Shotesham is a village of around 562 souls; five miles south of Norwich, it has connections, historical, social, political and royal—and that’s where I was heading when I got off the bus at Upper Stoke, a couple of weeks past.
Upper Stoke sits at the highest part of the ‘high place’, the ancient Hundreds of Henstead. I know 90 meters above sea level isn’t exactly ‘high’ but this is Norfolk, and 90 meters is the second highest place in the county. Since I intended to finish my walk in the Tas Valley, at something close to 5 meters above sea level, I expected most of the trek to be downhill. Ha! The land undulates. Unexpected rises and hidden houses in little dips.
I had enticed my daughter into this walk with mention of the rare southern butterfly, the Camberwell Beauty, I’d seen last year  peppering the steep hillside meadow just south of the Stoke to Poringland road. On that occasion, a very hot day, I was climbing the hill on my way home from West Poringland and places beyond. This time, alas, the wind scoured that hillside with far more vigour than forecast by the Met Office. So much for butterflies, rare or common. Moreover, that wind promised a miserable day.
Glad to be off the hillside, we then hiked a short way along a road, busier than expected – and still windy. But there were these Mallows all in flower, and I so wanted a photo. (See Pretty in Pink)
And the windblown poppies were waving their scarlet petals as if flamenco dancers with their dresses. It was as well this walk wasn’t all about flowers. But at least the squirrel kept still while I clicked it!
Turning off road, and into a farmyard . . .
The buildings found around a farm’s yard are not as quaint as they used to be. But certainly functional. Kinda . . . futuristic and Bauhaus together!
And except for a solitary farmhouse almost lost in a dip of the land, there was no other sign of habitation. Just fields upon fields upon fields, all greying into the distance: peas and barley and wheat, and oil-seed rape, now green with their pods, no longer sweet-smelling. But, time to stop waxing lyrical and tell you something of our destination.
Shotesham …: … or Scotessa or Scotessam as it was first recorded, which could signify ‘the village of Scots’ (Scots here meaning the Irish pirates who made life hell at the end of the Roman Occupation). More likely it means ‘a gathering of warriors’ pieces’, i.e. land given by some long ago Saxon, or maybe Danish, lord to his fiercest fighters.
I favour that king to be King Cnut; he had much dealings with this area, donating Saint Botolph’s church and its parish as a foundation gift to the abbey of St Benet at Holm (near Acle on the edge of the Norfolk Broads). At the same time, a Saxon named Brictrict gave St Martin’s, another of the Shotesham churches (there were four), to the same abbey, along with the adjoining hamlet of Grenvil. Land around here was held off the abbey until the Dissolution.
So, a Danish king’s land, Shotesham, mostly given in reward to favoured warriors. And then along came William the Conqueror and, after his victory at Hastings in 1066, did much the same thing.
The main manor of Shotesham (later known as Shotesham Hall) included the church of All Saints (still open for business, stood proud upon its hillock).
Taken from its Saxon holder, the manor was delivered into the hands of the Anglo-Breton Ralf the Staller, a former toady of King Edward the Confessor who in 1067 William appointed as Earl of East Anglia. Alas, he died two years later and the land went to his son, Ralf de Gaël—who then was exiled for rebellion in 1075. The land was returned to the king’s hands and placed in the temporary keep of Godric the Sewer. It’s believed that this Godric had been steward to the Anglo-Breton Earl Ralf; regardless, he now was steward to the King.
King William (the Conqueror) had loaded this Godric with more confiscated lands than any decent man could manage. So Godric offloaded a few of the manors—for a fee. This particular manor of Shotesham he leased to King William’s half-brother, Odo, bishop of Bayeux—Who in turn let it to Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk—Who in turn let to one of his followers, Aitard de Vaux.
And there it remained, in the hands of the de Vaux family until . . . 1288 when, upon marrying Petronel, eldest daughter and coheir of John de Vaux, a half share was assigned to one William de Nerford who held it off the Lord Marshal aka Earl of Norfolk aka Roger Bigod (a lineal descendant of that C11th Roger Bigod, sometime sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk). Petronel’s sister held the other half; they would eventually be reunited.
The manor remained in Nerford hands through generations until only a lone daughter was left. Margery. Margery died ‘without issue’ in 1390. But, wise woman, before she died (in fact, pre-1388) she sold it on, to—Sir John White, a knight already enfeoffed with lands in Suffolk. And there it remained, in ‘White’ hands, until—
Dynastic Disasters! From Bartholomew White (died 1495) to his son Simon White (died circa 1505) to his son, Edward White (died 1521) to his son George White who . . . oops, died without issue.
So a quick backtrack up the tree . . . to Edward White’s brother, Edmund White, who died in 1538, and to his son Edward White, who died in 1558—unwed.
Luckily, for the estate, Edward had a sister, Anne White. Anne White married one Henry Doyly of Pond Hall, near Hadley, in Suffolk. Phew! And Shotesham Manor became the Doyly family’s seat.
By then Shotesham Manor included the former Shotesham Hall, along with another nearby manor, again in Shotesham, of Toft Hall, and also the one named ‘Swans’.
Toft Hall gets a mention in Domesday Book: it had been held, TRE (In the Time of King Edward) by the Anglo-Saxon bishop of East Anglia, Stigand. But Stigand wasn’t to remain in East Anglia, he was destined for greatness. Not only did he become the ‘King’s Bishop’ at Winchester (a much sought-after seat) but also Archbishop of Canterbury. And then was excommunicated for pluralism—at which Toft Hall was taken from him and granted instead to Roger Bigod, that same sheriff already mentioned.
Swan’s Manor had been in the hold of Ulketel (who we’ll meet in a later post, when we finally arrive at the supposed deserted village of Saxlingham Thorpe and its thriving neighbour, Saxlingham Nethergate). William, the wonderful conqueror, assigned Swan’s Manor to Robert Malet, lord of the honour of Eye (Suffolk), someone I don’t intend to deal with here.
But to return to Shotesham Manor, now grown large . . .
The Doyly Family: Like the Bigods, the Doyly family arrived with the Normans in 1066 (Robert D’Oyley de Liseaux, named for Ouilly in Calvados, Normandy).
At that time the said Robert d’Oyley was given lands chiefly in Oxfordshire where he built a castle (at Oxford) and married the daughter of Wigot, the Saxon lord of Wallingford. Their daughter, Maud, inherited her mother’s land (i.e. Wallingford) which, as was the way, passed to her legal lord and husband, Miles Crispen. But despite when widowed she then married Brian Fitz Count (illegitimate son of Alan IV Duke of Brittany), with neither husband did she produce an heir. Her inherited lands therefore passed to her uncle Nigel, Robert d’Oyley’s brother (Constable to King William Rufus).
And so the successions went in regular fashion until—Henry Doyly married Anne White, heiress of Shotesham in or around 1558.
Henry Doyly: Knight of the shire for Buckinghamshire, in Queen Elizabeth’s time. Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1578. Sheriff of Norfolk again in 1590. Died 1597 in possession of the manors of:
Shotesham Hall, Swans, and Toft Hall, Shotesham
St. Benet’s manor in Shotesham
Blackford Hall in Rockley (another Henstead parish)
Various granges in Shotesham, Stoke Holy Cross, and ‘other adjacent towns’
And several churches besides
Again, descent reeled through the generations in normal fashion until it arrived at Sir William Doyly (the Elder) who, dying in 1677, left the entire estate to his son. Sir William D’Oyley (known as the Younger) who promptly ‘disposed’ of parts of his assets:
Shotesham Hall, Swans and Toft Hall, and the lease of St. Benet’s manor in Shotesham; Blackford Hall (alias Stoke Holy Cross manor), Rostlings and Gostlings in Great and Little Poringland and Stoke . . .
To Samuel Verdon, sometime under-sheriff of Norfolk. (We will meet with the Verduns when we arrive at Saxlingham Nethergate). By 1689, the widow of Samuel Verdon had these manors in mortgage.
However, the term ‘disposed’ apparently does not mean sold. For in 1699, Robert Davy, trustee to Sir Edmund Doyly (grandson of the frittering Sir William the Younger), baronet and one-time resident of my birth-village of Costessey, sold those very same manors to Christopher Gibbs, worsted weaver of Norwich.
But here I confess to encountering confusion.
For this historical account, I’ve been following Francis Blomefield’s ‘Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 5′ (London, 1806), pp. 503-519, to be found on British History Online.
As with all writers, Blomefield was a man of his times. A clergyman, born of a Thetford family, and by now (post Cambridge degree in Divinity) with a living in South Norfolk. His style tends towards convoluted sentence structure with punctuation that would give any modern editor a nervous breakdown. So, Blomefield says first of Robert Davy, trustee to Sir Edmund Doyly, selling these manors. And then seems to contradict himself by saying that ‘the lands and estates continued in Sir Edmund’.
Moreover: ‘In 1739 Christopher Barnard of Yarmouth was lord, and his widow now holds it for life, and at her decease it goes to her husband’s two sisters, who are both married.’ Amazing. For in 1731 it is known that Shotesham Hall (and lands etc) was bought by William Fellowes; he was then aged 26 and was destined for a distinguished career as a philanthropist.
The Fellowes Family: Locally, William Fellowes is most noted for his role in establishing the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. But even before that, together with local surgeon Benjamin Gooch, he had set up what must have been one of the very first cottage hospitals in the country, in his own village of Shotesham. As Lord of the Manor—and he was very much lord of that manor, owning almost all the land, and the houses (though those were sold off during the 20th, century)—he cared for the people in his charge. Yet William Fellowes is not the most notable of that family and I did promise you royal connections.
Robert, Baron Fellowes of Shotesham: According to ‘thepeerage.com‘ the former ‘Lord of the Manor’, Robert, Baron Fellowes of Shotesham was:
Assistant Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1977 and 1986.
Deputy Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1986 and 1990.
Privy Counsellor (P.C.) in 1990.
Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II between 1990 and 1999.
He was created:
Knight Commander, Royal Victorian Order (K.C.V.O.) in 1989.
Knight Commander, Order of the Bath (K.C.B.) in 1991.
Knight Grand Cross, Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O.) in 1996.
Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) in 1998.
And received Award of the Queens’ Service Order (Q.S.O.) in 1999.
On 12 July 1999, he was created Baron Fellowes, of Shotesham (U.K. Life Peer). But none of this mentions his own, personal, royal connections.
In 1978, he married Lady Cynthia Jane Spencer, daughter of Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer & Honourable Frances Ruth Burke Roche. For those who don’t recognise the name, Lady Cynthia Jane Spencer is elder sister to the late Princess Diana. This makes Robert Fellowes uncle to the Princes William and Harry. Moreover, through his mother, Jane Charlotte nee Ferguson (b.1912 d.1986) he is first cousin once removed of Sarah, Duchess of York, divorced wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York. And further, through his great grandmother, he was related to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother.
Considering the painful events of August 1997, during which period Robert Fellowes was Private Secretary to HM Queen Elizabeth II, it is not surprising that he announced his retirement from the Royal Household that following year, in 1998. But to believe that was the end of his public career is a mistake. Amongst his several appointments since, as listed by Wiki, the one I noticed was Chair of the Prison Reform Trust, in 2001.
But to me, Robert Fellowes will always be known as the landowner who allowed me to freely walk his land (providing I kept to the designated footpaths, of which there are plenty). And that land contains so many gems by way of wildlife (many of the flower photos I posted last year were taken around here), not to mention the wealth of history, two of my passions compactly catered in one.
Honingham Hall – A Brief Background History: The small village of Honingham, together with the site of its former Hall, is situated in the English county of Norfolk and located 8 miles to the west of Norwich, along the A47 trunk road. The Hall itself was originally commissioned by Sir Thomas Richardson, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in 1605. After passing down the Richardson family it was bought by Richard Baylie, President of St John’s College, Oxford, in about 1650 and was then acquired by William Townsend, Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth in about 1735, before passing down the Townsend family. In 1887 it was inherited by Ailwyn Fellowes, 1st Baron Ailwyn and in 1924 by Ronald Fellowes, 2nd Baron Ailwyn who sold it in 1935.
The Hall was then bought by Sir Eric Teichman, a diplomat who, at the age of 60 years, retired there. At some point during World War II he allowed a large section of the Hall to become a Barnardo’s home, retaining a substantial section of it for himself, his wife, their cook and a small retinue of staff. He must have anticipated a peaceful retirement but, ironically, after so many dangers and difficulties faced on his past travels, Sir Eric died in December 1944 from a bullet to the head. It was fired by an American soldier who was stationed at the nearby US Airforce base; he was caught, along with a fellow soldier, poaching on Sir Eric’s estate. Sir Eric was buried in the St Andrew’s Churchyard where his grave may still be seen. The house closed as a Barnardo’s home in December 1966 and was demolished shortly afterwards.
Sir Eric Teichman: He, the victim of this unfortunate crime, had been a British diplomat and orientalist who was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. At the time of his death, Sir Eric was serving as adviser to the British Embassy at Chungking.
Teichman had been described as “one of British diplomacy’s dashing characters”, flamboyantly enigmatic and explorer-cum-special agent some claimed; he had embarked on a number of “special missions” and “fact-finding journeys” throughout Central Asia, as early as before World War I. In 1943 he began on what would be his final foreign journey from Chongqing. After caravanning as far as Lanzhou, his truck continued along the outer Silk Road, across the Tarim basin, and over the Pamir Mountains to New Delhi. From there he flew back to England where, only a few days later he met his death.
