The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

If you'd like to publish any interesting material about the history of East Anglia on the site, then please send an email to the Resident Historians at and we'll add it.

Family Historians have their own area on the site, so look there if your main interest is in tracing your family history.

Monday, January 31, 2005

The Spire of Long Melford Church

The original church tower (from a map)

The splendid church tower we see now at Long Melford is not an ancient structure as most visitors imagine but an eighteenth century brick structure encased in twentieth-century stonework to disguise it. Long Melford Church once had a most majestic spire. It was destroyed by lightning in around 1710, and was replaced by a rather poor thing of rendered brick. The replacement looked awful.
To take up the story, we should turn to the great Ernest Ambrose from his splendid book 'Melford Memories' which we had once hoped to see reprinted

The 1710 brick tower

After the great upserge of patriotism evoked by Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee and the imminence of the new century, the leaders of the church began to feel it would be a good opportunity to have some fitting memorial of these two outstanding occasions. The Rev. G. St. John Topham, who was now rector, suggested the raising of the church tower to bring it more in harmony with the beauty and size of the main building. This suggestion was quickly taken up with much enthusiasm and a committee was formed in 1897 to raise funds and to appoint an architect for the purpose. The original tower had been destroyed by lightning about the year 1710 and had been replaced by a square red brick tower covered with cement, which had in many places broken away and was very ugly.
The architect appointed was Mr. George F. Bodley and the builders were Messrs. Rattee and Kett of Cambridge. It was decided to build on to the brick tower rather than pull it down; and to chip off the old cement replacing it by decorative flint work and stones, adding buttresses at the corners faced with stone work, thus giving the tower a new though ancient look in keeping with the 15th. century church. Several Melford workmen were engaged for the re-building among them being William Griss, nicknamed Schemer Griss, an expert bricklayer and a man who took very great pride in his work. Mr. Griss had the honour of laying the first brick of the new foundation in 1898. Special hard stone was delivered to the church being brought there in great blocks by horse and waggon. So also were the flints which were dug out of the gravel pits at Acton. An awning was set up near the church porch and here the stone masons cut their stone according to their needs, and flint knappers from Brandon prepared flints to fit in with delicate accuracy. The head stone mason, a clever craftsman, who came from Cambridge, used to lodge during the week with my grandmother, and we became very friendly during the three years he spent on the work. He was very appreciative of grandma's cooking, especially her pies! I watched him at work many times and was most interested.
The ceremony of the laying of the foundation corner stone on 10th. April 1899, was a very impressive occasion. As the Freemasons had contributed so generously to the funds they were chiefly responsible for the service. A Masonic Lodge was held in the village school before proceeding up the Green for the ceremony. The Rev. G. J. Martyn, our former rector, who, as well as being Chaplain in Ordinary to the Queen, was Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Suffolk and Past Grand Chaplain of England, conducted the service and ceremony. Underneath the stone were placed a specimen of each coin in use at that time.
In 1900 a further appeal had to be made as funds were running low and a second contract was made with the builders to raise the tower to include a ringing chamber, roof, gutters etc. In October 1902 the Rev. Topham resigned through ill-health, and work was suspended during the winter months. In March 1903 a further contract was made with the builders and work resumed, which included additions to the battlements and pinnacles and extension of the circular staircase to the tower. In memory of the (now) late Queen Victoria and the accession of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, the four new pinnacles were named Victoria, Edward, Alexandra and Martyn. On 14 October 1903 the new tower (now 118 ft. in height) was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Ely.
Two of the pinnacles from the old tower went to Melford Hall. The other two were placed on the gates at Kentwell Hall. However one of these was later retrieved from the old rectory garden, and the fourth one was bought by Sir Richard Hyde Parker at the Kentwell Hall sale in 1970. So the four pinnacles are now in the grounds of Melford Hall.

first published by The Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society, reproduced with permission. The LHM&AS wish to reserve copyright)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

A mortification not to be accounted for....

If ever one is inclined to feel sorry for oneself, one should remember the ghastly fate of a poor family from Wattisham whose story is told in the The Parish register for 1762, and whose memorial is a stone tablet on the wall, which contains the sombre and mysterious message "This inscription serves to authenticate the truth of a singular calamity which suddenly happened to a poor family in this parish, of which six persons lost their feet by a mortification not to be accounted for." One can only wonder at the medical cause of the horrible fate of this poor family and imagine the distress of this small community when it all happened. To quote from the Parish Register...

"On Sunday, January 10th 1762, Mary, daughter of John Weatherset, alias Downing, aged 16 years, was taken with a pain in her left leg, which in an hour or two sunk into her foot and toes. The next day her toes were much swelled, and black spots appeared upon them: by degrees the whole foot became swelled and black; the pain, which was by now chiefly in her toes, was, she said, as if dogs were gnawing them; the blackness and swelling increased upwards by slow degrees, till it came near the knee, when the flesh of her leg putrified and came off at the ankle with the foot, leaving the leg bones bare. The other leg and foot were affected in a few days and decayed nearly by the same degrees and manner; both her thighs became swelled.
"The surgeon, seeing no perfect separation did, on the 17th April following, attempt to take off one of the limbs near the knee, just above the corrupted flesh, but such an effusion of blood issued as to stop his attempt. He afterwards took off both of her legs near the knee. Mary lived on for many weeks but then sadly died.
"The mother, also named Mary, was taken with the very same kind of pain under her left foot very soon after her daughter. She sometimes said in her left leg her toes, foot and leg were affected in the same manner as her daughter's; in a few days her other foot and leg also. Both feet came off at the ankle, and the flesh rotted from the leg bones, which continued bare about three months, and then rotted off. Her hands and arms are benumbed, and her fingers contracted, but not black; she is now almost well and likely to live many years.
"Elizabeth, the next daughter, aged 14 years, was, on the next day, viz., Monday January 1 lth 1762, seized only in one leg and foot, which she could not set on the floor for three weeks, but stood all that time upon the other leaning against the chimney; after which being taken in the same manner in her other foot, she laid down. One foot mortified and came off at the ankle, the other leg near the knee.
"Sarah, the next child, aged 10, was taken on the same day as her sister Elizabeth in one foot, which mortified and came off above the ankle; the toes of the other were affected and broke, but healed again.
"Robert, aged 7 years, was taken on the Tuesday or Wednesday following, in both legs, which came off at the knee.
"Edward, aged 4 years, was at the same time taken in both feet, which rotted off a little above the ankles.
'An infant, aged 2 months, was taken from the mother's breast as soon as she was seized with that disorder. It was put out to nurse but died within 2 months. When dead its feet and hands turned black.
"John, the father of this unhappy family, was seized with the same disorder about 3 weeks after the first was taken, in both his hands. His fingers became benumbed, contracted and black. The nails of some came off, and two of them broke, but healed again. He complained much of darting pains in his hands, arms, legs and back.
"The singularity of the calamity and the smallness of the parish moved many worthy gentlemen to make collection for the immediate relief and future maintenance of the family. The sum of £500 was presently collected, out of which a life annuity of 3s per week each has been purchased for the 2 surviving girls, Elizabeth and Sarah."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Melford Memories and local confusions

I'm still shaking my head in sorrow over my failure to persuade anybody to republish the wonderful 'Melford Memories', by Ernest Ambrose. This book was written in the late nineteen-sixties by a well-known local man who had been at the centre of Melford life for ninety-four years. Even in the last years of his life, his memory was pin-sharp and his wit was finely honed too. Despite the title, it is not just about Long Melford but casts light on the whole area. For many years Ernest was the organist at Borley Church and is one of the few reliable witnesses of the famous affair of the 'haunting' of Borley Rectory

Ernest was an intelligent and articulate man who witnessed nearly a century of change in the region. His remeniscences cover all aspects of village life from poaching to bell-ringing. To anyone interested in our local history it is essential. The book went out of print in the late seventies and there is a whole new generation who have not got the book. For anyone who moves into the area, it is the first book about the locality I'd recomment, if only because is is such a damned entertaining read.

In late 2003, I contacted the Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society to ask them if they minded me reprinting some of the chapters of the book on this website. They had originally published the book, but the call was a courtesy as publication rights would have lapsed after three years after the book went out of print unless they had specifically retained them for longer, which they didn't.

As I expected, the Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society were very affable, and happy to go along with the idea of reprinting the book. They said that their own publication program was well planned out in advance and they had no plans of their own to publish the book and didn't mind if we did. They were rather surprised by our interest and enthusiasm for the book. They had no worries about us publishing it on our internet either, as they also had no website of their own, beyond a rather desulty page on a Melford 'village website'.

I was also very keen on getting the consent of the closest relative of Ernest and his wife, the latter who actually wrote the book. Nobody then could tell me of any relatives at all, and still cannot. As far as I could make out, the copyright lapsed when Ernest Ambrose's estate was wound up in around 1980. The search continues.

The next stage was to raise the money for the republication. Doing a website version involves only photocopying the book so that it can be fed through the automatic sheet-feeder to the OCR software, and the many hours of painstaking proof-reading. A physical printing of the book would seem sensible to do at the same time, once one had a clean typescript, and this would require sponsorship.

At this stage, Richard Morris, the author of our first publication 'Foxearth Brew', stepped into the breach and harnessed his considerable media talents to attracting sponsorship. The work of attracting sponsorship went well, and a number of private individuals in and around Long Melford dipped into their pockets to become subscribers for a printed version. We ran stories in the local paper and Richard made an enormous breakthrough in interesting the LSE and Alistair Campbell in the project, and though them, to Tony Blair. At this stage, the budget of £2000 looked as though it was in the bag. I began to imagine a whole new generation of Melford residents reading 'Melford Memories' with fascination and enthuseasm, sharing the glow of Ernest's zest for life.

Then came the blow...

The Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society withdrew their permission. Asking them had been a courtesy as they had no residual rights in the book beyond the copyright over the typesetting and presentation of the book. We'd have redone all this anyway. They even started back-peddling over 'allowing' us to do the website version, and said they only meant that we would be allowed to quote sections of the book.

The problem, apparently, lay with the publicity and 'puff' we'd given the book in order to raise the level of interest for getting sponsorship. According ot one member I questioned, their younger committee members began to question the wisdom of giving away their 'crown jewels' to another Local History Society. They'd read the newspaper stories of our sponsorship efforts and, one imagines, made a vast over-estimate of the commercial potential of the book.

The waters then got fearfully muddied and confused when they apparently informed us that they'd found out the copyright holder but weren't going to tell us who it was, and they also told us they had decided that not only did they not want us to publish the book, but that they had no intention of publishing it themselves. They refused the compromise plan of a joint publication. I'm hoping to get a clearer statement from them about their position, since I'm making a mess of trying to understand it and describe it fairly here.

Of course, we would not want to do anything to upset a neighbouring Local History Society, and are startled and puzzled by the apparent hornets nest we have accidentally stirred up, so we regretfully had to abandon the whole project.

It is hard to work out anyone who has gained anything from this mess. The great loss is to the community who have been deprived of the opportunity of enjoying one of the best Local history books ever published. And we have ended up vaguely feeling like naughty schoolboys simply for wanting to revive an important literary classic.


We've now had a communication from the Secretary of the Long Melford Historical And Archaeological Society. They are now saying that the society 'discussed' republication of the Ambrose memoirs some time ago. The only problem was copyright, still held by the Ambrose family. They say that by sheer chance, they may be on the way to finding the present copyright holder, but of course still don't know if permission to republish will be given.
If so the LMH&AS has the funds and 'could' go ahead.

I'd always understood that the meeting to discuss republication had decided not to go ahead. It is clear from the judicious word 'could', in the phrase 'the Historical Society has the funds and could go ahead' that no firm decision has yet been made to republish the book so we have to keep our fingers crossed.

Much Later

Now, fifteeen years later, I must finish the story. They republished the book but never did a website version.  At the time I write this, the book is still available.  It is sad that they never did the website version because this would have helped the many people overseas whose ancestors came from Melford.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Them Harnted Housen

As the 'Most haunted House in England' was once on our patch, I thought it would be interesting to reproduce a ballad written in the Essex dialect by Charles Benham in 1890. It takes very little to make the ballad fit the legend of Borley Rectory, but I fear to do it in case it then becomes absorbed into the tissue of the legend. The fit is remarkable, with the description of the rats, the lights in the window and the female ghost, 'the Owd un' (the old one)



Goo' mornin', sir, you minter say you bought them housen there,

An' you're a-go'n ter live in one ? Well, that 'l1 make 'em stare.

Them housen. sir, is harnted, an' was when I's a lad,

An' anyone as sleep there, sir, is sartin to be had.

I wouldn't tell yer, but surlie, I knaow as you'll repent.

Tek my advice, sir, don't you gao, y'll on'y wish yer hent,

Tha's no good you a-larfin don't you sleep 'ithin that plaice.

Do to-night you'll be a-larfin on the wrong side o! yer faice.

There's jes one thing about it, you 'ont want to be there long

Afore you say my wahrd is right, though now you think tha's wrong

The rets ? Nao, sir, that ent the rets, n'r yet the moice,

I guess, But tha's the Owd un, I believe, an' nothin' more n'r less.

Las' night I passed them housen by, along o! Tom an' Jack.

"There'll be a tempest, booy," 1 say, "the moon lay on her back."

The wind were flanny, an' the clouds come up as black as slaites,

An' soon that lightened crost the sky, an' thundered jes to rights.

You oughter sin them winders, sir, all lit o' fire-good luck !

And rattled-1 sh'd think th'did-my stars, them winders shuk !

We didn't stop, I tell yer why, we felt that drefful bad,

Afear the Owd un sh'd rome out, an' we sh'd a bin had

Ah, you can larf, but don't you lay your head 'ithin that plaice,

Do to-morrer you'll be larfln on the wrong side o' yer faice.

Them housen, sir, is harnted, an' was since I's a lad

Tek my adwice, sir, don't you gao--yer sartin to be had.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Fovet Lenocinium

The sins of the Essex priesthood in the age of the first Elizabeth are quite eye-popping. The Vicar of Aveley, for example was accused of having committed bawdery with his maidservant, his wife was suspected of incontinence (a delicate way of saying that she was being adulterous), and his mother was pregnant in his house. Then, there was the 'Whoremaster Knave' of Blackmoor, one Edward Binder, who 'pays honest women to commit adultery with him'. One cannot help thinking that he'd have had better luck with the dishonest ones. William Kyreby, Rector of East Donyland was 'accused by Maydstone's wife to be a common alehouse haunter and a frequenter of a harlot's house. viz Pitcher's wife there , who is suspected to be a light woman and a harlot.'

Pentlow priests featured strongly too. Our own rector, Mr Nicholas Walles, parson of Pentlow, was in trouble for incontinency in 1582. in 1586 he was mentioned in a warrant...
'NICHOLAS Wallis, parson of the parish church of Pentlow abovesaid, the first day of the next General Sessions for the peace holden within the said county of Essex, personally to appear before us answer to such matters as on her highness's behalf shall be objected against him. Whereof fail you not as you will answer the contrary at your uttermost perils'.
And again...
'Nicholas Wallis, clerk, rector of Pentlow, Thomas Deereman and Thomas Chrissall [Cressall] of the same, yeomen, for the said NICHOLAS to appear and do and receive what the Court shall then enjoin, and in the meanwhile to keep the peace towards John Sharpington of "Candishe" [Cavendish], co.Suffolk, labourer, and to do no bodily harm to him or to any other of the Queen's liege people.'.
There was obviously some local ill-feeling toward Nicholas Walles because, in 1573....
'George Smythe of Pentlow, gentleman, (was indicted) for expelling and disserising Nicholas Walles, clerk, rector of the rectory of Pentlow, and Thomas Strachie of the same, his farmer, from a parcel of land called Gadds garden, a field called Woodfield, a parcel containing one acre of land lying next the lane called Pyttmans lane, also two and a half acres of land in a field called Muchesfield lying in the said parish of Pentlow, parcel of the glebe lands of the rectory afoxesaid, contrary to the statute of 8 Henry VI.

It was the previous incumbent, Nicholas Bushe, (rector of Pentlow from 1560 to 1571) that made his mark. We read of him in 1568 having a writ against him. In 1567 He, two millers, Robert Marshall of Shrimpling and John Marshal of Boxsted assaulted the two constables of Pentlow as they were sent to arrest the two millers, under a warrant issued by Sir William Cordell, master of the rolls. Nicholas Bushe enabled them to escape, but one of the unfortunate constables was afterwards charged with negligence, suggesting that he possibly sympathised with the two men. Then there are a series of incidents involving Thomas Strache, who we have already come across, who was already, at this time occupying the rectory....
Thomas Crisshall of Pentlow, yeoman, William Grigges, John Crisshall and George Fenne, yeoman, all of the same, for Francis Hibble, Browne and Henry Smythe of same, all to keep the peace towards Mercy, wife of Thomas Strache, and Thomas Strache their son.'
They were not the only ones to take a pop at Thomas Strachie, because in 1573...
'George Smyth of PENTLOW, yeoman, Thomas Smyth of the same, gentleman, Thomas Lale of "Foxesheere" [Foxearth], labourer, and Thomas Scotte of the same, husbandman, for an unlawful assembly at the same, and for an assault and battery on Thomas Strachie, yeoman, and Thomas Strachie the younger, esquire, both of PENTLOW, at the same.'
Then follows another writ, mentioning...
' Nicholas Bushe, clerk, rector of PENTLOW, Francis Hible and Henry Smythe, husbandmen, Rose Hyble, Margaret Brown, and Elizabeth Stevens, spinters, all of the same, Peter Wellis of Foxeyarde, husbandman, and Thomad Smythe of Candishe, Suffolk, yeoman, for unlawfully enterting the tenement called the Parsonage of Pentlow aforesaid belonging to Thomas Strachie of Walden, draper, contrary to the statute of 5 Richard II.'
Soon afterwards, we hear....
'Frances Hible, Margaret Browne, and Henry Smyther of Pentlow, Nicholas Busshe, clerk, rector of the same, and John Cryshall, of the same, clothier, for the said Francis, Margaret and Henry to keep the peace towards Mercy, wife of Thomas Strachie. The said Francis is dead and the rest discharged by the court.'
Feelings must have been running high, because others seem to have been queueing up to have a go at Thomas Strachie. in June 1572..
Thomas Smith of Pentlow, gentleman, and Robert [blank] of the same, labourer, together with four other unknown malefactors, for an unlawful assembly at the same, for assaulting Thomas Strachie, husbandman, and Peter Wengrave, labourer, both of the same, servants to Thomas Strachie of the same, yeoman, and taking a cartload of hay, belonging to the said Thomas Strachie, yeoman, away from the said Thomas Strachie and Peter Wengrave.'

