Ann Moore: The Impostor and Fasting-Woman of Tutbury

Ann Moore became famous as the “fasting-woman of Tutbury.” That was because she claimed that from 1807 to 1813, she ate nothing at all. Of course, such a claim was ludicrous and eventually her claims were proven to be a hoax and she was declared an impostor, just like the Kewsick impostor John Hatfield.

Ann Moore’s story begins with her birth on 31 October 1761, the same year that Eliza de Feuillide and Madame Tussaud were born. Moore’s parents were a day-laborer named Thomas Pegg and a midwife named Mary. Moore was born in Rosliston, Derbyshire, a small village and civil parish in South Derbyshire, England close to the county boundaries of Leicestershire and Staffordshire.

In 1788, when Moore was seventeen, she tricked a Derbyshire farm servant by the name of Thomas Moore* into marrying her when she declared she was pregnant with his child. He soon deserted her and she was forced to survive by working as housekeeper to a widowed farmer in the market town of Aston about fifteen miles from Tutbury. She became pregnant by the farmer and gave birth to two children, a girl and boy.

Location of Tutbury within Staffordshire. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Around 1800, the same year that French artist Jacques-Louis David undertook a commission to paint Madame Récamier, Ann Moore left Aston and made her way to Tutbury, located in Staffordshire, England, in the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster. Moore had by this time converted to Calvinism and in Tutbury she began to work as a cotton beater pounding cotton with sticks. Times were tough, wages were low, and she was suffering from dire poverty. To survive, she was forced to subsist on the minimum amount of food necessary to sustain human life.

Tutbury locals soon learned that she was surviving on a meager amount and they were also astonished to learn that she was conducting long fasts, which eventually helped her undertake the deception that she did not require food to survive. By November 1806 she had gained notoriety for her non-eating habits and it was around this time that reports surfaced that she had lost all desire to eat. Six months later, she took to her bed and then on 20 May 1807 it was noted that she attempted to swallow a piece of biscuit but that she suffered such great pain she began to vomit blood. It was then reported:

“The constantly repeated assertion of Ann Moore was, that since the spring of 1807 she had not swallowed any kind of solid food, with the exception, once in the month of June following, of the inside of a few black currants; and that since the autumn of 1808 she had not swallowed any liquid whatsoever. … She also maintained that she could not swallow, … without danger of immediate suffocation; that she felt neither appetite nor thirst, and had no evacuations.”[1]

Ann Moore

Ann Moore in her bed. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of course, there were people who did not believe her assertions that she could survive without food. She therefore offered to satisfy the public curiosity by submitting to be watched for a considerable time. In September 1808 she was therefore removed from her home to the house of the local grocer, a Mr. Jackson, where all Tutbury inhabitants were invited to watch her and ensure that she ate no food and drank no liquids.

An official investigation was then established in September 1808. It included a succession of four hour watches that were undertaken by the chief inhabitants of the district and was arranged to cover a period of sixteen days. During this period, bulletins recording her progress were published and posted, as was a list of the watchers. At the commencement of the ordeal Ann Moore was described as terribly worn and emaciated, but as it progressed, she “sensibly improved” in health and spirits. Details of Ann Moore’s undertaking were also reported in the pamphlets and according to the Dictionary of National Biography:

“One learned writer proved that she lived on air, another that the phenomenon was due to disease of the oesophagus, while a third was convinced that her condition was a manifestation of the supernatural power of God. Joanna Southcott declared that the advent of the fasting-woman presaged a three years’ famine in France.”[2]

Robert Taylor and John Allen, two local doctors, submitted reports on Moore’s case to the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal in November and December 1808. Their report was generally held to be conclusive evidence of Ann Moore’s veracity. Thus, for the next four years Ann Moore attracted crowds of visitors to Tutbury with many of these visitors making substantial donations that helped to support her.

