Mystery Surrounding HMS Lutine

The Norfolk town of Great Yarmouth was the home-port of HMS Lutine, a 32-gun frigate that had been captured from the French in 1793 and incorporated into the British Fleet. For the rest of 1790’s, she served with the North Sea Fleet and was responsible for keeping an eye on the Dutch coast and the French, ever since they invaded the Netherland in 1795. It was in the springtime 1799 the Britons and Russians began to make preparations for their own invasion of the Netherlands; this was to finally take place in the August. During the planning and implementation stages of this invasion, HMS Lutine was active in the North Sea and at the Waddenzee; her duties at first was to watch the Dutch coast, look out for French ships, and guide friendly ships through the dangerous waters of the Waddenzee and the Zuiderzee. During the invasion and afterwards, her duties also included the ferrying of supplies, troops, messages and instructions to other British ships in the area. The Lutine must have known the area like the back of its hand – you might think!

HMS Lutine (Yarmouth)1
The south west view of 18th Century Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. Photo: Mostly Maps.

In late September of 1799, HMS Lutine was again back in Great Yarmouth and lay at anchor waiting, along with her Captain Lancelot Skynner, to receive further orders; normal practice of course. The Captain knew it would be a short respite but, in all honesty, expected the next voyage to be one of helping to relieve the backlog of passengers, mail and supplies that had stacked high as a direct result of the bad weather that had persisted during the summer, placing the British trade with the continent at a standstill. The regular packet boats had failed to arrive in Yarmouth for such a long time. This situation was compounded by the Government’s own blocking policy against some continental ports, leaving Cuxhaven, the only harbour reachable for the British.  All this had enormous economic consequences for both the British and the Hanoverian traders who were deprived of profits and caused the Hanover and London Exchanges to close down on several occasions whilst hostilities were in progress. Many Hamburg trade houses were, in fact, threatened with bankruptcy and the Bank of England felt obliged to support the Hamburg trade whilst ensuring that the British troops who were now on Dutch soil were payed. The Bank of Englan decided to send loads of money as a matter of urgency! This decision had a direct influence on the orders that were communicated to HMS Lutine. She would not be transporting troops and provisions, but gold bullion and coinage of considerable value! This also meant that the Lutine would not be pursuing any form of hostile action.

HMS Lutine (Capt Skynner_ National Portrait Gallery)1
Captain Lancelot Skynner. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

The destination for this valuable cargo was Hamburg, via the port of Cuxhaven, where the Lutine would drop anchor, unload and routinely return to Great Yarmouth to await yet further orders. Compared with the hectic battle-actions during the proceeding months, this voyage was expected to be more like a holiday cruise now that 30 passengers had also been booked on board, despite the Lutine being a ship of war and, supposedly, still required to be on active readiness. Clearly, normal procedure was being dispensed with, and bear in mind that these passengers were not common steerage class; most were, in fact of high standing including, as has been rumoured since, an element of European nobility in the mix. It was this concoction which guaranteed that, once everyone had settled comfortably aboard, spirits would rise and a pleasant party would ensue, safe in the knowledge that they would be cruising in comfort and not likely to be hostages of war.

HMS Lutine (A Magicienne-class frigate)1
HMS Lutine. A Magicienne-class frigate

On the other side of the social class system that existed at the time were those who were expected to work and know their place in the scheme of things. Amongst these were the Yarmouth fishermen who happened to be in close proximity to HMS Lutine and later expressed their surprise of what they had seen aboard and around the ship that night of the 8th of October – a ship of war no less  which was fully lit and with an animated party going on in the Captain’s cabin; their view was that it was absolutely unacceptable in times of war. They were also around to witness the final touches being made to loading the Lutine with ‘unidentifiable’ cargo which, unseen to their eyes, would be secured below as best it could, bearing in mind that the gold was apparently stored in flimsy casks bound with weak iron hoops and the silver in casks with wooden hoops.

If common sense prevailed during the planning and loading of this valuable cargo then, surely, it would not have been stowed amidships in the shot lockers, adjacent to the main-cable room, with cannon balls being placed on top for an element of security. Yes, the midship section with its cable-room and shot lockers did occupy a large space, but this was freely open to the crew by reason of the exigencies of service. It would have been difficult to justify the placing of such riches in such an exposed place. On the other hand, the after Magazine of a frigate was a carefully guarded room; so one must assume nowadays that either than compartment, or one of the divisions lying in the same after section of the ship would have been the likeliest place to hold valuables that called for continual surveillance.

In the early hours of the 9th of October 1799 HMS Lutine set sail from Great Yarmouth, taking a north-easterly course to the Northern islands of The Netherlands with the intention of changing course from there in a more easterly direction towards the Elbemouth. During the day the weather began to change for the worst and, in the evening, as the ship approached the Dutch islands, the wind turned into a strong gale that blew from a north-westerly direction. At about 11 PM, in complete darkness, the Lutine sailed under considerable speed on a half-wind course on to the outer banks west of Terschelling. The damage to the ship was considerable and the crew understood immediately that it was lost. The heavy breakers that develop on these banks in stormy weather, particular with Northerly winds, were known to be notorious. In just a few hours the HMS Lutine was totally wrecked, but within this time the crew managed to fire a few cannons and launch emergency rockets. These signals were noticed on the islands but such things were not really a surprise to the population – this was just another shipwreck in a long line of tragedies in the area between Terschelling and Vlieland. As it was, the difficult position of the ship, about 4 miles from the beach, together with the gale made immediate rescue impossible. The inevitable outcome was that all the crewmembers and passengers, totalling 270 souls, were drowned – except for one crewmember. He was found alive the next morning when the wind had eased off and rescue-ships had been able to approach the area of the wreck.

HMS Lutine (In Distress)1
HMS Lutine in distress. Photo: Wikipedia
HMS Lutine (Captain Porlock)1
Captain Porlock

Captain Portlock, commander of the English squadron at Vlieland wrote the Admiralty in London:

”Sir, It is with extreme pain that I have to state to you the melancholy fate of his majesty’s Ship Lutine, which ship ran onto the outer banks of the Fly Island Passage on the night of the 9th. Instant heavy gale of wind from the NNW and I am much afraid the crew except one man, which was saved from the wreck, have perished……This man when taken up was almost exhausted. He is of present tolerably recovered, and relates that the Lutine left Yarmouth Roads on the Morning of the 9th instant, bound to Texel, and she had on board Considerable quantity of Money…..”

Both the media of the day and the official conclusion of the British was that a heavy storm had caused the loss of the ship and, on that basis, Lloyd’s paid out a huge sum of insurance money. The case was closed, however, in the case of HMS Lutine, things were not as simple as they looked.

In 1997,  during the planning stage for a 200 year commemoration event on Terschelling and Vlieland the organisers revisited the subject of what really caused the Lutine tragedy; they did this by analysing past records and publications. It soon became evident that the story was far from complete. In fact, the relevant details about the shipwreck itself and the official enquiry that followed were remarkably limited in what was revealed; so much so that suspicions were inevitably raised. These suspicions were followed by the conclusion that the storm alone could not have caused the HMS Lutine to sink. The facts were these: – The ship herself was in a perfect state of maintenance, following a complete overall twelve months previously when even the rigging was renewed. Also, the crew was highly experienced, both in handling of the ship and in the navigation in the coastal waters of the Dutch and German islands. In fact, the area of the North Sea just off the Dutch coast had been a primary patrol-area for HMS Lutine before she became involved in the British and Russian invasion of the Netherlands. A storm such as the one which hit this ship, when sailing half-wind, was certainly not a problem for a large frigate; handling it would have been a routine procedure. The conclusion was that the cause of the accident was human failure.

HMS Lutine (Arrow)1
Captain Portlock’s ship  HMS Arrow. Photo: Wikipedia

Interest then fell on what the only survivor had to tell; surely this crown-witness would have been interviewed? But, not even his name could be found in the files.  The only item that was found was just a brief note in the Logbook of Captain Portlock of  HMS Arrow, the ship where the man was subsequently placed. It stated that the man had recovered with the help of the ships-surgeon and gave some information about the Lutine and her destination. But then the information stops, not even his name was mentioned. The relevant files of the Admiralty archives did indicate that a period of intensive correspondence started directly after the accident, this was between the Admiralty in London, Captain Portlock of HMS Arrow and the commander of the invasion-fleet Vice-Admiral Mitchell who was aboard the HMS Isis. But all their correspondence had been subsequently removed from the archives and no records of any further investigation, such as a court-martial, even existed. It seemed self-evident that the absence of such documents, which may have proved exactly what had happened aboard the Lutine leading up to its sinking, pointed to another cause which the authorities chose to hide? Did the only survivor have had an unpleasant story to tell, and could his account have shown that human error had caused the accident?

However, all was not lost in the 1997 investigation into the possible real cause which led to the sinking of HMS Lutine. A small, but valuable, piece of evidence came to light in the form of a Muster List of the HMS Isis no less; this list had recorded the names of newly arrived crewmembers. It also showed that on the 18th of October, nine days after the wreck of the HMS Lutine, a certain Able Seaman John Rogers, came aboard the Isis where the ships-clerk wrote a small note near his name: “from the Arrow, the late Lutine.  When compared with the last existing Muster List of HMS Lutine, it confirmed that not only had John Rogers sailed on the ship, but that he was also, up to that point, the only survivor of the Lutine’s sinking. Although this man’s legs had been seriously wounded, he had been kept on HMS Isis for an exorbitant length of time. Then, when the invasion-campaign was over and the Isis had returned to British waters, in January 1800, this man was sent to the Hospital ship Spanker. However, after treatment he was still not allowed to go ashore but was placed on HMS Grana, moored near Sheerness. Thereafter he disappeared silently from the records and was never heard of again! Someone, or other, seemed to have kept him out of sight and far away from the media of the day. Was it possible that his story would have embarrass the Admiralty and proved negligence for which they would have been responsible. If that had been the case, Lloyd’s would have refused to pay out the insurance money. Then, there were the drowned passengers! Among them was the group of high-standing civilians and nobility from England, France and Luxembourg. One would think that, had the Admiralty been to blame, the relatives of those drowned would have demanded some degree of satisfaction for their losses.

Immediately after the wreckage salvage actions were organised by the Captains of the nearby moored British warships, the Arrow, Swinger and Pelter.  They were not the alone. Dutch fisherman also showed much interest, considering the note in the Logbook of the Swinger on the 11th of October: “Sent the Cutter manned and armed with Lieut. Braddel to the wreck to Prevent the Dutch from Robbing Her”. During the few weeks that the English ships stayed near the islands all kind of objects was salvaged from the wreck, like weapons and food. Remarkably however was that nothing is said about the gold or silver.

What happened next was an exercise in salvage and sophisticated reclamation of assets – or, if you like, wrecking – which still attracts scholars to this day. To think that all this started as soon as the vessel hit the seabed and the bed began to eat her up, piling sand up around her and for the coming decades that remained the pattern – the ship being revealed and reburied, revealed and reburied as the sands moved around her. Several companies and groups have made attempts to salvage the cargo. Some have been lucky and some have failed. They were all after a treasure which some have estimated as being as much as ₤10.000.000. If true, then there must still be a huge fortune at the bottom of the IJzergat.

But what then is the difficulty? In such a place, wind, tide and everlasting currents can play freely with everything. In no time at all following the sinking, the Lutine’s remains had been covered with sand and nothing in the Waddenzee ever keeps its position, so the ship was really lost – for a long long time. Modern archaeological research has showed that, within a few hours after the ship ran aground, the rear part of the hull broke off and drifted away, with wind and currents in south-easterly direction, crossed the Ijzergat channel and ran aground again on the banks on the south side. The attention of the first salvers was directed to the main-section of the ship and so the rear-end of the ship was left alone and forgotten. The fact that all the gold and silver bars and most of the coinage so far recovered have been found buried about the remains of the Lutine’s stern, bearing out the belief that the its treasure had, indeed, been originally housed in the Magazine – or nearby. Maybe, at this very moment, new excavations are under way? If so then those undertaking the most recent salvage will be armed with the knowledge that ‘special‘ cargoes were usually stored in the rear section of these old sailing ships. It should not come as a surprise when some shiny bars eventually surface in the not too distant future. Perhaps then, we will finally witness the end of this story.

FOOTNOTE:
Anyone familiar with Lloyd’s of London, the insurance underwriting exchange, may also be familiar with this chap, or more specifically the thing he is ringing:

Lloyds of London Image Portfolio Feb2011
“Lloyd’s building Lutine Bell” by Lloyd’s of London – Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

That is the Lutine Bell, in the Underwriting Room. Traditionally, it was rung to announce the fate of a ship which had been late at its destination port. If the ship had arrived safely, the bell was rung twice; if it was sunk, it was rung once, to immediately stop the sale of any further reinsurance on the downed vessel by unscrupulous insiders. These days, the two rings mean there is a distinguished visitor to Lloyd’s. One ring is used to note events or anniversaries, such as Remembrance Day.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.cii.co.uk/media/581215/weerdt.pdf
http://www.allaboutshipping.co.uk/2012/10/16/hms-lutine-treasure-and-salvage/
http://www.riddleofthesands.net/wordpress/2015/09/29/isnt-there-the-wreck-of-a-treasure-ship-somewhere-farther-west/
www.scribeweekly.com/de%20lutine.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Lutine_(1779)
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pumping-gold-bullion-from-the-sea/

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Norfolk Militia Omnibus

Overview:

During periods of war, Britain has long relied on soldiers on home soil to ease the fear of invasion. As far back as Anglo-Saxon times, able-bodied men were bound to serve in a militia army, called the fyrd, mobilised usually as a reaction to raids by Vikings. The fyrd comprised a core of experienced soldiers supplemented by ordinary villagers and farmers. Its function was to defend local lands from invaders. They were not full-time fighters, but bound to serve when the king needed them. Men could be fined if they neglected service in the fyrd on being called up.

