Skip to main content

Parish History and Folklore

This page outlines history and folklore regarding Guilsborough and the local area


The village’s name means ‘Gyldi’s fortification’. The hundred is named after Guilsborough, but the site of the meeting-place is unknown.

Guilsborough is made up of two hamlets, now joined. Guilsborough (Guildesburgh) and Nortoft, the former referring to the Roman fort, or referencing the earlier Late Bronze Age/Iron Age Enclosure on the same site. Possibility of the name deriving from a later Anglo-Saxon base word ‘gebeorgan’ (enclosure to save/protect/preserve) given there was an Anglo Saxon settlement over the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age followed by Roman, and the Anglo-Saxon fortified enclosures.

 The Church Mount road housing stands where Guilsborough Hall once stood. The mound under the water tower in the grounds of the historic Guilsborough Park is part of a Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age enclosure (RCHME 1981) being fifth century BC to first century BC with later Roman occupation. Subsequent excavation cites evidence of there being a strongly defended univallate fort of late first Millennium BC. Other remains of the enclosure (northern ramparts) still exist in paddocks to the north-east and east of the mound. Potential Iron Age iron production site. Whilst most of the southern rampart was destroyed in 1947 and possibly during an earlier episode, some remnants may exist. The Roman fort was an outpost of the settlement at West Haddon and the Guilsborough encampment is believed to have been the work of Publius Ostorius Scapula, under the reign of Claudius. When the south rampart was removed in the 19th century, many skeletons were found. The whole site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (in process – Northamptonshire Sites and Monument Records). The Guilsborough Park landscape related to the former Guilsborough Hall. Various significant trees and tree groups remain (with TPO’s) and other important landscape features include the brick water tower of the hall and the hall gates.

In the fields east of Guilsborough and both north and south of the West Haddon Road (just east of the ‘PCS’ access road) lie recorded prehistoric and Iron Age remains. A Saxon settlement also seems likely to have been located along the brook by the gated road (east west across Cold Ashby Road and obvious landforms can be seen immediately west of the old mill and stables.).

In the two fields below Nortoft (Danish/Norse: Toft is a place and/or house or farm or clearing; Nor- may mean to the north (of what?)) at the spring line below the Ironstone, on both sides of the road, lie the remains of a Saxon fishponds complex with associated village lying at the top of the fish ponds. The outlines of ponds are visible, along with house platforms and the remnants of a track (East West) are still visible. They would have been fed by water from the spring line. Spring based water course still flow on both sides of Nortoft. The ponds in the private gardens of Manor House, and the existing fish pond (since enlarged) may have had their origins as Saxon ponds. Local knowledge suggest that the village burnt down, but as yet there is not collaborative evidence. Nortoft Cottage, which has a very old cob cottage at its heart is thought to be the only remaining building of the original Nortoft, so might have its origins as part of the Saxon settlement.



The Guilsborough Witches

On 22 July 1612, four women and one man were hanged at Abington Gallows in Northampton for the crime of witchcraft, also known as the Northamptonshire Witch Trials. Of those five, Agnes Brown and her daughter Ioane/Joan Vaughan (or Varnham) were from Guilsborough. They stood accused of bewitching a local noblewoman, Elizabeth Belcher (née Fisher) and her brother-in-law Master Avery and of killing, by sorcery, a child and numerous livestock.

Although the hangings can be legitimately traced back to actual historic events, the story most commonly repeated is of less certain origins. The tale goes that there was an elderly witch called Mother Roades, who lived just outside the

neighbouring village of Ravensthorpe. Before she could be arrested and tried for her crimes of sorcery, she died. Her final words told of her friends riding to see her, but that it did not matter because they would meet again in some other place before the month was out.

Her friends were thus apprehended riding on the back of a sow between Guilsborough and Ravensthorpe and were taken into custody and hanged, thus they were all reunited in death. The problem with this story is that, although Agnes Brown remains a constant upon the pig’s back, her companions swap names depending on the version being read. Three witches were on the pig, but the potential riders, other than Agnes Brown (who appears as one of the riders in all versions), are: Kathryn Gardiner, Alice Abbott, Alice Harrys and Ioan/Joan Lucas. It would appear from records that all of these accused stood trial together, however the reporting only covers the hangings of one day in 1612, so the fates of the others are not known.


Pell’s Pool

Guilsborough used to have its own version of Black Annis who lived in Pell’s Pool. This was a deep pool which stood off Cold Ashby Lane and was used by the local fire service as a water supply for many years. The pool has now dried up and a house stands there. Young boys and girls were told not to go walking by the pool at night otherwise a witch would drag them down into the water.

Is this page useful?