Among the many visitors to see Anne Moore was Mary Howitt, the famous poet known to have written The Spider and the Fly. She saw her when she was a child and reported in her autobiography that her father told her that most people did not believe Ann Moore ate nothing but rather thought that she ate “very little.” Another visitor to see Ann Moore was Mr. Corn of Birmingham. He provided the following description of Moore in October 1811:

“Her person is rather about the common size; and the just proportions of her features evidently show the remains of a fine face. She seems naturally to possess a lively disposition, her understanding exceeds much the attainments usually made by women in her sphere of life. She is ready in conversation, of a religious turn of mind, … her voice is at times amazingly strong, but greatly weakened by the proxysms of pain. In her person she is clean and there is not offensive smell in her room.”[3]

Mary Howitt. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the summer of 1812, Alexander Henderson, physician to the Westminster General Dispensary, wrote Examination of the imposture. It showed inconsistencies and absurdities in Moore’s statements. He also noted the curious parallel between her case and that of Anna M. Kinker, of Osnabrück, who likewise practiced a similar imposture in Germany in 1800. Like Ann Moore, Kinker claimed she had not eaten solid food, drunk liquid, and had not passed urine or any other matter for several years.

Henderson’s allegations soon subjected Ann Moore to another watch by Legh Richmond, the well-known evangelical rector of Turvey. Moore was supposedly reluctant to submit to a second watch, and she also objected to the introduction of a weighing machine. But having survived one watch, she must have believed she could survive another and so the second watch began on 21 April 1813 and continued until 30 April. However, this watch did not end in Moore’s favor as she was soon shown to be a fraud as indicated by the Chester Chronicle:

“The public are much indebted to the Gentlemen who instituted, and have with so much vigilance and impartiality conducted the Watch of Ann Moore, of Tutbury. They have detected an imposture, which has the extraordinary art and success, been carried on for some years; and which during that period, has obtained, in regard to the supported validity of the woman’s assertions, upon the article of abstinence from food, the sanction of a great number of medical, philosophical, and other visitors of every description from all parts of the kingdom. ― It is remarkable, that although many in various places had disbelieved the fact, yet those who have had the longest and minute opportunities of enquiring into the circumstantial evidence of the case, as it stood, till now, thought themselves justified in their assent to its integrity. The cloak is, however, now torn off from the imposition, and the question connected with the truth or falsehood of this singular mater, set at rest for ever.”[4]

Ann Moore in bed

Ann Moore. “The Fasting Woman of Tutbury.” Courtesy of the British Museum.

There were many things that indicated Moore was a fraud. For example, Moore’s daughter, Mary Laikin, admitted that her mother had always taken tea and that apples disappeared when set near Moore. Moreover, it was believed that Laikin had somehow smuggled food into her mother during the watch and it was also evident that Moore was able to survive for some time on small amounts of liquids.

Other proof included the fact that a gentleman was able to obtain the linen Moore wore. He reported that he found marks of “copious evacuations,” thereby destroying any idea that Moore was not eating and drinking. A gentleman who lived near Derby also wrote a letter dated 3 May 1813 with the following extract being taken from it:

“The Tutbury humbug is over. The watch on Mrs. Moore began on Wednesday, the 21st of April, at two o’clock in the afternoon and continued until the morning of Friday the 30th, when it was broken up at her own request. A machine had been provided for weighing her, and her average loss of weight was 16 ounces every 12 hours. Mr. Wright, a surgeon of Derby, sat with her for 8 hours preceding the time when the business was closed; and she must have sunk from inanimation had he not supplied her with vinegar and water to the extent of six or eight ounces, which she sucked from a moistened handkerchief. Such was her state when the watch left her, that the pulse was entirely gone at one wrist, and at the other was like a fine thread … It was thought that she could not survive, but in the course of Friday and Saturday she took some tea and a considerable quantity of milk, and she is now fast recovering. The state of her bed and clothes at the end of the watch I hear was quite shocking.”[5]  

