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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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.
Our previous blog about Jacob Mountain stated that the’ Mountain’ dynasty line was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
We also told you that their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne, in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jehosaphat’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain Snr. (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
It was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jehosaphat, and our previous blog about his younger brother, Jacob Mountain junior.
Jehosaphat Mountain himself was born at Thwaite Hall, Thwaite St Mary, Norfolk on 4 December 1745. Seven years later, in 1752, when the family had settled at West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road – his father died on the hunting field. A further seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jehosaphat Mountain’s uncle, from where he and his younger brother, Jacob, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school.
Jehosaphat married a Mary Leach in 1769 and had six children of his own. In 1777 he was admitted to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University as a ‘sizar’, which meant he was an undergraduate receiving financial help from the college for which he had to perform certain menial duties. Jehosaphat did not take his degree but was ordained a Deacon on 15 March 1778 and priest on 19 September 1779, both of which were at Norwich. After holding these curacies in the parishes of Quidenham and Eccles in 1778 and 1779, he moved on to Peldon, Cranworth, and Southburgh from 1779 to 1782, after which he served as rector of St Mary’s at Peldon in Essex until 1793.
In that year he was recruited to serve in Lower Canada by his brother Bishop Jacob Mountain, recently appointed to the Quebec See. Jehosaphat responded the more readily because the prospect of a good salary in Lower Canada promised to help settle a worrisome burden of debt he had. He left England on 13 Aug. 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’, along with Jacob and their two maiden sisters. Jehosaphat was joined by his wife and three children; they included Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23-year-old son who had just been made Deacon. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793 after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs. Jehosaphat then assumed the duties of assistant to David-François de Montmollin, rector of Quebec, in the absence of Philip Toosey who was in England from 1792 to 1794.
On 24 Jan. 1794 Revd. Jehosaphat Mountain was appointed assistant to Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière*, Rector of Trois-Rivières, but he accompanied the Bishop Jacob on his visitation of the Canadas before taking up his post in the September. In practice, Jehosaphat replaced Veyssière in the performance of the rector’s duties, and the number of communicants rose from 4 to 18 in the year following his arrival. In early 1795 he was appointed missionary at Trois-Rivières of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The appointment added the society’s annual allowance of £50 to Jehosaphat Mountain’s salary of £150 as minister.
Although the Mountains greatly appreciated the beauty of the countryside and the salubrity of the climate at Trois-Rivières, they felt socially isolated in the overwhelmingly French-speaking Roman Catholic community and longed at first to be back in England. Jehosaphat’s hope for a rapid transfer to Montreal was dashed in 1795 when Bishop Jacob Mountain learned that the incumbency there had long since been promised to James Marmaduke Tunstall. In 1797 Jehosaphat was appointed chaplain of the troops stationed at Trois-Rivières and was named the Bishop’s official (commissary) for Lower Canada, a post which made him in effect the Bishop’s deputy, authorised to visit the clergy and to administer discipline and oaths, but not to ordain, confirm, or consecrate. The same year Jehosaphat turned down an appointment as Philip Toosey’s successor at Quebec in favour of his son Salter Jehosaphat. Mountain succeeded Veyssière at Trois-Rivières following the latter’s death on 26 May 1800. Within a few months, however, he was appointed to Christ Church, Montreal, replacing Tunstall. The following year he was granted the Lambeth degree of dd by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Jehosaphat Mountain had been at his new post in Montreal only two years when in June 1803 his church, the former Jesuit chapel, burned down. An architectural competition for the design of a new building was won by William Berczy. The contract for the church, to be built on Rue Notre-Dame on a lot granted by government, was let in January 1805, and the corner stone was laid on 21 June. By the autumn of 1805 the walls, of a rather pretentious structure in the Renaissance style, were raised and roofed in. However, work soon stopped for lack of money. The congregation included wealthy and prominent members, but the unexpectedly high costs led it to appeal to friends for funds, and in 1808 to the imperial government for £4,000 to complete the building. In a time of war with France, Westminster wished to limit its expenditures, and feared alienating the Canadians by boldly supporting the Church of England. A government grant of £4,000 was finally made, but because of a bureaucratic blunder it was not received in Montreal until 1812. The building was considerably altered before its ultimate completion in the 1820s.
Jehosaphat seems to have lived in relative comfort in Montreal, where by the time of his death he owned a house and vacant lot in the faubourg Québec and a house at Coteau-Saint-Louis; he also owned six uninhabited, uncultivated lots, totalling 1,218 acres, in the township of Wendover. When he died on 10 April 1817, an obituary in the Montreal Herald extolled his “extraordinary generosity and warmness of heart,” while at the same time admitting his “little singularities.” Mountain’s was the first funeral to be conducted in the new Christ Church.
The’ Mountain’ dynasty was well settled in Norfolk by the middle of the 17th century – and it was seriously religious!
Their Huguenot ancestors fled from France after the Edict of Fontainebleau which was issued by Louis XIV of France on 22 October 1685; this revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. The family line was also directly related to Michel de Montaigne who formerly lived at Château de Montaigne , in France. From this, you will understand that the ‘Mountains’ settled in Norfolk as being ‘well connected’ – but still someway short of the wealth they once enjoyed.
By the mid-18th century Jacob’s parents, namely Jacob Mountain senior (1710–1752) and his wife Ann (nee’ Postle) were living at Thwaite Hall on the Bungay Road, near the village of Thwaite St Mary, which remains just a short distance from the Suffolk border. Ann was the daughter of Jehoshaphat Postle, formerly of Thorpe-Next-Norwich, who had purchased Colney Old Hall, near Wymondham; Postle was a Brewer and one-time chairman of the Norfolk Agricultural Association.
But it was at Thwaite Hall where Ann, and her husband Jacob started their family; which consisted of two daughters and at least three sons, two of which are the subjects of both this blog, about Jacob Mountain Junior, and a second blog about Jacob’s older brother, Jehosaphat Mountain.
Jacob Mountain junior was the youngest to be born at Thwaite Hall; he arrived on 1 December 1749. Three years later in 1752, when the family had settled almost at the other side of Norfolk in West Rudham – a small village which straddles the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer Road, his father died on the hunting field. Seven years later, they moved from West Rudham to live near Wymondham, at the home of Jacob Mountain’s uncle, from where Jacob and his elder brother, Jehosaphat, attended the local grammar school. Later, after the family had settled permanently in Norwich, the two brothers attended the city’s grammar school. Sometime later, Jacob was sent to Scarning School near East Dereham where he became a favourite pupil of the master, the illustrious classical scholar Reverend Robert Potter (1721–1804). It would seem that Mrs Ann Mountain, who was to die in 1776, was careful with the education of her sons.
Jacob was to try his hand at a counting-house business but showed no aptitude for it; then, on 8 Oct. 1769 he was admitted as a pensioner to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. There he gained his BA (senior optima) and by 1774, had been elected junior fellow of the College and ordained deacon by the Bishop of Norwich, Dr George Horne. Three years later he took a further degree, followed by an honorary degree when he was made a Bishop himself, in 1793. But before then, on 17 Dec. 1780 to be exact, he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Peterborough in a ceremony which took place in the chapel of Trinity College.
Jacob married Elizabeth Mildred Wale Kentish on 18 October 1783, in Little Bardfield Church of St Katherine, Essex and would produce seven children. It was immediately following his marriage that he relinquished his Cambridge fellowship, to be appointed perpetual curate of St Andrew’s Church in Norwich, a post he was to hold for seven years. Then from 1788 to 1790 he was Castor Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, and from 1790 to 1793 he became the examining chaplain to the Bishop of Lincoln, George Pretyman Tomline, whose acquaintance he had made at Cambridge. He was also vicar of Buckden, Cambridgeshire from 1790 to 1793, and for the same period he held in plurality the vicarage of Holbeach. It would appear that a bright future lay ahead for Jacob Mountain in the English church!
Back in London, Letters Patent were issued on 28 June 1793 which created the See of Quebec; this embraced both Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec). On the same day, Jacob Mountain was appointed to the newly created ‘See’ after his name had been drawn to the attention of Prime Minister, William Pitt, by George Pretyman Tomline, who at Cambridge had been Pitt’s tutor and mentor and had since become his intimate friend and chief adviser on ecclesiastical matters. Jacob Mountain was consecrated Bishop in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace on 7 July 1793.
Very shortly after his consecration, Jacob and his family sailed to Lower Canada on 13 August 1793 in the British frigate ‘Ranger’; its passengers included Bishop Jacob, his wife and their four small children. Also in the party was Jacob’s brother Jehosaphat, his wife and their three children, including Salter Jehosaphat junior, their 23 year old son who had just been made Deacon. To complete the Mountain family on board were Jacob’s two maiden sisters. The group of ‘Thirteen Mountains’ disembarked at Quebec on 1 November 1793, after a long voyage which involved surviving gales, and separation from their convoy which resulted in the Ranger being harassed by French corsairs.
When Mountain arrived late in 1793, he found that the Canadian diocese clergy consisted of only nine priests of the Church of England; Quebec itself had no ecclesiastical edifice, no Episcopal residence, and no rectory. The three ordained ‘Mountains’ should have brought the number to 12, but of the three ‘old’ bilingual priests already in residence – who, by the way, had failed to attract Canadians to the church – two had already been placed in semi-retirement by Bishop Inglis and the third was immediately retired by Jacob Mountain. During the thirty-two years that were to elapse before his death, Bishop Jacob was to raise the church to a flourishing condition; the original nine clergy became 61 in number, he promoted the formation of missions, and also the erection of church edifices – including the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City.
But the ecclesiastical situation that faced Bishop Jacob on his arrival was that his diocese was huge and complex! Yet from the very beginning of his appointment he set out to transplant ecclesiastical traditions developed in England on to Lower and Upper Canada. For him the most important of these was the establishment of the Church of England as the state church in the colony. Such a measure, he felt, would heighten the status of the church and encourage dissenters and Roman Catholics to attach themselves to it, thus unifying the population under an institution that was bound to support the government. Jacob’s other purpose was to place his church on a more secure foundation by extending its privileges and reducing the power and independence of its Roman Catholic rival.
