Joseph Arch was not born and bred in Norfolk, but he did play a key role in unionising agricultural workers of the County and championing their welfare, along with becoming the Liberal MP for the North West of the County in 1885.
Joseph Arch, in fact, came from the Warwickshire village of Barford where he was born on 10 November 1826. His ancestors were also Barford bred and for three generations, at least, had owned and lived in their own cottage there since the 18th century. After only three years of schooling, he started work as a labourer at the age of nine and his first job was as a bird-scarer, working 12 hours a day for a wage of 4d per day – so, he knew from bitter experience, the problems that faced the poorly-paid, ill-educated rural labourer of the time. From being a bird-scarer, he progressed to become a plough-boy, then a skilled hedge cutter before mastering just about any other farming skill one could find on the land. Such qualifications enabled him, in time at least, to move around the Midlands and South Wales, earning quite a reasonable wage in the process. At the same time, he could not fail to observe the terrible conditions in which the majority of his agricultural labouring colleagues lived. These were later described by the Countess of Warwick in the introduction she wrote to his eventual 1898 autobiography:
“Bread was dear, and wages down to starvation point; the labourers were uneducated, under-fed, underpaid; their cottages were often unfit for human habitation, the sleeping and sanitary arrangements were appalling …… In many a country village the condition of the labourer and his family was but little removed from that of the cattle they tended.”
Following his return home to his Warwickshire village from his travels, Joseph Arch married in 1847 and, over time, had seven children. He also became a Primitive Methodist preacher which, apparently, did not go down well with the village parson and his wife who discriminated against the Arch’s’ as a result – there again, Joseph’s family had always been at odds with the parson. Nevertheless, during this period, Joseph also managed to educate himself politically by reading old newspapers and, in time, became a supporter of Liberalism.
It was therefore to him, as a well-respected and experienced agricultural worker, that his destitute fellow workers turned for help in their fight for a living wage. Called to address an initial meeting held on 7 February 1872, in the Stag’s Head public house in Wellesbourne, Joseph expected an attendance of fewer than thirty. Instead, he found on his arrival that over 2,000 agricultural labourers from all the surrounding area had arrived to hear him speak. The meeting was therefore held under a large chestnut tree opposite on a dark, wet, winter night, with the labourers holding flickering lanterns on bean poles to illuminate the proceedings.
The right man in the right place at the right time: From this initial gathering, further meetings were called and from one of these a committee was elected which met at John Lewis’s old farmhouse in Wellesbourne. Its endeavours eventually resulted in farm workers, from all parts of South Warwickshire, meeting in Leamington on Good Friday, 29 March 1872, to form the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers Union. From this, and in light of much agitation up and down the country, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union was established, and Joseph Arch was elected as its President. The Union’s first action was to withdraw their labour, and farmers and landowners soon found out that the reprisals they tried to apply were ineffective; the result was, for a time, a temporary rise in the workers’ wages. This seemed to satisfy the Union members to the point where they ceased to organise themselves further. Inevitably, farm owners fought back and came to ‘locking-out’ union members, an action which became so widespread that the Union finally collapsed in 1896. It would, however, be replaced a decade later by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in 1906.
But this was the time when Joseph Arch became identified with what was clearly a very popular cause. He travelled all over England, speaking in stirring language at countless village meetings; inspired no doubt by his deep faith in his cause. Rural workers everywhere welcomed him as one of their own and from the walls of many small cottages’, portraits of his strong bearded face looked encouragingly down. He also became the subject of such rallying songs as:
Joe Arch he raised his voice,
’twas for the working men,
Then let us all rejoice and say,
We’ll all be union men.
In 1873 the Canadian government invited him over to examined the suitability of the country for British emigration. Impressed by his report, his Union helped over 40,000 farm labourers and their families to emigrate both there and to Australia over the next few years.
Joseph Arch also turned to agitating for the widening of the voting franchise, which until then only included property owners, and this resulted in the passing of the 1884 Parliamentary Reform Act. In the ensuing 1885 General Election, he was elected as the Liberal MP for North West Norfolk, the first agricultural labourer to enter the House of Commons. He did lose his seat when William Gladstone was defeated in June 1886; however, Arch was re-elected to the same constituency in Norfolk in 1892, when he was one of twelve working-class MPs in parliament. Though he was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor in 1893, he seldom spoke and his former supporters came to perceive him as pompous and out of touch. Now they sang about him
Joseph Arch he stole a march,
Upon a spotted cow.
He scampered off to Parliament,
But where is Joseph now?
Then, on 25 July 1894, the Norfolk Chronicle reported:
“Mr. Joseph Arch, M.P., at a meeting held at New Buckenham, delivered to the agricultural labourers his famous address which was quoted throughout the country for some time afterwards. “You poor, craven milk-and-water fools,” said the hon. member for North-west Norfolk, “why, you button up your pockets at the thought of paying 2¼d. a week when you are told by a lot of lying scampery and scandalism that I have run away with your money. . . . Professor Rogers once said when speaking of the tenant farmers, that their heads were as soft as the mangolds they grew. I think some of the labourers’ heads are as soft as the mangolds they hoe.”
In 1898, Arch published what was considered to be ‘a pugnacious and opinionated autobiography’, upon which The Spectator newspaper commented at the start of its long review that:
“One cannot help wishing that this book was more of an autobiography, and less of a polemic against Mr. Arch’s adversaries, political and social.”
Retiring from Parliament before the 1900 General Election, Arch returned to spend the last years of his long life in his tiny cottage in Barford; the place where he had been born. He died there on 12 February 1919 at the age of 92 years.
Footnote – The Legacy:
(1) The Wellesbourne Tree: This tree died in 1948 but the spot was marked by a commemorative stone at the old meeting place, now renamed Chestnut Square. In 1952, the National Union of Agricultural Workers erected a bus shelter there and set up inside it a commemorative plaque which still remains. A replacement tree was also planted where every year union representatives once gathered on 7 February and then went on to Barford to lay a wreath upon Arch’s grave. The unions do not, apparently, do this anymore, but the Wellesbourne Action Group organises a walk from Barford to Wellesbourne in June each year, along the footpath known as the Joseph Arch Way. There is now also a Joseph Arch Road in the village which runs off the A439 roundabout, while in Barford the old coaching inn has been renamed the Joseph Arch pub.
(2) The Joseph Arch Inn:
(3) Plaster Casts:
The Museum of English Rural Life has a Joseph archive; included in which are curious plaster casts of his hands and wrists. Unfortunately, nothing is known about these plaster casts, except that they were made during the last quarter of the 19th century when Joseph Arch was no longer a practising agricultural labourer – else, they would be heavy, calloused and weather-beaten. Also, the exact reason why the casts were made is unknown. Maybe they were part of a statue; even though no other parts of the statue have been found. Another possibility is that such plaster casts were created because, during the 19th century, they were used to improve art and for teaching and research purposes. However, there seems to be no written record which could explain exactly why these casts were created – only speculation remains.
Banner Heading: ‘The Mowers’ by George Clausen, 1892. Painting: Usher Gallery, London
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Oliver Fellows Tomkins, to give him his full name, was born in Great Yarmouth in 1873, the fourth son of the Daniel Tomkins. His formal education began in his father’s school in the town before travelling to Switzerland for a short time to complete it. He then spent five years working in business in Norwich, during which time he joined Dr George Barrett’s Congregational Church in Princes Street. Later, Tomkins become a student at Dr Henry Grattan Guinness’ Training College in London where he took a medical course.
The original Princes Street Congregational Church was opened in 1819 with John Alexander becoming its “Founder and First Pastor”, and one of the most popular ministers in and around Norwich from 1819 to 1866 at what is now the United Reformed Church. Dr George Barrett took over the church reigns following the death of Revd John Alexander.
Tomkins was clearly smitten with evangelism for during college holidays and half-terms, he would preach to the North Sea fishermen and volunteer for mission work in English country villages, travelling to each in a caravan, whilst camping at night. He was therefore delighted when, eventually he was appointed to work as a missionary in the Torres Straits of New Guinea. Half of his financial support for this mission was paid for by members of the Home Magazine Missionary Band which helped to pay enthusiastic bearers of ‘God’s word’ to go to many far-flung places in the world.
Tomkins sailed with the Reverend Albert Pearse in December 1899; they were to join the Scottish-born missionary James Chalmers in New Guinea, the territory where Chalmers himself was to ignore calls from his friends to leave and return to England when his second wife died. His refusal, along with the arrival of Tomkins was to have consequences for both of them some sixteen months later.
But for the moment, Chalmers was pleased with the arrival of Tomkins, who would share the burden of his large district. According to Chalmers:
“Throughout Mrs. Chalmers’s last illness, Tomkins [was] “a great help and a great comfort.” No son could have treated me kindlier than he did.”
In his young colleague Tomkins, Chalmers saw reasons for hoping that he might have more time to return to his pioneer work. A few months after Tomkins’s arrival, Chalmers again sent a brief message to the Mission House regarding Tomkins: “He will do”; and that opinion was confirmed again, and again in the months that followed. Dr. William George Lawes was to call them, “the intrepid Paul and the beloved Timothy.”
But we move on – to 7 April 1901 to be exact. This was when Tomkins and Chalmers were on board the ‘Niue’ and had arrived at the Aird River at Kisk Point on Goaribari Island. The last entry in Tomkins’ diary indicates what happened next:
“In the afternoon we were having a short service with the crew, when about twenty canoes were seen approaching ……. They hesitated as they got nearer to us, till we were able to assure them that we meant peace. Gradually one or two of the more daring ones came closer, and then alongside, till at last one ventured on board. Then, in a very few minutes, we were surrounded by canoes, and our vessel was covered with them …… On this, our first visit, we were able to do really nothing more than establish friendly relations with the people. They stayed on board about three hours, examining everything, from the ship’s rigging to our shirt buttons. They tried hard to persuade us to come ashore in their canoes, but we preferred to spend the night afloat, and promised we would visit their village in the morning.”