The Perpetrators, Murder and its consequences : It was on Sunday 3 December 1944 when Private George E. Smith, aged 28 years, of Pittsburgh and Private Leonard S. Wijpacha of Detroit, USA, took a pair of M-1 Carbines from the armoury on their base with the intention of ‘going hunting‘ as they would have described it. Hunting for what with such powerful rifles? The two soldiers were probably the last people on earth to have given this a thought as they set out. It was early afternoon as the two entered Sir Eric’s Teichman’s estate at Honingham and were to pass close by the house as they scanned the trees and undergrowth thereabouts fpr their prey.
It can only be imagined what Sir Eric Teichman was doing inside. Lunch was over and quiet would have descended on the big house. It was quite probable that he sat before a cosy fire, more than content with life. But all this certainly changed from the moment he heard the sound of shots outside. It is more than reasonable to suppose that this disturbance would have annoyed him and, being the sort of character he was, he would have gruffly risen from his armchair, mindful of going out to stop this “damned poaching.” As he left the Hall, he told his wife that he had heard some shots in the nearby wood and was going to investigate!
At the moment when Sir Eric was storming out of the Hall towards the sound of gunfire, Smith and Wijpacha were positioned behind two adjacent trees, taking pot shots at one particular squirrel which was jumping from branch to branch trying not to be the next casualty. The two poachers were almost facing each other when Smith noticed ‘this old man’ approaching from behind Wijpacha, calling out “Wait a minute… what are your names?” That was the moment when Smith shot Sir Eric through his right cheek, with the bullet exiting by way of the left shoulder-blade, shattering his jaw on the way through. If Sir Eric had been more upright, his height would have been nearer 6ft, but he was stooped at an angle of about 30 degrees as the result of an old injury caused long ago through a riding accident. Nevertheless, when he was shot, he fell on to one of his arms and seemingly died quickly through shock and a haemorrhage from the bullet wound. The next action of the two soldiers was telling – neither went over to the body but instead made a hasty departure back to base,
Being winter, night fell early and when Sir Eric had still not returned a worried Lady Ellen organised a search party to comb the grounds. It turned out to be a long search in the dark and quite late when they found the master, huddled in bracken some 300 yards from the house. Thereafter, events moved quickly, the police were called, the bullet extracted and confirmed as one fired from a .38 carbine; then the local American airfield was sealed off, and within a very short time Smith and Wijpacha were arrested. The swiftness of their arrest would not have been surprising when it was later revealed that Smith himself had been court-marshalled eight times previously; he must have been high on the list of suspects! He almost immediately confessed with the words “I shot him”, but then retracted this at his trial, arguing that it had been made under duress.
Both Smith and Wijpacha were subsequently court-martialled at USAAF Attlebridge, which commenced on 8 January 1945, and lasted five days due to the repeated hospitalisation of Smith. As part of the preparations for the trial, Smith had been subjected to an earlier psychiatric examination from Major Thomas March of the US Hospital at Wymondham College in Norfolk.
It was sometime close to 9 and 10 January 1945 when The Times newspaper reported on the arrests, Smith’s formal charge of the murder of Sir Eric Teichman and his ninth court-marshal! Amongst many other items of detail, the newspaper highlighted Smith’s statement in which it was revealed that he:
“was single and had joined the army in 1942; to date, he had been court-martialled eight times. With regard to the alleged shooting, Smith said that another soldier had asked him to go hunting through the woods. “Some of us had been drinking beer…. I drank about 15 coffee cups of beer; we saw a lot of blackbirds around and we shot some of them. We went up into the woods. I saw a squirrel, and fired one clip of 15 shots. One of us said ‘There’s an old man’. I think I saw him first and made that remark. I don’t remember the old man saying anything to me, nor do I remember saying anything to him. I raised my gun to my side, pointed it at the old man and fired one shot. I saw the man fall.”
By the 12 January 1945 The Times had again followed the story up with a report on Smith’s mental condition at the time, an examination which had been conducted by a Major L Alexander, a specialist in neurology and psychiatry, attached to a United States Army hospital in England. Alexander said that Smith’s [mental] condition could not be successfully faked. In his opinion, [Smith] was suffering from:
“a constitutional psychopathic condition, emotional instability, and an explosive, primitive, sadistic aggressiveness…… His mental deficiency was border-line, and his mental age was about nine years…… His condition was a mentally defective homicidal degenerate…. and Smith acted almost on automatic impulse.”
The Times also reported, from within the report’s findings, a revealing set of statistics about the United States Army. In a reply to a question, Major Alexander said that:
“…….the average mental age of the Army in the last war [WWI] was 12 – That figure was artificial as it excluded Officers and N.C.O’s. The average age now [WW2] was between 13 and 14. The vast majority of enlisted men was in the 14 group.”
Major Alexander went on to say that Smith knew it was wrong to kill, and that:
“a psychopath such as he fell into the group which the law regarded as sane. In his opinion, Smith “should be removed from society” for the rest of his life! This apparently final remark was followed by a statement from a Dr John Vincent Morris, of the Little Plumstead Hall Institution, Norwich, a specialist in mental diseases. He said that Smith was an anti-social type, who deliberately refused to conform to army rules and orders……Smith showed no signs of emotion or regret about the shooting and spoke about it “as a man talked of killing a rabbit.” It was Dr Morris’s opinion that Smith fired the shot irrespective of consequences, because possibly “Sir Eric interfered with his [Smith] pleasure, and he acted under an uncontrollable impulse.”
The outcome was innevitable, Smith was convicted and received the ultimate death penalty; his companion, Private Wijpacha charged with being an accessory to murder, was not sentenced to death. It followed that Smith was imprisoned at Shepton Mallet Prison in Dorset to await execution. But why a British prison in the south of England?
Between mid-1942 and September 1945 part of Shepton Mallet Prison was taken over by the American government for use as a military prison and as the place of execution for American servicemen convicted under the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act (1942) which allowed for American Military justice to be enacted on British soil. It was staffed entirely by American military personnel during this period when a total of 18 American servicemen were executed at the prison – sixteen were hanged and two were shot by a firing squad. Of those executed, nine were convicted of murder, six of rape, and three of other crimes which carried the death penalty. To enable these executions to take place a new brick-built extension had been added to one of the prison’s wings; it was a structure that looked totally out of place against the weathered stone walls of the old prison building. Inside, a new British style gallows was installed on the first floor of the building and two cells within the main building converted into a condemned cell. Hangman Thomas William Pierrepoint conducted most of these executions, assisted by his nephew, Albert Pierrepoint.
It so happened that Private George Smith’s appeals against the death penalty were denied and he was hanged at within the ‘Execution Shed’ at Shepton Mallet Prison on 8 May 1945, (VE Day), despite requests for clemency, including one from Lady Teichman. It was Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris, who carried out this execution. It took 22 minutes of ‘suspension’ before Smith was pronounced dead.
(The former ‘execution shed’ at Shepton Mallet Prison where Private George Smith was hanged. Photos: Wikipedia.)
Afterwards, he was temporary buried at Brookwood American cemetery; that was until 1949 when his remains, along with every other WW2 executed American servicemen, was moved to Plot E in Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France; Smith’s grave is number 52 in row 3. At this point, a fuller explanation as to why executed American servicemen were buried in France is necessary.
Initially, the remains of American prisoners executed at Shepton Mallet were, as a matter of course, interred in unmarked graves at “Plot X” in Brookwood American Cemetery – also known as the London Necropolis. But in 1949 all eighteen bodies were exhumed. With the exception of the remains of David Cobb which were repatriated to his hometown, the remaining 17 were reburied in ‘Plot E’ at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in France – a private section intended for the “dishonoured dead”. The cemetery is home to the remains of 96 American military prisoners, all of whom were executed by hanging or firing squad. Significantly, no US flag is permitted to fly over the section of the cemetery where they lie, and those beneath the soil lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road. Their final resting place has been described as a “house of shame” and a “perfect anti-memorial”.
As for Sir Eric Teichman, he was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church at Honingham; his grave being in the corner plot, directly in line with the now-demolished Honingham Hall. His widow, Lady Ellen Teichman, was buried in the same grave in 1969. The memorial there to the Teichman’s carries no mention to 3 December 1944 – or the murder!
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Saturday, 18 July 1807 in Attleborough’s White Horse public house on London Road, next to a track named Whitehorse Lane. Inside, it was no different from any other Saturday; the regulars occupied their chosen places and the air was again thick with tobacco smoke. Samuel Alden had a pint in his hand; this was probably not his first of the day, and would certainly not be his last – or so he and his colleagues must have anticipated. Samuel’s wife, Martha, was with him and might have thought otherwise. The time was around about mid-morning, shortly after the pub had opened its doors for the day.
Queen’s Square, Attleborough, Norfolk
Queen’s Square, Attleborough, Norfolk.
Samuel’s neighbour, Edmund Draper, walked in and joined the couple as any good neighbour would do. Martha, clearly preoccupied with other thoughts, chose that moment to leave; her excuse was to say that she was going home with her child. We will never know the true reason; was she was allowing her husband space to chat ‘man to man’, did she feel uncomfortable in her neighbour’s company; or had there been an icy atmosphere between husband and wife that morning? Subsequent events may well suggest that the latter applied!
The fact of the matter was that as soon as Martha had stepped outside the two men moved away from the bar and sat more comfortably to continue both their drinking and conversation; that went on until almost mid-day. Then they both departed, but not before Draper had taken the opportunity to briefly chat with the wife of the publican; he then accompanied Samuel Alden to his house before moving on in the direction of Thetford to his own home, seeing no one else on the road as he went.
Draper was clearly quite sober, having been in the White Horse for only a short spell; however, Alden was rather ‘fresh’, for his walking showed signs of a slight stagger along the way. Despite the hampered pace of the two mens’ journey they, surprisingly perhaps. managed to catch-up with Martha; the circumstances of her delay seems not to have be broached and the trio arrived at the Alden’s cottage as one. That was the last time Draper saw his drinking companion and his wife, accompanied by their seven-year-old son, together. He was to say later, after the news had broken, that at no time in his presence had ill words passed between Samuel and Martha.
On the following morning of Sunday, 19 July 1807, a Charles Hill, also of Attleborough, rose very early; it would have been between 2.00 and 3.00 am – very early indeed. He was going to see his daughter who worked at Shelfanger Hall, some ten miles away; so, such an early start was necessary. It was somewhat wet that morning and he decided to take the turnpike road in the direction of Thetford. On the way he also had to pass the Alden’s cottage, which was barely a quarter of a mile from his own home. As he approached, he saw that the door of the cottage was open; Martha was standing within a few yards of it, apparently doing nothing in particular – or so he thought. She did, as it happened, say to traveller from Attleborough that she “could not think what smart young man it was who was coming down the common”; to which Hill replied: “Martha, what the devil are you up to at this time of the morning?”
Her excuse, if that’s what it was, was to say that she had been down to the pit in her garden for some water; her garden was not attached to the cottage but on the opposite side of the road. Beyond this, Martha did appear to ramble along the lines that she had not been long home from Attleborough where she had been at the White Horse with her husband and Edmund Draper; they all came home together during the day – but her husband had gone back again! Martha then said that her husband had a brother who was going to Essex, and that he swore that he would go with his brother. Hill thought this strange in light of the fact that Samuel Alden had contracted himself to harvest with Mr Parson that year – to which Martha agreed, adding “If he go to Essex, he won’t come back to harvest… I know he will never come back, and if he has got a job, he never will settle to it”! In hindsight, was she looking for an alibi for what would, inevitably, emerge as his sudden and unexpected disappearance? It was a question for the future; something that was absent from Hill’s mind as he continued on his way, and Martha went indoors.
The rest of that day of the 19th must have dragged for Martha; then, as it began to close and evening approached, matters took an even stranger twist. Mary Orvice, a friend of Martha, found the latter on her doorstep; this in itself was not entirely unexpected for both visited each other’s cottages quite frequently. What was totally unexpected was that an agitated Martha asked Mary to return with her to her cottage; Martha did not give a reason why, but waited until both women were inside a closed front door of Martha’s cottage.
“I have killed my husband” said Martha as she led Mary into the main bedroom; she showed Mary the body of Samuel lying on the bed, quite, quite dead! The deceased was still clothed in a shirt and slop, although both heavily stained with blood from horrible wounds to his face – and it was said later that the victim’s head had almost been severed from the body. Clearly, the weapon had been what one could only describe as ‘substantial and lethal’; it was lying on the floor beside the bed. Mary could not help noticing it – along with the blood that stained it. Whether or not it was the shock of her seeing a blood-stained body and weapon, but Mary Orvice was about to plunged herself into deep water so to speak!
Martha produced a common corn sack, and asked Mary to hold it open whilst she prised her husband’s corpse into it; she then dragged the laden sack from the bedroom, through the passage and kitchen and out of the house; fortunately, Samuel Alden had been a small statured man and light in weight. Mary Orvice followed, with both women crossing the road outside the cottage and walking through Martha’s garden to the far side – to a surrounding ditch. There the sack, with its contents, were left, but not before Martha had thrown some mould over it. Mary then left Martha with the excuse that she had an errand to make in Larling; but that was a good seven miles away and the evening was drawing in!
It is not known if Martha slept well that night, or what she did the following day, but that evening, being Monday 20 July and between nine and ten o’clock, Mary was again at Martha’s cottage. She saw Martha removed the sack, in which the body of her husband was held and, once again, dragged it to a water-filled pit on the common which lay beside a place called Wright’s Plantation; Mary tailed behind. On arrival at the pit, Martha emptied the contents of the sack into it and left, ensuring that she took the sack with her.