In accordance with the British practice of having Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, Mountain’s membership in the legislative councils of Upper and Lower Canada as Lord Bishop of Quebec had been arranged before he left England so, shortly after his arrival at Quebec, he requested a seat on each executive council as well, they being the real colonial influence on the provinces’ administrators. Once he was installed, the work of the councils occupied much of his time and most of his duties were unrelated to his episcopal office. His decision to play it fully was determined by his belief that only through the councils could he hope to counter the influence exercised by the Roman Catholic Bishop. Thus, in the 1790s and early 1800s he was to use the weight of his council seats to block the erection of Roman Catholic parishes, and to support the prohibition of refugees into the colony, including royalist clergy from revolutionary France. However, Mountain was also faced with the situation whereby, as head of the church for which he claimed establishment, he had less authority to place clergy than his Roman Catholic counterpart. In effect, his persistent and strong efforts to have a measure of control imposed on Roman Catholic appointments met with little success.
However, in general, Mountain’s relations with the Catholic hierarchy were amicable. Even on his arrival in 1793 he had been greeted by the aged and retired Bishop Briand with words of welcome and the Gallic salutation of a kiss on both cheeks. Joseph-Octave Plessis described his relations with Mountain as “not of intimacy but of reciprocal propriety.” But, because of Mountain’s vigorous and open efforts to advance his church, he was long viewed with apprehension by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Following his last and most discouraging trip to England, however, it saw him in another light. Plessis’s successor, Bernard-Claude Panet wrote, shortly after Mountain’s death:
“The old bishop was what we needed, since there had to be one……. because in his last days he was very quiet and scarcely looked to make proselytes and what is better still, he no longer bothered with affairs and had practically no credit.”
It seems a number of reasons impelled Jacob Mountain, after nearly 12 years in Lower Canada as Bishop, to plan a voyage to England. His sons Jacob Henry Brooke and George Jehoshaphat had been tutored at Quebec by Matthew Smithers Feilde since late 1800, but their further education was a matter of family concern. Of greater weight, however, were the Bishop’s doubts about his own future and his failure to advance the establishment of his church. Three roads out of these difficulties presented themselves to his mind: translation to an English bishopric, partial retirement on a pension with a country living in England, or an improvement in his position in Lower Canada. The Bishop and his family set sail early in August 1805 and arrived in England before mid-September. The boys were placed under the tutorship of the Reverend Thomas Monro at Little Easton, Essex where they remained until they both matriculated to Cambridge.
Bishop Jacob returned to England in 1816 when he attempted again to resign, or to receive translation; but, in these efforts, he failed once again. He also failed to persuade the Government even to pronounce that his church was established. Although the war was over, the Government’s primary concern was political and social peace in the Canadas, not the adoption of policies that might lead to strife. Jacob’s relations with Henry Bathurst, like those with his predecessors, were difficult. The colonial secretary, while acknowledging the Bishop to be “of considerable abilities,” found him rigid and “of a very striving disposition.”
One advantage Jacob did gain was renewed government interest in the creation of parishes and the setting up of rectories within them. In this campaign he now had the aid of a strong committee of the SPG; this being the ‘Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) as a high church missionary organisation of the Church of England which was active in the Thirteen Colonies of North America. Further delays occurred, but, between 1820 and 1823, twelve crown rectories were established in Lower Canada. Although Bishop Jacob succeeded in getting the titles of his assistants, namely his son George Jehoshaphat Mountain and George Okill Stuart, changed from official to archdeacon; however, he did not obtain a desired increase of £150 in their salary.
Bishop Jacob was an imposing man. In 1820, when he was 70 years of age, one of the diocesan clergies confessed himself:
“struck with admiration at as perfect a specimen of the human form as I ever beheld; erect, standing above six feet, face what might be called handsome, eye mild yet penetrating, features well set and expression benevolent, limbs fully developed, and symmetry of the whole person complete.”
Before meeting him, the Governor, Lord Dalhousie Ramsay, had heard him spoken of as “a clever man, amiable in his outward manners but a lazy preacher, very haughty and imperious in society.” When in 1820 Dalhousie heard a sermon by Mountain that pleased him, he described this “fine looking old Gentlemen” as “a Divine of exalted rank & of commanding abilities.” With his background and training Mountain moved easily and graciously in society. Of his wife, Elizabeth, John Strachan recorded that she was “in her manners amiable and engaging – in her religion sincere active and cheerful – in charity unbounded, without regard to sect or nation.” Through her letters to Elizabeth Pretyman Tomline written from 1793 to 1810 much can be learned of the home life of the Mountain family, of Mrs Mountain’s care for her children, of the Bishop’s many illnesses, of her continual concern for her husband and her sympathy with his problems.
Jacob Mountain died at Marchmont House, Lower Canada, 16 June 1825 and was buried under the chancel of Holy Trinity Cathedral he had built and which also contains a monument to his memory. He had never been able to overcome fully his English background and formation, and in 1823 after nearly 30 years as Bishop of Quebec he had referred to his situation as “this long expatriation”; from it he had numerous times tried to extricate himself. His objective had been not so much to adapt the Church of England to the specific and differing circumstances in Lower and Upper Canada, but to bring the religious life of the colonies and particularly the relations between the churches and the state into conformity with the situation in England. Dalhousie, a Scottish Presbyterian and despite his approval of Mountain’s ability as a preacher, felt that the Bishop carried “high church discipline too far for a colonial church,” and Strachan felt that “his habits and manners were calculated rather for an English Bishop than the Missionary Bishop of Canada.”
Thomas R. Millman, Author of, “Jacob Mountain”, stated in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6:
“Mountain gave to position, social dignity and prestige, both institutional and personal, an importance that they perhaps did not merit in the North American context. His clergy, most of them sent from Great Britain by the SPG, were never numerous enough to minister effectively in all areas of their large mission stations and differed widely in ability. Some, because of strict adherence to church rubrics, were not able to attract to their services settlers without strong church loyalties. Others, because of their fear of religious “enthusiasm” – shared by the Bishop – did not meet fully the emotional needs of a pioneer society. To all his clergy he held out high ideals for their conduct and spirituality, defending them in official correspondence, administering reproof and discipline in private as need arose. Jacob Mountain, despite his deficiencies, achieved much as a pioneer bishop, and even Strachan, recognising the difficulties that Mountain had had to face, acknowledged what had been accomplished. Mountain could not realise a number of his dreams and did not live to see the realisation of others, but in his long episcopate he fully earned the title given to him in his epitaph – ‘Founder of the Church of England in the Canadas’.”
On 7 April 2020 the Wisbech Standard published the sale of Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s former home in Emneth, Norfolk. It was The Old Vicarage and it was there, between the years 1953 to 1965, where Awdry wrote around half of his much-loved and popular children’s stories; principally, the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends series of books which children, around the world, still enjoy today. The 8-bedroom detached house itself was built in 1858, using distinctive Victorian red bricks and set in 1.5 acres of grounds. This was where Awdry’s parishioners came on those occasions when they wanted to see their vicar. These visitors usually entered the house through the east side of the property, thus giving them access to his study. It was in this study where Awdry, not only attended to his day job of looking after his flock but also continued to write his famous books.
Wilbert Awdry was born at Ampfield vicarage near Romsey, Hampshire on 15 June 1911. His father was the Reverend Vere Awdry, the Anglican vicar of Ampfield who was 56 years old at the time of Wilbert’s birth; his mother was Lucy Awdry (née Bury). More importantly perhaps is that the experiences upon which much of young Wilbert Awdry’s writings were to be based in later life began in 1917 when the family moved to Box, in Wiltshire when he was six years old. The family settled at “Journey’s End”, a house which was only 200 yards from the western end of Brunel’s 1841 Great Western Main Line ‘Box Tunnel’, through which the line passed on its way to Bath and Chippenham. Wilbert would lie in bed at night listening to the noise of the engines and he later described to Roy Plomley on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs how he and his father would engage in trainspotting the names of GWR engines, with a telescope aimed through his father’s dressing room window.
Railway enthusiasts would know that it is at this point where the railway climbs at a gradient of 1 in 100 for some two miles. A banking engine used to be kept there to assist freight trains up the hill. These trains usually ran at night and the young Awdry could hear them from his bed, listening to the coded whistle signals between the train engine and the banker, as well as the sharp bark from the locomotive exhausts as they fought their way eastwards up the incline.
Here was where young Awdry’s imagination began to believe that all steam engines had definite personalities and that in their ‘puffings’ and ‘pantings’ he could hear the conversation they were having with one another. From this point, Awdry quickly developed his passion for steam engines. As the son of a vicar, of whom he was very fond, Awdry also grew gradually towards a vocation as a priest and was ordained into the Church of England priesthood in 1936. It was these two lines passion – steam engines and religious devotion – that were to run throughout his life of 85 years; two lines that were straighter than most railway tracks and, together, were to be the inspiration for the story that Wilbert first told his own son Christopher.
The origin of that particular story happened in Birmingham, in 1942; Wilbert having taken the curacy at St Nicolas Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham in 1940. Christopher was confined to bed with measles. Wilbert set about amusing his son with a ‘germ’ of a story about a little old engine who was sad because he had not been out for a long time. When Christopher asked what the engine’s name was, his father said that it was Edward – the first name that came into his mind. It was Edward who, in Awdry’s subsequent first story book entitled “Edward’s Day Out”, helped Gordon’s train climb an incline – the inspiration for that act of charity clearly came from the time when Awdry listened to the sounds at Box Tunnel.
