Myngs: The ‘Pivateer’ from Salthouse!

On 20 March 2007, the conservators of Norfolk County Council completed the restoration of some historic 16th-century records to their former glory; these had been buried in a village churchyard at the outbreak of the Second World War to prevent them falling into German hands. These documents confirmed much about Vice-Admiral Sir Christopher Myngs’s Norfolk origins and featured in a public exhibition in 2007. Included in this exhibition were items relating to the Salthouse hero, such as his baptism which appears in the Salthouse register for 1625. Other exhibits on display, apart from Myngs’s baptism entry, were deeds relating to the property which he purchased in Salthouse, a copy of a letter which he wrote on board ship, and a transcript of a description of Myngs’s funeral.

Sir Chris Myngs (Lowestoft_RMG)
Flagmen of Lowestoft: Vice-Admiral Sir Christopher Myngs, 1625-66. Image: Royal Museums Greenwich,

From these, and other records it can be deduced, with no 100% certainty you understand, that apart from young Christopher Myngs (1625- 1666) actually being born in Salthouse, Norfolk, his birthplace was believed to have been in the Manor House. He was the son of John Myngs, shoemaker, who had been married at Salthouse on 28 September 1623. The Register also recording that John Myngs was “as of the Parish of St. Katherine in the City of London”. It appears that John Myngs, in turn, was the kinsman or son of Nicholas Myness [sic], a son of Christopher, who was baptised on 8 March 1585 at Blakeney (Marshall, Genealogist, 38-9). – “a good old Norfolk family” according to Bloomfield in his ‘Topographical History of Norfolk’.

Sir Chris Myngs (Birthplace_Val Fiddian 2005)2
The Manor House in which Christopher Myngs was born in 1625. Image (c)  Val Fiddian 2005.

The maiden name of John Myngs’s wife, and Christopher’s mother, was Parr, Her family may also have owned the Manor House. That being the case then the following extract, taken from F.N. Stagg’s ’History of Salthouse’ – researched in the 1930s, would be of interest:

“The Parrs, I think we can safely say, lived in the Manor House—in which case Sir Christopher Myngs was born there. When the latter acquired some small degree of wealth, he bought a property in Salthouse and everything points to it having been what is now called the Hall [here there is a large asterisk in the margin and a ‘no’, and Stagg’s words ‘what is now called the Hall’ crossed out. The handwriting that is not Ketton-Cremer’s and may be that of Stagg himself supplants it with: ‘The building in Long Chats Lane [Long Church Lane] opposite the Hall’. If so, it must have been in that [Manor] House that his daughter Mary died in 1697-8, but Myngs’ second wife Rebecca must have disposed of it probably soon afterwards to one of her husband’s maternal relations, the Parrs.”

There may be little doubt that Cristopher Myngs was the “son of a shoemaker”, for even Samuel Pepys himself says so in his letter of (28 March 1665…) –‘ that his father was indeed a shoemaker and was consulted by the Navy Board about the uses to which leather shavings might be put.’ Bloomfield’s reference that the Myngs family may have been of “a good old Norfolk family” need not mean that Christopher’s father could not have been a shoemaker; Christopher did go to sea as a ‘mere cabin boy’…… proud that he rose in rank due to merit’. However, all this may be erroneous, along with Pepys’s story of Myngs being of ‘humble birth’ – this term possibly an explanation for Myngs’s popularity at the time? More importantly perhaps is the belief that Christopher Myngs was also a relative of the future Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who was born, some 25 years after Myngs, at the nearby village of Cockthorpe. Here, there are strange coincidences between Myngs and Shovell – and they have little to do with the possibility that the two men may have been related.

Sir_Cloudesley_Shovell,_1650-1707
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. Image: Wikipedia

Myngs was reputed to have been of ‘humble birth’, son of a shoemaker, possibly related to a knight, and went to sea as a cabin boy! Sir Cloudesley Shovell was reputed to have been that knight – but the latter was also born, or so it was said, into only ‘middling circumstances’ and was ‘apprenticed to a mean trade……of a shoe-maker’, and also went to sea as a cabin boy.’ What strange coincidences! One could be forgiven for wondering whether it was a prerequisite for 17th century Norfolk lad’s to first serve St Crispin [Patron Saint of Shoemakers] in order to obtain successful entry into the British Royal Navy!

So, as a young boy, Myngs may well have joined the British Royal Navy to serve first as a ‘mere cabin boy’, then as an ‘ordinary seaman’; but he did rise rapidly through the ranks thereafter, and this could well have been due to family connections? It has been also suggested that another reason for his rapid career rise was because, as his career progressed, he sided with Parliament and was its supporter; not to mention that the Council of State thought highly of him and, he was also recommended for promotion by the flag officers under whom he served. Myngs was also a friend of Sir John Narborough who was descended from an old Norfolk family. He married Elizabeth Hill, whose father was John Hill, a Commissioner of the Navy. After her husband’s death, Lady Narborough married none other than Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. Well, Well Well!

Battle_of_Scheveningen_Jan_Abrahamsz._Beerstraten)
The Battle of Scheveningen (10 August 1653) during the First Angl0-Dutch War. Painting by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraaten.

Myngs first appeared prominently during the first First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654) as captain of the ‘Elisabeth’ when he captured a Dutch convoy, including two men-of-war taken as prizes. From 1653 to 1655 he continued to command the ‘Elisabeth’ before being given command of the 44-gun frigate ‘Marston Moor’; whose crew happened to be on the verge of mutiny! After quelling the crew’s insubordination, the ship was sent to Port Royal to safeguard England’s new possession – Jamaica. Here, he became the subcommander of the naval flotilla on the Jamaica Station (Royal Navy), with the ‘Marston Moor’ as his flagship. Not bad for a lad from Salthouse.

On his arrival in Jamaica, Myngs assessed that the best defence was to take war to the Spanish. However, the ‘Marston Moor’ was the only English warship available so he decided to recruit local buccaneers. By using the tactic of attacking instead of defending, his buccaneers were to defeat countless Spanish attempts to capture Port Royal. Every potential attack was repulsed before it could begin; then Myngs would successfully counter-attack and regularly defeat the enemy ports nearby. The Spanish government considered him a common pirate and mass murderer, protesting to no avail to the English government of Oliver Cromwell about his conduct. Maybe the Lord Protector of the British Isles was influenced by the opinions that ‘one man’s pirate is another man’s privateer’, and that the Spanish interpretation of Myngs’s behaviour came from a nation that was given half the world by the Pope to rape and pillage. Also, the towns that were sacked by Myngs were cruelly controlled by the Spanish as they loaded their ships with gold. There was also some evidence circulating that suggested that some local populations welcomed the Spanish being given a bloody nose in return!

In February 1658, he returned to Jamaica as naval commander, acting as a commerce raider (privateer) during the Anglo-Spanish War. During these actions he received a reputation for unnecessary cruelty, sacking and massacring entire towns in command of whole fleets of buccaneers. Later in 1658, after beating off a Spanish attack, he raided the coast of South-America; but failed to capture a Spanish treasure fleet despite having a plan of hiding off the coast in wait. Unfortunately for Myngs the timing was not good because most of his fleet’s crew were ashore obtaining fresh water; this was when the Spanish treasure fleet appeared. The Marston Moor and another ship passed through the Spanish fleet and hung on its rear before unsuccessfully attempting to scatter them.

Myngs then proceeded to raid Tolú and Santa Marta, both in Columbia, again with only moderate results. It was then Myngs decided to change tactics. Previously, his large group of ships had pre-warned the local population who would retreat inland with their possessions. But he now divided his squadron into smaller flotillas and so increase the chance of surprise. He also would pursue them inland, sometimes using land troops as marines. Myngs then used his new tactics on three ports on the coast of Venezuela – Cumana, Puerto Cabello and Coro in present-day Venezuela. The latter contained a Spanish silver shipment valued at 250,000 English pounds – roughly £32.5million today. However, Myngs decided to split the money with his buccaneers to keep them interested for future expeditions, rather than with the Governor, Edward D’Oyley, and the English treasury. On his return to Port Royal, D’Oyley had him arrested on charges of embezzlement and acts of piracy, returning him to England on the Marston Moor in 1660 to face trial. However, in the confusion of the restoration of Charles II at the time, the charges were dropped.

Sir Chris Myngs (HMS Centurion_Wikipedia)
HMS Centurion. Image: Wikipedia.

In fact, the Restoration government retained him in his command and, in August 1662, sent Myngs back to Jamaica, as commander of the HMS Centurion, to resume his activities as commander of the Jamaica Station – despite the fact that the war with Spain had ended. This was part of a covert English policy to undermine the Spanish dominion of the area, by destroying as much as possible of the infrastructure. In 1662 Myngs decided that the best way to accomplish this was to employ the full potential of the buccaneers by promising them the opportunity for unbridled plunder and rapine. He had the complete support of the new Governor, Lord Thomas Hickman Windsor, who fired a large contingent of soldiers to fill Myngs’s ranks with disgruntled men. In the October of 1662, the buccaneers’ first target, Santiago in Cuba, fell easily despite its strong defences and much loot was brought back.

Other legendary buccaneers of the time, such as Henry Morgan and Edward Mansvelt, admired Myngs’ personal abilities and success and in 1663 some, including Morgan, accompanied him on next big expedition, as did many other Dutch and French soldiers. In fact, there were some 1400 buccaneers gathered in Port Royal; these were what could be termed semi-lawful sailors and soldiers but to Spain, they were just ordinary pirates whilst to England buccaneers were a lot more than that. These buccaneers were to be aboard a powerful fleet of 14 ships which had been assembled for the next assault on the Spanish which would be the attack on the Bay of Campeche and San Francisco. At one point during these attacks, Myngs was severely wounded and compelled to leave Edward Mansvelt in charge of his fleet and pirate army.

As expected, these raids again outraged the Spanish, who denounced Myngs as a common pirate and a mass murderer with a reputation for unnecessary cruelty; they threatened war with England and this forced King Charles to send a new governor Thomas Modyford to Jamaica with orders to stop the raids. The outcome was that this was to be the last Caribbean raid for hot-blooded Captain Myngs; he returned to England in 1664, still ambitious, but yet to be fully recovered from the injuries he received during the attacks on Campeche and San Francisco. Despite all that had happened to Myngs, the Government still promoted him to Vice-Admiral of the White under the Lord High Admiral James Stuart, Duke of York and Albany. Myngs flew his flag during the Second Anglo-Dutch War at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665, and for his share in that action he was knighted.

Sir Chris Myngs (Battle of Lowestoft_Adrianen Van Diest)
The Battle of LowestoftAdriaen Van Diest Image: Wikipedia.

In the same year Myngs then served under Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, as Vice-Admiral of the Blue then, after the disgrace of Montagu, he served under the next supreme fleet commander, George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle. Myngs was on detachment with Prince Rupert’s Green squadron, when on 11 June 1666 the great Four Days’ Battle began; however, he was able to return to the main fleet in time to take part on the final day of this battle. Unfortunately, when Myngs flotilla was surrounded by that of Vice-Admiral Johan de Liefde he was mortally wounded by musket balls fired by a sharpshooter when his ‘Victory’ was challenged by De Liefde’s flagship, the ‘Ridderschap van Holland’.

Myngs was shot through the throat. He refused to leave the deck, even to have the wound dressed, but remained standing, compressing it with his fingers till he fell, mortally wounded by another bullet which, passing through his neck, lodged in his shoulder (Brandt, Vie de Michel de Ruiter, pp. 359, 363; State Papers, Dom. Charles II, clviii. 48; Pepys, 8 June 1666). The wound was, it was hoped on the 7th, ‘without danger;’ but on the 10th Pepys recorded the news of the admiral’s death. As he was buried in London on the 13th, it would seem probable that he died at his own house in Goodman’s Fields, Whitechapel. Pepys, who was at the funeral, noted that no person of quality was there……… ‘The truth is,’ continued Pepys, ‘Sir Christopher Myngs was a very stout man, and a man of great parts, and most excellent tongue among ordinary men.’ Myngs it seems had brought his family into a way of being great; but dying at this time, his memory and name will be quite forgot in a few months……. nor any of his name be the better by it; he having not had time to Will any estate, but is dead poor rather than rich.’

