Darwin Considered Him an Ass!

By Haydn Brown.

ROBERT McCORMICK was a British Royal Navy ship’s surgeon, explorer and naturalist. He was born on 22 July 1800 at Runham, a village near to Great Yarmouth in the County of Norfolk, England. John Marius Wilson’s 19th century ‘Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales’ described Runham as such:

“RUNHAM, a village and a parish in the Flegg district of Norfolk. The village stands near the river Bure, at the Runham-Swim Ferry, 4½ miles W N W of Yarmouth and was once a market-town. The parish includes a detached portion, called New Runham or Vauxhall, immediately adjoining Yarmouth, and on which fish-offices, manure-works, and the terminus of the Norwich and Yarmouth railway [would be] situated; and it was [to be] re-turned in the Census of 1851 as including also the extra-parochial tract of Nowhere……”

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Robert McCormick was the only son of Robert McCormick, Royal Navy, a ship’s surgeon from Ballyreagh, County Tyrone. Young Robert spent his childhood around Great Yarmouth; he was educated by his mother and sisters. His father had encouraged his son to become a naval executive officer, but the father’s death in the wreck of the HMS ‘Defence’ off the coast of Jutland on 24 December 1811 left Robert junior without the necessary influence and means by which to achieve his father’s desires.

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Two warships, the HMS St. George and the HMS Defence, both part of the British Baltic fleet, ran aground and were lost outside Thorsminde at the west-coast of Jutland on the 24th of December 1811.

It should be said at the outset that Robert McCormick junior was to turn out to be an eccentric and sometimes difficult character. His naval career would disappoint him, and promotion would be slow. Distinction also would elude him for his ambitions were greater than his application to his work. He would regularly invalid himself out of active service and only occasionally seemed to find work that he was keen to undertake. Almost certainly, his ambitions were destined to be thwarted by his own personality, and he was neither to make a great name for himself in the navy nor as a naturalist.

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Sir Astley Paston Cooper from Brooke in Norfolk. Engraved by J.S. Agar from an Drawing by A. Wivell. Image: Public Domain.

Nevertheless, in 1821 young Robert McCormick decided to enter the Royal Navy ‘as the only chance now left me of entering upon a naval life’. He asked to be trained as a surgeon and was accepted as an apprentice by the famous Sir Astley Paston Cooper, also originally from Norfolk. Following his studies in London, namely at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons on 6 December 1822. The following year, he was assigned to the flagship Queen Charlotte as assistant surgeon.

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Robert McCormick, Age 25 From a portrait drawn on HMS Icarus. McCormick had been invalided out of active service for the first time and was travelling home to England from the West Indies after contracting yellow fever. Source: MacCormick (1884: 2: frontispiece). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

When Robert McCormick entered the navy, the status of a naval surgeon had risen from that of the turn of the 18th century. He always maintained, however, that his father’s death had left him without enough money or influence to join the ‘executive line’ of the navy; also, his medical training in London would have cost perhaps £200 a year, ‘much the same as a young gentleman at Oxford or Cambridge’. However, it was a fact that a surgeon who had good connections in the Admiralty would have been in a far better position to achieve a successful career – for McCormick it was not to be!

Lack of family influences or fortune aside, McCormick seemed to be incapable to make friends in high places, and it has been argued that his lack of promotion came from antagonising the powerful William Burnett (1779-1861). Burnett sat on the Victualling Board from 1822, and became Director-General of the Medical Department upon its creation in 1832. It was said that Burnett ‘despised the spectacular, the second rate, or the ’dilettante’; but Burnett was not a scientist or a literary man, and seldom promoted those whose interests obviously lay more in the field of geology or botany than medicine. Indeed, McCormick did have more enthusiasm for exploration than for medicine, or natural history – maybe, therefore, he was considered by Burnett as both a ’dilettante’ and second rate!

Certainly, McCormick’s love of the spectacular would not have endeared him to Burnett. The sum total of McCormick was that he was a man with the wrong aptitudes in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. His efforts in natural history, intended to distinguish himself on the Navy’s congested personnel list, antagonised the Admiralty’s Medical Department, and alienated those with the power to advance him. Added to this, McCormick seemed neither good at, nor dedicated to, disciplined natural history collecting. To his further detriment, his dabbling came at the time when both natural history and medicine were growing complex networks. As a qualified but unexceptional naturalist, he had limited capacity for otherwise overcoming his lack of connection to London’s scientific elite. His case reveals the tensions inherent in the position of the ordinary naval surgeon in the mid-19th century – in which one individual performed the roles of doctor, scientist and naval officer, and these roles sometimes came into conflict. These tensions were to be amplified by the presence of the young Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle’s second voyage to South America in 1831.

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Robert McCormick, oil portrait by Stephen Pearce, 1856 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

But first, McCormick’s served in the Caribbean where, in 1825, he contracted yellow fever and was invalided home. He then spent two years as medical officer to shore stations. Then, in 1827, he gained his first experience in the Arctic with William Edward Parry aboard the HMS ‘Hecla’ to Spitsbergen. Although he was not a member of Parry’s unsuccessful polar sledge party, he did contribute significantly to the expedition by keeping the crew healthy and by studying the plants, animals, and geology of Spitsbergen. Following this expedition, he was promoted to the rank of surgeon and then spent a year on half pay, after which he was assigned to the HMS Hyacinth and Caribbean duty, only to be invalided home again in 1830. By May 1831 Francis Beaufort was looking for suitable personnel for a survey expedition to South America. McCormick appeared well qualified, and was recruited as ship’s surgeon for the second voyage of HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy.

While the preparations of the Beagle progressed in late October, McCormick met Charles Darwin who had been given an unofficial place on board as a self-funded gentleman naturalist who would be a companion to Captain FitzRoy. Darwin wrote telling his university tutor John Stevens Henslow about McCormick:

“My friend the Doctor is an ass, but we jog on very amicably: at present he is in great tribulation, whether his cabin shall be painted French Grey or a dead white— I hear little except this subject from him”.

Robert McCormick (HMS Beagle)
HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan. Image: Wikipedia.

When the voyage got under way, their first landfall was at St. Jago in the Cape Verde Islands in January 1832. McCormick and Darwin walked into the countryside together, and Darwin, influenced by Charles Lyell’s ideas on geology, found the surgeon’s approach old-fashioned:

“He was a philosopher of rather an antient date; at St Jago by his own account, he made general remarks during the first fortnight and collected particular facts during the last.”

McCormick became increasingly frustrated when FitzRoy took Darwin onshore, leaving McCormick behind and thereby denying him an opportunity for collecting. The last straw came at Rio de Janeiro in April 1832, when FitzRoy arranged for McCormick ‘s collection to be packaged and sent back to England. McCormick was also invalided home; he recalled in his memoirs of 1884:

“Having found myself in a false position on board a small and very uncomfortable vessel, and very much disappointed in my expectations of carrying out my natural history pursuits, every obstacle having been placed in the way of my getting on shore and making collections, I got permission from the admiral in command of the station here to be superseded and allowed a passage home in H.M.S. Tyne.”

McCormick’s upcoming return to England on 29 April 1832 gave Darwin the chance to send post home. He began a letter to his sister, Caroline, where he referred to McCormick, his former colleague:

“I take the opportunity of Maccormick [sic] returning to England, being invalided, ie. being disagreeable to the Captain & Wickham. – He is no loss.”

When HMS Tyne sailed, McCormick was unaware that he was conveying home not only Darwin’s letter, but also his opinion of him. Probably comfortable in his ignorance of Darwin’s words, McCormick settled into yet another ‘sabbatical’ before being posted once more to the Caribbean; only to suffer a further attack of yellow fever, for which he was sent home in 1834. For the next four years he was unattached except for one month aboard the HMS Terror in relief of ice-bound whalers.

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HMS Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic ice pack, from A Voyage of Discovery and Research, by James Clark Ross, engraving, 1847 (Linda Hall Library)

In 1839 McCormick successfully applied for duty with the expedition of James Clark Ross to the Antarctic as surgeon and zoologist aboard HMS Terror. The expedition lasted from September 1839 until September 1843; during this time, it managed to undertake much important work in all branches of science from the Antarctic, through to Australia and New Zealand. The large collections of zoological materials obtained were catalogued later – but not by McCormick! The task was undertaken by John Edward Gray and Sir John Richardson, on orders from the Admiralty following the discovery that the task had been left undone after the expedition.

Here was another example of McCormick’s apparent lack of drive and skills; also, the scientific ability, to cope with such a massive collection. Small wonder then when he did gain some recognition with his election, in 1844, as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons – a different field of course. Then, during the following year, McCormick received what he thought was a life-time appointment; that of surgeon to the yacht William and Mary. To his dismay, however, the commission was changed and he was assigned to the Woolwich Dockyard, east of London; but even in this post he was to be disappointed when, in 1849, he was superseded.

It seems not generally known that Robert McCormick was a proponent of the search for Sir John Franklin, and he was one of the first to lay detailed plans for such an expedition before the Admiralty and the House of Commons. He advocated the use of small boats and sledges to explore Wellington Channel, the Boothia Peninsula and King William Island. However, whilst his suggestions, were well based on Arctic and Antarctic experience, they were ‘unofficial’, coming as they did from a medical officer and not a line officer; inevitably, they were rejected! It was left to Francis Leopold McClintock to later demonstrate and prove that McCormick was correct!

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In 1851 McCormick was appointed surgeon on the North Star in the search fleet of Sir Edward Belcher . At last, his life-long ambition was realised: for during this expedition, he became officer in command of a party. In August and September 1852, he explored the Wellington Channel, in a boat named Forlorn Hope, covering 240 statute miles. He did not find any trace of Franklin’s ships, Erebus and Terror, but did map the east side of the channel and establish the probability of a connection between Baring Bay and Jones Sound, virtually proving that Franklin had proceeded westward from Beechey Island.

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Robert McCormick, Age 52, in Full Dress Uniform. McCormick seems to have had a lifelong interest in his appearance. His diary entry for 3 June 1832, while returning to England on HMS Tyne, reads: ‘Mustered in blue trousers’. Years later, in his early eighties, he was seen by RB Sharpe at the British Museum dressed like someone from a ‘bygone age’, in a ‘swallow-tail coat… with gilt buttons and trousers of a ‘pronounced shepherd’s plaid. Source: McCormick (1884: 1: frontispiece). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

McCormick was awarded the Arctic Medal in 1857 and then, in 1859, he was finally promoted to Deputy Inspector-General. This was his last rise in rank and he was placed on the retired list in 1865, and in 1876 received a Greenwich Hospital pension of £80 per annum through the good offices of his friend, the medical director-general, Sir Alexander Armstrong, himself an old Arctic hand. In 1884 McCormick published his ‘Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and Round the World’. Despite excellent illustrations, sound scholarship, and an interesting narrative, it came too late to arouse much interest – most of the information was already well known and the incidents were too remote for acclamation.

