history of fits.

#alt#

The site of the Ferry across the river from Great Paxton to Little Paxton where Alice Brown and Fanny Amey tried to cross the frozen river and fell through on February the 17th 1808. Top picture about 1934 (colourized) showing islands similar to how they would have been in 1808. 2020 on the left, the islands in the river have now been dredged out meaning the river is far less likely to freeze.



Alice’s fits continued regularly and were blamed on witchcraft.

Alice’s father, Tom Brown, knew of a man in Bedford with similar symptoms, he had filled a bottle with his urine, stuffed a cork with pins and put the sealed bottle in an oven. The image of an old woman of the parish appeared before him, she died within a few days and he recovered. Alice’s father tried the same to find who was bewitching his daughter. It didn’t work, but the idea of witchcraft had taken root.

1808, Feb 20th, three days after Alice Brown had fallen through the ice – Robert Emery aged 14 years and 3 months “In a fit of lunacy” hanged himself owing it was thought to the loss of his sight. He had been blind for something more than two months, this was a heavy affliction that preyed upon his mind. He used to tell his father he had “more upon it than he could bear".

1808, April 6th - The rector of Great Paxton, Reverend Nicholson was told by the mother of Alice Brown she thought witchcraft was involved in her daughters and Fanny Amey’s fits, he visited the two young women (and was told of a third, Mary Fox who had also had fits) and tried to convince them to dismiss their ideas about witchcraft, he was unsuccessful.

1808, April 12th - As Reverend Nicholson was on his way to church the next Sunday he was approached by an agitated Ann Izzard, she had heard she was accused of being the witch who was causing illness and misfortune within the village. She had been threatened, her children accused and frightened, she had fainted with fear at hearing the accusations, she told him “I am not a witch, and am willing to prove it by being weighed against the Church Bible”.

Rev Nicholson tried in church to persuade the villagers they were wrong and that witches were not real but to no avail.

1808, May 5th – This was the day of a decisive event as far as the villagers were concerned. It was market day and Ann went to St. Neots to meet her son, they returned to Great Paxton with a neighbour following a cart. The neighbour asked to put her basket on the cart, Ann kept advising against it as one of the horses was young and unmanageable, the neighbour took no notice and immediately she put her basket on the cart the horse broke away and the cart was overturned. Within an hour, the story was all round the village that Ann “Overturned a loaded cart with as much ease as if it had been a spinning wheel” supposedly out of spite against the neighbour to spill her groceries.

Great Paxton Hill 1915Paxton Hill - 1915 - colourized

1808, May 8th – After dark and 3 days following the upset cart, a group of about 50 (estimated as half the adults in the village) assembled and went to the Izzard’s cottage at about 10pm. They broke down the door, dragged Ann out of bed and threw her naked into the yard. Wright was restrained while Ann’s arms were gashed with pins to draw blood (to break her spells) her head was dashed against the stones of the path and the door bar used to strike her face, stomach and breast. Leaving her badly beaten, the mob then left.

Ann dressed herself and went to the village constable who didn’t do anything saying he hadn’t been sworn in yet. She sought help from Alice Russell** a poor widow, who unlocked her door, bandaged Ann’s wounds and gave her a bed for the night. Alice was harassed for her kindness, and disturbed by the belief expressed the next morning by the villagers that someone who offers protection to a witch is as bad as the witch herself, she neither eats nor sleeps again, she is taken ill (possibly a seizure) on the 15th of May and dies on the 20th of May.

1808, May 9th - The villagers repeated the assaults the following night in almost exactly the same way, Ann remained remarkably resilient, it was only when she heard she was to be ducked that she took refuge with the reverend Nicolson though he was condemned for it by “11 out of 12 of the villagers”

1808, July - Nicolson’s continued church sermons against the existence of witchcraft and in support of all people along with Ann leaving the village calmed things down.

Nine of those who took part in the assaults were arrested and tried twice at Huntingdon, in August 1808 and July 1809, and then in Westminster in November 1809. Eight were sentenced to a month in prison with the ringleader serving two months. They were all required to find security for good behaviour for another two years. None of them felt any remorse for what they had done as they were convinced Ann was a witch and thought that was how you dealt with witches.