Sir Chris Myngs (St Mary Matfelon Church)
Christopher Myngs was buried in St Mary Matfelon Church, Whitechapel. This view of the church is around 1830, after Thomas Hosmer Shepherd © Trustees of the British Museum,

Postscript 1:
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 26 October 1665

Up, and, leaving my guests to make themselves ready, I to the office, and thither comes Sir Jer. Smith and Sir Christopher Mings to see me, being just come from Portsmouth and going down to the Fleete. Here I sat and talked with them a good while and then parted, only Sir Christopher Mings and I together by water to the Tower; and I find him a very witty well-spoken fellow, and mighty free to tell his parentage, being a shoemaker’s son, to whom he is now going, and I to the ’Change, where I hear how the French have taken two and sunk one of our merchant-men in the Streights [sic], and carried the ships to Toulon; so that there is no expectation but we must fall out with them. The ’Change pretty full, and the town begins to be lively again, though the streets very empty, and most shops shut. So back again I and took boat and called for Sir Christopher Mings at St. Katharine’s, who was followed with some ordinary friends, of which, he says, he is proud, and so down to Greenwich, the wind furious high, and we with our sail up till I made it be taken down. I took him, it being 3 o’clock, to my lodgings [Mrs Clerke’s home] and did give him a good dinner and so parted, he being pretty close to me as to any business of the fleete, knowing me to be a servant of my Lord Sandwich’s.

Observations of Pepys’s Entry:
Why did he Myngs tell Pepys that he was ‘a shoemaker’s son’? To admit to a very low birth, in a class-conscious age, was most unusual, especially when he was a Knight by then. Did Pepys keep quiet about his own father being a tailor – which would have been of a higher social standing than a cobbler, referring instead to his father as living “on our estate in the country”. Here, perhaps Pepys was bragging about his closeness to Lord Sandwich, so Christopher Myngs throws in a line “Oh I am only the son of a shoemaker” as if teasing Pepys – the English have always been masters of the understatement! Much depends on how far Pepys wanted to appear. He was the son of a tailor, but also cousin to Lord Sandwich. Perhaps Pepys is a little too pompous a climber to indulge in irony, Myngs on the other hand is obviously more comfortable in in own skin and “with some ordinary friends, of which, he says, he is proud”!

Postscript 2:
The above account of Christopher Myngs’s life and career is very imperfect. The actual details of Myngs’s career are only to be found in the Calendars of State Papers, Domestic; and, more fully, in the State Papers themselves. There are also many notices of him in Pepys’s Diary, for it can be said that he was a friend of Myngs.

THE END

Sources:
http://www.salthousehistory.co.uk/index.html#stq=myngs&stp=1
https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1665/10/26/
http://www.thewayofthepirates.com/famous-buccaneers/christopher-myngs/
https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/cromwells-pirate-the-incredible-naval-career-of-christopher-myngs/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Myngs
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Dictionary_of_National_Biography_volume_40.djvu/18

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Secret Tunnels: Kings Lynn.

Legend has it that a tunnel once ran between Greyfriars Priory and the curious and somewhat mysterious Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Another tunnel, now bricked-up, was also thought to have connected the Priory to the White Hart pub, both in St. James Street. The pub itself is supposed to be haunted by a monk. While the Red Mount Chapel is a unique structure, about which opinion has always been divided; nothing is left of the 13th century Franciscan Priory except the lofty Greyfriars Lantern Tower.

Tunnels (Greyfriars Priory)
Greyfriars Lantern Tower

Now, for some reason, the ramblings of the Yorkshire soothsayer Mother Shipton (c.1488-1561) used to be very popular with the country folk of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. And somehow, the old Fenmen reckoned that she was responsible for the prophecy and belief that, when royalty visited the Theatre Royal in St. James’ Street, the Greyfriars Lantern Tower mentioned above would collapse on to it. Since the Theatre wasn’t even opened until 1815, one has to wonder how Mother Shipton’s name ever got attached to this myth. The slight lean that the tower had for years was corrected in 2006, while the Theatre Royal, which burned down in 1936 and was then rebuilt, is now a bingo hall. While the Queen has visited King’s Lynn many times, it seems unlikely that she will ever pop in for a game of bingo.

Tunnels (Red Mount Chapel)
The Red Mount Chapel in Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

The structure of the Red Mount Chapel is, unsurprisingly, of red brick; it is octagonal and buttressed, with an inner rectangular core that projects above the roof. It consists not of one chapel, but two – one possibly of 13th century vintage, the other being the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount’, built by Robert Corraunce upon the steep-sided artificial mound in about 1485. This second chapel was probably put there to house a holy relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and tradition tells of pilgrims halting at this place on their way to Walsingham. Despite the beginnings of the Red Mount Chapel being set around the 1300’s, there is reason to believe that an earlier edifice also stood here; this thought is even more probable because the mound itself was once known as Guanock Hill – ‘guanock’ or ‘gannock’ being an old local word meaning a beacon.

Tunnels (Castle Rising)
Castle Rinsing, Norfolk. Photo: EDP.

A tunnel is said to lead from the Red Mount to a door in the gatehouse at Castle Rising, some four miles to the north-east. This castle was built in the 12th century by William de Albini, and a considerable amount of the structure still remains today. In 1331 Isabella, the widow of King Edward II, was brought to the castle by her son and ‘allegedly’ imprisoned for her part in Mortimer’s rebellion. However, she wasn’t even under house arrest because she travelled quite freely in this country and abroad. It has been said that she was jailed there until her death in 1358, then buried in Rising church. Thus, Edward III was believed to have used the tunnel on many occasions to secretly visit his mother. However, she actually died at Hertford Castle and was almost certainly buried at Greyfriars in London.

The historian of Lynn, Mr. E. M. Beloe, dug at the Red Mount and found that the supposed tunnel came to a halt after only a few feet, at an outer door which had long been buried beneath the soil of the mound. The door in the castle was likewise no more than one of two entrances to an inner stairway. As in other subterranean tales, a drunken fiddler and his dog are said to have tried to explore the tunnel, and were never seen again!

Tunnels (Gaywood Hall)
Gaywood Hall

Another tunnel supposedly comes to Lynn from the site of the former medieval bishop’s palace where Gaywood Hall now stands, in an eastern suburb of the town. A brick arch uncovered in a trench along Blackfriars Road was claimed by one old man to be evidence of this, while another is said to have dug up a tunnel on the same line during the last century, but veering towards the Red Mount. A sewer and a covered-up reservoir may have been the basis for this tale.

Tunnels (Exorcist House)
The ‘Exorcist’s House’ which stands in Chapel Lane, Kings Lynn.

The so-called ‘Exorcist’s House’ stands in Chapel Lane, next to St. Nicholas’ church and is of 17th century vintage; possibly it once was a medieval Bishop’s House in which an exorcist, who was employed by the church clergy, once lived. Some believe that a subterranean passage – allegedly used by the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins – runs from there to the 17th century St. Anne’s House – now demolished.

Tunnels (St Annes House)
17th century St. Anne’s House which once stood in St Annes Street, Kings Lynn.

In St. James Street is the White Hart pub, radically rebuilt in the mid-19th century, but dating from at least 200 years earlier. A shadowy, hooded figure that haunts the pub is said to be a ghostly monk, who has passed through a legendary tunnel from St. Margaret’s church in the Saturday Market Place.

Tunnels (St Margarets)
In December 2011, The Bishop of Norwich dedicated The Priory and Parish Church of St Margaret as King’s Lynn Minster. Photo: King’s Lynn Minster

Today, the medieval St. George’s Guildhall in King Street is the home to an arts centre, coffee shop, and other businesses, but beneath it is an actual tunnel (now stopped-up and dry), through which merchants brought goods from their boats on the nearby Great Ouse river. Vaulted under crofts exist here and beneath former medieval warehouses along King Street as far as the Tuesday Market Place, but it seems to be rumoured only because other tunnels honeycomb the area.

Tunnels (Guildhall)
St. George’s Guildhall in King Street, Kings Lynn. Photo: EDP.

THE END

Sources:
Walter Rye: ‘Norfolk Songs, Stories & Sayings’ (Goose & Son, 1897), pp.85-6.
‘The East Anglian Magazine’, Vol.2, p.461.
http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/hotspots/kingslynn.php
http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk-King’s Lynn
www.kingslynn-forums.co.uk-tunnel2
Ann Weaver: ‘The Ghosts of King’s Lynn’ in KL Magazine, Issue 1, Oct. 2010, p.51.
http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/down_in_the_secret_tunnel_under_king_s_lynn_arts_centre_1_1325374
Source:  Arthur Randell (ed. Enid Porter: ‘Sixty Years a Fenman’ (R & K P, 1966). P.102-3.
www.hiddenea.com

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

6. Christmas: Wassailing!

Anglo-Saxon tradition dictated that at the beginning of each year, the lord of the manor would greet the assembled multitude with the toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health”, to which his followers would reply drink hael, or “drink well”, and so the New Year celebrations would start with a glass or two, or perhaps even a drop more! It is likely that such celebrations were being enjoyed many years before Christianity began to spread throughout Britain from around 600 onwards.

Wassailing1

Depending upon the area of the country where you lived, the wassail drink itself would generally consist of a warmed ale, wine or cider, blended with spices, honey and perhaps an egg or two, all served in one huge bowl and passed from one person to the next with the traditional “wassail” greeting.

The Wassailing celebrations generally take place on the Twelfth Night, 5th January, however the more traditional still insist in celebrating it on ‘Old Twelvey’, or the 17th January, the correct date; that is before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar messed things up in 1752.

There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed.

Wassailing2

The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs;

“Love and joy come to you,
and to you your wassail to;
and God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.”

The house-wassailing tradition has evolved into what we now recognise as carolling, where groups of people go from door-to-door singing Christmas carols. Some aspects of the original practise however can still be detected in the words of these carols; listen carefully as the wassailers demands begin, “now give us some figgy pudding”, and then as those demands turn to threats “and we won’t go until we’ve got some”.

Wassailing3

The wassailing, or blessing of the fruit trees, involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn. This ancient custom is still practised across the country today, and is particularly popular in the cider producing areas of England, such as Somerset, Devon, Herefordshire, Kent and Sussex.

The celebrations vary from region to region, but generally involve a wassail King and Queen leading the assembled group of revellers, comprising the farmers, farm workers and general villagers, in a noisy procession from one orchard to the next. In each orchard the wassailers gather round the biggest and best tree, and as a gift to the tree spirits, the Queen places a piece of wassail soaked toast into its branches, accompanied by songs such as;

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

The wassailers then move on to the next orchard; singing, shouting, banging pots and pans, and even firing shotguns, generally making as much noise as possible in order to both waken the sleeping tree spirits, and also to frighten off any evil demons that may be lurking in the branches.

THE END

Source:
https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Wassailing/
Photo used for Feature Heading is via Wikipedia

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

Tunstall: For Whom The Bells Toll!

Nobody goes to St Peter and St Paul, Tunstall by accident for it stands in a landscape of narrow, high-hedged lanes and a rolling landscape that dips to meet the rivers, the aspect becoming flatter and bleaker the further east one goes. Apart from the little ferry at Reedham, there is no way of crossing the Yare and so this area remains isolated and the visitor really is on the far side of the back of the beyond. The church is a mile from Halvergate, along a straight, narrow lane where there is couple of houses. That’s it, pretty much, except that further east of Tunstall, and for almost five miles, there is nothing but the marshes where there are no roads, houses, people; that is until the river can be crossed, changing from almost quiet and isolated world to the brash and noisy  Great Yarmouth which sits slap bang on the coast.

Tunstall (Halvergate Marshes)2
Part of the Halvergate Marshes. Photo: NFU.

When this church first built, it served a coastal village which overlooked a great estuary, serving as a beacon for shipping. But the estuary was eventually drained to become grazing land, and the church found itself inland with a tower which has long been a ruin. What remains of it now overlooks an empty and equally shattered nave, open to the elements and a shadow of what it once was in Catholic England before Protestant Reformation asserted itself. What was once a big church soon found out that there would never be enough parishioners to fill it and so it and the parish in which it stood was absorbed into the larger Halvergate and the building here fell into disuse.