McCormick, in fact, spent the last 20 years of his life in relative obscurity. He had failed either to reach the top in the naval medical service or to become a distinguished biologist. He displayed stamina and competence in exploration but had little opportunity to engage in it except, perhaps, during the North Star expedition. His troubles in the Admiralty have been attributed to a lack of tact and a strong individualism which resulted in frequent disagreements with each of the medical directors-general of his time, especially Sir William Burnett. The yellow fever he contracted and his dislike of small ships led him to avoid assignments to the Caribbean, even to the point of insubordination. However, these characteristics do not explain his scientific failure. McCormick was on good terms with many influential scientists of the day, including Sir John Barrow, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Sir Charles Lyell, and had opportunities to make his mark, but he did not display the single-mindedness, patience, and learning.

McCormick’s only claim to fame was that his name was given to several natural features: in the Antarctic, to Cape McCormick by Ross; in the Arctic, to McCormick Bay by Beaufort and McCormick Inlet by McClintock; and in northwest Greenland, to a valley. McCormick was proud of having his portrait painted in 1853 by Stephen Pearce, one of a series planned on the commanders in the Franklin search. He thought it a harbinger of a distinguished future, but, in the event, the Forlorn Hope was his first, last, and only command.

In his last years, McCormick lived in a Wimbledon house he named Hecla Villa, after the ship on which he sailed with Parry, and the class of ships that included the HMS Erebus. His living companions included a duck named ‘the Duchess’, and a sparrow named Polly. McCormick died at Hecla Villa on 28 October 1890 – He never achieved the desired rank of Inspector-General.

THE END

 Sources Include:
Biography – McCORMICK, ROBERT – Volume XI (1881-1890) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
bshs_monograph_14_9780906450185_Steel_2011.pdf

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Cresswell: A Naval Officer Who Delivered Good News!

By Haydn Brown.

Introduction:
The era of the ‘Pax Britannic’ was the period of relative peace between the Great Powers, during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a “global policeman”. However, the period was anything but peaceful for many Royal Navy Officers, and few saw as much active service as Samuel Gurney Cresswell of Kings Lynn, Norfolk. It was he who contrived to fight in the Baltic campaign of the ‘Crimean War’ – the first-time whole battle fleets maneuvered and fought under steam power. He then achieved fame as an Arctic explorer (being credited with being the first to traverse the much sought-after North West Passage, as the result of a truly epic sledging trip form the trapped HMS Investigator in 1853).

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Samuel Gurney Cresswell

As his career advanced, Cresswell rose to sea-going command, and played his part in the imperial coercion of China, which included amphibious operations and the suppression of piracy in the South China Sea. Throughout his action-packed service, he always found time to keep journals and to correspond with his family. He was an acute observer of the closed world of the Victorian navy, as well as the exotic climes he was privileged to visit. His lively first-hand accounts form the raw material for subsequent books. Like other contemporary sailors, he could also express his observations in competent drawings and watercolours, but with a skill of a higher order. Indeed, he was to be summoned to the Palace to present his Arctic sketches to Queen Victoria, and they were eventually issued as lithographs. However, most were never published at the time.

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An elaborate map of the British Empire in 1886, marked in pink, the traditional colour for Imperial British Dominions on maps. Wikipedia.

In the Beginning:
Overlooking King’s Staithe Square and the Great Ouse River at King’s Lynn is Bank House, a glorious Georgian townhouse built by a wealthy wine merchant who shipped imported wine downriver to the Cambridge colleges and the Bishops of Ely. It was here in the 1780s that Joseph Gurney, later a founder of the present-day Barclays Bank, set up his first bank. Bank House was also where Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell, the Arctic Explorer, was born on 25 Sept 1827 (1827-1867). The house was built on the former site of the 16the Century Port Tollbooth.

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Bank House (left) where Samuel Gurney Cresswell was born.

Samuel Gurney Cresswell was born on 25 September 1827, the third son of Francis Cresswell Esq. (Banker, born 1789) and Rachel Elizabeth Fry (born 1803, London, Middlesex), daughter of Elizabeth Fry, née Gurney, the distinguished philanthropist and prison reformer. Samuel Cresswell had two older brothers (Frank Joseph and Addison John), three who were younger (William Edward, Gerard Oswin, and Oswald) and one sister, (Harriet France Elizabeth). The Cresswell’s’ circle in Norfolk included the Gurneys as well as Sir Edward Parry.

Cresswell’s Life and Career Thereafter:
From his childhood, Samuel Gurney Cresswell expressed a keen desire to go to sea rather than pursue a formal education at Harrow as his older brothers had done. His parents, having sought the advice of Sir William Edward Parry, an intimate family friend “in whose judgement…… [they] had perfect confidence,” decided that Samuel, aged 14, would enter the Royal Navy. This he did, first to serve as a midshipman on board ‘HMS Agincourt’ under Sir Thomas John Cochrane, Commander-in-Chief of the East India and China station. During this period, which was between 1845 and 1847 Cresswell distinguished himself in several actions against pirates in Borneo and Brunei; a further promotion followed in September 1847.

Thomas-john-cochrane
Sir Thomas John Cochrane

While Cresswell was serving in the far-east, Sir John Franklin was leading an expedition in search of the North-West Passage, a navigable route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Franklin had sailed from Greenhithe on 19 May 1845 with 129 officers and men aboard the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ – both fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment. Franklin’s ships passed from the Atlantic through the Davis Strait into Baffin Bay and were last seen on 26 July at the entrance to Lancaster sound, moored to an iceberg.

Sir John Franklin_NPG
Sir John Franklin. Image: National Portrait Gallery.

Back at Portsmouth, England and serving on ‘HMS Excellent’, Cresswell was next promoted to 6th Mate on April 1848; one month later, in May 1848 he was transferred to ‘HMS Investigator’ to take part in Sir James Clark Ross’s Arctic expedition in search of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin’s expedition ships which remained missing. During the search, on 10 Sept. 1849 to be exact, Cresswell was promoted to 2nd lieutenant; then, within three weeks of his return to England in November 1849, he voluntarily re-joined ‘HMS Investigator’ as a member of Robert John Le Mesurier McClure’s Arctic expedition, both in the continuing search for the Northwest Passage and also as part of the second Franklin search expedition. The search would be attempted from the Pacific coast of America and travelling eastwards via the Bering Strait. Little did McClure know when he set out that nearly four years would elapse of fruitless searching.

Captn._Sir_Robert,_J._Le_Mesurier_McClure_R.N_RMG_PX7216 (2)
Robert John Le Mesurier McClure.

McClure’s expedition actually set sail in January 1850 and encountered the first ice west of Barrow Point in the August of that same year. Having entered the North-West Passage from the Bering Strait it attempted to sail further eastwards but the ship became trapped in pack ice in the autumn of 1851. Come the 26 October and a travelling party from McClure’s ship was held fast off Banks Land but manage to establish that the Prince of Wales Strait did connect to Viscount Melville Sound. Melville Island itself, first discovered 34 years earlier by Parry who had approached from the opposite direction, was clearly seen by the members of McClure’s party from their elevated position; it lay across the entrance to Prince of Wales Strait. It was this that gave indisputable proof of the existence of the Northwest Passage:

“The highway to England from ocean to ocean lay before us”!

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This is one in a Series of Eight Sketches in Colour of the Voyage of H.M.S. Investigator (Captain M’Clure), during the Discovery of the North-West Passage. Image: Day and Son and Ackermann and Co., London, 1854.

As thing were at the time, the excessive heavy ice conditions during the summers of 1851 and 1852 prevented McClure’s expedition from making any further progress eastward, and it was forced to winter throughout 1851–1853 at the Bay of Mercy. It was at this point, when McClure’s ship was finally abandoned, and although the events of that period were fully documented, the location of the HMS Investigator wreck was not known for over 150 years; it would be in July 2010 when it was found, at a depth of 8 metres, just off Banks Island in the Beaufort Sea.

Back in 1853, the expedition was faced with the prospect of starvation but was located on 6 April that year by a sledge party sent by Captain Henry Kellett, commander of ‘HMS Resolute’, which was also on the Franklin search expedition under Captain Sir Edward Belcher. Cresswell, along with 24 invalids, followed McClure on the 170-mile trek to Kellett’s winter camp at Dealy Island, located off Melville Island. Arriving in good health, Cresswell volunteered to continue overland for about 300 miles to Beechey Island in the hope of meeting a ship.

By an incredible stroke of luck, he encountered the ‘HMS Phoenix’ under the command of Captain Inglefield, who had arrived on 2 August 1853. It was on this ship that Lieut. Cresswell set sail for home, via Scotland, on the 23 August. Understandably, he triumphantly had in his possession McClure’s dispatches to the Admiralty which established him, Cresswell and his party, as the living proof of not only the discovery of the long-sought for Northwest Passage by Sir Franklin, but also his own success of being the first to traverse this passage. In 1854 Captain McClure was awarded a knighthood for his leadership throughout.

On 26 October 1853, a public dinner was held in his honour at the Kings Lynn Assembly Rooms, organised by his native townsmen; tickets were 1 guinea each. It was after a lavish banquet when the Town Clerk read out a ‘Congratulatory Address’ and the Mayor, Lionel Self, presented Lieut. Cresswell with a copy on an illuminated scroll of vellum to which the Corporate seal was attached by a golden cord. Lieut. As tradition dictated, Cresswell returned the compliment by thanking his audience and regaling them with some of the hardships which he had suffered whilst leading his sledging party across the ice:

‘We used to travel all night, about 10 hours, and then encamp, light our spirits of wine, put our small kettle on it to thaw the snow water, and after we had our supper – just a piece of pemmican and a glass of water – we were very glad to get in, after smoking our pipes (“Bravo,” and laughter). The first thing we did after pitching the tent was to lay a sort of Macintosh cloth over the snow. On this would be a piece of buffalo robe stretched. Each man and officer had a blanket sewed up in the form of a bag, and this we used to jump into, much the same as you may see a boy in a sack (laughter). We lay down, head and feet, the next person having his feet to my head, and his head to my feet, just the same as herrings in a barrel (laughter). After this we covered ourselves with skins over the whole of us, and the closer we got the better, as there was more warmth (laughter).’

Coincidentally, it was noted that the public dinner actually took place on the third anniversary of the discovery of the North-West Passage. It was also fitting at this celebratory dinner that a tribute was paid by Rear-Admiral Parry to Cresswell; Parry being the person who had been influential in Cresswell’s career and felt a personal responsibility for his safety.

