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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Lychnoscopes in East Anglia

The recent Covid-19 pandemic has given us a new insight into what happens during an infectious plague. We have been unused to them for many years, and none in recorded history  have been as extraordinarily severe as the Black Death that may have killed 60% of the inhabitants of northern Europe. Because we weren't, until now, familiar with the effect that plagues have on society, some aspects of history have long puzzled us.

As a local historian, the pandemic has given me a new insight into lychnoscopes. A friend died during the lockdown and the congregation at the funeral service had no choice but to sit or stand outside in the churchyard to pay their respects, and listen to the service through the windows and doors. There were no lychnoscopes to help them. 
Lychnoscopes are a type of 'squint' or hagioscope.

Hagioscopes are splayed openings or tunnels at seated eye-level in an old church.  They tend to penetrate obliquely south-east or north-east through an internal wall. Squints or Hagioscopes were often cut into the chancel arch; Where they were intended to allow people in the porch to attend a service, a series of openings were created in the walls obliquely in a straight line between the porch and the altar; They were the subject of much discussion amongst Victorian antiquarians because their purpose has been lost to history. The most obvious explanation has been that  it gives the entire congregation, including those whose view was obscured by screens or tombs,  a view of the the elevation of the host. This requirement usually disappeared after the reformation when so much decoration was removed.  

It has been suggested that the verger or sexton were provided with a hagioscope so that they could ring the Sanctus bell when the Host was elevated, or to warn the bell-ringers or church orchestra when to start.

Sometimes squints were made to allow nuns or hermits to observe the services without having to give up their isolation. Some churches had twin purposes, both as a parish church and the chapel of a convent or monastery. In St Helen's Church in london, church records show that the squint in this case was not enough to restrain the nuns, who were eventually admonished to "abstain from kissing secular persons", a practice to which it seems they had become "too prone"

Many squints were very odd because they were made in external walls, and it has always been assumed that they were created in existing churches so that the infectious members of the congregation such as lepers could see the service without risk to the assembled congregation. They have generally been walled up and are difficult to detect but many churches had them. Often they are  roughly made, and it is obvious that they are a later, sometimes hurried, insertion into an existing building. They are termed leper windows or lychnoscopes. They  were often created as a low window in the chancel wall,  protected by either a wooden shutter or iron bars. There is no evidence that they were ever glazed: They are low enough on the wall to allow even the shortest person to see  in from the outside, They do not invariably point the same way. There is generally an internal, and seldom an external splay. The larger ones are usually transomed.

They tend to occur either...
  • singly on one side of the chancel.
  • several on one aide of the chancel.
  • on both sides of the chancel.
  • in the nave, or other unusual places.
  • in connection with Hagioscopes
Lychnoscopes were used in every style of Church from early Romanesque to Perpendicular; but are most frequent in the Early Gothic. They can occur almost anywhere, but are most usual at the south-west angle of the chancel. 

Lychnoscopes aren't  very frequent around here. St Margaret, East Tilbury, Holy Trinity Littlebury, Little Cornard, Gedding, Rougham, Little Wenham, Ickworth, Lound and Raydon. Its usual position is on the south side of the chancel, but at Wenham it is on the north, and at Raydon there is one in each wall. The example at Gedding is unusual in that there is no window above it.

The best-known instance of squints or Hagioscopes in Suffolk are at Drinkstone, where it is on the south side and of very small size; and at Gedding, where there is one of a considerable height on each side of the Chancel arch, forming a prominent feature in the interior. 

There is seldom any tradition as to their use. As well as the traditional explanation that they allowed lepers to observe communion, it has also been said that lychnoscopes were exterior confessionals, that they were used for watching the Pasch-light, that they were offertory-windows, or that they were symbolical of the Wound in the Saviour's Side. Although they would be most likely to be used by people in quarantine, It could be that a previous virulent strain of  'cold' (Coronovirus) or Flu could have required the frailer of society to participate in services via a  Lychnoscope, not because they were infectious, but because they didn't want to take the risk of catching it from the congregation.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Toad-Eater of Suffolk, William Utting.