On Tuesday morning, the 21st, Mary again went to the Martha’s cottage and assisted in cleaning those parts of the bedroom where to assault took place. Firstly, the top coverings and sheets were removed for washing. Then, taking warm water Mary washed and scraped the wall next the bed, followed by the cleaning of the floor. Whilst all this was going on, Martha repeatedly bade Mary to be sure “not to say a word about the matter; for, if she did, she (now an assessory) would certainly be hanged.” However, such was Mary’s confused state upon having help her friend, that she did mention the story to her father that same evening after returning home.
From that moment, matters came to a head. Word got back to the authorities during the following morning, Wednesday the 22 July, – a body had been found! Edward Rush came on to the scene and was ordered by the Constable of Attleborough Parish, to search Martha Alden’s cottage. In a dark corner of one of the rooms he found a bill-hook, on which there appeared to be the remnants of blood on its handle and blade; it would appear that the bill-hook had been washed.
At the Norfolk Assizes, held in Norwich, at the Shirehall in late July 1807, and before Sir Nash Grose when Martha Alden was:
“capitally indicted for the wilful murder of her husband, Samuel Alden, of Attleborough, Norfolk when every circumstance of this attrocious act was corroborated”.
Judge Grose outlined the case by stating that while the man was asleep in bed his wife, with a bill-hook, inflicted terrible wounds on his head, face, and throat. With the assistance of a girl, named Mary Orvice, the prisoner then, on the 19th inst. deposited the body in a dry ditch in the garden; on the 20th, they carried it in a corn sack to the common and “shot” it into a water-filled pit, where it was subsequently discovered. Martha Alden was to offer little or no defence against the charge.
Witness, Edmund Draper was called and confirmed his meeting with victim in the White Horse and their return home, repeating that he was perfectly sober at the time, whilst the deceased was not. Draper also said that he had stayed at the Alden’s for less than three minutes, during which time he noticed that there was a larger fire than usual, for that time of the year, burning in the hearth. He also confirmed that the deceased was in perfectly good health, and that no ill words had passed between the deceased and the prisoner whilst in his presence. Draper also described the Alden’s cottage as having a kitchen and bedroom on the same ground floor and separated from each other by a small, narrow passage.
Witness Sarah Leeder, widow, of Attleborough, followed to state that on Monday night, 20 July, the prisoner came to her house to borrow a spade; the reason: “a neighbour’s sow had broken into her garden and rooted up her potatoes, and she needed to make good.” This witness then went on to describe that on the following evening of Tuesday the 21st, at about eleven o’clock, she went to the common to look for some ducks she had missed. She found them in a small pit which was alongside another larger size pit next to Wright’s Plantation. In this greater pit, or pond, she saw something lying which attracted her attention; she went to the edge of the pond and touched it with a stick, upon which it sank and rose again. The place was shaded from the moon’s glow and she could not make out what it was; so, went home for the night. However, the next morning, Wednesday the 22nd, the witness returned once more to the pit and again touched the substance with a stick, which still lay almost covered with water. It was then that she saw “the two hands of a man appear…… with the arms of a shirt stained with blood.”
A later newspaper report stated that:
“She [the witness] instantly concluded that a murdered man had been thrown in there, and called to a lad to go and acquaint the neighbourhood with the circumstances, and went back in great alarm to her own house. In a quarter of an hour she returned again to the pond, and found that in her absence the body had been taken out. She then knew it to be the body of Samuel Alden. His face was dreadfully chopped, and his head cut very nearly off. The body was put into a cart and carried to the house of the deceased. The witness afterwards went to look for her spade, and found it standing by the side of a hole, which she described as looking like a grave, dug in the ditch which surrounded Alden’s garden. She further stated that this hole was open, not very deep, and that she saw blood lying near it.”
Witness, Edward Rush, told the court that on Wednesday morning of the 22nd July, and by order of the Constable of Attleborough Parish, he searched the prisoner’s residence. In a dark chamber he found a bill-hook, which on examination appeared to have blood on its handle, and also on the blade, but looked as if it had been washed. He also confirmed the statement of a preceding witness as to the state of the bedroom in the house of the deceased, and described its dimensions to be about seven feet by ten.
Mary Orvice followed as the principal witness. She stated that she had been acquainted with the prisoner for some time, and had frequently been at her house. She described her visits to the prisoner’s cottage on and following Sunday the 19th. She stated that the prisoner slept that night at the father’s father’s house. The witness then confirmed that the prisoner bade her to be sure not to say a word about the matter; for, if she did, she (the witness) would certainly be hanged. Upon being questioned to that effect by the Judge, this witness also confirmed that she had told the story to her father on the Tuesday night, but to nobody else.
The learned Judge, Justice Grose, then summed up the evidence in the usual full and able manner expected from judges. However, on the subject of Mary Orvice’s testimony, he remarked that it certainly came under great suspicion as being that of an accessory to the attempted concealment of the murder. Viewing it in that light, and taking it separately later, he received the situation with extreme caution. He further stated that “if it should be found, in most material facts, to agree with and corroborate the successive statements of the other witnesses whose declarations did not labour under those disadvantages, the Jury were then to give it due weight and avail themselves of the information which it threw on the transaction.”
With regard to the principal case, the jury consulted for a very short time before finding Martha Alden GUILTY! The learned judge then proceeded to pass upon her the awful sentence of the law; which was, that on Friday she should be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till she was dead – and her body afterwards to be dissected. It was at this point that Martha fully confessed her crime for which she was to suffer. She had indeed attacked her husband, who was comatose after his visit to the White Horse in Attleborough, because he had threatened to beat her during an earlier argument. She also acknowledged and pleaded that her friend, Mary Orvice, had no concern whatever in the murder, but only assisted, at her request, in putting the body of her husband into the sack.
On Friday, 31st of July 1807, at twelve o’clock, Mary Alden, such an unhappy woman, was drawn on a hurdle and executed on Castle Hill in Norwich for the murder of her husband at their cottage near Attleborough and:
“in the presence of an immense concourse of spectators she behaved at the fatal tree with the decency becoming of her awful situation.”
In the aftermath of her execution, Martha Alden’s cottage was destroyed by neighbours.
In 1889, a correspondent, known simply as H.K., wrote in The Methodist Recorder:
“Far back into centuries I should have to go in imagination to find the man who built Beaupré Hall, with its gabled and mullioned windows and beautiful gateways and courts and porches, with its picturesque towers and chimneys outside, and its wilderness of oak-panelled rooms and passages inside.”
An Architectural Pen Picture of Beaupre’ Hall: Beaupré Hall used to be a large 16th-century house mainly of brick, which was built by the Beauprés and enlarged by their successors the Bells. Like many of Britain’s country houses it was demolished in the mid-20th century.
When it did exist, the oldest parts of Beaupre Hall dated from about 1500 and included much of the central block running south-west to north-east, with a long wing running north-west at an angle. The Gate House was placed in front of the main block and was probably dated from about 1525. Fifty years later, after Sir Robert Bell succeeded to the property, by virtue of his marriage with the heiress of Edmund Beaupré, the north-east section was rebuilt from the screen of the Hall, a porch with an upper story was added on both sides, and a bay added at the daïs on the front. About the same time a large wing was constructed at right angles to the south-east, and connected with a wall to the gatehouse to form a court. Before the end of the 16th century another court was formed to the south-west by a wing projecting from the main block and abutting upon the south-west side of the Gate House. Considerable alterations, mainly internal, were made about 1750.
The Gate House, built around 1525, was placed in front of the entry facing South-East. This structure was built upon an old model, probably by Edmonde Beaupré during the time of his marriage with Margaret the daughter of Sir John Wiseman, servant to the 15th Earl of Oxford. His second wife, Katherine Wynter (widow of John Wynter of Great Yarmouth) was the daughter of Phillip Bedingfield of Ditchingham Hall. The gatehouse was also of brick with stone dressings and with the upper part being mainly of ashlar. The arches of the passage were four-centred. Above was a room, lighted back and front by a square-headed window with stone mullions and transom. The room contained a late-16th-century fireplace. Around 1570, the south west end of the Gate House was fitted with a new building that connected a gated section of wall to the south-west wing, making another courtyard. This wing spanned north-west to the main block, and from the main block extended the chapel, which had an altarpiece in the far north-west end.
There used to be some excellent 16th-century chimney-stacks and the main door of the house having 16th-century linenfold panelling. Several rooms on the first floor retained late-16th-century panelling; another room had early 18th-century panelling and yet another Georgian wainscoting. The drawing-room, formerly part of the hall, had an early 17th-century chimney-piece and a deep wooden cornice which disappeared long before the Hall met a similar fate. The back of the house was somewhat altered in the 19th century and was said to have suffered greatly in the process. Of the Hall’s latter years, a number of windows which had been modernised in the main block were restored to their original form with stone mullions and transoms. The building at the southwest angle retained its characteristic flanking finials, which were also formerly found on the porch and other parts.
The roofs of Beaupre were covered with stone tiles, except some portions which had been repaired with blue slates. To the south were some fine contemporary farm buildings with stepped gables, moulded brick stringcourses, and massive timbers. The two windows of the entrance hall were filled with fine heraldic glass dating from 1570–80.
History of the Hall: The history of the Hall begins with its family origins, a Norman from Saint-Omer who dwelled and, according to Christopher Hussey“christened his domain with gallic grace, among the dull-sounding names of the Danes.”
The knight of St Omer (de Beau-pré) accompanied William the Conqueror’s invasion of England; he “appears in the Roll of Battle Abbey, and his descendants lived here in their place of Beaupré.” Several other noted members of the St Omer family were Sir Hugh de St Omer and John de St Omer, who according to the chronographer Matthew Paris, were known to have ‘penned a counterblast’ to a monk of Peterborough who had lampooned the people of Norfolk during the reign of King John; which elevated them to literary fame.
A Sir Thomas de St Omer was Keeper of the Wardrobe to King Henry III. His successor William de St Omer was granted a fair at Brundale and at Mulbarton, Norfolk, in 1254, where his arms could formerly be seen on a monument in the church. Mulbarton came to Sir William Hoo (1335-1410) through his marriage to Alice de St Omer (died c. 1375), daughter of a later Thomas de St Omer and Petronilla de Malmaynes. Sir William Hoo added to heraldic glass which they placed in the chancel windows, and (after a second marriage) was buried there beside Alice.
Beaupré to Bell: Christian, daughter and coheir of Thomas de St Omer, married John, the great-great-grandson of one Synulph, who lived during the reign of King Henry II, and had issue: John (dicte quoque Beaupré), who lived during the reign of King Edward II, and married Katherine, daughter of Osbert Mountfort. Their son Thomas Beaupré was raised by his grandmother Christian (the last St Omer in this line) after the death of both of his parents. Thomas was knighted by King Edward III, and married Joan Holbeache, and died during the reign of King Richard II. Generations later the Hall was in the possession of Edmonde Beaupré. After his death in 1567 leaving no male heirs, the hall succeeded to Sir Robert Bell, by virtue of marriage to Edmonde’s daughter Dorothie in 1559; whereby his Beaupré line became extinct. Upon Sir Robert Bell’s passing following the events of the Black Assize of Oxford, in 1577, the Hall passed to his son Edmonde, and his heirs successively until finally in 1741, Beaupré Bell bequeathed the Hall to his sister who married William Greaves, of Fulbourn. Their daughter Jane brought it by marriage to the Townley family, who held Beaupré Hall until it passed into the hands of Edward Fordham Newling, and his brother.
In the 1890s, Beaupré Hall was sold to the Newling family; some twenty-five years later problems for the old manor house started to emerge. A gale in 1915 severely damaged the building, and a chapel in the north-west range had its roof torn off and was allowed to become derelict. In 1923, Christopher Hussey the architectural writer, visited Beaupré Hall and saw that its condition was such that he anticipated its eventual destruction! It then took until the Second World War and the Royal Air Force to practically seal Beaupré’s final fate. The RAF requisitioned the Hall for the duration then, when peace came and the Service left, the mansion was found to be in a serious state of disrepair, with substantial roof damage throughout.
There were, of course, those who must have loved the house and might have saved it, given different circumstances. In 1947, the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, did give the Hall listed status – but pathetically little else. Then a fire in 1953 worsened Beaupre’s condition, and it was left to a Mrs Kingsman, formerly the wife of Edward Newling, who had married Stuart Kingsman, to offer the Hall to the National Trust. It was the second heritage body to turned its back on Beaupré Hall by declining the offer; presumably on the grounds that it would take too much public money to restore the property to something like its former glory. The Hall, plus thirteen acres of land was subsequently put up for sale and did inherit two subsequent owners; nevertheless, the Hall was seemingly destined to continue its headlong dash to becoming a ruin.
During the 1950’s, the barrack huts left over from the RAF occupation were used to house students on the ‘Holidays with Pay Scheme’ run by the government. Understandably perhaps, legends of headless horsemen and other spirits said to roam the Hall began to regain renewed interest and attention. It was in the book of the time, ‘The Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters’ by Ingrid Pitt, that an account of a ghost seen by a couple of the students of the government scheme was cited; they were brave enough to enter the Hall one night; the Beaupré ruins undoubtedly provided an adventure for them!
Norfolk’s ‘Victoria County History’ reported sometime later that much of the building was still standing, but the development of a modern housing estate in Beaupre’s former grounds was a shadow quickly advancing on the house. Then, in 1963, the ‘Country Life’ magazine showed the new bungalows of this estate which had crept up to the heels of the ruin; an image which might suggest that one party or the other had messed things up over previous years! Eventually the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished. It was left to the ‘East Anglian Magazine’ to lament the final demolition of the old Beaupre Hall in 1966. At the time, the magazine stated that the only section to escape demolition was the gatehouse. Nine years later, the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished, the only reminder being the name of the road on which the housing estate stands… Beaupré Avenue .