Tunstall (Halvergate Marshes)1
Looking northwest along one of the many drains that traverse the Halvergate marshes, towards Yarmouth. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

We know from a crude plaque above the entrance that the chancel was restored by the Jenkinson family early in the 18th century and that the chapel was extended eastwards and a pretty window added in the 1860s. Since then nothing seems to have been touch and the ruin is, today, maintained by the local community and supported by a charitable trust. Visitors are, of course, welcome but they should expect nothing more than a church interior which is rather dark, gloomy and with little historical interest; the sky taking the place of the roof. But of course, according to Simon Knott:

“that doesn’t matter. You come here for the atmosphere, a sense of the presence of God – out here where the land takes over, the silence, and perhaps, a very rustic feeling of what it might have been like to live in 19th century rural Norfolk.”

Tunstall (Plaque 1705)
Photo: A commemorative plaque at the church of St Peter & St Paul, Tunstall. It sits above a doorway in the bricked-up chancel wall. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Inevitably perhaps, remote churches are particularly prone to fall victim to ghostly tales and myths by superstitious folk who look for meaning in everything around them. Tunstall church and its past small community were no exception. How many stories might there have been about such a place as Tunstall – no one knows. However, at least two versions of one tale survived the passage of time and these have been told and re-told probably countless times; each teller putting his or her slant on the detail; probably that’s why here we have two versions.  The first goes something like this:

Tunstall (StPeterStPaulsChurch)2
St Peter and St Paul Church, Tunstall. Photo: ANTONY KELLY

There was once a fierce fire at the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Tunstall. We know not when – but it did. We are told that as the flames brushed close to the stone walls and the church building began to crack and collapse, its parishioners feared that nothing would remain of the church that they loved; a church that had been a beacon for ships on the edge of a long-lost estuary which was replaced by the lonely marshland that now stretches towards Great Yarmouth.

Tunstall (StPeterStPaulsChurch)5
The Ruins of St Peter & St Pauls, Tunstall. Photo: Norfolk Churches.

Although the fire ravaged the church its bells were left unscathed, even after falling on to the floor below; some people saw some meaning behind what was to them a minor miracle – their bell actually escaped the blaze. The topic became the re-hot epicentre of a fierce row that erupted between the local Parson and the St Peter & St Paul’s churchwardens; both parties battling over who should have them.

Tunstall (StPeterStPaulsChurch-)3
The Ruins of St Peter & St Pauls, Tunstall. © Copyright Evelyn Simak.

Now the story goes on to relate that while this argument raged, the Devil took the opportunity settle the matter in his favour. He slipped effortlessly into the still smouldering and red-smoking timbers of the bell chamber and spirited the bells away. But not without the Parson noticing, for he was a godly man. He hastily began to exorcise the Devil as this heathen creature, together with his loot, began to dissolve into the distance: “Stop, in the name of God!” called the Parson, “Curse thee!” cried the Devil as he sank into the earth, towards his underworld. In his wake a boggy pool of water, known nowadays as ‘Hell Hole’, appeared on the surface and remains there to this day. It is still said that in the summertime, ominous bubbles can sometimes be seen rising to the surface; past folk attributed this phenomenon to the stolen bells which they said were still sinking on their endless journey through a bottomless passage to hell.

Tunstall (StPeterStPaulsChurch)4
The Ruins of St Peter & St Pauls, Tunstall. Photo: Norfolk Churches.

A second version of the same tale has both the parish priest and the churchwardens planning separately to steal the bells, sell them and pocket the spoils. Turning up at the same time both parties clashed as each tried to take the bells for themselves. Again, as they quarrelled, a gigantic black form materialised, seized the bells and disappeared with them. The priest and the churchwardens immediately forgot their row and joined together to chase whatever this fiend was, but just as they appeared to be gaining on this almost ghostly creature, it vanished into the earth, still clutching the bells. Again, behind it, a dark pool appeared from which bubbles rose for many years thereafter, marking the spot where the bells disappeared and less than a mile west of Tunstall.

Less than a mile west of Tunstall is a long strip of marshy woodland called, in part, ‘Hell Carr’, and near this alder clump was the boggy pool known as ‘Hell Hole’. They do say that sometimes, on quiet nights, the sound of muffled bells can still be heard drifting across the bogs and marshland towards the church from whence they were stolen.

Footnote:

In Roman times the River Bure flowed into a large estuary extending from Acle to present-day Great Yarmouth; Faden’s 1797 map of Norfolk shows the then coastal villages of Tunstall, Halvergate and Wickhampton on a spur of higher ground that was surrounded by Moulton Bog (west), Acle Wet Common (north) and the Halvergate Marshes (east). According to old records the church had fallen into disrepair by 1704; the chancel arch was bricked up in 1705 and a plaque above the doorway into the chancel informs that it was rebuilt by Mrs Elizabeth Jenkinson. More repairs were carried out in 1853. In 1980 the church was declared redundant and a Trust was formed to help repair and maintain what remains of the church: the chancel is still intact and visitors are welcome.

THE END

Sources:
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/tunstall/tunstall.htm
http://www.greatyarmouthmercury.co.uk/news/weird-norfolk-the-devil-and-the-bells-of-tunstall-church-1-5204927
http://www.geograph.org.uk/
Photos:
https://aeroengland.photodeck.com/media/bf8f7a83-31bf-4da9-bffc-3aa43fc88afc-aerial-photograph-of-st-peter-st-paul-s-church-ruin-tunstal
http://www.geograph.org.uk/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

Celia Fiennes: Rides Side Saddle To Norwich!

Celia Fiennes lived at roughly the same time as Daniel Defoe. She was born in 1662 at Newton Toney, Salisbury, the daughter of a Colonel in Cromwell’s army. She is remarkable for the journeys she made throughout nearly every county of England, and the accounts she wrote about each one. She rode side-saddle, accompanied only by two servants. She travelled to improve her health, but also for personal adventure. Her account of her travels seems to have been written after her travels had largely ended, in 1702. She described both the great houses she visited and the developing new industries. She died in 1741.

Celia Fiennes2
Guillaume Blaeu, Map of Great Britain and Ireland (1631), Wikimedia Commons.

As a 17th century English traveller, Celia Fiennes was vulnerable to robbery, getting lost and being swamped, or hedged in on poor English roads. As a woman, Fiennes faced added challenges and prejudices – as reflected in the popular English travel guides of the 16th and 17th centuries which asserted that “women who wandered too far afield were invariably suspicious, dishonest, and unchaste.” Nevertheless, early modern women did travel, and often quite extensively, with no “diminution of their moral fibre”. So we have the autonomous Fiennes, unmarried, travelling without a male companion of her social station, and accompanied only by a small retinue of servants; a woman who would certainly have stood out.

The original text of Fiennes is not divided into chapters and paragraphs are few. I have tried to separate her journey to Norwich into frequent separated paragraphs and brought some of her language and wording more into the modern era in order to assist the reader.

Celia Fiennes Writes:

“……..So to Norwich. Sometimes it was in view then lost again. To Beccles is 8 miles more which in all was 36 miles from Ipswich, but exceedingly long miles……… This is a little market town but it is the third biggest town in the County of Suffolk – Ipswich, Bury St Edmund and Beccles. Here was a good big meeting place of at least 400 hearers and they have a very good minister one Mr Killinghall; he is but a young man but seemed very serious. I was there on the Lords day. Sir Robert Rich is a great supporter of them and Contributed to building the meeting place which is very neat. He has a good house at the end of the town with fine gardens. There are no good buildings, the town being old timber and plaster work except his and one or two more. There is a pretty big market Cross and a great Market there. There is a handsome stone-built Church and a very good public minister whose name is Armstrong: he preaches very well, they say notwithstanding the town, it is a sad Jacobitish town.

Celia Fiennes (Beccles Church)
Beccles Church. Image: Public Domain

This [town]chooses no parliament men. At the town’s end one passes over the river Waveney on a wooden bridge railed with timber and so you enter into Norfolk: it is a low flat ground all here about, so that the least rain they are overflowed by the river and lie under water as they did when I was there, so that the road lay under water which is very unsafe for strangers to pass by reason of the holes and quick sands and loose bottom. The ordinary people both in Suffolk and Norfolk knit much and spin, some with the’ rock and fusoe’ as the French do, others at their wheels out in the street and lanes as one pass. It is from this town to Norwich 12 miles, and it is 10 to Yarmouth where they build some small ships, and is a harbour for them and where they victual them. Also, Harwich about 12 or 14 miles also, but the miles here as long again as about London and pretty deep way, especially after rain: these miles are much longer than most miles in Yorkshire.

Celia Fiennes (St Stephens Gate)
St Stephens Gate, Norwich: Henry Ninham engravings of 1864 copied John Kirkpatrick’s early 18th-century drawings of the outside of the gate. [NCM Todd Collection, vol. II, box 5, page 119]

Norwich opens to view a mile distance by the help of a hill whereon is a little village. As I observe most of the great towns and Cities have about them little villages as attendants or appendix’s to them which are a sort of suburbs, there being straggling houses for the most part all the way between the gates. You pass over a high bridge yet leads on over a high Causey [causeway] of a pretty length which looks somewhat dangerous being fenced with trenches from its banks (pretty deep) that’s on both sides to secure it from the water, and these trenches run in many places round the low grounds to drain them and which are employed to whiten and bleach their woollen stuff is the manufacture of the place. This long Causey brings you to the large stone bridge over the river into which those trenches empty themselves.

Celia Fiennes (City Walls)

Then you proceed to the City which is walled round full of towers Except on the river side which serves for the wall. They seemed the best in repair of any walled City I know though in some places there are little breaches, but the carving and battlements and towers look well. I entered the west gate. There are 12 gates in all and 36 Churches, which is to be seen on a clear day altogether from the Castle walls – I told myself 30 were there. They are built all of flints well headed or cut which makes them look blackish and shining. The streets are all well pitched with small stones and very clean, and many very broad streets: yet I entered in first [which] was very broad for 2 Coaches or carts to pass on either side, and in the middle was a great well house with a wheel to wind up the water for the good of the public. A Little further is a large pond walled up with brick as a man’s height with an entrance on one end. A Little further was a building on which they were at work, designed for a water house to supply ye town by pipes into their houses with water. At a Little distance was another such a pond walled in as I described before. These things fill up the middle of this spacious street which is for use and also ornament, ye spaces each side being so broad.

This brings you into a broad space called the Haymarket which is on a hill, a very steep descent all well pitched as before: this comes to another space for a market to sell hoggs in, and opens farther into divisions of buildings that begins several streets which runs off good lengths and are of a tolerable size. One runs along behind which is all for stalls for the County butchers that bring their meat for the supply of the town, which pay such a rent for them to the town. On the other side are houses of the town’s butchers, the inhabitants. By it is a Large market for fish, which are all at a little distance from the heart of the City, so it is not annoyed with them. There is a very large market place and hall and Cross for fruit and little things every day, and also a place under pillars for the Corn market.

Celia Fiennes (Fish Market)
The Old Fish Market, Norwich by Charles Hodgson (1769–1856) (attributed to) Image: Norfolk Museums Service

The building round here is esteemed, the best and here is the Town Hall, but all their buildings are of an old form, mostly in deep poynts and much tiling as has been observed before, and they plaster on laths which they strike out into squares like broad free stone on the outside, which makes their fronts look pretty well; and some they build high and contract the roofs resembling the London houses, but none of brick except some few beyond the river which are built of some of the rich factors like the London buildings. There is in the middle of the town the Duke of Norfolks house of Brick and stone, with several towers and turrets and balls yet looks well, with large gardens, but the inside is all demolished only the walls stand and a few rooms for offices, but nothing of state or tolerable for use.

Celia Fiennes (Dukes Palace)
The north side of Duke of Norfolk’s Palace, John Kirkpatrick 1710. Image: Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk, and Reggie Unthank.

From the Castle Hill you see the whole City at once, being built round it: it is a vast place and takes up a large tract of ground, it is 6 miles in compass. Here is the County hall and Goal where the assizes are held and the Sessions. Nothing of the Castle remains but a green space, and under it is also a large space for the beast market, and 3 times in the year there is very great faire kept to which resort a vast concourse of people, and wares – a full trade. The whole City looks like what it is, a rich thriving industrious place; Saturday is their great market day. They have beside the town hall a hall distinct which is the scaling hall where their stuffs are all measured, and if they hold their breadths and lengths they are scaled, but if they are defective there is a fine laid on the owner and a private mark on the stuff which shows its deficiency.

