Mr Marten Visits Norfolk!

By Haydn Brown

This blog revises and adds to a previous blog, titled: Mr Marten Pays a Visit to Norwich!

Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.

Mr Marten (Steam Packet )1
An illustration of a typical steam packet that plied its trade along the east coast of England, bringing on at least one occasion, a certain Mr Marten to Norfolk.

Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.

Mr Marten (Family Gathering)
An English family at Tea by Van Aken. Painting and Image: Tate Britain

The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson.  The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.

He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business,  he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.

Mr Marten (Home Plaistow)
Mr Marten’s  ‘Broadway House’ at Plaistow. Image: Credit Elizabeth Larby/Sarah Murden

By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.

When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children.  It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth)2
Yarmouth Jetty after 1823; a view that Mr Marten would have recognised. By John Constable. Image: Tate Gallery.

Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth from Gorleston_William Daniells_Tate)
Yarmouth from Gorleston by William Daniell 1769–1837. Tate Gallery T02936.

On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.

Mr Marten ( Yarmouth Steam Packet)
The steam packet departing Yarmouth for Norwich by John Crome. Picture: Archant Archives

It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.

Mr Marten (Foundary Bridge)2
Foundry Bridge in the 1820’s, the point of Mr Marten’s arrival in Norwich. Painted by Robert Ladbooke (1768 – 1842) . Norfolk Museums Service.

Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.

Mr Marten ( Princes Street Independant)1
Princes Street Independent Chapel, built 1819.
Mr Marten ( St Marys Baptist)1
The present-day ‘Norwich Central Baptist Church’ (formerly St Mary’s Baptist Church). Photo: Evelyn Simak.

Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:

“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”

Mr Marten (Norwich cathedral)
Sillett, James; Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk; Norfolk Museums Service;

Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:

“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”

Mr Marten (Joseph_Kinghorn)
Joseph Kinghorn, Preacher.
Mr Marten (Old Meeting House)1
The Old Meeting House, Colgate, Norwich. Photos: (c) George Plunkett.

On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:

“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.

Mr Marten (Norwich)1
View of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. By John Walker after Charles Catton junior, Norwich. Engraving from The Itinerant, published 1 March 1792
British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum.

However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.

“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”

Mr Marten (Silk Weaving)1
Female silk weavers at work in 1893. The industry in Norwich was founded by Huguenot refugees – ‘Strangers’  ( Getty Images )

“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”

Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:

“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.

Mr Marten (Flint_st-miles-coslany)
Flint work in and around a replica window motif at St Michael (Miles) Coslany, Norwich. Photo: Courtesy of Reggie Unthank.

Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:

“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”

Mr Marten (Norwich Prison)1
The former Norwich Prison; under construction during Mr Marten’s visit to the city in 1825.

Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:

“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”

Norfolk Hotel (c1820)

Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:

“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”

THE END

Sources:
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012
Reeve, Christopher, (pages 169-172) Norwich The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Norwich Record Office. 
https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/01/15/pleasure-gardens/
Photo (Feature Heading): The Yare at Thorpe, Norwich. circa 1806 by John Crome.
The George Plunket photographs are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.
Robert Humphrey Marten | Morgan Web Site (morganfourman.com)
https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/a-georgian-tourist-the-1825-travel-diary-of-robert-humphrey-marten-revealed/

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.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
Also:
If this blog contains any inappropriate information please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for review.

He Witnessed ‘Proclamation Day’!

John Michael Skipper was born on 12 July 1815 at Norwich in the County of Norfolk, England, the eldest son of John and Jane Skipper; his father was a solicitor in the city and his mother, Jane, was the sister of James Stark the artist and a member of the acclaimed Norwich School of Landscape Painting.

John Skipper (norwich-grammar-school)

John Skipper was educated at the Norwich Grammar School where he did well at classics and modern languages. It had always been intended that he would enter the law in some capacity or other, but he was more interested in art and was keenly encouraged to pursue this path by his uncle, James Stark. In time, further distractions caused him to abandoned his studies to become a midshipman with the East India Company; and in 1833 at the age of 18 years, he joined the Company’s sailing ship ‘Sherbourne’ outward bound for Calcutta. By the time he returned to English shores some months later, he had decided to emigrate to Australia.

John Skipper (Charles Mann)
Charles Mann (1799-1860), by unknown artist. Image: State Library of South Australia.

As part of his plans to settle on the other side of the world, Skipper arranged to be articled to Suffolk-born Charles Mann, the newly appointed South Australian Advocate-General who, at the time was still in London, having not yet taken up his appointment; he was to do so when he sailed in the Coromandel to Australia in the latter half of 1836 where he arrived at Holdfast Bay on 12 January 1837. John Skipper had already sailed to the new Colony in the barque Africaine, along with 99 other passengers of mixed circumstances, having arrived at Holdfast Bay on 6 November 1836. During the voyage, he sketched and painted scenes both on board and beyond.

John Skipper (Africaine)
The ‘Africaine’

The ‘Africaine’:
This three-masted barque of 317 tons, was the First Fleet’s seventh settler ship to drop anchor in the new Colony and the first to disembark emigrants at Holdfast Bay (Glenelg). The ship was a fairly new vessel having been built in 1832 in Newcastle, England and was originally destined to sail to Canada. It was also the first privately owned ship to bring fare-paying settlers to South Australia from the United Kingdom and was chartered by the South Australian Company, leaving London in June 1836. The ship’s newly married skipper, Captain Duff, joined her at Deal on 1 July together with his bride. This made 99 souls on board – within four months the number would total 100. Amongst this number were two government officials, Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger, Emigration Agent John Brown and his wife, plus the 58 fare-paying ‘new settler’ individuals, some of whom with wives and children. The ship was however plagued by controversy, drama and loss of life not usually associated with such a voyage.

John Skipper (Robert_Thomas)
Portrait of Robert Thomas, (newspaper proprietor). Wikipedia.

Besides carrying passengers, provisions, bricks and building materials, the Africaine also carried a Stanhope Invenit No. 200 printing press which belonged one of the passengers, a Welsh newspaper proprietor and printer  Robert Thomas (More of him and Skipper’s relationship with his family later). Suffice to say here that Thomas was to establish South Australia’s first newspaper, the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register; to do this, he had not only brought along the essential printing press, but also the necessary staff to operate his proposed business; his employees included Robert Fisher, aged 21 years, printer; Joseph Augustus Hill, aged 16, printer; E W Osborne, 19, printer; Frederick Whitman, 17, printer; Andrew Jacobs, 29, labourer; James Windebank, labourer; and Mary Littlewhite, 21, servant.

John Skipper (first-stanhope-press)
A Stanhope Invenit No. 200 printing press, similar to the one which Welsh newspaper proprietor and printer, Robert Thomas, took to Australia – the first printing press to be used on the continent. Public Domain.

As for living facilities for the duration of the voyage, the Barque Africaine did offer some comfortable accommodation. The best cabins, above the deck at the stern, were for the Captain John Duff, (the ship’s joint owner along with Thomas Finlay), and Robert Gouger and wife Harriet. Forward of them, with less headroom, were the intermediate passengers’ cabins. An open area with tiers of bunks was for assisted emigrants in third class. It is not known where John Skipper was accommodated but, given his family’s circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that he was a fare-paying passengers – and thus reasonably near to Robert Thomas and his family.

John Skipper (Francis Amelia Thomas)
Sketch of Frances Amelia Skipper (nee’ Thomas) as appeared in the book ‘Hints on Self-Examination’ by the Rev. Hugh Stowell. Artist: John Michael Skipper 1842.