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Francis Howes was born at Morningthorpe, Norfolk, on 29 February 1776 and baptised at St John’s, Morningthorpe on 3 March 1776. Apart from his entry into the church, he was to become a classical scholar.
Francis was the fourth surviving son of the Revd Thomas Howes (1732–1796), ‘Lord of the Manor of Morningthorpe’ and Rector of St Edmunds, Fritton and St Andrews, Illington. Thomas was grandson of a much earlier Thomas Howes who had first acquired Morningthorpe Hall following the death of his own father in law, John Roope, who died without male heirs in 1686. For generations thereafter the Howes family were born at Morningthorpe.
Francis Howes mother was Susan Longe (1732-1822), the daughter of Francis Longe of Spixworth (1689-1735), also in Norfolk. Susan had married Francis Howes’s father, Thomas, on 11 Jan 1758 at St Peter’s church, Spixworth, Norfolk. Her elder brother had already married Thomas’s sister, Tabitha Howes, at the same Spixworth church in 1747 – brother and sister married sister and brother! Francis Howes eldest surviving brother, John (1758–1787), entered Gray’s Inn but died young. Two other brothers of his, Thomas (1770–1848) and George (1772–1855), took holy orders, the latter taking over in 1808 as Vicar of Gazeley cum Kentford, Suffolk and then as Rector of St Peter’s at Spixworth, the related Longe family home.
Francis Howes was first educated at Norwich Grammar School in 1790 under Dr Samuel Parr and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1794 and graduating with a BA in 1798 as ‘Eleventh Wrangler’, then proceeding to a MA in 1804. Between 1799 and 1800 he had obtained the ‘Members Prize’. His chief college friend was John Williams, the judge, who subsequently made him an allowance of £100 per annum.
Francis Howes is said to have ‘married early’ but in fact was of full age, having married Sarah Smithson (1773–1863) on 19 March 1802 in St Nicholas Chapel, King’s Lynn. It has been speculated that this comment ‘married early’ was probably because his family disapproved of the match; the bride’s late father had been a member of St John’s College, Cambridge – but as a cook, not as a Fellow! (Universal British Directory, 2, c.1792, 493). Francis and Sarah had a reported nine children of whom their sons were Thomas George (b. 1807), later rector of Belton, Suffolk; John (1808–1837), parish clerk; and Charles (1813–1880), fellow and chaplain of Dulwich College. Three of their six daughters married clergymen – a strong theme throughout the generations of the Howes.
Francis Howes was ordained Deacon on 21 December 1800 and priest on 9 August 1801. He was to accumulate a number of clergy appointments thereafter. He was appointed Vicar of Shillington, Bedfordshire, in 1801 and was to hold it until 1816, although it appears that he never lived there. Francis’s sons were baptised in Acle, Norfolk, from where his first books were dated. He was also Vicar of Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, from 1809 until his death, and Rector of Buckenham, with Hassingham, Norfolk, from 1811 to 1814. In 1814 he moved to St George Colegate, Norwich, as parish chaplain, a position which he held until 1831 when he was appointed Vicar of Bawburgh, Norfolk, remaining in this post until 1829. But in 1815 he was also appointed a minor canon of Norwich Cathedral, moving to Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, where he lived for the rest of his life. He received the rectories of Alderford and Attlebridge in March 1826 and in 1829 was made Rector of Framingham Pigot, Norfolk, retaining them until his death in 1844:
The diocese of Norwich was notorious for pluralism and absentee clergy, but the Bishop of the time, Henry Bathurst, always pointed out that the majority of parishes were small and produced a low income.
As for scholastic writings of Francis Howes, some translations were from Latin into English verse and printed privately for him in 1801; they were included in his Miscellaneous Poetical Translations (1806). His translation of The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus (1809) was unsuccessful. Although he claimed that his translation of Horace’s Satires was ‘shortly’ to be published, The Epodes and Secular Ode of Horace did not appear until 1841 and The First Book of Horace’s Satires in 1842; both were privately printed in Norwich. It was only after his death when his son, Charles, gathered his translations from Horace and published them in The Epodes, Satires, and Epistles of Horace (1845); all the translations were written in heroic couplets, on which Francis Howes’s reputation was to rest. In 1892, John Conington praised these translations, noting that they had been forgotten by the public:
“very good, unforced, idiomatic, felicitous … I should be glad if any notice which I may be fortunate enough to attract should … extend to a predecessor who, if he had published a few years earlier, when translations were of more account, could scarcely have failed to rank high among the cultivators of this branch of literature.”
Howes, also composed epitaphs for monuments in Norwich Cathedral and spent his last years transcribing the diaries of his eccentric but cultured neighbour Sylas Neville. Neville was born in 1741, apparently in London. In 1768-9 he came to Great Yarmouth and settled at Scratby Hall. The years 1772-6 were then spent mainly in Edinburgh where he qualified as a doctor of medicine; the years 1777-80 were spent in foreign travel, mainly in Italy. On his return, and after visits to London, Edinburgh etc., he settled at Norwich in 1783 and there spent the rest of his life, intending to practise medicine but in fact subsisting increasingly on charity and the proceeds of begging letters. He was also to mutilate his diaries and letters later in his life, apparently in an attempt to remove compromising or politically embarrassing matter. Many of these excised passages were later restored by Francis Howes after Neville’s death in 1840 when his papers passed to Howes; he, in turn, transcribed some of the diaries, along with some of the correspondence – but afterwards destroying the originals! From Howes’ son the papers passed to the antiquary Hargrave Harrison then, on his death in 1896, they were purchased by L.G. Bolingbroke; from his family they went to Basil Cozens-Hardy.
Revd Francis Howes died at Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, Norfolk on 26 March 1844 and was buried in the west cloister of Norwich Cathedral near his son John. According to the Norwich Mercury on 30 March 1844:
“Mr Howes was known as a ripe and spund [sic] classical scholar having addressed himself to this branch of learning from its earliest growth. He was not less distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition, the sweetness of his temper and the urbanity of his manners. The Editor of this Journal, who pays this tribute to his worth, passed through the Free School of this City upon the same form as him, and testifies with a mournful satisfaction to the early development of these his true qualities, to which they who knew him in later life will be ready to do the same justice, as well as to the liberality of his principles, and of his firmness in their assertion.”
Francis Howes widow died on 3 January 1863, aged 89 years.
Overview: Over 194 years ago on a large country estate in Norfolk a group of working-class, if not peasant, men clashed with those who were on the side of the Landed Gentry. The intruders were intent on poaching game for their tables and yes, probably profit. The land owner on the other hand was determined to stop them, see them off the property and, if needs must, punish them with the help of strict and almost unforgiving laws! The Heydon Affray, as it was called, was only one incident in what were once known as the “Poaching Wars”, an almost continuous bitter class conflict which started in earnest in the mid-17th century and came to infest the countryside across the whole of England – but never more so than in Norfolk. According to “The Stuart Constitution” by J.P. Kenyon (Cambridge University Press 1969):
“A similar distinction between the God-given race of landowners and the rest was made by the Game Act of 1671, the most stringent and comprehensive of the famous Game Laws. It gave gamekeepers the power to enter houses to search for guns, nets and sporting dogs, which those below the rank of esquire were nor only forbidden to use but even to own; it gave a single justice – usually the landowner concerned-power to award summary punishment, and the decision of Quarter Sessions, staffed by neighbouring land owners was final. Such blatant class legislation confirmed the social ascendancy of the squirearchy, but in the end their administration of the Game Laws, ‘grossly partial, selfishly biased, and swayed by consideration of their own class interest even to the verge of corruption’, wrecked the reputation of the rural justices and made an important contribution to their ultimate downfall.”
In this war between Peasant and Landowner, men were sometimes killed on both sides of the social structure whether by intent or accident, some were even murdered. Those from the lower order who were caught received sentences of death, imprisonment or transportation – all for the sake of a rich man’s rabbit or pheasant. A particularly vicious phase of the poacher’s war began in 1816 with the passing of the Night Poaching Act; this introduced transportation for seven years, if the convicted culprit had been armed with ‘net or stick’ and had the intent to steal rabbits or game. In 1828 a new ‘Night Poaching Act’ introduced transportation of up to fourteen years for such offences.
In 1825, and a little over twelve months before the Heydon affair, Lord Suffield said in the House of Lords: –
“The recipe to make a poacher will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients which may be met with in every game county in England. Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor man single man, having his natural sense of right and wrong….give him little more than a natural disinclination to go to work, let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved, keep him cool in the winter, by allowing him insufficient wages to purchase fuel; let him feel hungry upon the small pittance of parish relief; and if he be not a poacher it will only be by the blessing of God.”
William Savage in his blog “Poachers in the 18th Century” added: “There’s also a tendency in this romanticised version of events to portray most, if not all, poachers, as poor local men. Fathers desperate to feed themselves and their families. As large-scale capitalist agriculture spread during the 18th century, so this version goes, the commons and woods where ordinary people once grazed a few sheep and shot a few rabbits were fenced off as private property. Deprived of access to wild animals for the pot, the peasants were driven to taking illicitly what they had once enjoyed without hindrance.
I’m sure that did happen. Yet local, small-scale poaching would never have produced the Draconian anti-poaching laws which disfigured the period from around 1810 to the 1830s. The petty ‘crimes’ of local poachers were almost always dealt with as misdemeanours. The poacher would expect a severe lecture from the magistrate, followed by a small fine or a few weeks in prison. Poaching for money, not for the pot, was the problem. Gangs of men who descended on an estate to take large amounts of game to sell. It started in the 18th century, then grew into almost a class war in the 19th.”
This bleak picture of England by the early 19th century was, in no small measure, made worse by the collapse of wheat prices to 65 shillings 6 pence following the Wars against France; foreign grain flooded into the country. From 1815 onwards a series of Corn Laws were passed in an attempt to prevent the importation of wheat until prices reached at least 80 shillings. This blatant protectionism failed but the price of bread, which was the staple food of the English poor, remained high; this was coupled by the increasing number of enclosures of land which greatly reduced the opportunity for supplementing the diets of the rural poor with rabbits, hares etc.
Tensions were therefore at a high level in the countryside as a result of working people’s desperation and the fear they had of the far richer landowners who vigorously pursued their fight to protect what they believed was rightly theirs. The Night Poaching Laws had brought with them the sentence of transportation for seven years for poachers caught in the act of taking game. It was said that in the eleven years following the introduction of these Laws, 1700 people in both England and Wales were convicted and sentenced to be transported.
If it was desperation that persuaded peasants and labourers to poach, then it was the fear of transportation, if caught, which drove many to violence when resisting arrest. Transportation meant never returning to England and to families; equally, it was extremely unlikely that convicts who were only transported for a limited period would ever return to their native land. Those transported for life were, of course, banned from ever returning, although many were conditionally pardoned within the colonies.
Costessey, Norwich – A Hotbed for Poaching: The pages of the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette for the period in which we speak provided ample evidence and comment on the fact that the area in and around Costessey village, Norfolk was a hotbed for poachers, whether indivuals or large poaching gangs. The proximity of this area to the City of Norwich made disposal of ill-gotten game relatively easy. In return, the city itself was a fruitful source for recruiting poachers for the likes of the notorious “Cossey Gang” of that time. The city’s crowded yards and courts also provided excellent hiding places for planned poaching forays into the gaming preserves of the surrounding country estates.
“On Sunday the 31st ult at four o’clock in the morning, a gang of poachers, about fourteen in number, entered the plantations of the Earl of Buckingham, at Blickling. After they had fired thrice, the keeper and his watch, in all fifteen, came up with them, and an engagement ensued, when the poachers threw vollies [sic] of stones, and very much wounded one of the watch. The poachers, at length, finding themselves pressed, threatened fire, and did fire two guns, but, as is supposed, with powder only; soon after, however, they fired with shot, and wounded three of the watch, and then fled.”
(Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 20 January 1787)
In 1818 both Richard Harvey and David Banham of Costessey were imprisoned for poaching in Taverham. In the 1820’s the most frequently named offender in Costessey was a John Adcock. He was a ploughman, transported in 1827 to serve seven years as a convict labourer in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania); it would be most unlikely that he ever returned to Norfolk and his family. Adcock was transported despite a plea from Lord Stafford to the Home Secretary to let him serve his sentence in England. Adcock’s offence was for taking three pheasants at Costessey Hall, the property of Lord Stafford. Others poaching with him were Henry & James Harvey, James Edmunds, Thomas Paul and Thomas Riches.
The Heydon Hall Affray: It was on Monday, 11 December 1826, when there was much to-ing and fro-ing between Costessey and Norwich by men planning to do a bit of poaching that night. Five men went to the city in the morning and met up at Crook’s Place before taking a short walk to St Stephens to buy powder and shot. Two then went off to the Brickmakers on the Trowse Road in search of a further colleague, before returning and moving on the Eight Ringers in St Miles – it would seem that the process of ‘rounding up’ a party was in progress. From St Miles the party walked the short distance to St Augustine’s where they all had a further pot of beer before going outside.
A total of fourteen men gathered under a tree at St. Augustine’s Gates where they held a meeting to finalise a plan for what would turn out to be a poaching foray to Heydon Hall, some 14 miles north-east of the city. Those men who made up early numbers were (1) William Howes, aged 32, (2) Edward Baker, (3) William Elsegood, aged 28, (4) George Goffin, aged 30, (5) Richard Harvey, aged 27, (7) James Harvey, aged 20, (8) Thomas Paul, aged 26, (9) James Paul, aged 18, (10) William Olley, aged 34, (11) Thomas Skipper, aged 17, (12) John Catchpole, aged 26, (13) John Perry, (14 ) John General, and (15) Matthew Howlett (16) Richard Turner. More would join them at the Red Lion at Drayton. – Take note of the sequence of numbers against the names for later reference when each was sentenced.
