The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians. (Andrew Clarke and GH) 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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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 Andrew.Clarke@Foxearth.org.uk 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.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Ingatestone Storm of June 24th 1897


Summer storms in Essex can be remarkably destructive, but when such a storm destroys pantile roofs with hailstones larger than hens eggs, kills pigeons, and snaps trees in half, then one can certainly agree that such a storm is remarkable. A letter in 'Nature' in July 1897 gives a first-hand account of the damage such a storm can cause.

I AM doubtful if an English thunderstorm has ever assumed the proportions that one reached here on Thursday last. Although there is nothing new under the sun, yet there is a good deal new to each individual, and the following facts were not looked on as possibilities by me before I witnessed them on that day.
The 24th was an intensely hot day, and after much distant thunder the storm broke on us about 2.45 p.m. (while hay-making was in full swing) from the north-west. After about ten minutes of the heaviest rain, hail began to fall, and soon a terrific hurricane, accompanied by hailstones larger than hens' eggs (mixed in with others of all sizes downwards), came on and lasted for five minutes, during which most of the damage was done. After this the storm gradually abated, and in something over half-an-hour had passed away.
The scene was quite unique and winter-like. The ground was quite white, and in many places the hail had drifted to a foot deep, and every ditch and depression in the ground was full of water and hail. Every window on the north-west sides of the houses and cottages was destitute of glass—not merely broken, but the whole driven through. Two greenhouses were completely smashed, only one pane in some miraculous way having escaped on the windward side. A bird-cage hanging in a window was demolished, and the bird found in a chair on its back under a bit of glass. Rooks and pigeons were lying about the fields dead and dying, and one of my men secured enough for a rook pie next day. Also we picked up next day some half-dozen small birds while turning over about eight acres of hay.
A stable roof covered by pantiles half-an-inch thick had half the tiles broken into quite small pieces, and has ihe appearance of having been shot at by rifles. Several chimney stacks had been blown on to the roofs, and in one case close by, through the house to the ground. All the farm buildings and cottages were unroofed more or less.
Trees had fallen in quantity, either torn up by the roots or broken oft in the middle. Branches had been twisted off everywhere and hardly a leaf remained ; the neighbouring common was beaten down as if an army had stampeded over it.
The crops presented a curious and melancholy sight. The grass intended for hay looked as if a steam roller had been over it. The oats had also been not only beaten flat, but broken off short, and reduced to a sort of long chaff; in some cases the ends of a piece of stem stuck up, while the middle had
been driven into the ground by a hailstone.
The mown ground and the lawn were indented to the depth of from one to two inches all over, much as if a flock of sheep had passed over them. This was, of course, also seen on the flower-beds and mangold fields. This last crop has also been destroyed to the extent of two-thirds, every leaf broken off, and often the root in two pieces.
A hedge at right angles to the storm and some wall fruit were completely stripped of leaves and twigs, and left with "bare poles" nearly half denuded of bark ; not a vegetable remains in the garden.
Luckily the area of greatest severity was very small and not in the centre of the storm. The advancing front of the worst part seems to have been only about a mile in width, and to have spent its greatest energy after advancing a like distance.
The hailstones were in appearance a conglomerate of smaller ones cemented together with ice, and generally the centre stone was bigger than (he others. They were much collected together in corners, and one was measured, twenty-four hours after the storm, four and a half inches round.
Sheffield Neave.
Ingatestone, June 28 1897

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The last outbreak of The Plague in Suffolk

When, you probably occasionally wonder, was the last outbreak of  plague, the Black Death' in Suffolk? The seventeenth century? (see 'A Plague on Braintree') No. The last serious outbreak I can find was on September I3th, 1910 , a child nine years of age, the daughter of a labourer at Holbrook in Suffolk, fell ill with symptoms of a pneumonic nature complicated with diarrhoea and vomiting.

The last major outbreaks of plague were in the seventeenth century
The vomit and diarrhoea were hemorrhagic in character. There was high temperature, collapse, and death on September 16th. On September 21st the mother fell ill with the same symptoms. The case was fatal on September 23rd. On September 26th the woman who nursed the previous case and the
husband of the first woman fell ill with the same symptoms. Both these patients died on September 29th. It was identified as being pneumonic plague.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and is caused by the bite of an infected flea. The bacteria travel from the site of the bite to a lymph node which becomes inflamed and painful. This is called a ‘bubo’.

Pneumonic plague is the most severe form of plague and is usually rare. It may result from spread to the lungs from advanced bubonic plague. However, any person with pneumonic plague may transmit the disease via droplets to other people. Untreated pneumonic plague, if not diagnosed and treated early, can be fatal.

At the start of the twentieth century, there were two, and only two, primary cases of infection. There was one at Shotley that was responsible for seven deaths, whilst the one at Holbrook was responsible for three others. They were both virulent. However, in nether case did the disease spread widely from the primary cause of infection.

