‘The Witch and Sow’ – a potted history

In the centre of the Northamptonshire village of Guilsborough, stands ‘The Witch & Sow’, formally ‘The Ward Arms’. This 16th Century pub has strong connections with both local and national history.

Remarkably, Guilsborough’s quirky past mirrors a host of historical events and characters – The Battle of Naseby, William Wordsworth, the sinking of R.M.S. Lusitania, Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, James 1’s witch hunts, not to mention a very gruesome murder in 1764, ghost hunting in the 30s, Royal Visitors, and even a Nazi Spy!

The Witches

King James 1, a very superstitious man, was convinced that the root of evil in the countryside was caused by Witchcraft. He sent out his Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, to hunt out the witches. Many people were persecuted – most of them women, who were probably a little eccentric, but perfectly innocent.

Grammar School

A pamphlet of 1612, entitled, ‘The Witches of Guisborough’, recounts the trial of Agnes Browne and Joan Vaughan of Guilsborough, who were accused of causing the Lady of the Manor, Mistress Belcher and her brother-in-law, Master Avery, to suffer great pains and fits. Even blood-letting by scratching the ‘witches’ done by the sufferers, did not stop the afflictions. The court found the women guilty and they were hanged at Northampton in July, 1612.

The pamphlet also states that, a fortnight before the trial, the two women, along with another, Katherine Gardiner “did ride one night to Ravenstrop, all upon a sowes back, to visit Mother Rhoades, an old witch who lived there. Before they came to her house, the old witch died and, at her last, cried out that she would meet them in another place within a month after.”

Battle of Naseby – 14 June 1645

The Battle of Naseby was a decisive ‘fight’ in the English Civil War, leading to the trial and execution of King Charles 1.

General Thomas Fairfax, after encamping at Kislingbury on the night of the 12th, saw the King’s army was marching north from Daventry.

Fairfax led his forces north also and on the 13th, camped at Guilsborough, near the hostelry which became The Ward Arms. He is thought to have been joined there by Oliver Cromwell for a Council of War.

Early next morning, the 14th, the Parliamentary Forces left their quarters and travelled through the village towards Naseby. We can imagine them marching down Nortoft Hill on that June morning to meet the Royalist Army, over 300 years ago.

The old school

The Ward Family

Rev. John Ward, was a medical practitioner and Vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1662. He was on intimate terms with the immediate descendants of William Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

He wrote a diary, in two volumes, in which he described some of the personal details of Shakespeare’s life, hitherto unpublished. The diary sold, in 1928, for £10,500!

In 1710, Rev. Ward’s nephew purchased Guilsborough Hall, demolished in the 1950s, and he became Lord of the Manor. His descendants lived in Guilsborough for several generations, Sir Thomas Ward being knighted by George 111 in 1761.

The pub was named after the Ward Family, with its sign bearing their Coat-of-Arms.


Guilsborough is at the heart of Pytchley Hunt country, and many aristocrats, including Royalty, took houses in the village, referred to as ‘Hunting Boxes’ for the Hunting Season. This was particularly so in the 1920s &30s.

TRHs The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) took The Old House for the season in 1923/4, and HRH kept his horse in the stable at The Ward Arms.

One morning, as the Duke and Duchess were walking down the village street, they met the young son of long-time resident, Mrs. Gadd. After they had greeted the boy, he turned and exclaimed, “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers!”

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, revisited The Old House and The Ward Arms in 1987, where she saw a photograph of her husband outside the stable with his horse. Her Majesty described her visit as “ a Down Memory Lane Tour of Northamptonshire.”

World War 2

Guilsborough’s Home Guard paraded on the top floor of The Ward Arms barn. One of their members went on to join the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’.

During the war, Hollowell Reservoir was used by the RAF for low flying exercises. It is rumoured that the ducks were so alarmed that they were easily poached by the locals and shared with the pilots at The Ward Arms. One of these pilots could easily have been the flying ace, Douglas Bader, who was known to have visited the wartime dances held in the Grammar School, built in 1668, opposite The Ward Arms.

Credit: Pam Towsend

Let us welcome you

These are just the tips of many icebergs in Guilsborough’s past. To discover more and enjoy a warm welcome, with excellent food and drink, why not visit The Witch and Sow, High Street, Guilsborough, Northamptonshire?