We then have a whole trail of writs against Nicholas Bushe leading finally to his nemesis.
'Witnessed by Sir Anthony Cooke, knight, at Chelmsford, to outlaw Nicholas Bushe, rector of Pentlow, clerke, Francis Hible and Henry Smythe, husbandmen, Rose Hible, Margaret Browne and Elizabeth Stevens, spinsters, all of the same...all allowed one county court held at Chelmsford on 24 November, 15 Elizabeth [A.D.1572]; at which court the justices sent to the General Sessions held on the feast of the Epiphany last past that the aforesaid Nicholas Bushe and the rest were called did not appear:and because there were not more courts held between the day of the reception of the same writ the return thereof, therefore they were not able to proceed for the further execution of the same writ as appears by record, so it is prayed that at the four next courts to be held, the said Nicholas Bushe and the rest are to be further called, and if they do not appear they are to be outlawed, and if they appear they are to be taken and safely kept in order that they may be brought before the Justices at Chelmsford on Thursday after the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul next coming, to answer for the trespass and contempt whereof they stand indicted,and whereof it was returned on Thursday after the Feast of the Epiphany last that they were not found in the bailiwick. Endorsed:- Allowed one court to which NICHOLAS Bushe and the rest within-mentioned were called and did not appear, further at the next monthly court then next following to wit 23 December 15 Elizabeth [A.D.1572] the said NICHOLAS and the rest were secondly called and did not appear. And at a monthly court held at Chelmsford on 20 January 15 Elizabeth [A.D.1572-3],the said NICHOLAS and the rest were thirdly called and did not appear. And they were fourthly and fifthly called at courts held on 17 February and 17 March 15 Elizabeth [A.D>1572-3], and did not appear, therefore by judgment of the coroners they are outlawed.'

One wants to know more. What on earth was Thomas Strachie up to and why was he occupying the Rectory? Why was everyone having a go at him? Why did Nicholas Bushe fail to turn up to court?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Lost Parish of Brundon

Brundon on the Chapman &Andre map 1774

The parish boundaries around here are not immutible. There have been some changes, and even some livel border disputes in the past. Also parishes have been split off and reabsorbed. In the immediate area, we have Weston and Easton (Weston is east of Easton, puzzlingly), which seem to have been separate entitieas at one time

Brundon, Borley's neighbour to the south along the edge of the river valley issustrates this fluidity rather strikingly. It started out being a manor, part of Bulmer, but established its own church and finally its independence from Bulmer in 1178. The church, which was near Brundon Wood, on the right hand side of the road toward Brundon Hall, thrived for a few hundred years, latterly under the advowson of the Chaplains of St Gregory's College until it finally collapsed into ruins by 1740. The parishioners of Brundon had long since gone to All Saints Church in Sudbury, a rather long treck, but there were Rectors of Brundon until 1635.

At some point, the parish became amalgamated with Ballingdon, which became known as Ballingdon-cum-Brundon (or Billingham over Brunsden). Before 1620, the inhabitants of the area referred to themselves as being in the parish of Brundon, but by 1652, the independence of Brundon was a memory. an order book from that year says

'Whereas there is some difference betweene the Inhabitants of Ballingdon and BRUNDON in this County concerning the repayre of theire highwayes, the Inhabitants of BRUNDON pretendeing they ought to bee severally rated as distinct parishes, Upon hearing and examineing whereof This Court doth thinke fit and Order that the said Inhabitants of Ballingdon and BRUNDON doe joyntly repayre the highwayes in both places and make rates accordingly, untill it appeare that they are distinct parishes, which this Court is not att present satisfied in'.

It had always been rather an anomaly that the people of Ballingdon did not have their own chuch but popped over the bridge to Sudbury and Suffolk. (Brundon Church is marked as Ballingdon's parish church on the 1750 Bowen map of Suffolk). The people of Brundon went too, but unlike their new co-parishioners, they paid no tithes. Sudbury's expansion eventually led to Ballingdon becoming absorbed into the Borough, and Brundon went with it, and became part of Suffolk. This means that the constituency, county, district and parish boundaries all take a tortuous route from Brundon Mill up the Belchamp Brook to Brundon Wood and then along hedges and ditches to the Halstead road.

The little parish therefore has 'moved' from being part of rural Bulmer in Essex, to being an area of Sudbury in Suffolk. The residents will still tell you that they live in Brundon though.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Fieldwalking and treasure-hunting

The local area is extremely rich in archaeology. There are probably between ten and twelve Roman Villas within a half-hours walk from the centre of Long Melford. I'd love to tell you where they are but I can't. The problem is with rogue treasure-hunters, who would wreck the sites before legitimate archaeologists can assess them and understand their history.

Professional Archaeologists seem to get very sniffy about the metal-detectorists, that strange band of people only interested in finding coins and other metal objects in the soil. It is true that people with metal detectors are responsible for stripping many sites around here of all the metallic dating evidence, but I believe that it is a very small minority who are responsible, and that it is the responsibility of the maligned local history societies to understand, coordinate, record and supervise the work of the metal detectorists just as it should work with the collectors of old photographs, the genealogists, map-collectors, amateur archaeologists, and anyone else with a specialist interest in the past.

I enjoy field-walking myself; It is a huge pleasure to track not only human activity but the geology, the tracks of animals and the botany of an area. Reading a field is as much fun as reading a book if one takes the time to learn how to interpret the signs. Like learning to read, it takes time and patience. I don't like using a metal detector and prefer to leave a field exactly as I found it.

Not every field has archaeology in it, but every field has interest.I can appreciate the pleasure that a skilled field-walker with a metal-detector can get from his hobby. I'm not even sure if I begrudge him the finds he gets to keep after he has presented them to the farmer, as long as they are properly registerd and recorded. The damage to sites comes from the plough, not the finder of the results of the plough-damage. It worries me that metal detectors can detect metal so far beneath the surface now because there is the temptation to dig and thereby destroy the value of the find being in context.

The problem is not with the speciality of metal detectoring, but with the occasional rogue who does it. Many branches of Amateur and Professional History and Archaeology has such rogues and it is therefore unfair to tar the entire hobby with the sins of the few. It is, surely time to integrate the work of the metal detectorists more closely into the overall understanding of local history.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A bill of the repering done att Roodbridg

A bill for work at Rodbridge turned up recently. The Rodbridge, (Roodbridg or RoadBridge on some old maps) is the ancient crossing-place of the Stour, which may even date back to roman times. Suffolk looked after their side, and Essex looked after the Borley side. Sometimes, one side of the bridge would be in disrepair whilst the other would be excellent, but coordination was never good

It seems, from the bill, that the Essex side of the bridge had undcergone extensive repairs, which included repairing the 'Cassway' or causeway that led over the soft ground from the edge of the valley to the bridge itself. A great deal of gravel, ston and clay had been put into place to repair the depredations of flooding. Interestingly, the Suffolk side had no causeway, and even today is liable to flood and thereby prevent access to the bridge at the slightest of flooding, whereas the Essex causeway is still in excellent condition, though mostly overlaid by the later railway. These men did their work well.

Essex A bill of the repering done att Roodbridg in the parrish of Foxearth in the aforsaid County, By the order and appointment of Her Majesties Justices of the board for this County, assembled at a late quarter sessions; Which work was finished and ended this 24 day of September 1703 according to the said Order as may more fully appeend there by
Inprimis For drawing up a (?) plan against the quarter sessions and for the order  } - 00 - 06 - 00
Itume  For the Carpenters bill for Timber and work } - 12 - 12 - 02
Itume For the Blacksmiths bill, in mending the old And making som new Irons } - 02 - 15 - 02
Itume For seven score and 4 loodes of stoanes laid in att three shillings a lood } - 21 - 12 - 00
Itume For 16 dayise work of 2 labourers (finding themselves board) In shuvling gravile and leaveling the Cassway, At 14 pence a day } - 01 - 17 - 5
Itume For shuvling and Carrying Six loades of Clay to Ram the shilpes with all } - 0 - 10 - 00
Itume For gravill, Out of Mr Waldgraves land } - 00 - 12 - 00
Itume For the Carriage of 85 loodes of gravile from the pit to the Cassway } - 04 - 05 - 00
Itume paid for board for the carters whilst they carted the stoanes and gravile } - 01 - 06 - 6
Itume For Journeyes and our Attendance whilst the work was in doing } - 02 - 00 - 10
  Moved by G Marshall

Jo: Sparrow

Winess our hand John Wilkin Cor: Brauer

  - 47 - 16 - 2

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Folk-songs of Suffolk and Norfolk

The composer that most people associate with East Anglia is Benjamin Britten. Actually, it was the composer Ernest Moeran who made the greatest contribution to the collection of East Anglian folk-song when it was still a live tradition, and threby lays a claim as East Anglia's own Composer.

Moeran was brought up at Bacton, where his father was Rector. He was born in 1894. the family was Anglo-Irish, but Ernest took to the stark Norfolk landscape and its people. He showed an early brilliance at music whilst at Uppingham, and studied under Stanford before the first world war. He joined up and enlisted as a motorcycle dispatch rider.

Unfortunately he suffered a severe head wound in May 1917 and was invalided out with shrapnel in his skull and a disability pension. He taught for a while at Uppingham before studying music once more, this time with John Ireland. He began collecting folk songs, and had the particular skill of being able to put the singer at his, or her, ease , and to capture all the nauances of the voice, with all the grace notes and subtle timings. In the 1929s he was able to catch the last years of a dying culture, and his work is of enormous importance. He became a familiar figure in the Norfolk pubs with his notebook, accepted by all. He set some of the songs himself, (Six Folksongs from Norfolk, six Folksongs from Suffolk)

Ernest Moeran wrote music of great emotional intensity, in the romantic idiom, but with his own unique voice. It was a voice tinged with a desperate sadness, due in part to the suffering caused by his head-wound. He suffered from a melancholy which he found increasingly difficult to assuage with drink. One speculates as to how his career would have gone had he not been a casualty of war, but nonetheless his music is honest, well-crafted stuff.

Ernest Moreran eventually moved to County Kerry in Ireland and began to collect folksongs there too. He was surprised to find that they were the same songs he'd heard in Norfolk. He assumed, incorrectly I think, that the songs had been carried by fishermen between the two locations. In fact, it is becoming more and more obvious now that songs, tunes and dance music spread very quickly throughout the British Isles throughout history. Musicians were itinerant by nature and it is surprising to see how ubiquitous a good song becomes, even when given regional treatments.