At Holbrook, there were at least eleven contacts who lived in the houses in which the cases occurred. Of these one was an adult, whilst the remainder were children. These people came into more or less close contact with the infected, but none of them developed the disease. In addition there were four medical men, a clergyman and his daughter, and three nurses who were closely associated with the cases. None of these developed the disease, although in the case of the nurses exposure to
infection was prolonged and intimate.

In the part of East Suffolk where the infections happened, rats were dying of acute plague. and
infected rats were found all over the Samford district, near Manningtree in Essex, and at Hollesley Bay in Suffolk. They were also being found in Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Kirton, Trimley, and Levington. The disease was spreading to hares and even a cat. The plague was essentially a rat plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, spread by rat fleas. It was just occasionally that a human was bitten by infected rat fleas. How did it happen? Suspicion at the time was on the disease spreading from Ipswich Docks and an infected cargo, but the rat deaths were greater outside the Ipswich area. The Ipswich rats had a higher immunity, presumably picked up after previous bouts of the ship-borne plague. Why was this the last outbreak? It was really because of a continued and determined effort to reduce the rat population, in which the disease was endemic.This wasn't just about direct extermination of the rats, but a determined effort to clean up the types of waste that were food to the rats.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Blood-letting as a cure for madness. An East Anglian account.

We tend to forget the terrible state of knowledge amongst clinicians about the many forms of 'lunacy' or 'insanity', and its treatment before the first World War.  In fact, in the nineteenth century society was still in the grip of theories that had been discredited since the start of the nineteenth century. The public felt cheated if the insane weren't subject to 'blood-letting'. They still held to the theories of the 'Humours' and the phlogiston Theory'. Clinicians may have held fancy idea but it was commonsense to the general public that insanity was caused by too much hot blood, and the cure was a poor diet of plain fibrous food, and the periodic draining of blood. Doctors too often gave in to pressure and advised blood-letting as a general treatment for insanity, almost always making the problem worse.

East Anglia had a few Lunatic Asylums, in response to the County Asylums Act of 1845. the Lunacy Act required every county to have a Lunatic Asylum, with treatment to be provided by Medical Superintendents. Their regime was devised as a radical alternative to the rudimentary care offered by the workhouse. In some cases, the the patients admitted to these institution had been so harmed by the treatment already applied under the instruction of their doctors, that they became difficult to cure. Because diagnosis was almost entirely random, and patient records almost entirely absent, the effects of ignorant and appalling treatment of  insanity weren't obvious at the time. It was a bad time to go mad.

Dr D. C. Campbell, the first Medical Superintendent of the  Essex Lunatic Asylum at Warley, gave, in the annual report of the asylum, an interesting account in 1867, fifteen years after the establishment was opened, of his frustrations about the use of bloodletting, and the frustrating lack of clinical records or accurate diagnosis.

"THIS asylum contains 573 patients, of whom 250 are males and 323 females. Dr. Campbell, in his report, remarks, inter alia, that, in a number of the patients brought to the asylum, a practice not infrequent in cases of acute mania had been resorted to, viz. bloodletting; and he goes on to write
"Throughout all ranks of society, an opinion is pretty generally diffused that insanity is a disease of a very inflammatory nature, and that strong antiphlogistic means must be used to allay the excitement. Accordingly, low diet, powerful purgatives, and bloodletting, are had recourse to, and it frequently happens in those cases in which they are most detrimental. 
"That low diet in certain cases may be beneficial is not to be denied; great discretion, however, even in this is required, for a furious state of excitement may coincide with real debility, and may be best subdued by generous diet: nay, even in some cases, stimulants may be required to secure repose. 
Of all misapplied remedies, however, the worst is bloodletting, and yet in some districts it is frequently resorted to. So strong is the impression that insanity is of an inflammatory nature, that it often requires the authority of an experienced practitioner to persuade the nearest relatives that bleeding is unnecessary, if he cannot convince them that it is absolutely prejudicial. 
 It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that some surgeons who are not likely to see many cases of the disease should fall into the same error, and by doing what they consider to be useful, or at all events innocuous, gratify those around them. Surrounded with difficulties, struggling with the patient, destitute of proper means of control, worried by friends, and overwhelmed with suggestions, they perform what they deem a very simple operation. Blood is extracted, the patient for the time becomes quiet, or rather exhausted, and the surgeon congratulates himself, and is applauded by the bystanders ; but in a very short time the scene is changed: the patient becomes as furious or as incoherent as ever, and, if the plan be persevered in, soon sinks. Should, however, the want of success prove the inutility of depletion, the unfortunate patient is then sent to an asylum, and the medical officers have to contend, not only with the original malady, but with an aggravation so well known in lunatic asylums that such cases are looked upon as very doubtful, and in six cases out of ten, if the patient survives, he sinks into a state of incurable dementia."
No less true are the following remarks, made by Dr. Campbell, respecting the statistics annually presented with the reports of lunatic asylums : 
" The statistical tables,which I yearly lay before you contain such abundant and various information as to make any general commentary on the forms of disease admitted, the causes of the malady, or of the chances of recovery afforded, unnecessary. These tables are compiled from the records kept of each case, and, although every endeavour is made to obtain information that may be relied upon, I can never present such tables to you without stating the extreme difficulty of avoiding errors. In some cases I regret to say that no dependence whatever can be placed on the information sent with a patient on admission, and in others no information can be obtained. These remarks especially apply to the returns made of the duration and the causes of the malady."