On the mystery of Sir Franklin’s disappearance, the Government of the day gave up the search for him and his ships in 1855 when it was discovered that a few survivors had attempted to reach the Hudson’s Bay Company’s settlement. However, Lady Franklin was not satisfied and organised another search, which proved to also be unsuccessful. The fate of the Franklin’s expedition (but not the location of the two ships) was finally revealed in the Spring of 1859. As it was, the Captains and crews had all but completed the navigation of the North-West passage and, for this reason, Sir Franklin was given the honour of its discovery.

As for the ship’s crew, they were last seen on King William Island but would never return to England. Their apparent disappearance at the time, prompted a massive search that continued unsuccessfully for nearly 170 years. In September 2014, an expedition led by Parks Canada did, finally, discover the wreck of ‘HMS Erebus, and two years later, the wreck of ’HMS Terror’ was located. Historical research, local knowledge and the support of others made these discoveries possible. Now Parks Canada are working manage this fascinating National Historic Site. Public access to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site is not yet allowed.

Subsequently, and until his promotion to Commander on 21 October 1854, Cresswell served on HMS Archer in the Baltic during the Russian War. It was while he was stationed in the China Seas in 1857-58 as commander of ‘HMS Surprise’, that he was promoted to Captain; that was on 17 September 1858. It was during this posting that Cresswell met with ill health from which he never fully recovered. It seems his years in the Arctic wastes had ruined his health and he retired in February 1867, dying, unmarried on 14 August 1867 at Bank House, his mother’s home in Kings Lynn, aged only 39 years.

Cresswell’s Artistic Talents:
Cresswell, while on the Ross and McClure expeditions, executed numerous water-colours which today provide a valuable pictorial record of the crews’ activities and Arctic terrain. Some of his sketches, suitably ironed flat from their rolled-up state and placed in an album, were presented personally to Queen Victoria with a request for permission to dedicate a volume of lithographic views after the drawings to her Majesty. The resulting folio volume, published in 1854 in London, was entitled A series of eight sketches in colour ……… of the voyage of ‘H.M.S. Investigator’. His drawings were also used to illustrate the discovery of the North-West Passage by H.M.S. Investigator, edited by Sherard Osborn and published in London in 1856.

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First discovery of land by HMS Investigator, September 6th 1850. Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.
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Sledge-party leaving HMS Investigator in Mercy Bay, under command of Lieutenant Gurney.  Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.
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Critical position of HMS Investigator on the north-coast of Baring Island, August. Image: Scott Polar Research Institute.

THE END  

Sources: Included amongst the sources used are the following:
Biography – CRESSWELL, SAMUEL GURNEY – Volume IX (1861-1870) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
Glimpses – Samuel Gurney Cresswell (thornburypump.co.uk)

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In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use other people’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with that person or owner), contact can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim or suggest 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. If there is any violation of copyright or trademark material, it is unintentional.

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A Champion of the Agricultural Labourer.

By Haydn Brown.

Joseph Arch was not born and bred in Norfolk, but he did play a key role in unionising agricultural workers of the County and championing their welfare, along with becoming the Liberal MP for the North West of the County in 1885.

Joseph Arch (Spy-cartoon)
Arch caricatured by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1886. Image: Public Domain.

Joseph Arch, in fact, came from the Warwickshire village of Barford where he was born on 10 November 1826. His ancestors were also Barford bred and for three generations, at least, had owned and lived in their own cottage there since the 18th century. After only three years of schooling, he started work as a labourer at the age of nine and his first job was as a bird-scarer, working 12 hours a day for a wage of 4d per day – so, he knew from bitter experience, the problems that faced the poorly-paid, ill-educated rural labourer of the time. From being a bird-scarer, he progressed to become a plough-boy, then a skilled hedge cutter before mastering just about any other farming skill one could find on the land. Such qualifications enabled him, in time at least, to move around the Midlands and South Wales, earning quite a reasonable wage in the process. At the same time, he could not fail to observe the terrible conditions in which the majority of his agricultural labouring colleagues lived. These were later described by the Countess of Warwick in the introduction she wrote to his eventual 1898 autobiography:

“Bread was dear, and wages down to starvation point; the labourers were uneducated, under-fed, underpaid; their cottages were often unfit for human habitation, the sleeping and sanitary arrangements were appalling …… In many a country village the condition of the labourer and his family was but little removed from that of the cattle they tended.”

Joseph Arch (Countess of Warwick)
Countess of Warwich

Following his return home to his Warwickshire village from his travels, Joseph Arch married in 1847 and, over time, had seven children. He also became a Primitive Methodist preacher which, apparently, did not go down well with the village parson and his wife who discriminated against the Arch’s’ as a result – there again, Joseph’s family had always been at odds with the parson. Nevertheless, during this period, Joseph also managed to educate himself politically by reading old newspapers and, in time, became a supporter of Liberalism.

Joseph Arch (Portrait_Elliott & Fry)
Joseph Arch (1826 – 1919) Agricultural Campaigner. Photo: Wikipedia.

It was therefore to him, as a well-respected and experienced agricultural worker, that his destitute fellow workers turned for help in their fight for a living wage. Called to address an initial meeting held on 7 February 1872, in the Stag’s Head public house in Wellesbourne, Joseph expected an attendance of fewer than thirty. Instead, he found on his arrival that over 2,000 agricultural labourers from all the surrounding area had arrived to hear him speak. The meeting was therefore held under a large chestnut tree opposite on a dark, wet, winter night, with the labourers holding flickering lanterns on bean poles to illuminate the proceedings.

Joseph Arch (The Square_Wellesbourne_chestnut,_1905)
The Wellesbourne  Chestnut Tree in 1905 (see below). Photo: Public Domain.

The right man in the right place at the right time:
From this initial gathering, further meetings were called and from one of these a committee was elected which met at John Lewis’s old farmhouse in Wellesbourne. Its endeavours eventually resulted in farm workers, from all parts of South Warwickshire, meeting in Leamington on Good Friday, 29 March 1872, to form the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers Union. From this, and in light of much agitation up and down the country, the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union was established, and Joseph Arch was elected as its President. The Union’s first action was to withdraw their labour, and farmers and landowners soon found out that the reprisals they tried to apply were ineffective; the result was, for a time, a temporary rise in the workers’ wages. This seemed to satisfy the Union members to the point where they ceased to organise themselves further. Inevitably, farm owners fought back and came to ‘locking-out’ union members, an action which became so widespread that the Union finally collapsed in 1896. It would, however, be replaced a decade later by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in 1906.

Joseph Arch (Union Banner)
Image : Spartacas Educational.

But this was the time when Joseph Arch became identified with what was clearly a very popular cause.  He travelled all over England, speaking in stirring language at countless village meetings; inspired no doubt by his deep faith in his cause. Rural workers everywhere welcomed him as one of their own and from the walls of many small cottages’, portraits of his strong bearded face looked encouragingly down. He also became the subject of such rallying songs as:

Joe Arch he raised his voice,
’twas for the working men,
Then let us all rejoice and say,
We’ll all be union men.

Joseph Arch (Ham Hill demo)
Joseph Arch (standing centre) addressing the sixth annual demonstration of agriculural labourers at Ham Hill, Yeovil on, Whit Monday 1877. Photo: Public Domain.

In 1873 the Canadian government invited him over to examined the suitability of the country for British emigration. Impressed by his report, his Union helped over 40,000 farm labourers and their families to emigrate both there and to Australia over the next few years.

Joseph Arch also turned to agitating for the widening of the voting franchise, which until then only included property owners, and this resulted in the passing of the 1884 Parliamentary Reform Act. In the ensuing 1885 General Election, he was elected as the Liberal MP for North West Norfolk, the first agricultural labourer to enter the House of Commons. He did lose his seat when William Gladstone was defeated in June 1886; however, Arch was re-elected to the same constituency in Norfolk in 1892, when he was one of twelve working-class MPs in parliament. Though he was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor in 1893, he seldom spoke and his former supporters came to perceive him as pompous and out of touch. Now they sang about him

Joseph Arch he stole a march,
Upon a spotted cow.
He scampered off to Parliament,
But where is Joseph now?

Then, on 25 July 1894, the Norfolk Chronicle reported:

“Mr. Joseph Arch, M.P., at a meeting held at New Buckenham, delivered to the agricultural labourers his famous address which was quoted throughout the country for some time afterwards.  “You poor, craven milk-and-water fools,” said the hon. member for North-west Norfolk, “why, you button up your pockets at the thought of paying 2¼d. a week when you are told by a lot of lying scampery and scandalism that I have run away with your money. . . .  Professor Rogers once said when speaking of the tenant farmers, that their heads were as soft as the mangolds they grew.  I think some of the labourers’ heads are as soft as the mangolds they hoe.”

In 1898, Arch published what was considered to be ‘a pugnacious and opinionated autobiography’, upon which The Spectator newspaper commented at the start of its long review that:

“One cannot help wishing that this book was more of an autobiography, and less of a polemic against Mr. Arch’s adversaries, political and social.”

Joseph Arch (Signed Photo_1900)
Joseph Arch autographed photograph 1900 . Photo: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive.

Retiring from Parliament before the 1900 General Election, Arch returned to spend the last years of his long life in his tiny cottage in Barford; the place where he had been born. He died there on 12 February 1919 at the age of 92 years.

Joseph Arch (outside-cottage)
Joseph Arch as an old man outside his cottage. Photo: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive.

Footnote – The Legacy:

(1) The Wellesbourne Tree: This tree died in 1948 but the spot was marked by a commemorative stone at the old meeting place, now renamed Chestnut Square. In 1952, the National Union of Agricultural Workers erected a bus shelter there and set up inside it a commemorative plaque which still remains. A replacement tree was also planted where every year union representatives once gathered on 7 February and then went on to Barford to lay a wreath upon Arch’s grave. The unions do not, apparently, do this anymore, but the Wellesbourne Action Group organises a walk from Barford to Wellesbourne in June each year, along the footpath known as the Joseph Arch Way. There is now also a Joseph Arch Road in the village which runs off the A439 roundabout, while in Barford the old coaching inn has been renamed the Joseph Arch pub.