Following these incidents Ann went to Little Paxton where she is recorded as making a complaint to the local J.P. of further assaults on the 16th of October 1809. Two women, Judith Day, aged 57 and her daughter Elizabeth Day aged 34 were accused having "...cruelly assaulted Ann Izzard in this county", they were imprisoned for a month each.

Great Paxton Hill 1915Notice of the trial of Judith and Elizabeth Day.

Ann ended her days in St. Neots, occupying houses in three different parts of town, even then she did not escape persecution being teased by children who lived nearby. Her husband drowned in 1833 which created its own rumours, Ann died 5 years later in 1838, she was in her 70's though her age is given as up to 91 in various accounts, she was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard St. Neots in an unmarked grave.


After Ann's Death

Stories of Ann persisted and were added to as time went by.

100 years or more after her death, legend said Ann Izzard could be seen at midnight crossing the sky above Potton Corner, Eynesbury on her broomstick. Misbehaving children would be warned that "Nanny Izzard" (as she had become known by then) would swoop on her broomstick and take them away.

Stories of her supposed witchy doings were also told in Abbotsley and Yelling.

In the 1930’s the Great Paxton Women’s Institute collected stories of Ann Izzard from the residents of the village. They found a whole range of tales that were not mentioned in the 1808-09 sources. The earlier sources were the elites written view of the proceedings, the 1930’s were those of non-elites passed by word of mouth for over 120 years.

  • She was said to beg bread and giblets of fowl from the vicarage on Sunday mornings to feed her familiars, knowing instinctively when fowl was being prepared, if she didn’t get anything she would curse the cook with “May your goose never cook” which led to a cold oven.

  • Ann was of the habit of obtaining her butter for free, if refused she put her hand in the churn which would not turn, farmer Bidwell stopped this by putting a red hot poker in the churn.

  • She could be seen flying over the village on a broomstick.

  • Mr. Papworth, the village shop keeper and landlord of the Bell was said to have refused her credit, in response Ann bewitched his wife. While entertaining a friend to tea Mrs. Papworth had some sort of fit and danced on the tea table. The friend seized Ann and held her down while the two women scratched her with a pin to draw blood and break the spell.

These later oral stories are similar or identical to those about witches from all across Europe. Rather than being stories about Ann, they are generic witch-tales attributed to whoever was locally accused of being a witch.


Other Notes:

Those sent to prison for attacking Ann:

  • Mary Amey - mother of Fanny Amey.

  • Edward Briers.

  • Thomas Braybrook.

  • Alice Brown, Fanny Amey and Mary Fox the three whose fits had precipitated the idea that Ann was a witch and had cursed various inhabitants of the village.

  • Joseph Harper.

  • Mary Hook - had lost 4 of her 7 children while very young, most under 18 months old, another would die in July 1808 of unknown causes.

  • James Staughton - lost his 6 year old son James in 1803 after he accidentally drowned in a pond in the [High] street. As ringleader he was imprisoned for two months.

* Dimple - the footprint left when a cloven footed animal such as cow, pig or sheep walks on soft ground, if left undisturbed any herbs that grew in such dimples were thought to have more potent healing properties.

**Alice Russell lived in a farm cottage where the garage of 7A Church Lane now stands.

alice russells house, Great Paxton Alice Russell's cottage in Church Lane, demolished in the 1970's

Scratching a witch was a popular though illegal test to reveal a witch and persisted in England from the 13th to 19th centuries. The bewitched victim would draw the blood of the suspected witch with nails, a pin, needle or other means, this would give temporary relief of the symptoms so providing proof of the witch. Each person who thought they were bewitched had to do this individually, hence why Ann Izzard suffered so many separate attacks.


Further reading:

A Sermon Against Witchcraft, Preached in the Parish of Great Paxton
in the County of Huntingdon, July 17, 1808 by the Reverend Isaac Nicholson.
An account of the attack on Ann Izzard - 10 Pages. The Semon - 17 pages.
read online or download - 60 pages


Witchcraft Persecutions in the Post-Craze Era: The Case of Ann Izzard of Great Paxton, 1808. Stephen Mitchell - 2009.

A case of witchcraft assault in early nineteenth-century England as ostensive action.

A song about Ann Izzard: The New Witch Annie Izzard - by Daidrum