So even though East anglia can boast a dialect so divergent that it has required dictionaries to itemise the unique words, and has developed regional styles of architecture and crafts, its music is a shared culture with the rest of Britain, even though it just so happens that we clung on to our music longer, and remembered the songs better for the likes of Ernest Moeran, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams to record for posterity.

See the website for more details of East Anglia's own composer.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Brook Hall Harvest Horkey

One of the great pleasures of Local History is the investigation of the unimportant. Tom's interest was awakened by the following newspaper cutting about Brook Hall's 'old-time' Horkey. A Horkey is a type of harvest celebration that is unique to East Anglia. Its place had been usurped by the more sober church-sponsored harvest festivals, but there have been several attempts to revive the older and more enjoyable celebration


On Friday the 30th of September 1901, the employees of Mr T.P.Brand of Brook Hall, at the conclusion of harvest, met to have an old time horkey. The dinner took place in the wheat barn and commenced at 4 p m. The meat was supplied from the farm and the ale, which was of most excellent quality, was supplied by D.Ward and Son, of Foxearth Brewery. The number that sat down was 37. Full justice was done to the meal, which was followed by a smoking concert.
The chair was taken by Mr T. H. Brand and the vice-chair by Mr Willis. The toast of "the King" was proposed by Mr John Butcher, who also led "God Save The King".
The health of Mr and Mrs Brand was proposed by Mr Henry Ives, who has lived at Brook Hall since 1865.
Mr William Smith, junior,proposed the toast "Mr Tom and family". Mr Ellams proposed the toast of Mrs Ives, Mrs Deeks, Miss Macro, Miss Byford and Miss Nice, who were responsible for the catering departments.
In the concert,Mr John Butcher was most happy in his efforts, bringing the Fen country songs into the neighbourhood. Mr Elliston, late of the Suffolks, (not lost by General French) also obliged with many songs. In fact the Fenman and the Suffolker may have been considered to have been the mainstay of the musical line. Mr .H.Brand obliged with some songs, of which "John Peel" would be the best. At 8-30, after a most enjoyable evening, the feast was concluded.
Finally, Mr Long suggested a round of "three times three" for Mr and Mrs Brand, Mr Ives being spokesman.
The guests were Messrs Willis, William Smith, A.Thompson,G.Willis, Fish, Henry Ives, Alfred Deal, Edward Ives, John Marshall, Ambrose Ellams, A.Mansfield, A.Poole, W.Elliston, D.Harrington ,A.Levitt, Lewis Deeks, C.Hickford, A.Ives, James Felton, A.Willis, H.Chapman, E.Willis, T.Chapman, E.Long, E.Hardaway, J.Gridley, F.Marshall and T.H.Brand.
Everything passed off so well that it promises to be an annual event.

And so it proved to be, because next year we hear about the Horkey again

October 1st 1902.

Brook Hall Horkey.

This pleasing event took place on September 26th,in the wheat barn. A company of 39 sat down. In the evening the usual toasts were given when a smoking concert took place,songs were rendered by Messrs Butcher, Long, Felton, Smith and others. On Saturday morning, Mr Brand entertained them to breakfast.
There was also other horkeys at Bradfields, Huntsmans and Pentlow Street.

Tom did some investigating. He asked Reg Chinnery, b 1910, who told him that Miss Nice, a helper at the horkey at Brook Hall in 1901, was his mothers aunt, her home was at Twinstead and she was a domestic at Brook Hall. John Butcher was the shepherd, living in a house where the bungalow stands now at Pentlow Street, he was the father of Percy Butcher. E.Long was coachman at Brook Hall and lived at Hawks Farm. Ambrose Ellams lived at Huntsmans Cottages, then moved to a house behind the Chapel. A.Levitt was the gamekeeper and lived at Huntsmans Cottages. J.Gridley lived in the row where Ken Coleby is now. A Thompson lived at Borley at the top of Brook Hall lane next door to Miss Byford. I.Gridley lived at what is now Oakley's Cottage. Alfred Deal was blacksmith at Brook Hall, working in the smithy at the end of the pond, he was Eddy Chinnery's grandfather. John Marshall was mechanic
at Brook Hall, living in the cottages where Orry Claydon lives now. George Duce used to say that he would repair the binders if they broke down. Henry Ives lived at Brook Hall cottages,it seems he was the first tenant as they were built between 1861 and 1871. (G.H.).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Brockford Giant

There have been some wonderful and mysterious Archaeological finds in the past. One wishes that our ancestors had been somewhat more careful in recording them than seems to have been the case. In East Anglia, no finds have been more odd than the Brockfield Giant. It may have been a hoax, but unlike the Cardiff Giant, there seems little attempt at financial gain. Burials in the road were not unusual in the case of suicides or executed criminals, but a 10 foot skeleton goes beyond what is humanly possible (around 8 ft.)

we get the story from a letter written in November 1651:

'Loving Brother -
thought it worthy my writing to you, what this other day was discovered to many here the like of which few of our Predecessors have seen. For here, near the place of your Nativity, at Brockford Bridge, at the end of the street towards Ipswich, by the gravelly way, between the Lands lace (our cosen Rivets) John Vice and another were digging gravell in the Rode, and a litde within the earth found the carcase of a Giant (for so I think I may term him) for from top of his skull to the bottom of the bones of his feet was ten foot, and over-thwart his brest, from the ultimate of one shoulder to the other as he lay interred, and before stirring was four feet. His scull of the bignesse neer of an half bushell, the circumference of one of his thigh bones of the bigness of a middle-sized woman's wast, the nether jaw bone had in it firmly fixed 16 teeth of an extraordinary bignesse, the other none.
When the finding of this wonder of men was noised abroad, many of the people of the adjacent Townes resorted to see it, and divers out of mere folly, I think, than discretion, broke the skeleton to gain part, or small pieces of bones, to brag they had part of him.
Severall are the opinions of men in judging what time this man lived; some think him to be a Dane, others imagine he might belong to Prince Arthur, but for my part I shall suspend my judgement, and leave it to wiser men; only thus much I think I may say that there ham not lived such a man in England this hundred years: his head lay near a quarter of a yard lower than his feet, and the superficres of the earth was worn down within neer an handfull of his shin bones. He was buried North and South, his head to Ipswich-ward and his feet towards Norwich.
It may be you may say I might have employed my time better than in troubling you with this letter, but I assure you of the truth of this, and the wonder of the thing commanded me to impart thus much unto you.
Your loving brother I. G.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Time to Dig

Watching Time Team is one of the great pleasures of life. Almost uniquely amongst popular TV programs, the producers assemble real experts in their field. For the local historian, it is like seeing the inhabitants of mount Olympus. Can that really be Carenza Lewis, who wrote the fascinating book 'Village, Hamlet and Field on the way that settlements evolved in Central england, and the rise of the nucleated village? Can that be be Professor Micheal Aston whose book 'Interpreting the Landscape' is the bible of landscape archaeologists? Beyond and behind them, one sees a glimpse of a Middle England that one thought had passed away; of communities, goodwill, an interest in the locality, and fascination in the past. Schoolchildren with eager and excited faces, scrubbing away at bits of brick and stone with toothbrushes. Glorious.

If Time Team knocked on the door here and asked if they could have a bit of a dig, where would one point them? I suppose I am a bit spoilt having a round barrow at the end of the garden and a house mentioned in the domesday book, but there are sites near here that I'm aching to see investigated

On a conspicuous raised platform in the Stour Valley, is a fascinating site that gives every appearance of being a mediaeval moated house. In fact, there are two platforms, and what look like fishponds, overlaid by the later drainage channels for the victorian osier beds. The site is striking on aerial photographs too. Fieldwalking reveals a mass of chalk and broken rooftiles, sharply broken (the worn ones got deposited in fields with the manure). The odd thing is that I can find no record of a mediaeval house in the records office, and it is not marked on any map. It could, of course be a barn used for the Osier-farming, but then the layout looks much more like domestic habitation. Now, what a fascinating program that would make!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Tinker and Dodman

All Farm-horses on East Anglian farms had names, and one had to use a special dialect to talk to them. The names were few and seem to have been used constantly right across the region

If one wandered into a harness-room on a busy farm, which was usually kept warmer and drier than many of the farmers' own rooms, you'd see names on the wall. These would be Blossom, Bowler, Boxer, Captain, Darby, Depper, Dodman, Duke, Ginger,Gypsy, Kitty, May Prince, Punch, Rosie, Short, Smiler, Tinker, Tulip, and Violet. The names were constant because the names were engraved in brass on the harness, and painted in the stables, so outlived the animals. The names seem to have been given according to the character of the foal, Dodman to a slow steady animal, Depper to an active mare, and so on. What is odder is that the names did not seem to vary from farm to farm; the names in South Essex would be the same as in Suffolk.

The words for the harness were esoteric too, the dutfin for the bridle, pad for a saddle, backstraps, britchens, hames (plough hames and cart hames), top latches and wanty.

Horses seemed to understand a standard set of commands, common to most of the local farms. 'Cuppi-wi' meant 'turn to the left', ('wi.wi' was repeated to indicate that the horse scould continue turning to the left) and 'weurdi' or 'wodi' meant turn right. 'Gee up', or 'git on then' meant start going forward, whereas 'jis, step' and 'Back abit' were used for stepping forward and backward.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Original Nine-days Wonder

Will Kemp and Thomas Slye
Will Kemp was the original 'Nine Days Wonder'. In 1599 he danced from London to Norwich, in a route that took him to Sudbury, Melford, Cavendish and Clare. He was an actor who played in the Lord Chamberlin's Players at the Globe Theatre, acting in plays by Will Shakespeare and Ben Johnson. He was probably Europe's most famous comic actor at the time, and an expert morris dancer. Probably, several of Shakespeare's clown roles were written specifically for Kemp, but in 1599, the two quarrelled. Shakespeare's plays were losing their comic edge and Kemp insisted to Shakespeare that no production of Hamlet would be be complete without a dog on wheels!