There was also the mint which they coined, but since the old money is all new, coined into milled money, that ceases. Here there is a fine large Cathedral and very lofty, but nothing remarkable of monuments or else: by it is 3 hospitals for boys, girls and old people who spin yarn, as does all the town besides for the Crapes, Calamancos and damasks which is the whole business of the place. Indeed, they are arrived to a great perfection in work, so fine and thin and glossy; their pieces are 27 yards in Length and their price is from 30 shillings to 3 pound as they are in fineness. A man can weave 13 yards a day, I saw some weaving; they are all employed in spinning, knitting weaving, dying, scouring or bleaching stuffs. Their hospitals are well provided for; there are 32 women in one as many men in the other, there is also a good free school.

Celia Fiennes (Guild Day)
Guild Day, of which Celia Fiennes refers to below. Image: Courtesy of  Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

There are a great many ceremonies in the choice and swearing in of their mayor: they elect him the first day of May and prepare for his being sworn in on Holy Thursday. They newly wash and plaster their houses within and without which they strike out in squares like free stone. All the street in which is this mayor elect’s house, is very exact in beautifying themselves and hanging up flags of the Councillors’ companies, and dress up pageants and there are players and all sorts of show that day – there is little that is not done at the Lord mayor of London show. Then they have a great feast with fine flags and scenes hung out, music and dancing. I was in the hall where they keep [hold] their feast in and saw some of their preparations for that day; being about a fortnight to it.

The town is a mile and a half from the North to the South gate. Just by one of the Churches there is a wall made of flints that is headed very finely and cut so exactly square and even to shut in one to another that the whole wall is made without cement at all they say, and there appears to be very little, if any, mortar; it looks well, very smooth shining and black. A great many dissenters are in this City. The gentle-woman that was my acquaintance there died 10 days before I came here, so I made no great stay only to see about the town.

Thence I went to Windham [Wymondham], a little market town 5 miles, mostly on a Causey [causeway], the County being low and moorish, and the road on the Causey was in many places full of holes though it is secured by a bar at which passengers pay a penny a horse in order to the mending of the way, for all about is not to be ridden on unless it is a very dry summer. Thence we went mostly through lanes where you meet the ordinary people, knitting 4 or 5 in a company [group] under the hedges. To Attleborough, 5 mile more to a little village, still finding the County full of spinners and knitters: thence to Thetford 6 miles more, which was formerly a large place but now much decayed and the ruins only shows its dimensions. There is a very high hill quite round which stands up on one side of it and can scarcely be ascended so steep. Here I lay, which is still in Norfolk.

Celia Fiennes (Thetford Hill)
Thetford’s Castle Hill © Copyright Colin Park and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Next day I went to Euston Hall which was the Lord Arlington’s and by his only daughters’ marriage with the Duke of Grafton is his sons by her. Two miles from Thetford it stands in a large park, 6 miles about, the house is a Roman H of brick: 4 towers with balls on them; the windows are low and not sashes Else the rooms are of a good size and height, a good staircase full of good pictures, a long gallery hung with pictures at length, on the one side is the Royal family from King Henry 7th by the Scottish race, his Eldest daughter down to the present King William and his queen Mary. The other side are foreign princes from the Emperor of Morocco, the Northern and Southern princes and Emperor of Germany. There is a square in the middle where stands a billiard table, hung with outlandish pictures of Heroes; there is Count Egmont and Horn at the end of the room is the Duke and Duchess of Grafton’s picture at length.

Celia Fiennes (Euston Hall_Ashley Dace)2
Front Entrance of Euston Hall © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Then I entered into the dining and drawing rooms and bed chambers of a very good size and good fret work on the ceiling: in one of the rooms was the Duchess of Cleveland’s picture in a sultaness dress, the Duke of Grafton being King Charles’s seconds base son by her. There was also another picture of ye Royal family. King Charles I’s five children altogether. I have often seen 3 which was King Charles II, King James and the Princess of Orange; but here was also the Lady Elizabeth and the Duke of Gloucester, a little Infant on a pillow. In another place there is the Queen Mother’s picture the Lady Henrietta drawn large.

Celia Fiennes (Euston Hall_Ashley Dace)
Rear View of Euston Hall © Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

There is a fine hall and parlour below, paved with free stone. There are good gardens with fountains and some stone statutes, a Canal by the side, a large court at the entrance with three Iron bar gates which open to the front, divided with stone pillars and balls. The outside Court is walled round and the wall is carried a great length round to the back yards. Within this is another Court with an iron spiked palisade divided every 2 or 3 yards by little stone pillars with balls. There are several rows of trees running the great length through the park; a visto to the front of the house, which looks nobly though, not just of the new modelled way of building. At the back gate I crossed over the river Waveney which is the division of the two County’s and entered Suffolk and passed over perfect downs; champion country, just like Salisbury Plain; and the winds have a pretty power here and blows strongly in the winter and not well to be endured.

Celia Fiennes5
A page from the diaries, with Celia’s signature.

With Celia’s journey over, have a look at the following BBC4’s little snippet at:

https://youtu.be/f32pAm_7Aik

Sources:
www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Fiennes
https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/university-of-nebraska-press/9781496202260/
https://martinevanelk.wordpress.com/2018/06/18/the-intrepid-and-inquiring-celia-fiennes/
Banner Heading Image: Gesina ter Borch, Woman on Horseback in a Landscape (Vrouw te paard in een landschap, 1660). Rijksmuseum, BI-1887-1463-25

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General!

Matthew Hopkins2

(Yes, this is recycled information – Historical tales are often like that!)

Matthew Hopkins’s has gone down in history as the notorious ‘Witchfinder General’; a title, by the way, thought to have been given to Hopkin’s – by himself! It is also believed that he was responsible for the executions of around 200-300 women and men between 1644 and 1647. Whilst this score might seem small compared to those in Europe, it constituted around 60% of the combined total number of executions in England during 160 years prior to 1647. The gruesome spree of executions for witchcraft in Europe (then the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Lorraine, Austria including Czech lands – Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia) were estimated to have reached around 30,000.

Matthew Hopkins ( St John_s of Great Wenham)
St John’s, Great Wenham in Suffolk: Matthew Hopkins’s Father, James Hopkins, was Vicat here in the early 17th century. © Copyright PAUL FARMER and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Matthew Hopkins was born in 1620 and in truth, very little is known of him before 1644 when his witch trials began, and there are no surviving contemporary documents concerning him or his family. We know, of course, that he was born in Great Wenham, Suffolk and was the fourth son of six children. His father, James Hopkins, was a Puritan clergyman and vicar of St John’s of Great Wenham, in Suffolk. In the early 1640’s Hopkins moved to Manningtree, Essex, a town on the River Stour, about 10 miles (16 km) from Wenham. According to tradition Hopkins used his recently acquired inheritance of a hundred marks to establish himself as a gentleman and to buy the Thorn Inn in Mistley. From the way that he presented evidence in trials, Hopkins is commonly thought to have been trained as a lawyer, but there is scant evidence to suggest this was the case – he probably had a gift for ‘oratory’.

Matthew Hopkins (Discovery of Witches)
Discovery of Witches (c) British Library.

According to his book ‘The Discovery of Witches’, Hopkins began his career as a witch-finder after he overheard various women discussing their meetings with the Devil in March 1644 in Manningtree; it is not know if this led to any accusations of the women concerned. What is fact, is that the first accusations which did lead to a trial were made by John Stearne – and it was Matthew Hopkins who was appointed to assist him in the investigations. The trial itself was held in Chelmsford, Essex in 1645, where twenty-three women were accused of witchcraft and tried by Justices of the Peace, presided over by the Earl of Warwick. Four of these died in prison and nineteen were convicted and hanged. The Chelmsford witch trial established Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne as Witchfinders, and it was from this point that they went on to claim that they had received an official commission from Parliament to further uncover and prosecute witches. On the back of this claim the two, full of enthusiasm and accompanied by assistants, were to travel from town to village in the Eastern region to execute their commission.

Matthew Hopkins3

In 1644, Matthew Hopkins was 24 years of age when he joined forces with a John Stearne; and together, the pair certainly proved to be prolific. But it was Hopkins who stood out as the man who possessed the firmest belief in what he was doing – numbers indicate his zeal cannot simply be explained away by the generous rewards he was given by those grateful for his services. This zeal may well have found its roots in Hopkins’ childhood and adolescence, but, frustratingly for those interested in his motives and his mind-set, there is very little known about his background, other than a few parish records; these throw little light on the influences that made Hopkins the man he was.

Matthew Hopkins (Hanging)1

Matthew Hopkins, together with his associate, John Stearne, is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 300 women between the years 1644 and 1646. It has been estimated that all of the English witch trials between the early 15th and late 18th centuries resulted in fewer than 500 executions for witchcraft. Therefore, presuming the number executed as a result of “investigations” by Hopkins and his colleague is at the lower end of the various estimates, their efforts accounted for about 60 per cent of the total. In their short crusade Hopkins and Stearne sent to the gallows more people than all the other witch-hunters in England of the previous 160 years.

Matthew Hopkins (William Harvey)
Artist rendering of William Harvey and King Charles. (see copyright Notice below).

Following the Lancaster Witch Trial of 1634, William Harvey, physician to King Charles I of England, had been ordered to examine four women accused of witchcraft at a time when belief in witches was nearly universal and to deny their existence was heresy-worthy and punishable. To his credit he considered scientific principles and the women were found innocent. However, from this trial there came a requirement to have material proof of being a witch. Matthew Hopkins’s thinking here was not necessarily to prove any of the accused had committed acts of “maleficium”,-  magical acts intended to cause harm or death to persons or property, –  but the fact they had made a covenant with the Devil. This is the difference between Hopkin’s approach and that of the Justice of the Peace who investigated the Pendle Witches in 1612. By making covenant with the Devil, witches became heretics to Christianity, which became the greatest of their crimes and sins. Within continental and Roman Law witchcraft was ‘crimen exceptum’: a crime so foul that all normal legal procedures were superseded. Because the Devil was not going to “confess”, it was necessary to gain a confession from the human involved.

 Methods of investigation:

Matthew Hopkins’ methods of investigating witchcraft drew inspiration from the ‘Daemonologie of King James’ which was directly cited in Hopkins’ pamphlet, ‘The Discovery of Witches.’ He also took note of the best selling legal handbook of the day, Dalton’s ‘Counterey Justice’, in which Magistrates were advised “not alwaies to expect direct evidence [from witches], seeing all their works are the works of darknesse” Further, torture was actually illegal in England at the time of Hopkins and, surprisingly perhaps, depriving someone of sleep for days on end was not considered to be torturing them! Hopkins was careful to stay within the law – and fortunately for him this still enabled him to utilise many methods that would fill most people with horror. Often the accused would be “watched” for days on end to see if ‘imps’ or ‘familiars’ would appear and suckle on the suspect’s blood. It seems to be a common thread that when someone had been “watched” for a few days they were very much more willing to confess. Also, the reports of the watchers’ findings often spoke of the “Witches Teat” being found in, on or around the private parts of the accused. For such pure souls, the Puritans seemed to be rather obsessed with private parts! Then, on occasion, the accused would be “walked”, forcibly exercised to the point of exhaustion to encourage confession.

Matthew Hopkins (witch-swimming)
Hopkins’s Swimming Test.

Another of Hopkin’s methods was the infamous “swimming” test, based on the idea that as witches had renounced their baptism, water would reject them. Hopkins was, in fact, warned against using this method without receiving the permission of the accused first. The problem with ordeal by water was that the test was regarded as a superstition: by law it was an assault to swim a witch – and if he or she drowned it was murder. However from the early to mid 17th century the object of the witch trial changed from proving maleficium to that of proving a pact with the Devil; this resulted in the swimming test becoming more widespread. It involved tying the hapless suspect, usually right thumb to left toe, and left thumb to right toe and lowering into water. All those who “swam” (floated) were considered to be witches. Those who sank and drowned were innocent!

Matthew Hopkins (Devil's Mark)
Looking for the Devil’s Mark. (see copyright Notice below).

