Anne Moore of Tutbury: a Fraud with Strong Feelings

Anne Moore told a tall tale. She exaggerated her illness, and clung to her story. At first, this won her few friends. But between 1809 and 1813 her fame grew. Many believed her. Hundreds came to see her at Tutbury, Staffordshire.

The lie, when detected, caused hurt and anger. Moore abused people’s trust and made them look foolish. But was she a mere cheat? To some extent she deceived herself, and her half-truth hid within an honest manner. Unlike a few modern politicians who lie openly, Moore wanted to appear honest. And many witnesses supported much of her story.

Moore’s contemporaries published thousands of words about her. They gathered evidence to assist her claim or disprove it. In the process they revealed Moore’s circumstances and attitudes. Such scrutiny of a working-class woman is rare. It allows us a glimpse of life in Tutbury during the Napoleonic Wars.

So, let’s look at Moore through the eyes of two professional communities. Doctors and clergy watched her. And she stared back. Her story partly reflects the men who examined her.

For a few years Anne Moore rivalled Tutbury castle as the town's main attraction
Tutbury castle appears above the rooftops of Burton Road. Between 1809 and 1813, Anne Moore’s prominence in the town
made her as much of an attraction to visitors as the castle. And, like Moore, the castle wasn’t all it seemed.
The structure in the photograph was built in 1780 as a folly.

Anne Moore Loses her Appetite

Anne Moore moved to Tutbury around 1800 to work in its water-powered cotton mill. Alongside others, she beat raw cotton to prepare it for processing. As a result, tiny fibres filled the air. In 1803 Dr Allen treated her for a lung complaint.

Aged 50 and taller than average, Moore had auburn hair and a fair complexion. She was passionate, talkative, laughed loudly and liked snuff. For most of her life, she’d worked as a farm servant. When her husband left her after nine months of marriage, she returned to service near Sudbury, Derbyshire. Her employer gave her two extra children.

Moore lived in Ludgate Street, Tutbury, with her surviving children and two young women. They had one room downstairs and an attic bedroom above. When a strong wind blew, it lifted roof tiles, allowing rain to enter. And the occupants couldn’t always afford fuel for a fire.

Often dependent on an allowance from her children’s father, Moore missed many meals to feed them. By 1805, swallowing food gave her stomach cramps or made her sick. Fasting became a habit.

For eight months in 1806, Moore nursed Samuel Oringe and washed his linen. He had a form of tuberculosis in which swellings appeared on his neck. When these burst they became infected. The stench of rotting flesh lingered in her memory, increasing her reluctance to eat.

Moore gave up work at the cotton factory. She ate half an ounce of bread a day, plus an occasional piece of fruit or potato. In April 1807, she took to her bed. In June she claimed she’d stopped eating altogether.

Moore and the Medical Profession

Tutbury saw Moore’s claim to survive without food as a con. Local doctors dismissed the idea and made their views known. High Street surgeon, John Allen, gave Moore a piece of his mind.

Certainly, Moore was ill. She measured 26.5 inches around the waist, and 28.5 across her chest. In addition, her internal organs appeared drawn up under the ribs, as with a hiatus hernia. Doctors could rub her abdominal wall over her back bone and trace part of her main artery with their fingers. She was emaciated, yet seemed well. Doctors looked for a rational explanation.

In favour of Moore’s claim were similar stories in medical literature. For example, a Dr Mackenzie believed Janet McLeod swallowed nothing for four years during the 1760s. She lay in bed like a log, yet appeared healthy. The doctor thought Janet’s parents were honest.

Some scientists believed air contained the basic elements of all solids. Dung and rotting plants seemed to disappear from the ground and pass into the atmosphere through the smells they released. Thus, human physiology might allow a person to absorb food from the air. In support of this theory, hibernating animals appeared to survive for months by respiration alone.

So, Moore became a scientific test-case which excited the attention of doctors across the region. And Moore absorbed what they told her. She loved air, and kept her windows open in all weathers so her skin could suck in refreshment. And she thought an older person gains energy from lying close to a youngster. Moore believed she received nourishment from sharing her bed with her daughter.

Anne Moore on Trial

Was Moore honest? Newly qualified surgeon, Robert Taylor, organised a watch on her in 1808. Already sceptical, he gained a negative first impression. In Moore’s room he saw a basin of milk, plus bread crumbs where Hannah Birch had eaten her supper. However, Moore agreed to all he proposed.

For sixteen days Moore separated from those who lived with her. She went to the home of Henry Jackson, a wealthy business man. He had posters pasted around Tutbury inviting respectable persons to help uncover Moore’s deception. In total, 117 people committed to watch Moore in pairs for at least one four-hour shift.