It was this particular one-way voyage for Skipper which brought him into the company of the Thomas’s for the first time; they were a family whom he never knew before the Africaine set sail, but it was with them that he was to cement a close relationship – and particularly with one daughter, Frances Amelia. Those of the Thomas’s on board comprised of Robert Thomas, his wife Mary (nee’ Harris) a poet and Diarist and their eldest daughter, Frances Amelia – whom Skipper was to marry on 28 December 1839 – the third anniversary of the colony’s ‘Proclamation Day’ – more of that later. There were also the Thomas’s younger children of Mary and William Kiffin Thomas; his name ‘Kiffin’ originated from a place name in Wales; a Welsh word “cyffin” also means “limit” or “confine.”

John Skipper (africaine-2)
Life aboard the Africaine on its voyage to South Australia in 1836, depicted by John Michael Skipper, heading to the colony to be articled to its first advocate general and crown solicitor Charles Mann.
Images courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia and State Library of South Australia

It was both John Skipper and Mrs Mary Thomas who were to document life on board the Africaine, including the conflicts which broke out from time to time, plus one particular tragedy that happened on arrival; Mary wrote in her Diary and Skipper sketched. It was from Mary that we are aware that she clashed with the ship’s surgeon, Dr Charles Everard; on the other hand, she was ‘much taken’ with the treatment received from “kind-hearted” Irish doctor, John Slater. We discover however that this man was prone to outbursts of temper. One day on board he shut himself up in his cabin with a loaded pistol, threatening to shoot anyone who disturbed him. Robert Thomas’s printer apprentice E.W. Osborne, managed to calm Slater on this and other occasions throughout the voyage.

John Skipper (Africaine)2
Illustration of the ‘Africaine’ in the Indian Ocean on 12 October 1836 on its voyage to South Australia as part of the First Fleet. By John Michael Skipper.

One wonders what sort of relationship Osborne and Slater had, for it was these two who died together! It happened thus: When the Africaine arrived at Cape Borda on the Kangaroo Island’s north side on 4 November 1836, and after 133 days at sea, Thomas’s apprentice, Osborne and Dr Slater, along with Charles Nantes, John Bagg, Richards and Richard Warren, set out to walk south and meet the Africaine at Kingscote. This trek was despite Captain Duff’s reservations – but with Robert Gouger’s blessing. In fact, it was Gouger who actively encouraged both young Osborne and Slater to join this escapade. Unfortunately, as events turned out, all six men became lost in the Bush and, after several days of having used all their food and water and worn through their boots, only Nantes, Bagg, Warren and Richards reached the settlement – Osborne and Slater were never seen again and their bodies were never recovered!

The Africaine then sailed via Kingscote and Rapid Bay to arrive, in bad weather, at Holdfast Bay on 8 November 1836. The rough weather delayed the landing and small boats belonging to the ‘Cygnet’ had to get passengers off the Africaine and to the sand bar closest to the shore. From there, women and children were carried on the sailors’ shoulders to the beach. These difficulties in landing the first immigrants were to influence Colonel Light’s proposal for a jetty. It was passenger, Robert Fisher, in a letter he was to publish in the newly established newspaper later that:

” Captain Duff had no right whatever to land the passengers the way he did, much less to have treated us with the cool inhumanity he did after our safe arrival. Nor ought Mr Robert Gouger have urged such a mad-headed project, then be the first to decline to be carried on sailor’s shoulders to the beach”.

John Skipper (Tents)
The Settler’s were first housed in tents and reed huts as depicted by John Michael Skipper in 1836.

Once on shore, all the settlers were housed in tents and some built reed huts; also, many were not without health problems. Some years after they had disembarked from the Africaine, a daughter of Robert Thomas, named Mary after her mother, wrote:

“…. our eyes became affected with ‘ophthalmia’ [conjunctivitis] (prevalent amongst many of the settlers, natives and dogs).”

Her own son, William became totally blind on Sunday while attending Devine Service in the open air and was led back to their tent by his brother. Mary, herself was nearly blind for the next three days and could scarcely find her way about.

As for the 317 ton three-masted barque Africaine, the First Fleet’s seventh settler ship to drop anchor in the new Colony, well, she was wrecked in a storm at Cape St Lawrence in 1843 with the loss of two of her crew. She was on a voyage from South Shields, County Durham to Quebec, Canada.

John Skipper had witnessed much during his journey from his home in Norwich, Norfolk to his arrival near to where Adelaide would be established. He too lived in a tent as he began the long journey to establish new roots; presumably he also experienced the same deprivations as with every other new settler during this time. One may also wonder if he ever assisted Robert Thomas in setting up accommodation in which his printing press would be housed. Thomas’s wife Mary enlightens us on this point by way of ‘The Diary of Mary Thomas, which she would publish later. In it is the following extract which says:

“About 20 December 1836, we built a rush hut a short distance from our tents for the better accommodation of part of our family…… and in this place (about 12 feet square) the first printing in South Australia was produced.”

No mention is made of John Skipper but it would have been surprising if he had not been near at hand, particularly if Frances Amelia was present.

Proclamation Day:
Speed was of the essence when it came to getting Southern Australia’s early printing press up-and-running; it would be needed in the preparations for the Colony’s inaugural ‘Proclamation Day! – which happened barely 7 weeks from the 8 November 1836 when John Skipper and the rest of the new settlers first set foot on land.

John Skipper (The_Proclamation_of_South_Australia_1836)
The Proclamation of South Australia, 1836 by Charles Hill, , Art Gallery of South Australia

Proclamation Day in South Australia celebrates the establishment of government in South Australia as a British province – by the way, this process did not come about in just one day. The province itself was officially created and proclaimed back in 1834 when the British Parliament passed the South Australia Act, which empowered King William IV to create South Australia as a British province and to provide for its colonisation and government. It was ratified on 19 February 1836 when King William issued Letters Patent establishing the province.

John Skipper (OLd Oak Tree)

The Proclamation announcing the establishment of Government, and of which we now speak, was made by Captain John Hindmarsh beside The Old Gum Tree at the present-day suburb of Glenelg North on 28 December 1836 and in the presence of all the new settlers, including John Skipper who painted the scene which shows The Old Gum Tree and Gouger’s tent and hut, supporting the view that the bent tree is the genuine site of the ceremony. Interestingly, the proclamation document had been drafted aboard HMS Buffalo by Hindmarsh’s private secretary, George Stevenson and, unsurprisingly, it was printed by non-other than Robert Thomas on his newly imported Stanhope printing press, housed in a 12 x 12-foot reed hut. It may no doubt be surmised that, from the quilled text of the final proclamation text provided to him by the officials, it was Thomas himself who made a more striking layout for print and the public.

Within the legal field in which John Skipper found useful employment he continued to maintain his association with Charles Mann and also with E. C. Gwynne, particularly during the years 1836-43. In March 1840, maybe with the support of these two gentlemen, he was admitted as an attorney and proctor of the South Australian Supreme Court, practising between 1843 and 1851; he then joined the rush to the Victorian goldfields and returned in 1852 with many sketches – but little gold. In 1852-72 he was clerk of the court at Port Adelaide. After the death of his wife, Frances Amelia, he married her younger sister Mary on 28 April 1856.

Chiefly remembered as an artist, Skipper combined a lively mind with acute observation and a natural and cultivated skill with some aesthetic sensibility. His sketches and paintings of the landscape, the flora, fauna and Aboriginals of South Australia, and of the streets, buildings, people, way of life and notable events of Adelaide are of some artistic quality, but great historical interest. Most of his drawings and paintings are small, though his oil on canvas, ‘Corroboree’, painted in 1840 measures 106 by 152 cm. He illustrated records of some of Charles Sturt‘s expeditions from descriptive notes lent him by the explorer. He also illustrated copies of journals of his voyages and of South Australian almanacs, embroidering margins with drawings of minute delicacy. Most remarkable is his illustration of his personal copy of G. B. Wilkinson’s South Australia with about 360 tiny marginal sketches, including personal comments, reminiscences and puns.

John Skipper (Almanac)
Skipper’s personal copy of the 1841 South Australian almanac including his own drawings, with very brief notes and captions in the margins. State Library of South Australia.