Hopkins and his assistants also looked for the Devil’s mark. This was a mark that all witches or sorcerers were supposed to possess that was said to be dead to all feeling and would not bleed – although in reality it was usually a mole, birthmark or an extra nipple or breast. If the suspected witch had no such visible marks, invisible ones could be discovered by pricking, the witch finder therefore employed “witch prickers” to prick the accused with knives and special needles, looking for such marks, and places where the accused would feel no pain, normally after the suspect had been shaved of all body hair. It has been claimed that Hopkins had a trick up his sleeve when it came to this one. It was thought that a witch would have areas on her body that would not bleed – either because they were the place where the devil had kissed her to seal their pact, or because this was the spot from which she suckled her ‘familiars’. The woman would be pricked with a needle, and if the skin did not bleed, then this was proof of her guilt. Hopkins may well have had a special pin made with a retractable blade – the point retracting into the handle when it met resistance. This way, he could quickly establish a suspect’s guilt.

Matthew Hopkins (witch pricking)
Illustration of pins with retractable blades.

It was also believed that the witch’s ‘familiar’, an animal such as a cat or dog, or mole or insect or even a child, would drink the witch’s blood from a “witches teat”, as a baby drinks milk from the nipple. Local women would be employed to search the accused female witches. One belief was that’ familiars’ suckled the witch to remind him or her of their ‘fealty’ to the devil, a dark parallel to holy communion. Sometimes the ‘familiar’ would suckle blood and in exchange would perform acts of harm, for example killing off livestock belonging to those the witch bore a grudge to.

Matthew Hopkins (Animals)
A Witch and her ‘Familiars’.

The confessions of those accused of witchcraft were strikingly similar. Often the ladies are seduced by the devil and repeatedly took him into their beds. They will have ‘familiars’ [spirit animals] which will do their bidding which is invariably to the ill of their neighbours. The ‘familiars’ will kill livestock or neighbours children or the neighbours themselves or make people ill. Never is it recorded that the familiars better the circumstances of the witch only worsen the circumstances of his or her ‘enemies’. Such are the similarities between the many confessions that it is tempting to think that the words were put into the mouths of the accused by the inquisitor.

Hopkins’s first victim is thought to have been 80-year-old Elizabeth Clarke. This poor woman was ripe for suspicion – she was old, poor, and was missing a leg. She was kept awake for three days, and under this extreme stress, understandably broke down – admitting to having had carnal relations with the devil. It seems ridiculous to us now – but all those years ago this would have been believed.  Poor Elizabeth implicated others, and was hanged – the first of many.

The Social, Political and Religious Background:

The witch-fever that gripped East Anglia for around 14 months between 1645 & 1646 happened at a historic & tumultuous time in English history. England was in the midst of a bloody civil war between the forces of King Charles I and the forces of Parliament. The country was in chaos, the normal workings of the state were not functioning. Circuit courts were not running normally and justice was being administered in a disjointed way at a local level. Before the war had started the eastern counties were solidly Puritan, rabidly anti-Catholic and ever vigilant for heresies. As the war progressed and times grew harder fear and suspicion of neighbours mounted and scores were settled by accusations of witchcraft. Matthew Hopkins and his associates were adept at turning local gossip and innuendo into formal accusations of witchcraft.

The towns and villages of the Eastern Counties had lost most of their able men who were off fighting in the war. The farms were not being worked; crops were rotting in the fields without sufficient folk to harvest them. The weather was unseasonably bad. The poor were dirt poor and the folk whom they normally relied upon for charity and alms were stretched by the straightened circumstances of the war and not able to give. Resentments grew. Many of those accused of witchcraft were from the beggar class or were old widows who took alms from the parishes but did not give alms. Add to this the widespread Calvinist belief in the elect, the idea that it is a predestined choice of God who will go to heaven and who is damned to hell. It was the idea that some folk are born to sin and some are born to be pure. Some folk are born to be heretics and some are born to be doctrinally pure. Some folk are born to be witches and some folk are born to be witch finders. It was a time of real fanaticism. Ignorance and dogmatic belief in the scripture went hand in hand with genuine belief in the supernatural.

Many folk genuinely believed that it was the end times: signs and portents and omens were widely reported in pamphlets:

“Have there not been strange Comets seen in the air, prodigies, sights on the seas, marvellous tempests and storms on the land? Have not nature altered her course so much that woman framed of pure flesh and blood bringeth forth ugly and deformed monsters?”

On the 21st May 1646 a meteorite fell in a cornfield in Swaffham, Norfolk, setting it ablaze. Hailstones the size of pigeons eggs fell from the sky. Hysterics said it was judgement day. On the same day in Newmarket, Suffolk, a vision of three men fighting in the sky was seen suggesting war in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland & Ireland. The war between the Puritan Roundheads and the Royalists  was interpreted widely as a war between Christ and the Devil. The civil war was punishment for the Nation’s sins.

Matthew Hopkins (Map)

The witch-hunts undertaken by Hopkins and aided by Stearne mainly took place in the Counties of Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and also beyond East Anglia in the counties of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. This is a large area of England. A lot of ground was covered. At times Hopkins and Stearne worked together, at other times they worked independently. They hunted for witches throughout the area of strongest Puritan and Parliamentarian influences which formed the powerful and influential Eastern Counties from 1644 to 1647.

In times of peace witch trials would take place at County Assizes, the accused would be tried by juries of strangers directed by professional judges. At this time of the Civil War the assize system in East Anglia collapsed. It was this judicial vacuum that Matthew Hopkins filled with a massive witch hunt. To undertake this and at such a scale, both Hopkins and Stearne would have required some form of letters of safe conduct to be able to travel throughout the counties. In fact, they were often invited to towns & villages to do their witchhunt.

Hopkins and Stearne, accompanied by the women who performed the pricking, watching and searching techniques were soon travelling over Eastern England, in demand from the puritan townsfolk eager to root out evil in their midst. Together with their female assistants, they were well paid for their work, and it is quite possible that the money itself was a motivating factor, although Hopkins states in his pamphlet ‘A Discovery Of Witchcraft’ that “his fees were to maintain his company with three horses”, and that he took “twenty shillings a town”. The records at Stowmarket show their costs to the town to have been £28 and three-pence, plus his travelling expenses – the usual daily wage at the time was sixpence. He used his apparent commission from Parliament to persuade the local community to levy a special tax.

Matthew Hopkins (Brandeston Church)
All Saint’s Church, Brandeston. © Copyright Andrew Hill and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

In Suffolk, Hopkins discovered that the church minister of Brandeston, John Lowes an old man of seventy ‘was naught but a foul witch’.  It appears that Lowes had been a quarrelsome old man and was sorely disliked by many in his parish.  At first he stoutly denied his guilt, but a confession was gained when he was subjected to Hopkins’s most approved method of using his watchers who,

“kept him awake several nights together while running him backwards and forwards about his cell until out of breath.  After a brief rest, they then ran him again.  And thus they did for several days and nights together, till he was weary of his life and scarce sensible of what he said or did”. It was in this state of mind that Lowes finally confessed, “he had covenanted with the devil, suckled ‘familiars’, being Tom, Flo, Bess and Mary, for five years, and had bewitched cattle.  He had also caused a ship to sink off Harwich with the loss of fourteen lives”.

As well documented as this infamous trial at Bury St. Edmond was, it is also perhaps, the best illustration of just how the prejudice and hysteria against witches during those times, affected even the High Court’s and justices of the land.  No record or suggestion was ever made to check whether a ship had floundered off Harwich.

A later pamphlet by Stearne stated that Lowes “was joyfull to see what power his imps had”.  Lowes later retracted his confession, but this didn’t save him, and since he was not allowed a clergyman to read the burial service for him, he recited it himself on his way to the scaffold at Bury St Edmunds on the 27th August 1645.

After the Bury St. Edmond witch trials, people began to question the alleged commission from Parliament. The Moderate Intelligencer, a parliamentary paper published during the English Civil War expressed, in an editorial of 11th September 1645, unease with the affairs in Bury. A special judicial commission was formed, the “Commission of Oyer and Terminer”.  Its task was to deal specifically with the backlog of witchcraft trials in eastern England, and Hopkins was ordered to stop his Swimming activities. This apart, witch trials now began in earnest and such was the state of witchcraft hysteria in the Eastern Counties, another 18 were tried in quick succession and hanged.  No sooner had these sessions began, than they were quickly abandoned because the Royalist forces of the rebellion were approaching Bedford and Cambridge.  When, however, they eventually restarted, another fifty witches were executed.

With his career as the Witch-Finder General firmly established, Hopkins and his faithful band of assistants, travelled at break-neck speed throughout the Region to urge on these trials with fatal rapidity.  By the 26th of July 1646 he was in Norfolk where another twenty witches met their fate. In September he was in Yarmouth by special demand of the authorities, and was recalled there again in December – it is not known how many died there as a result of Hopkins’s two visits.  He also visited Ipswich and shortly after Aldeburgh before moving on to Stowmarket. Along the way he also stopped at King’s Lynn and many other small towns and villages, but wherever they went fear and apprehension followed.

However, time was running out for Hopkins, as he overextended himself with his zeal and possible greed.  Toward the end of 1946, the tide began to turn against him.  At a time when most people feared him, criticism was launched against him by the courageous efforts of an old country parson, “John Gaule” the Vicar of Great Staughton in Huntingdonshire. Hearing that Hopkins was preparing to visit his part of the country, Gaule preached openly against him from the pulpit and started collecting evidence of his excessive methods and use of torture. Gaule published his findings and his condemnation of Hopkins in a book called “Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft” (London, 1646).  The book was well written and convincing, and public opinion was aroused against the abuses it exposed:

“Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a robber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull cap on her head, a spindle in her hand & a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced for a witch”

By the end of 1646 Hopkins’s credibility and activities were petering out. In Norfolk, Hopkins was questioned by Justices of the Assizes, about the torturing and fees. Hopkins was asked if methods of investigation did not make the finders themselves witches, and if with all his knowledge did he not also have a secret, or had used “unlawful courses of torture”. It was rumoured that Matthew Hopkins had ‘The Devils Book’, a directory of all the witches in England. Then, in early 1647, Matthew Hopkins parted company with his faithful assistants and retired back to Manningtree where his infamous career had started. There, he published his book “The Discovery Of Witches” in May of that year, which was a rebuttal of the enquiries he had been subjected to in Norfolk.

Matthew Hopkins died on August 11th 1647 from suspected Tuberculosis. Histories which say that he was lynched or swum are likely to be wide of the mark as far as accuracy is concerned. In life, he brought fear, suffering, pain and death to many, and it can only be hoped that when he faced his own inevitable end, he felt at least some small remorse for what he had done – However, was it maybe the case that his religious mania comforted him as he passed away in his own comfortable bed; a comfort and place that was denied to his poor victims.

THE END

SOURCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Hopkins
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Matthew-Hopkins
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Matthew-Hopkins-WitchFinder-General/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/essex/article_2.shtml
The Real Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General
Photos: Google Images

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

The Lowestoft Witches.

Just about 355 years ago, between the 10th and 13th March 1664, a trial took place at Bury St Edmunds Assizes, Suffolk. Two elderly women from Lowestoft, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender who were both widows, were tried before Magistrates on a charge of witchcraft. Thirteen indictments were brought against them, alleging that they had bewitched several people, including children, following quarrels. The trial lasted two days, during which time and apart from pleading ‘Not Guily’, the accused made no attempt to deny the charges made against them. On the afternoon of Thursday, 13th Match, the verdict of Guilty being returned, followed by the Judge Sir Matthew Hale, Kt, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, sentencing the two women to be hanged. The executions took place on Monday, 17th March 1664, with neither of the women confessing their guilt. This moment ended one of the most controversial of East Anglian witch trials.

Lowestoft (Trial)1

Unfortunately, all that is known about this Trial is contained in a 60-page pamphlet entitled ‘A Tryal of Witches, at the Assizes held at Bury St. Edmunds for the County of Suffolk; on the Tenth day of March 1664’ and published in London in 1682. It was written by a supposedly anonymous spectator; nevertheless, this pamphlet is the sole primary source of information for this particular ‘witch trial’. The written account does, apart from the subject of witchcraft, make for an interesting case, being free from political coercion, religious rivalries, and the ‘wicked’ schemes of some other trials of the time.