After Awdry wrote ‘The Three Railway Engine’, he built Christopher a model of Edward, together with some wagons and coaches, out of a wooden broomstick and scraps of wood. Children being children, Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however, the wartime shortage of materials limited Awdry to just making a little 0-6-0 tank engine which he named Thomas because, according to Awdry, it was the most natural of names to give this particular engine – Thomas the Tank Engine was born! Christopher liked a train named Thomas and asked his father for more stories about Thomas; these duely followed. By the time Awdry stopped writing in 1972, his Railway Series numbered 26 books. They all featured what became ‘established engines’ – the impish Thomas, industrious Edward, argumentative Henry and proud and pompous Gordon – as well as introducing new characters in such stories as Toby the Tram Engine, Percy the Small Engine and Duck & the Diesel Engine from the 1950’s.
In 1946 Awbry and family moved from Birmingham to Cambridgeshire to serve as Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Elsworth with Knapwell which was near Cambridge.
Thomas the Tank Engine – in the Flesh!: In 1947 a 0-6-0T steam engine, No.1800 was built by Hudswell Clarke for the British Sugar Corporation (BSC) to work at Woodston at Peterborough. It remained at Woodston for all of its working life where it was in daily use, in the sugar beet season, pushing wagons of beet from the farms up the steeply graded line to be uploaded at the factory. It also marshalled lengthy trains in the extensive siding that BSC had near the Fletton Loop just east of Orton Mere Station. It was in the late 1960s when diesel traction took over the duties from this steam locomotive; fortunately, however, the pensioner was maintained in good condition.
Then in 1970 the newly formed Peterborough Railway Society (later to become the Nene Valley Railway) appeared on the scene, setting up their working base in a compound within the BSC sidings. The company then sold its steam locomotive No.1800 to the Society for a nominal £100, and it was sometime around this point when the engine acquired the nickname of ‘Thomas’ – because of its blue livery! Almost twelve months later, in 1971, the retired Rev Wilbert Awdry returned to Cambridgeshire to officially name the locomotive ‘Thomas’, thereafter to become the star of what is now the Nene Valley Railway.
Of Thomas’s lasting popularity, Wilbert Awdry wrote:
“Thomas is the eternal child! Thomas is given a prohibition; naturally, as all children do when they’re told not to do something, they want to know why and they find out why by doing it.”
As for Awdry, he served seven years at Elsworth with Knapwell before moving to Bourn in 1950 as Rural Dean and then, in 1953, as Vicar of Emneth, Norfolk, near Wisbech. According to the Wisbech Society:
“It seems that concerns about his daughters’ future schooling drew Awdry from Elsworth to the Wisbech area and St. Edmund’s Church at Emneth. Both daughters attended Wisbech High School, three miles from Emneth Vicarage, and his wife Margaret taught in Wisbech at the Queen’s Girls School for 10 years.”
‘Gordon the Big Engine’ was the first book published after Awdry moved to Emneth and 12 more were to follow during his incumbancy. Whilst there, he also maintained his enthusiasm for railways and was very much involved in railway preservation, building model railways, which he took to exhibitions around the country. At Emneth he created an extensive model railway network in his loft – it was based on Barrow-in-Furness layout. Fuelling his enthusiasm, Awdry’s Emneth home was also close to three Wisbech railway stations. The former Emneth railway station itself was on the EAR line from Watlington (formerly Magdalen Road Station) to Wisbech East. The GER Wisbech and Upwell Tramway tram engines, coaches and rolling stock were similar to ‘Toby the Tram Engine and ‘Henriett’ on the Ely to King’s Lynn mainline with Wisbech East (Victoria Rd) station. The M&GN Peterborough to Sutton Bridge via Wisbech North (Harecroft Rd) station. There were also harbour lines either side of the River Nene – M&GN Harbour West branch and GER Harbour East branch.
Time, inevitably, slipped away and in 1965, Wilbert Awdry “went into private practice” – retiring in other words. He moved to a smaller red-brick house in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where his study there became “an agreeable jumble of railway books, maps and timetables”, and was denoted by a “STATION MASTER” sign on the door. During these years, Awdry continued writing books for children, published a new Railway Series title each year until his last ‘Tramway Engines’ in 1972.
According to Awdry’s biographer, Brian Sibley:
“All these stories harnessed Awdry’s knowledge and love of railway engineering and history, which had to be “true-to-life”. Although the fictional engines had human personalities and voices, their activities always followed the rules of the railroad and virtually all the exploits described were based on something that had happened, somewhere at some time, to a real railway engine. Those adventures – mostly mishaps – included common derailments as well as more surprising disasters such as an engine running off the end of a jetty into a harbour or an unexpected disappearance down a disused mine. As often as not, however, these crises were brought about by the arrogance, stubbornness, jealousy or ambition of the engine involved. The morality of the stories was clear and Christian: misbehaviour led to suffering and retribution; however, provided the culprit showed repentance, restoration always followed. “The important thing,” Awdry said, “is that the engines are punished and forgiven – but never scrapped.
The analogies between the Christian faith and the ways of the railway are obvious: the engines are meant to follow the straight and narrow way and pay the price if they go off the rails. No wonder Awdry enjoyed drawing the parallels between railways and the Church: ” Both had their heyday in the mid-19th century; both own a great deal of Gothic-style architecture which is expensive to maintain; both are regularly assailed by critics; and both are firmly convinced that they are the best means of getting man to his ultimate destination.”
In 1983, Wilbert made his final visit to Wisbech when he opened the Tramway Centenary Exhibition at Wisbech Museum. In 1996 Awdry was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, but by that time his health had deteriorated and he was unable to travel to London. He died peacefully in his sleep in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 21 March 1997, at the age of 85.
In Emneth, a stained-glass window was commissioned by the Awdry family and unveiled at St Edmund’s church in 2003; and in 2011 a blue plaque was unveiled by his daughter Veronica Chambers at The Old Vicarage where he had lived from 1953 and until 1965. Finally, in 2020, the Old Vicarage was placed on the market with an asking price of £895,000.
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is ever intentional.
Our thanks to Jim Moon of ‘Hypnogoria’ who, somewhere amongst his many blogs, wrote the following – it is his take on a very famous and popular Norfolk myth – whoops! – tale.
In the county of Norfolk, between King’s Lynn in the west and Norwich in the east lies the market town of Swaffham. However, while the town and its market have been a centre for agriculture since the 14th century, the town is perhaps better known as being home to an oft-told folk tale. It’s a tale of a good man and good fortune, and frequently is mentioned when the subject of prophecies and dreams come up. It’s a tale that has been told many times, and its earliest incarnation is found in an old tome entitled ‘An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’ by Francis Blomefield (William Miller, London, 1805-10). In Volume 11 of this truly compendious essay, we have a letter by Sir William Dugdale, dated 29 January 1652, and in it he relates the following Tale:
“That dreaming one night if he went to London he should certainly meet with a man upon London Bridge which would tell him good news; he was so perplext in his mind, that till he set upon his journey he could have no rest; to London therefore he hasts and walk’d upon the Bridge for some hours where being espyed by a Shopkeeper and asked what he wanted, he answered you may well ask me that question for truly (quoth he) I am come hither upon a very vain errand and so told the story of his dream which occasioned the journey. Whereupon the Shopkeeper reply’d alas good friend! should I have heeded dreams, I might have proved myself as very a fool as thou hast; for ‘tis not long since that I dreamt, that at a place called Swaffham Market in Norfolk dwells one John Chapman a pedlar who hath a tree in his backside under which is buried a pot of money. Now therefore, if I should have made a journey thither to dig for such hidden treasure, judge you whether I should not have been counted a fool. To whom the pedlar cunningly said “Yes verily, I will therefore return home and follow my business, not heeding such dreams henceforward.” But when he came home (being satisfied that his dream was fulfilled) he took occasion to dig in the place and accordingly found a large pot full of money which he prudently conceal’d, putting the pot amongst the rest of his brass.”
“After a time, it happen’d that one who came to his house and beholding the pot observed an inscription upon it which being in Latin, he interpreted it, that under that there was an other twice as good. Of that inscription the Pedlar was before ignorant or at least minded it not, but when he heard the meaning of it he said, “‘tis very true, in the shop where I bought this pot stood another under it, which was twice as big”; but considering that it might tend to further his profit to dig deeper in the same place where he found that, he fell again to work and discover’d such a pot, as was intimated by the inscription, full of old coine: notwithstanding all which he so conceal’d his wealth, that the neighbours took no notice of it. But not long after the inhabitants of Swaffham resolving to reedify their church, and having consulted with the workmen about the charge they made a levy wherein they taxed the Pedlar according to no other rate than what they had formerly done. But he knowing his own ability came to the church and desired the workmen to shew him their model, and to tell him what they esteemed the charge of the North Isle would amount to, which when they told him he presently undertook to pay them for building it, and not only that but of a very tall and beautiful tower steeple.”
Now this tale has become famous the world over, and is much celebrated in the the town itself, lending its name, in the past, to the Pedlar’s Hall Cafe and inspiring the carved wooden village sign (above) for the town. However curiously, Swaffham isn’t the only place that has a tale like this. Indeed, an almost identical tale is told of Upsall Castle in North Yorkshire. In ‘The Vale of Mowbray: A Historical and Topographical Account of Thirsk and Its Neighbourhood’ by William Grainge (Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1859) we have a story he entitles “Crocks of Gold”:
“Many years ago there resided in the village of Upsall, a man who dreamed three nights successively that if he went to London, he would hear of something greatly to his advantage. He went, travelling the whole distance from Upsall to London on foot, arrived he took his station on the bridge where he waited until his patience was very nearly exhausted and the idea that he had acted a very foolish part began to rise in his mind. At length he was accosted by a Quaker, who kindly inquired what he was waiting there so long for. After some hesitation, he told his dreams. The Quaker laughed at his simplicity, and told him he had had that night a very curious dream himself, which was that if he went to dig under a certain bush in Upsall Castle in Yorkshire, he will find a pot of gold; but he did not know where Upsall was, and inquired of the Countryman if he knew, who seeing some advantage in secrecy pleading ignorance of the locality; and then thinking his business in London was completed, returned immediately home, dug beneath the bush, and there he found a pot filled with gold, and on the cover an inscriptions in a language he did not understand. The pot and cover were however reserved at the village inn; where one day, a bearded stranger like a Jew, made his appearance, saw the pot, and read the inscription, the plain English at which was –
“Look lower where this stood
Is another twice as good”
The man of Upsall hearing this, resumed his spade, returned to the bush, dug deeper, and found another pot filled with gold far more valuable than the first: encouraged by this, he dug deeper still, and found another yet more valuable.”