(2) The Joseph Arch Inn:

Joseph Arch (Pub_Barford)
The Joseph Arch Inn at Barford. The pub is named after Barford’s most famous son. Photo: © Philip Halling

(3) Plaster Casts:

Joseph Arch (Hands)

The Museum of English Rural Life has a Joseph archive; included in which are curious plaster casts of his hands and wrists. Unfortunately, nothing is known about these plaster casts, except that they were made during the last quarter of the 19th century when Joseph Arch was no longer a practising agricultural labourer – else, they would be heavy, calloused and weather-beaten. Also, the exact reason why the casts were made is unknown. Maybe they were part of a statue; even though no other parts of the statue have been found. Another possibility is that such plaster casts were created because, during the 19th century, they were used to improve art and for teaching and research purposes. However, there seems to be no written record which could explain exactly why these casts were created – only speculation remains.

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Arch
https://www.barfordheritage.org.uk/content/people/joseph-arch/joseph-arch-1826-1919

Banner Heading: ‘The Mowers’ by George Clausen, 1892. Painting: Usher Gallery, London

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Spitfire X4593

By Haydn Brown.

On 22 November, 1940 Spitfire X4593 of 266 Squadron crashed near Holme Lode Farm, Holme in Cambridgeshire. At the controls for what was intended to be a routine training flight was Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh. During a battle climb to a high altitude with two other Spitfires, he was seen to break formation entering a dive from which unfortunately he failed to fully recover. Witnesses stated that his aircraft partially recovered at around 2000ft but immediately re-entered a dive and struck the ground vertically.

Spitfire X4593 2
Spitfire X4593. Photo: Public Domain.

Pilot Officer Penketh was not able to use his parachute and was killed in the resulting crash. Although he was a new pilot with 266 Squadron, based nearby at Wittering, with only some 13 hours experience on Spitfires, his Station Commanding Officer stated that he could fly it quite well and was fully conversant with the oxygen system. It was assumed that his oxygen system was working as he had reached 28,000ft without any apparent problem. Investigation concluded that either a failure of the oxygen system or a physical failure had occurred.

Spitfire X4593 (Harold Penketh)
Pilot Officer Harold Penketh. Photo: Aviva Group archive

Harold Penketh’s body was recovered from the wreck of his Spitfire and returned to his home town of Brighton where he had previously worked for the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation. His obituary in the staff magazine ended: “He was of a charming disposition and his loss was keenly felt by his family and those who knew him.” His name is recorded on a memorial at Brighton’s Woodvale Crematorium and Cemetery; he died aged only 20.

Spitfire X4593 (Excavation Finds)

In 2016 the decision was taken to excavate Spitfire X4593. The dig was a collaboration between the Great Fen Project, Oxford Archaeology and Operation Nightingale. Personal items belonging to Mr Penketh, including his initialled cigarette case and watch, were found, along with some skeletal remains that had not been recovered in 1940.

Spitfire X4593 (Memorial)
Memorial

The Plane:
The Spitfire’s registration number was X4593; it was built at Eastleigh, Hants as a Mark 1A Spitfire with a Merlin III engine. The plane flew in the Battle of Britain and is credited with destroying at least one German plane, believed to be a Heinkel. It was a presentation Spitfire paid for/named by the Madras Mail (English language daily evening paper, published 1868-1981), the first in a trio of Mark 1s named by their readers. The plane was called ‘Kerala’ (after the SW Indian state) and allocated to 266 Squadron, a Rhodesian squadron. The other two planes were X4594 ANDHRADESA and X4595 TOMILAND.

Spitfire X4593 (266 Squadron)

No. 266 Squadron:
Number 266 Squadron had been formed on 27 September 1918 from Nos 437 and 438 Flights at the seaplane station at Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, for anti-submarine patrols over the Aegean. On 30 October 1939, the Squadron was reformed at Sutton Bridge Lincolnshire, intended to be a Blenheim squadron. None were received and after training with Battles, it began to receive Spitfires in January 1940. The Squadron became a Rhodesian fighter squadron within Fighter Command and went on to establish a fine reputation in the skies over Western Europe. The squadron moved to Martlesham Heath near Ipswich in March 1940, then to Wittering in May 1940, having been re-equipped with Spitfires. These planes went into action for the first time on 2 June over Dunkirk, and flew coastal patrols and convoy escorts until fighting in the Battle of Britain in August and September 1940. During August they were based in south-east England and then returned to Wittering. Sqn 266 began an intensive operational training programme in September for the many new pilots, when patrols over the Thames Estuary permitted. The Squadron’s crest has a motto: Hlabezulu, meaning ‘The stabber of the sky’.

THE END

Principal Source:
https://www.greatfen.org.uk/about-great-fen/heritage/spitfire-excavation

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The Unfortunate Demise of Tomkins.

By Haydn Brown.

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.

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_Wikipedia)
Oliver Fellows Tomkins (1873–1901). Image: Wikimedia.

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.

Princes Street Church_EDP
United Reformed Church in Princes Street, Norwich.
The site on which the original Princes Street Congregational Church was built used to be a yard of densely populated tenement houses grouped around a central courtyard. However, within a short time, the roof was found to be unsafe and alterations were made in 1828 with some buildings situated behind the church modified and incorporated into the subsequent Church Rooms. The church was further altered and partially rebuilt in 1881 by Edward Boardman, a Deacon of the Church, and its present facade dates from this time. The roof was raised and a plasterwork ceiling installed. In 1927 the traditional box pews were replaced by the present pine pews with umbrella racks. Photo: EDP.

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.

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_James-Chalmers-1887)
James Chalmers. Photo: Public Domain.

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:

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_EDP Library)
Oliver Fellows Tomkins (1873–1901). Image: Wikimedia.

“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:

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Native)2
Natives of New Guinea. Image: Public Domain.

“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.”

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Memorial Plot_Jamie Honeywood)
Memorial to Oliver Fellows Tomkins at the Great Yarmouth Minster. Photo: Jamie Honeywood

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!

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Plaque)
Memorial Plaque in Princes Street URC. Photo: Simon Knott.

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.

THE END

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The Birth of the Bethel.

By Haydn Brown.

 The complete history of the former Bethel Hospital is too involved to appear here. Instead, today’s blog is confined to its very beginning, prefaced by a summary of the periods which led up to the time when Mary Chapman shared her ideas with her husband, Reverend Samuel Chapman of Thorpe Parish Church. He died before their project was implemented and it was left to Mary to forge ahead – when the time was right!

Preface:
There is evidence to suggest that the site of the Bethel – and that was its original name – had been settled as early as Saxon times. We know this through extensive archaeological excavations which took place on the site of the former Norwich Central Library prior to its construction in 1960; the library then lay almost next door to the ground on which the Bethel was built back in 1713. This pre-1960 excavation unearthed a large collection of finds; significantly, the discovery of Saxon postholes confirmed that the area had been settled well before Norman times, whilst a rare Viking gold ingot, the first of its type found in the UK, could be roughly dated to the Viking occupation of East Anglia in the late ninth century.

During the Medieval period, Over or Upper Newport, as Bethel Street was then known, stretched from St Peter Mancroft to St Giles Gate, or New-port, close to the surviving church of St Giles. The Norfolk historian, Francis Blomefield, wrote in 1768 that this street was:

“the ropery, where the cord and ropemakers formerly dwelt’.

During this period the Bethel site also fell under the shadow of St Mary-in-the-Fields, a chapel and hospice founded by John Le Brun in 1248, the crypt of which survives below the Assembly House grounds, which itself still faces towards the south-west of the earlier Bethel and later renamed Bethel Hospital.

Bethel Hospital5
The diagram shows part foundations of St Mary-in-the-Fields, chapel and hospice, founded by John Le Brun in 1248. Image: The Assembly House.

The Committee House and The Great Blow:
Blomefield also noted that part of the Bethel was located on the site of the former ‘Committee House’, a meeting place and store for the County’s armoury; the house was rented to Norfolk’s County Committee. Significantly, the building’s importance was reflected in the naming of the road outside as Committee Street, which linked Over or Upper Newport Gate (Upper St Giles’) to St Peter’s Street by St Peter Mancroft Church.

Bethel Hospital3
Thomas Cleer’s Map of 1696 showing the ‘vacant’ plot. Image: Norfolk Record Office.

Little is known about the Committee House, but it is recorded as having been the house of Francis Wyndham (1525-1592), who is ‘immortalised’ in a memorial at St Peter Mancroft. He had no children and left his property to his wife, Elizabeth, with the exception of the Committee House, which was valued at £400 and was to be sold to pay his debts.

Bethel Hospital (Francis Wyndham_J. Hannan)
Monument to Sir Francis Wyndham, St Peter Mancroft church. Photo: © Copyright J.Hannan

The Committee House’s demise is recorded in an incident known as the ‘Great Blow’ which took place on 24 April 1648. The background to this incident is that Norwich, on the eve of the Second English Civil War, was a hotbed of dissent. This was exacerbated by high taxes levied by Charles I and objections to the King’s High Anglicanism, which stood in contrast to the Puritan values prevalent in Norfolk at the time. It was said that tensions ran particularly high when a death warrant was apparently placed on the head of the City’s Mayor, John Utting. A crowd of residents, ‘having a strong affection for the Mayor’, attempted to prevent the official’s imminent capture and, to prove their point further, a number of rioters plundered the houses of his suspected enemies.

254876_full
Image: British Army Museum.

It was around 2pm on the same day when crowds converged on the Committee House, a symbol of Parliament’s power over the city, emphasised by it being the arsenal for the County Arms Magazine. The crowd broke through the bolted doors and ascended to the armoury above where Samuel Cawthorne, the armourer, was assaulted for having shot a boy in the scuffle. By 4pm three troops of Colonel Charles Fleetwood’s parliamentarian cavalry regiment converged on Norwich. Riding down the crowd, they sent many of the inhabitants scurrying indoors, while a firefight developed around the Committee House during pouring rain.

The-Great-Blow-front-cover-small-for-publicity-300x453
The Great Blow: Examinations and Informations relating to the Great Blow in Norwich, 1648 was edited by Andrew Hopper, Jean Agnew and Emily Alley (Published October 2018) and is available from the Norfolk Record Society

 Amongst the excitement, the rioters were careless with the gunpowder, ‘one sweeping it from the stairs, another taking a hatful home’! In the midst of the violence and clear confusion, the rioters accidentally detonated ninety-eight barrels of gunpowder. It was reported that around 100 people were killed or seriously injured as a result, along with total destruction of Committee House and adjacent properties. The blast also blew out all the windows of both St Peter Mancroft and St Stephen’s Churches, along with most other glazed buildings in the Market Place. Total damage was later estimated at the colossal sum of £20,000. Subsequently, fragments of glass were “gathered” from the site of the former Committee House and later set in St. Peter Mancroft church’s east window.

Bethel (Great Blow 1648)
There is no contemporary image of Norwich during or following the ‘Great Blow’. However, this view of Delft illustrates the devastation following a similar explosion: Egbert van der Poel, ‘A View of Delft after the Explosion of 1654’ (National Gallery, London).