Neither of the Niue two missionaries, nor the twelve native Christians who accompanied them were seen after this visit to the natives. What really happened was only ascertained a month later, when George Le Hunte, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony, visited the Aird River with a punitive expedition, and heard the story from a captured prisoner. This was quoted from an account supplied by the Rev Archibald Ernest Hunt, who accompanied the Lieutenant-Governor:
“The Niue anchored off Kisk Point on 7 April and a crowd of natives came off. As it was near sunset, ‘Tamate’ [the native name for John Chalmers] gave them some presents, and made signs that they were to go away, and the next day he would visit them ashore. At daylight the next morning, a great crowd of natives came off and crowded the vessel in every part. They refused to leave, and in order to induce them to do so, Tamate gave Bob, the captain, orders to give them presents. Still, they refused to move, and then Tamate said he would go ashore with them, and he told Tomkins to remain on board. The latter declined, and went ashore with Tamate, followed by a large number of canoes. When they got ashore, the whole party were massacred and their heads cut off. The boat was smashed up, and the clothing etc. distributed. All the bodies were distributed and eaten, Tomkins being eaten at the village of Dopima, where they were all killed.”
But just like most stories aimed at a reading public; the writers kept to the old adage ‘don’t let the facts spoil a good story’! One suggested that the ships party was invited back to the native’s village and into a newly constructed ‘Dubu’ for refreshments; clearly, if this was true, the two did not recognise the significance of entering such a communal house – which was for fighting men and could not be used without consecration by a human sacrifice! Tomkins and Chalmers were clearly ‘taken in’ by the welcome; neither could they have seen any meaning behind the piles of human skulls nestled around the crude wooden idols in the corner of the hut, a picture of stark contrast!
True or false, it was the case that other fellow missionaries had already reported similar sights elsewhere; of smoke-blackened human jaw bones dangling from the rafters of village huts, smoke-dried human flesh and notches in trees which denoted the number of humans who had been cooked and eaten in a community. So, some may have thought, what on earth were the two men thinking, when clearly it was common knowledge that there were cannibalistic traditions in the region, a place where the missionaries were trying to bring the word of God!
But for Tomkins and Chalmers it would be too late; no sooner had they taken their places, seated at ground level along one side of the large laid-out spread, when each was clubbed from behind and killed. It was also said that their bodies were prepared and cooked with a variety of sago dishes, cooked with shell-fish, boiled with bananas, roasted on stones, baked in the ashes and tied up in leaves, – to be served as the main course, a feast that had been promised to the victims! Afterwards, their bones were kept on display and seemingly, the native’s ‘Dubu’ house had been suitably blessed by their preferred Gods!
Back home, relatives and friends undoubtedly mourned the loss of Oliver Tomkins and the church he once worshiped in, the Princes Street Congregational Church, held a memorial service for Tomkins. Members afterwards subscribed to a plaque which they placed inside the church building in his memory; it remains there to this day.
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Part 1 and 2 dealt with William Gooderham Senior and his son, William Gooderham Junior, respectively; they belonged to a prominent family line which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier. This final Part 3, is about George Gooderham, William Senior’s third son.
George Gooderham, destined to be both businessman and yachtsman, was born on 14 March 1830 in, or certainly near, Scole, Norfolk, England. He was William Gooderham Senior and Harriet Tovell Herring’s third son and brother of William Junior. George was fortunate to have been born into relative prosperity on the family estate, which his father worked as a gentleman farmer. At age two he was among a group of 54 people, led by his father, who emigrated to Upper Canada, arriving at York, Toronto on 25 July 1832. There the Gooderham’s joined James Worts, George’s uncle through marriage to his father’s sister, Elizabeth. James Wort had arrived in York the previous year and established, for himself and Gooderham, a wind-powered flour-mill at the mouth of the Don River.
After the founding of York in 1793, several mills were constructed along the lower River Don, James Wort’s mill was just one; his was amongst a variety of other mills which, initially at least, turned out cut timber, flour and paper products. By the 1850s, there were more than 50 mills along the Don and its tributaries. In the case of Wort’s mill, the founder, together with his partner, William Gooderham Senior, soon realised that water power was not enough and changed to steam driven engines. This was a shrewd move for their business expanded to a point when, in 1837, a distillery was added to the business. This was the catalyst of the Gooderham future fortune in Canada. James Worts died in 1834 and in 1845 his son James Gooderham Worts became a partner in the enterprise, which took the name Gooderham and Worts.
In his youth, and whilst the family concentrated on building an empire, young George attended Sunday school in accordance to the wishes of his evangelical Anglican father. George later became librarian at the Little Trinity Church, which was just north of the family home, close to the mill-distillery complex. This church also became the centre of his early social life, and it was where he met Harriet Dean, whom he married on 14 March 1851, his 21st birthday. During their marriage, the couple had four sons and eight daughters – all but one daughter survived infancy. Unsurprisingly perhaps, his father happened to be a warden of Little Trinity, and held this post for many years. George himself, was a frequent participant in vestry meetings and was vestry clerk in 1854. He rented a pew from 1852 to the 1880s, but in later years he attended St James’ Cathedral.
George entered Gooderham and Worts while young, to learn the trade, and on 1 Aug. 1856 he was made a full partner in the distillery, alongside his father and his cousin James. The Monetary Times attributed to his acumen and drive the major expansion of the business, which begun three years later:
“He offered, if permitted a larger share in the concern, to manage the enlargement he had recommended and to take the risk of its success.”
The risk of the expansion, completed in 1861 and estimated to have cost $200,000, was reduced through a price-fixing agreement reached sometime before 1861 with rival distiller John H. R. Molson and Brothers of Montreal. By at least 1863 George was superintendent of the Toronto factory.
George’s rapid rise was partly the result of his elder brothers’ decision to spurn the family’s distilling business. William had moved to Rochester, New York, in 1842 to become a merchant. James, the second-born, joined him at Norval, Upper Canada, in about 1850 to run a general store. In addition to being loyal to the distillery business, George was clearly technically proficient and a perfectionist:
“He knew the chemistry of his subject as well as its economy, and was accustomed to make minute tests of grain and of yeast under the microscope,” said the Monetary Times.
The 1859–61 expansion of the business included installation of automatic milling and distilling machinery; this came along when the mechanisation methods of making barrels for the oil industry were adopted by the large distilleries. The impact on some 40 coopers at Gooderham and Worts was dramatic; wages and hours at its barrel shops had, in 1870, been controlled by the Coopers International Union, but within two years the union’s grip had been broken by the new machinery. By the mid-1870s the mill’s 150 workers were producing one of every three gallons of proof spirits manufactured in Canada. George Gooderham played a large role in the growing efficiency of the distillery throughout this period.
As George’s father expanded into banking and railways, George followed. In September 1870 he was made a director of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, which, along with the Toronto and Nipissing Railway, was controlled by Gooderham and Worts and hauled freight for the company. Three years later he was made a Director of the Bank of Toronto, also controlled by Gooderham and Worts with his father as President.
William Gooderham Snr. died on 20 Aug. 1881 and his two Gooderham and Worts partnerships of the mercantile business and the distillery were merged, James Gooderham Worts and George becoming sole partners. Most of his father’s estate passed to George and William Gooderham Jr, their brother, James, having died in 1879. Worts was elected president of the Bank of Toronto with George as vice-president; however, Worts died on 20 June 1882. The following day George was elected to the presidency, which he held until his death. He also gained control of Gooderham and Worts, and soon applied to parliament to have it transformed into a joint-stock corporation. George also became president of Gooderham and Worts Limited.
George then spent much of the remainder of his life broadening the base of his wealth by investing in real estate, mines, and financial services. In 1887 he, together with other Toronto backers founded twin firms, Manufacturers’ Accident Insurance Company and Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Company, and succeeded in securing Canada’s prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, as president of both. George became president of this company, on 22 June 1891, after Macdonald’s death. He then oversaw a steady expansion abroad throughout the 1890s and went on to head many more Companies.
In both distilling and finance, George’s cautious temperament and attention to detail helped bring success. His greatest talent lay in identifying and exploiting economic linkages. At the distillery, the company controlled more and more stages of production, from the field to the barrel, and profited from such industrial by-products as waste mash, which was fed to the company cattle. In financial services, George’s directorships linked a bank, a trust company, a mortgage company, a life-insurance company, and accident-insurance companies. This horizontal integration spread his personal investment risk but, more important, it helped to identify opportunities for profit. George’s companies thus remained relatively stable during periods of economic turmoil.
Between 1889 and 1892 George Gooderham built an enormous Romanesque-style mansion at the northeast corner of Bloor and St George streets, in Toronto’s newly fashionable Annex neighbourhood. The chief designer was David Roberts Jr, whose father had been architect for the 1859–61 expansion of the mill-distillery complex. George christened the house ‘Waveney’, after the river that flowed past his birthplace in Norfolk. This imposing mansion, now housing the York Club, was a rare display of wealth from a man who otherwise preferred to stay out of the public eye.
George indulged a passion for yachting in his later years. In about 1880 he bought the racing schooner Oriole, which he moored at the east end of Toronto Bay by the distillery. It was replaced in 1886 by Oriole II, which won the Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s Prince of Wales Cup in six of the next seven years. He was vice-commodore of the club from 1884 to 1887 and commodore in 1888. He was also one of six investors in the cutter Canada, which won the first challenge for the Canada Cup, on Lake Erie on 25 Aug. 1896.