Norfolk Militia (Battle of Hastings)
King Harold’s army at the Battle of Hastings (1066) included the fyrd. Photo Copyright: National Army Museum.

The decay of feudal life in Britain during the 16th and 17th centuries led to a rise in mercenary soldiers who could be paid to fight. This might have meant that locally conscripted civilian militiamen no longer played a part in defence. But the British Civil Wars (1639-52), and the reign and deposition of King James II in 1688, showed that a centralised army could be used as an instrument of royal tyranny or political revolution. The part-time militia was preserved as a counter to a small professional army that had to be sanctioned by Parliament. It became an increasingly important institution in civilian life. The Militia Act of 1757 transformed these men further into a better-trained and better-equipped national force, organised by county.

The Militia was very much local in character. Militia officers were gentlemen chosen by the local landowner and the ordinary militia soldiers were local farmers, tradesmen and labourers. These were conscripted by ballot from their own communities – unless they could produce a substitute – to serve for five years.

Norfolk Militia (Knapsack 1795)
Militia knapsack, about 1795. Copyright; National Army Museum
A knapsack was among the 60-odd pounds of equipment carried by soldiers at this time. It was in these sacks, tied with leather straps, that the men carried their kit. This included items such as shirts, spare shoes, stockings, brushes, a button stick, comb, pen, ink, black ball, pipe clay, and tent pegs.
The design of this piece of equipment changed over time. Until the introduction of the famous ‘Trotter’ black lacquered knapsack, designed by Thomas Trotter of Soho Square in 1805, troops carried a canvas version on their backs, supported by straps (from 1790 to 1805). This canvas type was still worn by militia men who had joined line regiments in the 1815 campaigns.
As in this example, the number of the regiment or volunteer unit to which the wearer belonged was inscribed on the front flap of the knapsack. This one has a badge on a red background including the cypher of King George III, crown and thistles, encircled by the name of the 10th Regiment North Bristol Militia.

Uniforms and weapons were provided and regiments were assembled for training and to deal with civil disturbance. The sheer number of eligible men obliged to serve in the militia meant that many more ordinary civilians had experience of military service than they do today

End of compulsion:

Although muster rolls were prepared as late as 1820, compulsory obligation to serve in the Militia was abandoned in the early 19th century. Those who joined would return to their day jobs after initial training, subsequently reporting only for extra instruction and the two-week camp every year. There was never an obligation for Militia to serve overseas like regular soldiers sent on active service, and for all ranks it was a relatively soft option in comparison. However, the Militia still appealed to agricultural labourers and men in casual occupations who could leave their civilian job and pick it up again. And the pay they received could be a useful top-up of their usual wages.

The Militia Act of 1757:

Norfolk Militia (Officer 1759)
Officer of the Norfolk Militia, 1759 Photo:WikiVisually 

The Seven Years’ War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The Militia Act of 1757, passed at an early stage of the Seven Years War, enabled part-time reserve forces to be raised in each County of the British Isles. Each Lord Lieutenant was to command the Militia of his County and recruiting was the responsibility of him and his deputy lieutenants. Each County was to provide a given quota of men according to its population.  The men were chosen by ballot in each parish and had to serve for three years or they could provide substitutes or compound for a monetary payment, and there were various exemptions. The Act replaced earlier less-formal arrangements and led to better records being kept, and the men were selected by ballot to serve for longer periods. Proper uniforms and better weapons were provided, and the force was ’embodied’ from time to time for training sessions.

In effect, Militias were formed to be the “Home Guard” for the British Isles should there be an attack by foreign powers….notably the French. While this was the “primary” reason for the Militia’s existence, it was no doubt thought that in times of civil unrest, the Militia could be used to put down any pro-revolutions by the population. For this reason, most militia rarely served in the area in which they were raised so as not to be put in the situation of shooting their friends, neighbours and family. There were cavalry and artillery militia but most numerous were the infantry militia where a soldier was not required to serve overseas. Despite this ruling, the lure of adventure and ‘possible’ riches made many join up with the regular Line Regiments; indeed, roughly half the recruits for the Army came from the ranks of the Militia.

Norfolk’s Contribution:

Norfolk Militia (Edward_Russell, 1st Earl of Orford)
Admiral of the Fleet Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford.

In 1758 the Admiral of the Fleet, Edward Russell,  1st Earl of Orford put the “Act for the better regulating of the Militia” into effect and The Norfolk Militia was the first regiment to be formed under the Bill of 1757. It comprised of the 1st Battalion Western Regiment of the Norfolk Militia (West Norfolk Militia) under the command of Lord George Townshend and the 2nd Battalion Eastern Regiment of the Norfolk Militia (East Norfolk Militia) under the command of Sir Armine Wodehouse. Their Colonel in Chief was  the 1st Earl of Orford who set the total number of men to serve in the regiment at 960, with the city of Norwich providing 151. These men were detailed to exercise once a fortnight for three years.

The West Norfolk Militia:

Norfolk Militia ( Geo. Townsend)
George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, first Colonel of the 1st Battalion Western Regiment of the Norfolk Militia (West Norfolk Militia).

In the book called ‘The Norfolk Assembly’ Ketton-Crèmer of Felbrigg Hall quotes Lady Townshend as saying ‘My Lord is at Dereham with his Militia playing soldiers’. He used Raynham Park to review his West Norfolk Militia.

Norfolk Militia (Raynham Park)2
View of Raynham Hall showing medieval building and stables on the left, the Hall in the distance and St Mary’s Church on the right. Photo: Copyright of Charles, Viscount Raynham, (Charles George Townshend).
Norfolk Militia (Raynham Park)
Raynham Park, Norfolk. Photo: Courtesy of Francis Frith
Norfolk Militia (Musician)
A musician of the West Norfolk Militia, and the only known image of a West Norfolk Militia uniform in the public domain By Unknown – Antique print., Public Domain, Photo: Wikipedia

West Norfolk Militia Snippets:

In 1850 the Reverend Benjamin Armstrong was made vicar of the considerable parish of Dereham in Norfolk. In his diary he mentions that the West Norfolk (Dereham Volunteers) held their first outdoor display in the Vicarage grounds in May. Families were invited and four tents which had been used in the Crimea in 1854/5 were erected for the benefit of the ladies. Two bands played at intervals and there were military movements, bugling, running, kneeling and firing.

In June 1859 a public meeting was held in the Corn Hall, Dereham, for the formation of a Dereham Rifle Volunteer Corps. The Reverend Armstrong made a short speech urging people to join. About thirty men did, the eldest an elderly fat banker of 70 years, and the youngest a seventeen-year-old.  They were kitted out in a grey uniform. The Corps met regularly to drill and exercise. The following June the Queen reviewed no less than 30,000 Volunteer Rifles in Hyde Park, London. This was to give a warning that an invasion would meet with strong resistance.

Norfolk Militia (Rev. Benjamin Armstrong)
The Reverend Benjamin Armstrong.

The Dereham contingent continued to work hard and helped to put on a Subscription Concert the following November. It was recorded that the hall was full and the Dereham Rifles’ fife and drum band was a great attraction. In September they attended a review of 2,000 volunteers at Holkham Hall, hosted by Lord Leicester, who dined the whole force and 500 private guests too.

About this time competition was starting between the Corps of Dereham and Wymondham and in April 1862 a Rifle Match was staged at Swanton, which Dereham lost. As the day was windy it was said it was chancy shooting anyway! There was a Grand Entertainment given to the volunteers at Letton Hall, where a vast crowd assembled. 150 volunteers sat down to a dinner under a tent and speeches were given. Social events were held to raise money for needy volunteers.

It was a red-letter day when the Dereham Volunteers marched with the Reverend Armstrong to the railway station to form a Guard of Honour for the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Queen of Denmark who were en route to Costessey Hall.

Norfolk Militia (West Norfolk Button)
1st or West Norfolk Militia Victorian Officer’s silvered tunic buttons.

Thorpe Rail Disaster, 1874

Two serving members of the West Norfolk Militia, Sgt Major Frederick Cassell and Sgt Robert Ward, are recorded to have been killed in the Thorpe Rail Accident whilst returning from a fishing trip. Their bodies were recovered and they were buried with full military honours. Robert Ward had previously been part of the Coldstream Guards.

Norfolk Militia (Rail Accident 1874)

Both the two Norfolk Militias were recognised as being the first to offer to “march wherever they might be most serviceable to the public defence.” Consideration was also given by King George II “that every mark of his Royal Favour should be shown to this Corps” and that they “should be distinguished by the title of Militia Royal”.

Norfolk Militia (Wodehouse)
Sir Armine Wodehouse MP for Norfolk, Colonel of the 2nd Battalion Eastern Regiment of the Norfolk Militia (East Norfolk Militia), at a Review of his Regiment near Norwich,  4th June1759.

It was on the 4th June 1759 when the East Norfolk section of the Norfolk Militia, comprising of 1 Colonel, 1 Lt. Colonel, 1 Major, 11 Captains, 11 Lieutenants, 8 Ensigns, 1 Adjutant, 24 Sergeants, 24 drummers and 466 rank and file, was reviewed by the Earl of Orford on Magdalen Fairstead, just outside Norwich. The event was reported in the press at the time, with the conduct of the men being praised and a statement that the unit could now be ready to march given four days’ notice. Then on Wednesday 4 July 1759 both battalions did just that by marching from Norwich to Portsmouth barracks, to accept orders from Major General Holmes. They marched via Beccles, Ipswich, Colchester, Islington, and Petersfield and arrived at Portsmouth on Tuesday 24 July. During the march, they were reviewed by King George II at Kensington Palace. Then, due to the day-time heat, they again set off soon after midnight, when they were described as being in good spirits.

Norfolk Militia (East Norfolk Button)
2nd or East Norfolk Militia Victorian Officer’s silvered tunic button Scalloped rim, crowned title strap, castle over lion centrally. Approx 24 mm VGC Shank Firmin & Sons 153 Strand London.

By August of that year the two Militias were alternately guarding prisoners-of-war and undergoing training exercises. It was also in 1759, when “A Plan of Discipline Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk” was published by William Wyndham of Felbrigg & Lord George Townshend. This text, written for the use of officers in this English rural militia unit, went on to become one of the most important drill manuals employed during the American Revolution.

From 1759 onwards, The Norfolk Militia moved around the country; they were quartered in Cirencester on 5 July 1760, but moved back to guard prisoners in Norfolk in July. On 28 May 1761 King George awarded the two battalions of the Norfolk Militia a “Warrant for Colours”. In November the East Norfolk Militia was ordered to Fakenham, then to remain at Wells and Walsingham for the duration of the Fakenham Fair.

Ireland:

In September 1798 all of the officers and most of the rank and file volunteered for service in Ireland during the Rebellion. Eight hundred men of the West Norfolk Militia were serving in Ireland in 1815 and 1816, and aspects of this were dramatised in the writings of George Borrow‘s book Lavengro.

The Norfolk Militia’s Connection with Norman Cross:

Norfolk Militia (Norman_Cross_painting)
A painting of Norman Cross c1797. Photo: Wikipedia.

Norman Cross lies near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire but traditionally is in Huntingdonshire, it gave its name to a Hundred and lies near the junction of the A1 and A15 roads. It was the site of the world’s first purpose-built prisoner-of-war camp or “Depot” built during the Napoleonic Wars by the Navy. At the time, the Royal Navy Transport Board was responsible for the care of prisoners of war. When Sir Ralph Abercromby communicated in 1796 that he was transferring 4,000 prisoners from the West Indies, the Board began the search for a site for a new prison. The site at Norman Cross was chosen because it was on the Great North Road only 76 miles (122 km) from London and was deemed far enough from the coast that escaped prisoners could not flee back to France. The site had a good water supply and close to sufficient local sources of food to sustain many thousands of prisoners and the guards. Work commenced in December 1796 with much of the timber building prefabricated in London and assembled on site. 500 carpenters and labourers worked on the site for 3 months. The cost of construction was £34,581 11s 3d.

The Norfolk Militia became heavily involved in the transit of prisoners from Yarmouth to the Norman Cross camp, the operation of which included Lieutenant Thomas Borrow of the West Norfolk Militia, who was the father of author George Borrow. Thomas Borrow was quartered at Norman Cross from July 1811 to April 1813 and young George spent his ninth and tenth years in the barracks there.

In October of 1799, whilst escorting French prisoners of war from Yarmouth to Norman Cross, the East Norfolk Militia locked up their prisoners for the night and safe keeping in the Bell tower of St Nicholas Church in Dereham – apparently, this was a regular occurrence during such a duty. On this occasion however, an officer by the name of Jean De Narde, the 28-year old  son of a notary from St. Malo, managed to escape from the church. Finding that the Militia had set guards around the perimeter of the Church he climbed an oak hoping that his absence would pass unnoticed and that the party would leave without him, thus allowing him to make good his escape. Unfortunately for De Narde, the Militia, realising that they were missing a prisoner conducted a search of the locality and the Frenchman was spotted – thanks to him leaving his legs dangling from the tree. The Sergeant, who was told to get the Frenchman down, called on De Narde to surrender. Now, whether the prisoner did not understand English or that he did not even realise that he had been discovered, stayed where he was. Unfortunately, as events turned out, the Sergeant shot the Frenchman out of the tree, killing him instantly. The local population were apparently ashamed by this action and thought this deed to be one of unnecessary cruelty, according to the Parish Priest at the time, the Reverend Benjamin John Armstrong . Eventually a monument was raised to the unfortunate De Narde and the family in St Malo informed of his fate.

Norfolk Militia (Jean De Narde's Grave in Dereham Churchyard)
Jean De Narde’s Grave in the Graveyard of St Nicholas Church, Dereham. Photo: Dereham History.
The memorial reads…….
In memory of Jean De Narde,
Son of a Notary Public of St. Malo;
A French prisoner of war, who, having escaped from the Bell tower of this church, was pursued and shot by a soldier on duty, October 6th, 1799, aged 28 years.
The back of the memorial reads: –
This memorial of his untimely fate has been erected by the Vicar, and two friends who accompanied him on a visit to Paris, as a tribute of courtesy to a brave and generous nation, once our foes, but now our allies and brethren. October, Ainsi soit-it (So be it) 1857.