Having been proven to be a fraud, Ann Moore confessed that she had long been practicing an “imposture” on the public. She then signed a declaration stating as much. It was witnessed on 4 May 1813 before Thomas Lister, one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace. Moore’s confession stated:

“I, Ann Moore, of Tutbury, humbly asking pardon of all persons whom I have attempted to deceive and impose upon, and above all with the most unfeigned sorrow and contrition imploring the Divine Mercy and Forgiveness of that God whom I have so greatly offended, do most solemnly declare, that I have occasionally taken sustenance for the last SIX Years.”[6]

Many people were upset when they learned they had been duped by Moore the impostor. In response to her fraud and confession, the Liverpool Mercury reported:

“When we reflect upon the gross impositions which have been successfully practised upon the credulity of modern times, we must abate somewhat of that air of triumph in which we are apt to indulge, when we contrast the age in which we live with what are called the dark ages. Scarcely more than a century and a half has elapsed since Old Women were burnt for Witches … the temporary eclat which has successively attended the Virgula Divinatorin, or Devining Rod, the Cock-lane Ghost, Perkins’ Metallic Tractors, Dr. Graham’s Earth Bathing and Celestial Bed, Animal Magnetism, Magnetic Belts, Perpetual Motions, and an endless rariety of other successful humbugs, seems to shew that there has been a mere change of superstition … other Old Women or QUACKS have taken their place, with about as much pretension to the miraculous, as the withered bags, whose supernatural gifts were once so formidable to their neighbours, and often so fatal to themselves. These reflections are suggested by the recent detection of the celebrated Ann Moore, whose pretended abstinence from food for so many years has occupied a large share of the public attention, and almost given rise to a new theory of the Animal Economy.[7]

Ann Moore

Ann Moore by James Ward. Courtesy of the British Museum.

After the discovery of Moore’s imposture, it was reported that she had received as much as £400 from her visitors, although it was also noted that she and her daughter had carelessly spent most of it. Some newspapers also maintained that she was so unpopular in Tutbury, she was hissed and booed whenever she appeared in public. That resulted in her leaving the city with 250l., which she had deposited with the grocer Smith.

Ann Moore and her daughter then commenced to “ramble” about the countryside. They eventually ended up settling in Macclesfield, a market town and civil parish in Cheshire, England. The same time that Napoleon Bonaparte was moved to Longwood House on Saint Helena in December 1815 was the same time that Moore was accused of decamping with the wearing apparel and property of a woman with whom she had lodged. A search was made for Moore and her daughter, but authorities turned up nothing because the women had by then settled in Stockport, a large, major town in Greater Manchester, England.

Unfortunately for Moore, she was soon “discovered, apprehended, and committed, with her daughter Mary, to Chesterfield Castle,** where they were … lodged the 22d of February, 1816.”[8] After serving their time they were supposedly released from custody. A friend of Moore’s arrived and together Moore, her daughter, and the friend left for Manchester never to be heard of again.


*Some people said it was James Moore, but Ann Moore claimed his name was Thomas.
**There are some reports that Ann Moore and her daughter were sent to the Knutsford house of correction for robbing their landlord.

References:

  • [1] L. Richmond, A Statement of Facts, Relative to the Supposed Abstinence of Ann Moore, of Tutbury, Staffordshire (United Kingdom: J. Croft, 1813), p. 2–3.
  • [2] L. Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography, Dictionary of National Biography (Macmillan, 1894), p. 339.
  • [3] Manchester Mercury, “Ann Moore,” October 15, 1811, p. 3.
  • [4] Chester Chronicle, “Ann Moore,” May 14, 1813, p. 4.
  • [5] Liverpool Mercury, “Ann Moore,” May 14, 1813, p. 4.
  • [6] Chester Chronicle, p. 4.
  • [7] Liverpool Mercury, p. 7.
  • [8] Chesterfield Chronicle, “Ann Moore,” May 10, 1816, p. 4.

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