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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Smoking Baby of Fressingfield and the Witch

I've been trying to increase the number of book reviews on the site. Whilst doing so I was reading Christina Hole's fascinating book 'Witchcraft in England', in which East Anglia features quite strongly. I came across the intriguing account of the Fressingfield Witchcraft case from 1890. All other accounts I've seen are based on The account in this book

'...The Sunday Times for April 13th, 1890, gives an account of an inquest held at Fressingfield on a baby girl who had died suddenly. The medical evidence showed that death was due to shock caused by the external use of some powerful irritant, though what this was, and why, or by whom it was applied, was not determined. The parents both swore that their child had been overlooked by her step-grandmother, Mrs. Corbyn, who had died on the same day and had told them on her deathbed that the baby would not long survive her. A few hours afterwards they took the child out in her perambulator and were suddenly startled by the sight of smoke issuing from it. As soon as they reached home again, she died. George Corbyn told the jury that he had always believed his late wife was a witch, and consequently he had always tried to do whatever she wanted and to avoid offending- her at all costs..'

Does anybody know more details of this strange case? Our resident Historian (GH) will, I am sure, soon be delving in the archives to find out more.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Colne, sinful Colne, and the Plague

Ralph Josselin was vicar of Earls Colne from 1641 until his death in 1683. He experienced, during his tenure, the Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Restoration. He commenced his Diary with a brief account of his early life, and kept it on a regular basis, with weekly entries from 1644, until his death.

The diary is fascinating to read in its entirity, but the following extracts are unique in their description of the plague that raged in East Anglia between 1665 and 1666. We rely on Ralph Josselin's figures for our estimates of the most probable mortality from plague in Colchester in and other Essex parishes.

The extracts are taken from the edition of Josselin's Diary by Dr A. MacFarlane, published by the Oxford University Press for the British Academy in 1976, from a transcription in the Essex Records Office (author unknown)

May 28 1665

God good in manifold mercies, my personal illnes abateth, blessed bee God. The plague gott into our land at Yarmouth and London, 14 dying this weeke.
July 9 1665

God good in our preservacon. The plague feares the London. They flie before it and the country feares all trade with London. Died 1006; of the plague 470. The Lord stay his heavy hand.
Aug 13 1665

A sad windy, stormy violent morning. To Aug 9 a great increase of plague. 2817, total 4030. Giles criplegate 690. Lord bee not angry with our prayers. And now Colchester is infected, and when will Coin lay it to heart.
Aug 16 1665

Kept a day of prayer at Mr Cressener's great resort, God in mercy, heare our prayers. Colchester's infection looketh sadly, by a joyner. Dedham clapt him into a pest house presently. God spare that place.
Sept 16 1665

God good in Colnes preservation, yet Colchester increaseth in illnes being spread over the whole town. After frequent reports of a most wonderfull increase this weeke it abed through mercy. From Sept 5 to 12, 562.
Oct 4 1665

The publique fast, and our calamities great, yet oh how few mind this hand of God that is lifted up, but goe on in their vain wayes. Wee remembred poore Colchester in our collection, neare 30s and sent them formerly 4li God accept us and spare us for his mercy sake.
Oct 8 1665

To thy goodnes wee own it with praises that wee are preserved from the smal pox in our town and plague in the country, which is hott at Ipswich. Harwich an 100 dying in 3 weeks, their graves fill the churchyard alreadie, and have called for a new burying place. At Colchester it spreads exceedingly. This weake buried 188. Feares of Cogshall, Halsted, Feering. Certainly at Kelvedon up land, Braintree and yett Colne, sinful Colne, spared.
Nov 5 1665

Abated at London again 408. Burials 1388; 1031 of the plague, yet at Colchester it increased. Above 20 new houses infected. Buried there about 147.
Nov 12 1665

A good season and God good in his mercie to us. Said the plague mortal to many masters of families at London. It increased 399, in all dying 1787, of the plague 1414. Abated at Harwich yet not cleare at Colchester. Their died 110. Lord cleare the nacon.
Dec 6 1665

Publique fast, a very thin audience, yett God good to us in withdrawing his pestilence and our preservation. Sent Colchester 7li.10s. collected at our severall fasts. Lord accept and bee gracious unto us.

Apr 1 1666

Wonderfull dry. Plague abates at London, viz to 17, total 224 but it sadly increaseth at Colchester to 70.
Apr 8 1666

God good in manifold mercies. Plague gentle but increaseth at London, viz. 26, tot. 211. Feare worse at Colchester 73. Its at Dedham and severall vil- lages. Lord in mercy remove thy hand.
May 6 1666

God good in our preservacon, yet sadly called on for the plague, one dying of spots at night. It increased at Colchester sadly to 177. At London to 40 total 213. Many people resort to the word; lord doe them good by it.
May 27 1666

Cold month, but indifferent dry. God good to us in our preservacon, under a strang carlesries of people. London abates to 31, total 203. Colchester abates also to 110, and not so mortal at Bocking. God in his rich grace preserve poore Coin.
July 1st 1666

God good to admiracon in our towns preservation, when so sad in all other places, Cambridge, 0undles Needham, Braintree, But above all at Colchester, increasing to 180.
July 15 1666

A very hot season. Plague rageth at Braintree, Colchester, 169. At London abated to 33, total increased to 247.
Sept 23 1666

The aire moist. Plague at Colch.18. God cleare that place, restore our peace and trade. God good in the word. Saw the sad state of Braintree, die 21. My heart dies as to leaving coln. Lord direct mee and provide for mee, for I relie on thee for mee and mine.
Nov 25 1666

A very wett morning. The country cleare of the plague.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Wickhambrook Hoax

One of the frustrations of ferreting about in local history is that one often aches to know more. The following example, which has just been discovered by GH, the Resident Historian, is a wonderful example. What, one wanted to know, was the beautiful woman doing all covered in white from head to foot?

May 29th 1868

For several weeks past the inhabitants of Ashfield Green at Wickhambrook have been alarmed by the appearance of a ghost and it had been reported that two houses in the locality are haunted, on Monday night last, Mr Pryke, butcher, gave chase to the nocturnal visitor and succeeded in overhauling it and finding it in the shape of a beautiful woman who was covered with white from head to foot.

to our rescue came the Internet, in a posting to rootweb by Janelle Penney

East Suffolk Gazette And Beccles And Bungay Weekly News

May 28th 1868

....Burning A Ghost In Effigy.----
At about nine on Saturday night several hundreds of persons assembled at Ashfield-green in Wickhambrook, to witness the burning in effigy of a ghost which had been caught on the proceeding Monday night by a butcher.
On the 23rd December last the wife of Edward SMITH died suddenly, and since that time it has been rumoured that the deceased woman has many times revisited her last abode, and her son, with his wife and child, who had since her death lived with his father, left their abode about a fortnight ago, in order to evade the nightly visits of the sprite, and no amount of reasoning could dissipate the fear that some supernatural agency was at work against them.
Many of their neighbours have also been much frightened by the apparition, and have been afraid to leave their dwellings after dark, but on Monday, the 11th May, between 11 and 12
at night, Mr James PRYKE, a butcher, had the temerity to give it chase, and the ghost, on finding its pursuer gaining ground vanished behind a hedge at the entrance to the occupation of Mr J.H. PRYKE. On overtaking it, and finding it a neighbour's wife, Mr PRYKE quietly retreated.
The inhabitants being disgusted at the conduct of the woman prepared an effigy which they carried on a pole for about three hours, and then consigned it to a bonfire, of 30 or 40 faggots, prepared on a field in the occupation of Mr R. GOODWIN, opposite Mr J. PRYKE's mill.