STORY 1

On the 11th June in 1804, the Royal Artillery, two troops of the 1st Dragoons, 24th Regiment of Foot, Colonel Patterson’s Battalion, the City of Norwich, Regiment of Volunteers (on permanent duty) and the Riffle Corps, had a sham fight at Bramerton; one party (as English) marched by Trowse, and the other (as French) by Thorpe to Postwick grove, and crossed the Yare on floating bridges, formed by wherries placed alongside each other and planked over. The troops were in motion at 6 am.

The representation of an action was on a very extensive scale. The English, of course, were victorious, and were regaled with several barrels of porter and marched back to Norwich. The vanquished returned to Postwick grove where their spirits were ‘recruited’ with brown stout. They then returned to the City about 4.30pm. The concourse of spectators in carriages, on horseback and on foot, was immense.

Norfolk Militia (1822)2

The Volunteer Infantry and Rifle Corps had been formed two years earlier at a public meeting held in the Guildhall, for the purpose of conforming to the regulations of the Acts for the Defence of the Realm.

(The Norfolk and Norwich Remembrancer, Matchett and Stevenson, 1822

Invasion Threat:

Militia units were fully assembled – or embodied – on a permanent footing during the Wars of the French Revolution (1793-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15). During these periods, troops were stationed at strategic locations, especially along the south coast to allay the fear of French invasion. It was in 1805, after Britain had declared war on France on 18 May 1803, when Napoleon did, in fact, turn his attention to invading England and, in preparation, started to assemble an expeditionary force at Boulogne. With the British Isles threatened, the Norfolk Militia were ordered to join the Southern District (Sussex), which covered Kent east of the river Cray and Holwood Hill; Sussex; and Tilbury Fort in Essex. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) was General Sir David Dundas who directed that the East and West Norfolk Militia regiments be placed, along with the Nottinghamshire Regiment of Militia, into the Infantry Brigade of Major General Alexander Mackenzie Fraser whose headquarters were in Winchelsea. The 712 men of the West Norfolk Militia (under Lt. Col. George Nelthorpe) and 698 men of the East Norfolk Militia (under Lt. Col. George Berney Brograve Bt.) were barracked at Clifford Camp.

Norfolk Militia (East Norfolk Colours)
Ensign and colour sergeant with colours of the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment. 1813 illustration. (Photo: copyright owner unknown – see Notice below.)

East Norfolk Militia Snippets:

Following declaration of Peace, the Norfolk Militia was disembodied at Great Yarmouth in 1814, and was not called out again until 1820. Then, in April 1853, 612 men of the West Norfolk Militia, under Col. the Earl of Orford, mustered in Norwich at the Swan Hotel. During this muster they were subjected to verbal attacks by members of the Peace Society and “Liberals”. On the same date, 571 enrolled in the East Norfolk Militia assembled at Great Yarmouth under Colonel the Hon. Berkeley Wodehouse. It was noted that:

“Their appearance was much more respectable than might have been expected, and many of those who were prepared to ridicule them acknowledged that they were a much better class than they expected”.

Again in 1853, an order for the provision of Militia barracks at Great Yarmouth was issued. The intention was to base all three regiments of the Norfolk Militia at Great Yarmouth, but on February 25 this order was rescinded, and it was agreed that:

“…..the present Committee be empowered to receive estimates and tenders for building barracks for one regiment of Militia at Norwich, and for one regiment of Militia and one regiment of artillery at Yarmouth, on such plans as they may think best suited for the purpose.”

This was followed on 16 May 1854 with the East Norfolk Militia being presented with new colours, and these were still being carried in 1898. These colours were presented at a public ceremony held on South Denes, Great Yarmouth, that was attended by 10,000 persons, including civic dignitaries. The day concluded with a ball held at the Town Hall, which had been decorated with the new colours, mirrors and stars formed of bayonets. In 1853 it was noted that the government intended to convert the Board of Ordnance store (an arsenal) at Yarmouth to create the Gorleston Barracks; the site was originally designed by James Wyatt and built in 1806 to supply Royal Navy ships anchored off Great Yarmouth during the Napoleonic Wars. This facility was converted into army barracks to accommodate the Prince of Wales Own Norfolk Artillery Militia in 1853. This regiment comprised of two field officers, 15 sergeants and 408 men of the East Norfolk Militia. The old Great Yarmouth barracks having been converted into an Admiralty hospital.

In 1856, the East Norfolk Militia, comprising of 1 Major, 13 officers, 3 sergeants and 415 men left Great Yarmouth by train, travelling to an encampment at Colchester. At Colchester railway station they were met by the band of the Royal Essex Rifles. On April 23 all the units at Colchester, including the East Norfolk Militia, were reviewed by Prince Albert, but by June 4 orders were issued for the East Norfolk Militia to return to Great Yarmouth for disembodiment. In the same month, the left wing of the West Norfolk Militia returned to Norwich from Fermoy, County Cork; with the right wing reaching the city on the 26th.

On 20 May 1861, the East Norfolk Militia were involved in a serious military riot at Yarmouth, against men of the Royal Artillery. It was reported in the Norfolk Chronicle that this riot included the use of belts and stones, and that 200 Artillerymen, armed with swords and knives issued from the arsenal, had to be prevented from joining the fight by “persuasion and threats”. The report also said that officers from both corps were involved in ending the riot, and that guards had to be placed on the bridge to keep the Artillery out of Yarmouth and the Militia from crossing into Southtown.

The Norfolk Artillery Militia were granted barracks in All Saints Green, Norwich from around 1860, these consisting of Ivory House, a parade ground and stables. These barracks remained in use until the late 1920s.

Norfolk Militia (3rd Volunteer Battalion 1861)
Oil on canvas by Claude Lorraine Nursey (1820-1873), 1864. Copyright National Army Museum.
Administrative battalions were formed mainly in rural areas, to provide Staff and headquarters facilities for widely scattered Volunteer units. This particular unit was formed in 1861, and in 1883 became the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment.
The painting depicts the battalion encamped at Gunton Park in Norfolk, the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lord Suffield’s family seat.
Norfolk Militia (Gunton Park)
Gunton Park, Norfolk. (Photo: copyright owner unknown – see Notice below.)

The Prince of Wales became Honorary Colonel of the Artillery Militia in 1871, and the Great Yarmouth Assembly Rooms became frequently used as the Officer’s Mess, whilst artillery practice was conducted on South Denes. In 1883 Lt. Colonel Lord Suffield and Major Edward Southwold Trafford purchased the building on behalf of the Artillery Militia, and the building remained under the Militia’s ownership until 1918 after which it became a Masonic Lodge.

Norfolk Militia (P of W reviewing troops)2
Period print of the Prince of Wales reviewing the Norfolk Artillery Militia at Great Yarmouth, June 1872. (Photo: copyright owner unknown – see Notice below.)

In 1880 the unit was renamed the 1st Norfolk Artillery Volunteers, then 2nd Brigade Eastern District Royal Artillery (Prince of Wales’ Own Norfolk Militia Artillery) in 1882 and, in 1902, becoming the 1st Norfolk Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers).

In 1901, during the Second Anglo-Boer War, five officers and 134 Other Ranks from the Prince of Wales’s Own Norfolk Royal Garrison Artillery (Militia) were sent to Cape Town, from which they were split up for garrison duty on armoured trains Wasp, Challenger, Bulldog and Blackhat, among other duties including Military Intelligence and escort duties for the Royal Engineers. The Special Service Company of the Militia was commanded by Colonel Thomas Coke, 3rd Earl of Leicester, who had served in the Scots Guards until 1892.

Uniform:

The uniform of the East Norfolk Militia was scarlet turned up with black. An early sketch by Lord Townshend, published in “A Plan of Discipline Composed for the Use of the Militia of the County of Norfolk” in 1759, shows a Private wearing a simple uniform of cocked hat, jacket, breeches and shoes worn without gaiters. A cross belt and waist belt, with bayonet, are worn over the single-breasted jacket, with the latter secured by a single button close to the collar, two at the chest and three at the waist.

Long boots were discontinued, except for mounted officers, on 12 April 1814. On 22 June 1820 epaulettes, buttons and ornaments of dress were changed from gold to silver, although serving officers were permitted to retain their old style of uniform unless called on for actual service. In January 1831 the old uniform was finally discontinued, with orders that all uniforms must meet the latest King’s Regulations and include black velvet and silver epaulettes.

Gold lace was restored to the East Norfolk Militia on 5 June 1882, at the same time as the badge of the then 4th Battalion Norfolk Regiment was changed from the castle and lion to the figure of Britannia.

STORY 2

On the 7th October 1859, as part of the great Volunteer Movement that started in Norwich in that year, the first muster of the Norwich Rifle Corps Club with 22 men present. Three companies were formed, the Mayor’s, the Sheriff’s and Mr Gurney’s. Many in the Quaker community were hesitant to join but stipulated that ‘on no account could they be called from Norwich except in the actual case of invasion or rebellion.’

Norfolk Militia (1822)1
(Photo: copyright owner unknown – see Notice below.)

The uniform consisted of a ‘grey cloth tunic with black mohair braid and buttons down the centra, with a low, upright collar…….this was surmounted by a shako of hair-cloth of the same colour, with a plume like a shaving brush, and……a black patent leather waist belt with pouch bags’ Officers carried a sword in a steel scabbard with brown whistle and chain. The Government later provided the Corps with long Enfield rifles, with which to practice on Mousehold Heath. By the there were 1,200 volunteers who were inspected by the Lord Lieutenant of the County; standing in long lines of grey, the ‘rank and file from various social grades from bank clerks down to those of weekly wage-earners.’

(Mottram, R. H., Portrait of an Unknown Victorian, Robert Hale & Co., 1936.)

TO BE CONTINUED

Sources:
http://www.derehamhistory.com/norfolk-militia.html
http://www.derehamhistory.com/jean-de-narde—1799.html
https://eastnorfolkmilitia.webs.com/themilitia.htm
http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Norfolk_Militia
https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Militia_(Great_Britain)
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/
https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/civilian-soldiers
http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Gorleston_Barracks
ttps://joemasonspage.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/the-revd-benjamin-armstrong/
Feature Photograph: The Genealogist

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

 

A Ghostly Tale: The Weybourne Whistler!

There is an old and, some have thought, strange tale relating to the shingled beach at Weybourne; it is that it is haunted.

Weybourne Whistler (Turner Painting)
Smugglers: After JMW Turner’s “Folkstone From The Sea circa 1822-24.                        A party of English smugglers is shown receiving barrels of illegal gin from French sailors. An operation routinely carried out under the cover of nightfall is exposed by a sunrise which has arrived too early for the miscreants. A boat of the Coast Blockade—initiated in 1816 to combat smuggling—approaches from the right. The men are trying to sink the barrels on ropes for later retrieval. The paired light sources of moon and sun fuse the atmosphere of the painting into an ethereal whole. Photo: Tate Gallery© Tate 2013. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
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This haunting, if that is what it is, takes the form of a persistent whistling sound, which is be heard out on the foreshore just as dusk is descending – particularly on nights when the moon is full.  The whistle is not random or casual but sounds more like the sort of signal given by a person who is trying to attract someone’s attention.  You may well think that this form of distress call is quite normal from anyone seeking help; but you would be of a different mind if anyone ever suggested that no earthly lips were making this sound. But, many have said in the past that this is so!

The fact is, a moon’s glow is sufficient to see if anyone is on Weybourne beach who could be making this whistle; if it’s only you there and you hear it then there is a puzzle to be explained away. Some people have tried and even attempted to track down the source of this whistling, assuming at the outset that it may be someone in difficulty in the surf – but, to date, no one has ever been found. Then there are the locals, the ones who should know; a few of them have, in the past, described being right on top of the spot where the whistle is coming from and, even they, have still not been able to see anyone; but, of course, there have been a few exceptions in the past – the privileged few!

Some of these have indeed reported that after the whistling had gone on for a while, and then stopped, they had seen the vague outline of a man on the edge of the beach, where the sea strokes the shingle.  Fully clothed in what appeared to be old-fashioned clothing, he appeared to have roamed along the foreshore whilst staring out to further reaches of the water. But, then he just vanished before anyone could go to investigate closer what appeared to be an apparition. The moment this ghostly image disappeared, the whistling recommenced, but it has always been impossible to pin-point its exact source.

Weybourne Whistler (Smuggler)3

Local legend has it, that it is the ghost of John Smythe who was a smuggler from long, long ago. It is said that one night, when the moon was full, he and his fellow crew mates came ashore at Weybourne to replenish their provisions, something they had done frequently in the past. On this occasion John Smythe, who was very, very friendly with the daughter of the local inn’s landlord, told the rest of the men that he would meet them back at shore at a slightly later time than had previously been the case.  But despite this extension to his time away, John Smythe was to lose track of time which, understandably, would have been caused by the extent to which he and his young girl were, shall we say, ‘improving further’ their relationship. However, unbeknown to Smythe, the Custom’s men had been alerted to the presence of the smugglers and had made haste to Weybourne to try to catch them before they returned to their ship. At the same time, the smugglers who were there to pick up provisions, learnt of this entrapment and, together, hurried back to the beach and their boat.  When aboard, they waited just off shore for Smythe, who they had not been able to locate before their hasty departure.  But time was slipping away beyond the moment when Smythe should have returned; and still there was no sign of him. Understandably, they assumed that he had been captured and so began to row away from the shoreline and out to their ship.

Weybourne Whistler (Smuggler)2

As for the Custom’s men, they had not realised that their prey had already fled and hid themselves amongst the sand dunes and waited. Within a short while, John Smythe approached the rendezvous, hurrying down to where the rowing boat had been left, but all he could see were tracks leading out into the water’s edge. In the dim twilight he managed to pick out the rowing boat making its way out to the ship. Being, somewhat a cautious man for a smuggler, he began to whistle for his mates’ attention, which in itself was rather strange since both methods of signalling for help would attract attention. This problem was compounded by the fact that the tide had turned and the sea was on its way in – and coming in fast!