John Skipper retired in 1872 and lived on a small pension on his farm at Kent Town, now an inner urban suburb of Adelaide, where he died on 7 December 1883. Surprisingly, for a man with a legal background, he never made a Will. He was survived by three sons and four daughters; his eldest son, Spencer John Skipper (1848-1903), was a journalist and satirist in Adelaide.

John Skipper (Spencer_John_Skipper)
Spencer John Skipper (1848-1903),

THE END

Sources:
https://adb.anu.edu.au/
BOUND FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA – by DIANE CUMMINGS (slsa.sa.gov.au)
AdelaideAZ
Proclamation Day 28th December ppt download (slideplayer.com)
Proclamation Day – Wikipedia

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.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
Also:
If this blog contains any inappropriate information please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for review.

The Not So Perfect Prior Catton!

By Haydn Brown.

 Robert Catton [otherwise known as Bronde], was Prior of Norwich before becoming Abbot of St Albans. His exact date of birth is not known, although it has been said that he was probably born sometime in the 1470’s and died between 25 April 1552 and 7 July 1552.

According to Francis Blomefield, he was the son of John and Agnes Bronde of Catton, a manor some 3 miles north-east of Norwich which John held and which his son retained during his prelacy. The Brondes were also prominent in Norwich, where the Cathedral’s Trinity altar was popularly named for them. Robert Bronde, whose name in religion links him with his likely parish of origin, entered the Cathedral Priory as a novice at the beginning of the 1490s. He is first identified in its records in October 1492 during an episcopal visitation; positioned forty-fourth in seniority in a convent of forty-six.

Robert Catton (Priory & Cathedral)
Norwich Cathedral Priory in 1150. This picture is computer generated and based on historical records and drawings. The Cathedral and the Priory buildings, also known as a monastery, are joined together. Image: Norwich Cathedral.

He was sent to study at Cambridge University in 1494–5, and was supported there for the next seven academic years, from around 1495 to 1502. Such an unbroken period at university was unusual for a monk and may reflect a particular aptitude for advanced study, although there is scant evidence of a commitment to learning in Catton’s later career. His Will refers to only a single book—a copy of an unspecified work of Archbishop Antonius of Florence. Other surviving manuscripts inscribed with the name Robert Catton have been connected with another Norwich monk of the same era.

In March 1499, Robert Catton returned to the Priory in Norwich to be presented for ordination and remained there to participate in an ‘episcopal visitation’; this is the Bishop’s official pastoral visit to the congregation of the diocese. Canon law requires every diocesan bishop to visit every congregation in his or her diocese at least once every three years. The canonical purposes of a visitation is for the bishop to examine the condition of the congregation, oversee the clergy, preach, confirm, preside at the eucharist, and examine parochial records. This also assumes that the bishop’s visitation will be an occasion for baptism, and that the bishop will preside.

By now Catton was thirty-sixth in seniority. He was elected Prior at an unrecorded date after 29 September 1504, without having held any other office. But like many superiors of this period, during his administration he arrogated to himself the rights, and presumably also the responsibilities, of a number of conventual offices. He took the office of sacrist on no fewer than five occasions around 1504, 1511, 1517, 1522 and 1525. He also held the ‘Mastership of the Cellar’ four times, retaining it for six months after he had vacated the priorate in 1530, presumably as a means of support during his hiatus in office! For a decade from 1512 he was also Prior of the dependent cell of St Leonard’s Priory, on the northern edge of the city.

Robert Catton (Pulls Ferry with St Lenards Priory )
Pull’s Ferry with St Leonard’s Priory in the distance. By Charles Catton. Norfolk Museums Service.

A candid portrait of Catton’s rule is evident in the ‘episcopal visitation’ of 1514 which reported abuses in governance, such as the misuse of the conventual seal, and the neglect of the annual audit of the accounts of the obedientiary officers. Their accounts of conventual life complain of numerous infringements of regular discipline, including the inappropriate dress of the brethren, incompetence in the performance of the offices, and incontinence. At the visitation of 1526, in Catton’s third decade as Prior, there were further reports of indiscipline: some brethren were allegedly living independently in the precincts and enjoying complete freedom of movement in Norwich, others were said to cultivate luxurious lay habits of dress, while Prior Catton himself was condemned for his grandeur, requiring to be addressed as ‘my lord’ rather than ‘father Prior’. None the less, one monk told the Bishop that all was now well in matters of religion because of a reformation effected by the Prior!

Notwithstanding his mixed record, Catton’s status as the scion of an old Norwich family ensured a close affinity with the city of Norwich. A significant settlement over mutual rights was achieved in 1524–5, and he was one of only two Priors to be welcomed into the prestigious Guild of St George.

Robert Catton (St George )
St George and the Dragon, after Vittore Carpaccio.
 The Guild of St George was founded in 1385; its aims were religious, charitable and social: to honour St. George, to keep his feast day, to pray for its members past and present and to offer alms to the poor and needy within the Guild. The principal event for the Guild was the feast day ceremony held annually on 23 April which began as a simple religious celebration of the feast day of St. George. The Guild lasted until 1731. Image: Public Domain.

Prior Catton was also remembered for his investment in Norwich Cathedral and conventual buildings. During his term the Prior’s Hall was extended; an elaborate wrought iron lock on the door of the south transept bears panels embossed with the letters (R C P N (‘Robert Catton, Prior of Norwich’). Catton is thought to have provided four panels of stained glass for the east window of the parish church of St Margaret at his family manor of Catton.

Robert Catton (St Margarets_Simon Knott)
St Margaret’s Church, Catton. Photo: Simon Knott.

The glass panels depict St John and St Agnes in commemoration of his parents, and two figures of Benedictine monks, one depicting St Cuthbert, the other apparently intended as a self-portrait; the glass was later removed to St Michael’s, Plumstead, about 20 miles north of Norwich, where it is preserved.

Robert Catton (St Michael_Plumstaed_Simon Knott)
St Michael’s Church, Plumstead. Photo: Simon Knott.
Robert Catton (St Michael_Plumstaed_St Agnus_Old Catton Society)
St Michael’s Church Glass, late of St Margaret’s Church, Catton. Photo: Old Catton Society.

In spite of the internal state of the convent, during his priorate Prior Catton won significant favours from the governors of the church, not least from a royal administration that was increasingly involved in the affairs of major foundations. He secured dispensations to hold a number of benefices; from 1526 to 1528 he held the vicarage of St Mary in the Marsh, in Norwich Cathedral Close, where a now lost effigy dated 1528 was said to have stood before the east window. The church itself no longer exists but the walls of its Chancel still survive in the cellars of No 12 Lower Close. In 1519 Prior Catton received the privilege of the mitre.

This decade-long pattern of patronage and preferment culminated in 1531 in the Crown’s recommendation that Prior Catton should succeed Cardinal Wolsey as Abbot of the prestigious royal foundation of St Albans. It appears there was a delay between the promise of the appointment and its fulfilment, since Catton resigned the priorate of Norwich in November 1529 but was not confirmed as Abbot of St Albans until 16 March 1530. He was represented as having been freely elected by the Prior and convent, but in reality, the nomination was forced upon the monks.

During the vacancy that followed Wolsey’s fall, Henry VIII had sought to secure the abbey’s manor at More as accommodation for his estranged queen, Katherine of Aragon, during their divorce proceedings. The leaderless monks resisted, and at the same time expressed their own preference for their Prior, Andrew Ramridge, as Abbot. The King rejected their choice, and in a letter of January 1530 threatened unspecified penalties should they persist in their refusal to surrender More. Catton’s election was affected less than two months later, and on 5 September he conveyed More and other properties to the Crown. Three months later he received bowls, cups, goblets, and other plate as new year’s gifts from the king.