The great East Anglian diarist, John Rous, the incumbent of Santon Downham from 1625 to 1642, wrote about many momentous events, but it was the personal reminiscences that we value.  It is quite suddenly, in the narrative, that we come across his affectionate account of  William Utting, the Toad Eater.
"In October 1629, I having been at Wickham Market, at my cousin Games’s, with my wife and Anthony, in our return, about Kesgrave, between Woodbridge and Ipswich, I fell into the company of one Paine, a shopkeeper in Laxfield, of whom, after much talk about Mr. Skinner and my old acquaintance at Laxfield and Dennington, I inquired of him if William Utting the toad-eater (of whom, see in my first long notebook, covered with redder forrell [a book case], page 43, and in the notes of 1612) did not once keep at Laxfield. He told me yes, and said he had seen him eat a toad, nay two. The man in whose house he kept went to him for his sake, and after salutation, told him that a friend of his would give a groat to see him eat a toad (thus was the way to see it). He accepted the offer, and went and fetched in, from under blocks, 2 toads, and, rubbing of the earth (as in my other book), he swallowed them down. But presently he cast them up into his hands, and after some pause, “Nay,” says he, “I will not lose my groat,” so taking that which came up last (says he), “thou went in first before and shall so do again.” When both then were down, his stomach held them, and he had his groat. This said Paine. See my notebook, what I saw, &c."

 Sadly, we don't have the notes he refers to.  

We no longer have professional Toad Eaters We look at the idea with the same bewilderment as they would on being told that we, in our times, have professional influencers and activists. William Utting was not the only Toad Eater. Fairs would, in the seventeenth century,  seem drab and boring without one. The general public believed at the time that toads were poisonous rather than just revolting to eat, and William would announce that, if enough coins  were thrown at him, he would swallow a toad. The assembled company would, having thrown down their coins, would watch as the Toad Eater then swallowed the toad whole. Depending on his dramatic talents, he would then feign being poisoned, at which point he would be carried off to a concealed spot where he would regurgitate the toad.  There was a twist to this, if a snake-oil salesman was nearby. The salesman would come to the rescue, administer the reviving potion and the toad-eater would miraculously revive. 

The term 'Toad-eater' or 'Toady' came to be attached to any  mountebank’s servant at a fair, on whom all experiments used to be made in public by the quack doctor, his master for swallowing or putting up with insults, as disagreeable to a person of feeling as toads to the stomach.

Long after the novelty of the Toad Eater had gone, the phrase stayed in the language. It came to mean a poor female relation, and humble companion, or reduced gentlewoman, in a great family, the standing butt, on whom all kinds of practical jokes are played off, and all ill humours vented. (from The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally by Francis Grose).

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The East Anglian parishes and Irish Education

On the 23rd of March 1832, The House of Lords received several petitions concerning the 1832 MINISTERIAL PLAN OF EDUCATION (IRELAND) that was before parliament at the time and enacted in 02 July 1832.

They were mostly from Suffolk and Essex, though there was also ones from Wimborne and Tynemouth. The East Englian ones were from Denston: Wethersfield, Wickhambrook: Stradishall: Hawkedon and Pentlow. 

It was a surprise to see this mouse of a parish roaring. The Pentlow petition was signed by several of the Inhabitants of the Parish of Pentlow and its Vicinity, praying their Lordships, in considering the Education, (Ireland,) bill, should "to foster and encourage to the utmost of their Ability such a System of Education in Ireland, and such only, as shall provide for the free Use of the Bible in Schools or Places of Learning;" and further praying their Lordships "not to provide by Parliamentary Grants for the Propagation of the Tenets of the Church of Rome:"

Tynemouth sent a petition pleading "That their Lordships will be pleased to provide that all Grants of Public Money for Education in Ireland be applied only in Support of Systems of Instruction which are founded upon the entire Word of God, and which encourage the free and universal Circulation of the Holy Scriptures amongst all Descriptions of Persons; and further, to provide that in the Application of such Money no unholy Compromise be made with the Church of Rome, and no Support or Countenance whatever given to those who would substitute a Part for the Whole of God's Word, or who would teach for Doctrines the Commandments of Men:"

Wethersfield's sentiments were similar. "That their Lordships will not encourage by their Support any System of Education in Ireland but what is raised on the broad Basis of the Bible, and in which the Scriptures are allowed to be read without Restriction or Limitation:"

Wimborne: wrote hoping "That their Lordships will refuse their Sanction to any Measures for the Support of a National System of Education for Ireland, unless the Instruction it offers be founded on the entire Word of God, and unless it encourages the free and general Use of the Holy Scriptures amongst all Descriptions of Persons:"

To us, in hindsight, it is a surprise that such a rational plan as the 1832 act should have been opposed. A reading of Hansard at the time is sufficient to be convinced that it was a sensible scheme, to fund the many schools that had been set up within the parishes of Ireland and the other parts of the union. Most of these schools had been funded by subscription from the better-off  residents of the parish and set up under the aegis of the local parishes, and there were therefore both catholic and protestant schools. The anxiety about the seditious tendencies of the Catholic church in Ireland had somewhat subsided, and the government were determined on an even-handed approach. There was some opposition from the Orangemen, and the English papers at the time were keen to pick up on this. 