Gooderham held a number of exclusive posts in which he associated with other members of Toronto’s élite. He was at times master of the Toronto Hunt Club, a director of the Ontario Jockey Club, and a captain in the reserve militia. He was also a senator at the University of Toronto and a trustee of the Toronto General Hospital. In the field of music, he joined impresario Frederick Herbert Torrington in organizing two ventures: the Toronto Music Festival (1886), of which he was honorary president, and the Toronto College of Music, which he served as president. As a Conservative, he donated to the party but never stood for political office.
Chronic bronchitis forced an ageing George to flee Canada each winter for warmer climates. His condition prompted trips to the Mediterranean and the southern United States. Several weeks after his return from Florida in 1905, he developed pneumonia and died at his Toronto home at age 75.
He left an estate estimated to have been worth more than $15 million. “The accumulation of such a fortune in one man’s hands marks an epoch in the development of Canada,” a eulogist wrote in Saturday Night. “His Will, made public in August 1905, declared the value of his holdings to be at least $10,000,000; he was thus one of the richest men in the country. The composition of the estate showed how effectively George Gooderham had diversified. Almost 90 per cent of his father’s wealth in 1881 had been invested in the distillery; When George died, on 1 May 1905, his distillery investment represented only about a third of his fortune.
Though he had accumulated seven times the wealth of his father and though his financial and real-estate investments touched the lives of thousands, George Gooderham remained broadly unknown. His funeral was small and his legacy was soon dispersed. His Will placed the distillery in the hands of his four sons. The two eldest sons, William and Albert, were to manage the operation and, at the end of ten years, were to be given the right to purchase the business outright. The presidency of Gooderham and Worts passed to William, who held the position until the family’s sale of the distillery in 1923. George’s father would have been proud of him!
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Part 1 dealt with William Gooderham, senior of three prominent members of the same family line – a line which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier. Part 2, here, is about William Gooderham Junior – a son who fell short of his father’s expectations!
William Gooderham Junior was born on 14 April 1824 at Scole, Norfolk, England, eldest son of William Gooderham Senior and Harriet Tovell Herring. Very little is known about William Junior, except that at the tender age of eight years he accompanied his father when the family sailed to York, Upper Canada in 1832. After receiving a grammar school education in Toronto, he refused, in 1842, to join his father’s milling and distilling firm and instead moved to Rochester, New York where he took up a mercantile career. Born into an evangelical Church of England family, William Jnr was converted to Methodism while at Rochester and became a strong temperance advocate. Then on 14 April 1847 he married Margaret Bright whose sister, Sarah, had married his cousin, James Gooderham Worts, in 1840. There were no children.
About 1850, William Gooderham, and his younger brother James, opened a general store at Norval in Halton County, West Canada. The business was not profitable and closed in 1859. William then became the Toronto-based partner in the Boston grain firm of Taylor Brothers, but when his misjudgements proved costly, the partnership was ended. Other ventures were equally unsuccessful and several times Gooderham had to be rescued by friends and relatives.
In the 1870s Gooderham was, however, named vice-president and managing director, and in 1873 became president and managing director, of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company, then controlled by Gooderham and Worts. He remained head of the railway until its heavy losses forced an absorption in 1882 into the group of lines consolidated as the Midland Railway of Canada. In 1871 he was an incorporator of the Confederation Life Association and represented family interests on its board of directors until 1872. Failing health and his wife’s illness caused him to withdraw gradually from active business management in the early 1880s. This was probably a sound move for as his obituary in the ‘Toronto World’ was to point out “His record as a business man tells of confidence placed in talents he did not possess.”
Two events shaped the last decade of Gooderham’s life. First, his own illness and that of his wife (who had become an invalid in 1875) brought about a reconversion to Methodism and, with it, William was to enter upon a career of evangelism which lasted to the day he died on 12 September 1889 at Toronto, Ontario. The second event which shaped matters was that, in 1881, he received some $300,000 from his father’s estate. With this money William launched himself into careers in finance and philanthropy. He invested large sums in the shares of several corporations and was elected to their boards. Of his investments, only the Central Bank of Canada proved to be a serious misjudgement, for when that institution failed in 1888, he was named ‘a liquidator’, probably because of his known rectitude and the fact that he owned a large number of shares. With double liability, his losses exceeded $40,000. Nevertheless, his estate was valued at approximately $450,000 at his death – (approx. $11,000,000 in today’s terms?).
In spite of his eccentric behaviour, which included importuning strangers in public places to proclaim the Word of God, his generosity to religious organisations was admired. He personally supported missionaries in India, the Canadian northwest, and in the South Sea islands; assembled a quartet of young people with whom he paid regular preaching visits to hospital wards; gave sermons in various Protestant churches; and financially supported numerous charities. He was a director of the Toronto Willard Tract Depository, a member of the Toronto General Hospital Trust, and chairman of the executive of the China Inland Mission. In 1888 he gave $25,000 to erect the Toronto Christian Institute. He died the next year preaching to destitute men at a Salvation Army haven.
Gooderham’s Will created a sensation. It was instrumental in ending the delay in the implementation of the Act of 1887, with the amalgamation of the federation of Victoria University at Cobourg with the University of Toronto; the move provided, in addition to a $75,000 permanent endowment, for $125,000 to be paid to Victoria on the condition that it moved to Toronto. Federation with the University of Toronto was proclaimed on 12 Nov. 1890 and the transfer was completed in October 1892. In addition, William bequeathed $150,000 to organisations such as the Upper Canada Bible Society, the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations, the Boy’s Home, Girl’s Home, and homes for infants, the Toronto Home for Incurables, the House of Industry, and the Salvation Army.
Ultimately, this is intended to be the story of three particular members of the same family line – a prominent line and one which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier – they were the Gooderham’s. It is a story which is long, hence the need to split it into three parts. This is Part 1 – about William Gooderham, the evangelical patriarch!
William Gooderham was born on 29 August 1790 in, or certainly near Scole in Norfolk, the second son of James and Sarah Gooderham. Very little is known about William’s childhood, except to say that when he was 12 years old, he left his father’s farm in Norfolk to work in the London office of his mother’s brother, an East Indies trader. Then, during the Napoleonic Wars, he joined the Royal York Rangers and saw action in the capture of Martinique in 1809 and Guadeloupe in 1810.
William survived the actual conflict, however, at the age of 21 years, he was invalided home after contracting yellow fever on the island. After he had recovered, he continued with the force as a recruiting officer for the remainder of the war, which lasted until 1815. During this period, he was said to have ‘acquired’ the means by which to pay off an £800 mortgage on his father’s farm at Scole, which he was to later inherit in 1820 when his father died. This initiative of his also secured a modest income for himself; it was also the first sign of his in-built ‘business acumen’ which was to hold him in good stead in future years. For the moment, however, he simply became a gentleman farmer, although his estate at Scole at the time was to suffer from the general decline in values of British agricultural produce, brought about in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) when food imports recovered and there was a resumption of American trade following their own Civil War of 1812–1815.
This economic downturn for land owners, plus the rural rioting during that period, must have been an influencing factor in William’s decision, eleven years later, to emigrate. However, before then and shortly after his father had died in 1820, William married Harriet Tovell Herring and began the process of rearing their family of thirteen children, of which at least five were born at Scole. During the whole process of rearing a family, William went from ‘gentleman farmer’ in Norfolk to becoming a very successful and wealthy distiller, businessman, and banker in far off Canada.
In 1831 Gooderham’s brother-in-law, James Worts, (1792 – 1834) instigated a large immigration of their two families to Upper Canada. Worts, being the first to emigrate, established himself as a flour miller at the mouth of the Don River near York, Toronto, and began construction of a windmill. The following year of 1832, William Gooderham followed in Worts wake, bringing over to York a company of some 54 persons: members of his own and of Worts’s family, as well as servants and 11 orphans. Once settled in York, William invested the substantial sum of £3,000 in Worts’s milling business and the two brothers-in-law formed the partnership of Worts and Gooderham. The partnership abruptly ended when in February 1834, several weeks after Worts wife, Elizabeth Gooderham, died during childbirth, James Worts committed suicide; he drowned himself in a well on his own company’s property. William, ever the businessman, not only continued running the company, but also changed its name to William Gooderham, Company.
In 1837 he then added a distillery to his business so that he could make efficient use of surplus and second-grade grain. Four years later he introduced gas for illumination and converted the entire plant from wind-to steam-power. Shipment of consignments to Montreal in the early 1840s illustrated Williams growing interests in the harbourfront area and in distant markets. Six years later he built his own wharf there and by the 1860s owned schooners on the Great Lakes. During this period of expansion, William took on his nephew, James Gooderham Worts the son of the drowned James, as a trainee. In 1845, this same young nephew joined William as a full partner; the firm’s name was changed to Gooderham and Worts. During the 1860s and 1870s the company enjoyed a pre-eminence in Toronto’s industry, transportation, and finance, as well as on the stock exchange.
The complex of buildings owned by Gooderham and Worts, and designated the Toronto City Steam Mills and Distillery in 1845, grew to become an industrial showpiece and made its owners the city’s largest taxpayers. A major expansion was begun in 1859 with a new, five-storey distillery built; it was acknowledged as the largest distillery in Canada West and had begun exporting to the English market. In early 1862 the costs of new buildings, which included storehouses and an engine house, and of equipping the old windmill with modern machinery were estimated at over $200,000 – (apprx. $5,000,000 (£3,676,925) in today’s terms?). A brick malthouse was later added. After 1862 the windmill was used for further distilling of the company’s premium brands, “Toddy” and “Old Rye,” which enjoyed both an English market and large sales in Canada.
On 26 October 1869, a spectacular fire destroyed a storehouse and a lumber pile and gutted the interior of the main milling and distillery building, causing considerable damage; unfortunately, the company was not covered by insurance. However undeterred, William Gooderham and James Worts rebuilt, and their business continued to grow further. In 1874–75 the company produced over 2,000,000 gallons, or one-third the total amount of proof spirits distilled in the country. By the late 1870s, Gooderham and Worts, in common with other Canadian distillers, had withdrawn from the English market and had turned increasingly to selling grain alcohol for the manufacture of such products as vinegar and methylated spirits, as well as the scent “Florida Water.” Although Gooderham and Worts delegated direct management and some degree of ownership in the 1860s and 1870s, they were primarily responsible for the success of the firm.