In the years that followed, Prior Catton cultivated his royal connections. In September 1533 he was among the clergy invited to officiate at the baptism of the Lady Elizabeth. In 1534 he presented a fulsome dedicatory prayer to Queen Anne:

‘lovynge lady dere … indowed with grace and vertu without pere’ in the abbey’s imprint of John Lydgate’s life of St Alban: Here begynnethe the glorious lyfe and passion of seint Albon prothomartyr of Englande, and also the lyfe and passion of saint Amphabel whiche converted saint Albon to the fayth of Christe (St Albans, 1534, STC 2nd edn, 256).

In October 1537 he was present at the ‘obsequies’ for Queen Jane. He was also welcome at Thomas Cromwell’s table, dining with him on one occasion at Norwich:

Robert Catton (Cromwell)
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, PC (c. 1485 – 28 July 1540).
‘with gret chere [and] with alle musyke plesant’.
Image: Wikipedia

As the crown’s interventions in monastic affairs gathered pace in 1535, with first the Valor Survey and then the nationwide visitation organised by Cromwell, Catton’s personal ties to the court and to the vicegerent exacerbated tensions between himself and his brethren. Eighteen St Albans monks, led by Prior Ramridge, petitioned Sir Francis Bryan in November 1535, complaining of Catton’s maladministration. Bryan’s response is not recorded, and probably no action followed, since the monks made a further petition in April 1536, maintaining that ‘the monasterye is sorely damaged above 800 marks’ and requesting the appointment of an:

‘assistaunte and coadjutore without whome [Catton] might do notynge, neither destroy, nor waste nor brynge oure monasterye in dett nore doo any other unlawghfull act’.

Catton’s response was to seek the support of his patrons. He complained of his ‘uncourteous’ brethren in January 1536, while in the following October he appears to have sought release from his office and the support of a benefice. On 14 December 1537 John Husee reported St Albans as one of the monasteries that would ‘go down’, with the consent of its Abbot. But Catton’s persistent hope of consolatory preferment appears to have weakened his position, and by the turn of the year it was reported that the King wished to remove him. On 15 January 1538 the convent received confirmation of its right to elect a successor to Catton, ‘lately deprived’.

At this point Catton’s former convent of Norwich appears to have come to his aid, for although there is no record of his being granted a faculty to take the habit of a secular, by 20 April 1538 he had been presented to the vicarage of Bawburgh, Norfolk, a living in the gift of Norwich Priory; he was also granted a dispensation to absent himself for two years. Later, presumably at the dissolution of St Albans, Catton acquired the abbey living of All Saints, Campton, Bedfordshire. Despite his deprivation, moreover, he was named among the St Albans pensioners, receiving the substantial portion of £80 per annum.

The terms of his final bequests suggest that Catton passed his remaining years variously at Campton, Norwich, and St Albans. He died between 25 April 1552, when he added a codicil to the Will he had drafted on 26 October of the previous year, and 7 July 1552, when probate was granted. He had requested burial either at his church at Campton, or at St Albans, ‘where I was sometimes abbote’, but no location is recorded.

THE END

Source:
https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-105481/version/0

Banner Heading Image: Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk. James Sillett (1764–1840) Norfolk Museums Service

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.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
Also:
If this blog contains any inappropriate information please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for review.

Augustine Steward House and the Lady in Grey!

By Haydn Brown.

The story contained herein is a Myth! – maybe based on a traditional story – for the House is reputed to have a ghost! The original tale may have been widely held, despite probably being false or, at best, a misrepresentation of what may have been a truth at sometime in the distant past. You decide!……..

The Story:
As the plague of 1578 overwhelmed the city, Augustine Steward House found it could offer no resistance and, one by one the family living inside fell victim to it. Deciding that everyone inside the house was dead the bailiffs ordered it to be locked, bolted and boarded up from the outside. Some weeks later when they returned with the house was reopened to allow the bodies to be taken out. It was then the true horror of what had happened within the house was revealed.

Augustine Steward House1
Augustine Steward House, 14 Tombland.

This is Tombland Alley which forms part of the ancient trackway that crossed the city from west to east along Dereham Road, St Benedict’s, Princes Street, Tombland Alley, under the north aisle of the Cathedral and over Bishop Bridge. When he was a pupil at the Norwich School in the 1760s, Horatio Nelson is thought to have lived in the alley. It was also the site of the first synagogue in Norwich after Cromwell invited Jews back to England in the mid-17th century. Furthermore, the alley forms the edge of a medieval plague pit where 5,000 bodies were found. Photo: © Copyright Evelyn Simak

Dragging out first the bodies of the mother and father some unusual marks were noticed on their legs. Upon closer inspection these were discovered to be teeth marks and pieces of flesh appeared to have been bitten away from the limbs. The horror increased when it became clear that these marks were not the work of the rats that often fed from the limbs of plague victims but from something much larger. They were in fact human teeth marks!

Augustine Steward House3 (Elliott Brown)
The entrance to Tombland Alley, where the Lady in Grey is said to roam. Photo: Elliott Brown.

As the ‘pitmen’ cautiously removed the rest of the bodies from the house the full extent of what had happened became clear. Inside the mouth and throat of one of the daughters in the house were bits and pieces of dead human flesh. It seemed that the bailiffs had been a little premature when they locked up the house and she had, in fact, still been alive at the time. To be locked in a house with the dead bodies of the rest of her family with no food or water would have been bad enough, but to have to have made the decision to try and survive by feasting on their plague-ridden limbs is beyond comprehension.

Ever since that date the young girl has been reputed to haunt Augustine Steward House along with Tombland Alley. She always appears dressed in fading and ragged grey clothes and has, for that reason become known as the ‘Lady In Grey’. Many occupants of the house, which has enjoyed a number of uses over the years, claim to have either seen or felt the presence of the young girl. Constantly moving objects around at night time seems to be her favourite pastime whilst she has also been known to open and close doors causing a breeze at the most inconvenient of times.

Augustine Steward House (A Lady in London)
Almost the full length of Tombland Alley, where the Lady in Grey is said to roam. Photo: A Lady in London.

Others claim to have spotted her wandering up and down Tombland Alley and she has even been known to enjoy a dance from time to time. When Samson and Hercules House was known as Ritzys, a local DJ went upstairs one evening to investigate noises he heard coming from one of the toilets. A private party was being held at the club and it was not unknown for youngsters to try and gain access to the dance hall via the toilets and then join the party, pretending to be a ‘friend’ of a guest. When the DJ made his way to the toilets, he saw a young woman leaving one of the cubicles. Dressed all in grey she didn’t look like the usual visitor to the club so he went to challenge her. Ignoring him completely the young woman walked straight past him without a word. As he turned to see where she was going, he was horrified to see that she appeared to have no feet and was simply ‘floating’ down the corridor. In something of a panic, he reported what he had seen to the manager to be warned that if he wished to keep his job, he would not repeat the story to anybody else. The manager obviously felt that a ghost was bad for business!

THE END

The above text is an adaptation of a version written by Alice Cooper in November 2006 – many other versions exist. One example is the following YouTube adaption by Edward L. Norfolk, which you may like to view via the following link:
https://youtu.be/rkNUBr4qcdk

Heading Banner: A Painting of Tombland Alley by John Rees. Image: Tudor Galleries

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.
Further Note:
If you are the originator/copyright holder of any photo or content contained in this blog and would prefer it be excluded or amended, please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for correction.
Also:
If this blog contains any inappropriate information please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page to flag it for review.

The Unfortunate Demise of Tomkins.

By Haydn Brown.

Oliver Fellows Tomkins, to give him his full name, was born in Great Yarmouth in 1873, the fourth son of the Daniel Tomkins.  His formal education began in his father’s school in the town before travelling to Switzerland for a short time to complete it. He then spent five years working in business in Norwich, during which time he joined Dr George Barrett’s Congregational Church in Princes Street. Later, Tomkins become a student at Dr Henry Grattan Guinness’ Training College in London where he took a medical course.