Though the trial occurred at Bury St. Edmunds, the events leading up to it occurred in Lowestoft, an isolated fishing town with a population of about fifteen hundred inhabitants, 112 miles northeast of London and 50 miles east of Bury St. Edmunds. At the time of this trial, Lowestoft town was involved with a lawsuit against the larger fishing town of Great Yarmouth over fishing rights. Interestingly, this lawsuit involved two principal members of the Lowestoft witches trial, namely Samuel Pacy and Sir Matthew Hale.

Lowestoft (Pacey's House)
Samuel Pacy’s House in High Street, Lowestoft. Today, after much alterations over the years, Pacy’s house has been converted into two shops. The entrance to the ‘Score’, down which Amy Denny would have made her way on fruitless quests to buy fish from Pacy, is on the extreme left – behind the red car.

The person responsible for bringing Amy Denny and Rose Cullender to trial was one Samuel Pacy, a wealthy fish merchant and property owner in Lowestoft, who had denied a request from a poorer member of that same community, namely a Amy Denny.  Samuel Pacy had rejected several requests from this Amy Denny for him to sell her some fish. As way of further information and possibly relevant to the eventual witch’s trial, Amy Denny was not only a widow but also had a reputation as being a witch.  According to Samuel Pacy, immediately after he had turned down Amy Denny’s request for a third time, his daughter, Deborah:

Lowestoft (Sketch)1

“…was taken with most violent fits, feeling most extreme pain in her Stomach, like the pricking of Pins, and Shreeking out in a most dreadful manner like unto a Whelp, and not like unto a sensible Creature.”

Believing his two daughters bewitched his suspicions fell first upon Amy Denny and requested that she be placed in the Stocks in the hope that this may break the spell; this took place on the previous October 28th. Apparently, this did not ease the condition of his children and their symptoms continued for another three weeks before Pacy asked a neighbour, Dr. Feavor, for his opinion. Feavor could not diagnose a natural cause of the illness. Then Pacy consulted a doctor but, it appears, the he did not seek the help of the clergy, which usually presented a unique absence from demonic trials.  Neither, during the trial, did Pacy’s deposition mention him employing any religious methods of dispossession. Samuel Pacy’s deposition did, however, state that his daughter, Deborah Pacy:

“… in her fits would cry out of Amy Duny as the cause of her Malady, and that she did affright her with Apparitions of her Person.”

Two days later, on the 30th October,

“the eldest Daughter Elizabeth, fell into extream fits, insomuch, that they could not open her Mouth to give her breath, to preserve her Life without the help of a Tap which they were enforced to use…”

Lowestoft (Sketch)2

Apparently, for the next two months, the two sisters suffered other symptoms, including lameness and soreness, loss of their sense of speech, sight, and hearing, sometimes for days.  Fits ensued upon hearing the words “Lord,” “Jesus” and “Christ.”  They also claimed that a Rose Cullender, another reputed witch, along with Amy Denny, would appear

“ before them, holding their Fists at them, threatening, that if they related either what they saw or heard, that they would Torment them Ten times more than ever they did before.” …….…the sisters also coughed up pins, “………and one time a Two-penny Nail with a very broad head, which Pins (amounting to Forty or more) together with the Two-penny Nail were produced in Court, with the affirmation of the said Deponent, that he was present when the said Nail was Vomited up, and also most of the Pins.”  Allotriophagy, the vomiting of extraordinary objects, would provide an observable proof of possession.

Once arrested, the suspects were searched for ‘Witch’s’ or ‘Devil’s Marks’ by a team of six matrons. These marks, any spot or blemish of an uncommon sort, were believed to be either a brand made by the devil at the signing of the pact, or a spot which an evil spirit in animal form, had sucked blood. Such marks were found on Rose Cullender and this information was considered evidence of being a witch and would be presented to a court. After an oral examination, the two women were committed for trial and duly appeared before the Circuit Judge, Sir Matthew Hale, at the next Bury St Edmunds Assizes.

Lowestoft (Sir Matthew Hale)2
Sir Matthew Hale

The legal system of the 17th century was far removed from that of today; no laws of evidence existed and testimony was therefore accepted from all, even children. Also at this time, there existed no provision for a Council for the Defence, in consequence, those brought to trial were largely unrepresented. It was in this situation that Amy Denny and Rose Cullender found themselves when they were brought into the crowded courtroom.

The trial itself started on 10th March 1664.  By then, the afflictions of Samuel Pacy’s daughters had spread to three other girls, neighbours of the Pacy’s. They were Ann Durrant (probably between the age of 16-21), Jane Bocking (14 years old), and Susan Chandler (18 years old).  Deborah Pacy and Jane Bocking were too ill to attend the trial.  Though Elizabeth, Ann, and Susan did not testify (family members spoke for them), they were present and affected the courtroom atmosphere.  The three arrived…

“…..in reasonable good condition:  But that Morning they came into the Hall to give Instructions for the drawing of their Bills of Indictments, the Three Persons fell into strange and violent fits, screeking out in a most sad manner, so that they could not in any wise give any Instructions in the Court who were the Cause of their Distemper.  And although they did after some certain space recover out of their fits, yet they were every one of them struck Dumb, so that none of them could speak, neither at that time, nor during the Assizes until the Conviction of the supposed Witches.”

The trial opened with the deposition of Dorothy Durrant.  Her statement chronicled old and improvable events.  Durrant did not explain why she had waited several years to accuse Denny.  She alleged Amy Denny of bewitching and eventually murdering her ten-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, four years earlier.  She also testified that although her infant son, William, suffered similar afflictions, Dr. Jacobs, a physician from Yarmouth, rescued him by recommending the use of counter-magic.  Dr. Jacobs told Dorothy to hang William’s blanket over the fireplace and to burn anything found in it.  When she took it down at night, a large toad fell out, which a boy in the house quickly caught.  As he held it over the fire with tongs, the toad exploded with a flash of light.

Durrant also testified that the next day, a relative of Amy Denny told her that Denny had recently suffered serious burns all over her body.  According to Durrant’s deposition, when she visited Denny, the burned woman cursed her and predicted that Durrant would outlive some of her children and be forced to live on crutches.

Her predictions soon proved accurate.  Durrant’s daughter, Elizabeth, soon fell seriously ill, and after seeing Amy Denny’s spectre, died.  After Elizabeth’s death, Dorothy Durrant became crippled in both her legs.  Judge Hale, attempting to find a natural explanation for the affliction, asked her if the lameness was due to “… the Custom of Women.”  Durrant rejected this possibility.  Forced to use a crutches for over three years, she threw these away, supposedly cured, when she heard Denny and Cullender were pronounced guilty!

The most dramatic evidence at the trial was the presence and actions of the children.  Elizabeth Pacy, in particular, created quite a scene, as she:

“…..could not speak one Word all the time, and for the most part she remained as one wholly senseless as one in a deep Sleep, and could move no part of her body, and all the Motion of Life that appeared in her was, that as she lay upon Cushions in the Court upon her back, her stomach and belly by the drawing of her breath, would arise to a great height: and after the said Elizabeth had lain a long time on the Table in the Court, she came a little to her self and sate up, but could neither see nor speak…, by the direction of the Judge, Amy Duny was privately brought to Elizabeth Pacy, and she touched her hand; whereupon the Child without so much as seeing her, for her Eyes were closed all the while, suddenly leaped up, and catched Amy Duny by the hand, and afterwards by the face; and with her nails scratched her till blood came, and would by no means leave her till she was taken from her, and afterwards the Child would still be pressing towards her, and making signs of anger conceived against her.”

After these dramatic events, parents of afflicted children outside the Pacy home testified.  They were Edmund Durrant, father of Ann, apparently no relation to Dorothy; Diane Bocking, mother of Jane; and Robert and Mary Chandler, parents of Susan.  They swore that their children suffered afflictions similar as to those of the Pacy children, specifically, fit, seeing spectral images, and vomiting crooked pins.  They brought to the court several pins as evidence.  In a deposition strikingly similar to that of Samuel Pacy, Edmund Durrant, about who nothing is known other than his deposition, described the afflictions of his daughter, Ann:

Lowestoft (Rose Cullender House)

“……That he also lived in the said, Town of Leystoff, and that the said Rose Cullender, about the latter end of November last, came into this Deponents House to buy some Herrings of his Wife, but being denied by her, the said Rose returned in a discontented manner; and upon the first of December after, his Daughter Ann Durrant was very sorely Afflicted in her Stomach, and felt great pain, like the pricking of Pins, and then fell into swooning fitts, and after the Recovery from her Fits, she declared, That she had seen the Apparition of the said Rose, who threatened to Torment her. In this manner she continued from the first of December, until this present time of Tryal; having likewise vomited up divers Pins (produced here in Court).  This Maid was present in Court, but could not speak to declare her knowledge, but fell into most violent fits when she was brought before Rose Cullender.”

The evidence presented so far would be considered ludicrous by today’s standards and indeed was not accepted unquestionable at that time. Indeed, a Mr Sargeant Keeling protested to this effect and was privately asked by the Judge, together with Lord Cornwallis and Sir Edmund Bacon, to repeat the experiments outside the courtroom using other people. The result was to suggest that the charges so far made were groundless and, as a result, the court proceedings were stopped for a considerable time whilst a course of action was decided upon. Eventually, it was agreed to seek the advice of an impartial observer, one Doctor Brown, a knowledgeable physician of Norwich.

Lowestoft (Sir_Thomas_Browne)
Sir Thomas Browne

Dr. Thomas Browne, a respected physician, was brought forward to testify.  He affirmed that witchcraft did exist, specifically mentioning similar events that had occurred in Denmark.  Despite mentioning possible medical explanations for the girls’ afflictions, namely “the mother,” Browne noted that the Devil could intensify symptoms.  Though he believed that the girls were bewitched, he did not specifically state that Denny and Cullender had afflicted them.  Browne testified:

“….. That the Devil in such cases did work upon the bodies of men and women, upon a natural foundation, [that is] to stir up and excite such humors, super-abounding in their Bodies to a great excess, whereby he did in an extraordinary manner afflict them with such distempers as their bodies were most subject to, as particularly appeared in these children; for he conceived, that these swooning fits were natural, and nothing else but that they call the Mother, but only heightened to a great excess by the subtlety of the devil, cooperating with the malice of these which we term witches, at whose instance he doth these villanies.”

After Browne’s testimony, the court did carry out several experiments to test the accused witches and their accusers.  In contrast to the Mary Glover case, no burning occurred to test the hands for insensibility.  Here, the fists of the girls, while afflicted, remained tightly closed,

“…as yet the strongest Man in the Court could not force them open; yet by the least touch of one of the supposed Witches, Rose Cullender by Name, they would suddenly shriek out opening their hands, which accident would not happen by the touch of any other person.”

The three respected members of the aristocracy present in court were Lord Charles Cornwallis, a member of Parliament, Sir Edmund Bacon, a justice of the peace for the county, and Sir John Keeling (who became Chief Justice of the King’s Bench three years after the trial); they tested Elizabeth next.  While they looked on, a blindfolded Elizabeth Pacy touched Amy Denny and another woman.  When Elizabeth “reacted similarly to both women,“…the three Gentlemen openly protested, that “they did believe the whole transaction of this business was a mere Imposture.”  Samuel Pacy replied “…That possibly the Maid might be deceived by a suspicion that the Witch touched her when she did not.” Though Pacy’s explanation for the test result helped convince the jury of Denny’s guilt, other factors also played a role.  As the author of “A Tryal of Witches” acknowledged, many people believed that these girls were not capable of “counterfeiting”:

It is not possible that any should counterfeit such Distempers, being accompanied with such various Circumstances, much less Children; and for so long time, and yet undiscovered by their Parents and Relations: For no man can suppose that they should all Conspire together, (being out of several families, and as they Affirm, no way related one to the other, and scarce of familiar acquaintance) to do an Act of this nature whereby no benefit or advantage could redound to any of the Parties, but a guilty Conscience for Perjuring themselves in taking the Lives of two poor simple Women away, and there appears no Malice in the Case.  For the Prisoners did scarce so much as Object it.

Depositions by John Soam, a Lowestoft Yeoman, Robert Sherringham and Nicholas Pacy (Samuel’s father or brother), followed.  Significantly, all had civil suits against a John Denny during the 1640’s and 1650’s.  By the time of the trial, Ann Denny’s husband, John, was deceased.  As there were two John Dennys in Lowestoft at this time, with dozens of civil cases against one or both men, it is impossible to prove that this was the same John Denny.

