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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Wenhaston Horror

The Wenhaston Horror is one of the wonders of East Anglia, and it is amazing that such a work of art should have survived, almost intact. Unfortunately, it is the last survival of its type, and the following account, written by Canon F.J. Meyrick in the 1920s tells us how it very nearly ended up as firewood

IF (in the pew-heads) at Blythburgh we find humour, we have only to walk two miles to Wenhaston to be face to face with the Terror-the haunting Terror-that the medieval Church held over the heads of her disobedient children.

In the Sistine Chapel at Rome Michael Angelo's " Last Judgment" portrays a muscular Jupiter hurling the thunderbolts of damnation on the lost. At Torcello and in the Campo Sancto at Pisa the terrors of hell, with its monstrous demons, its fires, its pitchforks in which the Pelion of despair is heaped on the Ossa of misery, may well have haunted a child's dreams, and may possibly have induced the craven soul to leave wealth to Mother Church. But in all England we question whether horror is anywhere depicted with more gruesome reality-or, rather, with more terribly developed imagination-than in the wonderful " Doom " at Wenhaston.

The story of this amazingly interesting painting is full of romance. I talked with the old man, whose eyes first saw it since the whitewashes hid it more than two hundred and fifty years ago.

It happened in this wise. In 1892, when the chancel of the church was being restored, a large whitewashed partition of wood, more than seventeen feet in breadth and eight and a half feet in height, entirely blocked the upper part of the church arch. On the left a large hole for a stove chimney had been cut through the boarding. No one dreamed that these whitewashed boards carried on them a work of art, probably unique in England. So the boards were knocked down and thrown into the churchyard for the use of villagers as firewood.

Fortunately that night as the old verger told me, a " tempest" raged. The heavy rain washed the ancient boards, and when in the morning the verger went to open the church for the workmen he was surprised to see saints smiling at him, and horrible demons scowling at him from the rubbish heap.

There was great excitement in the village when the discovery was made known. The painted boards were carried to the room used for the village Sunday School, and later were re-erected in the west of the church.

In the upper part of this great background for the rood is the Divine Judge enthroned on a rainbow. His outstretched hands and bare side reveals the wounds of His passion. Near His right hand, which is held up in blessing, is a scroll, which no doubt once contained words of welcome to the blessed. To the left of the cross are the kneeling figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist interceding for a sinful race. So far all is tender. The judge is not there to condemn. His wounds are pleading for man. The gentle Mary and the strong child of the desert in his camel-hair cloak unite, in this dreadful day, in prayer for the souls of men.

Below the artist contrasts the peace of Heaven with the horrors of hell. Few artists have power to paint eternal bliss as though it were as great a reality as eternal woe. Perhaps Fra Angelico succeeded. But here at Wenhaston the horrors of hell far exceed the joys of heaven.

St. Michael, like Osiris in the Book of the Dead, presides at the weighing of souls. In one hand he holds the infallible scales, in the other the sword of justice. In one scale a little naked child represents good deeds; in the other two foul goblins symbolize the unrepented sins. Close at hand stands Satan, a horrible creature with horns and tail, with eyes on his legs, for does not Satan see everything " going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it ? With hungry hate he watches the scales. Michael shall not rob him of his prey. He holds an unopened scroll-his indictment against the soul whose eternity is hanging in the balance.

But most horrible are the jaws of hell. Hell is a living thing-a hungry monster with greedy eyes, a shark's mouth and teeth, and with the snout of a swine ; on the snout is seated one of Satan's brood, busily blasting damnation on a ram's hom. The nightmare terror is focused on the unequal battle raging within the jaws. All is hopeless. There is no escape. A red-hot chain binds all the damned together, and slowly very slowly, draws them towards the awful throat. A black monster with flapping ears drags one of the lost over the bulwark of teeth. Of course there is the pronged fork, the fiend's own goad for sending his own to their destiny.

A painting in the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Chaldon, in the county of Surrey, has a horror comparable to the " Doom" at Wenhaston. Here the artist, probably a monk of Chertsey, seems to gloat in the thought of a revengeful God. His work is sheer devil worship. The cruelty of his God had entered into his soul.

I would rather believe that once at work the monk forgot all about God and hell and heaven. He simply let his imagination have a free rein. He painted horror for horror's sake, rather to amuse himself than to terrify the sinner.

So he smiles as he puts the cheating tradesmen on his awful bridge of spikes. There is the milkman who even in the twelfth century added water to his bucket. There, too, is the woolworker, the mason, and the smith who broke the rules of their Guild.

A year or two ago a woman left £2,300 in trust for her poodle dog. She stipulated that "the dog should be provided with a daily bath, plenty of Sauerkraut, a lighted Christmas tree," and other luxuries and follies. Such a person was known to the Chertsey monk, who for sheer fun sends her to hell, and paints a dog from hell gnawing the hand which in life fondled her pet dogs and neglected the poor at her gates.

