The story of Ann Izzard

Ann Izzard was accused of witchcraft by her fellow village folk in 1808. This is a tale of how unfortunate circumstances can lead to fear and exile from one’s own community…

A brief look at her early life

Ann Izzard (born Ann Rowe at Offord in 1765) worked as a live-in servant for John Jackson, a farmer at Great Paxton, in 1778. It was while she was employed there that she met Wright Izzard and the pair began a relationship. Shortly afterwards, perhaps due to this relationship, Wright lost hist job on the farm, and records show that Ann and Wright were quickly married in Great Paxton on 21st November 1780, before moving to Great Staughton where their first child, Henry, was born.

By 1783, both Ann and Wright appear to have been unemployed and applied for parish relief, the unemployment benefit of its time. This was always paid from your ‘home’ parish and local parish officials would go to great lengths to ‘move on’ anyone for whom they thought another parish had responsibility. For this reason the couple were made to return to Great Paxton where the authorities housed them in a small, empty cottage away from the main village. Here they lived for many years, claiming parish relief and raising at least six children.

Whispers of witchcraft

This means of existence continued for the family until 1808, when the payments ended after one of their children, Miles, found employment for a local farmer. With no parish relief income, it’s likely that the family became very poor, and it may be that stories of Ann begging for food date from this period. It was certainly around this time that rumours that Ann was a witch began to circulate…

In April 1808, Ann was accused by villagers of bewitching their children, and causing them to fall ill with fits. The parents of Alice Brown, who was an epileptic, Fanny Amey and Mary Fox all accused Ann of causing their children to fall ill. Though it’s uncertain why Ann was the target, the fact that she and her family were poor and lived on the outskirts of the community would likely have branded her an ‘outsider’, and someone of which to be wary.

Despite attempts by the Curate, Rev. Isaac Nicholson, to calm the villagers, rumours that Ann Izzard was a witch swirled around the village. The father of Alice Brown was particularly determined to discover the identity of whoever was bewitching his daughter, though his methods of deduction are somewhat questionable! We’re told that he first filled a bottle with urine and put a cork in the neck embedded with pins. Afterwards, he heated the bottle by the fire, hoping this would bring on visions of the witch responsible… Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work!

Cries of ‘witch!’

Great Paxton parish church, about 1900

The final straw came in May 1808 when the villagers accused Ann of overturning a cart on the way home from St Neots market. On the night of Sunday 8th May a group of local people, including the families of Alice Brown, Fanny Amey and Mary Fox, dragged Ann naked from her bed. They beat her and scratched her with pins until her arms were bleeding, believing that drawing blood would weaken the power of a witch.

After the attack, Ann was taken in by a neighbour, Mrs Alice Russell, who bandaged her arms and saw to her wounds. However, Alice too was threatened by the crowd who accused her of also being a witch. We’re told that Alice was so upset by these accusations that she suffered a seizure and sadly died only a few days later on the 20th May, aged 67.

On Monday 17th May, Ann was once again dragged from her bed, beaten and torn with pins, with the villagers threatening to duck her in the village pond. This so-called test for witchcraft worked by throwing the victim into water, if they sank they were innocent and if they floated they were proclaimed a witch. For those that were ‘proved innocent’ it could be a hollow victory if they weren’t pulled from the water in time!

After the second beating, the villagers who’d attacked Ann were arrested, tried and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment in Huntingdon goal. Surprisingly, Ann and her family remained at Great Paxton until at least 1813, when villagers were fined for once again accusing Ann and her youngest daughter Ruth of witchcraft. It was probably after this that the family moved to St Neots, where Ann and Wright were able to live for the rest of their lives.

No escape

Unfortunately for Ann, stories of her witchcraft followed her to St Neots. Children would call her names and tease her, and indeed tales that she could be seen riding her broomstick over Eynesbury churchyard were still current over a hundred years later! Stories were told of her preventing cream from churning into butter, threatening to prevent the vicar’s Sunday goose from cooking if she was not given the giblets to take home, and threatening the wife of the Bell pub landlord, demanding she give her meat left over from her husband’s butchers business.

Ann died in 1838, some year after her husband, and was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, St Neots in an unmarked grave. However, even in the childhood of Mr Tebbutt (born in 1900) who wrote the history of St Neots, her story lived on, and children were told that if they went to Potton Corner at midnight they would see Nanny Izzard riding on her broomstick…

Ann’s tragic story serves as an example of the power of rumour and hearsay, and shows how unlucky circumstances could lead to ostracism and suspicion of witchcraft, even as late as the 19th century in England.