Visitors to the Gooderham and Worts establishments after 1861 were said to bestruck by their massive size, by their cleanliness, by the fully automatic milling machinery which further distinguished the operation from most others in the province, and by the shelters for the livestock alongside the distillery. Just as the distillery had grown out of the mill, a livestock operation, begun in the 1840s, was an offshoot of the distillery business. William first raised pigs and then cattle, fattened on the nutritious swill that was a by-product of distilling. A dairy herd numbering 22 in 1843 grew into a dairy and beef operation which by 1861 was fattening about 1,000 animals a year, but at that time the herd was probably no longer owned by Gooderham and Worts. When improved transportation opened an English market, only beef was produced and by the end of the decade there were sheds for 3,000 animals near the distillery.
In the expansion of their facilities after 1859, Gooderham and Worts included a siding to the Grand Trunk Railway, large enough to hold 14 carriages; they were to be prominent among Toronto businessmen interested in the narrow-gauge railways promoted by George Laidlaw, a former employee. The partners’ interest in railways grew naturally out of the needs of their mills and of the Toronto flour-mill and distillery complex. In 1870, on terms favourable to themselves, they advanced a loan large enough to give the bonds of both the Toronto, Grey & Bruce and the Toronto and Nipissing railways a market value.
Thereafter their influence increased in the operation of the two lines, especially the Toronto and Nipissing railway of which William Gooderham Senior had become a provisional director upon its incorporation in 1868. Even before William Gooderham Jr became President of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company in 1873, the Gooderham interests were the railway’s main customer, and the Toronto terminal of this line was established conveniently near the distillery and cattle sheds. Although family control of a railway, built with much public funding, did not escape criticism, defenders of the line pointed to the need for Gooderham’s capital to launch the enterprise and to finance its chief activity, which involved buying cordwood in the north and storing it to season before transporting it for sale in the city.
When William Gooderham became President of the Bank of Toronto in 1864, a post he held until his death, he embarked on the last of several careers, leaving James Worts to look after their joint interests in the Bank. The Bank’s combination of conservative investment policy with internal efficiency and innovative management bore the mark of William Gooderham. Under him the Bank achieved an enviable reputation for stability which brought it a growing share of business. Its stocks remained at a relatively high price, even during the recession in the 1870s.
On a personal front William Gooderham, ever the ‘conservative’, avoided the public eye and shied away from exposure as a member on the first publicly elected school board in 1850; his only real venture into politics was as City Alderman in 1853 and 1855. At the same time, he was staunch evangelical Anglican, and a leading member of Little Trinity Church (which was near his distillery) and its warden from 1853 to 1881. William was also a lifelong freemason, and served as President of the York Pioneer Society from 1878 to 1880. His charitable activities were both personal (he took a growing number of orphans under his protection) and institutional. He represented the board of trade on the trust of the Toronto General Hospital, and along with Worts and William Cawthra he contributed the $113,500 (possibly valued around $3 million today?) needed to build a new wing for patients with infectious diseases.
William died on 20 August 1881 in Toronto, Ontario, having taken the opportunity during the last three or four years of his life to turn much of his business over to his third son, George, who had already become a full partner in Gooderham and Worts. It seems that William’s eldest son, William Junior, President and Managing Director of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway from 1873 had an inglorious career in other businesses and was to die in 1889. William’s second son, James, had already been killed in an accident on the Credit Valley Railway in 1879. Three other sons of William, Henry, Alfred Lee, and Charles Horace, were to be employed in branches of the family concern. The Reverend Alexander Sanson of Little Trinity Church eulogized William as a type of patriarch.
Even after providing for his children, William Gooderham left an estate which amounted to approximately $1,550,000 at first valuation (possibly valued around $40 million today?). Obituaries stressed the breadth of his influence in the business community and his contribution to the city’s growth from a town of “three or four thousand inhabitants, and little wealth” to the ‘metropolis’ in 1881. Gooderham built his Empire by combining the principle of dealing in articles of widespread consumption with a sensitivity, which he retained as he grew older, to the opportunities offered by new techniques and new markets. Not bad for this man from Scole, Norfolk, England.
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It was a vicious murder that worked its way into 19th century national imagination and also crept into later fiction. Many authors wrote about the crime and the man who perpetrated it. Sir Walter Scott became fascinated by him and even visited the scene of his crime. George Burrows was said to have been at his execution, but certainly wrote about him afterwards as editor of ‘Notable Trials’ when he wrote his personal account of the man’s execution. Scholarly crime studies also made a feature of the man, his background and the reasons for what was a murder, and a gruesome one at that! These studies began to filter through long after the actual gallows, on which the man swung, had long become an exhibit at Madame Tussauds. The murderer’s name was John Thurtell.
John Thurtell is a well-documented person of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with numerous biographies and studies about him in various forms of print which were published in both the United Kingdom and abroad. His was a short and wretched life where many of the opportunities that were offered to him, or came to him by chance, were wasted and he was best known for his personal brand of criminality. Unfortunately, and despite Thurtell being an intelligent ‘hard’ man, he quickly became a compulsive gambler and seemed to have had no trouble in thriving on the trappings of shady deals and illegal prize-fights which he promoted – and in which he sometimes took part.
Born on 21st December, 1794, Thurtell had every opportunity to make the most of his life in times when to be poor probably meant hardship and deprivation. His parents were financially quite well off in their home at Harford Bridges, which is still just a handful of miles south of Norwich, in the County of Norfolk. It was there where his father Alderman Thomas Thurtell, a prominent merchant and city councellor – who also served as mayor of Norwich in 1828, celebrated the birth of baby John, his first son and the first in an ultimate line of several other children. As thrilled as the father must have been with the baby’s arrival, young John was to become his mother’s favourite child. This may have been one of the reasons why, as a child, John was not sent away for his schooling. A second reason may have been that young John, being an unruly child, had to be kept well within sight at all times when awake and active. Apparently, as John grew older, he became ‘not averse to tying canisters to dog’s tails’ – as George Burrow once put it.
Thurtell was certainly not a scholar and when he eventually went to school in Norwich, he remained permanently poor at both spelling and English Grammar. However, he must have shared the family’s social asperations at least, for he lacked the skills for much else. The truth was that he never applied himself to his studies and always seemed pre-occupied with competitive sports, mainly horse racing and prize-fighting (boxing). It was only after too many tussles for his family’s liking that his father decided that maybe a career in the navy would do young Thurtell good. So, at the age of 15 years, and with a freshly purchased commission by way of his father, John Thurtell joined Company 99 of the Marines as a second lieutenant and set out on 8 May 1809 to Chatham where he undertook a period of training before joining the HMS Adamant, a 50-gun Portland-class fourth rate warship which had just completed its final voyage after a thirty-year career as a fighting ship in the Royal Navy; it had served in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars.
During the month that Thurtell joined HMS Adamant, the ship was in the process of being fitted out as a ‘receiving ship’ which would be used, in harbour, to house newly recruited (also ‘impressed’) sailors before they were assigned to a ship’s crew. In the Royal Navy, the use of impressment to collect sailors resulted in the problem of preventing escapees. A receiving ship was part of the solution, for it was difficult to get off such a ship without being detected, and most seamen of the era did not know how to swim! Receiving ships, such as Adamant, were typically older vessels that could still be kept afloat, but were obsolete or no longer battle-worthy.
At the same time as Thurtell was being indoctrinated into his naval role, HMS Adamant was recommissioned under Captain John Sykes and in August 1809, presumably with Thurtell as part of its crew, took part in the ‘Scheldt Operation’ which was aimed at sealing the mouth of the Scheldt to prevent the port of Antwerp from being used as a base against the British Fleet. The primary aim of the whole campaign was to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. Captain Matthew Buckle took command of HMS Adamant for this operation and was still in post two years later when Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway (not Robert Waller Otway as mentioned in other works – he came to Leith later) adopted the ship as his flagship.
It was on 16 July 1811 when Thurtell was disciplined and discharged from HMS Adamant by Rear Admiral William Albany Otway for misconduct. Beyond this point, real evidence of Thurtell’s immediate life and naval career is non-existent, and therefore some assumptions must be made. For instance, it can be assumed that his discharge was not absolute, for he went on to find another berth with HMS Bellona (another aging ship of the line) on 11 November 1811; just in time to be involved with the ship’s blockade of Dutch ports before a convoy trip to St Helena and back by September 1813 when she returned to the Basque Roads, but was back on blockade duty off Cherbourg by October of that year. From all this, it is clear that Thurtell’s service in the Navy was confined to two old ships which were fit only for blockading duties and not for any degree of real action.
But Thurtell was prone to boasting to his friends and family about his involvement in sea battles; how he stormed the port of San Sebastian on the north coast of Spain for instance. However, Naval records indicate that this and other stories of action on the HMS Bellona were untrue; Bellona was docked at the Isle of Wight on 1 August 1813 when San Sebastian fell and the ship merely cruised past San Sebastian several days after hostilities had ended. He also told a story of how the Bellona captured a brig of war; it was, in fact, an unarmed merchant schooner that surrendered without a fight. By June 1814 there were no further opportunities for his ‘heroism’; this was the month when he resigned his commission and returned to Norwich. Being permanently ashore from this point did not, apparently, curtail his story-telling; and he always seemed to have a good audience around him, particularly in and around the Haymarket public houses in Norwich. It is said that folks there were greatly impressed with his tales of derring-do.
