Ellen Hayward – the last witch trial …

Despite having lived here several years, I only came across Ellen’s story in early 2020. Born in Arlingham ca 1838, Ellen eventually lived in Cinderford where she practised as a respected wise woman, a herbalist curing both people and animals. With three children, she said she was a widow but in fact Ellen never married – something which the good people of Cinderford possibly didn’t know.

But in 1905 four people from one household went insane subsequent to the head of the house consulting Ellen over missing money. Accusations of witchcraft flew all over – as far as Parliament. The following year, an ambitious policeman saw his opportunity in another case of Ellen’s and accused her essentially of witchcraft.

Initially my plan was to write a historical novel based on Ellen’s life, along the lines of The Shanty Keeper’s Wife. I did a little more research and came up with some more detail, but in the end got carried away with a more mystical, magical realism version of the story. So pleased I did!

The short story I wrote inspired by Ellen – The Making of a Wise Woman – is longlisted for the Historical Writers Association 2020 short story prize – a high accolade even if it goes no further. In the meantime, I’m well into the full length novel version, which goes well beyond the short story, and loving writing it. On the way, I’m learning about herbs and toadstone rings and where they milked the cows on a 19thC farm… I hope the first draft will be finished by the end of the year so the fun bit of editing can begin.

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