Was the artist laughing or shuddering as he boiled the unbeliever in horrible cauldrons at Chaldon and as he drove the sinner in to the jaws of living hell at Wenhaston ? Did he really-could he really-believe that the God he worshipped at Mass was really and truly such a monster of cruelty ? I would like to believe that, as these men painted, they laughed as the brethren in the Priory of Blythburgh laughed over their gargoyles and their pew ends.

Round and about Norfolk and Suffolk, by Canon F.J. Meyrick, Jarrold & Sons

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Bungay Navigation Fraud.

We feel very pleased and priviliged that Janelle Penney, whose transcriptions of old East Anglian papers have caused so much interest from Local Historians, has allowed us to publish her work on the site. Her eye for an interesting story is remarkable, as these two extracts testify

23 th June 1781
P.2, column 3

This week, a servant maid belonging to Mr Robert BROWN, of Lowestoft, took a child of his, about a year and a half old, up to the garret in her arms, and setting it on the window, the child unfortunately tumbled into the street, by which accident its scull [sic] was fractured in so terrible a manner, that it languished about two hours and died. What renders the scene more distressing was Mr BROWN's being at a house opposite his own, and saw the child as it was falling.

19 th May 1781
P.3, column 4

Bungay Navigation.

Whereas many Frauds and Robberies have at divers Times been practised by Watermen and others employed upon, and living adjacent to different Parts of this Navigation. The Proprietors for the better discovering and preventing the like in future, do hereby offer and promise to pay a Reward of Ten Pounds to any Person who will give Information of any Watermen or other Persons, who have,or may hereafter steal, sell, conceal, or embezzle, in any Manner whatsoever, Corn, Flour, Coals, Liquor, or Merchandize [sic], from onboard their Keels, or Wherries, or any Craft in their Employ on this Navigation or off their Staithes, or out of their Warehouses near the river at Bungay or Yarmouth.

And if more than one Person shall at any Time be concerned in such Frauds and Robberies, any one who will give Information against his or her Accomplice, or Accomplices, therein, shall also be entitled to the same Reward.

And the Proprietors hereby further promise to pay a Reward of Twenty Pounds on Information of any Person or Persons who shall buy, or receive into their Possession, such stolen Goods as aforesaid, so as he, or they, can be lawfully convicted thereof.

Note: If the Writer of an anonymous Letter directed to Mr COTTON, at Bungay, -- having a Beccles Post mark upon it -- and received from thence the 10th Instant by Post, will come forth, and substantially prove the Charges against the Parties therein mentioned, which he is earnestly entreated to do -- he shall receive more liberal Reward than is offered as above.

It will inevitably be some time before we have prepared the transcriptions, but in the meantime, here is a taster of what is to come, Selections from the 1780 Norfolk Chronicle (now complete) and
Selections from the 1781 Norfolk Chronicle

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The 1866 Yarmouth Life-boat tragedy

Occasionally, when looking through the old newspapers, one is struck by the fantastic courage and sacrifice of ordinary people. This 'melancholy catastrophe' that befell the Gorleston lifeboat team was, sadly, not unique, and one would like to know if the nine widows and families were properly provided for in the subsequent public subscription.

Beccles & Bungay Weekly News 23 January 1866

Page 4, column 4

Appaling [sic] Life-Boat Accident.
Twelve Lives Lost.

At noon on Saturday, the 13th January, a most terrible and melancholy catastrophe occurred at Gorleston, which has resulted in the loss of no fewer than twelve brave and experienced boatmen.

The facts are as follows: - In the forenoon, a vessel with a signal of distress in her maintopmast rigging was observed to be running northward through the roads, and at once the lifeboats "Rescuer" and "Friend of All Nations" were fully manned and proceeded out of the harbour in order to render assistance.

The wind at the same time was blowing a gale from the S.S.W. The sea was rather rough, and there was an exceedingly nasty swell on the bar. Both lifeboats were under reefed sails, the "Rescuer" just ahead, and on the port side of the "Friend of All Nations." As they passed over the bar, the "Rescuer" touched the ground, in consequence of which her rudder became unshipped.

At this moment a heavy sea struck her and she caught the ground, and immediately turned over bottom upwards, the crew, numbering 16, being underneath.

Two of these, named Robert WARNER, sen., and George PALMER, managed to get from under her sides, and were rescued by means of boat-hooks by the crew of the other lifeboat, which had immediately been brought to anchor.

The "Friend of All Nations" was then at once veered round and proceeded after the "Rescuer," which in the mean time had beaten over the North Sand bottom upwards with two of her crew---Edward WESTWOOD, jun., and William AUSTRIN---who had succeeded in getting on to her keel.