It was while they were still at St Augustine’s that there was a realisation that they only had four guns between them and it was James Paul and John Perry who volunteered to return to Costessey to get more weapons whilst the other men moved on to the Red Lion at Drayton where they met up with (15) Matthew Howlett. Later, Paul, Perry, plus a sixteenth member, (6) William Skipper arrived to report that they had managed to get two more ‘nippers’ (guns). In total, sixteen men settled down in the Red Lion for an evening’s drinking before setting off for the Heydon Hall Estate for a night’s work.
Mary Howard was to remember Monday, 11 December 1826 long into the New Year and beyond. She was the Red Lion publican’s daughter who served behind the bar and generally kept order, particularly when her father was absent. She remembered most of the proposed poaching party turning up, at intervals, to kill time before moving on. Mary witnessed them ‘loosening up’ and generating increasing levels of noise. This included a drinking challenge of ‘downing the flincher’ over pots of beer, accompanied by the rider “b**** to the first who flinches”. Not everyone took part; James Paul, for one, refused to take part for he “would flinch”! As for John Perry, he proclaimed at some point well into the evening that he would bet “five shillings that he would not miss a shot that night”.
When the party eventually left the Red Lion public house, it was just before half past nine; they had some ten more miles to travel before they reached the Heydon Estate and their feather and fur quarry. The route was along the Attlebridge Road and then across country to Felthorpe where William Olley obtained a gun from a cottage and gave it to James Harvey. Seven men now had guns: Edward Baker, William Elsegood, John General, James Harvey, Richard Harvey, John Perry and William Skipper – the others armed themselves with stakes from a hurdle, broken off during their journey. From Felthorpe, they made their way to ‘Blackbridge Wood’, which was on the Heydon Estate and about a mile from the Hall itself.
The wood was large and surrounded a lake and boathouse before reaching almost as far as the gamekeeper’s ‘Bluestone Hall’ cottage which lay alongside the Holt to Norwich road and not far from Dog Corner. The poachers made certain that they were well clear of the gamekeeper’s cottage as they moved towards a nearby area where they hoped the game were roosting; but it was a bright moonlight night and they feared “the game birds would quickly fly”. Some nearby rooks had felt sufficiently disturbed to fly to more distant trees. But the poachers had arrived, they were committed to make the most of the conditions and they approached their task in a loose formation, with those armed advancing forward in front of those who only held stakes and bludgeons.
Somehow, suspicion had been aroused amongst Estate staff with the head gamekeeper, James Carman, organising a ‘Watch’ or ‘Posse’ which would assemble at his cottage; the party consisted of estate workers Phillip Brewster, William Southgate, William Spray, Richard Carmin and George West. It was just before midnight of the 11 December 1826 when a section of this party headed out towards Blackbridge Woods. No one had yet seen any intruders, nevertheless Carman went armed with a brace of pistols and a double-barrelled gun which he soon handed to William Spray at the cottage gate; the weapons were their insurance should ‘armed’ men be out there. All was still and quiet as they came within a furlong of the wood; then suddenly some crows flew and one in the party was immediately convinced that there was someone or other afoot amongst the trees. Carman’s first instinct was to dismiss the thought, on the basis that no one would poach on such light night. He soon changed his mind when a gunshot sounded – and then a second. Carman immediately drew his pistols and fired into the air so as to attract the attention of the remaining members of the Watch who were waiting back at the cottage. At the same time, he noticed several on the edge of the wood, one of whom recognised the gamekeeper and was heard to shout “That’s Carman” threatening to give him a ”damn good beating”, while another added ”We’ll shoot him out of the way”!
These last words were followed immediately with shots being fired in the direction of the gamekeeper, some of which Carman later claimed went “into his ear and eye and others into his hand”; however, this did not prevent him retrieving his gun from Spray and firing at the poachers. Poachers Richard Turner and James Harvey were on the receiving end of this volley with Harvey saying to Turner, ‘’Take hold of my gun, they have shot my eyes out”. What followed was Turner bandaging Harvey’s head with a handkerchief, then both being hit with yet another discharge from Carman. Poacher James Paul then came up and said that he also had been shot in the hand and face. Despite what appeared to be a one-sided confrontation, the Watch, to a man, ran off out of the wood and followed by the superior numbered poachers who had clearly taken the initiative. Watch member, William Southgate, was then knocked down with a stone and beaten by William Olley, that was until fellow poacher, William Elsegood, pleaded with him to stop or ”for God’s sake you’ll kill him”.
The poachers pursued James Carman and the Watch into Seaman’s Farm where, it was said, they hid under a manger in the stable while the poachers spent a full twenty minutes nearby searching for them and uttering threats throughout. The poachers then regrouped and departed for another wood nearby, said to be Newell Wood. There, they discharged their ‘nippers’ three or four more times. They then disputed whether to go back to Blackbridge Wood or cut their losses and go home. In the meantime, Carman and the Watch came out of hiding and on the way back to the Hall for reinforcements met the Hon. G.W. Edwardes, the third son of Lord Kensington, who was going down to Newell Wood where it was reported the poachers were. Poacher, Edward Baker, was the first to spot the now reinforced Watch, its advancing presence causing the poachers to run towards the shelter of a hedge and bank where they argued as to whether they should fight the Watch or retreat fast……
The Hon. Edwardes stood on the bank and apparently said ”What do all you people do here at this time of night” to which Richard Harvey replied ”Your people shot us at first, and if you do not stand back you will stand the chance of sharing the same fate”. It was later suggested that his reply was probably a reference to one of the poaching party, John General, who it is believed was fatally wounded earlier in the night when it was reported:
”one of the keepers being hard pressed, discharged his gun at this solitary poacher who immediately fell, and the short distance at which that person received the shot makes it probable that he must have been seriously, if not fatally wounded”.
Edwardes told them they had better not fire, but was almost immediately struck in the face by a stone thrown by Perry; this caused blood to flow from his mouth and nose. Edwardes fell on one knee and hand and as he was rising was shot by Perry and another poacher in the side and shoulder. In the return of fire from the Watch James Paul cried ‘’They have cut me all to pieces ” as he was severely wounded in the thigh. At this point, the poachers had enough of the exchanges and retreated, led by John Perry. The Honourable Edwardes’ servant ‘Ensor’ helped his master back to Heydon Hall……. On 17 December 1826, two bludgeons, two guns and a hat, ‘much shot through’ was found in the home of William Howes at Crook’s Place, Norwich.
It is not known how and when the poachers were apprehended by the authorities – but caught they were and were committed to trial at the Lent Assizes held in Thetford, Norfolk on 27 March 1827. The Judge presiding was Justice Sir Stephen Gaselee (1762 – 26 March 1839), justice of the Court of Common Pleas. It was said that Gaselee was the original of the irascible judge represented by Charles Dickens in the trial of Bardell v. Pickwick, under the name of Justice Stareleigh.
Those poachers appearing on the Charge Sheet were:
“(1) William. Howes, aged 32, (2) Edward Baker, aged 34, (3) William Elsegood, aged 28, (4) George Goffin, aged 30, (5) Richard Harvey, aged 27, (6) William Skipper, aged 28, (7) James Harvey, aged 20, (8) Thomas Paul, aged 26, (9) James Paul, aged 18, (10) William Olley, aged 34, (11) Thomas Skipper, aged 17, (12) John Catchpole, aged 26, (13) John Perry was severally indicted for shooting at and wounding the Honourable George Warren Edwardes, on the 12 of December last.”
Witnesses called and cross-examined included James Carman (gamekeeper), William Southgate (watch), Philip Brewster (watch), George West, Honourable G. W. Edwardes (Estate), William Spray (keeper), William Ireland (Farmer), (13) John Perry, (accused), (14) Richard Turner (gentleman’s servant and accomplice), and Mary Brown (Red Lion).
The prisoners said nothing in their defence with some having to rely on submitted ‘good references’. The Jury retired for barely twenty minutes to consider its verdict, and when it returned the verdict was ‘Guilty’, but with the equally unanimous recommendation for Mercy. The Judge responded by saying that this “should be communicated where it would meet with due attention……nevertheless, he must perform the painful duty his office imposed on them”. His Lordship then proceeded to pass the formal sentence of death upon the accused, but which subsequently was commuted to either transportation or prison. The fate of the 16 members of the ‘Cossey Gang’, of whom 14 actually stood trial at the Norfolk Assizes on 27 March 1827, was as follows:
Sentence to Death but Transported for life: The following were sentenced to death but with Royal Mercy were commuted to transportation on the ship “ASIA V”. This ship, of 523 tons, was launched in 1824 at Bombay. She carried 200 male convicts to Hobart and had two deaths en-route. She departed Portsmouth on the 17th of August 1827 and arrived at Hobart on the 7th of December 1827. Her Master was Captain Henry Ager and Surgeon: George Fairfowl.
(1) William Howes: Aged 32, native place Little Brandon, Norfolk and was a Groom and Coachman. He left behind a wife and children in Norwich. On his arrival ai Hobart, he was assigned to a Mr Seagrim and later served as a Constable. During his time, he committed five minor Colonial offences, being admonished or Ticket of Leave suspended 1 month. On 17 March 1836 Howes was sentenced to one-months Hard Labour on a road gang for being drunk and ‘striking his wife’! He received a conditional pardon on 24 May 1839.
(2) Edward Baker: Aged 34, native place Catton, Norfolk, farm labourer and brickmaker – worked for a Mr Blake. He left behind a wife and children in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart, Baker was assigned to a W. Gunn Esq., Supt of Prisoners Barracks at Bourbon Sorrell in the Drummond Parish. He was later admonished for insolence and drowned in the South Esk River on Thursday, 13 August 1835.
(3) William Elsegood: Aged 28, On arrival in N.S.W. was assigned to Sir John Jamison of Evans.
(4) George Goffin: Aged 30, native place Norfolk, ploughman and brickmaker. He left a wife in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart, he was assigned to Mr Phillip Pitt of Beaufort Parish. He committed no Colonial offences and was given a conditional pardon on 20 September 1837, with a Pardon extended to the Australian colonies on 12 August 1845.
(5) Richard Harvey: Aged 27, native place Costessey, Norfolk. He was baptised on 30 September 1798, son of Richard HARVEY and Sarah (Lovett), and left behind a wife, Susannah (Parnell) of Costessey and children Thirza and William at Costessey. On arrival at Hobart Harvey was assigned to Lieut. Hawkins and Mr Isiah Ratcliffe but later committed many Colonial offences, being sentenced to a variety of punishments, such as Tread-Wheel, Chain Gang, Working in irons, Imprisonment with hard labour, Solitary Confinement and Bread & water. Eventually he was given a ‘Ticket of Leave’ on 2 August 1836, conditional pardon on 10 May 1836 which was extended to Australian colonies 8 December 1846.
(6) William Skipper Aged 27, Native place Stoke, Norfolk. He left behind a wife Sarah and six children ‘on the parish’ at Costessey – William, Mary, Hannah, Isabella, Anthony and Anastasia. Skipper was sent to the Hulk ‘Leviathan’ on 27 April 1827, then transferred to the ‘Hardy’ on 28 May 1830. He was not transported but discharged with a Free Pardon on 30 June on the appeal of Lord STAFFORD to the Home Secretary. In the 1881 Census he was still living at 17 The Croft, Costessey as a widower.
(7) James Harvey: Aged 20, son of Richard Harvey and Sarah (nee Lovett) and baptised on 6 July 1808 at Costessey. Harvey was already under sentence of 7 years transportation for poaching in a plantation of Lord STAFFORD on the Costessey Hall estate, along with John Adcock and Thomas Paul on 25 Nov.1826. On arrival in New South Wales Harvey was assigned to Mr. Spark of Botany Bay.
(10) William Olley: Aged 34, native place Drayton, Norfolk, farmer, ploughman, malster and brewer. He left behind a wife and children ‘on the parish in Norwich. On arrival in Hobart he was assigned to Mr. Andrew Tolney in the Ormaig Parish and was once reprimanded for being absent from Church Muster. He received a Ticket of Leave in 1836 and a conditional pardon on 20 June 1840.
Sentenced to Death but commuted to a Gaol term: (8) Thomas Paul: Aged 26, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Bailey). He was baptised on 22 February 1802. His death sentence was commuted to 2 years in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.
(9) James Paul: Aged 18, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Bailey). He was baptised on 9 July 1806 and married Harriet Skipper on 26 October 1830. His death sentence was commuted to 4 months in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.
(11) Thomas Skipper Aged 17, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Thomas and Mary (nee Lakay) of Costessey. Baptised 4 Feb. 1810. His death sentence was commuted to a period in Swaffham Gaol, Norfolk.
Sentence to Death but commuted to 7 years transportation:
(12) John Catchpole: Aged 26 was sent to the Hulk ‘Leviathan‘ on 27 April 1827 with others. Nothing more was heard of him.
Sentence to Death but not in Custody: (13) John Perry: At the time of the trial Perry was not in custody although in the evidence it was seen that he was the ringleader. Nothing further has been discovered about him. However, on 18 September 1826 a child Ellen E. Perry, daughter of John Perry and Martha, was baptised at Costessey Church.
Believed Killed during the Heydon Affray: (14) John General: Newspaper reports of the time indicated that General may well have been fatally wounded and hence not charged. He was carried from the scene by his companions.