John Soam accused Rose Cullender of bewitching his three carts, making them unusable for a day.  Robert Sherringham blamed her for the loss of four horses and several cows and pigs, as well as his lameness and his suffering a “…great Number of Lice of extraordinary bigness.”  Following their testimony, the wife of Amy Denny’s landlord, Ann Sandeswell, deposed that Denny complained that her chimney might collapse, which it did a short time later.  Additional testimony by Ann concerning the loss of geese and fish ended the depositions.

After these witnesses spoke, Hale had the opportunity to verbally review the evidence for the jury, which he had done in past cases.  He did not recapitulate in this case, “… least by so doing he should wrong the Evidence on the one side or on the other.”  Instead, according to the writer of ‘A Tryal of Witches’, Hale instructed the jury: ……”That they had Two things to enquire after.  First, Whether or no these Children were Bewitched?  Secondly, Whether the Prisoners at the Bar were Guilty of it?” That there were such Creatures as Witches he made no doubt at all; for First the scriptures had affirmed so much.  Secondly, the wisdom of all Nations had provided Laws against such Persons, which is an Argument of their confidence of such a Crime……For to condemn the innocent and to let the guilty go were both an abomination to the Lord.

The jury took half an hour to convict both women. The spectacle of a tormented eleven-year-old girl fiercely scratching a stereotypical witch, coupled with a great deal of circumstantial evidence, appears to have convinced the jury.  The men of the jury, none of whose identity is known, condemned the women to their deaths. The following morning, the previously possessed children and their parents visited Hale.  The children appeared cured, “And Mr. Pacy did Affirm, that within less than half an hour after the Witches were Convicted, they were all of them Restored, and slept well that Night, feeling no pain; only Susan Chandler felt a pain like pricking of Pins in her Stomach.”  Denny and Cullender “were urged to confess, but would not.” The two hanged on March 17, 1662.

Lowestoft (Execution)

From the evidence of the trial it would seem as though Amy Denny and Rose Cullender were the victims of superstition and parochial vindictiveness. Much of the evidence brought against them was due to coincidence, for example, a farmer who hit a house with his cart seems likely to be an incompetent driver and it is not really surprising to hear that it turned over or get stuck in a gateway! Equally, one does not have a witch to say that a chimney in an obviously bad state of repair is likely to fall if left unattended. Much of the rest could be a fabrication. The accused did seem to have something of a bad reputation in Lowestoft, and Pacy’s attitude in not selling them fish was obviously unfriendly. This, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender died having committed no crime save that they were unpopular, at a time when a scolding tongue and witchcraft so often went hand in hand.

FOOTNOTE (1): What is particularly interesting and significant about the 1662 trial at Bury St. Edmunds is the supposed personal integrity, obvious intellectual acumen, and the clear professional achievements of some of the main participants running the show.

At the top was Sir Matthew Hale, (1 November 1609 – 25 December 1676), Chief Baron of the Exchequer who was an influential English barrister, judge and lawyer. He presided over the trial;. Then there was Dr. Thomas Browne, (19 October 1605 – 19 October 1682), knighted 1671, a celebrated author and physician, who testified at the trial.  Both were known at the time for their incorruptibility and tolerance, qualities that undoubtedly helped them to not only survive, but also to prosper during those turbulent and uncertain times in English history.

At the time of the Lowestoft Witches Trial Browne was a resident of Norwich in Norfolk and at the height of his career. He was the author of a half dozen major works, his interests ranging from his candid personal views on religion as a physician (Religio Medici, 1643), to natural history (Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646) to ancient funeral rites (Hydriotaphia, 1658). Quite a mixture! He was, at times, sceptical, anti-dogmatic, mystical, erudite, witty, moderate, and curious, but his works had many admirers.  Though he dabbled with some scientific experimentation (both he and Hale wrote about magnetism, for instance), Browne, like Hale, also firmly believed in Satan and witchcraft which should not go unnoticed with respect to this trial.  Brown, for instance, believed evil was a part of God’s universe, and to doubt the existence of witchcraft opened the door to atheism.  Two decades before the trial, in probably his greatest work, Religio Medici (1643), Browne had written:

“It is a riddle to me, how this story of oracles hath not wormed out of the world that doubtful conceit of spirits and witches; how so many learned heads should so far forget their metaphysics, and destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to question the existence of spirits.  For my part, I have ever believed, and do now know, that there are witches: they that doubt of these, do not only deny them, but spirits; and are obliquely, and upon consequence a sort not of infidels, but atheists.”

Lowestoft (Sir_Thomas_Browne's_Statute_Norwich)2
Sir Thomas Browne’s Statute in Norwich.

Dr. Thomas Browne of Norwich appears in only one paragraph of the ‘A Tryal of Witches’, pamphlet about the Witchs’ trial at the Bury St. Edmonds Assizes.  Unfortunately, neither Browne nor Hale was alive at the time of the pamphlet’s publication to review and possibly refute its content. Also, since neither man mentioned the experience at Bury St. Edmunds in any of their subsequent works or personal correspondence, it is impossible to know what their views were towards that event.

Sir Matthew Hale, was four years Browne’s junior, but also wrote prodigiously.  Unlike Browne though, Hale chiefly wrote for his own enjoyment and, presumably, to satisfy his desire to grow intellectually.  Although he published only a few works, his posthumous ‘History of the Common Law of England (1713)’ and ‘Histroia placitorum coronae (1726)’ were highly regarded for centuries.  Principally interested in religion and the law, Hale, like Browne, commented on natural history and the relationship between Christianity and reason.  Both men seemed to be examples of the typical Oxford-educated, successful, well read, and well-respected Englishman at the top of his chosen profession.

Lowestoft Witches (Sir Matthew Hale)
Sir Matthew Hale

Sir Matthew Hale and Sir Thomas Browne were clearly highly intelligent people, at the top of their respected professions, who sincerely believed in witchcraft.  It is understood that Hale presided over at least one other witchcraft case – and that ended with an execution!  In England, however, the era in which it was possible to prosecute and execute witches was coming to an end.  Educated justices found executing poor, elderly, and “outcast” women based on the testimony of children problematical.  As the belief in witches slowly died out, the ability to prosecute them died out even more quickly.

The real grievance against both Hale and Browne is that they were to be judged by later legal, medical, and scientific standards, not those of their own era.  Edmund Gosse, a biographer of Browne, characterized his participation in the trial, “..…the most culpable and the most stupid action of this life..…Among the most appalling stories of witch-trials, none was more shocking, none more inexcusable than that which resulted in the hanging of Amy Denny and Rose Cullender.”  Hale’s biographer, Edmund Heward, found the omitting the summary of evidence at the end of the trial a “sign of weakness” and alleged that Hale’s behaviour “……indicates the credulity and superstition which mingled with his religious beliefs.”

FOOTNOTE (2): Another consequence of the Lowestoft Witches Trial was its influence upon the events at Salem, Massachusetts, USA.  Several features of the Lowestoft Witches Trial bear a remarkable resemblance to the Salem trials three decades later.  The crisis originated with the afflictions of Deborah and Elizabeth Pacy, whose ages, nine and eleven, were identical to those of two girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, who played a key role in the Salem witchcraft trials.  The symptoms of the girls and reports of witches’ spectres were similar in Bury St. Edmunds and Salem.  In both cases, the afflictions spread to other girls, and adults contributed testimony about previous confrontations with the accused.  Finally, the conclusion was the same- hangings.

In 1693, when Reverend Cotton Mather published his ‘Wonders of the Invisible World’, he enclosed a chapter entitled “A Modern Instance of Witches: Discovered and Condemned in a Trial Before That Celebrated Judge, Sir Mathew Hale.”  Mather begins, “It may cast some Light upon the Dark things now in America, if we just give a glance upon the like things happening in Europe.  We may see the Witchcrafts here most exactly resemble the Witchcrafts there.”  After stating that the trial was “……much considered by the Judges of New England,” Mather summarized Lowestoft’s ‘A Tryal of Witches’ in the next nine pages of his book.

Cotton Mather, like Browne in his testimony at Bury St. Edmunds, believed that the Devil could “stir up and excite humours,” especially in children and females.  Describing the afflictions of Mercy Short, whose possession occurred within a year after the Salem trials, Cotton Mather wrote ‘Another Brand Plucked Out of the Burning’.  Emulating Browne’s testimony, Cotton Mather wrote:

“That the Evil Angels do often take Advantage from Natural Distempers in the Children of Men to annoy them with such further Mischiefs as we call preternatural.  The Malignant Vapours and Humours of our Diseased Bodies may be used by Devils, there into insinuating as engine of the Execution of their Malice upon those Bodies; and perhaps for this reason one Sex may suffer more Troubles of the kinds from the Invisible World than the other, as well as for that reason for which the Old Serpent made where he did his first Address.”

Unfortunately, in terms of what soon would unfold at Salem, Hale’s judgment and Browne’s opinions continued to influence events even after their deaths.  Though witchcraft beliefs were dying out, the impact of Bury St. Edmunds remained.  As historian James Sharpe has written:

“The Bury St Edmunds trial of 1664 demonstrated how, even in the face of a court willing to entertain the possibility of deception, and anxious to subject a witchcraft accusation to as many of the known tests and methods of proving witchcraft as possible, the accepted standards of proofs in witchcraft trials were still difficult to reject.”

THE END

Sources:
http://www.lowestoftwitches.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bury_St_Edmunds_witch_trials

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

Norwich and The English Civil War.

The ‘Norwich: History & Guide’ by Alan Sutton, makes reference to the 25th February 1643 when the Conesford Gate in the City was blocked, as were the St Giles, Pockthorpe and St Agustine’s Gates. It was simply a precaution.

Norwich Gates 1
St Giles Gate, Norwich.

Norwich’s role during the English Civil War, (22 August 1642 to 3 September 1651), was principally to supply troops and money to the Parliamentary forces operating elsewhere in the Eastern Region. However, discussions were held about constructing several bastions against the river. The intention was probably to create a star-shaped defence on the contemporary Dutch model. There was no direct threat to the City but 150 Dragoons (mounted musketeers) were raised for Oliver Cromwell at Cambridge. The horses were at least partly seized from the properties of Royalist sympathisers in the City.

Norwich Gates 3
St Augustine’s Gate, Norwich

During March, more volunteers were raised for Parliament and the young men and girls of Norwich raised £240 to equip the ‘Maiden Troop’ of Cromwell’s cavalry under Captain Robert Swallow, who became the eleventh troop of Ironsides. He served in that capacity down to the absorption of the troop into Edward Whalley’s regiment of horse in the New Model Army in spring 1645, when he initially became a captain in Fairfax’s regiment of horse, but in summer 1645 he moved as captain to Whalley’s New Model regiment of horse, becoming its Major by the end of 1646. In 1659-60 Swallow briefly commanded the regiment but was removed at the Restoration.

Norwich Gates 2
Pockthorpe Gates, Norwich

By July all threats seemed to be lessening and the Gates were re-opened. Norwich was by no means united in its opposition to Charles I and at the end of 1643 a list was made of 432 Royalists suspects amongst the principal citizens because the City feared a subsequent attack by loyal Royalist gentry.

Norwich Gates 5
Conisford Gate (exterior), Norwich in 1793 by John Ninham.
Norwich Gates 4
Conisford Gate (interior), Norwich in 1793 by John Ninham.

The great Blowe!;
There was a commotion in Norwich in 1648, when the Mayor, being a loyal ‘Royal’ subject, was removed by order of the Parliament. Some of his friends plotted to rescue him by force, and not allow him to be taken up to London by the Messenger of the House of Commons, who was staying at the ‘ Royal,’ then the King’s Head in Norwich. If it had not been for some of the more sensible of the citizens – the Freemen, many of whom openly avowed they were for the King, the Mayor’s friends would have killed the Messenger; he had to fly for his life without his prisoner! As it was, there was a tumultuous rising and breaking-in of shops, and robbery of arms and powder, and all the makings of a bloodthirsty riot. But Charles Fleetwood’s troop, billeted not far away, came galloping in about five o’clock in the evening, and made short work of the undisciplined mob. Some were holding the ‘Committee House,’ in Bethlehem Yard, where present-day flats (formerly the Bethel Hospital) now stands.

The Great Blow
The former Bethel Hospital and now flats.