This story has been related of other places, but Upsall appears to have as good a claim to this yielding of hidden treasures as the best of them. Here we have the constant tradition of the inhabitants, and the identical but yet remains beneath which the treasure was found; an Elder, near the north-west corner of the ruins. Now you will notice that this text boldly mentions that the tale is told in other places, and indeed it is. For to travel further north in the United Kingdom, we find it retold yet again and at an earlier date. In ‘The Popular Rhymes of Scotland’ by Robert Chambers (W. Hunter, 1826), we learn the history of Dundonald Castle:
“Donald, the builder, was originally a poor man, but had the faculty of dreaming lucky dreams. Upon one occasion he dreamed, thrice in one night, that if he were to go to London Bridge, he would become a wealthy man. He went accordingly, saw a man looking over the parapet of the bridge, whom he accosted courteously, and, after a little conversation, intrusted with the secret of the occasion of his visiting London Bridge. The stranger told him that he had made a very foolish errand, for he himself had once had a similar vision, which directed him to go to a certain spot in Ayrshire, in Scotland, where he would find a vast treasure, and, for his part, he had never once thought of obeying the injunction. From his description of the spot, the sly Scotsman at once perceived that the treasure in question must be concealed in no other place than his own humble kail-yard at home, to which he immediately repaired in full expectation of finding it. Nor was he disappointed; for, after destroying many good and promising cabbages, and completely cracking credit with his wife, who esteemed him mad, he found a large potful of gold coin, with the proceeds of which he built a stout castle for himself, and became the founder of a flourishing family.”
Chambers, much like Grainge, goes on to remark “This absurd story is localised in almost every district of Scotland, always referring to London Bridge”. And indeed, not only does the tale recur in other Scottish tales, but it appears in various other places in England and Wales too. Furthermore if we hop over the Channel to Europe, we find it flourishing there too, although of course with some other national landmark standing in for dear old London Bridge. The most famous example perhaps is found in the collections of folk tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm:
“Some time ago a man dreamed that he should go to the bridge at Regensburg where he would become rich. He went there, and after spending some fourteen days there a wealthy merchant, who wondered why was spending so much time on the bridge, approached him and asked him what he was doing there. The latter answered, “I dreamed that I was to go to the bridge at Regensburg, where I would become rich.“What?” said the merchant, “You came here because of a dream? Dreams are fantasies and lies. Why I myself dreamed that there is a large pot of gold buried beneath that large tree over there.” And he pointed to the tree. “But I paid no attention, for dreams are fantasies.” Then the visitor went and dug beneath the tree, where he found a great treasure that made him rich, and thus his dream was confirmed” (from Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), Vol. 1, No. 212)
However, the trail does not end there. Even earlier and further south, we discover an identical tale in that famous anthology of ancient tales ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ (AKA Arabian Nights). The 14th tale is called The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream and goes like this:
“Once there lived in Baghdad a wealthy man who lost all his means and was thus forced to earn his living by hard labor. One night a man came to him in a dream, saying, “Your fortune is in Cairo; go there and seek it.” So he set out for Cairo. He arrived there after dark and took shelter for the night in a mosque. As Allah would have it, a band of thieves entered the mosque in order to break into an adjoining house. The noise awakened the owners, who called for help. The Chief of Police and his men came to their aid. The robbers escaped, but when the police entered the mosque, they found the man from Baghdad asleep there. They laid hold of him and beat him with palm rods until he was nearly dead, then threw him into jail. Three days later, the Chief of Police sent for him and asked “Where do you come from?” “From Bagdad” he answered. ” And what brought you to Cairo?” asked the Chief.
“A man came to me in a dream and told me to come to Cairo to find my fortune,” answered the man from Baghdad “But when I came here, the promised fortune proved to be the palm rods you so generously gave to me.””You fool,” said the Chief of Police, laughing until his wisdom teeth showed. “A man has come to me three times in a dream and has described a house in Baghdad where a great sum of money is supposedly buried beneath a fountain in the garden. He told me to go there and take it, but I stayed here. You, however, have foolishly journeyed from place to place on the faith of a dream which was nothing more than a meaningless hallucination.” He then gave him some money saying, “This will help you return to your own country.”The man took the money. He realized that the Chief of Police had just described his own house in Baghdad, so he forthwith returned home, where he discovered a great treasure beneath the fountain in his garden. Thus, Allah gave him abundant fortune and brought the dream’s prediction to fulfillment”.
Now we cannot be sure of the exact age of the many tales collected in this volume, for scholars believe the first versions of the collection appeared in Arabic in the early parts of the 8th century, with various additional tales being added over the next few centuries. However, what we do know is that this particular story of a most fortunate dream appears in as part of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Rumia, who is best known in the West as simply Rumi. In his epic collection The Masnavi, we have the poem ‘In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad’.
So then, here we have a tale retold in many places and at many times, indeed it is one of those small number of tales that seems to recur everywhere. And folklorists have a catalogue of such stories – this one is commonly referred to as ‘The Treasure at Home’, and under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales it is number ATU 1646. Now given that we have several important literary landmarks for the story, it is widely though that this very popular tale was spread throughout Europe thanks the massive popularity of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, and was adapted to fit local geography and history as it was retold in different places.
However, the first European edition of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’ was a French version translated by Antoine Galland that appeared 1704, and was first translated into English in 1706. We should also note at this point that the works of Rumi were not translated until considerably later, with the first English translations appearing in the late 19th century. However, if you have been paying attention to the dates, we find that while the ‘Arabian Nights’ theory could well account for the versions referenced by Grainge and Chambers, the oldest English version, comes from a letter written in the 1650s.
Now while we cannot rule out this old Arabic tale been spread orally across Europe before its printed incarnations, it is certainly intriguing that the Swaffham version predates other European versions by a good century or more. Furthermore Sir William makes clear that it was already an old tale when he set it down in his letter, and this is supported by the fact that the original Swaffham version has a sequel built in that many other version do not – the business of the inscription and a second pot of gold. For this kind of embroidery is typical of a tale been around for a good while, gaining additional details and extra subplots as it is retold by different generations.
Stranger still is the fact that our hero is actually given a name – John Chapman – something very unusual for a folk tale. But even more intriguingly, there is some historical evidence to back up the story, for John Botewrigh, the Rector of Swaffham between 1435 and 1474 made an inventory of building and repair work done to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. And this tome is now known as the’Swaffham Black Book’, and in it we discover that in the mid-15th century the North Aisle of the church was rebuilt. And what is more, this renovation work was paid for by a fellow named John Chapman. And as part of this building work, new pews were installed and two of them are of particular interest for us: for their carved ends show a pedlar and his dog. Furthermore, local tradition suggests that a third which shows a lady, is a representation of the shopkeeper in the story.
Of course, none of that can displace the fact that a version of the tale was circulating in the East some centuries before, but certainly the pews and Chapman’s name appearing in the ‘Swaffham Black Book’ does suggest that the story of his good fortune may have been doing the rounds while the goodly gent was still alive. Obviously, Chapman, who served as a churchwarden, was a wealthy man, for construction work never comes cheap, particular in earlier times when a major building project may take years to complete. And given that in the 15th century, Swaffham was home to a thriving market, one wonders whether the tale had found its way to rural Norfolk thanks to travelling merchants, the very kind of folks Chapman would have been trading with.
Furthermore, in history we have many examples of less than virtuous men who in later life decide to bankroll various projects for their local churches. And usually these generous and charitable projects are seemingly done as a kind of penance for their earlier sins and misdeeds. Therefore it is tempting to speculate that the tale of Chapman’s fortune may well have been deliberately adopted to disguise the real origin of his wealth. And rather than repaying the good Lord for his luck by refurbishing his local church, as many versions of the tale suggest, he may well have been atoning for making a lot of money through less than virtuous means…
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.
In all probability, if the Queen had not visited the Strangers’ Club at 22-24 Elm Hill, Norwich in early May, 1935, Mrs Simmons, of Beckenham would never have attracted the attention of the local Eastern Daily Press. By picking up the ‘scent’ of a local-interest story and linking it with the Club to which Royalty was favouring a visit, the newspaper brought Mrs Simmons into the limelight and to the attention of its readers. The EDP also laid the basis of an unique window into a few small aspects of life in and around the city’s Elm Hill area between 1860 and 1870 which would never have seen the light of a future day had it not pursued the story and the Norfolk Record Office had not filed it for posterity.
Mrs Simmons, for we know nothing more of her identity, lived on Elm Hill from the time when she was a very young girl, through to when she was approaching her 21st birthday. During that time, she, her parents and siblings lived at 22-26 Elm Hill, the very house now occupied by the Stranger’s Club; also, once known as the Paston house, which was rebuilt after the fire of 1507. Mrs Simmons, therefore, probably knew more about what the area was like than anyone else living in those pre-WW2 days. These writings of hers were originally intended only for the amusement of her family as they grew up; however, since they had long flown the nest and the Queen was coming, maybe she was flattered by the attention of the local press – because, it was at that point, she consented to the publication of her personal reminiscences. The opening paragraph was as follows:
“Norwich was my birthplace and Elm Hill my cradle. My earliest home was an old house, there belonging to my grandfather, at least 300 years old [and] once the residence of Augustine Steward, Mayor of Norwich 1545, and now called the ‘Strangers’ Club’. In the lounge is a 20-light window frame of moulded oak from the adjacent building, occupied in the 15th century by the Norfolk family of Pastons and from here some of the Paston letters were written, headed “at Seynt Peter of Hungate” 1479. According to tradition, Queen Elizabeth I looked through this window when visiting the city in 1578……… Be that as it may, I loved the old house, where I spent a very happy childhood. I loved to look from the open window down upon the hill with its great elm tree in the middle of the plain and shading the parish pump (now gone). I can only picture it in bright sunshine, as there were to me few dark clouds in those early days.”