The petitions were, of course, absurd though one could sympathize with their anxieties. In retrospect, it is easy to see that religious dogma should have been taught and funded separately to general education. Britain at the time sorely needed a literate and numerate population. The industrial revolution started with machinery, and got into its stride with accounting, stock-taking and commercial processes.  Britain didn't need sectarian friction.  Mercifully, Ireland managed to get state-funded education unhindered by any attempt to dictate what religious dogma was taught. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Noble Art of Defense, and the Valiant Trooper

From The Norwich Gazette of 1724 came two curious adverts.

The first advert appeared in the issue of the 4th January:

"Whereas I have receiv'd a Letter from Mr. Charles Hill, (commonly known by the Name of The Valiant Trooper) who professes himself to be Master of the Noble Science of Defence, and has therein given me an Invitation to fight him at ...
      • Back-Sword,
      • Sword and Dagger,
      • Sword and Buckler,
      • Falchion,
      • Case of Falchions,
      • Quarter-Staff
... being the whole Weapons generally fought on such Invitations, according to the Order of the Noble Science.
Secondly, Having another Invitation from Mr. William Flanders, being the most singular Scholar that was ever taught by that Famous and Celebrated Master James Figg, (whose Character declares him the Greatest Master of the Science in Europe) and if I am not disabled in my Limbs by the Battel with Mr. Hill, or have Blood enough in my Veins to support my Strength, am also ready to fight Him at the aforesaid Weapons, in any City, County, or Town Corporate, where Leave may be obtain'd of the Magistrates of such Places.

This being a full Answer to these Gentlemen's Letters by me Andrew Read, at the Two-Swords-Men on Hog-Hill ; where all Gentlemen may be Taught a Lesson, or have a Trial of Skill.
N.B. If it should be my Fortune to fight One, or Both these Gentlemen, I hope they will behave themselves more like Men of Honour than Mr. Hayes lately did, who reported Falshoods to my Prejudice, only to make himself appear Greater than he really was, tho' every Person of Judgment must say, that no Man ever wanted Shelter in a Battel more than he did."

A Falchion, one out to explain,  is a type of machete but much thinner and lighter than a double-edged blade and used for slashing. A Buckler a small round shield held by a handle or worn on the forearm. The Quarterstaff was wooden pole with a with a metal tip, ferrule, or spike at one or both ends. These weapons could do a lot of damage.

The other advertisement appeared the following week; it would seem that Charles Hill, the valiant trooper,William Flanders,  and Andrew Reid had arranged a meeting, hopefully with the Magistrates' permission.

"I Charles Hill from Lynn, Master of the noble Science of Defence, commonly known by the Name of the Valiant Trooper, do inyite Andrew Reid, Swords-Man for the City of Norwich and County of the same, to exercise the following Weapons with me, at the Dolphin in St Giles's, on Monday the 20"" Inst.
      • Back-Sword,
      • Sword and Dagger,
      • Sword and Buckler,
      • Falchion,
      • Case of Falchions,
      • Quarter-Staff
I Andrew Read, now living at the Two Swords-Men upon Hog-Hill, (where I keep my School) shall not fail (God willing) to meet this Great Hero at the Time and Place above mention'd; and do hope to give all Persons of Judgement entire Satisfaction, having never yet been defeated by any Man. 

N,B. There will be very good Conveniency for the Gentlemen and Ladies to stand above the Crowd."

That last sentence will give you the clue as to what is really going on. This was a performance rather than a rough fight to the death. The objective for the fighters was to impress the gentlemen of their skills in self-defense. The 'players', all masters of their art,  derived the bulk of their income from tutoring the gentility in these skills that were a necessary part of a young person's education. You will have noticed the carefully-placed mention of his 'school'.

This bloodthirsty sport is now an Olympic sport, called Fencing, Fencing is short for Defencing, and was, in Henry VIII's reign, regulated by the London-based Company of Masters of the Science of Defence. This organisation regulated the teaching of the Arte of Defence or fencing, using a range of weapons, including the rapier and the other weapons listed in the advert. The organisation awarded the title of Master to the most expert of the 'players'

The grudge tones to the adverts were fake, done to ensure that a good crowd came, looking for a hot-tempered fight. It is very like the pantomime posturing of today's boxers and wrestlers. The whole object of Noble Science of Defence was actually to avoid getting mutilated or killed. James Figg, mentioned in the advert, died of natural causes in his fifties, bruised but whole. The public fights were somewhat  gruesome though, because the losers occasionally got hurt before they yielded.