Everything was in confusion ; the troopers were hammering at the gate, gun powder was lying about loose all over the place—one man afterwards swore that he swept up a hatful from the stairs; and it would have been a miracle if the ninety-eight barrels of gun- powder had not blown up as, of course, they did in due course. How many were killed in the ‘crack,’ as the old writers called it, is not known; but it effectually took all the fight out of the survivors, who scattered and fled. The churches of St. Peter Mancroft and of St. Stephen both suffered from the explosion—especially the former, which, from its churchwardens’ accounts, seems to have had its east window blown in. Its bells were rung shortly after, to celebrate its great deliverance from the ‘Blowe’. General Sir Thomas Fairfax came down in person to see the mischief; and, soon after, the ‘mutineers’, 108 in number, were tried, and seven executed in the Castle Ditches.

330px-Thomas_Fairfax_3rd_Baron_Fairfax_of_Cameron_line_engraving
Sir Thomas Fairfax, Knight, line engraving, 1680. National Portrait Gallery, London

Cromwell’s Army – By way of an explanation:
The Ironsides were troopers in the Parliamentarian cavalry formed by English political leader Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century, during the English Civil War. The name came from “Old Ironsides”, one of Cromwell’s nicknames.

Norwich Gates (Ironsides)2
An Ironside. By Graham Turner.

The Model Regiment:
Cromwell first mustered a troop of cavalry (then referred to as “horse”) at Huntingdon in Huntingdonshire, on 29 August 1642, early in the Civil War. John Desborough was quartermaster. The troop was late in being organised, and arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Edgehill, the first pitched-battle of the war. Cromwell however did witness the defeat of the Parliamentarian horse at the battle and wrote to fellow Parliamentarian leader John Hampden,

“Your troopers are most of them old decayed servingmen and tapsters; and their [the Royalists’] troopers are gentlemen’s sons, younger sons and persons of quality; do you think that the spirits of such base and mean fellows [as ours] will ever be able to encounter gentlemen that have honour and courage and resolution in them?”

Norwich Gates (Oliver Cromwell)
Oliver Cromwell

It is evident that Cromwell’s answer to his own question lay in religious conviction. Early in 1643, he was given a commission as colonel and expanded his troop into a full regiment in the newly formed Army of the Eastern Association, under the command of Lord Grey of Warke and then the Earl of Manchester. By 11 September that year, he referred to them in a letter to his cousin Oliver St. John as a “lovely company”. A champion of the “godly”, Cromwell became notorious for appointing men of comparatively humble origins but stoutly-held v Puritan beliefs as officers, who would then attract men of similar background and leanings to the regiment. He wrote to the Earl of Manchester, who disagreed with this policy,

“I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed.”

Norwich Gates (Battle of Gainsborough)
Battle of Gainsborough,

On 28 July 1643, the regiment took part in the Battle of Gainsborough, where Royalist cavalry were defeated. One of the troop captains, James Berry, is stated to have killed the Royalist commander, Sir Charles Cavendish, a relation of the Marquess of Newcastle (Commander-in-Chief of the Royalist forces in the North). By April, 1644, after two years of war, Cromwell’s unit had grown into a “double” regiment of no less than 14 troops. (A regiment normally had only 6 troops). Cromwell by this time was Lieutenant General of the Horse in the Parliamentarian Army of the Eastern Association, and the regiment would be routinely commanded by its Lieutenant Colonel, Cromwell’s cousin Edward Whalley. The regiment played a major part in the victory over the Royalists at the Battle of Marston Moor, where the discipline of Cromwell’s wing of horse was decisive. Where a victorious wing of Royalist cavalry scattered in search of plunder, Cromwell’s men rallied after defeating their immediate opponents, and then swept the disordered Royalist armies from the field. Captain Valentine Walton, Cromwell’s nephew, died of wounds after a cannon shot smashed his leg during the battle.

Norwich Gates (Battle of Newbury)
Second Battle of Newbury

It was a different story by the time of the Second Battle of Newbury later that year. The Parliamentarian high command of Sir William Waller, the Earl of Manchester, Sir William Balfour and Cromwell decided to split their large force into two. Cromwell, the Eastern and London Association Cavalry and the Southern Association headed across the river and toward Donnington Castle in the West. The regiment was part of the first attack on the King’s western forces under Goring and Astley, but was beaten back and had to be relieved by Cromwell’s fellow commander, Sir William Balfour, and his London horse.

Template for the New Model Army:
Cromwell’s double regiment was later split into two regiments, Sir Thomas Fairfax’s and Edward Whalley’s, which became the nucleus of the New Model Army‘s cavalry. Shortly before the Battle of Naseby, Cromwell was reappointed Lieutenant General of Horse in the army, and later became its commander. “Ironsides” seems to have become the term for all cavalry in the army, regardless of their origin.

Two “divisions” i.e. half-regiments of three troops each, one from each of Fairfax’s and Whalley’s regiments, under Major Christopher Bethel and Major John Desborough, mounted a remarkable charge at the Battle of Langport, where they galloped up a narrow lane and attacked the Royalist Army of Lord Goring in front, putting the entire army to flight.

Although the phrase “Ironside” suggests heavily armoured men, Cromwell’s troops were equipped in the common cavalry style of the day, termed the harquebusier, with armour limited to back- and breastplate and “pot” helmet. It does seem that they presented a uniform appearance which contrasted with that of the Cavalier horse, which became increasingly individual during the war through shortage of equipment or personal choice.

Norwich Gates (harquebusier)
The harquebusier,

As Puritans, the Ironsides often attributed their glory in battle to God. Their religious beliefs extended to the field where they adhered to strict ethical codes. In quarters, they did not drink or gamble. They did not partake in the traditional spoils of war and did not rape, or pillage defeated opponents (although their religious zeal sometimes led them to be merciless to Catholic enemies).

THE END

Sources:
Atkin, M., Norwich History & Guide, Alan Sutton, 1991
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironside_(cavalry)
https://www.norwich.gov.uk/site/custom_scripts/citywalls/35/report.php

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

Plough Monday.

Dating back to the late 15th century, the first Monday after Epiphany marks the start of ploughing for spring sown crops and was once the traditional day of agricultural workers returning after the Christmas period. Historic documents however, tell of plough candles being lit in churches during January in the 13th century.

Plough Monday 3 (Bessy)
Plough Monday: Dance of Bessy and the Clown. Illustration for The Pictorial History of England (W & R Chambers, 1858).

Customs of the day varied nationwide, but the most common feature was a plough (blessed in church the previous day) to be hauled from house to house in rural communities. As the continued, an army of villagers collected money for the parish during a passing street procession. Apart from dancers and musicians, an old woman called “the Bessy” or a boy dressed as such and a man in the role of the ‘Plough Fool’ often headed of the procession. Some participants paraded a Straw Bear and not surprisingly, the event also attracted much drinking, merriment and mirth throughout the day. In Eastern England, ploughs were taken around by Plough Monday mummers and Molly Dancers and were sometimes even used as a threat. If householders refused to donate to the money collectors, their front paths would be ploughed up!

Plough Monday 8 (Norfolk Pudding)
A Norfolk Plough Pudding.

A festive Plough Pudding was also eaten on the day. Originating and also ‘invented’ in Norfolk, this was a suet pastry-topped boiled pudding filled with pork sausage meat, chopped bacon and onions with sage and sugar added. It could be eaten alone, or served with boiled potatoes, vegetables and gravy. One recipe suggested a Cooking time of 3 hrs 30 minutes, but today’s microwaves would reduce that!!  A similar item is still sold today by major supermarkets.

Plough Monday 7 (Norfolk Pudding)
A Norfolk Plough Pudding – Your serving!

At its height, Plough Monday was most commonly celebrated in the East Midlands and East Anglia, until the English Reformation caused its slow decline. In 1538, Henry VIII forbade “plough lights” to be lit in churches, before Edward VI condemned the “conjuring of ploughs”. Ceremonies revived during the reign of Mary only to decline again during Elizabeth I’s reign. Some processions survived into the 19th century and in 1810, a farmer took his case to Derby Assizes, claiming that refusal to donate money, those pulling the plough, immediately ploughed up his drive, his lawn and a bench, causing twenty pounds worth of damage. Plough Monday customs continued to decline but were revived in some towns in the 20th, with remaining events mainly involving Molly Dancers. Some Plough Monday events were still recorded in the 1930’s before a “folk revival” in the ’60s and ’70s partly returned it to some communities.

Plough Monday 2

This year, being 2020, Plough Monday falls on the 13th January – which means, for this year at least, it does not clash with St. Distaff’s Day!!

THE END

Sources:
Based on Christopher Weston’s article previously posted on Facebook’s ‘Norfolk Tales & Myths’ Group.
https://letsbakethebooks.com/norfolk-plough-pudding/

 

Who Believes In St Distaff!

Before factory-made cloth was invented, spinning was considered one of the most demanding female chores as before the Spinning Wheel arrived, this activity was slowly and tediously done on a Drop Spindle. One pound of woollen yarn might take a week to spin and a pound of heavy cotton yarn, several weeks. Women of all ages spun threads and when normal activities resumed, they would also spin at home in the evenings, after daytime working in the factory. Spinning was the only way to turn raw wool, cotton or flax, into thread, before it became cloth.

St Distaff 1

Several times recently, readers have enjoyed descriptions of certain dates connected with historic events, famous people and more. We’ve just had New Year’s Day and next month, comes St Valentine’s Day. But there are other “named” days relating to unusual, forgotten or bygone customs and the following is one example:-

In England, as well as other European countries the days from Christmas through Twelfth Night were once considered a time of rest from the labours of spinning. The maidens returned to their work on St. Distaff’s Day, January 7th. This day was also known as Rock Day, which is derived from the German word rocken, which means both distaff and woman’s. Robert Herrick’s poem about St Distaff’s Day comes from the anthology, Hesperides, and was published in 1647:

St Distaff 3

St. Distaff’s day, or the morrow after Twelfth-Day
(from Hesperides by Rober Herrick)

Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaffs day:
From the Plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.

Bring in pailes of water then,
Let the Maides bewash the men.
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation.

St Distaff 6

The general suggestion of the poem seems to be that men and women should go back to work after the Christmas break but should do so lightly and with some playfulness thrown in before settling in for the long haul. The command ”Partly worke and partly play/ Ye must on S. Distaffs day” is probably a fair observation on the actual state of affairs, given that Plough Monday games (on the Monday after Epiphany) are well attested in many rural areas, especially East Anglia. Little it seemed was therefore taken too seriously on the first day back at work; it became a joke holiday and they called it St. Distaff’s Day. Of course, there never was a real St. Distaff, the “distaff” was, in fact, a principal spinning tool – a rod on to which flax was tied and from which, thread was pulled.

St Distaff 5
This image shows the ‘Distaff’

Although women resumed work on January 7th, men still stayed free until Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany (6th Jan). If that fell on a Tuesday, they wouldn’t return until Monday, 12th January! As it was, the Plough Monday celebrations were a great deal more popular in the days leading up to the 19th century when England still had a sizable rural, agricultural population. A large number of rural customs that flourished in England in the mid-19th century were dying or dead by the beginning of the 20th as people migrated from the country to cities and lost their ties to rural life. Antiquarians and, later, folklorists and anthropologists took to the task of recording the remains of these customs, as well as hunting down snippets of information from archives. As for the plough-boys when the festival was at its height, well they used this discrepancy to no good by playing pranks on the busy spinners. The most popular of these pranks was to set fire to the tow and flax which was awaiting processing. The spinners in turn would quench the fire with buckets of water, drenching both fire and firebug.

St Distaff 2
Procession of the Plough on Plough Monday, an engraving from The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities by the Chambers Bros., Edinburgh, 1869.

Large and small St Distaff’s Day gatherings of the fibre-based community were held nationwide on 7th January, with little work being done that day. Records suggest that in England, St. Distaff’s Day was only ‘celebrated’ between the 13th and 17th centuries.

THE END

Sources:
Christopher Weston’s article posted to the Facebook Group ‘Norfolk Tales & Myths.
www.bookofdaystales.com/st-distaffs-day/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ and ‘non-profit making Site which publishes items which are considered deserving of wider exposure. In pursuing this aim, the Group endeavours, where possible, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. Nevertheless, please rest assured that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to sources, are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.

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