Father Ignatius: Maybe it was inevitable that Mrs Simmons would make an early reference to Father Ignatius O.S.B, since he was quite a controversial during her childhood; his real name was the Reverend Joseph Leicester Lyne. It was while she was living in Elm Hill that Father Ignatius and his Anglican monks first came to open his monastery in 1863. It seems that from the outset of his arrival, she painted a positive and rather charismatic image of Ignatius:
“Indeed, it was through my father, John Bishop, that Father Ignatius founded his monastery at Elm Hill. [The Reverend’s] aunt, Mrs [Julia] Utten Browne,[ wife of Edward Utten Browne of All Saints Besthorpe], called upon my father to ask if he knew of any premises to let suitable for a religious community, and he took her to Samson and Hercules House, then vacant, but as it did not suit he [her father] brought her back to Elm Hill and showed her a big old mansion, entered through an arched doorway into a paved courtyard with buildings around it, and it was here [at No.16 Elm Hill] that Ignatius soon founded his monastery.”
Thereafter, Mrs Simmons would recall that Elm Hill witnessed rare scenes during a period when often the street was crowded with sightseers; sometimes:
“Ignatius would come out and speak to the people, who were often more scoffers than hearers, and when the noise became too much for his voice to be heard he would lead his choir with his beautiful voice and sing a hymn and then retire through the arched gate behind him and the nail-studded door was shut and barred……on Easter morning, long before it was light, the monks came out in procession with banners and cross, dressed in their vestments and carrying lighted candles and censers, and would parade round the Parish singing hymns. I thought it “Beautiful”!
But maybe because Mrs Simmons was writing for her children, she never mentioned the more contentious aspects of Brother Ignatius’s activities, such as the community hostility towards him and his monks, and the fact that opinion was greatly divided towards the principle of accommodating a monk community in Norfolk. Specifically, she did not mention that he had caused outrage in the November of 1863 when it was reported that here was;
“a clergyman of the English Church, who has the temerity to come before a public audience attired as a Benedictine monk, with bare head and bare feet, carrying a rosary and crucifix, which in this country are regarded as symbolic only of the Romish Church, and calling himself by a name not accorded to him by his godfathers and godmother,”
On 13 February 1864, after Brother Ignatius had purchased No.16 Elm Hill as part of his attempt to revive a form of monasticism by forming a religious order, or brotherhood in the city, he was labelled as “notorious” in the press. This preceded his actions of 24 February when he dedicated the building as the “Benedictine Chapel of the Priory of St Mary and St Dunstan,” From this date scenes of disorder and riot were a frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood and the monastery. Directly, or indirectly the existence of the confraternity gave rise to several remarkable incidents; such as the daily procession by the brethren to and from St Lawrence’ church to celebrate Communion – this was met by a mob assailing and insulting them. The protection of the police was demanded by Ignatius, and the magistrates were frequently engaged in the hearing of cases of riot and assault arising out of the proceedings at Elm Hill and St. Lawrence’
Four months later, on 28 June 1864, the wide-spread public outrage at the activities of Father Ignatius and his Third Order on Elm Hill spilled over into actual violence. According to the Baroness de Bertouch, in her book ‘The Life of Father Ignatius’, 1904, it was triggered by the previous day’s pilgrimage of ‘over four hundred enthusiasts’ to St Walstan’s Well at nearby Bawburgh – as a challenge to the Bishop’s authority. The crowd had ‘moved as one long flexible column through the town’ and services were held at the Well, vials and vessels being filled with its holy well water. On their return to Norwich cries of ‘No Popery’ were heard and Ignatius received an anonymous letter telling him that his priory would be set on fire, together with anyone who happened to be within its precincts. A mob of many thousands gathered and detachments of police began to arrive. The brothers barricaded themselves in and some of the sisters arrived to lend support. The authoress lent a degree of humour to the incident when she stated that the sister’s armoury was mixed: “Sister Faith brought her rosary; Sister Hope carried a magnificent rolling pin; but Sister Charity was made of sterner stuff – she brought a kettle filled with vitriol (sulphuric acid).” In the event, the Elm Hill monastery was closed in May, 1866, and the building work of a proposed new chapel to be erected by Father Ignatius was suspended and he left Norwich.
St Peter Hungate Church: Today, at the top of Elm Hill, stands the church of St Peter Hungate. It is not the original church you understand, that was demolished way back in 1458; but the one that was there in the mid-19th century and to which Mrs Simmons attended as a youngster; this was in fact a rebuild by John Paston and Margaret his wife by 1460. Fast forward to 2011 when Simon Knott wrote of it:
“Although St Peter Hungate is right in the heart of the urban area, its setting is idyllic; 16th and 17th century cottages flank the north and east sides, and then beautiful Elm Hill drops away below it. To the west is the magnificent chancel window of the Blackfriars church………. Hungate itself no longer exists, but was formerly ‘houndsgate’ – the street of dogs. In this conservation area the roads are cobbled, and it is an oasis of charm in the middle of East Anglia’s biggest city.”
As a child, Mrs Simmons remembered her father discovering a rude (sic) carving on the stone shaft in the north porch; it was of an acorn with an oak tree growing from it and he thought it probably was to indicate that the present church was built on the site of an older one. St Peter Hungate then, as now, was built of black flint, cruciform in shape and having a nave, chancel, transepts, and square tower with two bells. The roof of the nave was ornamented with figures of angels and with ‘a fine east window filled with ancient glass’; the church also had squints, spy-holes.
In 1861 the interior of St Peter Hungate was much improved and we find that the church also retained what may have been a unique three-tiered pulpit. According to Mrs Simmons:
“the clerk’s desk at the base, and above this the reading desk, equivalent to our lectern, and still above this the pulpit and over all a big sounding-board.”
The church’s Rector at the time was the Rev. Samuel Titlow M.A. who was first appointed to the post in 1839. He was, according to Mrs Simmons: “a confirmed old bachelor who, was very pompous and stern”. She also remembered how the Reverend would preach in his college gown – after taking off his surplice in the vestry! Always, around his neck he wore white ‘Geneva’ bands; these were two bands or pendent stripes made usually of white lawn and worn at the throat as part of the clerical garb, originally worn by Swiss Calvinist clergy. Then there was her father, John Bishop, who was a churchwarden at St Peter Hungate and he, together with his fellow wardens would sit in special high pews at the west end of the church. Whilst all pews were square with high board screens around them, a warden’s pew had a padded arm-rest, just like an armchair and above the pew door was a green curtain, which the clerk drew after everyone had entered and before the service begun. According to Mrs Simmons:
“We, my brother, sister and I, sat opposite to our parents. I could not see over the pew, even [when] standing, so father used to lift me on to the seat, and I well remember an old chap in front who used to lay his wool glove on the top of his bald head to keep off the draughts. I used to hope it would fall off, but it never did.”
She also noticed that on the wall, at the end of the pews, were pegs for the men to hang their hats on. She also witnessed the ritual these men went through before entering their pews; still standing, they would hold their hats before their faces to pray into; only then did they hang them up and then proceed to their seats:
“How queer we should think it now to see a collection of tall hats hanging round a church during a service………[then] Once a month, on the first Sunday, there was Holy Communion after morning service. The bell would be rung on Saturday afternoon to announce the fact. Then, when the service had ended, father and the other warden stepped out of their pews and, armed with big brass bowls, would stand on either side of the porch to receive the alms of the departing congregation.”
It is sometimes amazing how the smallest of memories can be permanently locked into one’s mind. This seems to have happened with Mrs Simmons who, from her recollections of St Peter Hungate, remembered one little incident between the old Rector, Samuel Titlow, and Father Ignatius, who attended one particular service, along with his band of monks:
“The Rector did not approve, but they were parishioners and he could not exclude them – and our father liked Ignatius and showed them into pews in front of the pulpit. All went well until the Creed. The Rector began in his severe style, reading “I believe”. The monks took it up and intoned it. [There was] a pause, the Rector started again and read it deliberately by himself. I do not remember anything else during the service and do not think the monks ever came again.”
Father Ignatius, instead, had a chapel fitted up in his ‘monastery’ and continued to have regular services there. These drew crowds of people; so much so that not all could be accommodated. The solution was for admission tickets to be issued. We are told that Mrs Simmons’s father, John Bishop, did ‘business with Ignatius’, and presumably on that basis he was given a family ticket for any service.
“By the way”, quoted Mrs Simmons at one point, “a funny thing happened one day: Ignatius wanted to see my father and, as he could never appear without a crowd mobbing him, he opened our private door and walked into the house. Our maid was on her knees at her work and, hearing a sound, turned her head and saw (to her) ‘an awful figure clad in black with a cowl over his head’. She fled in fright to my mother, exclaiming: “Oh! Mam, I believe it is the Devil now come in.””
Mr and Mrs Trory:
Mrs Simmons’s reminisces were not, however, confined to the controversial figure of Father Ignatius and his activities. She remembered her music master, Mr Trory who was “a dear old man with a stately wife”, both of whom lived at the top of Elm Hill; he played the violin and his wife sang at the Triennial Festivals. Mrs Simmons recalled that this couple use to recall ‘earlier days when several neighbours owned horses and carriages.’ But Mrs Simmons could only recall one, a Mr Able Towler, of the firm of Towler, Rolland & Allen; manufactures, specialising in crepes, bombazines and Paramattas – and earlier than this in producing the noted Norwich Shawls. Their factory was next to Mrs Simmons’s parent’s home in what is known as Paston House behind which was Crown Court.