On hearing Smythe’s whistle the custom men sprang from their hiding place and ran towards him. He, in turn, decided to take his chances in the sea rather than be captured; bad choice for, unfortunately as was normally the case in those days, Smythe did not know how to swim.  Nevertheless, his decision to wade out into deeper water was in the hope that his fellow smugglers would see him and return to rescue him. In doing this, he knew that the Custom’s men would not follow because they too could not swim. They remained on the foreshore, witnesses to Smythe’s whistling as he ventured further away from their grasp.

Weybourne Whistler (Drowning)1

John Smythe waded out from a beach that drops steeply; the sea quickly rose higher and higher. What happened next will probably never be known but somehow he must have lost his footing or perhaps the current was so strong that it swept him off his feet; whatever the reason, he disappeared below the waves and drowned; the last sight of John Smythe was his one remaining outstretched hand trailing his body below, a body that was never to be recovered.

Weybourne Whistler (Beach at Evening
Weybourne Beach, Norfolk (c) Jacob Kenworthy

THE END

Sources:

http://traveltorecovery.com/north-norfolk-haunted/
http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/the-nine-spookiest-spots-in-north-norfolk-1-4286337
http://escapetoexplore.co.uk/myths/ml_ghostwhistle.htm
Photos: Google Images,
Photo: Folkestone from the Sea © Tate 2013. https://www.tate.org.uk/about-us/policies-and-procedures/creative-commons-licences-tate
Feature Photo: A Sea Ghost, 1887 by George Frederick Watts:
https://www.1st-art-gallery.com/George-Frederick-Watts/A-Sea-Ghost-1887.html

FOOT NOTICE

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

Horsford’s Little Hero.

In the graveyard of All Saints Church in Horsford, Norfolk lies a very young person of mystery who clearly had received a heroes burial from those who thought highly of him. One may well ask what his qualities might have been in life and what had he done to deserve such a place in the memories of others. His gravestone, name and inscription raises so many questions but few answers. In this day and age one can only speculate!

All we have is the inscription on his headstone. It tells us clearly that his name was John Pirsins, he was 13 years old and he had died from wounds received at the Battle of Camperdown which took place on 11th October 1797. John Pirsins had survived, and presumably suffered, for five weeks before giving in to the inevitable. His gravestone states the following:

All Saints Church, Horsford 093
Sacred to the memory of John Pirsins aged 13 years who died the 18th Day of November 1797 in consequence of the wounds he received on board His Majesty’s Ship Triumph the 11th of October in the action fought between the British and Bativian fleets off Camperdown. This stone is erected by his messmates as a tribute due to his early valour.

Where does one start in trying to identify this young lad and his circumstances. For a start, take his name – John Pirsins. In the 18th century, one in four seamen were apparently named ‘John’, this may have been their baptismal name or the one the authorities or mates would bestow in the absence of a known name. Then there is the surname which is a rare, so rare that one may well construe that it came about in error. How come is the obvious question? Well – John, let’s assume this to be correct, appears to have been a rural lad from the heart of the Norfolk countryside and he left home to join the British Navy. Literacy, at the time, was not a strong point in either area of occupation, so when it came to registering one’s name, the presence of illiteracy, local dialects and unclear pronunciation came into play: “Name”. “John Parsons (Pirsins) Sir” Who knows, but the surname stuck!

Did John Pirsins really come from the lower classes, or did he have connections with a higher status from where favours were often bestowed on family members and friends? Take the the quality of the gravestone as another faint clue. It is clear that the stone, and the skill required to inscribe it, would not have come cheap. Whilst it is commendable that more than a few of his mess-mates had, apparently, rallied round to find the money to erect such a monument in his honour, one wonders if they, in turn, were helped by a sponsor? Did this someone, as a possible favour to his parents, also have taken John on board ship as, maybe, an officer’s servant with intentions for him to be trained as an able seaman if not midshipman? – just like Horatio Nelson some 25 years earlier. But then, if all this was true then would not his surname and connections be better known today? Crucially, does any of this fit? Did John Pirsins enlist on his own volition because he wanted an adventure? Where did he join his first ship and at what level was he recruited? Two options stand out – did he become a Cabin Boy and/or a Powder Monkey?

Horsford Hero (Cabin Boy)1
18th Century Cabin Boy undertaking one of his many duties aboard ship.

As Cabin Boy, he just about fitted the criteria with regard to his age. In this role he would have been expected to undertake a variety of day-to-day duties; these would have included waiting on the officers and passengers of a ship and especially running errands for the captain. He would also have been expected to help the cook in the ship’s galley and carry buckets of food to the forecastle where the ordinary seamen ate. Then there was running from one end of the ship to the other carrying messages and becoming familiar with the sails, lines and ropes and the use of each in all sorts of weather – and that was not all. He would have had to be able to scramble up the rigging into the yards whenever the sails had to be trimmed and occasionally stand watch, like other crewmen, or act as helmsman in good weather and holding the wheel to keep the ship steady on her course. Then, in times of battle, he may well have been expected to undertake the role of ‘Powder Monkey’.

As a powder monkey, or powder boy, John Pirsins would not have held any official naval rank but would have been employed to man naval artillery guns as a member of a warship’s crew. His chief role would be to ferry gunpowder from the powder magazine in the ship’s hold to the artillery pieces, either in bulk or as cartridges; this practice was designed to minimise the risk of fires and explosions. One can assume that he would have been selected for the job for his both his speed and height. If so, then John Pirsins was a short individual, in order for him to move more easily in the limited space between decks. As a powder monkey John would have had the comfort of knowing that being hidden behind the ship’s gunwale, kept him from being shot at by enemy ships’ sharp shooters. However, he would have been as vulnerable as the rest of the crew in situations where the ship was hit by heavy cannon fire. Is that what happen when he was mortally wounded?

Horsford Hero (Powder Monkey)1

If John Pirsins had, indeed, been a powder monkey then it is more than likely that he had come from the poor working classes. The Marine Society that encouraged youths to join the British Royal Navy did so by providing clothes, bedding, and a rudimentary education once they had enlisted. In the mid-1790’s it is estimated that the Society was sending five or six hundred boys a year to the fleet, although not all of these boys became powder monkeys. Of the boys who were recruited; most had no other option than to join the navy as their parents could not afford to raise them. However a significant number had familial ties to the sea by having cousins, fathers, and even grandfathers who were, or had been, sailors. These role models made youngsters want to continue family traditions and exploit their sense of adventure. So, does any of the foregoing detail fit with our John Pirsins? As things are, we know much more about the Battle of Camperdown of 1797 and HMS Triumph, on which John Pirsins enlisted and became a hero.

HMS Triumph:

HMS Triumph was a Large Type, 74 gun, third rate ship of the line, built at the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich. She, together with her sister-ship HMS Valiant were the prototypes, re-designed from the ground up for the Royal Navy. Their descendants would become by far the most numerous type of ship in the Royal Navy and would form the backbone of the Royal Navy’s battle-fleets until well into the 19th Century. But, what was significant about these two ships was not the long list of significant naval battles they fought in, or that they were commanded by any particularly famous or infamous naval officers, but the political machinations which led to their being ordered, designed and built.

 

During the Second Hundred Years War, and specifically in the 1730’s, the French began to introduce a new type of ship of the line, one carrying 74 guns on two gun decks. The British soon found that these new French ships were bigger, faster, more manoeuvrable and more heavily armed than their own. Something had to be done, but the British, were struggling with their own naval departmental problems which were rather more political than tactical or technological. Two departments existed with different aims and responsibilities which were the cause of much procrastination, delays and poor designs which, for several years, failed to produce anything that matched up to those of the French.

Horsford Hero (HMS Invincible)1
The former French 74-gun ship L’Invincible. After capture it was renamed HMS Invincible.

Then, on 14th May 1747 at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre, the British captured one of the finest of the French 74-gun ships, L’Invincible. On being taken into British service, L’Invincible was found to be capable of up to 16 knots in ideal sailing conditions; a good three knots faster than the best of her British counterparts. It was also found that in ideal sailing conditions, she could open her lower gun-ports, well clear of the water. As a direct result, the Admiralty began to pressure the Navy Board to do something about it, ideally, to produce a British 74-gun ship along the lines of the French ones. But habits die hard and it was not until the old guard in the Navy Board had either died or had been pensioned off that the situation began to improve. That did not begin until the mid-1750’s when more enlightened men were employed, led by a Thomas Slade. However, even under new management, nothing would be achieved until the Navy Board gave in to the Admiralty’s continuing pressure for two new ships which, essentially, had to be direct copies of L’Invincible but adapted for British use. The first , HMS Valiant was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Chatham and launched on 10th August 1759. On the other hand, HMS Triumph was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich where, despite its keel section being laid on 21st May 1757 was not launched into the great River Thames until Saturday 3rd March 1764 – long before our John Pirsins was even born.

Horsford Hero (HMS Triumph)4

On completion, HMS Triumph was an enormous ship for what she was. Very nearly as big as a first rate ship, HMS Triumph was 171ft 3in long on her upper gundeck and 138ft 8in long in her keel. She was 49ft 9in wide across her beams and her hold (between the orlop deck and the bottom of the ship) was 21ft 3in deep. Fully loaded, HMS Triumph was a ship of 1,825 tons. She was armed with twenty-eight 32-pounder long guns on her lower gun deck, thirty 24-pounder long guns on her upper gun deck, fourteen 9-pounder long guns on her quarterdeck and two 9-pounder long guns on her forecastle. She was manned by a crew of around 650 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines.

HMS Triumph had taken almost seven years to be built as opposed to the three years or so which the construction of a ship like her would be expected to take. This meant that by the time HMS Triumph was completed, the war for which she had been built was over and the Royal Navy rushed to pay off the great first and second rate ships of the line. It would fall to ships like HMS Triumph to provide the heavy firepower for the peacetime navy until May 1766 when the ship was commissioned into the Channel Fleet only to find that by the 11th December of the same year she was paid off and went into the ‘Ordinary’ at Chatham for the next five years.

Horsford Hero (Suckling)1
Captain Suckling

Then in January 1771, HMS Triumph was recommissioned under Captain Hugh Pigot as part of Britains response to the Falklands Crisis of 1770 and went into the Royal Dockyard to be fitted for sea. Captain Pigot left the ship just three months later, having made sure that her Midshipmen’s berth was fully occupied and the ship was fully manned. This meant that when Captain Suckling took command of the ship, there were no vacancies for Midshipmen. In turn, this meant that his young nephew was forced to take up a position as his cabin servant with a nominal rank of Able Seaman. His young nephew had briefly served in Suckling’s previous command, HMS Raisonnable, as a midshipman because Suckling had been able to man that ship from scratch. The young boy, who was aged just 12 when he joined his uncle aboard HMS Triumph, was Horatio Nelson.

Horsford Hero (Midshipman Nelson)1

For clarification, it should be explained that Nelson’s role on HMS Triumph would have been as a ‘Midshipman in Ordinary’; for although the ship had her quota of Midshipmen aboard, and there was no room for the young Horatio aboard in an official role, the captain was entitled to have up to a dozen servants. For that reason, they often took boys of friends, family and anyone else they owed a favour to or were doing a favour for, aboard as Midshipmen-in-Ordinary.

The boys in this role were on the ships books as Captains` Servants, rated and paid as Able Seamen, but wore the uniform and did the job of a Midshipman proper, that is to assist a Lieutenant in his day-to-day duties. They also lived in the Midshipmen’s quarters, which was in the cockpit, located on the ships Orlop level. They would have continued in this role for two years until they gained two years sea service at which point the Admiralty would have appointed them as Midshipmen proper, enabling them to transfer (or be transferred) between ships in order to gain experience and to further their careers.

On 7th May 1773, Captain Suckling managed to find a vacancy for his nephew, Nelson, as Midshipman in the bomb-vessel HMS Carcass but this came to an end in October 1773, when the vessel was paid off at Sheerness and went into the Ordinary. Nelson returned to Portsmouth and to HMS Triumph, once more to take up the only position available to him, as the Captain’s Servant with a nominal rank of Able Seaman. This, however, was for a very short time because his uncle had found a vacancy for him as Midshipman proper aboard the 24-gun sixth rate post-ship HMS Seahorse. Nelson was never to return to HMS Triumph.

Over the next 20 years, or so, HMS Triumph was involved in many skirmishes and more than a few refits to maintain its battle readiness. In between, it undertook policing and peace keeping roles with reduced crew levels. Then in January1792, she was decommissioned and went into the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth for a ‘Great Repair’, which amounted to an almost complete rebuild. The work was completed in January 1795 and had cost £46,499, more than it had cost to build the ship in the first place. By now, HMS Triumph’s upper gun deck of 24-pounder long guns had been replaced with smaller 18-pounder long guns, while the rest of her armament remained as built. In this, HMS Triumph was unusual in that she was never fitted with carronades. HMS Triumph was recommissioned and joined the Channel Fleet.

The Battle of Camperdown:

Horsford Hero (Admiral Duncan)1
Admiral Sir Adam Duncan

The beginning of May of 1797 saw HMS Triumph lying at the Nore, as part of the North Sea Fleet under Admiral Sir Adam Duncan. By the 12th of the month it became caught up in the Great Mutiny which had spread from Spithead. Whilst Spithead, along with Plymouth, ended peacefully on the 15th, that of Yarmouth was put down forcibly with that of the Nore proving irritable to the authorities. Having started on 12th May in the 90 gun 2nd rate ship HMS Sandwich at 9:30am, it quickly spread to the other ships in the anchorage including HMS Triumph.

