Was Annie Izzard a witch or a healer?

This is St Mary's Churchyard in St Neots where Annie Izzard is buried.

This is St Mary's Churchyard in St Neots where Annie Izzard is buried. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

Witchcraft has been practiced in England for many thousands of years, but it was only in the early 15th Century that documented evidence of witches and witchcraft began to appear.

Huntingdonshire was no exception, and in 1593, Alice Samuel, her husband John and daughter Agnes, from Warboys were accused of bewitching 14 people. Despite the lack of evidence they were brutally tortured and later hanged.

There can, however, be little doubt that Huntingdonshire's most famous witch was a woman called Ann Izzard. She was born in 1764, one of the youngest children of James and Mary Rowe of Offord. She later moved to Great Paxton where she secured a position on a local farm.

Ann spent the latter years of her life living in Windmill Row (Kidman's Yard) - a narrow side street adjoining the High Street in St Neots. 

During the 19th and 20th centuries, there were several reports of Ann's ghost being seen in nearby Eynesbury. The spectre was nearly always witnessed inside The Chequers pub or flying high above it.

Her preferred method of transport was said to be a traditional broomstick or a wooden hurdle (a gate used for penning sheep). 

On the odd occasion, her ghost is also said to have been seen flying above the junction in Eynesbury where Cromwell and Potton Road meet.

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The story of Ann Izzard, who was generally known as Annie or Nanny Izzard is well documented. This is largely due to the Rev Isaac Nicolson, from Great Paxton, who in 1808 wrote down all the details of Annie's alleged witchery and sorcery.

Rev Nicolson was of the opinion that Annie was completely innocent and was the victim of a group of uneducated and highly superstitious local thugs.

From what Mark Edgerton has uncovered, Annie may have utilised nature and was knowledgeable about using plants and herbs. It is rumoured that she was able to prepare natural ointments, which have been viewed as witchcraft or sorcery. 

Annie died in 1838, aged 73, in a pauper's grave in St Mary's Churchyard in St Neots in a area that was once used as the town's stocks.

This is an extract from Mark Egerton's book The Haunted History of Huntingdonshire, which is available at St Neots Museum and Niche Comics and Bookshop in Huntingdon. Mark also does ghost tours and more information is available at: www.ticketsource.co.uk/pac/t-nangpp