The Founding of the Bethel:
Given Committee Street’s history, it is not perhaps surprising that in 1712 the Guardians described the site on which the Bethel Hospital was built as a ‘wast peece of ground’. Thomas Cleer’s map, produced in 1696, was the first professionally surveyed scale plan of Norwich; it showed the site of the Bethel, seventeen years before the building was construction. The row of buildings fronting the street were broken by an empty plot. It appears very likely, therefore, that this plot was the site of the former ‘Committee House’ that had been destroyed 50 years earlier. The south side of the site was undeveloped at this point and backed on to a street, to the south of which were gardens adjoining ‘Chapply Field’ – known today as Chapelfield Gardens.

Mental Health Care in the 18th Century:
Before the eighteenth century the only dedicated facility in England for the care of those suffering from mental illness was the Bethlehem Hospital in London, which admitted its first mentally ill patients in 1407. Hence the Bethel, once built, would be the first purpose-built asylum in the country outside London.

Before the Madhouse Act of 1774, treatment of the Insane was generally carried out by non-licensed practitioners, who ran their asylums as a commercial enterprise with little regard for the inmates. With the establishment of the Mad House Act, licensing was required for each property if it was to house mentally ill patients, with yearly inspections of the premises taking place.

As the century progressed, ideas surrounding the treatment of patients changed. One notable Georgian development was the belief that regular bathing in hot and cold water would help alleviate symptoms of mental illness. In 1797 the Master of Bethel was responsible for ‘properly preparing the Bath and bathing of the patients, when ordered by the physicians’, reflecting the adoption of bathing as a medical practice.

The part dereliction of this area of Committee Street does offer an explanation for why the City was willing to lease the land to Mary Chapman for the establishment of her lunatic asylum in 1712. Mary Chapman came from a background of wealth and influence; the daughter of a former Mayor of Norwich and wife of Samuel Chapman, Rector of Thorpe. Although the Bethel was opened 14 years after her husband’s death, Mary’s Will suggests that the project was the joint charitable venture of Mary and her husband, both of whom had experienced the effects of lunacy in their own families. The name ‘Bethel’, meaning ‘House of God’, was apparently chosen by Samuel Chapman for its biblical connotations. His widow reinforced this sentiment by having a quotation from the book of Hebrews inscribed above its eventual door:

‘But to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’

Mary Chapman (1647 – 1724):
At this point in the story, a little must be said about the driving force behind the building of the Bethel, Mary Chapman. She was born on 24 of March 1647, during the English Civil War, and was the third daughter of John Mann and Hester nee’ Baron. Her father had made his fortune as a Worstead weaver, before going on to become Sheriff of Norwich in 1649 and Mayor four years later; in 1671 he took up the position of High Sheriff.

Mary Chapman (Bethel St Hospital_Archant)
Mary Chapman (1647 – 1724)
Founder of the Bethel Hospital. Photo Credit: Archant Library.

It was on 10 of May 1682 when, at the age of 35, Mary became the second wife of Rev. Samuel Chapman, Rector of Thorpe St Andrews; however, the marriage was childless. The couple, nevertheless, had the possible compensation of both sharing a concern for the treatment and welfare of the mentally ill. However, only 18 years of marriage passed before Samuel Chapman died, leaving money in his Will for Mary Chapman to build their dream of a house for the ‘habitation of poor lunatics’. In this, Mary was to devote herself to its foundation – somewhere in the city.

It was Mary’s staunch faith that was the driving force behind success in eventually building what became the Bethel in 1713. It was so named in accordance with the ‘advice and desire of Samuel Chapman’. Once founded, Mary Chapman continued to dictate the running of the Bethel; from specifying rules for admittance to carefully appointing her trustees, It was only later when the Bethel, became known as the Bethel Hospital, maintaining ‘several poor lunatics therein at her own expense during the time of her life and at her decease’.

Mary Chapman was a very religious women and in her Will she wrote; ‘First and before all things I humbly dedicate most heavenly devote to God….…’ and requested a plaque with the inscription ‘To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’ from Hebrews 13th chapter and 16th verse. As well as inscribing this quotation above its door, Mary ensured that biblical texts were placed throughout the building, such as “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom” and “Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad”. According to Dylan Read:

“Mary Chapman became aware that ‘abuses of several kinds’ were taking place at the Bethel towards the inmates. She devised a system to regulate the abuses and instructions were given to deal with reducing the amount of abuse at the Bethel……”

Mary died in 1724, leaving most of her possessions and her wealth to the Bethel, as well as directions of its future running. It was her intent that, even after her death, the Bethel would continue to serve the purpose for which it was founded. In this, she also left it under the direction of seven trustees; John Hall, William Cockman, Richard Cooke, John Lombe, John Thompson, William Lombe and Timothy Gaming. In her Will, Mary also said that she wanted everyone with lunacy, whether from Norwich or not, to be placed in the Bethel and for the trustees to be paid by the families and friends of those living there. She also requested that a percentage of the earnings would go into the improvement of the charity through the payment of rent, maintenance and the employment of doctors. It was also requested that the trustees elected a treasurer.

newspic
The ruins of the old Parish Church of Thorpe St Andrews. Photo: Thorpe Parish Church.

Mary Chapman’s body was buried in accordance to her Will in the grounds of the Old Parish Church of Thorpe St Andrews, next to her Husband – without disturbing him. She asked for a plain coffin with only the letters M.C and that it would be carried to the by six parish clerks. Her tombstone survives in the chancel of the now ruinous church. It reads,

“She built wholly at her own expense the house in Norwich called Bethel for the reception, maintenance and cure of poor lunatics, to which and other charitable uses she gave all her income while she lived and her estate at her death.”

The Design of the Bethel:
After securing a 1000-year lease on the site of the proposed building at a peppercorn rate, Mary Chapman and her trustees commissioned Carpenter Richard Starling and mason Edward Freeman to build the Bethel, at a total cost of £314 2s. 6d; one trustee, John Morse, was responsible for overseeing the work. The only surviving image of Mary Chapman’s Bethel can be found on the Hospital’s seal, which depicts the building’s north façade and shows a two-storey range with two adjoining wings.

Bethel Hospital (Seal)
The Bethel Hospital Seal from Bateman and Rye, 1906. Norfolk Record Office.

A copy of the original building agreement in Bateman and Rye’s History of the Bethel Hospital sheds further light on the building’s original design. In it, the trustees ordered the construction of a building measuring 89 foot in length with two 27-foot wings, as well as two cellars at the south-east and south-west corners of the main range. Staircases ran from these cellars to the second floor. Internally, the Hospital was to be divided by a passageway running:

“from the dore in the middle of the fore front of the said building to the dore in the midle of the back front of the said house”.

Each side would then be partitioned into three rooms. Every door was to include a six-inch square hole covered by an iron grille and shutter, presumably as a means of ensuring proper ventilation whilst also enabling the observation of patients. Three of these seem to survive in an altered form on the second floor of the western 1753 wing. The agreement specified that ‘good clear glass’ was to be used for all windows except for the cellar and attic windows, which were to be glazed with:

‘quarrell (kwor′el} glass’ – a square of glass placed diagonally – a diamond pane of glass. Windows were also to be fitted with ‘two iron bands of three-quarter inch barrs’.

Whether or not these plans were enacted in their entirety, they nevertheless help to shed light on the building’s function as a place of confinement. Mary Chapman herself stated that:

“those put…into the said House shall be kept close and not suffered to wander abroad during their disorder”.

However, it was the inmates’ care rather than their confinement that was at the forefront of Mary’s vision for the Bethel. In an inscription on the Hospital’s foundation stone, now repositioned at the entrance of the building, Mary laid out the Bethel’s purpose:

“This house was built for the benefit of distress Lunaticks Ano Dom. 1713 and is not to be alienated or employed to any other use or purpose whatsoever. Tis also requir’d that the Master, who shall be chosen from time to time, be a Man that lives in the Fear of God and sets up true protestant Religion in his Family and will have a due Regard as well to souls as bodies as those that are under his care.”

In his history of the Hospital, Bateman describes how the Bethel was “bounded west by a house and east the school house of Bernard Church”. These buildings on either side of Bethel Hospital are shown on Kirkpatrick’s 1723 map of Norwich, with Mary Chapman’s House clearly set back from the street.

Kirkpatrick Map 1723
Kirkpatrick’s Map of 1723. Norfolk Record Office.

Another terrace fronting Theatre Street falls within what is now the south west wing of Little Bethel Court. Produced four years later, James Corbridge’s 1727 map clearly illustrates the U-plan of the Bethel, showing the main range with its two adjoining north wings. Aside from this detail, the area around Committee Street appears relatively unchanged from Kirkpatrick’s map published three years earlier.

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James Corbridge’s 1727 Map of Norwich. Here, it clearly illustrates the U-plan of the Bethel. Norfolk Record Office.

Little is known about the Hospital’s early years, other than that Mary Chapman lived at the Bethel until her death in 1724. In her Will, dated 22 October 1719, Chapman mentions that one Henry Harston was the master of the house at the time. The presumption that Harston was a layman with no medical qualification gives an indication of the type of care provided to those patients at the Bethel during its early years. Chapman’s Will also specified that seven trustees were to be appointed to run the Hospital on the occasion of her death. This wish was enacted in January 1724, when a group of appointed trustees presided over the newly formed public charity for the first time.

Footnote: (Mental Health Reform):
For a century, the Bethel was the sole public facility specifically for the mad or insane in Norwich. Andrew Halliday reported to the 1807 Select Committee that Norwich had 112 ‘lunatics and idiots’, of whom only 27 were detained in poor law or penal institutions. In 1808, the County Asylum Act was passed, which allowed counties to levy a rate in order to fund the building of county asylums. The intention was to remove the insane from the workhouses and provide them with a dedicated care system. Despite this legislation, only 20 county asylums were built around the country.

Bethel (County Asylum 1814)

One such institution was the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1814 with beds for 104 patients. However, the city’s provision of care for the mentally ill was severely inadequate. Of the few patients that were sent to Bethel Hospital, hundreds more were left in workhouses. Until the Lunatics Act of 1845, the number of patients at the Bethel remained between seventy and eighty, while those in the new asylum increased. This was sped up by the transferral of a number of Bethel’s pauper patients to the County Asylum in 1814.

By 1845, the Lunatics Act had brought public asylums into line with each other. It made the provision of accommodation for pauper patients compulsory and required mental healthcare institutions with more than 100 patients to have a medically qualified superintendent at their head. It also took into account the moral treatment pioneered by William Tuke and saw the care of the lunatics being funded by the individual county.