Horsford Hero (Essington)1
Captain of HMS Triumph, William Essington

It was at this time that Captain Sir Erasmus Gower was replaced in command of HMS Triumph by Captain William Essington. In the meantime, while the mutiny at the Nore was continuing, the Dutch fleet was making preparations to break out and join the French fleet at Brest. Admiral Duncan was ordered to immediately blockade them and ordered his ships to set sail for the coast of Holland. All but two of his ships disobeyed the order and joined the mutiny.  Nevertheless, Duncan set to his task with the handful of ships available to him and by a mixture of subterfuge and luck, kept the Dutch bottled up in Texel. However, while Duncan was at sea, the mutiny at the Nore fell apart and he was joined by more ships, including HMS Triumph. In October 1797, news reached the Admiralty that the Dutch had called off their plans to break out and the fleet was recalled to Yarmouth to refit and resupply; this included HMS Triumph.

Horsford Hero (De Winter)1

On 8th October however, the Dutch fleet under Admiral de Winter did indeed break out. They were followed by ships Duncan had left behind to watch them, these included the hired armed cutter Black Joke. When the Dutch fleet, consisting of four 74-gun ships, seven 64-gun ships, four 50-gun ships and four frigates was seen putting to sea, it was the Black Joke (Other accounts say it was the hired cutter Active.) that was dispatched to Yarmouth to summon Admiral Duncan and the fleet. When the Black Joke was seen off Yarmouth in the early morning of 9th October flying the signal, all hell broke loose in Yarmouth as ships prepared to put to sea immediately – John Pirsins must have certainly been in the thick of thing! By noon, Admiral Duncan’s fleet was at sea and at 7am on 11th October, Duncan’s fleet sighted Captain Trollope’s squadron who were flying a signal ‘Enemy in Sight to Leeward’. At 08.30, the Dutch fleet was sighted.

Because of the widely differing sailing qualities of the British ships, Duncan’s force was in a very loose order when the enemy was sighted. In order for his ships to take their allotted stations, Duncan’s first signal was for his vanguard, or leading ships, to shorten sail. This was followed, at about 11:10, by signals ordering each ship to engage their opposite number on the enemy’s line of battle and then for the British vanguard to attack the rear of the enemy fleet. De Winter the Dutch commander, for his part and on sighting the British, ordered his ships to go about and head closer to the shore, where his smaller, flatter bottomed ships would have the advantage in shallower waters than their larger round-bilged British opponents. Seeing the Dutch heading into shallower waters where he knew they would have the advantage, Duncan gave up trying to get his fleet into their proper order and instead issued signals to the effect that his fleet was to form into two rough divisions and sail towards the enemy line as best they could and engage the enemy in close action. The fleet formed into two uneven divisions with Duncan leading the Starboard division in his flagship HMS Venerable and his Second-in-Command, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Onslow leading the other division in his flagship, HMS Monarch.

Horsford Hero (Fleets)1
Relative positions of the fleets at the start of the Battle of Camperdown, 11th October 1797.

HMS Triumph was part of Duncan’s Starboard Division, second in line behind the flagship. Because of the lack of time, the British ships were all jockeying for position to get into the thickest part of the action, which soon became intense. At one point in the battle, Captain Essington could see that both HMS Ardent and HMS Venerable were surrounded and immediately took HMS Triumph into the thick of things by engaging the Dutch ship Wassenaer with everything it had. Wassenaer eventually surrendered to HMS Triumph which then moved on to directly support the damaged HMS Ardent in her action against the Dutch flagship, Vrijheid. The Vrijheid was eventually forced to surrender by HMS Director after having been dismasted and left helpless, crippled and alone. The British had won a spectacular victory. They had defeated a Dutch fleet within sight of their own coastline. In the Battle of Camperdown, HMS Triumph had suffered casualties of 12 men dead with 55, including Captain Essington and John Pirsins, being wounded. She had suffered damage to her hull and masts and had had ten of her heavy 32-pounder guns knocked off their carriages.

By fast clipper, the news of this victory spread fast with the nation already celebrating by the time the ships returned to Great Yarmouth. The grateful nation breathed a sigh of relief that their ‘rebellious’ navy had, once again, restored its authority on the high seas, along with the strong and blatant patriotism, unashamedly renewed among the British people. The dead were buried and those of the wounded that could not function normally were cared for in the town. John Pirsins was amongst them, suffering from extensive injuries incurred in the heat of battle. Only his closest mates would have witnessed the circumstances of his heroism; it would have been they who visited him as he lay in the hospital in Great Yarmouth; and it would have been they who hoped he would recover. As it turned out, John Pirsins did not, but it was these same mates  who dipped into their pockets and paid for his headstone back at his home village of Horsford and its All Saints Church.

All Saints Church, Horsford 032
All Saints Church, Horsford, Norfolk. John Pirsins grave is to the left of the right-hand ‘green’ door. Picture: Haydn Brown

 

THE END

Sources:

http://leewright67.wixsite.com/horsfordlifemagazine/contact
http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=18402.0
https://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol14/tnm_14_4_11-24.pdf

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Norfolk’s ‘Knight of the Cleaver’!

Meet John ‘Jack’ Slack, alias the ‘Norfolk Butcher’, alias the ‘Knight of the Cleaver’; a bare knuckle fighter, who was the champion of what is thought to be the first international Heavyweight fight which took place  in 1754.

Jack Slack1
Jack Broughton, the Boxer by John Hamilton Mortimer, c.1767.
Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

 

A contemporary description of Slack says that he was five foot eight inches and a half in height and weighed almost fourteen stone. His physique was ‘compact . . . superior to the generality of men in strength and of excellent bottom.’ He changed his style of fighting to suit his opponent and often came out the victor, punching his opponents with such force that the term ‘a slack’un’ came into general use, meaning a ‘smashing hit.’ In 1743 Slack became the Champion of Norfolk after defeating three local men in boxing matches and by 1748 his renown was such that he sold on his butchery business to his brother and moved to London where his reputation as a fighter continued to grow.

On the 14th March 1750, at Broughton’s Amphitheatre in Oxford Road, London, Slack threw down a challenge to the formerly invincible Jack Broughton (a man some years older than he and known as the ‘Father of Boxing’ who had been taught by Slack’s grandfather, James Figg). Slack, who possessed a talent for getting under other fighters’ skins had, according to the Derby Mercury of 6 April 1750, instigated a dispute with Broughton earlier in the month, during a controversial election campaign in Brentford, which was dogged by allegations of corruption. For reasons unknown, this altercation about the election had resulted in “personal abuse” being exchanged between the two pugilists.

Jack Slack (John Broughton)1

Subsequently, so the Mercury claimed, during a bout at the amphitheatre, Slack “came upon the stage” and “offered to fight Mr Broughton immediately for 20 guineas”. Broughton declined the offer, arguing that he was “not immediately prepared” whereas Slack had been “in keeping some months”. However Broughton did agree to a contest the following month, and a bout was duly arranged for 11 April 1750. In fact, Broughton was eager for the fight – or for the money to be derived from it! He regarded Slack with the utmost contempt and made no sort of preparation; also, so afraid was he that the ‘butcher’ might not turn up at the last minute that he gave him ten guineas to make sure of him! The betting was 10-1 on Broughton when the men appeared in the ring. After all, as boxing went in those days, he did know something about defence, and he was master of two famous blows, one for the body and one under the ear, which were said to terrify his opponents. As for Slack, there was nothing elegant about him. His attitude was said to be ugly and awkward, he was strong and healthy but quite untrained in the true meaning of the word. Standing only 5 feet 8 inches he still weighed as much as 14 stone, nearly as much as his antagonist, who was a taller man.

The match duly taking place on the 11th April 1750, backed by one of Broughton’s patrons, the Duke of Cumberland – he himself to be known as Butcher Cumberland after the Jacobite uprising). This Duke was so enthusiastic at the prospect earning a considerable sum of money for this fight that, it was said, he bet 1,000 guineas on Broughton.

Jack Slack (Cumberland)1
The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter (attributed to), c.1750.
(c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

The match lasted just fourteen minutes and eleven seconds, a blow from Slack between the eyes blinded Broughton, and Slack had only to continue hitting him until he was unable to rise again. Slack, it seems, easily emerged as the victor to win the Championship of England and bagging himself not less than 600 guineas. As for the Duke of Cumberland; well, he was quite upset by the loss of his money. At first he told everyone that he had been “sold,” though later on he appeared to have forgiven Broughton and pensioned him. But not so! He went to Parliament, where he was very influential, and had legislation passed that closed Broughton’s Amphitheatre. Thereafter, and to the end of his days, “he could never speak of this contest with any degree of temper.” As for Broughton, he never again raised his fists for money, except to instruct the young and hopeful with the mufflers. When he died, on 8 January 1789, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the only boxer to be so honoured.

Four years later, on the 29th July 1754, Slack was back in his home county of Norfolk, challenging the Frenchman Monsieur Jean Petit (or Pettit) to a match.  Pettit was a muscular giant of a man, reputed to have previously exhibited himself in a circus as a ‘strong man.’ This boxing match took place at Harleston. A letter reporting the fight appeared in the newspapers just days later. This one is taken from the London Evening Post and dated 3rd August 1754.

Extract of a Letter from Harleston in Norfolk, July 30.

‘Yesterday in the Afternoon Slack and Pettit met and fought. At the first Set-to, Pettit seized Slack by the Throat, and held him up against the Rails, and grain’d him so much as to make him turn extremely black. This continued for Half a Minute before Slack could break Pettit’s Hold; after which, for near ten Minutes, Pettit kept fighting and driving hard at Slack; when at length Slack clos’d with his Antagonist, and gave him a very severe Fall; after that, a second and third. But between these Falls, Pettit threw Slack twice off the Stage; and indeed, Pettit so much dreaded Slack’s Falls, that he ran directly at his Hams, and tumbled him down; and by that Means gave Slack an Opportunity of making the Falls very easy.

When they had been fighting eighteen Minutes, the Odds ran against Slack a Guinea to a Shilling; whereas, on first setting out, it was three or four to one on his Head. But after this Time Slack shorten’d Pettit so, as to disable him from running and throwing him down in the Manner he had done before, but obliged him to stand close fighting. Slack then closed one of his Eyes, and beat him very much about the Face. At twenty Minutes Pettit grew weaker, Slack stronger; this was occasion’d by Slack’s strait Way of fighting. At twenty-two Minutes, the best Judges allow’d Slack to have the Advantage over Pettit very considerably, as he was then recovering his Wind, which was owing to Game.

When they had boxed twenty-four Minutes, Pettit threw Slack again over the rails; this indeed Slack suffer’d him to do, as by that Means he fix’d a Blow under Pettit’s Ribs, that hurt him much; whilst Slack was again getting upon the Stage (it was not Half a Minute before he was remounted) Pettit had so much the Fear of his Antagonist before his Eyes, that he walked off without so much as civilly taking Leave of the Spectators, or saying any Thing to any Person, this the Cockers call Roguing of it; for it is generally thought that Pettit ran away full strong. The whole Time of their fighting was twenty-five Minutes, and this Morning the Battle was given to Slack, who drew the first Ten Guineas out of the Box. Thus ended this dreadful Combat. The Box was Sixty-six Pounds Ten Shillings’.

Although sometimes mentioned as a ‘dirty fighter’, victories continued for Jack Slack until 1760 when he finally lost to Bill Stevens (the Nailer) at a bout on a stage erected for the purpose of the fight in the Tennis Court, James Street, London on the 17th June 1760. The Duke of Cumberland, who ten years previously had been the patron of Broughton, found that he really did miss the sport despite the money that that earlier fight had cost him. This time he backed Jack Slack, by not only arranging for the bout to be held in London, with no interference from the law, but also placing a bet on him. However, this time the sum was 100 Guineas, but at least it showed that his heart was still in the game. Unfortunately, the Duke was again on the losing side on three counts; Slack lost the championship, the Duke lost his 100 guineas together with any further interest in boxing.

Jack Slack v John Broughton1

Feature Photo (Above): – “The Bruiser Bruisd; Or, The Knowing Ones Taken-in” is by an unknown artist in 1750. It depicts the boxing match between Jack Slack and John Broughton in the same year. Newspapers at the time noted how Broughton feared that Slack would not turn up to fight, and so offered him ten guineas ‘not to break his engagement’. It was also said that Broughton was the superior boxer at the beginning of the fight and that the odds were ten to one in his favour. However, confidence was short-lived as Slack ‘put in a desperate hit between Broughton’s eyes, which immediately closed them up’. The blood pouring from the left eye of Broughton is indicative of this wound and the faces of the audience reflect the disbelief that the British Champion had been beaten by Slack in just fourteen minutes. This unlikely result sparked rumours that the match had been fixed, although there does not appear to have been any evidence to confirm this. The spectator depicted directly behind Broughton in a state of disbelief is possibly the Duke of Cumberland, Broughton’s patron who ‘lost several thousand’ on a bet. The Gentleman on both sides of the gallery are pictured giving money to men by their sides, having lost their bets too. The Title implies that the ‘knowing’ spectators were ‘taken in’ by Broughton, however an attempt to incriminate Broughton by emphasising his larger frame in comparison to Slack, is overshadowed by the emphasis placed generally on the exchange of money. Money is presented as underpinning the sport; inviting the viewer to question the honesty of professional boxing. It is possible that the prospect of profiting was an incentive for boxers and patrons to conspire and fool others.

Slack, after this, mostly retired from boxing himself and instead concentrated on his butchery trade. Many sources say he possibly opened a shop on London’s Chandos Street in Covent Garden (he had appeared in the rate books for this street in 1750), but at the time of his fight with the Nailer in 1760, he was reported in the newspapers to be settled at Bristol. He still kept his hand in by training other fighters, possibly running a boxing school in Bristol (he was rumoured to occasionally fix fights for his protégées), and just occasionally was mentioned as fighting himself.

The London Chronicle newspaper, on the 5th January 1765, reported that:

“Slack, the famous Boxer, who has been for some time in Dublin, is under an engagement to fight one Weyburn, a noted bruiser there, for a considerable sum”.