She had a very vivid memory of one large room in Paston House which had a beautiful moulded ceiling, from the centre of which hung “a wonderful wrought-iron snake to support the original oil lamp”. It has been said that when Queen Elizabeth I stayed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace nearby, she and her courtiers walked through the gardens by the riverside and held court in that very room. On what would have been the same occasion, the Queen was said to have also watched a pageant from the existing first-floor window of the same building – now known as the Strangers Club. Hence the origin of the name “The Crown Court” since applied.
Mrs Simmons eventually brought her newspaper reminisces to an end with a late reference to the Rev. Samuel Titlow and Mrs Trory. The readers are told that Mrs Trory met the Reverend out walking one day and respectably smiled at him and bowed. However, he, looking his grimmest and taking no notice passed her by:
“Soon afterwards he called upon her [Mrs Trory] for a subscription and, before the bell could be answered, he opened the door and met her in the hall. He began in his pompous manner: “Excuse me, Mrs Trory ——,” She took him by the arm, turned him round, saying: “You do not know me in the street and I do not know you in my house,” and she showed him out! The old man was very indignant and afterwards told my father how he had been treated…. When we heard the tale, we were much amused as we could picture the scene and the performers”.
There are parts of South Norfolk that, even today, can seem remote – like those that have a maze of lanes, particularly between Diss and Thetford where the villages hide. It is surprising therefore that one of those villages, Fersfield, holds an important place in the history of Norfolk; but not necessarily because of the village itself, or its parish church. Fersfield is famous because of an 18th century incumbent of its church, St Andrew’s
The church of St Andrews at Fersfield sits where some of those lanes mentioned come together, its truncated, pencil-like tower a beacon across the fields and farmlands. According to Simon Knott (2018):
” The capped tower is reminiscent of Culpho and Thornham Parva in Suffolk, and probably dates from the early 14th century. If so, it is probably later than the bulk of the church against which it sits. There were further improvements: money in the late 15th century brought a fairly imposing south aisle and porch, and the chancel is entirely Victorian, I think. But it all works well together, especially when seen from the south-east.”
This church is depicted on the village sign at Fersfield, and stands next to it. At the brick base of the sign is a metal plaque which reads:
“This sign was given by the people, to the people of the village of Fersfield. 31st July 1988.” Then, in two columns the plaque includes the names of ten individuals before concluding. ‘Between the faces lies our village history.”
Taking this as a guide, it is clear that the residents of Fersfield have every right to celebrate the village’s past. More importantly however is that it was at Fersfield where the first major work on the history of the entire county of Norfolk was written; its author was Francis Blomefield, the 18th century incumbent of St Andrew’s Church who happened to have been born in the village on 23 July 1705.
Francis Blomefield was the eldest son of Henry and Alice Blomefield, who were yeoman farmers nearby. Later biographies record that he developed a fascination for visiting churches as a child, when he began recording their monumental inscriptions, covering Norfolk, Suffolk and later Cambridgeshire. At the same time he began his education at Diss and Thetford Grammar Schools; then, in April 1724, he was admitted to Caius College, Cambridge from where he graduated BA in 1727 and MA in 1728. While at college, he also began keeping genealogical and heraldic notes relating to local families; then, soon after leaving university in 1727 he was ordained a priest whilst continuing with collecting materials for an account of the antiquities of Cambridgeshire.
On 13 September 1729 Francis Blomefield was ordained as an Anglican minister when he was ‘presented by his father, Henry Blomefield, Gent’. His first appointment was a very brief affair as rector of Hargham before moving on to become rector of Fersfield, his father’s family living. According to Simon Knott, it was at Fersfield where:
“……. he would spend the rest of his life. He was not always a well man, and although he visited many of the churches himself, the bulk of his work involved sending questionnaires to Rectors of other churches. Because of this, and because Blomefield himself did not always understand what he was seeing or reading about, the survey needs to be used with care. Moreover, Blomefield did not finish it. I always tend to think of 18th century antiquarians as be whiskered old men sitting with quill pens at high desks, but Blomefield contracted smallpox and died at the age of 47. His work was completed by friends, most notably Charles Parkin and William Whittingham.”
It was on 1 September 1732, when Francis Blomefield married Mary Womack, the daughter of a former rector of Fersfield. They had three daughters, two of whom survived him. It was also in 1732 when the project of collecting materials for an account of the antiquities of Cambridgeshire was deferred when he was given access to Peter Le Neve’s huge collection of materials for the history of Norfolk by Le Neve’s executor “Honest Tom” Martin.
It is said that during a visit to Oxnead Hall in 1735, Blomefield found a vast number of written correspondences among the papers of the country house. Of the discovery, Blomefield wrote in May 1735:
“There are innumerable letters, of good consequence in history, still lying among the loose papers all which I layd (sic) up in a corner of the room on an heap, which contains several sacksful, but as they seemed to have some family affairs of one nature or other intermixed in them I did not offer to touch any of them…”
This collection, known today as the ‘Paston Letters’, is now regarded as one of national significance. These papers date from the period of the Wars of the Roses and the Black Death and reveal details of everyday life of a notable East Anglian family.
Before his untimely death, on 16 January 1752, Blomefield wrote just three volumes of his ‘An Essay towards the Topographical History of the County of Norfolk’. Determined to protect and control the production of this work, he also installed a printing press in his own home. The first volume, covering his own Parish of Fersfield among others, was completed on 25th December 1739. He was nearing completion of his third volume – having reached page 678 – when he contracted the deadly smallpox during a visit to London. He died in Fersfield on 16th January 1752 aged 47. The Rev. Charles Parkin, the rector at Oxborough and a friend and fellow history enthusiast, was the first to continue Blomefield’s work. He not only completed Blomefield’s third volume but went on to write two further volumes. This initial set of three was subsequently published in various forms.
This portrait of Francis Blomefield is positioned on the south side of St. Anne’s chapel in St. Andrew’s Church, allowing him a pleasing opportunity to look down on a memorial which he himself took great pains to conserve. In his own words, from Volume 1 of his work:
“In the south side of St. Anne’s chapel, in the south isle, under the window, in an arch in the wall, lies an effigies of a knight, armed capà-pié, cut out of one piece of oak, which being in a dirty condition, I had it taken out and washed very clean…..… After removing the seats that stood before it, I caused it to be painted in the same colours, as near as could be, and added this inscription:
‘Sir Robert du Bois, Knt. Son of Sir Robert, and Grandson of Sir Robert du Bois, Knt. Founder of this Isle, Lord of this Manor, and Patron of this Church, died in 1311, aged 43 Years.’
He, the most famous medieval survival is the man in a glass case and represents someone who was probably responsible for the rebuilding of the church’s tower. He lies with his legs uncrossed, a rather surprised buck at his feet. Nearby is a relatively plain Norman font. After his own visit to St Andrew’s in 2018, Simon Knott also wondered:
“…… how much Blomefield would recognise his own church if he came back to it today. The furnishings are all modern, and the feel is of a pleasantly light space of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His memorial is in the rebuilt chancel, a fairly simple ledger stone set, not inappropriately, beneath the kind of 17th century panelling which must have been familiar to him. Less happy is the clumsy reredos, which looks as if some of the panelling had been left over and cobbled together with a picture of the Last Supper…… Even today, St Andrew is not without Antiquarian interest. Above Blomefield’s memorial in the east window are three roundels of glass, all of which are continental, I think. They depict St Andrew, St Gregory, and the eagle of St John. They were probably placed here by the Victorians at the time of the rebuilding. Curiously, Blomefield records quite a lot of medieval glass at Fersfield, mostly from the narrative of the Blessed Virgin, which is now all gone……… But despite the modern ambience, this is a church in which to recall the 18th century. The south aisle contains more Blomefield memorials, curly ones on the walls and simple ledgers on the floor. And, looking down on them all, the great royal arms of Queen Anne dated 1703, two years before Francis Blomefield was born.”
Of Francis Blomefield, it has been said that he was one of a generation of 18th century historians who ultimately saved that past belonging to Norfolk churches from being consigned to oblivion – with no thanks to the 16th century Anglicans and 17th century Puritans who seemed ‘hell-bent’ in doing just that. He was a giant among Norfolk antiquarians!
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Who was Adam Easton? Well, in a nutshell, he was a man who helped change the course of English history. A 14th century scholar, said to be born to a family of peasants at Easton in Norfolk, England, who rose to become the most powerful Englishman in the Catholic Church, second only to the pope. So why (except for a few scholars of 14th century church history) have many never heard of him – even in Norfolk itself?
Well, Adam was born in the village of Easton in Norfolk, just half a dozen miles to the west of Norwich. Almost certainly the son of peasants, he was taken in and educated by the church. After applying to join the monastery of St Leonards on the Hill overlooking the river Wensum, he was spotted for his potential and moved downhill to the mother Benedictine monastery attached to Norwich Cathedral.
As one of the brightest scholars of his generation, Adam was sent by the Norwich Monastery to study at Oxford. There, the Benedictines had their own college, Gloucester College – today known as Worcester College. There, the monks were split into houses, sharing quarters with those monks sent from the same monastery. Some of the old buildings of Gloucester College still survive as ‘the cottages’ and can be seen in the grounds of Worcester College today (see left in photo. below)……. Meanwhile his friend and fellow student from Norwich, Thomas Brinton, was enjoying life at the papal court or curia, in Avignon and Rome acting for the Benedictine Order in England.
Adam himself soon moved to Avignon and the papal court also, there to replace the same Thomas Brinton as a proctor acting on behalf of the English Benedictines. However, his first major task there did not make him popular in his country of birth; it was to send a message from the Pope telling the English King to restrain the activities of his men at arms in Italy. Fortunately, on his way back to London his route took him through Canterbury where he met with the Archbishop, Simon Langham. Langham was also a Benedictine monk from Westminster Abbey and he persuaded Adam to enter his service. From this moment until Langham’s death, Adam’s fortunes were linked to that of his new master.
