The Glemsford Poachers
Philip 'Tulip' Rowe (1871-1955) was a farm labourer from Bulmer who, fortunately for us, was encouraged to write about his life whilst in hospital. Edited abstracts from his writings have now been published as a booklet by the Bulmer Historical Society. In this short extract, He hands down to us one of the few descriptions we have of the Glemsford Poaching Club.
The Glemsford folk were a rough lot I can vouch for. The place was called little Hell. I had little to do with them, but I have worked there and have had somewhat to do with Glemsford people nearly ever since I left school. Those mat weavers had little recreation in the large village, although a man or two there had a fair with roundabouts, swing-boats etc. These men worked early and late, earning good money compared with farm workers, for there were some very good land and farmers around Glemsford. .
As the weavers did not work on Saturdays, they had to do something for recreation. They did, for they were poachers of the poachers. For they, in their numbers going out on Saturdays and Sundays with plenty of money in their pockets for beer, would take long walks around with a dog or two. If the dogs put up a rabbit that runned to ground one of them had a ferret in their pocket. This was put in the hole. If a small hole a line was put on the ferret. One or two of the party on scout to see if anyone was coming who knew them, to let those know who was after the rabbit. If so, they waited till the coast was clear, then they had the rabbit if possible..
The Glemsford folk were a rough lot
It was said they had a club between them. So if they were caught and given a penalty or fine it was paid out of the funds. I am only writing of that I have been told by more than one, although I quite believe it was so. I know a gang came as far as Bulmer and walked over Smeetham Hall and Goldingham Hall, because I have seen them myself. Although I never had anything to do with the party myself or with those who I know did, I have had a drink with the Glemsford folk and those who belonged near to Bulmer or in it. I have seen them from a distance walking across a large field, just as sportsmen do for the beaters, to drive the birds over the hedge whilst the guns were at their stand, ready for the birds to come up for the guns. Also I have known the bailiff and his son who told them to clear off. The only notice they took was told both of them they would be better at their breakfast than "looking after us." What [sic] surprised me the most was they did the same for several Sundays. There were two keepers on one farm belonging to the Auberies as well as a policeman in the parish. Yet these men did not get taken or it seemed as if it were not known. Anyway nothing I heard of was ever done to stop them.
'...they had to do something for recreation'
They also came moonlight nights when the snow was on the ground, for they were seen by the tracks, beside people hearing the noise of the guns they had. I know [once] I was killing or helping to kill some pigs at Gestingthorpe and we were talking of the episode to the shopkeeper who was having the pigs killed by my mate. This house was an Off-Licensed house where one could have beer to drink off the premises, but of course we could drink at the place with pig killing. He said a Belchamp policeman told him once, not long before, of these Glemsford sportsmen. .
He was on duty at Seven Forms in Walter Belchamp [where grew] a very large oak with huge limbs on it, hollow so a man can stand inside without being seen on dark nights. This road leading from Sudbury to the three Belchamps is the way to come for the three. Turning right above a steep hill to St.Pauls and Otten Belchamp and straight on or turning by another road to Belchamp Walter Church and the village of Belchamp Walter. There is not a house near the road for upwards of four miles. A great part of the way is between a high bank and a hedge. Both sides thickly [planted] with plenty of fir trees. So to travel these roads it is very dark if nearly night and the moon is not showing. At about this large oak is a culvert that sometimes is flooded to a depth, hence the name Severn Forms, as there were so many planks to walk on when in flood. After the culvert was made the forms were not necessary. But there is a flood if the culvert get blocked up - for a great rush I have seen at these roads. The one to Foxearth goes by way of old lanes and this narrow road that leads directly over the culvert to Foxearth, Pentlow, Glemsford etc. This tree were a meeting place for Bulmer, Belchamp and Foxearth police. One night when three of these policemen were there - to part again soon or at a given time - three men came by in the road with dogs. These said, "Good-night mates." They turned up this road called Hoe Lane. The policeman telling the tale had to go that way on his beat, the other two, one back to Bulmer the other by way of Borley. This policeman said we asked each other what was best to do in the case - follow them or not. They had to be at another point at a [set] time [and] what could they do with three men who perhaps were as good men as themselves. Also the three men had long dogs with them. They said, "Let them go." The one policeman had to go up this road to another point. The Hoe Lane up where he had to go is narrow and bordered thickly with trees that grow to a great height. This policeman told that it was not a comfortable walk -not a house within a mile. The nearest but a large house, Easton Hall, with a bungalow that was near half a mile off and not many living there, [but] a man and wife. He was alone with three strong young men poaching, who he might or might not come across in a little way. Presently he heard a low whistle. A hare banged into a net with dogs behind and one man after the hare. The other two standing near - less than twenty yards away from him. Those he could not see, for if he had it was too dark to recognise them. He said, "Good-night." They, "Good-night mate." He felt much better then - he was passed them. They did not wish to harm him he knew. Neither did he tell this tale till just before he was leaving to go to another place..
These Glemsford chaps be they what they may, I knew they were poachers. Yes they did well too, not often [being] taken. But most folks know that where the shoe pinches there is pain. As with them, also with keepers and others. One incident is this of one of the folk. He was out one day somewhere in Suffolk. The place or names I do not say, although I may know both or I may not. His dog caught a hare and before he could make a start a man came to him - told him he wanted the hare. "So do I," said the man who had got the hare. The gamekeeper thought he was man enough to take it away. He tried to but was not man enough. The poacher, if one like to call him one, did not let him take the hare, but he took a thrashing off him and he had a sore hide. So the man to escape the law, as the gamekeeper knew him and also where he came from, went to Canada. He did well. Also he came from there three or four times to see his old pals and relatives who has told me from time to time that he did well in Canada. Good man too, for he was the part I knew him. If anyone needed help he would [oblige] one way or another, whether they were relatives or not.
Well enough of this, but readers do not think too bad of poachers then or now. They did it for a recreation. Nothing else good around them unless sport, for they were at their looms five day out of seven. They wanted exercise. That is how they had it.
from "In Tulip's Time, from the writings of Philip 'Tulip' Rowe Vol 1