Poll Pilsworth's grave

Epworth, Lincolnshire

Although now almost forgotten, the circumstances surrounding the death of Poll Pilsworth and her subsequent burial were the subject of detailed historical research prior to the turn of the century. These researches included talking to elderly villagers who were present as children at the time of the actual interment. A full account of the story appears in Dr. Messiter's Notes on Epworth Parish Life published in 1912.

In the early 1790s Poll (or as she was sometimes called Pall) Pilsworth was employed by the parish of Epworth to assist with the care of the poor people resident in the local workhouse. She worked under a Martha Fretwell, the workhouse mistress, and it was rumored that it was the desire to obtain her position that caused the incident.

Using poison, possibly arsenic, Poll was alleged to have contaminated the flour from which the workhouse bread was baked. Several people died, the victims including a number of pauper children, Robert Storr, a spigot seller, his wife Jenny. Others were taken ill from a fear of being poisoned themselves. When it became known, or at least widely believed, that Poll was the offender a large crowd gathered, presumably bent on taking their revenge. Seeing no way of escape, Poll herself took poison.

Amidst great commotion her body was placed on a plough-sledge and hauled across some rough land to the crossroads in the village. Here she was buried, with two stakes driven through her body to prevent her spirit walking.


Poll was buried near a spot where the roads meet on the way to Burnham. A large stone at one time marked the grave alongside the guidepost. This was subsequently removed; today no signs remain to indicate her last resting place.