William Tuke

William Tuke (1732 – 1822) was a prominent mental health reformer and philanthropist. Born into a leading Quaker family, Tuke embraced social activism in his youth, campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade. Towards the end of the century Tuke increasingly became involved in mental health reform and raised funds to establish his own Quaker asylum in 1796. The York Retreat was a religious and humane hospital for Quakers suffering with mental illness.

Tuke’s model of moral treatment was adopted by asylums across the country and went on to become one of the most influential practices in 19th century asylums. Chains were removed from inmates, accommodation was improved, and patients were engaged in occupational work as a form of ‘moral therapy’.

Footnote:
For those who have an appetite for more, several documents which relate to Mary Chapman are held at the Norfolk Record Office; NRO, BH21-23 -‘A Short Account of Mrs Mary Chapman and of her founding and embowering the house called Bethel in the city of Norwich’, this includes information on Mary Chapman as well as a copy of her Will. This can also be viewed on the microfilm at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO, NCC will register Lawrence 219). NRO, MC 2018/1, 895X6 is a Work book which contains transcript and notes on Mary Chapman amongst other information on the Bethel Hospital.

THE END

References:

Francis Blomfield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: History, Volume 1. (W Miller: London, 1805), 235

Christopher W Brooks, “‘Wyndham, Francis (d. 1592)’”, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),

Anonymous, The History of The City and County Of Norwich: From The Earliest Accounts To The Present Time, Volume 1 (1768), 267

Sir Frederick Bateman and Walter Rye, The History of the Bethel at Norwich (Gibbs and Waller: Norwich, 1906), 6 and 166.

Sources:
Bethel Hospital Conservation Management Plan
https://norfolkwomeninhistory.com/1500-1699/mary-chapman/?fbclid=IwAR0_mAc-IPls0lP4a2o8Nz00im_RAnxmTySExFVBCgn4uDplAgiVhjp63qQ
https://norfolkrecordsociety.org.uk/the-civil-war-comes-to-norwich/

Some images in this blog are believed to be outside copyright. However, if anyone has any information to the contrary, would they please write via our ‘Contact Us’ page so that matters can be rectified.

Norfolk’s Forgotten Cleric!

By Haydn Brown.

Nothing is known with certainty of Revd. John Brooke’s early life and education, only a guess that he was probably born in Norfolk in 1709; however, it is recorded that he died at Colney, near Norwich on 21 January 1789. In between John Brooke was ordained a priest on 17 June 1733, and between 1733 and 1746 he became Rector, or perpetual curate, of five parishes in and around Norwich, England, all but one of which he held until his death.

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The Preacher (Thomas Rowlandson)

In 1756 Brooke married Frances Moore, he was 15 years her senior. Frances was his second wife and already a prominent literary figure; they were to have a son and probably a daughter. Brooke was appointed acting chaplain in the British Army in February 1757 and was shipped out to Canada where he served as chaplain at the garrison at Quebec; he was part of the British forces fighting the Seven Years’ War with France, which included the territorial struggle for Canada. Frances, three months pregnant, went to live with her sister Sarah. On the other side of the Atlantic, Revd. Brooke was deputy chaplain in the 22nd Foot. By August 1758 he was garrison chaplain at Louisburg, Cape Breton Island until July 1760, when he went to Quebec.

Brooke (James Murray)
James Murray. Source: Wikipedia.

In December of that year, Quebec’s Governor James Murray, who was a personal friend of Brooke for some 20 years, unofficially appointed him minister of Quebec and chaplain to the garrison. In Quebec, Church of England services, which had been celebrated in the Ursuline chapel from September 1759 until the summer of 1760, were held in the Recollet church following the Roman Catholic service. Neither the newly appointed Revd Brooke nor the Roman Catholic Church appreciated the arrangement; Brooke, in fact, considered it a humiliation for the state religion.  In August 1761 about 100 civil officers and merchants in Quebec petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to appoint Brooke its missionary at Quebec with a French-language assistant. By 28 Oct. 1761, Brooke was formally commissioned garrison chaplain, by which time he was also chaplain to the Royal Americans (60th Foot).

Brooke (Frances Moore)
Frances Brookes, nee’ Moore. Image: Wikipedia

In 1763, with the war over with France, Frances Brooke set sail for Canada to join her husband after a six-and-a-half-year separation. She was accompanied by her sister and her son John Moore [Brookes], born on June 10, 1757, who had yet to meet his father. They arrived on October 4, 1763. In January 1764 he was chosen by the absentee auditor general, Robert Cholmondeley, as his deputy at Quebec. Murray reported to London in October the presence of 144 Protestant householders, Church of England and dissenters, in the town; the following month about 80 people repeated the petition of 1761 to the SPG. Murray officially supported the petition, but unofficially he began to criticise Brooke. To the SPG he regretted that Brooke did not understand French. To Cholmondeley he complained that Brooke:

“cannot govern his tongue and will perpetually interfere with things that do not concern him . . . ; Brookes certainly is an honest man and a man of parts, he is very well informed too and when passion does not interfere is a most agreeable companion [but] his sprightly imagination makes him . . . frequently forget that he wears Black. . . .”

Although Brooke, as garrison chaplain and unofficial minister of the town, was expected by Murray to be a peacemaker in the agitated relations between civilians and the military in the colony, his meddlesome and prickly nature, plus his good relations with the merchants, who were the military’s most persistent critics, provoked the garrison to question his value as a chaplain. Particularly galling was his appearance on behalf of the merchant George Allsopp who, charged with failure to carry a light after dark as required by law, had brought a suit for brutality against the two soldiers responsible for his arrest.

Governor Murray himself was probably angered most by Brooke’s friendship with Allsopp – the Governor’s obstreperous political opponent. Indeed, in July 1765 Murray identified Brooke to the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, as a member of a cabal seeking to have him replaced; this cabal was composed mainly of merchants who, unlike the more patient Governor, sought the colony’s rapid anglicisation and protestantisation in order to facilitate integration into Britain’s political and economic Empire.

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Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, who suceeded Murray as Governor. Image: Wikimedia.

Murray was succeeded in July 1766 by Guy Carleton, who tended at first to sympathise with the merchants. Revd. Brooke became friendly with the new Lieutenant Governor and with his Huguenot attorney general, Francis Maseres who found Brooke “a very sensible and agreeable companion,” at first, but shortly after wrote that, although Brooke was a fine minister, he was also “rather too warm in his Temper which hurries him now and then into indiscreet Expressions.”

Brooke (Frances Maseres)
Francis Maseres. Image: Wikimedia.

Guy Carleton and Maseres soon parted ways as the former came to realise the necessity of James Murray’s policy of conciliation with the Roman Catholic Church while Maseres was strongly anti-Catholic. Brooke was caught in the middle when in the summer of 1767 Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière, a Recollet and parish priest converted to Protestantism, presented himself to the garrison chaplain to take the oath of abjuration, but Brooke refused to administer the oath to Veyssière. But if Veyssière had been temporarily hindered by Brooke, it was the latter whose future was cloudier. The two petitions in favour of Brooke’s appointment as an SPG missionary at Quebec were never granted. Brooke continued his unofficial ministry until 1768, even travelling back and forth between Montreal and Quebec for six months in 1766 until the arrival of David Delisle as Protestant chaplain in Montreal.

In July 1768 Revd Brooke auctioned off the household belongings. Some of these indicate that he and his wife Frances, who had first come to Quebec in 1763, lived comfortably; their home, a former Jesuit mission house at Mount Pleasant in Sillery, had been sublet to them by the merchant John Taylor Bondfield. In August 1768 the Brookes left for England and, despite his permanent absence from Quebec, Revd John Brooke drew full pay as garrison chaplain until his death.

Little is known of Revd John Brooke after his return to England, although he seems to have resumed his Norfolk church positions. In 1769, a year after their return, John’s wife Frances published The history of Emily Montague . . . in London, an epistolary novel, much of which was set in Canada. Émile Castonguay, Canadian author, has speculated that John Brooke actually wrote the letters of one of the novel’s characters, Sir William Fermor. Frances’ dedication of the novel to Guy Carleton, her husband’s patron, as well as John’s vocation and longer experience in the colony, would make it reasonable to speculate that, at the very least, Revd. John Brooke contributed substantially to the book’s comments on religion, politics, and the character of the Canadians which predominated in Fermor’s letters.

Brooke (Frances Moore_Novel)1
The four volumes of Frances Brooke’s novel The history of Emily Montague. Image: Library of Parliament, Canada.
Brooke (Frances Moore_Novel)2
The History of Emily Montague, Title Page. Image: Library of Parliament, Canada.
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The History of Emily Montague, Extract, referring to Revd. John Brooke’s patron. Image: Library of Parliament, Canada.

John Brooke died at Colney, near Norwich, Norfolk on 21 Jan. 1789, by which time his son, John Brooke, Jr, was also a minister – in Lincolnshire. Frances had been with her son in his parish ever since late 1788 when she had suddenly fallen ill, thereby missing her husband’s death. Frances died on January 23, 1789, two days after that of her husband’s in Norfolk – one day shy of her 65th birthday.

Booke (St Andrews_Colney)
St Andrew’s Church, Colney, Norfolk. Image: Simon Knott 2019.

As for the Reverend John Brooke; his eight years in Quebec left no lasting impression, and he is now all but forgotten. He represents, however, that group of clergies, all chaplains, who served as a stopgap while the Church of England pondered the best pastoral approach to a colonial population almost entirely French speaking and Roman Catholic, but on to which had been grafted a minuscule but fractious band of British and French Protestant merchants, office-holders, and soldiers. Although his own unclerically febrile temperament and James Murray’s well-placed censures no doubt hurt Brooke’s chances of remaining in Canada, it was the church’s decision that a French-language clergy would best serve its cause which ultimately displaced Brooke and other British chaplains.

THE END

Source:
James H. Lambert  http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brooke_john_4E.html
James H. Lambert, “BROOKE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003.
https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brooke-frances-1724-1789

 

Discovery of a Hidden Paston Girl!

By Haydn Brown.

The following story provides extra exposure to a very interesting article which was written by Stuart Anderson and first appeared in the ‘North Norfolk News’ on 9 June, 2019, and subsequently updated on 11 October, 2020. He reported on the previously hidden fate of Anna Paston, was titled ‘Discovery of a Hidden Paston girl…….’. His words, began with a question:

Paston (lady-katherine-paston-oxnead)1
A bust of Lady Katherine Paston at her tomb in Oxnead church. Lady Katherine died in childbirth in 1636 after seven years of marriage to Sir William Paston, only son of Clement Paston. Sir William is considered “the real founder of the Paston family fortunes”. Lady Katherine would have been the grandmother of the previously unknown Anna Paston. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are among the most-studied families from the English later Middle Ages. So how has the story of one Paston girl who died tragically young gone unnoticed for so long?