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

The original Princes Street Congregational Church was opened in 1819 with John Alexander becoming its “Founder and First Pastor”, and one of the most popular ministers in and around Norwich from 1819 to 1866 at what is now the United Reformed Church. Dr George Barrett took over the church reigns following the death of Revd John Alexander.

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

Tomkins was clearly smitten with evangelism for during college holidays and half-terms, he would preach to the North Sea fishermen and volunteer for mission work in English country villages, travelling to each in a caravan, whilst camping at night. He was therefore delighted when, eventually he was appointed to work as a missionary in the Torres Straits of New Guinea. Half of his financial support for this mission was paid for by members of the Home Magazine Missionary Band which helped to pay enthusiastic bearers of ‘God’s word’ to go to many far-flung places in the world.

Tomkins sailed with the Reverend Albert Pearse in December 1899; they were to join the Scottish-born missionary James Chalmers in New Guinea, the territory where Chalmers himself was to ignore calls from his friends to leave and return to England when his second wife died. His refusal, along with the arrival of Tomkins was to have consequences for both of them some sixteen months later.

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

But for the moment, Chalmers was pleased with the arrival of Tomkins, who would share the burden of his large district. According to Chalmers:

“Throughout Mrs. Chalmers’s last illness, Tomkins [was] “a great help and a great comfort.” No son could have treated me kindlier than he did.”

In his young colleague Tomkins, Chalmers saw reasons for hoping that he might have more time to return to his pioneer work. A few months after Tomkins’s arrival, Chalmers again sent a brief message to the Mission House regarding Tomkins: “He will do”; and that opinion was confirmed again, and again in the months that followed. Dr. William George Lawes  was to call them, “the intrepid Paul and the beloved Timothy.”

But we move on – to 7 April 1901 to be exact. This was when Tomkins and Chalmers were on board the ‘Niue’ and had arrived at the Aird River at Kisk Point on Goaribari Island. The last entry in Tomkins’ diary indicates what happened next:

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

“In the afternoon we were having a short service with the crew, when about twenty canoes were seen approaching ……. They hesitated as they got nearer to us, till we were able to assure them that we meant peace. Gradually one or two of the more daring ones came closer, and then alongside, till at last one ventured on board. Then, in a very few minutes, we were surrounded by canoes, and our vessel was covered with them …… On this, our first visit, we were able to do really nothing more than establish friendly relations with the people. They stayed on board about three hours, examining everything, from the ship’s rigging to our shirt buttons. They tried hard to persuade us to come ashore in their canoes, but we preferred to spend the night afloat, and promised we would visit their village in the morning.”

Neither of the Niue two missionaries, nor the twelve native Christians who accompanied them were seen after this visit to the natives. What really happened was only ascertained a month later, when George Le Hunte, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony, visited the Aird River with a punitive expedition, and heard the story from a captured prisoner. This was quoted from an account supplied by the Rev Archibald Ernest Hunt, who accompanied the Lieutenant-Governor:

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

“The Niue anchored off Kisk Point on 7 April and a crowd of natives came off. As it was near sunset, ‘Tamate’ [the native name for John Chalmers] gave them some presents, and made signs that they were to go away, and the next day he would visit them ashore. At daylight the next morning, a great crowd of natives came off and crowded the vessel in every part. They refused to leave, and in order to induce them to do so, Tamate gave Bob, the captain, orders to give them presents. Still, they refused to move, and then Tamate said he would go ashore with them, and he told Tomkins to remain on board. The latter declined, and went ashore with Tamate, followed by a large number of canoes. When they got ashore, the whole party were massacred and their heads cut off. The boat was smashed up, and the clothing etc. distributed. All the bodies were distributed and eaten, Tomkins being eaten at the village of Dopima, where they were all killed.”

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

But just like most stories aimed at a reading public; the writers kept to the old adage ‘don’t let the facts spoil a good story’! One suggested that the ships party was invited back to the native’s village and into a newly constructed ‘Dubu’ for refreshments; clearly, if this was true, the two did not recognise the significance of entering such a communal house – which was for fighting men and could not be used without consecration by a human sacrifice! Tomkins and Chalmers were clearly ‘taken in’ by the welcome; neither could they have seen any meaning behind the piles of human skulls nestled around the crude wooden idols in the corner of the hut, a picture of stark contrast!

True or false, it was the case that other fellow missionaries had already reported similar sights elsewhere; of smoke-blackened human jaw bones dangling from the rafters of village huts, smoke-dried human flesh and notches in trees which denoted the number of humans who had been cooked and eaten in a community. So, some may have thought, what on earth were the two men thinking, when clearly it was common knowledge that there were cannibalistic traditions in the region, a place where the missionaries were trying to bring the word of God!

But for Tomkins and Chalmers it would be too late; no sooner had they taken their places, seated at ground level along one side of the large laid-out spread, when each was clubbed from behind and killed. It was also said that their bodies were prepared and cooked with a variety of sago dishes, cooked with shell-fish, boiled with bananas, roasted on stones, baked in the ashes and tied up in leaves, – to be served as the main course, a feast that had been promised to the victims! Afterwards, their bones were kept on display and seemingly, the native’s ‘Dubu’ house had been suitably blessed by their preferred Gods!

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

Back home, relatives and friends undoubtedly mourned the loss of Oliver Tomkins and the church he once worshiped in, the Princes Street Congregational Church, held a memorial service for Tomkins. Members afterwards subscribed to a plaque which they placed inside the church building in his memory; it remains there to this day.

THE END

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

A Norwich Murderer & Legend!

By Haydn Brown.

 It was a vicious murder that worked its way into 19th century national imagination and also crept into later fiction. Many authors wrote about the crime and the man who perpetrated it. Sir Walter Scott became fascinated by him and even visited the scene of his crime. George Burrows was said to have been at his execution, but certainly wrote about him afterwards as editor of ‘Notable Trials’ when he wrote his personal account of the man’s execution. Scholarly crime studies also made a feature of the man, his background and the reasons for what was a murder, and a gruesome one at that! These studies began to filter through long after the actual gallows, on which the man swung, had long become an exhibit at Madame Tussauds. The murderer’s name was John Thurtell.

John Thurtell 1
John (or Jack) Thurtell. Photo: Public Domain

John Thurtell is a well-documented person of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with numerous biographies and studies about him in various forms of print which were published in both the United Kingdom and abroad. His was a short and wretched life where many of the opportunities that were offered to him, or came to him by chance, were wasted and he was best known for his personal brand of criminality.  Unfortunately, and despite Thurtell being an intelligent ‘hard’ man, he quickly became a compulsive gambler and seemed to have had no trouble in thriving on the trappings of shady deals and illegal prize-fights which he promoted – and in which he sometimes took part.

Born on 21st December, 1794, Thurtell had every opportunity to make the most of his life in times when to be poor probably meant hardship and deprivation. His parents were financially quite well off in their home at Harford Bridges, which is still just a handful of miles south of Norwich, in the County of Norfolk. It was there where his father Alderman Thomas Thurtell, a prominent merchant and city councellor – who also served as mayor of Norwich in 1828, celebrated the birth of baby John, his first son and the first in an ultimate line of several other children. As thrilled as the father must have been with the baby’s arrival, young John was to become his mother’s favourite child. This may have been one of the reasons why, as a child, John was not sent away for his schooling. A second reason may have been that young John, being an unruly child, had to be kept well within sight at all times when awake and active. Apparently, as John grew older, he became ‘not averse to tying canisters to dog’s tails’ – as George Burrow once put it.