Kemp performed his original dance for a bet and so was accompanied by a referee, George Sprat, as well as his servant, William Bee. His wager was that he could dance the distance in nine days, though he spread his dancing over nearly four weeks.He then immortalised the event with a charming pamphlet that described the feat.

He set off from Whitechapel on the first Sunday in Lent, accompanied by a small entourage that included Thomas Sly on the pipe and tabor. He danced his way through Essex, being showered with sixpences in Whitechapel, seeing a bearfight in Stratford, resting in Romford, and being crowded in Chelmsford. Between Chelmsford and Brantree his companion fell into a muddy pothole up to his waist. After Braintree, he headed for Sudbury. To take up his story...

The fift dayes iourney being Wednesday of the second weeke.
TAKING aduantage of my 3. miles that I had daunst ye day before, this wednesday morning I tript it to Sudbury, whether came to see a very kinde Gentleman Master Foskew, that had before trauailed a foote from London to Barwick: who, giuing me good counsaile to obserue temperate dyet for my health, and other aduise to bee carefull of my company, besides his liberall entertainement, departed leauing me much indebted to his loue.
In this towne of Sudbury, there came a lusty tall fellow, a butcher by his profession, that would in a Morrice keepe mee company to Bury: I being glad of his friendly offer, gaue him thankes, and forward wwe did set: but ere wee had measur'd halfe a mile of our way, he gaue me ouer in the plain field, protesting, that if he might get a 100. pound, he would not hold out with me; for indeed my pace in dauncing is not ordinary.
As he and I were parting, a lusty Country lasse being among the people, cal'd him faint hearted lout: saying, if I had begun to daunce, I would haue held out one myle though it had cost my life. At which wordes many laughed. Nay saith she, if the Dauncer will lend me a leash of his belles, Ile venter to treade one mile with him my selfe. I lookt vpon her, saw mirth in her eyes, heard boldnes in her words, and beheld her ready to tucke vp her russet petticoate, I fitted her with bels: which she merrily taking, garnisht her thicke short legs, and with a smooth brow bad the Tabrer begin. The Drum strucke, forward marcht I with my merry Maydemarian: who shooke her fat sides: and footed it merrily to Melfoord, being a long myle. There parting with her, I gaue her (besides her skinfull of drinke) an English crowne to buy more drinke, for good wench she was in a pittious heate: my kindnes she requited with dropping some dozen of short courtsies, and bidding God blesse the Dauncer, I bad her adieu: and to giue her her due, she had a good eare, daunst truely, and wee parted friendly. But ere I part with her, a good fellow my frriend, hauin writ an odde Rime of her, I will make bolde to set it downe.

A Country Lasse browne as a berry,
Blith of blee in heart as merry,
Cheekes well fed and sides well larded,
Euery bone with fat flesh guarded,
Meeting merry Kemp by chaunce,
Was Marrian in his Morrice daunce.
Her stump legs with bels were garnisht,
Her browne browes with sweating varnish[t];
Her browne hips when she was lag,
To win her ground, wnet swig a swag,
Which to see all that came after,
VVere repleate with mirthfull laughter.
Yet she thumped it on her way,
VVith a sportly hey de gay,
At a mile her daunce she ended,
Kindly paide and well commended.

At Melford, diuers Gentlemen met mee, who brought me to one master Colts, a very kinde and worshipfull Gentleman, where I had vnexpected entertainement till the Satterday. From whose house hauing hope somewhat to amend my way to Bury, I determined to goe by Clare, but I found it to be both farther and fouler.

The sixt dayes iourney, being Satterday of the second weeke.
FROM Wednesday night till Satterday hauing bin very troublesome, but much more welcome to master Colts: in the morning I tooke my leaue, and was accompanied with many Gentlemen a myle of my way. Which myle master Colts his foole would needs daunce with me, and had his desire, where leauing me, two fooles parted faire in a foule way: I keeping on my course to Clare, where I a while rested, and then cheerefully set forward to Bury.
Passing from Clare towards Bury, I was inuited to the house of a very bountiful widdow, whose husband during his life was a Yeoman of that Countrie, dying rich no doubt, as might well appeare, by the riches and plentie, that abounded in euerie corner of the house. She is called the widdow Eueret.
At her house were met aboue thirty Gentlemen. Such, and so plentifull variety of good fare, I haue very sildome seene in any Commoners house. Her behauiur being very modest and freendly, argued her bringing vp not to be rude. She was a woman of good presence: and if a foole may iudge, of no smal discretion.

Eventually, on a Saturday, he triumphantly entered Norwich, where he was welcomed by admiring crowds and the mayor, Master Roger Wiler, surrounded by other civic dignitaries. He was granted the freedom of the city, and a 40s annuity for the rest of his life.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Bell-Founders of Sudbury

HENRY PLEASANT, John Thornton, and Thomas Gardiner were bell-founders in Sudbury.
Henry Pleasant worked at Sudbury from 1694 to 1707, he was noted for the punning rhymes which he placed on his bells. On a bell which he cast for All Saints Church, Maldon, Essex, he placed this—
" When three this steeple long did hold They were the emblems of a scold, No music then, but we shall see What Pleasant music six will be."
When he recast the 6th bell at St. Nicholas Church, Ipswich, this couplet was placed on it,
" Henry Pleasant have at last
Made me as good as can be cast."
Pleasant cast a great number of bells for Essex and Suffolk churches; his foundry was first situated near the timber yard in King Street, but was afterwards removed to Hospital Yard, and eventually to Curds Lane. In theParish Register of St. Peter's is this entry, "Catrina, the wife of Henry Pleasans was buried March 11, 1673." After Pleasant's death the foundry was carried on by John Thornton (from 1708 to 1720) and Thomas Gardiner (1709—1759). Thornton was for a time associated with John Waylett at Sudbury. Gardiner removed to Norwich in 1745, but returned to Sudbury in 1754. His earliest efforts were not fully appreciated, and when he cast the second bell at Edwardstone, a local genius, one William Culpeck, otherwise to fame unknown, disagreed with him as a "want-wit," then no uncommon term of reproach, as we know from the Pilgrim's Progress, and humbled him by compelling him to cast on that bell these words, " Tuned by William Culpeck 1710." But a quarrel with a founder is like a quarrel with a newspaper editor, and Gardiner had his revenge of the last word on casting the tenor bell for the same church, when he inscribed
"About ty second Culpeck is wrett Because the founder wanted wett
Thair judgments ware but bad at last
Or elce this bell I never had cast.
Tho Gardiner."
This serves to perpetuate both Gardiner's triumph and the local Suffolk dialect at the beginning of the 18th century. There are 82 of his bells in Suffolk' alone, besides a great number in Essex.

(From Hodson's History of the Borough of Sudbury 1896)

Friday, January 14, 2005

A Stronger Stomach

In the news recently was an engine driver who accidentally drove his engine over a goat and was so traumatised that he was invalided out of the service and given compensation by the railway company of £32,00

As always our newspaper archive can come up with a cutting that shows that railwaymen were once made of far sterner stuff, particularly on the Cambridge line from Sudbury, and could be relied on to do their duty however extreme the circumstances.

Now the more delicate readers must be warned that the following news item is extremely disgusating, and you should immediately avert your gaze and read no further.

January 4th 1905

On Wednesday morning at about 7-15, as Platelayer Free of Stoke by Clare was making inspection of the line near Clare when he saw the body of a man lying beside the line near the level crossing on the Ashen road
On examination he found the scalp part of the face with one eye had been cut off and lay beside the rail. The body was well dressed with kid gloves on. With the help of the Clare station master, Mr Beare, they searched the body and found some letters addressed to F.J.Tatham a native of Stoke by Clare, he had been in the army and in Essex asylum.
An early cattle train for Bury had passed in the darkness of the morning so Mr Beare telegraphed Colchester to ask if the Bury train or the Colchester train bore any marks of the accident, the reply was that the last train for Cambridge on Tuesday night bore marks of an accident with blood and brains on the engine. The body was viewed by the relatives but owing to injuries to the face they were unable to identify him.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Pentlow Riot

After I reported on the Glemsford riot a few days ago, I was reproached by a Pentlow resident for ignoring the two great Pentlow riots. There seems to be a certain 'more riotous than thou' attitude creeping into local pride.
For a small parish to have had two riots seems excessive, but they were separated by a five hundred years interlude where the worst excess seems to have involved outlawing the rector. (another story). In both the riots, it was the unruly men of Cavendish who were chiefly responsible
The first riot happened during the peasants revolt. Pentlow Hall was the home of Sir John Cavendish who became Lord Chief Justice in 1372. At the start of The Peasants' Revolt in 1381...
"A band of them near 50,000 strong, as infuriated as the canille of Paris or the peasants of Gallicia in the crisis of a revolution marched to the Chief Justice's mansion at Cavendish, which they plundered and burned. The venerable judge made his escape but was taken in a cottage in the neighbourhood. Unmoved by his grey hairs they carried him in a procession to Bury St. Edmunds It was resolved however that he should be treated with insult as well as cruelty for his head being immediately struck off, it was placed in the pillory amidst savage yells and execrations of the bystanders."
a separate account it is recorded that the men of Cavendish assembled at Pentlow Hall with axes and threw the house in the river.
The next riot happened at Pentlow Mill, just over the road. There are two newspaper mentions..