At first, Moore drank a little water. When Taylor saw she found swallowing hard, he said she should simply wipe the inside of her mouth with a moistened rag. When the watch was over, Moore claimed she’d drunk nothing for thirteen days.

Most in Tutbury believed the watch strict enough to rule out deception. It even convinced Dr Allen. He wrote to a medical journal, and Taylor published a book. Both supported Moore’s claim. Yet doubts remained.

Anne Moore on Trial Again

The London based Dr Henderson visited Moore in 1812. He thought her rather thin, but had seen many scrawnier people of her age. She told him she’d tasted no food for five years and no drink for four. Apparently, she wetted her lips once a week only, when she washed her face. Henderson said of Taylor’s watch: it proved only that Moore took no food for sixteen days.

In 1813, Moore agreed to a second watch, this time for four weeks, on condition that those involved treated her with respect. Some doctors not only caused pain by their prodding but also conducted intrusive experiments. She’d become so irritated with one man, she broke his thermometer. The organising committee promised to treat her with humanity and tenderness.

On 21st April the committee searched Moore’s room for hiding places. They examined Moore’s clothes and person to ensure the absence of food. Servants removed furniture, brought up a new bed, and filled the mattress with chaff. Workmen placed the bed on a weighing machine. This made Moore anxious: was it a form of trickery? Over three and a half days, her weight decreased by over seven pounds.

Moore developed a severe cold, probably from sitting between two open windows while waiting for her new bed. Her health declined. She often seemed low and fretful. By 29th April, she appeared to be dying. Her pulse grew quick and too feeble to count. She named John Allen and two other surgeons as the only ones who should open her body after her death.

Ann Moore of Tutbury
A drawing of Anne Moore in her attic bedroom at Tutbury, before the second watch. Modestly clothed, she stares at the viewer, her elbow resting on a large Bible. Her bed, with a removable rest, does not allow her to lie at full length. A small fireplace ensures economic use
of coal. The walls appear to be made of stone, with some brickwork in the gable. There’s no plaster beneath the roof tiles.
The room was probably darker than the artist portrays it.

Anne Moore and Religion

In 1806, George Hutchinson became Tutbury’s curate. He was serious, earnest and conscientious. Every week he went to the cotton factory to instruct the workers. He held evening classes in reading, writing and arithmetic. Moreover, he visited his parishioners on a regular basis, especially the sick. Moore came to view him as a friend. He thought her sincere.

However, Moore’s respectability was doubtful. She failed to subdue her emotions, and she had illegitimate children. She also admitted to posing as religious to gain charity or poor relief. As a younger woman she’d attended church, but said she gained nothing from it.

In 1806, Moore had a conversion experience. A neighbour predicted he would die on a certain day. On that morning he appeared fit and healthy. In the evening he died, apparently in agony. Moore related his death to her illness. She felt her sins, and trusted Christ as her Saviour.

Hutchinson helped shape her response. He told her what behaviours she should adopt. Accordingly, she grew in modesty, humility and cheerfulness. Later, anyone who entered her room with beer or spirits on their breath, seemed to make her giddy. Hutchinson taught a form of piety, and prayed it would take root in her heart.

Moore studied the Bible and Burkitt’s commentary on the New Testament. By 1813 she could share Christian views intelligibly and in line with Anglican teaching. When the vicar of Stapenhill visited, she asked him to read Romans chapter 8. After he’d expounded a few parts of it, they discussed predestination.

Doubts about Moore’s Sincerity

In Regency England, class and community mattered. Individuals needed to know their place and follow the conventions of their social niches. During her years in Tutbury, Anne Moore never fitted easily into any grouping. She always felt hostility from one quarter or another, though mostly she was anxious to please.

Hutchinson knew Moore sometimes let loose harsh and resentful feelings. He thought this inconsistent with true piety. He made allowances for her station in life, but became uneasy.

Moore said she was no more irritable than anyone in Tutbury: they who are without sin, let them cast the first stone. Her pertness did not go down well.

Anne Moore Prepares for Death

When Moore seemed close to death in 1813, a Derbyshire curate asked: Do you feel resigned to God’s will?

She said: I am very happy; I would not change my state with you.

On 30th April, doctors said Moore would live no more than a few hours. Moore wished to take an oath that she was honest. A magistrate, Thomas Lister of Armitage Park, was close by. When he came, he asked: Have you drunk any tea during the last four years?

Moore grew upset and shed tears: You make me tremble. Would you have me tell lies?

And so, Lister drew up the statement of innocence she dictated to him. In the presence of the watch committee, she made her mark on it.