It was while at Oxford, that Adam first came across fellow student John Wycliffe. They shared a common interest in attacking the successful and increasingly wealthy Friars. Adam owned copies of the writings of both William of St Amour and Richard FitzRalph attacking the Friars and Wycliffe had certainly read both works himself. Adam may even have loaned Wycliffe his own copies while they were at Oxford. Yet increasingly, in the years that followed, the broad thrust of Wycliffe’s life was to attack not just the Friars, but every aspect of the Church, both spiritual and temporal. He raged against the hierarchy, wealth and the power over secular life that the Church had established – he was far from alone.
Yet the Church had other things to worry about and just as Wycliffe produced his most vociferous attack in 1376, the Pope packed up the papal Court in Avignon to return to Rome and try and re-establish his secular authority over the states of central Italy that had risen in open rebellion against him. The fact that once again fiscal matters seemed to be governing the fate of the Church rather than matters spiritual gave extra poignancy to Wycliffe’s attacks.
Adam now found himself in strident opposition to his former fellow student. He may not have approved of everything the pope was doing, he may have had doubts about the motives behind the Pope’s return to Rome, but he was now entrenched in the same church hierarchy that Wycliffe attacked. He planned his defence of the Church in two stages. The first was vicious but effective, simply to identify the key elements of Wycliffe’s philosophy that could be identified as heretical, and get him condemned by the Church both in England and Rome. The second and perhaps the more interesting part of the enterprise was to try and set out in writing, through argument and debate, a definitive defence of the power of the Church. This became the vast Defence of Ecclesiastical Power and it was a volume that would have a profound impact in denying the truth of Wycliffe’s argument.
Cardinal Adam Easton, following the death of Simon Langham, really began to find his feet, and his reputation, as a scholar and canon lawyer, grew at the Roman Court or Curia. But then the smooth progress of his life was interrupted by the unexpected death of Gregory XI in 1377. This would mean the one thing that the papacy had dreaded for 100 years and more – an election in the full view of the Roman mob. The honourable way in which Adam defended this election and the selection of Urban VI marked him out. The way he spoke out against the (mostly French) defectors, who finding Urban less generous than they hoped, went off and selected a new (French) pope who might help them more, made the Norwich monk one of the most ardent supporters of Urban VI. The reward for his fidelity was not long in coming.
Downfall and Restoration of Adam Easton: In 1385 as the actions of Urban VI became ever more irrational, he moved his court to the castle above the dusty town of Nocera in Campania. Adam was involved with several other senior cardinals, in a plot to restrict the power of the Pope. However, the plotters were betrayed and the full wrath of the demented pontiff fell upon their shoulders. The situation was made even more uncomfortable when Charles Duzazzo arrived with his army and laid siege to the castle.
However, following the demise of Pope Urban VI, the Cardinals loyal to Rome immediately elected the youthful Neapolitan, Pietro Tomaselli who took the name Boniface IX. One of the first acts of Boniface as Pope was to restore Adam to freedom, readmit him to the college of cardinals and restore his power within the Papal Curia. Adam rapidly established himself with a court in Rome and lived close to his titular church of St Cecilia. The 14th century house (pictured left) opposite the church may well have been the sort of establishment the cardinal would have run. Today the colonnade on to the street is bricked in but it gives a flavour of how Adam’s residence might have looked over the plotters were betrayed and the full wrath of the demented pontiff fell upon their shoulders. The situation was made even more uncomfortable when Charles Duzazzo arrived with his army and laid siege to the castle.
Once Adam had been restored to a position of eminence in the Church, he set about building up his wealth and those of his followers in Rome. In this confused time with two popes to choose from, many of the benefices that he would try to get his hands on were contended. This led to a morass of legal disputes which, at least, helped in keeping track of Adam’s activities in his later years.
Around 1394 Adam, having established a court near his titular church of St Cecilia, several English and German churchmen attached themselves to him and he was obliged to lobby hard to get livings for them from Pope Boniface – not least, if they had funds of their own whereby they could set themselves up at Adam’s court without costing him a fortune! Now, an essential ingredient of a successful cardinal’s court, was permission for his ‘hangers-on’ to gain a benefice without actually suffering the inconvenience of having to visit it, or worse still live in it. This meant they could make a living from the fruits of the vicarage, without the necessity of having to do the work, whilst remaining at the centre of Church power, be it Rome or Avignon. As to the cure of souls, they could pay a clerk to do that out of their profits as absentee landlords!
This system was also good for the cardinal as he would be saved the expense of having to pay a salary to his courtiers from out of his own pocket. The courtiers in turn had a good chance of getting a lucrative benefice, as their master, the cardinal had plenty of incentive to get them one. Once they had an income, they could attend on the cardinal and concentrate on studies in his libraries or else working as part of the papal administration, without needing a salary. The fact that Adam was granted this privilege in 1394, suggests that this was the first time that he ran a substantial court in Rome. His was a small world at the centre of power, the image (above left) shows the tower of St Ceclia in the foreground and the great dome of the Vatican in the distance. These two buildings formed the boundaries of Adam’s world, and that of his courtiers, in the final stages of his life.
After his restoration by Boniface IX in 1389, Adam tried to regain the income from his two benefices, Somersham in Huntingdonshire and the deanery at York. Unfortunately, Richard II (left) had provided his own candidates to occupy the benefices whilst Adam was been languishing in prison. Although it appears that neither of Richard’s men had yet succeeded in getting hold of the fruits of the benefices, neither was inclined to surrender his claim just because Adam had been released. Both men were courtiers and close confidantes of their king, John Boore who was awarded Somersham and Edmund Stafford the deanery of York, and relied upon Richard’s support in maintaining their position.
By 1394 increasingly heated correspondence passed between the King, Adam, Pope Boniface and Stafford. Meanwhile Adam appears to have been successful in holding on to the cash but Stafford must have felt he would be completely out of favour with his religious superiors. So, when Richard decided that he would like to appoint Stafford as bishop of Exeter he must have feared the worst. Boniface would never accept the appointment without the ‘say so’ of the Cardinal of England.
However, Adam was quite prepared to separate the principle of the authority of the Church over matters clerical, from the authority of the monarch over matters clerical. Stafford had been granted York by his sovereign, but York was not in his sovereign’s gift. By contrast when Richard put forward Stafford for the Bishopric of Exeter, he began by seeking papal approval. There was for an advocate of Adam’s standing, a very clear distinction between the two sets of circumstances. However, much to Stafford’s surprise his appointment was confirmed and he could hardly restrain his gratitude to the English Cardinal. He duly served as Bishop of Exeter until his death and his tomb (below) can still be seen in Exeter Cathedral.
By 1394 Adam was gradually building his portfolio of livings as he was appointed to more and more churches around Europe and in the process, he started to accumulate considerable wealth. In the text below, taken from ‘The Segreto Archivo’, the Pope grants Adam the Church of Hasselt (pictured below) in Belgium which fell vacant when one of Adam’s own courtiers died:
By 1396 Adam was starting to enjoy considerable wealth and prestige and Boniface IX was proving very generous to his senior cardinal. When a significant benefice came up in Ferrara, Adam was given the fruits. 200 gold florins was quite a significant sum and the Benedictine priory an appropriate reward for a Benedictine Cardinal. The monastery no longer stands today but there the parish church of St Agnes (pictured left) stands on the same site.
Easton’s Death etc: As with so much of Adam’s history, the details surrounding his death are not entirely clear. That he died peacefully of old age is not in dispute, the more interesting question is when? The date is not without significance for the events surrounding the usurpation of Henry IV…… Adam died in Rome, his adopted city, aged around 70. There is some confusion about the date of his death not least because of the inscription on his tomb which can still be seen in the Church of St Cecilia in Trastavere, Rome. An inscription can be found on the tomb today suggesting Adam died in 1398. But the tomb used to have a canopy over it, removed in the 17th century and that tells a rather different story! The inscription on the canopy of Adam’s tomb is preserved in a drawing made of his tomb before the canopy was removed. The drawing can still be found in the Vatican Library records. Roughly translated the Latin inscription read:
“Skilled in all things, renowned father Adam. The great theologian, who was cardinal of England, which was his fatherland, the title of St Cecilia was given to him. He died and ascended to heaven in the year 1397, in the month of September.”
In 1641, Felice Contelori wrote about Adam and once again we have to acknowledge two things. Firstly, that even in the 17th Century Adam was still regarded as one of the more venerated of the cardinals and secondly that already, just 250 years after his death his life story was becoming confused – to say the least.
“On Saturday the 18th day of December in the year 1389 Boniface IX created cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, among the undersigned were: restored to the dignity of Cardinal, Adam of England Bishop of London with the title of St Cecilia. He died on 20th September in the year 1397.”
As stories about Adam’s life were passed on within the Church, within Rome and at a considerable distance from the place of Adam’s birth and early life, so the written record of his life became obscure and increasingly distorted. By 1714 George Eggs was able to write, somewhat implausibly, that Adam was a Welshman who was brought up in Norwich! It is the rare facts that form a common thread in the eulogies of Adam and his work that have enabled some sort of factual historical record to emerge from the biographies of the cardinals in which he is so often featured. Here, even the inscription on his tomb has moved on and his date of death is now shown as November 1397!
In 1792, Cardella, the 18th century Italian historian, also wrote a well renowned history of some of the more reputable Cardinals of the Catholic Church, its title ‘Memorie de Cardinali’. His entry on Adam is fascinating in that it contains a detail of Adam’s legend that is not found anywhere else! Perhaps though it is a tribute to the enduring enigma of Adam’s story, that the account by Cardella contains many factual errors and creates nearly as many questions as it answers. This is also the only biographical account that mentions Adam’s body being uncorrupted when the tomb was moved. It comes from Volume II:
“Adam Easton was born, according to the distinguished Auberius, Ughiello and, most reliably Godwin, to humble parents, in the English county of Herefordshire! He was admitted to the order of St Benedict, where, having distinguished himself at the monastery of Norwich in both piety and learning, he became public professor of theology at the University of Oxford and was nominated by Richard II to be bishop of London, or according to others, of Hereford. At the request of the same monarch, he was created priest cardinal of St Cecilia.