Thurtell was certainly not a scholar and when he eventually went to school in Norwich, he remained permanently poor at both spelling and English Grammar. However, he must have shared the family’s social asperations at least, for he lacked the skills for much else. The truth was that he never applied himself to his studies and always seemed pre-occupied with competitive sports, mainly horse racing and prize-fighting (boxing). It was only after too many tussles for his family’s liking that his father decided that maybe a career in the navy would do young Thurtell good. So, at the age of 15 years, and with a freshly purchased commission by way of his father, John Thurtell joined Company 99 of the Marines as a second lieutenant and set out on 8 May 1809 to Chatham where he undertook a period of training before joining the HMS Adamant, a 50-gun Portland-class fourth rate warship which had just completed its final voyage after a thirty-year career as a fighting ship in the Royal Navy; it had served in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars.

Thurtell (HMS Adamant)
HMS Adamant in its prime fighting days – long before John Thurtell boarded her as a marine. Photo: Public Domain.

During the month that Thurtell joined HMS Adamant, the ship was in the process of being fitted out as a ‘receiving ship’ which would be used, in harbour, to house newly recruited (also ‘impressed’) sailors before they were assigned to a ship’s crew. In the Royal Navy, the use of impressment to collect sailors resulted in the problem of preventing escapees. A receiving ship was part of the solution, for it was difficult to get off such a ship without being detected, and most seamen of the era did not know how to swim! Receiving ships, such as Adamant, were typically older vessels that could still be kept afloat, but were obsolete or no longer battle-worthy.

At the same time as Thurtell was being indoctrinated into his naval role, HMS Adamant was recommissioned under Captain John Sykes and in August 1809, presumably with Thurtell as part of its crew, took part in the ‘Scheldt Operation’ which was aimed at sealing the mouth of the Scheldt to prevent the port of Antwerp from being used as a base against the British Fleet. The primary aim of the whole campaign was to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. Captain Matthew Buckle took command of HMS Adamant for this operation and was still in post two years later when Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway (not Robert Waller Otway as mentioned in other works – he came to Leith later) adopted the ship as his flagship.

It was on 16 July 1811 when Thurtell was disciplined and discharged from HMS Adamant by Rear Admiral William Albany Otway for misconduct. Beyond this point, real evidence of Thurtell’s immediate life and naval career is non-existent, and therefore some assumptions must be made. For instance, it can be assumed that his discharge was not absolute, for he went on to find another berth with HMS Bellona (another aging ship of the line) on 11 November 1811; just in time to be involved with the ship’s blockade of Dutch ports before a convoy trip to St Helena and back by September 1813 when she returned to the Basque Roads, but was back on blockade duty off Cherbourg by October of that year. From all this, it is clear that Thurtell’s service in the Navy was confined to two old ships which were fit only for blockading duties and not for any degree of real action.

Thurtell (HMS Bellona)
HMS Bellona and Courageux arriving at Spithead by Geoff Hunt.
Thurtell (HMS Bellona off Brest)
HMS Bellona off Brest by Geoff Hunt.

But Thurtell was prone to boasting to his friends and family about his involvement in sea battles; how he stormed the port of San Sebastian on the north coast of Spain for instance. However, Naval records indicate that this and other stories of action on the HMS Bellona were untrue; Bellona was docked at the Isle of Wight on 1 August 1813 when San Sebastian fell and the ship merely cruised past San Sebastian several days after hostilities had ended. He also told a story of how the Bellona captured a brig of war; it was, in fact, an unarmed merchant schooner that surrendered without a fight. By June 1814 there were no further opportunities for his ‘heroism’; this was the month when he resigned his commission and returned to Norwich. Being permanently ashore from this point did not, apparently, curtail his story-telling; and he always seemed to have a good audience around him, particularly in and around the Haymarket public houses in Norwich. It is said that folks there were greatly impressed with his tales of derring-do.

This growing attraction of his to frequent public house brought further interest in the world of boxing, and this was to be fuelled in 1818 by the landlord of ‘The Anchor’ in Lobster Lane, who was none other than Ned ‘Flatnose’ Painter who famously defeated Tom Spring in the August of that year. But three years before all this happened, in fact shortly after Thurtell’s 21st birthday on 21 December, Thomas Thurtell had set his son up in a bombazine business, alongside a designated partner by the name of John Giddons – or was it Giddings? – some accounts refer to the partner being John’s Brother, Thomas Thurtell; maybe it was all three?. No matter; the situation of being backed and supported by his wealthy and respectable parents was a wonderful opportunity for John Thurtell; also having been placed in the booming bombazine manufacturing and selling trade and with a young Quaker girl on his arm – what could possibly go wrong with his life? Plenty it would seem!

John Thurtell (boxing)
18th century boxing.

Inherent weaknesses with the partnership included the fact that John Thurtell did not like hard work, or show any trace of faithful endeavour towards the business; instead, he preferred frequenting Norwich taverns, and participating in or promoting boxing matches, even making numerous journeys to London in pursuit of the sport – and, inevitably, falling in with the ‘underworld’ fraternity who frequented such pastimes; maybe even, falling foul of ‘The Fancy’ – those professional crooks and gamblers who, seemingly, merged effectively into the the semi-illicit sport of amateur boxing at the time. Frequently, underworld elements and gentlemen of so-called genteel society mixed in a sport that during the early 19th century was officially illegal; however, it was widely celebrated and openly advertised without much fear of police intervention. At the same time, boxing — with its brutality, fatalities and associations with unsavoury characters, had ample  potential for morals to be expressed. ‘The Fancy’, said a judge in 1803,

“draws industrious people away from the subject of their industry; and when great multitudes are so collected, they are likely enough to be engaged in broils. It affords an opportunity for people of the most mischievous disposition to assemble, under the colour of seeing this exhibition, and to do a great deal of mischief; in short, it is a practice that is extremely injurious in every respect and must be repressed.”

It would seem the these ‘gentlemen’ were far better at the game than the likes of John Thurtell, who was seen by them as a country ‘yokel’, despite being the son of an Alderman and having successfully promoted a big fight at North Walsham on the 17 July 1820. That one event was probably the only moment when Thurtell’s standing with ‘The Fancy’, as a backer and partial promoter, was at its highest.

At least anecdotal evidence suggested that Thurtell’s behaviour after this fight remained as bad as ever, and he even caused a fight at another sporting event when he assaulted someone who he accused of being a pickpocket. Maybe his failing business was beginning to play on his mind at moments when he behaved so badly in public. Certainly, within six years of indulging himself elsewhere and not paying due attention to his bombazine business the partnership was swiftly heading towards bankruptcy. By 23 January 1821 Thurtell, it seems, was in an utter mess, but had already planned to go to London to collect a considerable amount of money owed to the bombazine partnership. Much of this money was owed to his creditors, but that was not what was on Thurtell’s mind when he collected it and returned to Norwich, where events took a very ‘mysterious’ turn. He put it about that he had received a note asking him to call on a Mr Bolingbroke who live near Chapelfield. Whilst on his way, an unidentified woman approached him and as they walked along Thurtell was violently attacked and relieved of the £1508. Afterwards he could neither identify the woman or his assailants! It followed that he immediately placed an advertisement in the local Norfolk newspapers; it read:

“£100 Reward: Whereas at about 9 o’clock on the evening of the 22nd inst, Mr John Thurtell was attacked in Chapel Field, Norwich, by three men, knocked down and robbed of a pocket book containing £1,508 in notes, thirteen of which were of the Bank of England, value £100 each, and the name of John Thurtell is endorsed on them. Notice is hereby given that whoever will give information which might lead to the apprehension and conviction of the persons concerned in this robbery, shall be paid the above reward on applying to Mr Thurtell; and any person concerned in the robbery who will give information of his accomplices will receive the reward and a free pardon.”

The total sum involved would seem to be an incredible amount of money to be carrying, and it was quickly established that this little episode was a complete scam and that the so-called wounds he received during the ‘assault’ had been self-inflicted. It became all too clear that Thurtell’s motive was to enjoy a public subscription from the publicity. However, his creditors were never to be impressed or taken in by what had been the latest of Thurtell’s antics and notices of bankruptcy against his and Gidden’s partnership duly appeared, stating that J Giddens and J Thurtell, bombazine manufacturers, dealers and chapmen of Norwich were listed as insolvent, and that Ides, Poole & Greenfield of Gray’s Inn Square had been appointed solicitors. A creditors meeting took place on 15th to 17th March 1821 at the Norfolk Hotel.