The "Friend of All Nations" came up with her after she had drifted about three quarters of a mile, and managed to take off the two above-named men, who were in a very exhausted state. Every effort was made by the "Friend of All Nations" to recover the rest of the unfortunate men, but without success, as not a man of them was to be seen.

The following is a correct list of the boatmen saved and lost: -

Edward WESTWOOD, William AUSTRIN, Robert WARNER, and George PALMER.

James WOODS, jun., aged 30, leaves a widow. Charles WOODS, 26, not married. Edward WOODS, sen., 56, leaves a widow and three children, aged 21, 17, 15. Edward WELTON, 28, widow and infant. Abel NEWSON, 27, widow (enceinte) [pregnant] and two children, aged three years and two years. Christopher WHILEY, 52, widow, and six children, aged 19, 17, 14, 12, 8, 4. Christopher PARKER, 64, widow. William DAWKINS, 35, widow and five children, aged 9, 7, 5, 3, and infant. William MANTHORPE, 21, unmarried. James FLEMING, 24, unmarried. Benjamin HARRIS, 34, leaves a widow.

The crew of the "Rescuer" were all experienced boatmen, and were under the command of Robert SPILLINGS, the coxswain, in whom they reposed the greatest confidence as a man of long experience and steadiness. That the accident resulted from no want of skill there can be no doubt, but from the insufficient depth of water and the state of the wind and tide at the time.

The "Rescuer" came ashore subsequently near the Wellington Pier. She was a boat in the buoyancy and seaworthy qualities of which the men had the utmost confidence, having been out with her in the heaviest gales. She belonged to the Ranger Company, for whom she was built in 1856 by Messrs BEECHING, the father of whom won the Northumberland prize of 100 Pounds for the best lifeboat.

It ought to be stated that the crew at the time of the accident were not protected by life-belts, and wore their ordinary clothing, consisting of guernsey frocks, oily jackets, and heavy sea-boots. A catastrophe so appaling [sic] has not occurred in this district for many years, and has spread gloom not only over the hamlet of Gorleston and Southtown, but over the whole of Yarmouth.

The list comprises nine widows, and 22 children, who we believe are most of them, if not all, unprovided for.
In addition to the above: -

Beccles & Bungay Weekly News 30 January 1866

Page 4, column 5

Robert WARNER, one of the four boatmen rescued by the crew of the "Friend of All Nations," died on Thursday [25th January] morning. Hopes had at first been entertained of his recovery, but being a man of advanced years the shock received by the system was too much for him. This makes the number of deaths 15. The other three men have perfectly recovered from the effects of the accident.

A meeting was convened by the Mayor, at the Corn-hall, on Monday, for the purpose of providing for the widows and orphans of the drowned men, and also of establishing a permanent fund for similar calamities on future occasions. The attendance was large and influential. Among the speakers were the Mayor, the Rev Mr NEVILL, minister of the parish; Mr HAMMOND, Mr PRESTON, Mr T. BRIGHTWEN, and Mr CHAMBERLIN [sic], and resolutions were unanimously carried in accordance with the object of the meeting. It was stated that subscriptions amounting to between 60 and 70 pounds had already been received by the Mayor and other gentlemen from various quarters, in consequence of the reports of the calamity which had appeared in the daily papers. Before the meeting terminated the subscriptions amounted to 250 Pounds.

The boat which capsized and caused the accident on the 13th January, is in no way connected with the National Lifeboat Institution, nor is the boat a self-righting one. There are four of these large salvage boats on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, and one at Margate. They belong to the boatmen themselves, and are constantly engaged in saving property. Two of them have recently capsized. Nearly all the 153 boats of the National Lifeboat Institution are self-righting boats, and are specially used in saving life in cases of shipwreck.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Woe to them through whom the offence cometh

On 28th Dec 1836 John Snare wrote to the Bury Post a letter on his imprisonment

He wrote that he had been twice imprisoned. The first time for three months. He was “Put to Hard Labour upon the wheel, with a small piece of meat on Sundays, skilly for breakfast, and daily bread scarcely sufficient for a child.” He related that the “Punishment was most severe” and he lost a stone in weight. But since Michaelmas he was again committed... “for one month: but what a change in the system! Only it amounts now to solitary confinement, and that at starvation point! I was shut up in a small cell by myself, with a daily walk of about half an hour only, and a very small loaf ... and scarcely hearing a human voice except at Chapel.” Says he came out so weak he had to rely on friends and would rather do 6 months of his former imprisonment “or do the hardest work possible for sixpence a day.

He said he had two objects in writing the letter.

  • To warn people who are most liable to be sent to prison what treatment to expect.

  • To ask the Magistrates if they are aware of the severity of sending “a fellow creature to solitary confinement for two, three or four months.”

“It may be thought that this new system will prevent crime: but as long as men have neither work nor money, it must needs that offence come; but woe to them through whom the offence cometh!