WITCHCRAFT is often associated with the history of Pendle Hill or Salem, but in 1673 Tynedale had its own stories of Satanic sabbats, dances with the devil and terrifying transfigurations – the claims of which all originated from one teenage girl.

South African author and English professor Michael Cawood Green has been fascinated with the story of Anne Armstrong – a young servant girl who for four months accused 22 of her neighbours of practising witchcraft – ever since he moved to Riding Mill nearly a decade ago.

“The first time I came across Anne’s name was at the Wellington Hotel in Riding Mill, where I spotted a plaque devoted to her tale,” Michael said. “It was all just so strange, and it felt like there was a lot left unanswered. I felt compelled to do some further so I began to research Anne’s history, and it was at that point that she took me down this incredible journey. Seven years on, and I’m just as fascinated by her and her story, which is now the basis of my fiction novel.”

The Ghosting of Anne Armstrong is a fictionalised account of Anne’s life in Birches Nook near Stocksfield, and is based on the court depositions which recorded Anne’s bizarre accusations against her neighbours for witchcraft, which she made in at least ten different courts across Tynedale.

The first story which Anne recounted in Newcastle before court official Ralph Jenison said that her neighbour Anne Forster had turned her spirit into a horse, and then proceeded to ride her to Riding Mill, where they joined a sabbat with 10 other neighbourhood witches including Anne Dryden of Prudhoe and Lucy Thompson of Mickley. Here, the women danced and sung with ‘a dark man’ which Anne believed to be the Devil.

Another event Anne recounted to various court officials across Tynedale was that she had been forced to attended a feast with the same local coven and the dark man. There, the women transformed into cats, bees and greyhounds, before they swung gleefully from ropes attached to the ceiling.

This account, Anne recalled, took place in what was then called the Riding House, but is now the Wellington Hotel.

Michael went to read Anne’s testimonies in person, taking several rips down the the National Archives where they are still held.

“In order to fully understand Anne’s testimonies, I had to teach myself early modern law, shorthand and even some Latin, because that was how the details were recorded by the scribes at the time,” Michael said.

Michael didn’t just rely on historical documents to capture the essence of the 17th century in The Ghosting of Anne Armstrong, he also made it his mission to follow Anne’s recorded paths on foot,

“To paint each scene vividly, I would map the routes that Anne would have taken during the 17th century, including the walk from the house in BircheS Nook where she lived and served, to the Wellington.

“Not only did it help to get a sense of imagery, but it also helped me feel connected to the village, having come in as an outsider. Writing the novel itself was a way I found to write myself into Riding Mill.”

One area which completely mystified Michael during research for The Ghosting of Anne Armstrong was Anne’s motive for the string of accusations.

“It had been over a decade since the witch trials in Britain, and therefore it was a strange time for Anne to attempt to dreg up the now-forgotten trend of witches,” he said.

“There are theories that she was, or wanted to be, a self-proclaimed witch hunter. Others believe that she was simply a young and impoverished teenager who wanted the attention.

“Some even believe that she was experiencing real magical events.

“I can give no factual answers, but my novel does have some enticing theories.”

Anne’s fate in history is left as unknown as her reasons for her accusations.

Evidence suggests that none of her claims ever made it past pre-trial, but since the last recorded trial, Anne simply disappears without a trace.

“I’ve spent years pouring over records in search of Anne, and where she ended up after, but I’ve never come across any one who matches her who matches her description,” said Michael.

Folklore is all that is left which gives an insight into where the witch catcher of Tynedale might have ended her days.

It is said that she was found hanging from a beam in the Riding House - however whether Anne’s tragic death was due to suicide, murder for her snitching, or revenge from accused locals – is still a open verdict.

Michael added: “Anne is a woman of mystery and I think she’ll always continue to be one.”

The Ghosting of Anne Armstrong can be ordered from https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/ghosting-anne-armstrong.