This growing attraction of his to frequent public house brought further interest in the world of boxing, and this was to be fuelled in 1818 by the landlord of ‘The Anchor’ in Lobster Lane, who was none other than Ned ‘Flatnose’ Painter who famously defeated Tom Spring in the August of that year. But three years before all this happened, in fact shortly after Thurtell’s 21st birthday on 21 December, Thomas Thurtell had set his son up in a bombazine business, alongside a designated partner by the name of John Giddons – or was it Giddings? – some accounts refer to the partner being John’s Brother, Thomas Thurtell; maybe it was all three?. No matter; the situation of being backed and supported by his wealthy and respectable parents was a wonderful opportunity for John Thurtell; also having been placed in the booming bombazine manufacturing and selling trade and with a young Quaker girl on his arm – what could possibly go wrong with his life? Plenty it would seem!
Inherent weaknesses with the partnership included the fact that John Thurtell did not like hard work, or show any trace of faithful endeavour towards the business; instead, he preferred frequenting Norwich taverns, and participating in or promoting boxing matches, even making numerous journeys to London in pursuit of the sport – and, inevitably, falling in with the ‘underworld’ fraternity who frequented such pastimes; maybe even, falling foul of ‘The Fancy’ – those professional crooks and gamblers who, seemingly, merged effectively into the the semi-illicit sport of amateur boxing at the time. Frequently, underworld elements and gentlemen of so-called genteel society mixed in a sport that during the early 19th century was officially illegal; however, it was widely celebrated and openly advertised without much fear of police intervention. At the same time, boxing — with its brutality, fatalities and associations with unsavoury characters, had ample potential for morals to be expressed. ‘The Fancy’, said a judge in 1803,
“draws industrious people away from the subject of their industry; and when great multitudes are so collected, they are likely enough to be engaged in broils. It affords an opportunity for people of the most mischievous disposition to assemble, under the colour of seeing this exhibition, and to do a great deal of mischief; in short, it is a practice that is extremely injurious in every respect and must be repressed.”
It would seem the these ‘gentlemen’ were far better at the game than the likes of John Thurtell, who was seen by them as a country ‘yokel’, despite being the son of an Alderman and having successfully promoted a big fight at North Walsham on the 17 July 1820. That one event was probably the only moment when Thurtell’s standing with ‘The Fancy’, as a backer and partial promoter, was at its highest.
At least anecdotal evidence suggested that Thurtell’s behaviour after this fight remained as bad as ever, and he even caused a fight at another sporting event when he assaulted someone who he accused of being a pickpocket. Maybe his failing business was beginning to play on his mind at moments when he behaved so badly in public. Certainly, within six years of indulging himself elsewhere and not paying due attention to his bombazine business the partnership was swiftly heading towards bankruptcy. By 23 January 1821 Thurtell, it seems, was in an utter mess, but had already planned to go to London to collect a considerable amount of money owed to the bombazine partnership. Much of this money was owed to his creditors, but that was not what was on Thurtell’s mind when he collected it and returned to Norwich, where events took a very ‘mysterious’ turn. He put it about that he had received a note asking him to call on a Mr Bolingbroke who live near Chapelfield. Whilst on his way, an unidentified woman approached him and as they walked along Thurtell was violently attacked and relieved of the £1508. Afterwards he could neither identify the woman or his assailants! It followed that he immediately placed an advertisement in the local Norfolk newspapers; it read:
“£100 Reward: Whereas at about 9 o’clock on the evening of the 22nd inst, Mr John Thurtell was attacked in Chapel Field, Norwich, by three men, knocked down and robbed of a pocket book containing £1,508 in notes, thirteen of which were of the Bank of England, value £100 each, and the name of John Thurtell is endorsed on them. Notice is hereby given that whoever will give information which might lead to the apprehension and conviction of the persons concerned in this robbery, shall be paid the above reward on applying to Mr Thurtell; and any person concerned in the robbery who will give information of his accomplices will receive the reward and a free pardon.”
The total sum involved would seem to be an incredible amount of money to be carrying, and it was quickly established that this little episode was a complete scam and that the so-called wounds he received during the ‘assault’ had been self-inflicted. It became all too clear that Thurtell’s motive was to enjoy a public subscription from the publicity. However, his creditors were never to be impressed or taken in by what had been the latest of Thurtell’s antics and notices of bankruptcy against his and Gidden’s partnership duly appeared, stating that J Giddens and J Thurtell, bombazine manufacturers, dealers and chapmen of Norwich were listed as insolvent, and that Ides, Poole & Greenfield of Gray’s Inn Square had been appointed solicitors. A creditors meeting took place on 15th to 17th March 1821 at the Norfolk Hotel.
Within days of this meeting Thurtell fled to London with a woman named Mary Dobson, whose looks were proving more interesting to him than those of his Quaker girl-friend. They left Norwich, leaving his apparent naïve father as his biggest creditor. By this time John Thurtell was being better known as ‘Jack’ Thurtell, and over the next twelve months or so Jack managed to obtain a licence to run a public house; get his brother, Thomas, imprisoned for a claimed debt of £17 which Jack thought would help discharge his own bankruptcy – that failed but left a bad taste in the mouths of at least his family. Jack also continued with any scam which he thought would bring him money; one involved buying a consignment of bombazine and storing it in a warehouse which he and Thomas had previously had insured for £1900. Jack then made some internal alterations to the warehouse which effectively concealed the inside. He then sold his entire stock for cash, but before it was delivered the warehouse was gutted by fire on the night of 26 January 1823.
The inevitable insurance claim was lodged but when investigators found that there were no traces of bombazine the County Fire Officer refused to settle the claim. Thomas Thurtell, who was clearly a partner in this fraud, not only sued the insurance company but won the case; however, such was the level of suspicion that the insurance company’s Managing Director not only confirmed its refusal to pay out, but threatened to pursue a case of conspiracy to defraud. Jack and Thomas where effectively broke and literally went into hiding, wandering from inn to inn and mixing with the rogues of London. Individuals like William Probert who had married a woman described as ‘physically repellent but financially attractive’, and was thus able to purchase a cottage in Gills Hill Lane, Radlett. Here he lived with his wife, her sister, two children of Thomas Thurtell and a couple of servants. Probert also put his wife’s money to other use, by setting himself up as a wine merchant, a venture that failed around the same time as John Thurtell’s own business ventures collapsed. The two were well matched.
Another rogue was Joseph Hunt, 26 years of age and an illiterate whose only talent was that he could sing. Doubtless there were other such characters in Jack Thurtell’s world of dubious deals and gambling. Then there was 43-year-old William Weare, a gang member and a ‘notorious blackleg’, card sharp, gambler at billiard tables and race horse meetings. He trusted no-one, and kept his considerable fortune about his person, strapped to his chest or secreted within his clothing. He lived in lodgings at Lyons Inn, off the Strand. This had previously been the address of reputable solicitors, which would have made Weare appear ‘respectable’, an image borne out by his appearance, for he was always smartly dressed. He could, and did, fleece many an easy prey and Jack Thurtell, who was considered a novice amongst such ‘sporting people’, was to be Weare’s next victim.
In October 1883, Weare, who had been to Doncaster races, returned to town having had a very successful day. He was approached by one of London gang-leaders who further tempted Weare with more ‘easy pickings’. The victim would be Jack Thurtell who had already lost heavily but was given the opportunity to make up his losses by playing a certain person who was considered poor at playing cards. Jack Thurtell thus met William Weare, who duly lost early rounds, conning Jack to play ‘just one more round’ – Weare took Thurtell for £300, and the loser was not pleased at all and conspired to exact revenge on Weare.
Jack Thurtell invited Weare to accompany him and his few friends out into the country around Radlett for a spot of hunting; Weare gladly accepted. In the meantime, Jack Thurtell and Hunt had bought a pair of pistols, a rope and a large sack; also hiring a gig, which would have been ideal for making the trip to Radlett, except that it would be pulled by two greys which were to prove to be a ‘give-away’ when the planned crime had been committed.
On the appointed day, Weare appeared, complete with a gun and a change of clothing; he accompanied John Thurtell in the gig, whilst Probert and Hunt followed in a second gig. Together, the party raced along the Edgware Road, calling into taverns along the way as they settled into their boozy, sporty and ultimately murderous weekend. Entering Radlett, Thurtell went on ahead whilst, it seems, Probert dropped Hunt off, before heading off along Gills Hill Lane after him. What really happened near Probert’s cottage really depends on which story is believed; people’s accounts varied between the inquest and the trial that was to follow. However, one thing was certain; Jack Thurtell was still aboard the gig when he shot Weare in the face before striking him several times with his pistol. If that was not enough, which it wasn’t because his was a ‘grudge’ assassination in which he demanded full revenge; he cut Weare’s throat.
The Sequell: The deed done, Thurtell must have felt that the score was settled – short of disposing of Weare’s body of course. Now, whether or not Probert helped in this matter is not really clear, so speculation must be that Thurtell carried out this task alone; placing Weare’s body into a sack and dumping it under bushes. This was during the early 19th century when Gills Hill Lane was little more than a track, with wild bushes, tree and hedgerows; at approximately three-quarters of a mile long, this overgrown lane was, in those days, referred to as a ‘dismal ravine’. However, Weare’s corpse was not to lay hidden for long by that lane; Probert and Hunt joined Thurtell at the cottage, which lay east of the lane, before all three went to the hidden site and rifled Weare’s pockets. Then, later that evening, after darkness had well and truly fallen, they carried the body to a nearby field, on horseback, where they threw it into a pond. Thurtell, obviously panicking, then went back to the scene of his crime and searched for the two murder weapons, the pistol and the knife – but with no success. Strange therefore that during the very next day two workmen, who were employed to clear the lane, passed the very same spot and not only noticed blood on the ground, but also discovered the bloodstained pistol and knife. These they passed on to their employer, a Mr Nicholls, who later presented them to the Petty Sessions of the Watford Branch which happened to be sitting, in session, at the Essex Arms Inn; it was on Tuesday, 28 October 1823.