Sentence Unknown: (15) Matthew Howlett: He was with the gang at the Red Lion in Drayton but was not mentioned in the report of the affray. It would also seem that he was not charged.
Turned King’s Evidence: (16) Richard Turner: It was reported that Turner had been a gentleman’s servant for twelve months before who turned King’s Evidence; he escaped punishment. On 17 May 1828 a Richard Turner married Anne Simmons at Costessey, (witnesses John Pank and Anne Powell). A question was posed as to whether, or not, Turner had been planted in the gang!
Other Costessey Poachers transported to Australia: John ADCOCK: Aged 28, native place Costessey, Norfolk and son of Richard and Elizabeth (nee Cutler). He was baptised on 12 Nov.1797 and married Sarah Gurney of Costessey on 4 Oct. 1825. Children were Maria Elizabeth and Sarah Ann. Adcock was a farm labourer and ploughman. He was sentenced to 7 years transportation on 10 January 1827 for poaching in a plantation of Lord Stafford on the Costessey Hall estate, along with James Harvey (10) and Thomas Paul (11) on 25 November 1826. Sarah ADCOCK was on parish relief all through 1827. Adcock was transported to Van Dieman’s Land on the convict transport “Asia V ” on 17th August 1827. On arrival he was assigned to a Mr Anthony Geiss of Wellington Parish. On 11 March 1830 Adcock absented himself from his master’s service and was reprimanded. Around 1832/33 he was given a ‘Ticket of Leave’ and on 23 January 1834 a Free Certificate was issued. It is to Lord Stafford’s credit that he had appealed to the Home Secretary to have Adcock’s sentence remitted; however, the appeal was unsuccessful.
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Nearly four centuries separate the desecration, or violent disrespect, of two churches that once stood along Ber Street, in Norwich – namely the church of St Michael-at-Thorn and the church of St Batholomew. Read on:
Norwich’s ‘Berstrete’ was named after the Anglo-Saxon road which was the Northern Conesford sub-leet’s backbone. It ran along a ridge above a long slope which ran down to the river on the western side of the ridge; below, the Great Cockey ran through a natural valley. In time, the road became Ber Street, placing itself between present-day Queens Road and King Street. Ber Street formed one of two major routes into Norwich that ran through the Conesford area; the second was the Royal Conesford Way – the present-day King Street. Today, Ber Street is a fragmented mix of historical buildings and post-war WW2 industrial buildings; the result of a 1950/60’s slum clearance scheme which followed extensive war bomb damage.
Back in the Middle Ages, Norwich and Bristol were judged to be second to London in size. Consequently, Norwich still had 36 parish churches in its city centre when the Reformation took place; a couple were quickly demolished, but most lingered on into the 21st century. Over the centuries, the function of some parishes fell into disuse, but a surprising number were still parish churches of the Church of England within the minds of many Norwich people.
Any mention of Ber Street would be incomplete without mention of its medieval Gate, one of a series of gates that, together with an almost continuous wall, surrounded the city. Early references to Ber Street Gate, which was built on a corner of the city wall which runs southeast and southwest from the gate, are contained in documents from the reign of Henry III in the second and third quarters of the 13th century. The gate itself was demolished in 1808 but the street remained busy and densely populated and was known locally as “Blood and Guts Street”, due to its many slaughterhouses and butcher shops; also, because cattle were driven down the road into the city.
1. The church of St Michael-at-Thorn:
St Michael at Thorn was once the most central of Norwich churches but was lost in the World-War-Two blitz of January 1942. When it did exist, it stood about 200 metres south of St John Timberhill at the edge of the Ber St ridge, and overlooking the Wensum valley. Next to the church, on its south side, Thorn Lane led steeply downhill into King Street, but since the area was redeveloped in the early 1960s it now terminates at Rouen Rd. From the 1840s onwards the whole area between Ber Street and King Street was densely populated and consisted of many yards and courts leading off from Ber Street. This whole area was known locally as the ‘Village on the Hill’ and the three roads of Mariners Lane, Horns Lane and Thorn Lane, led into the district. It became the settlement for a small Italian community.
St Michael at Thorn was described by Ian Hannah as being only ‘partly built in 1430 but largely modern’. Completed, it consisted of a square west tower, nave with north aisle, a south porch, and a chancel. The original tower collapsed in 1886 and was rebuilt the following year. Sillett’s ‘Norwich Churches’, published in 1828, showed that the style of the Victorian work followed very closely to that of the old.
The historian Francis Blomefield, writing of St Michael at Thorn, said that it: “was anciently a Rectory appendant to the Castle, until the Conqueror gave it to FitzWalter along with St Martin at the Bale.” The church of St Martins, also known as St Martin-in-Balliva, once stood on a triangular piece of ground close by the entrance to Golden Ball Street – near to, what once was, the principal entrance to the barbican of the Castle. The apparent strange title of this church stemmed from it having been built within the bailey, which once was the outer courtyard of the castle. St Martins church was demolished in 1562 when the parish was united to that of St Michael at Thorn; and in the latter’s church registers, which date from that year, are records of burials of many of the criminals who were executed on the Castle hill. In 1926 a chapel in St Michael’s was dedicated to the patron saint of the Bale to perpetuate this association with St Martin’s.
With regard to the dedication – or rather the “surname” – of St Michael’s church, Blomefield mentions that it is:
“called in antient evidences, St Michael in Ber Street, and ad Spinas or at the Thorns, and even to this day, a very large Thorn remains growing in the Churchyard. I find it also in the most ancient Deeds called St Michael Super Montem, or St Miles on the Hill from its situation”.
Prior to the church tower collapsing in 1886, it contained only one bell; but John L’Estrange noted in 1874 that: “There were three bells here until about 1838, when the two largest were sold, to help to build a hideous north aisle, recently replaced by a much comelier structure. They are now the ‘first’ and ‘second’ bells at Bale, near Holt”. [making up a ring of 4 bells there, the oldest of which was cast c. 1440. This is the ‘second’ bell from St Michaels, and bears the inscription ‘Nobis Succurre Michael Raphael Gabriel Quaesumus’, – ‘Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, help us’. On the ‘first’ bell from St Michael’s is the inscription “Pack and Chapman of London Fecit 1777. John Spratt and Henry Warns Ch. Wardens.]”
The main entrance to St Michael’s was through the porch and south doorway; the latter was Norman probably the oldest remaining part of the building. Following its survival of the WW2 blitz, the doorway was dismantled and re-erected in St Julian’s church nearby, forming the inner doorway to Mother Julian’s cell.
When the doorway was ‘in situ’ at the former St Michaels, it was described as having a shaft on either side supporting a round-headed arch with cable and zig-zag ornaments, with one of the billets of an outer moulding carved into a queer little animal; then, according to White’s Norfolk directory of 1833, the door was then still in possession of its ancient ironwork. As for interior fittings, only an ancient octagonal font with shields survived the centuries. All the Victorian reconstruction woodwork was modern, including a fine roodscreen surmounted with a St Michael’s cross.
The bombs that fell in that January of 1942 left only the tower of St Michael’s standing, but removing a section of the parapet and the spirelets; the church itself was gutted, leaving only the eastern gable and the other walls at a lower level. Up to the day the church was lost, thorn trees grew in the churchyard, though perhaps not the same ones to which Blomefield referred. It was said that by the time the war ended, the thorn bushes that gave the graveyard its character and the church its name had quickly regrown through the rubble. The name of Thorn Lane is comparatively modern, for two centuries previously it was known as Sandgate, and it is a matter of speculation whether or not it was named after the nature of the soil there; in time the Lane was probably named after the thorns then flourishing in the neighbouring St Michael’s.
In the 1950’s, with redevelopment plans well formulated in the minds of the authorities, there was no way that St Michael was going to be rebuilt – or its tower kept as a landmark. St Michael’s was too close to other working churches to be needed, and was set in an area earmarked for industrial and commercial building. As things turned out, the site was completely erased with the church ruins, tower and thorn trees completely removed for the laying out of a car park for Archant House, the Eastern Daily Press building.
Simon Knott said in 2005: “It gives an idea of the ferocity of the blitz, as well as of the completeness of post-war Norwich planning, when I tell you that the two images below were taken from exactly the same spot. Robert Ladbrooke made his leisurely sketch in the 1820s. Some 180 years later, I risked my life and limbs to stand in the middle of Ber Street to take the same view of the site as it is today. I am obviously closer in time to the destruction of St Michael at Thorn than Mr Ladbrooke, but not a single building in this modern view, apart from perhaps those on the far horizon, was here when the church was”.
The Church of St Bartholomew: Southern Conesford was the long, straggly suburb to the south of Northern Conesford and the Norwich medieval city within the walls, but with an independent life of its own. The two Conesford sub-leets were amalgamated by mid-14th century, the likely result of a reduced population (and therefore the number of tithings) in the area. Subsequently, large areas of land were acquired by the Augustinians and Franciscans for their friary precincts. Conesford, as a whole, had nine medieval parish churches, as well as several monasteries, and was home to important merchants – the Pastons’ Norwich house was in Conesford, down on the the ‘Royal Conesford Way’ (King Street), the main road to London. Parallel to it, but high on the ridge to the west, sat Ber Street, leading out of the city centre to the Berstrete Gate in the city walls.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, this part of Norwich became home to warehouses and factories, a slum area of workshops and back-to-back terraces. As if in anticipation of this future development, St Bartholomew was desecrated in 1549 and abandoned; its two bells transferred to St John de Sepulchre – situated at the junction of Ber Street and Finkelgate. St Bartholomew itself once sat barely 100 metres south of St Michael at Thorn, its advowson belonging to the prior of Wymondham.
The church was to be used as a factory; then gradually, other buildings were built on to it, until almost nothing at all of the medieval exterior showed, and few would have ever known that the former church was there. All that was visible was part of the south wall of the nave. It was about this time when George Plunkett sketched, in his own hand, Claude Messent’s plan of the building as it was in 1931. Nineteenth-century houses had been built into the west end; the nave and chancel were part of Snellings factory, and against the north wall was a slaughterhouse.
George Plunkett’s fascination with Norwich churches led him to be ‘on the spot’ when the Norwich City Corporation began to clear the site in the summer of 1939. They really need not have bothered – and would have saved some money had they known that, two or three years later, the Luftwaffe would have done the job for them. As it was, the ramshackle lean-to buildings were torn away by the Corporation and the heart of a medieval church revealed – the blocked-up chancel arch, the Tudor arched interior window splays, and a brick south doorway. But now everything has gone and all that survived from the clearance is the rump of the tower which sits beside the Ber Street pavement. Unlike St Michael at Thorn, it was not a victim of war time bombing. Today, modern sheltered housing occupies the area where the St Bartholomew, the factory and the slaughterhouse once stood.
(The remains of St Bartholomew’s Church).
A few yards south along Ber Street from the site of St Michaels at Thorn a portion of St Bartholomew’s 15th century church tower still stands, its flint, brick and some stone dressings preserved among a block of new dwellings. To think that it was only brought to light in the 1930’s; in a sense, its preservation offers slight compensation for the total loss and disapperance of St Michael’s.
Finally, Simon Knott again adds: “St Bartholomew should not be confused with Norwich’s other medieval church of the same name. The other one was the parish church for Heigham, the area to the west of Pottergate and St Benedict, and is also a ruin today – but unlike the long-suffering St Bartholomew of Ber Street, the Heigham church really was gutted in the blitz”.
Steve Smith, author of ‘And They Loved Not Their Lives Unto Death: The History of Worstead and Westwick’s War Memorial and War Dead’, wrote the following article “5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment – The True Story” – it may shed some light on the fate of the Vanished Battalion.
This article is designed to tell the true story of what happened to the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment on 12th August 1915 at Kuchuck Anafarta Ova, Gallipoli, during World War One. Supported by recent research, it dispels many of the myths attached to the battalion including ‘disappearing into a cloud of smoke‘.
The first myth is that the 5/Norfolk’s were called the ‘Sandringham Battalion’ but this is not correct. It is incorrect because it recruited from all over North Norfolk, with companies being raised by towns as far apart as Great Yarmouth and Dereham. In fact what was known as ‘E’ Company (The Sandringham Company) ceased to exist on February 8th 1915, when during a major reform they converted to a 4 company battalion, merging with C Company to become ‘King’s Company’.
The second myth has to be covered by considering a number of claims:
A dispatch by Sir Ian Hamilton reported, ‘But the Colonel, with sixteen officers and 250 men, still kept pushing on, driving the enemy before them. … Nothing more was ever seen or heard of any of them. They charged into the forest and were lost to sight or sound. Not one of them ever came back.’
When the 50th Anniversary of Gallipoli came around in 1965, references to the Sandringham Company, Battalion and Regiment first started to emerge when three New Zealand veterans claimed to have seen a British regiment marching up a sunken road to be swallowed up in a cloud.
This led to other theories that they had been kidnapped by aliens who had landed in flying saucers and a book and TV adaptation depicted a highly charged new solution to the mysteries, suggesting they had been executed by the Turks.
We know that a number of the Norfolk’s managed to advance 1400 yards to a sunken road before stopping and awaiting the rest of the battalion. Second Lieutenant Fawkes commanded this small group and he was ordered to press on by the C.O. Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp. Virtually all of them were taken down when they bunched up in a gap covered by a machine gun.
A small element of the Norfolk’s managed to reach a small vineyard and another element managed to get to a group of small cottages where they were joined by Colonel Proctor-Beauchamp and the Adjutant. Beauchamp was seen by Private S T Smith to say ‘Hound them out boys!’ It was the last time he was seen alive and probably the last order he ever gave.