These adverts in the paper were called 'Bills of Challenge'. When the venue was fixed, wooden scaffolding was erected in a public square. On the appointed day and time, with much ceremony and fanfare, the fighters were paraded to the raised scaffold with much fanfare. The public gathered close to watch, cheer, and throw coins onto the platform.

Bouts were fought using 'blunts' (dulled and rounded weapons) and generally played to a number of 'hits' rather than to a 'victory'. The term “play” at the time referred to competing or practice sparring, as opposed to a life and death fight. Although not real, the fights were not just displays or exhibitions. They were free-sparring practices just earnest enough to properly evaluate the combatants and  to provide a public spectacle. The contact was limited, but it was at full speed. The bouts could sometimes be bloody, but never lethal. A dead master of defense would be an acute embarrassment for a profession who were promoting the art of avoiding getting killed in combat.

Masters of the Noble Art of Defense had to prove themselves in tournaments that could last days. They knew it was worth it, because their main income was in tutoring the sons of the nobility who, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, liked to make sure that they had acquired skills in 'Defencing'.  Unfortunately, the whole performance became degraded as the eighteenth century progressed. The rich lost interest in the art of defencing, and public fights gradually descended into prize-fighting where the losers really got hurt. 

Defencing evolved into the art of fencing, which is now an Olympic sport. Nowadays, the protection now ensures that the combatants don't get hurt. It is hard to realise that the sport evolved from the 'Noble Science of Defence', encouraged by the Tudor monarchs as a sport of the aristocracy, a good training for the military, and a useful skill for self-protection in Tudor England.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Dead Dogs in the Thames

Sometimes, the raw historical evidence is hard for the Local Historian to read without wincing. However, we must study it to appreciate how much progress has been made.  I'd hate to have to give lecture courses in vernacular history to 'easily-triggered' students.

From the Bury Free Press of 1893.August 26th 1893

Dead dogs in the Thames.

At a Coroners Court at Mortlake, which held an inquiry into the death of a female child of unknown parentage, George Newman said he was engaged by the riverside when he saw a parcel floating in the water, upon getting it out he found it was a young child. 

The Coroner said "what were you doing? It is a wonder you did not bury this!"
Witness "If it had been in a sack I should have buried it". 
Coroner to witness "how many dead dogs do you get?"
"Well me and my mate have buried 41 dogs today that is from Putney to the Ship at Mortlake"
-Coroner- "I hope there are no sausage shops in the neighbourhood,  One would never have thought there were that many dead dogs, how often do you hunt for these dogs?"
"Every day sir, sometimes we get 60 some days 40 sometimes only 25"
----Coroner, "Then you have had field day today with 41, how much per head do you get for them?"
"I get so much per week, Sir"
"I suppose it would not do as you would be putting them back."
"I wish they would, Sir!" 
Open Verdict.

The Yarmouth News-Dog

From the East Suffolk Gazette And Beccles And Bungay Weekly News 6 April 1869 (Page 4, column 6) comes a story that is rather lighter than the rest of the content.

In the middle of Yarmouth Market-place, on six mornings of the week, a fine dog may be seen entering the shop of Mr OVEREND, the grocer and tea-dealer, with the 'Daily Telegraph' in his mouth. This sagacious animal has been so well trained by Mr OVEREND that he has become one of his most useful servants. 

Every weekday the dog marches off to the newsman's shop for the paper. This he carefully conveys to his master.

His daily mission, however, is not yet done. Mr OVEREND has a friend in the town who takes in the 'Morning Star', with whom he has agreed to exchange papers. When Mr OVEREND, therefore, has read all he desires in the Telegraph, he calls his dog and desires him to "go with this and get the 'Star'." 

Off bounds the noble animal - never loitering in the street - to the friend's house, where he delivers the paper, and will not return without the other in exchange! 

"Noble dog! how useful thou art!" - 'British Workman', April 1st, 1869 (with illustration).

In case you were wondering whether an April Fools joke was printed five days late, a quick search of  the 1869 Post Office Directory of Norfolk lists a John Gartside OVEREND as a grocer of 23 Market place and Hall Quay, Yarmouth].