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Pickled Corpse of Danbury Church

We have not always been entirely fastidious in the way that we have dealt with relics of the dead in churches. In fact, some of the accounts of the work of curious antiquarians in the past make the hair stand up on end. Please read no further in this article if you are of a delicate nature or are easily offended. We are relating an account that deals with the disinterment of graves in an Essex church.

I was reading through Brayley and Britton’s ‘The Beauties of England and Wales, volume V of 1803. It dealt with the beauties of Essex, and was giving a description of the interesting church of Danbury when I stumbled over the following description. Of course, it is interesting to know that, at one time, corpses were pickled before burial in Essex churches, but the casual mode of investigation would not be tolerated nowadays; in fact it is more reminiscent of part of an M R James story, or part of a Hammer Horror film, well just the build-up, before Christopher Lee appears, in full costume and make-up, as the vengeful soul.

The article was describing the interesting carved wooden effigies of knights in the church.


“In October, 1779, as some workmen were digging a grave just beneath one of the arches in the north wall of Danbury Church, they discovered a leaden coffin, about thirty inches from the surface of the pavement. This was opened a few days afterwards, through the influence of Mr. T. White, who supposed that it might contain “the body of the Knight Templar represented by the effigy” in the arch above and who, some years afterwards, sent some particulars of the discovery to the Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 59. p. 337. from which the following is an extract.

“On raising the lead coffin, there was. discovered an elm coffin inclosed, about one-fourth of an inch thick, very firm and entire. On removing the lid of this coffin, it was found to enclose a shell about three quarters of an inch thick, which was covered with a thick cement, of a dark olive colour, and of a resinous nature. The lid of this shell being carefully taken off, we were presented with a view of the body, lying in a liquor, or pickle, somewhat resembling mushroom catchup, but paler, and of a thicker consistence. The taste was aromatic, though not very pungent, partaking of the flavour of catchup, and of the pickle of Spanish olives. The body was tolerably perfect, no part appearing decayed, but the throat, and part of one arm: the flesh everywhere, except on the face and throat, appeared exceedingly white and firm.

The face and throat were of a dark colour, approaching to black: the throat was much lacerated. The body was covered with a kind of shirt of linen, not unlike Irish cloth, of superior fineness: a narrow, rude antique lace was affixed to the bosom of the shirt; the stitches were very evident and attached very strongly. The linen adhered rather closely to the body; but on raising it from the breast, to examine the state of the skin more minutely, a considerable piece was torn off, with part of the lace on it.

The coffin not being half full of the pickle, the face, breast, and belly, were of course not covered with it. The inside of the body seemed to be filled with some substance, which rendered it very hard. There was no hair on the head; nor do I remember any in the liquor; though feathers, flowers, and herbs, in abundance, were floating; the leaves and stalks of which appeared quite perfect, but totally discolored. The coffin was not placed in a position exactly horizontal, the feet being at least three inches lower than the head. The pillow which supported the head, in process of time, decayed, and the head fell back, lacerating the throat and neck, which, with the face, appeared to have been discolored from the decay of the cloth, or substance, which covered them. The jaws, when the coffin was first opened, were closed, but on being somewhat rudely touched, expanded; owing, as was supposed, to the breaking of some bandage that bound them together. When the jaws were opened, they exhibited a set of teeth perfectly white; which was likewise the colour of the palate, and all the inside of the mouth. The limbs were of excellent symmetry: the general appearance of the whole body conveyed the idea of hearty youth, not in the least emaciated by sickness. The length of the corpse very little exceeded live feet, though the shell that inclosed it was five feet six inches within. When the parishioners, and others, had satisfied their curiosity, the shell, and wooden coffin, were fastened down; the leaden coffin was again soldered; and the whole left, as nearly as circumstances would admit, in statu quo.”

In Mr. Strutt’s letter, before mentioned, and which is dated August the sixth, 1789, are some particulars that render it very doubtful whether the remains thus inspected were really belonging to one of the cross-legged effigies, as supposed. “We dug at Danbury,” says this gentleman, “and found a skeleton of the hero who was buried in the tomb, and whose effigies was the cover of it.” It had been interred in the same manner as those at Little Baddow; that is, without any appearance of wooden coffin, or linen, or any other covering. “I am now convinced,” he continues, “that the mode of burying in pickle, is not so old as the time of the Knights Templars. The body found in pickle ten years ago, was nothing less than one of these old warriors: it lay at some distance from the wall, and was covered with a large flat stone, on which was a crossJleury and formerly an inscription in brass, not unlikely the following, mentioned by Weever: Hic jacet Geraldus quondam filius et Heres Gerardi Braybroke Militis qui obiit XXIX Marcii M.CCCC.XXII. The body had every appearance of youth, and was little more than five feet high; but being probably the son and heir of the above knight, was buried in this expensive manner.”


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