May 15th 1772

This Wednesday Samuel Allen, Susannah Ottley and William Clark of Glemsford and Thomas Deeks of Cavendish were committed to Chelmsford gaol by Robert Andrews esq for being concerned in riots at Foxearth and Pentlow near Sudbury and with pulling down two mills and extorting by threats-flour-victuals and beer.

August 7th 1772

At Chelmsford Affizes the following persons were capitally convicted---Samuel Allen and Thomas Deeks for riotously pulling down some boulting mills.

These were one of the famous food riots in East Anglia. It was not a particularly serious riot, as the entire mill was not pulled down, but only some pieces of machinery (boulting mills) used for sifting flour. What incensed the local people was that dealers from London were buying up the local reserves of grain and shipping them off to the capital to maintain bread supplies there; The consequence was wild fluctuations in the local price of bread, and accusations of profiteering on the part of the dealers involved in the supply chain. There had been widespread attacks on mills, particularly in the disturbances of 1765-1766. At Norwich, an entire mill was destroyed (see the Gentleman's Magazine 1766) In 1769, the Riot act was extended to make attacks on mills a felony, and therefore a capital offense. This had little effect on the unrest in East Anglia, and a number of mills were attacked.
Pentlow mill was, at the time, a large concern that also was engaged in commercial brewing, which is why the rioters demanded beer as well as food. Foxearth Mill was on the Essex side of the Stour but served Glemsford as well as Foxearth. It is likely that it received the attentions of the aggrieved Glemsford mob in a separate incident to the one that affected Pentlow Mill. Samuel Allen and Thomas Deeks may have been the ringleaders, but they were certainly sentenced to death for their part in the riot.
Their conviction was not sufficient to quell the unrest, which was to increase over the next fifteen years.
It would seem that their sentence was never carried out. In Peter Wilson Coldham's book "The Kings Passengers to Maryland and Virginia" Samuel Allen, Susannah Ottley and Thomas Deeks are all listed as being sent to Virginia in January of 1773 on the ship "Justitia." Samuel Allen seems to have gone on to raise a family and fight in the War of Independence. He has living descendents. We don't yet know what happened to William Clark.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Through a lens, clearly

The Foxearth website started with a mass of materials. Like any newly-formed Historical Society, we assessed what we already had, before working out what we wanted to do next. Besides the transcribed newspaper cuttings, we had a large number of photographs, from a variety of sources. The collection of local postcards is a rather specialised branch of local history, and we had three good local collections to draw from; Stan Thompsons's archive of Cavendish, and area, postcards, Terry Baxter's photographs of Glemsford, and Tom's of Foxearth and surroundings.

The photographs themselves varied enormously in quality. Some of the very early ones were very faded and others were poor copies. Many were perfect, and shot with cameras whose sharpness and accuracy compares well with today's cameras.

The best photographs were those which had been 'in the family' for generations. Mrs Hartley's photographs of old Glemsford were fascinating, as were the postcards from Stan which even had his grandmothers' writing on the back.

We learned a lot about restoring photographs from the huge effort of scanning in around 800 of them. Age and use can cause all sorts of damage. Some were so bad that it became a running gag as to the magic that could be wrought on old photographs. The colour picture of the Glemsford Water Tower was so faded that we didn't realise it was in colour; The photo of the wartime patrons of the Pinkuah Arms was so black that all one could see were a few blurred faces.

Healing the worst of the photos involved a variety of techniques. A photo-editor on the computer was used, after the photo was scanned-in. Balance, contrast, and gamma would all be adjusted to give the best possible balance. The Cloning tools would then be used, rather like plastic surgery, to get rid of the worst damage. If the photograph had been printed, it would have to be blurred with a gaussian blur, and then re-focused. Blotches and faded areas would need to be minimised, and speckling removed. Often, a poor photograph would be restored and then a much better copy would turn up. the work would have to be repeated with the better copy.

One of the most interesting techniques we used was re-focussing. This is a mathematical technique that is able to take a blurred image and produce a properly frcussed image from it. The maths was developed in order to produce good prints of the NASA moon-landing, and we can now get versions that can produce good results from old photographs. (We use software called 'Focus Magic'). This came in very handy, particularly with many of Tom's photographs which were copies of photographs taken with a hand-held camera.

So now we have an archive of photgraphs on the site which are stored in reasonably high resolution sufficient to produce photograph-sized prints. The better ones will print up to A3 without any perceived loss of quality.

Why bother? Has it been worth the effort? I think so. Postcards are rapidly increasing in value at the moment and are disappearing away from local hands into distant collections. It is getting harder to get hold of old photographs of house and neighbourhood. Just as important are the photographs of people. Charabang outings, parties, people at work, football teams, choirs and studio portraits. I'd love to know their names, where they lived, who they were related to, and all the other details of their lives. The photographs are an essential source of primary materials that tell us about our local history from the 1850s onwards. We should preserve copies of them before they all become dispersed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tobias Gill

We have a number of newspaper cuttings from the Ipswich Journal concering the activities of smugglers on the coast. To counter what became a vast local industry, the government sent Dragoons. These were not local troops, as East Anglians tended to have a sympathy for the smugglers. In 1750, a detachment of the 4th Dragoons (Sir Robert Rich's Regiment of Dragoons) was based at Blythburgh. They had recently been in the war of the Austrian succession. These dragoons were rather ill-disciplined troops who disliked the location, and hostility towards them began to grow. There were a number of incidences of petty crime and rowdyness which were reported in the Ipswich Journal.

In June, 1750, the body of a local girl, Anne Blakemore, was found on the Walks about a mile west of Blythburgh. The Coroners' jury, prompted by the accusations of a number of Blythbugh residents, decided that she had been murdered by a negro Dragoon called Tobias Gill.

June 30th 1750.

Tobias Hill, a black, one of the drummers in Sir Robert Rich’s Regiment was committed to Ipswich gaol, the coroners enquiry having found him guilty of the murder of Ann Blakemore of Walberswick.

Ipswich Journal

The Unfortunate Tobias, a tall, muscular Drummer, was sent to be tried at the Bury Assizes. Tobias, nicknamed 'Black Tob' evidently had great charm when sober, but had gained a reputation as a brawler when drunk, and had been banned from many of the local beer-houses. He was said to have been found next to the dead body of the girl in a drunken stupor, but denied that he had harmed her. He pleaded his innocence most vigorously, but he was found guilty and sentenced to be hung in chains on the spot where the body had been found.

August 25th 1750.

At Bury Assizes, Toby Gil, one of Sir Robert Rich’s drummers received the death sentence for the murder of Ann Blakemore of Walberswick, next Monday is appointed for his execution which will probably be in Ipswich and he is to be hanged in chains near the place where he committed the murder.

Ipswich Journal

The judge reflected the popular feeling at the time by saying, "I never before desired a power of executing the legal penalties, but if I had such a power I would exercise it in this case."

On 14th September 1750, poor Tobias was dragged, pleading for his life, to Blythburgh, and taken to the scene of the crime where the gallows had been set up. He, once again, protested his innocence and pleaded for his life. Just at that moment, he spied the London Mail coach approaching. In a desparate bid to save his life he asked that a halter be put round his neck and the other end tied to the coach, so that he could run by the side of the coach for his life. The answer was no; the sentence of the court had to be carried out, and so poor Tobias was hung in chains at the four cross-ways. His body was left there swinging from the chains for months. The gibbet stood there for the next fifty years, until it finally fell to pieces. A local thatcher made the nails into a thatching comb.

The mob from Blythburgh, who had so emphatically accused the negro dragoon, then began to reflect on what they had achieved and elation turned to disquiet. The coroner had failed to spot the obvious fact that there was not a mark on Anne Blakemore's body and it was by no means certain that she had been murdered at all. There was very little real evidence that Tobias had anything to do with the matter. There had been, it would seem, a miscarriage of justice

Even in death, Tobias was allowed little dignity. To cover up their activities, smugglers made the dead dragoon the subject of a number of ghost stories, including the common one of being a headless driver of a phantom black coach drawn by four headless black horses. Certainly, the thought of ghost of Black Toby kept many of the superstitious indoors at night whilst the smugglers were at work.

Did an injustice take place? My own feeling is that it probably did. In reading the reports of murder trials of the time, one is struck by how flimsy much of the evidence was and how much relied on unsubstantiated opinion. when the suspect confessed, how surprisingly articulate the confessions were, as if scripted by the prison chaplain. It is rare to read these reports and feel at the end that one has got to the truth. The people demanded swift justice when a crime was done and, under such pressure, justice was rapid and erratic in those days.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Melford Riot

Having posted the details of the Great Sudbury Riot, a Glemsford resident has pointed out that their riot was a much better one. To be exact, the Good residents of Glemsford actually rioted in Long Melford. The best account is that of Ernest Ambrose in 'Melford Memories' (1972)which I will quote

When I was seven years old (in 1885) there was a great deal of unrest in the village. Groups of workmen would gather round the pubs, in angry mood, and fights became more than usually vicious. Though I didn't understand very much about it I heard talk about the mat makers in Melford, as well as those in Glemsford and Lavenham, being on strike for more wages. This was a desperate action to take in those days as no money at all would be going into the homes and this meant starvation. At the same time a General Election was imminent and this made feelings run higher still.

Glemsford at that time was a stronghold of liberalism while Melford was very largely tory, and the antagonism between the villages was strong and often bitter. The men of Melford jeered at the Glemsford men, calling them Egyptians, and said they were outsiders. The words Egypt and Glemsford were so synonymous that the confusion spilled over into our geography lessons; and when a Sunday school teacher asked where the baby Jesus was taken when Herod threatened to kill all the babies, the answer came promptly: Glemsford!