 

Jack Slack (Newspaper)1
Extract from Lloyd’s Evening Post  22nd July 1768.

Three years and six months after this fight John Slack died at Bristol on the 17th July 1768 and was buried in that city two days later.

Jack Slack was still remembered some years after his death, the St. James’s Chronicle reporting on the 11th September 1781, and placing him alongside some very noteworthy personalities:

“Some Years ago the three most remarkable Personages of the Age were Kitty Fisher, Lord B__te, and Slack, the Bruiser. At the present Day, says a Correspondent, the three most remarkable Personages are, the Perdita, Doctor Adelphi, and Sir Jeffery Dunstan”.

THE END

Sources:

https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/jack-slack-the-norfolk-butcher/
http://eighteenthcenturylit.pbworks.com/w/page/101956858/Boxing
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Slack

 

 

 

Wolterton – A Lost Norfolk Village

Mentioned in the Domesday Book of AD 1080, Wolterton (near Calthorpe and Itteringham) was listed as both Ultertuna and Wivetuna, having 4 smallholders on the land with ½ a plough team on 16 acres. Land valued at 16 shillings (80p) was also held by the Abbot of St. Benedict at Holme before 1066 but at the survey it was valued at 20 shillings (£1). The main landholder was the Norman nobelman, William de Warenne. Always a small village, Wolterton’s Lay Subsidy records for 1332 and 1334 indicate it was well below average in size. The parish was subsequently consolidated with Wickmere.

Wolterton Hall (Hall & Lake)
Wolterton Hall, Norfolk. Picture: Eastern Daily Press

In 1725, the estate was purchased by the first Baron Walpole. The original Hall burnt down and was rebuilt by Horatio Walpole (second Baron), who employed the Yorkshire-born architect Thomas Ripley and work began on the red-brick house in 1727. The interior featured state rooms containing Gobelins tapestries while the surrounding 150-acre parkland within the 500-acre private estate was landscaped to include a lake and avenue of oak and beech trees.

Wolterton Hall (Horatio Walpole 1st Baron)
Horatio Walpole, 1st Baron Walpole of Wolterton, PC (8 December 1678 – 5 February 1757).
Wolterton Hall (Thomas Ripley)
Thomas Ripley by Joseph Highmore, oil on canvas 1746. On display on East Landing at Beningbrough Hall (c) National Portrait Gallery, ref. NPG 5743.

During the 1700’s, it became ‘fashionable’ for Lords of the Manor to remove any property on their estates, which they either considered an eyesore or which spoilt their view. Known as Emparkment, this ‘option’ was exercised on estates nationwide including Felbrigg, Holkham and Houghton amongst others in Norfolk. A similar fate also affected Wolterton which also gradually became abandoned, leaving only the church tower, north of the Hall. A local map of 1733 shows the deserted settlement lying slightly north of the church. This had previously contained several houses clustered around a village green. The remaining Wolterton inhabitants – located near St Margaret’s church – were removed as part of the redesigning programme. Their settlement was located around a rectangular green where today, a visible hollow way still remains. Field walkers and metal detectorists have discovered medieval and post-medieval pottery, coins and metalwork on the site.

Wolterton Hall (Tower)4
All that remains of St Margaret’s Church on the Wolterton Hall Estate, Norfolk. Picture: Christopher Weston.

Wolterton’s “demise” seems to have begun in 1722, when Horatio Walpole started buying land in the parish and began planning a new mansion, surrounded by an ornamental park. Neither church, village nor Tudor Manor-House (which burnt down in 1724 and remains demolished), were included in the new scheme. It then seems rapid progress followed within a decade for in 1737, the Rev. George England arrived in Wolterton, to become its last ever priest. Consolidation of the parish with nearby Wickmere soon followed the same year, before Wolterton’s last church marriage was held in 1740. Between 1742-46, cottages were demolished (except for the parsonage) and dispersed away from the church. The last recorded burial was in 1747 and the final baptism, in 1765. Records also indicate that by the mid 1700’s, the church aisle, porch and vestry had already been demolished and in 1797, a local contractor (William Ward) was paid to demolish both the nave and chancel, leaving almost nothing.

Wolterton Hall (St Andrews, Wickwere)
St Andrew’s Church, Wickmere with which St Margaret’s Church, Wolerton was consolidated in 1737. Picture: Christopher Weston

By 1741, Wolterton Hall was being rebuilt by Horatio Walpole whose brother Sir Robert Walpole – then Britain’s first Prime Minister – was simultaneously building Houghton Hall. It’s also likely that Horatio removed much of the church stonework after St.Margaret’s had faithfully served local men and women of centuries past. But the last churchyard burials coincided with construction of the new estate, although records suggest some services were still held at Wolterton for a short time after Consolidation. The churches and buildings historian Nikolaus Pevsner claimed the living was consolidated with Wickmere in 1737, hence construction of the Hall involved moving a village that was in the way. More houses were demolished with only the tower left as a ‘view’ from the house.

Wolterton Hall (St Andrews, Wickmere)
Baron Walpole, 5th Earl of Orford, who died in 1935 could trace his title back to Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister, and the ruination of St Margaret’s Church beside the family Hall at Wolterton. Walter Caroe was paid to thoroughly rescue St Andrew’s from collapse just before the Second World War broke out. Tie beams stopped the clerestory and roof pushing the arcades outwards, and the bulging of the tower was drawn back by tie beams about halfway up. The 5th Earl now lies, patiently asleep, inside.
Wolterton Hall (5th Earl Tomb)
The Tomb of the 5th Earl of Orford in St Andrew’s Church, Wickmere, Norfolk. Picture: Christopher Weston.

Since St Margaret’s demise, Walpole family members have been interred in a vault at St Andrew’s Church, in nearby Wickmere. So today, Wolterton’s medieval church of St Margaret’s is just a ruin with only its late Saxon round tower – refaced in brick during the 14th century – remaining. Made of knapped flint with brick and stone dressings, it became a Grade II listed building on 4th October 1960 and interestingly, the official Listing Schedule places the building in Wickmere, Norwich, NR11. William Faden’s 1797 map of Norfolk marked it as a ruin. It’s tempting to think rubble from the church plus its foundations might still lie under remaining mounds. Archaeologically, they remain unexcavated but are protected, as an Ancient Monument.

 

Wolterton Hall (Lake)
Wolterton Estate and Lake. Picture: Britain Express.

In the 1830’s, the lake was enhanced by adding an island planted with cedar trees. The present Hall and estate had once been occupied by an earlier Manor House, owned by Sir Henry Spelman (1562 – 1641), born in Congham near Kings Lynn. He was an Englsh antiquarian, noted for detailed collections of medieval records, particularly of church councils. Whites Directory of Norfolk (1845) records Wolterton only had 43 souls.

Wolterton Hall (Spelman)
Sir Henry Spelman (1562 – 1641) by (After) Cornelius Johnson. Picture: Wikipedia

It seems likely that some church contents still live on, after being moved to Wickmere which today, has a huge ‘Armada’ Chest and painted panel, attached to its pulpit. The font seems to have moved to Mannington Church. Two bells were still in Wolterton’s Tower in 1807 (says the Church Terrier). The Latin inscription on one bell – (‘Robert Plummer made me in honour of St Margaret’) – suggests it was of pre-Reformation date.

Former public lanes in the original parish were moved beyond its boundaries leaving the tower in isolation. Wolterton Park and gardens were laid out in grand manner around 1730, from plans made by the King’s Garden Designer and Royal Gardener, Charles Bridgeman (1690–1738). After Horatio Walpole became a Baron in 1756 the grounds were extended to form a North Park, where the tower still remains, its ruin retained as a romantic ‘eye-catcher’ in the landscape as was then fashionable. This may have preserved it from random demolition for its materials.

Remains of the churchyard were cleared in the early 1800s and the tombstones sold off in Norwich by Lord Walpole, 2nd Earl of Orford (1752-1822) including the Scamler memorials. Local folklore however, tells us that the coffins of later Earls were firstly driven several times around the churchyard before being conveyed for burial in the family vault in Wickmere Church. This was to placate the disturbed spirits of the departed!!

Christoper Weston
(Norfolk Archive)

Other Sources:

https://www.revolvy.com/page/Horatio-Walpole,-1st-Baron-Walpole
http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/wickmere/wickmere.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

 

A Ghostly Tale: Erpingham Gate.

The best ghost stories are often discovered by chance. So it was with a certain anonymous Catholic priest in Yorkshire who, in early 2014, happened to come across an old journal. In that journal was a reprint of a story, dated 1736 and titled ‘A Strange Occurrence’. That story, later retold in the book ‘Recollections of Norwich 50 Years Ago’, was written by a Frederick Higbane who, in 1736, had visited Norwich from London and had encountered a ‘ghost’ of a martyred priest at Norwich Cathedral’s mighty Erpingham Gate. It is indeed a curious tale and begins:

Thos. Tunstall (Erpingham Gate)2
The Erpingham Gate, immediately in front of Norwich Cathedral, where Thomas Tunstall was executed on the 12th July 1616.

“Business chanced to take me many years ago to the ancient city of Norwich where I stayed at a very old Inn, situated in a street called, if my memory serves me right, Maudlin (Magdalen) Street. The room I occupied was a very old-fashioned one. Over the fireplace was a portrait, painted on the wall itself, of a very pale man with black hair, dressed in some sort of ecclesiastical garb and bearing the look of a Jesuit or Romish priest……There was something about this picture that affected me very strongly……Next morning I asked the landlord whose portrait it might be, and he could not enlighten me…..” In the evening the author, Frederick Higbane, then took a walk around Norwich Cathedral:

Thos. Tunstall (Portrait)
Was this the portrait of Thomas Tunstall displayed in Frederick Higbane’s room at the Maid’s Head Inn.

“I was walking near one of the great gates, which led to the Cathedral, when I suddenly observed a man clothed like a clergyman standing in the angle of a wall directly in front of me. Owing to the dusk I could not see him well until I was close up against him. Then I saw him perfectly clearly, and to my horror his face was terribly swelled, and a rope was drawn tight around his neck. Protruding from his breast was a knife, such as formerly used by executioners for dismembering the bodies of criminals. I could not think why his facial appearance seemed so familiar to me, and then there suddenly flashed across my mind – yes, the portrait in my bedchamber at the inn. For some moments I gazed with the utmost horror, not unmixed with fear, at this awful sight. For a while the figure spoke no words, then I heard a mournful sigh – or was it a groan? Then, as I withdrew, the figure vanished”.

Thos. Tunstall (Maid's Head)2
The Maid’s Head in Norwich, Norfolk where Frederick Higbane stayed in 1736 and saw the portrait which he believed was that of Thomas Tunstall the Martyr.

Returning to the inn, believed to be The Maid’s Head which is very close to the Cathedral and Erpingham Gate, Frederick Higbane took another look at the portrait to reassure himself that the vision he had seen was the same man. Then, taking the evidence of the portrait, Higbane further enquired of the landlord if there was a Catholic priest in Norwich and he was directed to a priest in the city.

“To him, therefore I went…….. telling him my strange adventure, he took me into his house and showed me a portrait of the same man. On my inquiring who it might be, he replied “It is the Rev. Thomas Tunstall, a priest, who was executed for the Catholic Faith in 1616 at the gates of the very street in which your inn is situated.” “Why I should have apparently seen his apparition, neither he nor I could form any idea.”

 

Thomas Tunstall took the College oath at Douay on 24 May 1607 and received minor orders at Arras on 13 June 1609, and the subdiaconate at Douay on 24 June following. His subsequent ordination is not recorded but he left college as a priest on 17 August 1610. What ever he got up to from that date and when he moved to England is something of a mystery, but whatever it was came to the notice of the authorities and he was almost immediately arrested after landing on grounds of his faith. He spent four or five years in various prisons until he succeeded in escaping from Wisbech Castle by rope. However, he sustained injuries to his hands in the process and sought medical help from Lady Alice L’Estrange in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Unfortunately, her husband, Sir Hamon, reported him to the authorities and he was recaptured and committed to Norwich Gaol.

At the next assizes in July 1616, he was tried and condemned on the 12th of that month. The following day, Thomas Tunstall was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his body displayed at various points in the city before being taken down by Catholics and later placed in an altar at Bath. A contemporary report recounts:

Thos. Tunstall (Benedicts Gate)1

“The on lookers, who were very numerous, and amongst them many persons of note, were all sensibly affected with the sight of his death; many shed tears, all spoke kindly and compassionately of him, and appeared edified with his saint-like behaviour. His head was placed on St Benedict’s gate, in Norwich, according to his request; his quarters on the walls of the city. The judge who condemned him died before he had finished his circuit, and most of the jury came to untimely ends, or great misfortunes.”

Thos. Tunstall (Stonyhurst)
Stonyhurst College. Lancashire.

 

Thos. Tunstall (Portrait)
Fr. Thomas Tunstall

Now, there is a contemporary portrait of Fr Thomas Tunstall, the martyr, at Stonyhurst in Lancashire. It is not known if this painting is the same one as that which hung in Frederick Higbane’s room in the inn on Maudlin (Magdalene) Street, Norwich in 1736, but, as far as it is known, there are no other images of this martyr. Stonyhurst acquired the portrait in 1828. It is small; approximately 5 inches by 4 inches and is enclosed by a wooden frame. The image shows him as a man still young with abundant black hair and dark moustache. However, it is unlike most paintings of English martyrs which usually show them robed. This portrait presents Tunstall in just his shirt. All these facets do, indeed, indicate a contemporary, if not eye-witness representation of the Martyr – as he may have been at the execution?

Thomas Tunstall was martyred just outside the Erpingham Gate in 1616 and was beatified by Puis XI in 1929.

THE END

Source:

http://friendswithchrist.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-curious-norwich-story.html
http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/news/weird-norfolk-ghost-haunting-norwich-cathedral-1-5595059
Photos: Google Images.

Old Luke Hansard!