Paston (anna-paston-brass)2
The brass memorial to Anna Paston, which was recently discovered at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Pastons are also one of England’s best-known medieval families, who rose from humble origins to become leading members of the aristocracy, wielding political power and entertaining royalty at their sumptuous mansions. Thanks to the letters and other documents they left behind we know more about the Pastons than virtually any other family of that age. The documents, which chronicle the rise of the family during the War of the Roses, speak volumes of their arguments, gossip, feuds, plotting, private scandals, and even their shopping lists. Now, a recent discovery at Oxnead church in north Norfolk has uncovered evidence of a previously unknown Paston which is literally re-writing what was thought we knew about the family.

Paston (admiral-sir-clement-paston)3
The tomb of Admiral Sir Clement Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

A small medieval memorial brass is dedicated to Anna Paston, who is thought to have died tragically young. The brass was found tucked away between two larger monuments, and reads in abbreviated Latin:

‘Here lies Anna, daughter of John Paston Knight, on whose soul God have mercy, Amen’.

Paston (Oxnead Church)4
Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Historian Helen Castor, author of the bestselling ‘Blood and Roses: The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century’, said nothing had previously been known about Anna. She said:

“This is an extraordinary find: not only a previously unknown Paston grave, but the grave of a previously unknown Paston. The family’s remarkable letters shine a spotlight on the middle decades of the 15th Century, but a great deal of their story, before and after, remains in shadow.”

Paston (oxnead-church)5
Oxnead Church, where the memorial to Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

Dr Rob Knee of the Paston Heritage Society said Anna can only have been a daughter of John Paston III. The memorial is believed to have been crafted at the one of the Norwich workshops in the last decade of the 15th Century or the opening years of the 16th Century, and is of the type commonly used to memorialise an unmarried girl.

Archaeologist, Matthew Champion, who came across the memorial whilst investigating the church as part of the ‘600 Paston Footprints’ (-this is a Heritage Lottery funded project that aims to shed new light the family). added:

Paston (The Tomb)6
The tomb of Lady Katherine Paston at Oxnead church. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

“Some people may be taken aback that one of the best known and most thoroughly researched families in England can still throw up surprises such as this. However, very few of the Paston letters actually survive from the 1490s, so there is likely to be quite a lot more that we have missed. “

It is known that John Paston III had another daughter called Elizabeth, who would have been Anna’s sister. Elizabeth survives to adulthood, and eventually marries, but the surviving documents contain barely a mention of her.”

Paston (oxnead-tombs)8
Oxnead Hall’s tombs. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The Paston documents contain no further information about Anna, although it is likely she died in her early teens, given the ages of her siblings. But she may also may have been a scion of John Paston III’s second marriage, which means she would have died an infant.

It was at Oxnead that the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671, and where the medieval Paston letters were discovered mouldering in an attic room half a century later. These documents have been studied by historians in minute detail since they were first published in the late 18th Century, and it was thought that the family held few new surprises for academics.

Paston (oxnead-gardens)9
The gardens at Oxnead Hall in Norfolk, where the Pastons entertained King Charles II in 1671. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

The earliest member of the family that we have any record of is Clement Paston, of the village of Paston in north-east Norfolk. Clement was born in the years immediately after the Black Death swept England in the middle of the 14th Century, and was a miller and small-scale farmer by trade. In the wake of the plague, that killed about a third of the population of the country, Clement made good use of the less regulated land market to buy up small pieces of land in Paston and the neighbouring parishes. He married well, to the sister of a local lawyer, and their son William became a rich lawyer, high court judge, major landowner, and founder of the family fortune.

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The once-great Paston mansion of Oxnead Hall, where the memorial to the previously unknown Anna Paston was discovered. Picture: M Champion – Credit: Archant

THE END

The original Stuart Anderson’s article, plus advertisements and other extraneous matter, can be found via the source link below.

Source:
Hidden story of Anna Paston sheds new light on famous medieval family (northnorfolknews.co.uk)

Norfolk in Brief: A Victoria Cross Award.

By Haydn Brown.

Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC, DL was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards_ Royal Collection Trust
William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC of Hardingham Hall, Norfolk. Photo: Royal Collection Trust

Edwards’ Early life:
He was born on 7 May 1855 at Hardingham Hall, in the village of Hardingham, Norfolk; the son and heir of Henry William Bartholomew Edwards, and Caroline Marsh, formerly of Gaynes Park, Epping, Essex. Due to his wealthy upbringing, he was educated privately at Rottingdean, at Eton, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree at Cambridge; instead he joined the Army. He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant on the Unattached List on 22 March 1876, then in January 1877 joined the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, with the rank of lieutenant.

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Hardingham Hall, Norfolk. Photo: Courtesy of Ivan Barnard.

His Victoria Cross:
Edwards was 27 years old, and serving as a lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry during the British occupation of Egypt, when the following deed of his took place and for which he was awarded the Victorious Cross.

It was on 13 September 1882 at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, when Lieutenant Edwards led a party of the Highland Light Infantry which stormed a ‘Redoubt’. He was the one who rushed forward alone and in advance of his party, entered the battery and immediately killed the artillery officer in charge. In the melee, Edwards was knocked down by a a rammer, welded by an enemy gunner and was rescued only by the timely arrival of three men of his regiment. Edwards was severely wounded.

Tel-el-Kebir
Depiction of the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. ImageL Wikipedia.

Edwards’ Later career:
Edwards was promoted to captain on 23 March 1887 and served as adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, Highland Light Infantry from 1 January 1892 and until 1 November 1893; almost two years later, on 4 September 1895, he was promoted to major and retired from the army on 11 November 1896. On 19 February 1899, on the nomination of Lord Belper, he was appointed one of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, and on 13 August 1900 he was commissioned as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Norfolk.

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St Georges Church, Hardingham. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards, VC died Hardingham Hall, Norfolk on 17 September 1912; he was aged 57 years. He was buried in St George’s Churchyard, Hardingham, Norfolk; an impressive place, sitting as it does on St Georges Mount but somewhat isolated. The mount is, as the name suggests, a rise in the ground which is framed by a sandy track and the large old rectory. Inside the church, is a window in the west wall which commemorates Major William Mordaunt Marsh Edwards VC. On the north wall is a memorial window to a family descendent, William Bartle Marsh Edwards of the Rifle Brigade, who was killed in action in Tunisia in 1943.

Footnote:
There are three other Norfolk recipients of the Victoria Cross: Cpl Harry Cator (b Drayton), Capt David Jamieson (b Thornham) and Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson (b Swaffham) Hardingham churchyard also contains three CWGC graves. The will form part of a future blog.

THE END

 Source:
http://www.vconline.org.uk/william-m-m-edwards-vc/4586628841

Barnham Broom’s ‘Old Hall’

By Haydn Brown

The Old Hall is a medieval manor house situated on the Honingham Road in Barnham Broom, just south of Norwich in the county of Norfolk – it has quite a history!

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall2
Approach to the Old Hall. Photo: Savilles.

Origins:
Long before the present Old Hall was built, there had been settlements on the Hall’s grounds since prehistoric times. During the Roman period, it is believed that the site was used as a military camp on a conjectured military route from the West to Brancaster, possibly to stem the Iceni uprisings lead by Boudicca. Indeed, many aspects of the moated enclosure in the grounds of the Hall resemble a typical Roman Castra (or camp) – but much of this needs further research. There may also have been a buried Saxon settlement, just to the South of the moat; the site calls out for an excavation for, certainly, some timbers have already been discovered. In medieval times there was also a stockade within the moat boundaries.

Mortirmer Coat of Arms

In the 13th Century, the land was owned by William Mortimer, the then Lord of Attleborough who also had manors at Scoulton, Little Ellingham, Rockland Tofts, Stanford and Little Buckenham in Norfolk; clearly this branch of the ‘Mortimer’s’ were wealthy and powerful land owners in the eastern region. William was to resist King John, along with his father, Robert, in 1205 and 1215, for which both lost their lands – and after which, neither man appeared in the Book of Fees for 1212. However, in 1216-17, the Sheriff of Norfolk was ordered to return the Barnham land to William; then by early 1250, William received Charters for free-warrens in his manors of Attleborough, Barnham Broom and Scoulton. He died soon afterwards – certainly before 29 May 1250.

In 1347, or thereabouts, ‘Barnham Ryske’ – the former name of Barnham Broom, was decimated by the Plague with many cottages, lying between the current Hall and the local church of St. Peter and St. Paul, were abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. This was the time when the land, on which very little stood, may have passed into the ownership of Roger Chamberlayne (b.1380), originally from Gedding in Suffolk. During his ownership, at least a gate house and drawbridge existed on the site, leading to what was probably the timber Great Hall; today, nothing remains of these structures, and it may have been the case that this great wooden hall burned down in the late 14th Century, with the gatehouse finally being demolished in 1849.

Chamberlain Coat of ArmsRoger’s son, Sir Robert Chamberlayne entered the story of the Barnham estate around the time of the Wars of the Roses, circa 1455. He, unfortunately, became embroiled in that war – but chose the wrong (Yorkist) side! He was subsequently tried and convicted for plotting against Henry VII; the charge of high treason ensured that he was executed on Tower Hill in 1491 – forty-four years and sixteen battles after the savage assault against his father at Bury St. Edmunds. In these incidents the Chamberlayne family were pawns in both the opening and closing of a bloody chapter in English history. Robert left the family with very little money or land. On 14 May 1496, Sir Ralph Shelton, as a Commissioner of the Peace in Norfolk, was directed to assay the lordships, lands and manors of the rebel and traitor, Sir Robert Chamberlain. This resulted in the forfeiture of his Estates. It was at this point when his family moved to Barnham Broom, where Sir Robert’s widow, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, daughter and co-heiress of Sir John Fitz Rafe (Ralfe/Ralph), held inherited possessions that had escaped the confiscation. Fifty years later, on the 11 March, 1541 and during the reign of Henry VIII [1509-1547], Sir Robert’s son, Sir Edward Chamberlayn obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without the restitution of any property.

It was this same Edward Chamberlayne, born around 1470, who was eventually in a position to build the present Old Hall on the site of the former Barnham Ryskes Hall; this was made possible by way of his wife, Jane Starkey’s (of West Acre) dowry.  He was neither rich enough, nor influential enough, to profit from the Dissolution of the Monasteries’ and, by the turn of the 17th century, the family fortunes has declined appreciably.