According to Pete Goodrum, in his book ‘Five Norwich Lives’ what followed next was that:
“The Magistrate did not praise or thank Nicholls but unsurprisingly admonished him for taking so long to report his story. On seeing that the pistol was covered in blood, human hair and brains, they were galvanised into action. Constable Simmonds of Watford was given the weapons, along with instructions to go straight to London to request a Bow Street Runner to come down immediately. [After 1815, the Runners’ most regular employment was to respond to help requests from prosecutors outside London. These were likely cases in which their skill and experience was thought to be useful in investigating offences in the provinces.”
At the same time as the police were being alerted, rumours were spreading. Firstly, a gunshot was heard by a Mr P. Smith, at nearby Battlers Green. Secondly, a man named Freeman had noticed a gig in Gills Hill Lane with two men on board; and thirdly, it became established that on the day of the murder, Joseph Hunt had sported a beard and moustache – at the time of his arrest just days later he was to be found clean shaven and wearing Weare’s clothes! Then a chanced remark from a farmer that he had ‘heard a shot’ about the time of the killing forced Probert to waste no time in telling his companions; this resulted in all three men racing back to the pond which held Weare’s corpse, retrieving it, placing it into the gig and driving to another pond near Elstree to drown it once more!
But time and events were against Hunt, Thurtell, Thomas (Thurtell’s brother) and Probert, the latter displaying his extreme uneasiness to such an extent that soon the police authorities became interested in him. Magistrate Clutterbuck visited Probert’s cottage, which stood just north of Elstree and found that Probert had packed his bags and was clearly in the process of making his escape. Probert was questioned and revealed that his weekend guests had been Hunt and Thurtell. A subsequent warrant authorised, at first, the arrest of Thurtell’s brother, Thomas, together with Probert; then the investigation was passed over to the London Detective, George Ruthven, apparently a well-known and minor celebrity.
Again, according to Pete Goodrum:
“Events then moved quickly. One of the magistrates, Clutterbuck, having returned home exhausted, was woken by two visitors. They introduced themselves as John Noel, a London solicitor, and a billiard saloon owner called William Rexworthy. Noel claimed that on his way to the theatre in London he had heard from a patrol on the Edgware Road that there had been a murder of an unknown victim in Hertfordshire. Putting two and two together, he had become anxious that the victim might be his client, William Weare. He had heard from Rexworthy that Weare had planned a trip to Hertfordshire to go shooting with somebody called Jack Thurtell. However, Weare had apparently not returned to London. His lodgings were locked and he’d not been seen in any of his regular haunts. Clutterbuck took his visitors straight to the Essex Arms where the hearing was about to commence and where Noel quickly took legal control.”
Meanwhile, Detective Ruthven arrested Hunt at his lodgings in London before finding Thurtell in the Coach and Horses in Conduit Street, again in the city. Finding some items of Thurtell’s clothing blood stained, some exposed parts of his body covered with cuts and bruises and significantly, a pistol in one of his pockets, he too was arrested. Both Hunt and Thurtell were then taken back to the Essex Arms to join Probert and Thomas; from this point onwards the principle of ‘Honour among criminals’ fell by the wayside as Probert and Hunt turned King’s Evidence and pointed the finger at Thurtell, and also revealed the location of Weare’s body. The inquest had been held at the Artichoke public house in Elstree, whose licensee was foreman of the jury. Dr. Ward and Dr. Kendall, of Watford had examined Weare’s corpse and concluded that the cause of death was as a result of severe blows to the skull by a gun, causing pieces of bone to lodge in the brain.
Joseph Hunt, clearly setting out to save his own skin, gave evidence against Thurtell and spun out a story which included a statement saying that Thurtell had bought the pistols for £1 17s 6d., and that he had also enquired about hiring a gig. Incredulously perhaps, Hunt also revealed that the party under suspicion had called at the Artichoke for a drink on the way to Radlett prior to the murder! He then added that, after the murder, Thurtell had admitted killing the man “who robbed me of £300 at Blind Hookey (cards)”, and that he had taken a gold watch from Weare’s body. Hunt then gave an account of the episode of dumping Weare’s body. Concluding his evidence, Hunt gave more damning details which included him previously passing on to his solicitor the fact that he (Hunt) had received Weare’s clothes and had also shaved off his whiskers. Unintentionally amusing was when a juror asked Hunt: “What has become of your whiskers and moustache?” Hunt apparently replied: “You must be able to see I have cut them off!”
It was the court custom at the time to question each person separately, and without them knowing the submissions of others; these submissions were to vary widely. Probert’s version matched Hunt’s, but only in absolving himself of murder; other than that, he frequently contradicted Hunt’s version. He told the court that Thurtell had gone ahead and killed Weare, and that he (Probert) had not been party to it. He agreed he had helped to dispose of the body and that he, together with Hunt, had shared some of the money stolen from Weare by Thurtell.
As for poor Jack Thurtell, he simply dug a hole from which he failed to extricate himself; particularly on the question of the pistol found on his person when he was arrested. He had, at first denied that he ever owned a pistol, until he was reminded that such a weapon had been found on him; also, that the second of the matching pair had been found ‘within yards’ of the murder spot. Thurtell must have realised that the game was up for him and that it was clear that the three men had obviously lured Weare to Probert’s cottage because Jack intended to murder him. Events at the Hearing was progressing irrevocably to wards a proper Trial. The court returned a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ and committed the prisoners to Hertford gaol to await such a trial, that was set for 6 January 1824 at Hertford.
Languishing in prison for over three months, the three men continued to protest their innocence. Plenty of accusations and counter-accusations were voiced, all designed to set the blame elsewhere. Outside, most of the country who were interested in following the case were fed by Newspapers and broadsheets which peddled the grisliest details of what was becoming a sensational case; and no report failed to mention Jack Thurtell’s fall from grace as a ‘son of Alderman Thurtell of Norwich.’
When the trial commenced on 6 January 1824 it quickly became clear that it was a complicated case, requiring a considerable amount of legal talent to enable a conclusion. To assist in this, legal trickery was employed and this included granting immunity to Probert on condition that he appeared as a witness against Thurtell. Neither he nor Hunt, whose neck was on the line, did Thurtell any favours. It was Thurtell who was allowed to conduct his own defence and appeared to be doing quite well, until he made a big mistake by talking too long and in the process did himself no favours. At the end, the judge summed up, the jury retired only to return with a guilty verdict for both Hunt and Thurtell. The inevitable sentence was that the two men would hang; however, on the eve of their executions, Hunt’s sentence was commuted to transportation. As for Probert, he was only to remain alive and well for barely a year and a half; he died on the gallows in June 1825.
When Thurtell took the short walk to the rope, on 9 January 1824, he was in chains but dressed smart, as was his nature. Soldiers, armed with staves separated him and his execution party from the estimated 15,000 spectators who were there to see the spectacle; many removed their hats. Now, the last words describing this scene are left to those of Richard Clarke:
Execution: “James Foxen, the hangman, arrived from London on the Thursday and made the usual preparations. Thurtell dressed for the occasion and was described as being “elegantly attired in a brown great coat with a black velvet collar, light breeches and gaiters, and a fashionable waistcoat with gilt buttons.” A little before 12 noon on Friday, the 9th of January 1824, Foxen pinioned Thurtell’s hands in front of him with handcuffs and he was then led from his cell to the accompaniment of the tolling prison bell and the prison chaplain reading the burial service. A few moments earlier he had confessed his guilt to the chaplain. He mounted the 5 steps slowly but steadily and positioned himself on the trap. Here Foxen removed his cravat and loosened his collar. When Thurtell had finished praying, Foxen drew the white cotton cap over his head and placed the noose around his neck. The Governor of Hertford Gaol and the Chief Warder both shook hands with him before Foxen adjusted the noose. Wilson said, “Good bye Mr. Thurtell, may God Almighty bless you” to which Thurtell replied, “God bless you, Mr. Wilson, God bless you.” At two minutes past midday on the signal from Mr. Nicholson, the Under Sheriff, Foxen drew the bolts and Thurtell dropped into the box like structure with a crash…….by the standards of the day, Thurtell died easily and was not seen to struggle. After hanging the customary hour, his body was taken down and sent to London for dissection in Surgeon’s Hall in accordance with his sentence.”
Postscript: Great sensation was caused in Norwich by the trial and execution of John Thurtell, at Hertford. The execution took place on 9 January 1824, and on the 24th the Norfolk Chronicle published a letter received by Mr. Alderman Thomas Thurtell, of Norwich, the father of the deceased; it came from Mr. Robert Sutton, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in which the writer commiserated with Thomas Thurtell in his great affliction. In the same paper was another letter addressed by Mr. N. Bolingbroke, of Norwich, to the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in which he wrote:
“It may appear to some that he (the father) has not acted with sufficient kindness of feeling towards his unhappy son; but you may be assured, Sir, that there was no part of his conduct which could not be satisfactorily explained. He has generally acted under the advice of Mr. Unthank, a respectable solicitor in this city, my own, and others. There are many actions in a man’s life of which no correct opinion can be formed without a knowledge of the motives by which such have been influenced.”
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During the first half of the nineteenth century many acres of waste land throughout Norfolk and East Anglia were brought into cultivation as part of a national development which followed in the aftermath of the French wars when the price of grain was high. This was a time of need land owners of light uplands cleared them of gorse, thistles and coarse grass and ploughed them to plant such crops as wheat and barley. Later in the century Fen landowners did something similar by using steam pumping engines to drain hitherto intractable marshlands, such as Deeping Fen a few miles north of Peterborough, and made them fit for cultivation.