Old Luke Hansard was born on July 5th, 1752, in Norwich in the day of Wenman Coke. Today in 1952 was when the Spectator Newspaper celebrated Luke’s bicentenary birthday with an article, from the pen (and it probably was a pen in 1952) of Evelyn King. This year of 2018 marks Luke Hansard’s 266th birthday and its seems appropriate and timely to reproduce Evelyn’s contribution whilst taking the liberty to supplement the content with further detail.

Luke Hansard (St_Mary_Coslaney)
St Mary’s Church, Coslany, Norwich where Luke Hansard was christened. When H.M. Stationery Office dispersed out of London and to Norwich in 1968, it found itself within the old Coslany district and literally ‘across the road’ from where Hansard was born and was christened. Photo: Adrian S Pye.

Luke Hansard was born in 1752 in the parish of St Mary Coslany; his parents were Thomas and Sarah. In an account of his life, written in 1817 for the benefit of his sons, Luke described his father, Thomas, as a manufacturer, though of what was not revealed. His mother, Sarah, was a clergyman’s daughter from Spilsby in Lincolnshire, but at the time of Luke’s birth, the family fortunes had reached a low ebb and were never to recover.

Little has been said about Luke’s education, except that he was educated in Norwich and at the Free Grammar School in the village of Kirton which lies about four miles south of Boston in Lincolnshire. As someone once said, ‘he got a little but not much education in Lincolnshire’. It was as he approached his fourteenth birthday when his parents thought of apprenticing him to an apothecary, but his ‘gallipot’ Latin was inadequate; so he became apprentice to Stephen White in Cockey Lane, Norwich. Mr White was a printer, medicine-vendor, boat-builder, ballad-writer, general artist and a dab-hand at playing the violin. Young Luke was to describe his master as an “eccentric genius”, who was “very rarely in the office” ……….Personal instruction in the art of printing was given sparingly by White. He would, for instance, begin to set a line of type and then say, “So go on Luke boy,” and leave Luke to finish. However, within a few months, Luke had mastered every aspect of the printing trade. During this time, young Luke boarded with the proprietor, sleeping in the corner of the shop whilst another of Mr. White’s pastimes, his pigeons, occupied the opposite corner. Then, in 1769, his father died aged only 42; in the same year Luke’s apprenticeship came to an end and by the summer he had packed his bags and gone to London, with a downright manner, a Norwich burr, and with only a guinea in his pocket. After 10 weeks he found work as a compositor with the firm of John Hughes in Great Turnstile, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Much later, when he was Old Luke, he would enrich the English tongue with his surname—Hansard.

Luke Hansard (Portrait)
This painting of ‘Old’ Luke Hansard is a variation on the one exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1828 and appears to have been in the possession of the Hansard family until its presentation to the House of Commons in 1942.

That was Young Luke as he once was, first an apprentice then later as proprietor of the firm of John Hughes, Printer to the House of Commons. But Old Luke only printed the journals, and those by order. Old Luke was a Tory to the bone, and his pride lay in the carrying out of an order punctually and exactly. He earned the appreciation and respect of Pitt and the intimacy of successive Speakers —Addington, Mitford, Abbott and Sutton—as well as the affection of Members of succeeding generations. His was the grain-of-oak candour which earns affection and respect. All literary London knew Hansard the printer. He was an intimate ‘of Charles Dilly and Edmund Burke. He published for Dr. Johnson and Richard Porson, and also for the prolific Dr. Hill. (” His farces are physic and his physic a ‘farce is,” wrote Garrick of Dr. Hill).

Luke Hansard (Print Shop)2
Typical 18th and 19th century printers

In 1771, John Hughs died and was succeeded by his son Henry with William Day as partner and manager, but as the workload increased both on the parliamentary and general side – Dr Johnson and Edmund Burke were among their literary customers – Hughs and Day realised that another part-ner was needed to supervise the operative section. In 1774 they offered 22 year-old Luke a partnership. With his future now secure, Luke’s thoughts turned to marriage. On 21 July 1775, he married Elizabeth Curson from Swanton Morley in Norfolk at St John’s Church, Clerkenwell. Their marriage was to last for 50 years and produce five children: Thomas Curson (1776), Elizabeth Susanna (1779), James (1781), Luke Graves (1783) and Hannah Mary (1785). Henry Hughs certainly admired the skills and character of Luke, his junior partner. He involved Luke more and more in the general running of the business until Hansard the printer became well known in the London literary circle and in the corridors of Parliament where he was becoming a familiar figure. In 1800 at the age of 43 Luke became sole proprietor of the firm. Henry Hughs had retired and William Day had been dead for six years. Thomas Curson, James and Luke Graves had followed their father into the business and the new century saw Luke Hansard and Sons as printers to the House.

Luke Hansard (Thomas C Hansard)

However, it was Old Luke’s son, Thomas Curzon Hansard, who was a problem – he was a ‘fly-by-night’. He, at a very early age, wanted to enact the gentleman. He wanted to be in business on his own account, which was bad; he was a Radical which was even worse, and he was a friend of William Cobbett, which brought him to prison. He had printed Cobbett’s flaming condemnation of an administration which allowed German mercenaries to be used to compel British soldiers in Ely to submit to 500 lashes for mutiny, and he shared with Cobbett the trial and punishment with which that “seditious libel” was rewarded. Yet it was Thomas who published in his maturity that massive work Typographia and became, within his own province, the foremost scholar of his day. But he was not immortalised for his scholarship. He was immortalised because, in a little magazine of small circulation and dubious legality, which ran at a loss, he published, from a site on which now stand the offices of the Daily Telegraph, the Debates of the day—an offence for which more than one of his predecessors had been reprimanded on their knees.

Luke Hansard (Print Shop)3
18th century Binding and Finishing Books

It was in 1732 that Cave had started his reports in his Gentleman’s Magazine, and from 1740 Dr. Johnson had written them, though his rounded essays had in them little enough of the speech he purported to report. There had been many other efforts, but in the end it was Cobbett’s, later Hansard’s Parliamentary, Debates, which caught and held the attention of the public. It was not until 1855 that Cornwallis, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, a learned and dull man, plunged rashly and ordered the Controller of the Stationery Office to subscribe for a hundred annual sets of Parliamentary debates to be circulated in Government Departments in Whitehall, London and throughout the Colonies.

Luke Hansard (Newgate Prison)
Newgate Prison

Appetite grew by what it was fed on, and in three years the order rose to 120 sets at five guineas each. This meant decorous enthusiasm at 12, Paternoster Row, and well over £600 a year for the second Thomas Curzon Hansard. But Old Luke’s other more favoured son, and successor, Luke Graves, came within an ace of prison too; a shattering thought to that tower of rectitude. In avoiding it he was instrumental in establishing a constitutional principle of vital consequence to our liberties. William Crawford and the Reverend Whitworth Russell were two of H.M. Inspectors of Prisons. They reported that a certain book circulating among prisoners in Newgate Gaol, and published by Stockdale, was “of a most disgusting nature” and its plates “indecent in the extreme.” By order of Parliament the report of H.M. Inspectors of Prisons was published, and Hansard published it. Stockdale sued Luke Graves for publishing a libel.

Here was a question of supreme constitutional importance. Could Parliament protect its servants who carried out its instructions. Was the voice of Parliament to be heard freely? The case came before Lord Denman, who enquired coldly why, if a subject of the Queen were libelled, the printer should not be sued for libel, by whomsoever the libel was authorised. He found Hansard guilty. Parliament came a little slowly to Luke Graves’ defence, and the battle .between Parliament and the Courts was fairly joined.

Nor was it confined to words. Our Parliamentary and judicial ancestors had fire in their bellies. Under the authority of the High Court the High Sheriffs of Middlesex took forceful possession of poor Hansard’s eleven printing presses. Stirred to wrath, the Commons directed their Sergeant at Arms to arrest the High Sheriffs. These grave men passed a dolorous weekend in Newgate Gaol, in which they had hitherto had only a professional interest. Scarlet-robed and mute of tongue they were brought to the Bar of the House. Their sins had been as scarlet as their robes. They were guilty, they were told, of “a contemptible breach of the privilege of the House of Commons.” But the Court of Queen’s Bench also had weapons and used them. They issued a Writ of Habeas Corpus on the Sergeant at Arms, and in the centre of it all stood poor Hansard, wide open to every blizzard, his locks visibly greying, bemoaning man’s ingratitude in the spirit of King Lear as the tumult beat about his head. Ultimately common-sense prevailed, and after a three-and- a-half years’ battle the law was amended. Lord Denman deserves his place in history, if only for this single sentence:

“I infer . . . that the House of Commons disapproves our judgement, and I deeply lament it, but the opinion of the House on a legal point in whatsoever manner communicated is no ground for arresting the course of Law or preventing the operation of the Queen’s Writs on behalf of every one of her subjects who sues in her Courts.”

It was in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that the Hansards had their day. But, though they were constantly harried by H.M. Stationery Office anxious for a larger sphere of usefulness, Tory Ministers of the nineteenth century seemed avid, in this case, for nationalisation – their influence in and around the House did not cease until 1890.

Luke Hansard (Horatio Bottomley)
Bottomley addressing a WWI recruiting rally in Trafalgar Square, London, September 1915

H. L. T. Hansard, great-grandson of Old Luke, sold his interest to the new Hansard Publishing Union for £90,000, in which the principal was Horatio Bottomley. Mr. Bottomley, unlike the Hansards, required no Parliamentary grants. He would print the journals. As to the debates, which he also acquired from T. C. Hansard, they would be nourished and sustained by income derived from tasteful advertisement. Mr. Bottomley’s enterprise was private and original, but its end was public and commonplace. It expired in a fog of litigation and bankruptcy, and a charge of conspiracy and fraud.

It was not until 1920 that H.M. Stationery Office won its Hundred Years’ War, and lifted the printing from the hands of private enterprise. Old Luke, who had, multiplied his guinea by 80,000 before he died, had been followed by Luke Graves, Luke James, who went mad by the way, Henry and Henry Luke – so it went from father to son. And as Luke and his seed published the journals, so in parallel Thomas and his seed, even better known, published the debates.

It is strange how nouns and verbs, once renowned, may sink into oblivion. This might well have happened to Hansard but for the activity of Stephen King-Hall, then Independent Member for Ormskirk. In 1943, after much prompting by him and by Sir Francis Freemantle, the Speaker directed that the name Hansard “should be restored to the cover of the official reports of the debates. And so on July 5th each year we celebrate the birthday of Old Luke. It is right that he should be remembered. He powerfully affected Parliamentary history. There are “Hansards” not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Australia, in Canada, and in many other parts of the Commonwealth. All this would have seemed strange indeed to Stephen White’s apprentice—the small boy who laboured long ago at the press in a Norwich attic to the sound of his master’s violin.

Luke Hansard (HMSO)
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, St Crispins, Norwich. St Mary’s Coslany Church is immediately right but, unfortunately, just out of the picture. Remarkable indeed that this office, so closely linked with Luke Hansard, should find a home ‘across the road’ from where the lad was born and spent most of his childhood. PHOTO: Eastern Daily Press.

By a remarkable coincidence, when the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office was moved from London to its present site in St Crispins, Duke Street, Norwich, it was only ‘yards’ from the parish church of St Mary, Coslany, within the boundaries of which Luke had been born over two centuries before. Hansard had returned to the city where a 14 year-old apprentice printer had first set a line of type. The Region’s Caesar never knew his posterity had swayed. However, his memory, like his portrait, lives in the House he venerated, and Parliament must speak for ever in his name. – Happy Birthday Luke lad!

THE END

Sources:

http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/4th-july-1952/9/old-luke-hansard
http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/Content/DerekJames/Street_Names/asp/030923hansard.asp
http://lackfamily.net/genealogy/names/whole%20family/f480.html

 

 

 

Norwich ‘Whifflers’ & ‘Snap’!

Whifflers and Snap Dragons are still about – but not in the rolls that they once had! Nowadays, the ‘whiffler’ name is confined to one public house on the Norwich Ring Road at Hellesdon, to a road opposite the pub and to an open air theatre in the shadows of Norwich Castle. This is not to overlook its use with the present-day enthusiasts who keep the character alive in the public’s consciousness by appearing in public processions and local events from time to time.

‘Whifflers’ went out of use in much of England long ago, but survived in East Anglia, thriving particularly in Norwich. It was the Whifflers, supported by Snap, who played such a major role in past Norwich Civic Ceremonies.

The origin of the word ‘Whiffler’ is 16th century and comes from the word ‘wifle’ for battle-axe and came from the Old English ‘wifel’ of Germanic origin: it was applied to attendants at processions who carried weapons to clear the way through crowds. It was a word which was once in general use and appeared in Shakespeare’s play Henry V;

The deep-mouth’d Sea, / Which like a mighty Whiffler ’fore the King, / Seems to prepare his way”.

The Norwich Dragon, known affectionately as ‘Snap’, is preserved in a remarkable present-day collection at Norwich Castle Museum. This collection totals three old snapdragons which are more or less complete; one is the last of the Civic Snaps with the other two being later copies.

Snap was designed and constructed to be carried by one man, using straps over his shoulders. The form of the body is barrel-shaped, formed around a horizontal pole (head at one end, tail at the other) and two small wings concealing the man’s face. His hands are left free to operate the head and hinged lower jaw (this makes a loud click when it shuts, hence ‘Snap’.


In an old and long established Civic ceremonial, which persisted until the mid 19th century, included Snap who acted as the herald for the grand annual Guild Day procession which was held at the inauguration of a new Mayor. This cavorting dragon was a source of amusement and entertainment for the crowds who watched these processions. However, in earlier times, Snap took on a more religious significance as part of a pageant performed by the Guild of St. George in Norwich.

St. George riding on horse-back and fighting the dragon was the centre-piece of these Processions, with a third figure representing the maiden who was, supposingly, rescued by St. George. She was recorded as ‘The Lady’, ‘The Maid’ or ‘The Margaret’ – “the lady of the Gild“ and believed to be based on Saint Margaret of Antioch. A Sword bearer, carrying the Guild sword led the procession with priests, the City Waits, Cantors from the Cathedral and the City and Guild officials following.