Diaperwork_Brigitte Webster
False ‘Diaper work built into the external walls of the Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The building of the Barnham Old Hall was started in 1510 and completed in 1550; its South wing being completed in 1514 and the porch tower around 1540. The style of the manor, whilst modest in proportions, featured numerous very fashionable elements. For example, the white mortared entrance arch and window pediments were designed to mimic the fashionable marble examples of the Italian Renaissance. The North wing (and crow step gables) were completed in 1614. Again, attempts were made to keep things fashionable with “false” diaper work being applied to most brick walls. Traditional diaper work, that is the dark crosses in the brick work is made from darker, usually burnt bricks. The diaper work here follows the lesser but more common practice of staining select bricks.

Jacobean Ceiling_Brigitte Webster
Plaster relief ceiling in the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

From 1514 until 1663 the Old Hall was the local Manor House with the manorial court held there during this period. Plaster relief in the Jacobean Parlour indicates the manorial court duties. It was during this period that Edward’s mother, Lady Elizabeth FitzRalph – an influential woman in her own right, successfully petitioned King Henry VIII to reverse the attainder of her late husband, Sir Robert Chamberlayne, in 1531; however, Henry did not restore any of the family’s assets and the family never regained any appreciable wealth, missing out in the dissolution of the monasteries.

In 1522 Edward succeeded his brother Sir Francis, who had died without issue, in the possessions of their mother, Elizabeth Fitz-Ralph, which had escaped the confiscation consequent upon Sir Robert’s attainder; this included the Barnham Broom estate. He was over fifty-two years of age. On the 11 March 1541 Edward obtained a reversal of his father’s attainder, but without restitution of property. He died on the 15th July 1541 and was buried at Barnham Broome in Norfolk. Ultimately the Old Hall was sold to the Wodehouse Family of Kimberley in 1644 who used it as the principle farm house on their extensive estates.

Approaching the Present Day:
By the 19th century, the Tudor South wing of the Old Hall doubled as the village rectory from about 1815 until 1849. Unfortunately, in 1849 the moat’s drawbridge and porter’s lodge were demolished but otherwise very little was remodelled or changed. The current farm house is next door to the Old Hall and is owned and farmed by the Eagle family who also owned the Old Hall from 1923 until 1963. The house and, in particular, the Jacobean parlour were, at this time used for agricultural storage including hay bales and fencing. Many of the windows lacked glass and the increased dampness caused the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour to sag with increasing severity over this period. Luckily the parlour had been subdivided into two rooms with a stud work partition wall across the centre. The ceiling finally came to rest, propped up by this partition wall.

After the Second World War a number of restoration and preservation societies sought buyers for the Old Hall – because to its historic importance. However, due to a combination of the Hall’s sad state of repair, combined with owners’ relative poverty in the form of sweeping death duties, it was not until 1963 when a buyer was found – one who was prepared to invest considerably in the restoration. In the meantime, a number of tenants came and went, including members of the Lincoln family, said to be directly related to the US president, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln family graves are in the neighbouring village of Hingham – for their story see “The Lincolns, Gurneys and a President”

The next owners were the Hawker family who owned the house from 1963 to 1973. They undertook extensive but very sensitive renovation work and, according to Brigitte Webster the present owner, it is thanks to them that so many of the original features were saved. Unfortunately, the octagonal staircase tower on the West facing South wing was beyond repair by this time and had to be dismantled. However, the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour was largely salvageable by the expedience of fitting hundreds of threaded rods to its reverse surface and ever so slowly screwing them up thus jacking the ceiling back into place. An article in the February 23rd, 1967 edition of Country Life magazine details the restoration process.

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Country Life)

In 1973 the house was briefly owned by a Mr. Walwork until 1977, though nothing is known about his tenancy. Then the Hall was purchased by Dr. Hartley Booth (who was related to the founding Booths of the Salvation Army) and his wife Adrianne. Theirs was the start of a 41-year programme of restoration and improvement, which included a long-running battle against death-watch beetle and dry rot. Over time, they rewired and re-plumbed, restored the large, arched, 16th-century window in the dining room, restored a number of other original features such as the Tudor fireplace in the dining room (of original hall) and the Tudor ceiling that lay concealed under a lower (probably) Victorian false ceiling. They also dredged and restored the spring-fed moat, a special feature of the Tudor-themed gardens laid out around the house by Mrs Booth, and they bought more land to protect the setting of the Hall.

John Evelyn Book

In 2001 the Booths also established a John Evelyn (1620-1706) memorial arboretum to the front of the Hall’s East Side. John Evelyn was a founder member of the Royal Society and author of its first ever work being “Sylva: or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions” published as a paper in 1662 and as a book in 1664. The book, in trying to redress the widespread destruction of natural forests in England (due to the Civil War) catalogued all tree types native to England in the 17th Century; the arboretum comprised only trees that were mentioned in the book.

Then, in late 2018, Tom Webster was searching the internet for a suitable house for a friend of his and, as is so often the case when one is online, found himself going down various “rabbit holes” culminating in him discovering that the Old Hall was ‘For Sale’. Against the will of his wife, Brigitte – who reckoned she was never going to move from Parsonage Farm, their previous abode, an appointment was made to view the property. Approximately 5 minutes after arriving at the front of the house both Tom and Brigitte Webster were convinced that this was the house for them. It took almost 12 months to turn that conviction into a successful purchase.

Present Day:
Today, the Old Hall at Barnham Broom is the home of the Tudor and 17th Century Experience. Its surviving features include:

The Front Porch_Brigitte Webster)
The Front Porch of the Old Hall showing the Italianate Renaissance style of archway. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Front Porch: This leads into the porch tower and displays many interesting period features. For example, the white archway and window surrounds were intended to mimic the Italianate renaissance use of marble and had been made fashionable by Henry VIII. However, the “crows’ steps” at the gable were probably added during Elizabethan times as a fashion, introduced by the Dutch and Flemish protestant immigrants. Inside the porch there are left and right stone benches upon which the property’s tenant cottagers would have waited to pay their rent. One benefit of the large covered porch is that the huge early Tudor linenfold front door has remained remarkably intact with its Tudor rose motif. Though this door is the current front hallway with the Hall’s oldest furniture item, an original French or Flemish oak dressier dating circa 1485.

The Great Hall (Dining Room_Brigitte Webster)
The ‘Great Hall’ Dining Room. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Dining Room: (Great Hall – as the Tudors called such a dining room): This is narrower than when it was built in 1514, the Victorians having added the corridor to the rear. However, it still retains its original oak ceiling mouldings and large inglenook style fire place. The original lintel was largely damaged and now a reproduction frontispiece adorns the original woodwork to give a clearer idea of what it would have looked like. At one time there would have been a minstrel’s gallery at the North end and indeed the original gallery window is still visible on the outside of the house.

View From Library_Brigitte Webster
The view from the Library. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Library: This was also part of the 1514 wing of the house, and was probably the ladies withdrawing room now containing the family antiques, places of interest and history library. The room also features interesting “squint” windows to allow occupants to observe people approaching from the side – it is yet to be discovered their true purpose. All the furniture in the library dates before 1600 and includes some superb Italian Renaissance “Cass bancas” – being an Italian take on the idea of a bench married to a sofa.

The Staircase Tower: To the rear of the entrance hallway is the grand staircase in a tower that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like it was levelled with a spirit level. It is of a solid oak construction outwardly clad in bricks. One very interesting feature is an original “dog gate” at the foot of the stairs. This was intended to keep the family’s deer hounds downstairs and dates circa 1620?

Old Barnham Ryskes Hall (Tudor Door)3
Door leading into the Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Savilles.

The Great (Jacobean) Parlour: At the top of this staircase is a fine Jacobean door leading into the Great Parlour, dating from 1614. This room sports arguably one of the finest plaster ceilings in all of England! It was once used as the manorial courtroom as the winged angel motif on one of the frieze panels attests. In the centre is an inverted finial with the remains of Jacobean courtiers and wild boar motifs.

Jacobean Parlour_Brigitte Webster
The Jacobean Parlour. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

Sir Robert Chamberlayne Chamber: Through the side door of the Great Parlour is the Sir Robert Chamberlayne ensuite bedroom or chamber (as they referred to bedrooms in Tudor times). The room is named after the patriarch of the family. As already mentioned, Sir Robert was executed for treason by Henry VII in 1491 but his attainment was reversed posthumously by Henry VIII in 1531. In the 17th Century this was the master bedroom and still bears the Chamberlayne crest above the fireplace. This currently houses one of the nicest examples of a 17th century four poster bed to be found. It is largely original and in superb condition. The views from the ensuite bathroom across the water meadow to the river Yare to the West are stupendous!

Tudor Games Room_Brigitte Webster
Tudor Games Room showing rare Tudor wall painting. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster

Tudor Games Room: The other door from the Great Parlour leads to the Tudor Games Room. Dating from the early 16th Century this was originally an oratory where the resident priest would hold mass every day for the family. The original wall recessed bible box is still present. The walls were once all painted and one still retains near perfect original wall painting. This date to circa 1590 and is intended to represent the blood of Christ (possibly remembering the family’s Roman Catholic past in a now protestant England). The room is now used for the Hall’s collection of Tudor board and card games.

Chapel: Leading up from the Games Room is a narrow spiral staircase to the household chapel. This was once the bedroom for the resident priest, the last being Father Richard Chamberlayne who died in 1570. Currently still being restored it is intended that authentic Tudor wedding services will be performed here.

Sir Edward Chamberlayne Chamber: This is the first bedroom in the South Wing of the Hall and was so named after the man who oversaw the construction of the house from 1510. The bed in this chamber is an original “truckle bed” dating to the early 17th century.

Great Chamber_Brigitte Webster
The Great Chamber. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Webster.

The Great Chamber: This bedroom is also in the South Wing and is so named because it is located directly above the Great Hall below. It is a generously proportioned room and contains an original four poster bed dating to either late Elizabethan or early James I. It boasts fine views to the front of the Hall. This room is the only other room in the house with a lockable bible box set into the wall.

Duke & Duchess Bedroom_Brigitte Webster
Duke an Duchess of Suffolk Chamber. Photo: Courtesy Brigitte Webster.

The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk Chamber: The final bedroom in the wing is currently the master bedroom, which has the most magnificent panoramic window overlooking the front garden and reproduced early Tudor knot garden. The bed is an original early Tudor four poster bed of modest proportions. The room also boasts a fine heavy beamed fireplace complete with impressive apotropaic fire scorch marks. The furniture in this room is all 16th Century and includes a rare example of a “Dante Chair” and an exquisite Cassone (or chest).

THE END