Norwich (Norfolk Hotel1)
A later photograph of the hotel where the creditors meeting of 15th to 17th March 1821 took place. Photo: Norfolk Library Service.

Within days of this meeting Thurtell fled to London with a woman named Mary Dobson, whose looks were proving more interesting to him than those of his Quaker girl-friend. They left Norwich, leaving his apparent naïve father as his biggest creditor. By this time John Thurtell was being better known as ‘Jack’ Thurtell, and over the next twelve months or so Jack managed to obtain a licence to run a public house; get his brother, Thomas, imprisoned for a claimed debt of £17 which Jack thought would help discharge his own bankruptcy – that failed but left a bad taste in the mouths of at least his family. Jack also continued with any scam which he thought would bring him money; one involved buying a consignment of bombazine and storing it in a warehouse which he and Thomas had previously had insured for £1900. Jack then made some internal alterations to the warehouse which effectively concealed the inside. He then sold his entire stock for cash, but before it was delivered the warehouse was gutted by fire on the night of 26 January 1823.

The inevitable insurance claim was lodged but when investigators found that there were no traces of bombazine the County Fire Officer refused to settle the claim. Thomas Thurtell, who was clearly a partner in this fraud, not only sued the insurance company but won the case; however, such was the level of suspicion that the insurance company’s Managing Director not only confirmed its refusal to pay out, but threatened to pursue a case of conspiracy to defraud. Jack and Thomas where effectively broke and literally went into hiding, wandering from inn to inn and mixing with the rogues of London. Individuals like William Probert who had married a woman described as ‘physically repellent but financially attractive’, and was thus able to purchase a cottage in Gills Hill Lane, Radlett. Here he lived with his wife, her sister, two children of Thomas Thurtell and a couple of servants. Probert also put his wife’s money to other use, by setting himself up as a wine merchant, a venture that failed around the same time as John Thurtell’s own business ventures collapsed. The two were well matched.

John Thurtell (Three Accomplinces)2

Another rogue was Joseph Hunt, 26 years of age and an illiterate whose only talent was that he could sing. Doubtless there were other such characters in Jack Thurtell’s world of dubious deals and gambling. Then there was 43-year-old William Weare, a gang member and a ‘notorious blackleg’, card sharp, gambler at billiard tables and race horse meetings. He trusted no-one, and kept his considerable fortune about his person, strapped to his chest or secreted within his clothing. He lived in lodgings at Lyons Inn, off the Strand. This had previously been the address of reputable solicitors, which would have made Weare appear ‘respectable’, an image borne out by his appearance, for he was always smartly dressed. He could, and did, fleece many an easy prey and Jack Thurtell, who was considered a novice amongst such ‘sporting people’, was to be Weare’s next victim.

In October 1883, Weare, who had been to Doncaster races, returned to town having had a very successful day. He was approached by one of London gang-leaders who further tempted Weare with more ‘easy pickings’. The victim would be Jack Thurtell who had already lost heavily but was given the opportunity to make up his losses by playing a certain person who was considered poor at playing cards. Jack Thurtell thus met William Weare, who duly lost early rounds, conning Jack to play ‘just one more round’ – Weare took Thurtell for £300, and the loser was not pleased at all and conspired to exact revenge on Weare.

Jack Thurtell invited Weare to accompany him and his few friends out into the country around Radlett for a spot of hunting; Weare gladly accepted. In the meantime, Jack Thurtell and Hunt had bought a pair of pistols, a rope and a large sack; also hiring a gig, which would have been ideal for making the trip to Radlett, except that it would be pulled by two greys which were to prove to be a ‘give-away’ when the planned crime had been committed.

John Thurtell (Illustration - Robert-Cruikshank)1

On the appointed day, Weare appeared, complete with a gun and a change of clothing; he accompanied John Thurtell in the gig, whilst Probert and Hunt followed in a second gig. Together, the party raced along the Edgware Road, calling into taverns along the way as they settled into their boozy, sporty and ultimately murderous weekend. Entering Radlett, Thurtell went on ahead whilst, it seems, Probert dropped Hunt off, before heading off along Gills Hill Lane after him. What really happened near Probert’s cottage really depends on which story is believed; people’s accounts varied between the inquest and the trial that was to follow. However, one thing was certain; Jack Thurtell was still aboard the gig when he shot Weare in the face before striking him several times with his pistol. If that was not enough, which it wasn’t because his was a ‘grudge’ assassination in which he demanded full revenge; he cut Weare’s throat.

The Sequell:
The deed done, Thurtell must have felt that the score was settled – short of disposing of Weare’s body of course. Now, whether or not Probert helped in this matter is not really clear, so speculation must be that Thurtell carried out this task alone; placing Weare’s body into a sack and dumping it under bushes. This was during the early 19th century when Gills Hill Lane was little more than a track, with wild bushes, tree and hedgerows; at approximately three-quarters of a mile long, this overgrown lane was, in those days, referred to as a ‘dismal ravine’. However, Weare’s corpse was not to lay hidden for long by that lane; Probert and Hunt joined Thurtell at the cottage, which lay east of the lane, before all three went to the hidden site and rifled Weare’s pockets. Then, later that evening, after darkness had well and truly fallen, they carried the body to a nearby field, on horseback, where they threw it into a pond. Thurtell, obviously panicking, then went back to the scene of his crime and searched for the two murder weapons, the pistol and the knife – but with no success. Strange therefore that during the very next day two workmen, who were employed to clear the lane, passed the very same spot and not only noticed blood on the ground, but also discovered the bloodstained pistol and knife. These they passed on to their employer, a Mr Nicholls, who later presented them to the Petty Sessions of the Watford Branch which happened to be sitting, in session, at the Essex Arms Inn; it was on Tuesday, 28 October 1823.

According to Pete Goodrum, in his book ‘Five Norwich Lives’ what followed next was that:

“The Magistrate did not praise or thank Nicholls but unsurprisingly admonished him for taking so long to report his story. On seeing that the pistol was covered in blood, human hair and brains, they were galvanised into action. Constable Simmonds of Watford was given the weapons, along with instructions to go straight to London to request a Bow Street Runner to come down immediately. [After 1815, the Runners’ most regular employment was to respond to help requests from prosecutors outside London. These were likely cases in which their skill and experience was thought to be useful in investigating offences in the provinces.”

Thurtell (Bow Street)
Bow Street and its Runners.

At the same time as the police were being alerted, rumours were spreading. Firstly, a gunshot was heard by a Mr P. Smith, at nearby Battlers Green. Secondly, a man named Freeman had noticed a gig in Gills Hill Lane with two men on board; and thirdly, it became established that on the day of the murder, Joseph Hunt had sported a beard and moustache – at the time of his arrest just days later he was to be found clean shaven and wearing Weare’s clothes! Then a chanced remark from a farmer that he had ‘heard a shot’ about the time of the killing forced Probert to waste no time in telling his companions; this resulted in all three men racing back to the pond which held Weare’s corpse, retrieving it, placing it into the gig and driving to another pond near Elstree to drown it once more!

John Thurtell (Three Accomplinces)3
From a Sketch taken in Court. (c) The Trustees of the British Museum.

But time and events were against Hunt, Thurtell, Thomas (Thurtell’s brother) and Probert, the latter displaying his extreme uneasiness to such an extent that soon the police authorities became interested in him. Magistrate Clutterbuck visited Probert’s cottage, which stood just north of Elstree and found that Probert had packed his bags and was clearly in the process of making his escape. Probert was questioned and revealed that his weekend guests had been Hunt and Thurtell. A subsequent warrant authorised, at first, the arrest of Thurtell’s brother, Thomas, together with Probert; then the investigation was passed over to the London Detective, George Ruthven, apparently a well-known and minor celebrity.