However, most of this ‘new’ land was some distance from existing settlements, and farmers working it found themselves short of labour. They were reluctant to build permanent houses for their farm workers, because they feared that the inhabitants might later qualify for poor relief, and so become a burden on the rates. In similar circumstances in the 18th-century, farmers might well have found room in their own homes to accommodate their labourers, but by the middle of the 19th century the social gap between master and worker was far too wide for this to be an acceptable solution. Feelings on the subject were, in 1865, expressed more fully by one particular farmer’s wife whose husband was employing four young labourers:
“It is very objectionable having these men in one’s own house…. it is so bad for the female servants.”
The Establishment of Gangs: Apparently, this particular wife overcame the problem by making the foreman take in the labourers – but many farmers favoured a more radical solution. They, in fact, dispensed with full time labourers as far as they could, and relied instead on the labour of agricultural ‘gangs’ which were established to satisfy the demand for labour.
Where local population numbers allowed, some farmers organised their own private gangs by recruiting women and children from the nearest village to be employed at busy times to work for a few days at a time. Others employed so-called ‘gangs’ which were organised by ‘gang-masters’. In many instances these ‘masters’ were usually unemployed farm labourers who recruited between ten and maybe forty women and children to work for them at a fixed rate of pay, after which they contracted with local farmers for their gangs to tackle specific jobs. The gang master had to be able to accurately estimate how long a given job would take. If he overestimated, then he would probably be too expensive to get the contract. On the other hand, if he underestimated, then he would charge too little and he would lose money on the deal.
It was the seasons which dictated the type of work done by the gangs. In winter, when there were few of them, they were employed to clear stones or sort potatoes. In spring, their work became more varied; some cleared such growth as couch grass by hand, whilst others spread muck, hoed, or planted potatoes. In early summer their work increased to include clearing fallow fields, hand-weeding grain and root crops, and helping with the hay harvest. Strangely perhaps, gangs generally disbanded for the main grain harvest in August and September, in favour of whole families coming out to work together. Then, by October, gangs re-formed for the potato harvest. In 1866, it was calculated that some 6,400 people worked in gangs in Norfolk, East Anglia and the East Midlands at some time during the year.
However, agricultural gangs had a bad reputation. Some of the masters were said to be unscrupulous by accepting contracts at rock-bottom prices, and then forcing their gangs to work for long hours to fulfil them. Some were considered immoral by taking, according to many, advantage of their status by demanding sexual favours from the girls and women in their gangs. Many gangs were noisy, unruly and regularly disturbed the peace on their way to and from work. It was also said that they tempted children away from school into what seemed too many to be a totally unsuitable environment.
Legislation: It was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury KG, who persuaded the Government, in 1865, to order an investigation into agricultural gangs. The Children’s Employment Commission was subsequently formed to take evidence from about 500 witnesses before presenting its report in 1867. In it they condemned the gangs and maintained that most of the masters were ‘men of violent and drinking habits’ whose influence was ‘very pernicious to the moral principles and conduct of the children and young persons of both sexes under their management’. It concluded that the manners of older members of the gangs were ‘coarse and irregular’, and that young people brought into contact with them were ‘hardened by early association with vice’.
The Commission also found that gangs usually worked about eight hours a day – perhaps an hour more in summer and less in early spring and late autumn. But these hours did not include travelling time and the commissioners quoted the two children, aged eleven and thirteen, who had to walk eight miles to work, labour for eight hours and then walk eight miles back home – all for 7d. a day. At the end of six weeks work they were said to be ‘good for nothing’.
The commissioners’ report also concluded that working in gangs seriously damaged both the physical health and the moral well-being of the children and young people involved, and they proposed various regulations to deal with the situation. A bill based on their recommendations was introduced into Parliament on July 29th, 1867, and given the royal asset on August 20th.
The ‘Agricultural Gangs Act’ sought to eliminate unsuitable gang-masters by setting up a licensing system. It also forbade the employment of all children under the age of eight, prohibited men and women working in the same gang, and made it illegal for even a licensed gang-master to take charge of a female gang unless he was accompanied by a woman license holder.
However, it may be somewhat surprising that the commissioners had, in some respects, painted a much blacker picture of gang work than was justified by the evidence they had collected, and on which their report was based. Though they were able to point to some cases of brutal or inconsiderate treatment, few witnesses seemed to agree with its assertion that gang work adversely affected the physical health of those involved. The scepticism of the witnesses was backed up by the evidence taken from boys and girls who themselves worked in gangs. For instance: one commissioner interviewed a sixteen-year-old Georgiana Rowan from Great Gressingham in Norfolk; she said that on her return from a day’s work near her home:
“We topped and tailed this morning for one farmer, she said, and forked docks this afternoon for another. We left the ground this afternoon at 5. Tomorrow morning, we shall start at 7. I take dinner with me to work, bread or bread with cheese or butter, but take no drink at this time of the year. [It was autumn] ……I don’t know what kind of work was hardest but we’re used to it now, and don’t mind it”
A Norfolk villager at the time felt that many young workers agreed with such a view, along with others:
“The children often come home wet,’……. but I believe they are fond of the work. They reckon to have some fun.”
Even a local magistrate, who believed that the gang system was ‘attended with much evil’, had to admit that children in gangs usually looked ‘happy and cheerful both in going to and coming from their work’. This positive attitude of many gang children was probably due to the fact that it was usually temporary and they welcomed outdoor gang work as a change from the classroom. Hannah Staff of Downham Market also gave a parent’s view. ‘My girl aged fifteen works in the gang. It is a deal healthier than the flax factory.’
But when the commissioners asserted that gangs damaged the morale of those who worked in them, they were faithfully reflecting the opinion of the majority of their witnesses. A Norfolk doctor came down to basics by saying:
“It is most indecent with boys and girls of that age out all day always together, and with no hedges or concealment of any kind. Nature must be relieved, and the workers drop out for this, and then the boys laugh at the girls.”
Another witness had reported that during their dinner time girls would take off ‘their petticoats etc’ and hang them up to dry, while a third had seen boys ‘bathing in a pond, while the girls were sitting round on the bank.’ Certainly, the sexual morals of the rural poor seemed unconventional when judged by respectable middle-class standards. One vicar said:
“I seldom marry any of them without being obliged to see the bride to be of larger dimensions than she ought to be.”
A more moderate, and perhaps more realistic view, came from several clergymen who probably knew more about the living conditions of the rural poor than did many other witnesses. They felt it was easy to exaggerate the pernicious influence of the gangs compared with other aspects of rural life. For instance, a vicar of Terrington in Norfolk painted a detailed picture of most cottages in his parish having only two or three rooms; where there were three, one was frequently let to a lodger, so that the family had to squeeze into the other two. Some cottages only had one room, and the vicar mentioned a case where one family, consisting of a father, mother, three sons and a grown-up daughter, all living in just a single room. He concluded:
“I fear that much immorality, and certainly much want of a sense of decency among the agricultural labouring classes, are owing to the nature of their homes, and the want of proper room: more so probably to this than to gang or field work.”
Many witnesses were particularly vehement about the bad effect of gang labour on the attitude of the girls involved. ‘They get so bold and know too much’, said one farmer. People seemed to take it for granted that the daughters of the rural poor ought to go into service in some respectable household where they would do useful work, be imbued with a proper sense of respect for their betters, and learn enough domestic skills to be able to keep house for their future husbands. Gang labour did not fit into this scheme of things. Indeed, it disrupted it.
The Rector of Stilton certainly had no doubts; he thought gang work was ‘most objectionable’ for girls. ‘It makes them rude, rough and lawless, and consequently makes them unsuitable for domestic duties; this, consequently would disqualify them for a future position as a wife and mother’. A prosperous farmer agreed. ‘Field work renders them unfit for service’, while another remarked that:
“A love for unhealthy liberty sets in, untidy habits arise, they turn aside from service in farm or other houses, know little or nothing of sewing, washing, making or mending, and entering upon marriage are generally untidy, slovenly and bad-managing housekeepers.”
Overall, it seems that the commissioner’s report did not represent the views of everyone, and certainly not those witnesses who thought gangs were subversive, teaching girls ‘independent habits’, and giving them ‘a love for unhealthy liberty’. Instead, the commissioners preferred to base their case against gangs on the damage they inflicted on the health and welfare of those who worked in them. Thus, their report highlighted parts of the evidence and played down the rest.Most gang workers interviewed did, in fact, present evidence in fact, calm and matter-of-fact manner. Ellen Collishaw of Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, was typical. She told a commissioner:
“I am going on 13. I have worked at weeding. I worked all the year to gleaning (harvest). I have been working since harvest too. I have been singling turnips and weeding turnips. I went with Mr Hutchinson. He is a labourer. I was all the time with him. There were twenty besides me, girls as well as boys. There were many girls younger than me… We worked on Mr Greenham’s on the heath, we weeded wheat and barley. We picked up twitch after harvest. The corn was high when we weeded it. We used to get wet. Our dresses got wet as well as our feet. We got them dry by next morning. We got home about 6. We left the field at 5. When we got home, we washed and changed our clothes. I never caught cold.”
Elizabeth Wilson, a labourer’s wife from Exning, near Newmarket in Norfolk, gave much the same impression:
“Both my girls, now at service, worked in a gang. Sometimes they would be wet from rain or dew, and some girls, I believe, take a great deal of cold from this, but mine didn’t go a deal. There was nothing I minded as to language or anything in the gang for girls, though I would sooner have kept them at school if I had not been obliged to let them go out.”
This is not to say that agricultural gangs needed no regulation. There were abuses, and perhaps the commissioners had to paint a uniformly black picture if Parliament was to be persuaded to do anything to control gangs. Certainly, there is no indication that interested MPs looked beyond the evidence quoted in the report itself – they had left the commissioners to carry out the burdensome task of sifting and assessing the bulk of the evidence. Historians could not afford to be so trusting.