In Norwich’s Great Hospital, St Helen’s Church, has a fine example of the devil depicted as a dragon. It is said the a dragon swallowed St Margaret of Antioch but her cross irritated the dragon, allowing her to break free.

Norwich (Pew)
Here she is shown on a medieval pew end emerging from the dragon’s belly, illustrating her role as the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth.

The Guild of St. George 1385-1731

The history of the Snap was inextricably linked to that of The Guild of St George, founded in 1385; its aims were religious, charitable and social: to honour St. George, to keep his feast day, to pray for its members past and present and to offer alms to the poor and needy within the Guild. The principal event for the Guild was the feast day ceremony held annually on 23 April which began as a simple religious celebration of the feast day of St. George. The event grew steadily in size and importance as the Guild’s relationship with the City Corporation deepened. By the end of the sixteenth century, however, the event was no longer a civic religious ceremony but a civic secular ceremony which celebrated the coming to office of the new Mayor. For this no expense was spared.

Although the form of the procession changed over the centuries, Snap the dragon remained as part of the pageantry for over 400 years. The earliest reference to him comes from the minutes of the Guild Assembly of 1408 at which it was agreed:

‘to furnish priests with copes, and the George shall go in procession and make a conflict with the Dragon, and keep his estate both days’.

In 1585 the two separate celebrations, that of Guild Day in April and that of the swearing in of the new Mayor of Norwich in June, were combined to create one grand event on the Tuesday before Midsummer’s Eve. Over the next 150 years the pattern of the Guild Day celebrations remained the same but the scale and splendour of the occasion increased, gradually reaching its height at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

 

The three pictures above are copies of postcards published by the Norfolk and Norwich Heritage trust which are taken from glass roundels in the Dragon Hall, Norwich – http://www.dragonhall.org/

Then came 1645 and a setback which interrupted Snap Dragon’s progress: the Puritan government ordered that at the next procession there must be ‘no beating of drums or sounds of trumpets, no Snap-Dragon or fellows dressed up in Fools Coats and Caps; no standard with the George thereon, nor no hanging of Tapestry Cloth and Pictures in any of the streets’. However, in 1660, the monarchy was restored and all the old ways returned – including Snap and Whifflers. Their appearances continued and, in time, Norwich became quite famous for the scale and spectacle of its processions. However, the Guild found it expedient to make certain modifications to the form of the ceremony. They agreed that on the following feast day ‘. . .

“there shall be neither George nor Margaret; but for pastime, the Dragon to come and shew himself as in other years”.

A local historian, Benjamin Mackerell, has left us a description of the Guild Day festivities in the early years of the 18th century,

“On Guild Day the old Mayor, Sheriffs, Aldermen, the St George’s Company and Common Councillors met at eight o’clock in the morning at the house of the newly elected Mayor where they enjoyed sugar rolls and wine. The whole street (formerly the whole parish) where the new Mayor lived was decorated. The street was strewn with green sashes and planted with trees. The outsides of the houses were hung with tapestries and pictures, particularly the new Mayor’s house. From here the dignitaries then paraded on horseback to the house of the retiring Mayor where a substantial breakfast of pasties, roast beef, boiled legs of mutton and wine were provided. The procession then set out for the cathedral. The way was cleared by six Whifflers and two Dick Fools accompanied by the Dragon. The Dragon, carried by a Man in the body of it, gave great diversion to the common People: they always seemed very much to fear it when it was near them, but always looked upon it with pleasure when it was a little distance from them’.

As for the Whifflers, they were dressed in a distinctive costume of scarlet satin breeches, white satin jerkin and a hat decorated with a cockade of feathers and ribbons. They carried swords which they brandished and tossed in the air. Helping them were the Dick Fools, who wore painted canvas coats with red and yellow cloth caps adorned with fox or cats’ tails and small bells”.

With the demise of the St. George’s Company (formerly the Guild) in 1731, Guild Day continued, but on a much more modest scale. Although the Company was disbanded Snap the dragon, Dick Fools and Whifflers were kept on and their wages paid by the Corporation. Pagan Snap became Civic Snap, the property of the local authority and appeared on Guild Day when the Lord Mayor was inaugurated. Then, with the passing of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act of 1835 much pageantry of corporate boroughs disappeared and that year saw the last Guild Day Ceremony.

Norwich (Market Sketch)
By Norwich Market and outside the extant Sir Garnet Wolseley Pulic House (copyright Norfolk County Council).

It was George Borrow, writing in 1857 in his book ‘The Romany Rye’ who lamented their passing in these words:

“The last of the whifflers hanged himself about a fortnight ago ….. from pure grief that there was no further demand for the exhibition of his art…….since the discontinuance of Guildhall banquets”.

There was, however, one final outing of the Whifflers and Snap in 1846. It was during the ‘crowning’ of Jeremiah Colman, the mustard manufacturer, when two Whifflers met a royal Duke off the train at Trowse Station and led him and the procession up Bracondale Hill into the city. The two of them taking it in turns to run ahead, leaping and twirling their two handed swords.

It was fortuitous that the Whifflers lasted into the age of photography so it is still possible to see the costume that they wore with breeches and white socks tied with fancy garters, a bowler styled hat with a cockade to the left hand. The whole uniform was completed by a white jacket. Maybe it was on the 1846 occasion that the following Whiffler photograph was taken?

Whiffler 1
A 1846 Whiffler – as supplied by an anonymous ancestor. Further examples at flickr.com/photos

As for Snap, he continued to appear occasionally up to around 1850 after which he was adopted by the Pockthorpe Guild, more as a publicity gimmick than anything else. By the 1880’s much of the mock pomp of the past had gone and the appearance of the Snap had degenerated into just a boisterous money-raising stunt for the Guild which used it alongside members carrying collection boxes. Even so, Snap continued to cause much hilarity when used to chase people with the intention of grabbing their hats or caps between its jaws and returning them only after a penny ransom had been paid. Young boys would taunt the Snap by running close by and chanting

‘Snap, Snap, steal a boy’s cap, give him a penny and he’ll give it back’.

Although much of the pageantry disappeared after the passing of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act of 1835, a defiant tradition emerged: the people of Pockthorpe, a part of Norwich outside its walls and over the water, created their own dragon and their own mocking, subversive imitation of the Lord Mayor’s street procession. So the tradition of faux Snap terrorizing the people of Norwich continued in the district of Pockthorpe and in the nearby village of Costessey. This 1887 photograph of the Costessey Guild Day suggests the fun that accompanied the election of the ‘mayor’.

Norwich (Costessey Guild)
Snap in this picture is still in the care of the Norwich Museums Service (in store at Gressenhall since 2000), along with the head of the Costessey Dragon and another Snap Dragon.(c) Picture Norfolk at Norwich County Council

These annual revelries continued until early in the twentieth century, according to oral history, up to the First World War, but Snap lived on. In the 1930s, ‘Snapdragon’, was a magazine aimed at raising money in aid of hospitals. Then, the Festival of Britain in 1951 saw the Pockthorpe dragon come to life again for a procession of ‘Norwich Through the Ages’. Co-incidently, it was around this time that another very dilapidated dragon was found, this time in the Backs Bar in Norwich.

Norwich (Back's Dragon)
(Copyright: David Kingsley)

Norwich (Snapdragon and Whiffler 1951)2

Norwich (Snapdragon and Whiffler 1951)
The two photos above were taken around 1951. It has been said that one of the two Whifflers shown is the famous local naturalist Ted Ellis.

These Snap Dragons are the remnants of a medieval pageant play banned at the reformation (saints being denigrated as icons of papism). Snap meant something, for though its official role ceased in 1835 it persisted in a community based in both city and outskirts. Since the mid 1980s Snap occasionally accompanies the Lord Mayor, and at least three have materialised from the community, so the dragons clearly do still have significance for Norwich.

Norwich (Snapdragon and Whiffler 2017)
2017: Snap and the Whifflers escorting the Lord Mayor and Sheriff from The Guildhall to the Cathedral for the Annual City Service.

It was publicity that led to curiosity and from that the dragons found themselves conserved and are now on proud display in Norwich Castle. The publication of an important book about ‘Snap The Norwich Dragon’ by Richard Lane in 1976 led to Snap’s reappearance in the Lord Mayor’s Procession in the early 1980s and since that time the dragon has become well loved again, very visible in the culture of the city – and joined by newcomers.

THE END

Sources:

For those who want to know more: Click on the following links:

http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/politics/snap-heads-up-colourful-procession-as-norwich-marks-start-of-its-civic-year-1-5555325

https://www.facebook.com/NorwichWhifflers/#

http://www.dragonglow.co.uk/snap.htm

http://www.nor-folk.co.uk/Norwich%20Dragon/aliens.html

 

 

 

Alicia – What A Woman!

The daughter of a Norwich watchmaker, Alicia Meynell was born in 1782 and became the first woman in the Jockey Club Records to have raced and won against a man, a record unequalled until 1943. From her early years she called herself ‘Meynell’, perhaps at the request of her Massingham family over near Kings Lynn! Alicia Meynell was to go on to lead a colourful life and was nicknamed the ‘Norfolk Nymth’.

Alicia Meynell 5

Alicia Meynell (Thornton) 1
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton

We know that she had at least one sister, possibly older than her, who married William Flint of Yorkshire, a gentleman who was very keen for horses. Perhaps through the Flints, Alicia met and fell madly in love with their neighbour, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton of the Second Regiment of the York Militia. He was a man of some property and respect in the area, and he cut a dashing figure, even at a ripe age of 60 years. Alicia was a young lady of some 18 years of age and only one of a long line Thornton’s mistresses! Despite this ‘discrepancy’, it was Thornton who encouraged Alicia to become an expert horsewoman and one of the things both were to have in common was the ability to ride and ride well. Remember that this was a time when women were at least partly judged by their “seat”: how well they could handle a horse. Alicia was a dynamo. She too knew her horseflesh, and she owned no less than three hunters. She was pleased to ride to hounds, something that was still rather rare for a woman because of the difficulty in thundering over rough, unpredictable terrain in a side saddle – wasn’t easy but Alicia did it, and did it very well. One day while she was visiting her sister, Alicia and her brother-in-law, William Flint, went riding. She was on her husband’s favourite horse, a brute named ‘Vingarillo’. Flint was riding his favourite, a brown hunter named ‘Thornville’. As they argued good naturedly about which horse was better, they decided to race to prove the point. It seems, only a race could settle this argument and so, off they rode. Twice – and Alicia won both times.

Alicia Meynell 3

A sore loser, Flint challenged her to a real race, at the Newmarket Race Track, and named a princely prize of 1,000 guineas (which would be equivalent to over £28,000 today!). Flint probably thought that Alicia would decline – but she certainly did not! Immediately word spread far and wide. A woman? Racing? Who wouldn’t want to see that! They met on the last day of the York meet in August 1804. The York Herald reported that 100,000 people crowded the race track to watch, more than ten times the number that had assembled for the last “big” race between more famous horses. Even the military in the form of the 6th Light Dragoons was called in for crowd control. The total amount of bets laid was estimated to be over £200,000!

Alicia Meynell 1

Alicia was in rare form. She wore a dress spotted like leopard skin, with a buff waistcoat and blue sleeves and cap. The crowd adored her. She must have been quite a contrast to Flint, who rode all in white. But his heavenly apparel didn’t reflect his attitude. He refused anyone to ride alongside Alicia to help her if her side-saddle slipped (a common courtesy for women riders), and he ordered her to ride on a side of the track that deprived her of her whip hand. Neither trip handicapped Alicia. She was ahead from the start and stayed that way for nearly three quarters of the four-mile circuit. The Herald reported, “Never surely did a woman ride in better style. It is difficult to say whether her horsemanship, her dress, or her beauty was more admired.” But something happened to Vingarillo in the last mile, causing him to falter, and Flint nipped ahead and won.

Alicia wasn’t at all pleased. After hearing people go on and on about how gentlemanly Flint had been to race with a woman to begin with, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald denouncing him and demanding a rematch. But it was a Mr. Bromford who next challenged her to ride the following year, with the prize a £2,000 and a great quantity of French wine. She agreed, but on the day of the race Bromford decamped and the lady won by default. Alicia, in a new outfit with purple cap and waistcoat, buff-coloured skirts, and purple shoes with embroidered stockings, was not about to be sent to the sidelines. That same day, she raced 2 miles on a mare named Louisa against Buckle, one of the premier paid jockeys of the day. The Annual Register records that:

“Mrs. Thornton, by the most excellent horsemanship, pushed forward and came in a style far superior to anything of the kind we have ever witnessed, gaining her race by half a neck.”

Alicia Meynell 1

Unfortunately, she was not so good at choosing husbands. Colonel Thornton turned out to be something of a scoundrel. When Flint won the first race, the colonel refused to honour the bet he and Alicia had made, insisting it had all been a joke. An outraged Flint showed up at the second race and literally horsewhipped the Colonel in public before being confined to jail for assault. Several years of court battles led to a decision for the Colonel. Even worse, however, is his treatment of Alicia in later years who he left behind when, in 1814, he went off to France; apparently, he preferred France over England , ever since his court-martial some time back!  Thorton was never to return, leaving Alicia to raise their illegitimate son alone. When Thorton died 1823, he left a part of his estate to a woman named Priscilla Duins but the bulk went to his illegitimate daughter by her – Thornvillia Dianna Rockingham Thornton – and did he really name her after his ex-friend’s horse!. So it was that Alicia was left nothing from Thornton’s Will, although their ‘alleged’ son, Thomas, received a bequest of £100. But in the end it was Alicia who had the last laugh. While Thornton is barely remembered – a womaniser who lacks honour, Alicia’s name would go down in history. Remember – She remained the only woman listed in the records of England’s Jockey Club to have raced and won against a man – until 1943 that is.

Sources:

 

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