Under a recent Parliamentary Reform Act the Glemsford men were demanding a polling station in their own village, instead of having to come to Melford to vote. When Polling Day (Tuesday 1st Dec.) arrived and this was still refused, a body of mat makers from the Kolle Matting Factory led by their foreman on horseback, Henry Cook, came marching into Melford to demand their rights. They came along Westgate Street and broke some windows at the Scutchers' Arms, then marched on down the road past the. conduit into the village. They were armed with sticks and staves and were in a very militant mood. They recorded their votes then threatened to break up the polling station which was at the Lecture Hall (now the Working Men's Club). Some of them swore they'd have my father's blood because they thought he was on the side of the owner of his factory. Father was foreman at the Melford Mat Factory and had tried to persuade the men there not to go on strike.

The Melford men were of course all out on the street, and when they heard the Glemsford men were marching into the village they joined together in a body preparing to fight the opposition. The situation began to look very ugly with stones flying about and manywindows broken. At this point Capt. Bence of Kentwell Hall, a magistrate, read the Riot Act outside the Lecture Hall where the worst of the trouble makers had collected. But the situation still remained very tense and dangerous. The Melford police then appealed to the Sudbury police for help, but apparently they were unable to do so ; probably they too had trouble on their hands with election activities! So they sent an urgent message to Bury, and the whisper went round the village "The red coats are coming!" Before very long a contingent of militia were sent by train. They were paraded on the station square, then ordered to fix bayonets. They marched up the long street, clearing out all the public houses on their way. At the sight of the militia in their red uniform stolidly marching up the street things quietened down very quickly.

When pa came home later on we heard that the Glemsford mob had tried to man-handle him and would have beaten him up, but he escaped by dashing into the Crown Inn and, with a group of others including the landlady, Mrs. Clayden, scrambled out at the back and came home cautiously across the back fields. When he got to the Black Lion he recognised one of his most malicious attackers and was just going in after him when a policeman stopped him. "I just want to give that bugger. . a sole of the skull. You know me" says pa, "I shan't make a fuss. Just want to get my own back". "Be quick about it then," says the policeman, "and give him one for me." And pa did too. His fist could land a pretty heavy one when he liked to exert himself.

The village street was in a sorry state after it was all over, with broken glass everywhere. Shops and public houses down the whole length of the street from Whittle's Mat Factory right down to Branwhite's brewery on Chapel Green had their windows smashed. The Crown Inn suffered most damage as the mob stormed inside and wrecked the premises. Compensation for this alone amounted to £137.15.6, a considerable sum at that time.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Bulls and Babbs

Of course we are delighted when books are published about the parish, and it is probably a bit churlish to criticise them when they stray from accuracy, but somehow one feels obliged to rise to the defence of one of our rectors.

In Ted Babbs' book about the Borley Rectory affair, he has the following paragraph seems that Edward Bull was something of a tyrant. Some years ago, a local publican told one of us (Ted Babbs) that when 'old Bull' was riding around the village in his trap, if the locals failed to adopt a sufficiently grovelling posture when he passed by they were liable to feel his whip across their backs. There is another local legend which tells of an incident when the Rev. Edward was one of the guns in a local shoot. The story has it that the reverand gentleman was waiting for the birds to come over when an innocent pig happened to amble by. Since there was nothing much happening, Bull shot it. Another version has it that the pig bit the rector first. We prefer this, there is almost an element of divine retribution in it. Happily, country parsons do not behave like this fashion today....(Borley Rectory, The Final Analysis -Claudine Mathias and Edward Babbs)

This paragraph caused a great deal of local head-scratching. Rev Edward Bull was a kindly and much-loved rector who was a great benefactor. He was a great deal less flamboyant than his neighbour Rev John Foster. However, we do have the story of the pig, and you can judge for yourself by comparing the two versions.

October 10th 1888

Attacked by a herd of swine

Whilst out shooting on thursday last, the Rev Felix P. Bull had a narrow escape from being mangled to death by a herd of swine feeding in a stubble field of Mr Daniel Offord, of this parish. Whilst crossing the stubble it appears that Mr Bull's dog must have aggravated a sow with a litter of small pigs, the sow rushed at the Reverand Gentleman siezing him by the leg, who in pushing her off had his finger severely bitten, whereupon he shot the sow dead and beat a hasty retreat. The value of the sow is about £6.

As regards the idea of the rector whipping anyone who refused to grovel to him, Ted may be straying from historical accuracy. The law of assault has not changed that much from the 1880s, and any such action would have been just as likely to have ended in criminal prosecution then as now. It would have certainly reached the local paper. We've scoured the local records for any such incidents without success. We're not even entirely sure whether he was referring to Rev. Edward Bull or Rev. Felix Bull.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Great Sudbury Riot

We were most amused to read about the great Sudbury Riot, which happened in November 1771. It gets mentioned in the Local History books, but it was rather satisfying to read the original account, and the aftermath. The riot was not a food riot at all, but an electoral dispute which got out of hand. The Sudbury Corporation refused to admit three men to the freedom of the Borough, and this high-handedness turned out to be the last straw for the inhabitants, who besieged the Corporation members in the Moot Hall until they agreed to admit the three men. Unfortunately, under cover of the demonstration, there were several acts of theft and vandalism which led to legal action being taken.

Peter Delande was the real villain. He was a wealthy man who bought shares in the Stour Navigation and became involved with the coal trade. He was elected Mayor of Sudbury in 1755, 1756, 1762, 1765, 1767 and 1770. He and William Strutt, in October 1771, proposed that a Committee be set up to consider admissions to the Freedom.They proposed to deprive some of the Sudbury Freemen of their vote as so many potential Freemen who were entitled to vote by birth or servitude had not been formally admitted.

August 10th, 1771

In the summer of 1771, on July 2nd, a threatening letter was found in the back yard of the Red House, the home of Peter Delande.
The letter was addressed to: “One of the Devil’s Agents”

Sir, not with standing your Conduct for some Years have been such as have merited the ill Will of some hundreds of the freemen of this borough, yet not with standing Humanity teacheth me to caution you against the dreadful Effects that will fall on your Heads from the bitter Resentment such Freemen have or may surtain from your devilish and hellish Proceeding which will be no less than certainly to take away your L- by a premeditated Scheme which will surely be effected by a Small though desperate Set of Men, who have bound themselves upon oath to accomplish the Same before you are aware of, and that not to you alone but some others who deserve and will surely share the same fate, but will have no Caution unless you please to communicate it yourself, pray pardon me for being so free for this, I surely know that you will have your just deserts by one Eternal blow. This from as good a freeman as anyone black amongst you, which as Nathan said to David “Thou art the Man”. 

(The Ipswich Journal noted that Delande had offered a pardon to anyone, except the person who actually wrote the letter, who could discover “his, her, or their accomplices”. A reward of £50 was also offered.)

November 2nd 1771

We are informed that a very great riot happened on Tuesday last at Sudbury in Suffolk when the corporation were assembled in the town hall and that after the corporate body had dissolved their assembly about noon they were forcibly detained in the town hall till after nine at night totally denied off the access of their friends and deprived of sustenance and when night came their lights were put out by the populace and that their lives were not only repeatedly threatened for a long time together but by stones and other mischievous implements they were put into danger till the end, the corporation were forced into compliance with such terms as the populace thought proper to impose on them in order to preserve their lives and recover their liberty.

November 9th 1771

We hear in consequence of the riot at Sudbury (mentioned in our last paper) a party of dragoons marched into the borough on Sunday last to be ready to assist the civil magistrates to preserve order.

February 1st 1772

We hear that from Sudbury that on Tuesday last the Corporation there held a court at which they filled up three vacancies and then entered a protest of the magistrates against such illegal acts as they were for the preservation of their lives compelled by rioters to assent to at the court held October last.

April 18th 1772

17 of the Sudbury rioters, some charged with housebreaking and robbery have been committed to Bury gaol.

August 7th 1773

At Bury Assizes on Monday last, came before the Lord Chief Justice De Grey, a trial by an issue from the court of the King's Bench upon information from the name of the Attorney General, several persons concerned in a riot upon the Moot Hall in Sudbury on the 29th of October 1771 when Walden Hammer was acquitted but six others were convicted of the same offence and are to receive sentence in the Court of the King's Bench next Michaelmas.

February 12th 1774

Last Saturday, six persons were found guilty of the late riot in Sudbury, Suffolk, were brought to the Kings Bench bar to receive sentence and were ordered by the court to suffer six months in prison and whipped, and an inhabitant of the town was ordered to pay £100.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


I'm occasionally asked about the Artwork used on the site. This has been collected from a number of sources. The most striking woodcuts are those of Gwen Reverat, who was born Gwen Darwin, granddaughter of Charles Darwin. Her woodcuts are exceptional in their feeling for the East Anglian landscape and their meticulous observation of rural life. A book of her engravings, 'Gwen Raverat, Wood Engravings of Cambridge and Surroundings' ISBN 0 9543917 0 5 is available in print, beautifully produced by Rosemary Davidson for Broughton Books.

We've also used woodcuts by D J Watkins Pitchford that he made for his own book, The Wayfaring Tree (Hollis and Carter 1946) The best of these woodcuts are treasures.

There are a number of woodcuts that we've used from a variety of sources, including old broadsheets and victorian penny-dreadful crime magazines

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

'Hodson's History of the Borough of Sudbury'

The victorian antiquarian was often a rather dreary individual, their fascination with the genealogies of the ancient land-owning families, and the interiors of churches, being difficult ro appreciate now. However, William Walter Hodson was a remarkable exception. He lived in Sudbury in the nineteenth Century, dying in 1894. At a time when old documents held little general interest, he is said to have been 'an idefatigable antiquary, who never missed an opportunity of collecting any scrap of local information that might come his way'. He also was an eloquent writer and some of his papers were published by the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, and he published a book on the rise of Nonconformity in Sudbury.He left a huge pile of notes and manuscripts about the ancient borough of Sudbury. This might have been dispersed or destroyed had it not been for the efforts of C. F. D. Sperling

'Hodson's History of the Borough of Sudbury'was written from his notes by Sperling and eventually published by private subscription and printed by Marten, on Market Hill, Sudbury in 1896. (Marten's Excelsior Works survived until the 1970s).