He was suspected of conspiring against the Pope, was taken in chains to the city of Nocera in 1385, together with 5 other cardinals and cruelly tortured. The basis for this suspicion was certain letters written in code (a skill in which he excelled) to Charles Durazzo, King of Naples, which were intercepted by Cardinal Medesimo. The most skilled codebreakers were unable to penetrate their meaning. Some assert that he had spread rumours about the Pope’s cruelty and rich living, others that he had not revealed the plot against Urban, of which he was aware. Whatever it was, one certainty is that despite various requests from the above-mentioned king he was put under the supervision of an official of French nationality and stripped of his office of cardinal.
However , Boniface IX restored him to the honours he had lost and as well as holding him in high esteem, sent glowing letters in his favour to the English parliament, in which he called him a great priest, worthy of the office of officiating cardinal…….He (Adam) produced a prodigious number of works, mainly about the divine scriptures and the others included a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin…….He was able to do this with both ease and erudition because of his exceptionally high level of competence in oriental languages. Almost all the authors are agreed in writing that the subsequent Urban both understood and expressed the innocence of that Cardinal.
He did not reach old age, but ended his days gloriously in Rome in 1398 as can be read in the epitaph on his tomb in the church of St Cecilia…….. after 20 years office as cardinal, he remained buried in the tomb to which he was entitled. Then 200 years after his death, the floor of the church was dug up on the order of Cardinal Sfondrati to create a new pavement and the confessional, as they call it of that virgin and martyr [St Cecilia], and they discovered the body of that devout cardinal, whole and uncorrupted. This is confirmed by the chronicles of the time. The body was carried, with grand ceremonial, to the left side of the aforementioned church, where one can see the ancient tomb with the statue representing the cardinal in his priestly robes, lying on the sepulchral urn. Together with a brief epitaph, there is a representation of his family crest.
It is to the great credit of this pious and learned cardinal that he is praised with sincerity by Bale and Godwin, both heterodox and implacably opposed to the religious orders. The eulogy which these two writers make of Cardinal Easton is reported in full by Ziegelbaver in part 3 of his history of the Benedictine order, page 187ff, in which he gives us an exact catalogue of the many works written by him.”
Readers please note the following (including the NTM&M Notice at foot:
Most of the above detail is from our Source (below) and contains original material that illustrate events in Adam Easton’s life; much is illustrated with 14th century art from across Europe. However, the images are illustrative of the text themes only; they are NOT necessarily exact of persons or events within the text!
Cardinals of the Catholic Church Brilliant site listing all the cardinals of the Catholic Church by date of appointment. For many an in-depth biography is also provided together with useful links to other historical information. This is a really valuable tool, for the historian.
Julian of Norwich and 14th century spirituality This site contains a great deal of very interesting material, book reviews and theories about the world of Adam Easton and more particularly, Julian of Norwich and the other female mystics of the 14th century. It will be evident that the author of that site, Julia Bolton Holloway is not always in agreement with the content of the site from which the above ‘NTM & More’ version comes. However, it is always useful to compare conflicting theories and accounts and her site offers a number of interesting and detailed perspectives and deserves much more than a cursory glance.
Biography of Adam Easton Entitled the Most Ungrateful Englishman, this is to date the only substantive biography of Adam Easton, published by Corpus Publishing of Lydney in Gloucestershire.
Wikipedia entry The Wikipedia entry on the subject of Adam Easton, the entry does contain a few errors but is a good synopsis for all of that.
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Francis Howes was born at Morningthorpe, Norfolk, on 29 February 1776 and baptised at St John’s, Morningthorpe on 3 March 1776. Apart from his entry into the church, he was to become a classical scholar.
Francis was the fourth surviving son of the Revd Thomas Howes (1732–1796), ‘Lord of the Manor of Morningthorpe’ and Rector of St Edmunds, Fritton and St Andrews, Illington. Thomas was grandson of a much earlier Thomas Howes who had first acquired Morningthorpe Hall following the death of his own father in law, John Roope, who died without male heirs in 1686. For generations thereafter the Howes family were born at Morningthorpe.
Francis Howes mother was Susan Longe (1732-1822), the daughter of Francis Longe of Spixworth (1689-1735), also in Norfolk. Susan had married Francis Howes’s father, Thomas, on 11 Jan 1758 at St Peter’s church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Her elder brother had already married Thomas’s sister, Tabitha Howes, at the same Spixworth church in 1747 – brother and sister married sister and brother! Francis Howes eldest surviving brother, John (1758–1787), entered Gray’s Inn but died young. Two other brothers of his, Thomas (1770–1848) and George (1772–1855), took holy orders, the latter taking over in 1808 as Vicar of Gazeley cum Kentford, Suffolk and then as Rector of St Peter’s at Spixworth, the related Longe family home.
Francis Howes was first educated at Norwich Grammar School in 1790 under Dr Samuel Parr and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1794 and graduating with a BA in 1798 as ‘Eleventh Wrangler’, then proceeding to a MA in 1804. Between 1799 and 1800 he had obtained the ‘Members Prize’. His chief college friend was John Williams, the judge, who subsequently made him an allowance of £100 per annum.
Francis Howes is said to have ‘married early’ but in fact was of full age, having married Sarah Smithson (1773–1863) on 19 March 1802 in St Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn. It has been speculated that this comment ‘married early’ was probably because his family disapproved of the match; the bride’s late father had been a member of St John’s College, Cambridge – but as a cook, not as a Fellow! (Universal British Directory, 2, c.1792, 493). Francis and Sarah had a reported nine children of whom their sons were Thomas George (b. 1807), later rector of Belton, Suffolk; John (1808–1837), parish clerk; and Charles (1813–1880), fellow and chaplain of Dulwich College. Three of their six daughters married clergymen – a strong theme throughout the generations of the Howes.
Francis Howes was ordained Deacon on 21 December 1800 and priest on 9 August 1801. He was to accumulate a number of clergy appointments thereafter. He was appointed Vicar of Shillington, Bedfordshire, in 1801 and was to hold it until 1816, although it appears that he never lived there. Francis’s sons were baptised in Acle, Norfolk, from where his first books were dated. He was also Vicar of Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, from 1809 until his death, and Rector of Buckenham, with Hassingham, Norfolk, from 1811 to 1814. In 1814 he moved to St George Colegate, Norwich, as parish chaplain, a position which he held until 1831 when he was appointed Vicar of Bawburgh, Norfolk, remaining in this post until 1829. But in 1815 he was also appointed a minor canon of Norwich Cathedral, moving to Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, where he lived for the rest of his life. He received the rectories of Alderford and Attlebridge in March 1826 and in 1829 was made Rector of Framingham Pigot, Norfolk, retaining them until his death in 1844:
The diocese of Norwich was notorious for pluralism and absentee clergy, but the Bishop of the time, Henry Bathurst, always pointed out that the majority of parishes were small and produced a low income.
As for scholastic writings of Francis Howes, some translations were from Latin into English verse and printed privately for him in 1801; they were included in his Miscellaneous Poetical Translations (1806). His translation of The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus (1809) was unsuccessful. Although he claimed that his translation of Horace’s Satires was ‘shortly’ to be published, The Epodes and Secular Ode of Horace did not appear until 1841 and The First Book of Horace’s Satires in 1842; both were privately printed in Norwich. It was only after his death when his son, Charles, gathered his translations from Horace and published them in The Epodes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace (1845); all the translations were written in heroic couplets, on which Francis Howes’s reputation was to rest. In 1892, John Conington praised these translations, noting that they had been forgotten by the public:
“very good, unforced, idiomatic, felicitous … I should be glad if any notice which I may be fortunate enough to attract should … extend to a predecessor who, if he had published a few years earlier, when translations were of more account, could scarcely have failed to rank high among the cultivators of this branch of literature.”
Howes, also composed epitaphs for monuments in Norwich Cathedral and spent his last years transcribing the diaries of his eccentric but cultured neighbour Sylas Neville. Neville was born in 1741, apparently in London. In 1768-9 he came to Great Yarmouth and settled at Scratby Hall. The years 1772-6 were then spent mainly in Edinburgh where he qualified as a doctor of medicine; the years 1777-80 were spent in foreign travel, mainly in Italy. On his return, and after visits to London, Edinburgh etc., he settled at Norwich in 1783 and there spent the rest of his life, intending to practise medicine but in fact subsisting increasingly on charity and the proceeds of begging letters. He was also to mutilate his diaries and letters later in his life, apparently in an attempt to remove compromising or politically embarrassing matter. Many of these excised passages were later restored by Francis Howes after Neville’s death in 1840 when his papers passed to Howes; he, in turn, transcribed some of the diaries, along with some of the correspondence – but afterwards destroying the originals! From Howes’ son the papers passed to the antiquary Hargrave Harrison then, on his death in 1896, they were purchased by L.G. Bolingbroke; from his family they went to Basil Cozens-Hardy.
Revd Francis Howes died at Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk on 26 March 1844 and was buried in the west cloister of Norwich Cathedral near his son John. According to the Norwich Mercury on 30 March 1844:
“Mr Howes was known as a ripe and spund [sic] classical scholar having addressed himself to this branch of learning from its earliest growth. He was not less distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition, the sweetness of his temper and the urbanity of his manners. The Editor of this Journal, who pays this tribute to his worth, passed through the Free School of this City upon the same form as him, and testifies with a mournful satisfaction to the early development of these his true qualities, to which they who knew him in later life will be ready to do the same justice, as well as to the liberality of his principles, and of his firmness in their assertion.”
Francis Howes widow died on 3 January 1863, aged 89 years.