It was here that the surviving officers managed to take stock of what had happened and Major W Barton and Lieutenant Evelyn Beck led the survivors back to friendly lines when it became dark. And the mystery was, in fact, cleared up by the press very early on.
The local papers initially reported the loss of 5th Norfolk officers on 28th August 1915 and accounts from men who were there were published soon after, especially in the Yarmouth Mercury and the Lynn News. One article dated 27th August 1915 noted:
‘It is with the deepest regret that we publish the list of missing officers of the 5th (Territorial) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. At the time of going to press, no further information is available than the bare fact that they are missing.’
Hamilton’s dispatch did not appear until 6th January 1916 and on 7th January 1916 the Eastern Daily Press reported, ‘SANDRINGHAM MEN DISAPPEAR.’ The article went on to state that 16 officers and 250 men pushed deep into enemy lines and ‘…were lost from sight and sound. None of them ever came back.’ This directly quoted Hamilton’s after action report.
But on 15th February 1916 the Lynn News reported that one officer was now recovering from wounds in a hospital as a prisoner of the Turks in Constantinople and noted:
‘This news of Capt. Coxon will come as a relief to not only his friends but also to those who are still awaiting news of other officers and men of the 5th Norfolks. It is obvious that an officer in hospital would have greater opportunities for writing home to his friends than others who were not wounded but are prisoners of war.
And there is this excellent article printed in the Lynn News from a survivor:
‘I did not see anything of the missing officers after I got lost. I heard the Colonel call out when we approached the huts I have referred to, but I did not see him then. I did not hear him again afterwards. During the attack I did not see anything of Capt Pattrick. I did not see any wood into which the officers and men could have disappeared, and I certainly did not see them charge into a wood: in fact the Norfolks did not charge as far as my knowledge goes. I know absolutely nothing about how the officers and men disappeared. At first, like others, I thought that the officers and men who are now reported missing had returned to other trenches but later I found that this was not the case. I inquired a lot about them but all I could find out was that they had disappeared-vanished. We could only come to the conclusion that they had advanced too far, had been captured and made prisoners of war. We knew that some of the men had been killed and others been wounded, so it did not seem at all unlikely that these others had been captured by the enemy. I heard no news about the 5th Norfolks charging into a wood until I came home.’
Private Sidney Pooley 1/5th Norfolk Regiment.
As with countless engagements in World War One, the bodies of the men who fell that day did not have the luxury of a burial detail. In fact, they lay where they fell until 1919 when the battalion’s Chaplin the Reverend Pierrepoint Edwards found them and reported at the time:
‘We have found the 5th Norfolks – there were 180 in all; 122 Norfolk and a few Hants and Suffolks with 2/4th Cheshires. We could only identify two – Privates Barnaby and Carter. They were scattered over an area of about one square mile, at a distance of at least 800 yards behind the Turkish front line. Many of them had evidently been killed in a farm, as a local Turk, who owns the place, told us that when he came back he found the farm covered with the decomposing bodies of British soldiers, which he threw into a small ravine. The whole thing quite bears out the original theory that they did not go very far on, but got mopped up one by one, all except the ones who got into the farm.’
And the actual casualty list, recorded between 12th and 31st August 1915, is 11 Officers and 151 Other Ranks killed. This total comes from a database called ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’.
Supported by recent research, this article may perhaps help to clarify what actually happened to the 5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment and acknowledges their bravery and tenacity in the face of an extremely determined enemy.
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permissions to use another owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.
There is today, overlooking Norwich, a gem of a place which is free of urbanisation – although it is completely surrounded by roads, traffic, concrete and bricks. It is an area where there is freedom for trees, bracken, brambles, grass and weeds to grow, freedom for feet to ramble and for dogs to do what they normally do when let off the lead. This place once formed part of a much greater expanse of heathland that extended from the north-eastern bank of the River Wensum at Norwich, towards the villages of Salhouse and Rackheath way out into the County. It was once a large area maintained by grazing, but without such husbandry the trees grew tall and thick to produce woodland, now much frequented by walkers. Today, this area covers a mere 200 acres but is much appreciated by Norwich people as a welcome piece of open space. It is an island of green, known today as Mousehold Heath but in far off days there was a section of it that was called Thorpe Wood.
Within it, Long Valley makes one feel that Norwich is far away and that the only exciting thing that would happen below the deciduous canopy of Mousehold is for Robert Kett to emerge with the city’s authorities in hot pursuit. The wood’s deciduous canopy also does more than cushion objects of our imagination, it muffles the noise of vehicles on those roads that run circles around the area, including that odd little field or two set amongst the trees. It is a wood veined with sand and flint edged pathways that have been cut through ridges by centuries of feet; nice pathways, many of them through birches growing in shallow areas either side. Pick the right one, but avoiding bramble, rough undergrowth, burrs and ticks and you will find the site of a largely forgotten chapel; here the mind can get lost in time for that place is where the ‘St William’s Chapel in the Wood’ once stood.
The Chapel site covers just a small area, towards the edge of present-day Mousehold Heath – a short distance to the south-west of the junction of Gurney Road and Heartsease Lane. It was originally dedicated to St Catherine de Monte, way back in those far off days following the Norman Conquest; at that time, it served as a parochial chapel for the Norwich Cathedral Priory. Later, in fact on the 27 April 1168, it was re-dedicated to honour a new ‘martyr’ on the block – the boy William. Fast forward to some 380 years later and we find that this chapel was amongst those religious establishments dissolved by Henry VIII; and whilst the exact date of its demise is unknown, the last offering was recorded in 1506, and by 1556 the site had been leased out by the Dean as ‘The Chapel-Yard called St William in the Wood’. But that piece of information is something of a distraction for we need to retrace our steps back to March 1144. In that month, a despicable act was said to have taken place at, or near, the site of the chapel – It was Easter and not the best time for a murder – or a place to dump a body!
Get the detail right and the place will be a stark reminder of a disturbing and unpleasant moment that, they say, took place here. But take care; the way history works is not to run through the past in straight lines. As with many stories, and particularly with historical accounts, it is best to visualise them as being twisted flights, criss-crossing through time and place on a journey which runs the risk of turning the past into a ‘foreign country’ – where that which is written is far from factual – and the truth. The St William’s Chapel story may well fit into this category and, as with other historical stories, it doesn’t have one starting point. What we know or think we know about this story, is that parts of it are probably inaccurate, simply twisted by whatever thought or political/religious agenda was in place when the scribes pen was at work. Here we have Thomas of Monmouth to thank!
It is probably a safe thing to say that most people in Norwich are vaguely aware of William of Norwich, helped no doubt by a report in 2004 about 17 skeleton bodies which were found in a medieval well in Norwich, during the development of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre (see Footnote below). That report was clearly written for readers who like Time-Team programmes with their trowel and forensic archaeology. However, these sorts of people may not be aware of all the detail which, in William’s case, seems to suggest to some that he was a victim of a ritualised murder. Further, he was only a young lad of about 12 years of age who was an apprentice skinner and tanner, the first recorded apprentice in English history so they say. We are told that he died somewhere in Norwich on or around 22nd of March 1144 and it was on the 25th March that his body was found, mutilated on the heath close to, if not on the spot where the Chapel stood. Clearly, if he had been murdered elsewhere then his body would probably have been carried to the heath by horse to be disposed of.
Nobody truly knows who did the foul deed, or where, or even why; but, as ever, blame was quickly apportioned by the populace, egged on by the religious authorities and William’s family. Their collective finger pointed directly at the Jews of Norwich who, by the way, were protected by the Sheriff in the King’s name. Now, this is where politics vie with the powers of the church for front row seats, not forgetting that in the 12th century the King was Stephen. He not only had the church to deal with but also his cousin Matilda; they were both grandchildren of William the Conqueror and amongst all the others competing for a dominant position in ‘The Anarchy’ – which, basically, was a rather nasty tribal squabble about who controls England – not forgetting Normandy of course. Add to this the question of the Jews who started to come over in 1066, who had French as their mother language – and settled in Norwich. Big trouble was afoot!
Brother Thomas and his Version of Events: Enter Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk who resided in the cathedral priory in Norwich, having been “respectably educated” before he first arrived in Norwich around the year 1150. It would appear that very shortly after his arrival in the city Brother Thomas, (we’ll call him that from now on), began his long-winded investigating into the so-called ‘murder’ of the boy William. He began by taking notes in preparation for a narrative about William, and a plea for the boy’s martyrdom that he finally completed more than twenty years later, titled “The Life and Passion of Saint William of Norwich”. This account ended up as a multi-volume series with the final Volume 7 being completed around 1173. The first two volumes details William’s life and sufferings, with the remaining five volumes recounting the miracles the proposed saint was said to have performed after his death. According to E.M. Rose, in his book ‘The Murder of William of Norwich’ “Brother Thomas maintained that William was worthy of veneration and claimed him as an important patron for Norwich Cathedral”. but his claim was based on a writing that was nothing more than a treatise that was “an imaginative, emotional appeal rather than a presentation of forensic evidence”. It is thought that the original manuscript no longer survives, but a unique single contemporary copy resides in the Cambridge University Library.
In his quest, Brother Thomas claims to have set about interviewing as many of the surviving ‘witnesses’ as possible. These included people who he had already identified as being “converted Jews”; they, he would claim, provided him with inside information about events within the Jewish community. According to Brother Thomas, one particular ‘convert’, called Theobald of Cambridge, told him that there was a written prophecy which stated that the Jews would regain control of Israel if they sacrificed a Christian child each year. Every year, Jewish leaders met in Narbonne to decide who would be asked to perform the sacrifice; in 1144, the Jews of Norwich were assigned that task.
Since most information about William’s life and the resulting murder inquiry comes from Brother Thomas, it is difficult to distinguish the facts of the case from the story of martyrdom created around it by Thomas. It was he who devoted himself to the promotion of William to sainthood; even his opening sentence of Volume 1 reflects that both he, and presumably some of his contemporaries, believed that William’s death was preordained:
“The mercy of the divine goodness desiring to display itself to the parts about Norwich, or rather to the whole of England, and to give it in these new times a patron, granted that a boy should be conceived in his mother’s womb without her knowing that he was to be numbered among the illustrious martyrs”.
Was Brother Thomas proud that his adopted city of Norwich should be blessed with a suitable candidate for sainthood, despite the apparent horrible circumstances surrounding the young boy’s death? That’s how it may have been, but Thomas’s final narrative went on to build a case for William’s holiness based on the collected evidence, and arguing that he had been martyred by the Jews in a ‘ritual’ murder.
As things turned out, Brother Thomas was ultimately unsuccessful in getting William of Norwich canonized as a saint; however, but did succeed, for a time at least, in creating a cult around him in Norwich. But right from the outset of his endeavours, Thomas contended that he had received visions from the founding Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, who had died in 1119. According to Thomas, Losinga had told him in a vision that William’s body should be moved into the Chapter House of the monastery; however, Thomas had to battle with the sceptical Prior Elias, who was unconvinced of William’s sanctity. The body of William was in fact moved in the same year of Thomas’s arrival in Norwich. That year of 1150 was also the year in which Elias died, and by then the cult of William was established.
Circumstances Leading up to the Murder:
Brother Thomas stated that William had been born on 2 February 1132 and that his parents, Wenstan and Elviva, were a local Anglo-Saxon couple living on the outskirts of Norwich. His father died while William was still very young and it was left to Elviva, who had learned much from her own father, a priest, to educate William. Then, when William was eight years old, he was taken to a skinner, near his home, to learn a trade. Brother Thomas says:
“In a short time, he far surpassed lads of his own age in the crafts aforesaid, and he equalled some who had been his teachers”.
In time, William moved into the city to join the workshop of a prosperous master of the skin, fur and leather trade; an important industry in Norwich, which served the demand for clothing, shoes and bed coverings. Leather was the most hard-wearing fabric available, so leather jerkings, breeches, aprons and caps were the normal wear for most manual workers. It was the custom for young unmarried employees to live with their master, often being obliged to sleep on the shop floor in order to help protect the property from break-ins and thefts. The area that William moved into was the Jewry, to the east of Norwich Castle, which suggests that both Jews and Gentiles were accustomed to working and trading alongside each other.
In his book, Norwich – The Biography, Christopher Reeve writes:
“It could be imagined that William would be well liked by his fellow workers and neighbours, and also by the customers, some of whom would have preferred to deal with him when they brought their orders in for leather goods. If it was true that William had settled in so well then what happened next was all the more shocking……. the Jewish community believed that they would never gain freedom, or be able to return to their homeland unless they made an annual sacrifice of a Christian, so as to mock Christ. Where Thomas got this idea from is not known…….[or] whether or not he himself had a prejudice against Jews. Maybe it was simple malicious gossip from those who might have envied Jewish prosperity in the city”.
Shortly before his murder, William’s mother, Elviva, was approached by a man who claimed to be a cook, working for the Archdeacon of Norwich. He offered William a job in the Archdeacon’s kitchens and paid William’s mother three shillings to let him go. This must have been a very good offer for it came with the opportunity to earn more money and better prospects than if he stayed in the skin trade. William must have been delighted but, it is said, his mother had her doubts and asked her son not to go; however, William was determined and the messenger’s words were compelling to both mother and son, sweetened by a reward of ‘three shillings’ in return for the mother’s agreement. William later visited his aunt in the company of this same man but she was apparently suspicious when she heard the news and told her own daughter to follow William and this messenger after they left. The daughter was able to report that they returned to the area when William worked and went into a house belonging to Eleazar the Jew. This was the last time William was seen alive. It was Holy Tuesday.