As it was, Gangs gradually faded out towards the end of the 19th century, with two developments hastening their demise. The first was the increasing use of machinery, particularly on light soils, and the other was the spread of compulsory education after 1870 which hit the gangs even harder. In 1870 school boards were given the right to make education compulsory for all children under the age of thirteen in their areas. In 1880 Mundella’s Act made it compulsory to enforce attendance without naming a leaving age. In 1893, however, the minimum leaving age was fixed at eleven, and in 1899 it was raised to twelve, thus bringing the whole country into line with the practice adopted by some boards as early as 1870.
Though many country children still took time off school to work on farms from time to time, compulsory schooling made it impossible for masters to recruit them into gangs without falling foul of the law – as they would say “the game was not worth the candle” and they gave it up. It was then only during school holidays, usually considerately fixed to coincide with busy times on farms, that gangs of women and children went to work in the fields – a tradition which survived almost to the present day.
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Thomas Clowes, solicitor and reputed Lord of the Manor, was a popular Caister resident in the mid-19th-Century. He not only had charitable leanings towards the inmates of Yarmouth gaol, but also built, in 1834, the first purpose-built school in Caister, known as the ‘Fear God School’, along with two small alms houses in Beach Road, known as the ‘Widows Homes – that was in 1856.
Thomas Clowes also seemed to have had a close relationship with the local beachmen. For instance; in 1846, the beachmen asked for permission to build a new Watch House, Store and Lookout on the sand hills north of The Gap. This was the name given to a low point in the sand hills where the track from the village to the beach, now Beach Road, passed through the hills to reach the beach. This area traditionally belonged to the Manor – and therefore Thomas Clowes. He gave his immediate approval, but with the proviso that he should receive a ‘fortieth’ share of the salvage income from the beach company. Now, salvage income traditionally doled out to beach companies was as ‘fortieth’ shares, in what was something of a complicated and secretive system. Members of the company received one or more shares depending on the part they had played in a particular salvage incident. In the mid-nineteenth century the annual income from a company share was often a considerable sum of money.
As soon as the Lookout and Store had been erected the beachmen bought a 60-foot ship’s mast and erected it next to the new Watch House; the former mast had a small box on the top from where the ‘lookout man’ could keep a watch for shipping in distress during bad weather. In 1864 a writer described the Watch House as:
“the beachmen’s parliament house where the affairs of the nation……… are discussed, accounts settled and business transacted”.
Its ground floor was used as a carpenter’s shop, and it was where a George Vincent made oars, masts and a variety of other items including wooden “goodwives washing tubs”. At the rear of the building, they hung an old ships bell which was used as a call-out signal when the lifeboat was to be launched.
It was said that after Thomas Clowes died his widow, Maria, moved to Yarmouth where, in 1918, she sold the title of Lord of the Manor by auction. The title was bought by a Yarmouth man, Anthony Francis Traynier who, having lived in London for a while returned to live in Gorleston; however, he did not have the same level of interest in Caister as that previously shown by the late Thomas Clowes. By 1924, a beach company’s ‘fortieth’ share of any salvage was almost worthless – nothing more than about £10 per annum. Then there was the fact that in 1924, Caister was fast becoming an established holiday resort, with most of the land at the end of Beach Road, near the Gap, developed.
The old Watch House now stood in the way of any further development and Trainier, in September 1934, gave the beachmen six months’ notice to give up possession of Watch House and Lookout, which they had occupied for some 87 years. The beachmen disputed this Notice, but a subsequent court case decision in April 1935 ruled against them and the beachmen had to move; the building was soon demolished. For his part, Traynier agreed to surrender his claim to any share in future salvage.
The former Manor House (above) is believed to have once been owned by Thomas Clowes of this story. It was built around 1793 and was converted into a hotel in 1894 – extended to have 36 bedrooms in the 1920’s. However, around 1941 the building was abandoned because of coastal erosion; it was completely destroyed soon afterwards. Today, only its bricks may be found on the beach.
(Source: The above is based on an article by Colin Tooke; and the banner heading image above is ‘Caister, Norfolk’ by Reuben Bussey, 1879.)
Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC, DL was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Edwards’ Early life: He was born on 7 May 1855 at Hardingham Hall, in the village of Hardingham, Norfolk; the son and heir of Henry William Bartholomew Edwards, and Caroline Marsh, formerly of Gaynes Park, Epping, Essex. Due to his wealthy upbringing, he was educated privately at Rottingdean, at Eton, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree at Cambridge; instead he joined the Army. He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant on the Unattached List on 22 March 1876, then in January 1877 joined the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, with the rank of lieutenant.
His Victoria Cross: Edwards was 27 years old, and serving as a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry during the British occupation of Egypt, when the following deed of his took place and for which he was awarded the Victorious Cross.
It was on 13 September 1882 at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, when Lieutenant Edwards led a party of the Highland Light Infantry which stormed a ‘Redoubt’. He was the one who rushed forward alone and in advance of his party, entered the battery and immediately killed the artillery officer in charge. In the melee, Edwards was knocked down by a a rammer, welded by an enemy gunner and was rescued only by the timely arrival of three men of his regiment. Edwards was severely wounded.
Edwards’ Later career: Edwards was promoted to captain on 23 March 1887 and served as adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry from 1 January 1892 and until 1 November 1893; almost two years later, on 4 September 1895, he was promoted to major and retired from the army on 11 November 1896. On 19 February 1899, on the nomination of Lord Belper, he was appointed one of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, and on 13 August 1900 he was commissioned as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Norfolk.
Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC died Hardingham Hall, Norfolk on 17 September 1912; he was aged 57 years. He was buried in St George’s Churchyard, Hardingham, Norfolk; an impressive place, sitting as it does on St Georges Mount but somewhat isolated. The mount is, as the name suggests, a rise in the ground which is framed by a sandy track and the large old rectory. Inside the church, is a window in the west wall which commemorates Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards VC. On the north wall is a memorial window to a family descendent, William Bartle Marsh Edwards of the Rifle Brigade, who was killed in action in Tunisia in 1943.
Grave of Major Edwards VC in St George’s Churchyard, Norfolk.
Memorial window to Major Edwards in St George’s Church, Hardingham.
Footnote: There are three other Norfolk recipients of the Victoria Cross: Cpl Harry Cator (b Drayton), Capt David Jamieson (b Thornham) and Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson (b Swaffham) Hardingham churchyard also contains three CWGC graves. The will form part of a future blog.
Above the north porch of St Michael’s church at Booton in Norfolk is the bronze statue of St Michael the Archangel himself, commissioned over 120 years ago by the Reverend Whitwell Elwin.
By being placed in front of a niche in the wall, this particular St Michael was intended to be seen both from the front – and from the sides. It is said that this figure was inspired by examples of the pre-Raphaelites, most notably the St George in Sir Edward Burne-Jones’s St George Slaying the Dragon, which was commissioned in 1866 by Miles Burket Foster for the dining room of his house at Witley, Surrey.
The striking profile of Booton’s St Michael, with ruffled hair and a combination of plate armour worn over chainmail with sheet leggings, does follow Burne-Jones’s St George, with the strikingly textured wings attached to the rear of the breastplate. Here, the dreamlike action of the painting has been replaced by a more heroic stance as St Michael, with a cross hanging from his neck, places both hands on his large sword, looking out purposefully across the fields as he stamps down the dragon under foot.
The name of the sculptor was not recorded, but Ann Compton of the University of Glasgow, has underlined, what she thinks is, its amateur approach – as restated by the RACNS:
“the figure was modelled by someone who had not been trained in working for bronze or, possibly, was deliberately flouting current teaching. My point is that the composition goes against the accepted idea that works cast in bronze should show off the possibilities of the material by incorporating minute definition of draperies and adopting an expansive composition to reflect the self-supporting properties of the final material – whereas the composition here is very contained.”
The Norfolk artist of the time, James Minns (1828-1904), responsible for the wooden angels in the roof, described himself variously as ‘sculptor’ and ‘wood carver’ and could possibly, as again stated by the RACNS, have provided the model for this St Michael.
It seems generally accepted, by many accounts of the Booton church, that the building is extraordinary – the product of one man’s eccentric imagination! The Reverend Whitwell Elwin (rector 1850-1900), said to have been a descendant of Pocahontas of Hiawatha fame, built the church at the end of the 19th century – without the help of an architect. Apparently, he borrowed details from other churches throughout the country, and thanks to the Churches Conservation Trust which investigated Elwin’s sources, it can be stated that the design of the nave windows is taken from those at Temple Balsall in Warwickshire, and the west window from St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster. Then there is the west door design, which is that of Glastonbury Abbey, and the curious trefoil window above the chancel arch is from Lichfield Cathedral. It has been suggested that this may have been a homage to Elwin’s passion for Dr Johnson; this may strike some as far-fetched; but then, the whole building is, with its slender twin towers soaring over the wide Norfolk landscape and the central pinnacle looking almost like a minaret; everything seem to have sprung solely from Elwin’s imagination.
The dramatic wooden angels that hold up the roof are the work of James Minns, the well-known master-carver whose carving of a bull’s head is still the emblem on Colman’s Mustard; he also worked at Ketteringham. But the church’s great glory is its stained-glass windows, by Cox Sons and Buckley from the 1890s, a unique example of a unified scheme of saints, angels and musicians set against imaginative Gothic canopies moving in procession towards the high altar. The colour for the rich red robes and Venetian inspired brocades, which are woven across the windows, are also striking – worn by archetypal willowy pre-Raphaelite ladies. Edwin Lutyens, the distinguished architect who married the daughter of one of Elwin’s oldest friends, said the church was:
‘very naughty but built in the right spirit’.
People visiting Booton church may love it – or hate it, but no one would remain unmoved by such an exuberant oddity, well bedded down in the Norfolk Landscape – with St Michael standing over and protecting visitors.