The book is fascinating. It is, of course, a child of its times, and a great deal more has been discovered since then through historical research and archaeological techniques, but there is a great deal in the book which would have been lost to us had it not been published. Both Hodson and Sperling slip in nuggets of information that can get even the keenest modern local historian thinking on new lines. It is nice to be jolted by such an enthuseastic voice from the past. Hodson's fascination and energy are palpable. Now it is a rare book, and my own copy is borrowed from Ruth Steed. It would be a fine thing to reprint it in facsimile, as a tribute to the small band of people who made it happen over a hundred years ago.

The book was originally printed due to the generosity of 120 subscribers who underwrote the cost of the printing. My guess is that only around four hundred copies ever got printed and so there can be fewer than two hundred survivors. Surely this book, the first published history of Sudbury, ought to be reprinted to commemorate a brave and generous act by a group of people who believed in the imporance of preserving a record of our local history.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Mrs. Haddington, "a woman of fine parts.".

Richard Farnham and John Bull of Colchester were two weavers from Colchester who, in 1636, managed to persuade a small band of followers that they were 'prophets not ordinary but the two prophets who should come at the end of the world' and that, because "England is full of abominations, idolatries and whoredoms" the end of time would soon arrive. Only their followers would be saved because "they have the power to shut heaven... and power over water to turn them to blood and to smite the earth with all plagues"

Farnham developed a passion for a sailors' wife, Mrs. Haddington, one of his female devotees, "a woman of fine parts.". Her husband was at sea in the Far East. He therefore claimed that "God hath moved Richard Farnham the weaver as he did Hosea the prophet, to take himself another man's wife, viz., a wife of whoredoms". Hosea was, according to the bible, to degrade himself by marrying a whore. Farnham "..deluded and persuaded her that he was a prophet [and] she, in obedience to him as a prophet (so she sayeth) was married to him not withstanding her husband was alive at sea" The Local authorities were to prove less easily peruaded than Mrs Harrington that Farnham was a new Hosea, although they were able to agree that Mrs. Haddington was a whore, and arrested them both.

Mr. Haddington, the sailor, returned home from the far east to find his wife was in jail. "He laid his wife in Newgate, where she was arraigned and condemned for having two husbands" The authorities decided "that the seaman should have his wife again, who, accordingly, took her and lay with her in prison." Mrs. Haddington was released from prison into her husband's custody.
All went well until Mr. Haddington went back to sea. Mrs. Haddington then "returned to Farnham in Newbrideswell, where he was a prisoner". She then had sex with the captive Farnham and thereby "..was content to lose the glory of being esteemed an honest woman and to be accounted a wife of whoredoms that she might occasion, as she did conceive, the fulfilling of the prophecy". Farnham and his associate Bull, who had also been imprisoned, then caught the plague and were released from prison to die soon afterwards

Farnham's handful of followers were convinced that, like Christ, he would rise from the grave.They felt sure that Farnham had already died once earlier, "which accordingly he did upon January 8,1641". Farnham and Bull would, surely, rise after three days, and their followers "drank to these dead friends Farnham and Bull, saying that they be certain they are alive and shall return to rule this kingdom with a rod of iron." They were puzzled when he did not rise on the third day and return to the sect, and they therefore reasoned "that Farnham and Bull are gone to covert the ten tribes." Having done so and returned to their flock, "Richard Farnham should be king upon David's throne and John Bull should be priest in Aaron's seat and they should reign forever". At that time, "then Scripture was fulfilled and not before."

The court was moved to remark "how fearfully these poor souls were deluded"

False Prophets Diecovered 1642

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A 'Detestable Outrage'

We've now come across another dipping pf a witch in the 1776 Ipswich journal. it was new to us and has now appeared in the Newspaper Archives

July 20th 1776

At Farnham, Suffolk on Monday last a poor man suspected of being a wizard was swam (as tis called) in the river Deben in the presence of a great number of spectators who had assembled from different parts of the county of Suffolk on the occasion, he was put upon his watery trial about 7 in the evening with his feet and hands tied but to the surprise of the whole company he sunk to the bottom and had it not been for the assistance of a humane spectator the experiment would have terminated in a manner shockingly to it's protectors, mortified and disappointed the company soon dispersed, ashamed of themselves and angry at their own weakness and credulity.

By coincidence, we came across more details of the Tring dipping of a witch in April 1751, which was reported in the 'Gentleman's Magazine', and seems to have been the last recorded fatality through dipping.

The landlord of an inn who claimed "that he was bewitched by one Osborne and his wife, harmless people above 70, had it cried at several market towns that they were to be tried by ducking that day, which occasioned a vast concourse. The parish officers having removed the old couple from the Workhouse into the Church for security, the mob missing them, broke the Workhouse windows, pulled down the pales, and demolished part of the house; and, seizing the Governor threatened to drown him and fire the town, having straw in their hands for the purpose.

"The poor wretches were at length, for public safety, delivered up, stript stark naked by the mob, their thumbs tied to their toes, then dragged two miles, and thrown into a muddy stream. After much ducking and ill-usage, the old woman was thrown quite naked on the bank, almost choked with mud, and expired in a few minutes, being kicked and beat with sticks even after she was dead; and the man lies dangerously ill of his bruises."

Another report estimates the mob as numbering 5,000 and says that they wound up the incident by putting Luke Osborne to bed with the corpse of his wife and that "only one person was hanged for this detestable outrage".

Davies E.T. Four Crenturies of Witch-beliefs Methuen and co Ltd. London 1947)

A more detailed account is contained in The Newgate Calander Thomas Colley and a fine piece of local history work at HERTFORDSHIRE’S LAST WITCH HUNTwhich gives a masterly analysis of the incident.

The actual perpetrators were never caught, having crossed the county boundary so that the Parish Constables could not apprehend them. Colley, the "only one person was hanged for this detestable outrage" was not mentioned in the Tring riot or the dragging of the old couple to the ducking place, and probably had little hand in the affair. He was in fact the local chimney sweep. Encouraged by the mob, he went into the pond and turned Ruth Osbourne over a number of times, which probably caused her death. What did for him was his foolishness in collecting a few coppers from the onlookers for the pleasure he had given them.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Rat Run

A story from 1884 about a successful day catching rats catches the eye, particularly when one remembers Harry Price's published remarks in his books about Borley Rectory, about the lack of rats in and around Borley.

March 15th 1884

Glemsford. On Friday morning last, the rat, bird and mouse destroyer from this place was at Mr Hart's premises, the horse slaughterer of Walter Belchamp, when 600 rats were picked up, their united weight being over 13 stone

One of the key moments in the Borley Rectory affair was when the wife of the Rector, Guy Eric Smith, realised she had been persuaded against her better judgement to believe in ghosts when a natural explanation for events at the rectory would have sufficed. She read in the Church times about a famous, and peculiarly similar haunting at Chale Rectory, in the Isle of Whight in 1940 which turned out to have been entirely caused by rats. Rev Sinclair and his wife arrived at the rectory to hear stories of 'the driving into the yard at midnight of a carriage and pair, which was said to have been heard, but not seen, on many occasions.' The were amazed to hear jingling as of harness, creaks, clangings, grinding and jarring sounds and a 'rather stagey horses-hooves noise' of a somewhat 'coconutty' quality. They were also perplexed by 'unseen hands' knocking objects off shelves, stealthy footsteps on landings, 'cold spots'. After laying down rat poison, all phenomena ceased.

The people who wanted to believe in ghosts were insistent that there were never rats at Borley Rectory, in spite of it being near a farmyard. It reminds me of an incident described by Hugh Barratt (in the book 'A Good Living') whilst working on a farm nearby at Justices Hall.

Leaving by the back door I noticed a rat run along the low garden wall and I thought, casually, that rats weren't often seen there. As I opened the loose box door there was a scurry of feet and two rats shot across the floor to hide behind the feed bin. Another ran up the wall and onto the rafters. Several more tried to get past me and out into the yard; one went under the door. It would not have been unusual to see one or two rats in that box, but half a score was unprecedented. And what struck me was that these rats didn't know their way round. They were not skipping along the normal well-trodden routes, but were plainly confused. They were strangers: aliens.

I got on with the milking but with my head pressed into the cow's flank rats appeared and disappeared across my field of vision. 1 was finishing stripping the last drops into the pail when Pinnock stuck his head round the door. 'Th'ole dawg ha' killed hell know how many rats. They're everywhere. Buggers even in th'oil shed. I dussent hardly go into the barn. We'll hatta do suthin quick!'

I carried the milk indoors and returned to have a look. Pinnock had not exaggerated. Truly the rats were everywhere: we were infested. You couldn't move sack or bag, empty or full, without at least one rat jumping out in search of safety. By eight o'clock Pinnock and I and his dog had killed scores, but it was terribly clear that for every one we slaughtered there were ten more left.

More drastic measures would have to be taken so I sent word to the village that anyone with a good ratter — or even without — would be welcome to join the fray. 1 told Euan what was afoot but he declined to assist, saying he was frightened of rats. (So was I, and so I am even now.)

For the rest of the day six men, a horde of kids and heaven knows how many dogs killed and killed, first round the buildings, barn, yards and pens and then up in the paddocks. How many? Hundreds for sure, perhaps a thousand. (They were gathered in heaps but no one was keen to count them.) By next morning the great mass had gone. There was the odd 'stranger' and the normal locals' but the rest had vanished.