According to Brother Thomas, the man who claimed to be a cook had been employed by the Jews to entice William into the house where the sacrifice would occur. There, William was initially treated well, but was then bound, gagged and suspended in a cruciform position in a room where he was tortured and murdered in a manner imitating the Crucifixion of Jesus: the Jews lacerated his head with thorns and pierced his side.
“having shaved his head, they stabbed it with countless thorn points, and made the blood come horribly from the wounds they made……… some of those present judged him to be fixed to a cross in mockery of the Lord’s Passion…………”
Brother Thomas said that the body was concealed until the Good Friday and claimed further that another converted Jew told him that there was an argument over how to dispose of the body afterwards. Nevertheless, two members from amongst those who had tortured William, did place his body in a sack and take it to the best hiding place they could think of – Thorpe Woods on Mousehold Heath. Unfortunately for them, as they entered the wood they met, we are told, Erlward, a Burgess and a citizen of note, who was returning from the church of St Mary Magdalen nearby. He challenged the two men, suspicious that they were up to no good. At this, the two Jews ‘in their terror…… made off at full gallop and rushed into the thick of the wood’.
Christopher Reeve again writes:
“It is said that Erlward did nothing further except continue on his way to his own home in the city. With the coast clear, the two Jews returned and simply hung the sack holding William’s body on a tree and galloped home, still in panic. Aware that there was now a witness to the disposal of the body, the Jewish leaders decided that they needed to obtain the protection of the City Sheriff, John de Caineto, who as the King’s representative, was obliged to act on the Jew’s behalf for they were his source of ready money. In return for a willing bribe offered by the Jews, de Caineto instructed Aelward not to divulge anything he might have seen in Thorpe Wood”.
Unfortunately, in that March of 1144 at least three persons had already discovered William’s mutilated body; one, a peasant, plus two prominent citizens – Lady Legarda and Henry de Sprowston, a forester and keeper of the Bishop’s stables. It seems that Lady Legarda, a Norman aristocratic nun, was the first to come across the cadaver, tangled as it was in the undergrowth and quite near a thoroughfare in Thorpe Woods. We are told that she took no responsibility in informing the authorities, as was required; instead, she quietly said prayers over the corpse before retreating to her convent. Later that day, the peasant also ignored the body, despite being well aware of his responsibility to report the find to the powers-to-be. Then, on 25 March 1144, Holy Saturday, Henry de Sprowston was riding through the woods in the course of his duties as guardian of all that was owned there by his ecclesiastical employers, the Norwich bishop and monks. Possibly to deflect attention from his own illicit activities, the same peasant [apparently] led Henry de Sprowston to the cadaver, but neither person recognised it as anyone they knew; what was clear however was that it was a young boy. The forester, because of his standing, instigated an inquiry into the death and while nothing came out of his investigation, the boy was identified as that of William, the apprentice leatherworker and son of Wenstan and Elviva.
It was noted at the time that William’s injuries suggested a violent death and that the boy appeared to have been gagged with a wooden ‘teasel’ and was wearing just a jacket and shoes. Maybe they speculated that this had been a sexual assault? After consultation with the local priest, it was decided to bury the body two days hence, on Easter Monday; the position of the grave would be where the body was found. In the meantime, some curious folk came to look at the body, a few recognising William. Then, the following day, being Easter Sunday, William’s uncle, brother and cousin arrived to confirm the identity of the dead youth before he was buried, but with proper but minimal ceremony and no elaborate marker. That was on Easter Monday.
Information about William and the resulting homicide inquiry comes only from Brother Thomas’s account which claimed to have pieced together what actually happened during that fateful Holy Week of 1144. Thomas seems to have set out to prove that William had been killed for his faith and therefore deserved to be ordained as a saint. He devoted most of his book not to the crime, but to the evidence for William’s sanctity, including mysterious lights seen around the body itself and miraculous cures affected on local devotees. Thomas admits that some of the clergy, notably the Prior Elias, were opposed to the cult on the grounds that there was little evidence of William’s piety or martyrdom. However, Thomas actively promoted the claims by providing evidence of visions of William and miracles.
As for the Christians of Norwich, they quickly blamed local Jews for the crime, then demanded justice from the local ecclesiastical court. Members of the Jewish community were asked to attend the court and submit to a trial by ordeal, but the local sheriff, John de Chesney, advised them that the ecclesiastical court had no jurisdiction over them, as they were not Christians. He then took the Jews into protection in the castle. After the situation had calmed down, they returned to their homes. In the meantime, William’s body had been moved to the monks’ cemetery. Later, it would be moved to progressively more prestigious places in the Cathedral, being placed in the Chapterhouse in 1150 and close to the High Altar in 1151.
As part of this promotion, images of William, as a martyr, were created for some churches, generally in the vicinity of Norwich. The above image shows a panel of painted oak, depicting both William and Agatha of Sicily, and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; William is shown holding a hammer and with three nails in his head. The panel was formerly part of a rood screen at the Norwich Church of St John Maddermarket. The screen was commissioned by Ralph Segrym who died in 1472, a merchant who became a Member of Parliament and Mayor of Norwich. Another rood screen in St Mary’s church, Worstead also depicts him holding nails. One in Loddon depicts William being crucified.
As it was, William’s death was never satisfactorily solved and the local authorities would therefore not convict anyone – simply because there was no proof. There the matter apparently rested, that is until a Brother Thomas came along, some six years later, and got caught up in the clergy’s idea of establishing a cult around the death of William with a motive which must have been partly pecuniary. It was William de Turbeville, Bishop of Norwich between 1146 and 174 who encouraged Brother Thomas to write his book as a precursor to the church achieving its aim. It turned out to be an extensive hagiography work; Volume 7 being completed in 1173. Clearly, it was designed to deify the boy and to blame the Norwich Jews for what became Britain’s first ‘Blood Libel’ – the idea that Jews use the blood of the murdered, usually Christian, children in Passover rituals to make bread – no more need be said!
The Aftermath: As a result of the feelings generated by the William ritual murder story and subsequent intervention by the authorities on behalf of the accused, the growing suspicion of collusion between the ruling class and Jews fuelled the general anti-Jewish and anti-King Stephen mood of the population. After Brother Thomas’s version of William’s death circulated a number of other unsolved child murders were attributed to Jewish conspiracies: – This evolved into the so-called Blood Libel.
The horrific death of William of Norwich at the hands of an unknown became an appalling beginning for future propaganda exercises in many other parts of Britain and across Europe which used murdered children by unknowns, some of whom, as with William, became the subject of veneration. Proof of William’s veneration can be found in Norwich Cathedral, in a small chapel less than a stone’s throw from the choir stalls. It’s not an exciting place, wood lined and with a few chairs; seemingly out of place within the Cathedral’s splendour but comfortably near the tombs of old bishops. As someone said elsewhere, this is where the story starts to get really nasty. William is said to be buried here, after being moved several times in the church’s attempt to get William away from Thorpe Wood and nearer the high alter. The answer is all very simple; saints bring pilgrims and pilgrims bring money!
According to Emily M. Rose in her book ‘The Murder of William of Norwich’:
“William of Norwich, in particular, has received a considerable amount of attention, ever since the full text of his story was discovered in a Suffolk parish library at the end of the 19th– century by the antiquarian M. R. James, who edited and published an influential translation with Augustus Jessopp, an honorary canon of Norwich Cathedral. Brother Thomas’s ‘Life and Passion has now been re-translated for a modern readership, including passages that the fastidious Victorian translators passed over.”
In 2004, the remains of 17 bodies were found at the bottom of a medieval well in Norwich. They were discovered during an excavation of a site in the City’s centre, ahead of the construction of Chapelfield Shopping Centre.
According to the scientists, carrying out the investigation, the skeletons dated back to the 12th or 13th Centuries, at a time when Jewish people were facing persecution in Norwich and, indeed, throughout Europe. In their opinion, the most likely explanation for them being down the well were that they were Jewish and probably murdered or forced to commit suicide. Pictures taken at the time of excavation suggested the bodies were thrown down the well together, head first.
Using a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies in their investigation, the team established that eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between 2 and 15; the remaining six were adult men and women. Out of the total found, seven skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.
A close examination of the adult bones showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the bottom of the well. But the same damage was not seen on the children’s bones, suggesting they were thrown in after the adults who cushioned the fall of their bodies.
The team had considered the possibility of death by disease but the bone examination also showed no evidence of diseases.
Medieval Jewish History:
1066: The Norman Conquest opens the way to Jewish immigration. The monarchy needs to borrow money and Christians are forbidden to lend money at interest. London, Lincoln and York become centres for substantial Jewish populations.
1100s: Resentment against the Jewish community grows over their perceived wealth and belief they killed Jesus. The “blood libels” – Jews are accused of the ritual murder of Christian children.
1190: Many Jewish people massacred in York. In Norwich they flee to the city’s castle for refuge. Those who stay in their homes are butchered.
1230s: Executions in Norwich after an allegation a Christian child was kidnapped.
1272: Edward I comes to the throne and enforces extra taxes on the Jewish community.
1290: Edward I expels the Jews en masse after devising a new form of royal financing using Christian knights to fill the coffers.
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.
Had World War Two not happened then we may never have heard of him. But it did happen and for a short while his name hit the headlines thanks to the investigative skills of the local newspapers. The local press built a story on the unselfish nature, courage and deeds of this lad and the award that he sunsequently received from a King.
The lad’s name was John Grix, was born in 1927 and living with his parents at 79 City Road, Norwich at the time of the conflict. As an aside, his grandfather was William Grix who once ran a restaurant in the city. John was one of five children and when of age attended St Mark’s Senior Boys School on Hall Road in Lakenham. This was a 19th century-built school, erected in 1897 at a cost of £3,000; its main benefactor and instigator at the time was the Vicar of St Marks, the Reverend Prior Whalley. The Reverend was said to have contributed £1,000 of his own money to the building fund and also provided the entire cost of the school furnishings, estimated to have been £130. He apparently died a poor man but helped establish a school where the ethos prepared many of its pupils who later went on to fight in the First World War of 1914-18; plaques dedicated to some of them in the local church bear witness. Amongst those heroes, and with his own memorial in the city centre, was a Sidney Day who won the Victorious Cross.
From St Mark’s, John Grix moved on to the Technical School, whilst also a chorister at St Peter Mancroft Church and a scout leader attached to that church. Additionally, he applied to join the Civil Defence Messenger Service (SDMS), operational because of the War. John’s application in this respect may well have come about because, during World War II, Boy Scouts in Britain were called upon to serve as volunteers in civil defence. It was believed at the time that Scouts, due to their training and qualifications, would be ideal, stressing that during an emergency, means of communications could be disrupted and that written messages might be the only means of communication.
It has been said that the boys in the Civil Defence Messenger Service never received the credit that they undoubtedly deserved, at a time when they risked their young lives, racing across the city and suburbs on their cycles, past burning buildings and falling masonry to deliver vital messages. These riders had to operate with two-wheeled machines which often had to function with flat tyres, caused by strewn glass and debris; as bombs rained down, such riders were regularly thrown off. Those on the front line, such as the firemen and police officers who fought to put the fires and control the civil population, often relied and acted upon the vital information which was delivered to them by the members of the messenger service.
Then there was the feeling that no-one would ever know the exact number of lives the CDMS helped save during the Baedeker raids of April 1942, but it was established that more than 200 men, women and children died over two nights in that April and that many more lost their homes. As the movement grew, women also played their part, motor-cycles arrived and its headquarters were relocated at Chapel Field East. In total, there was said to be around 200 boys and 30 girls who were members of the Civil Defence Messenger Service in Norwich. It was an organisation where officialdom had decreed that the lads so employed must be aged between 16 and 18; but, for the quiet and modest John Grix, clearly keen to join and ‘do his bit’, he quickly invented another birthday which placed him in the 16-year-old bracket – he was readily accepted!
Pamela Brooks wrote in her book ‘Heroes, Villains and Victims of Norwich’ about John Grix:
“His actions in Norwich during the Blitz were incredibly brave, particularly as he had fibbed about his age so that he could become a member of the Civil Defence; he was only 15 at the time. As a member, as the air-raid sirens sounded and people took cover, Grix rode off on his bicycle to the report centre to await orders. He took messages to the firemen, even though the incendiary bombs were falling around him. On one occasion he was passing a factory when acid was sprayed from the windows and burned his hands; he didn’t tell anyone he was hurt and continued taking messages instead. And, he didn’t stop when the air raid was over; he helped rescuers among the ruins. He slept overnight at the report centre and was out again on the second night of the raid – he kept taking messages, even though he was blown off his bike five times.”
Whether one should believe that it was the local newspaper which told John Grix that he was in line to receive an award, or whether it was by way of a formal letter telling him that he was going to received the British Empire Medal (BEM), is not important. What was important was the fact that by being told by the Regional Commissioner, Will Spens, that he, John Grix, had acted ‘with courage and determination’ the way was being cleared for King George VI, during his surprise visit to Norwich in October 1942 when he referred to the feeling that ‘all these messengers should be remembered and applauded’. In particular, he spoke to John Grix and added his own congratulations, plus the comment “I understand you are only 15”. The wool had not been pulled over the eyes of the authorities!
John Grix could not serve his country in the armed services for several reasons, they included his true age, the injuries he received while serving in the CDMS, plus the unfortunate circumstances of losing one of his lungs. Instead, he went on to work at Laurence Scott & Electromotors for most of his remaining life, interrupted only by a period when he and his brother ran the Lings hardware shop in White Lion Street of the city. He married, and with his wife had two sons, Stephen and Ian. John Grix died in 1990 at the age of just 63 years.