Hutchinson went to tell Moore’s daughter her mother was dying. Mary, aged 15, was staying at Dr Allen’s. She and Hutchinson walked to Moore’s house. Mary looked at her mother, kissed her, and cried: O, she is dying!

Moore said: Yes, it’s all over.

Mary ran down the stairs and across the road. Hutchinson went after her and tried to calm her. Mary then returned to her mother.

Moore now approached death with the composure and dignity society expected. Hutchinson said: Mrs Moore, I trust you are in charity with all mankind?

Moore assured those present she forgave her enemies. And she asked her friends to provide for her children.

Moore’s Deception Discovered

Towards noon, Anne Moore seemed better. She sat up and washed her hands in a basin of water. Hutchinson put this down to the relief she felt after swearing she’d deceived no one. However, the committee had allowed her two moistened handkerchiefs.

Later, Moore grew quite cheerful. Yet when some visitors entered, she appeared scarcely able to speak. Charles Bott, a committee member and one of the lease holders of Tutbury’s cotton mill, considered Moore’s behaviour suspicious. So, he sent for Dr Simpson of Hilton. They gave her another handkerchief moistened with water and vinegar. Convinced she swallowed some, they expected the natural result.

Early the following morning, Bott entered Moore’s house and found evidence of fraud. The blanket on which she sat was wet, and she’d hidden linen garments stained with urine. Although Moore was evasive, Bott knew she’d drunk water.

On examination, Mary confessed. When the family finished their evening meal, Mary put the tea pot on a shelf her mother could reach. Sometimes she added milk and sugar. She hardly ever saw her mother drink anything but was sure she did.

Once the committee had met, Thomas Lister visited Moore. He persuaded her to sign a solemn declaration: I have occasionally taken sustenance for the last six years.

The committee printed and circulated Moore’s confession. It caused a sensation, and strong disapproval. Some gloated over those who’d believed Moore’s story. Others justified their past conclusions but felt hurt nevertheless. Surprise and resentment ran through the town.

Anne Moore leaves Tutbury

Moore continued to live in Ludgate Street. However, the £250 she’d received from visitors ran out. She’d apprenticed Mary to a dressmaker, a major expense, and she hadn’t sufficient to pay her debts. As a result, she sold most of her goods.

At 7.00 am on 12th August 1813, an open cart halted at Moore’s cottage. The men loaded it with a few items of furniture. Then Moore appeared, almost completely wrapped in woollen blankets. Her legs seemed contracted under her body. The men placed her in the cart. As it moved off, a small crowd jeered and showed contempt.

For a short time, Moore moved from one place to another. Gradually, she recovered her appetite and use of her legs. Eventually she settled in Macclesfield. Her daughter went to Ashbourne to embroider lace. Moore died in September 1825, aged 75.

Conclusion: Moore and the Professionals

For its imagined role in the Moore-affair, critics slated the church. Yet few Christians had believed Moore’s survival a miracle in any traditional sense. The vast majority dismissed such enthusiasm as mental weakness. For them, Moore exemplified the Creator’s wondrous design of human physiology. Like Tutbury’s Deists, they believed nature and reason revealed God. The difference between them was Christian faith in biblical history. For Deists, miracles never happened; for Evangelicals like Hutchinson, they belonged to the distant past. Yet for both, the natural world sometimes seemed miraculous. Many were open to the possibility that Moore was an example of this.

Doctors and clergy inhabited a disenchanted world. They saw reason as fundamental. Yet reason led well-educated men astray when based on a flawed understanding of psychology or nature. And it had its blind spots. Taylor thought Moore’s sixteen days without food proved she’d taken none over a longer period. Hutchinson thought piety false when accompanied by inconsistencies.

Moore’s mental world embraced faith in superstition and fate as well as the opinions of experts. Her minimal education made her reliant on authority figures yet also suspicious of them. She feared the weighing machine on which they put her bed, revealing her vulnerability. Her world filled with enemies and friends. When she trusted apparent authorities, she learned to inhabit the mental structures which they provided.

Why did Anne Moore exaggerate her disordered eating in 1807? Was she trying to protect herself from the outside world? In spite of all her contemporaries wrote, evidence for an explanation is lacking. To them she was a vile deceiver who set out to make money from a gullible public. True, she lied and found an income stream. Yet categorizing her as a villain does justice neither to her character or situation. She showed cunning and folly, self-belief and dependence on others. Above all, she tried to get herself and her daughter through the challenges they faced.

Next: You may enjoy a Four Shires History article about prize-fighting in 1830s Leicestershire.

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