Again, according to Pete Goodrum:

“Events then moved quickly. One of the magistrates, Clutterbuck, having returned home exhausted, was woken by two visitors. They introduced themselves as John Noel, a London solicitor, and a billiard saloon owner called William Rexworthy. Noel claimed that on his way to the theatre in London he had heard from a patrol on the Edgware Road that there had been a murder of an unknown victim in Hertfordshire. Putting two and two together, he had become anxious that the victim might be his client, William Weare. He had heard from Rexworthy that Weare had planned a trip to Hertfordshire to go shooting with somebody called Jack Thurtell. However, Weare had apparently not returned to London. His lodgings were locked and he’d not been seen in any of his regular haunts. Clutterbuck took his visitors straight to the Essex Arms where the hearing was about to commence and where Noel quickly took legal control.”

Meanwhile, Detective Ruthven arrested Hunt at his lodgings in London before finding Thurtell in the Coach and Horses in Conduit Street, again in the city. Finding some items of Thurtell’s clothing blood stained, some exposed parts of his body covered with cuts and bruises and significantly, a pistol in one of his pockets, he too was arrested. Both Hunt and Thurtell were then taken back to the Essex Arms to join Probert and Thomas; from this point onwards the principle of ‘Honour among criminals’ fell by the wayside as Probert and Hunt turned King’s Evidence and pointed the finger at Thurtell, and also revealed the location of Weare’s body. The inquest had been held at the Artichoke public house in Elstree, whose licensee was foreman of the jury. Dr. Ward and Dr. Kendall, of Watford had examined Weare’s corpse and concluded that the cause of death was as a result of severe blows to the skull by a gun, causing pieces of bone to lodge in the brain.

Joseph Hunt, clearly setting out to save his own skin, gave evidence against Thurtell and spun out a story which included a statement saying that Thurtell had bought the pistols for £1 17s 6d., and that he had also enquired about hiring a gig. Incredulously perhaps, Hunt also revealed that the party under suspicion had called at the Artichoke for a drink on the way to Radlett prior to the murder! He then added that, after the murder, Thurtell had admitted killing the man “who robbed me of £300 at Blind Hookey (cards)”, and that he had taken a gold watch from Weare’s body. Hunt then gave an account of the episode of dumping Weare’s body. Concluding his evidence, Hunt gave more damning details which included him previously passing on to his solicitor the fact that he (Hunt) had received Weare’s clothes and had also shaved off his whiskers. Unintentionally amusing was when a juror asked Hunt: “What has become of your whiskers and moustache?” Hunt apparently replied: “You must be able to see I have cut them off!”

It was the court custom at the time to question each person separately, and without them knowing the submissions of others; these submissions were to vary widely. Probert’s version matched Hunt’s, but only in absolving himself of murder; other than that, he frequently contradicted Hunt’s version. He told the court that Thurtell had gone ahead and killed Weare, and that he (Probert) had not been party to it. He agreed he had helped to dispose of the body and that he, together with Hunt, had shared some of the money stolen from Weare by Thurtell.

As for poor Jack Thurtell, he simply dug a hole from which he failed to extricate himself; particularly on the question of the pistol found on his person when he was arrested. He had, at first denied that he ever owned a pistol, until he was reminded that such a weapon had been found on him; also, that the second of the matching pair had been found ‘within yards’ of the murder spot. Thurtell must have realised that the game was up for him and that it was clear that the three men had obviously lured Weare to Probert’s cottage because Jack intended to murder him. Events at the Hearing was progressing irrevocably to wards a proper Trial. The court returned a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ and committed the prisoners to Hertford gaol to await such a trial, that was set for 6 January 1824 at Hertford.

Languishing in prison for over three months, the three men continued to protest their innocence. Plenty of accusations and counter-accusations were voiced, all designed to set the blame elsewhere. Outside, most of the country who were interested in following the case were fed by Newspapers and broadsheets which peddled the grisliest details of what was becoming a sensational case; and no report failed to mention Jack Thurtell’s fall from grace as a ‘son of Alderman Thurtell of Norwich.’

When the trial commenced on 6 January 1824 it quickly became clear that it was a complicated case, requiring a considerable amount of legal talent to enable a conclusion. To assist in this, legal trickery was employed and this included granting immunity to Probert on condition that he appeared as a witness against Thurtell. Neither he nor Hunt, whose neck was on the line, did Thurtell any favours. It was Thurtell who was allowed to conduct his own defence and appeared to be doing quite well, until he made a big mistake by talking too long and in the process did himself no favours. At the end, the judge summed up, the jury retired only to return with a guilty verdict for both Hunt and Thurtell. The inevitable sentence was that the two men would hang; however, on the eve of their executions, Hunt’s sentence was commuted to transportation. As for Probert, he was only to remain alive and well for barely a year and a half; he died on the gallows in June 1825.

John Thurtell (Execution)2
The Execution

 When Thurtell took the short walk to the rope, on 9 January 1824, he was in chains but dressed smart, as was his nature. Soldiers, armed with staves separated him and his execution party from the estimated 15,000 spectators who were there to see the spectacle; many removed their hats. Now, the last words describing this scene are left to those of Richard Clarke:

Execution:
“James Foxen, the hangman, arrived from London on the Thursday and made the usual preparations. Thurtell dressed for the occasion and was described as being “elegantly attired in a brown great coat with a black velvet collar, light breeches and gaiters, and a fashionable waistcoat with gilt buttons.”  A little before 12 noon on Friday, the 9th of January 1824, Foxen pinioned Thurtell’s hands in front of him with handcuffs and he was then led from his cell to the accompaniment of the tolling prison bell and the prison chaplain reading the burial service. A few moments earlier he had confessed his guilt to the chaplain. He mounted the 5 steps slowly but steadily and positioned himself on the trap. Here Foxen removed his cravat and loosened his collar. When Thurtell had finished praying, Foxen drew the white cotton cap over his head and placed the noose around his neck.  The Governor of Hertford Gaol and the Chief Warder both shook hands with him before Foxen adjusted the noose. Wilson said, “Good bye Mr. Thurtell, may God Almighty bless you” to which Thurtell replied, “God bless you, Mr. Wilson, God bless you.” At two minutes past midday on the signal from Mr. Nicholson, the Under Sheriff, Foxen drew the bolts and Thurtell dropped into the box like structure with a crash…….by the standards of the day, Thurtell died easily and was not seen to struggle. After hanging the customary hour, his body was taken down and sent to London for dissection in Surgeon’s Hall in accordance with his sentence.”

Postscript:
Great sensation was caused in Norwich by the trial and execution of John Thurtell, at Hertford.  The execution took place on 9 January 1824, and on the 24th the Norfolk Chronicle published a letter received by Mr. Alderman Thomas Thurtell, of Norwich, the father of the deceased; it came from Mr. Robert Sutton, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in which the writer commiserated with Thomas Thurtell in his great affliction.  In the same paper was another letter addressed by Mr. N. Bolingbroke, of Norwich, to the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, in which he wrote:

“It may appear to some that he (the father) has not acted with sufficient kindness of feeling towards his unhappy son; but you may be assured, Sir, that there was no part of his conduct which could not be satisfactorily explained.  He has generally acted under the advice of Mr. Unthank, a respectable solicitor in this city, my own, and others.  There are many actions in a man’s life of which no correct opinion can be formed without a knowledge of the motives by which such have been influenced.”

THE END

Sources:
https://www.stalbansreview.co.uk/nostalgia/crimelibrary/johnthurtell/
https://morethannelson.com/officer/william-albany-otway/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_Street_Runners
http://seann-mcanally.blogspot.com/2015/03/jackasses-of-history-john-thurtell.html
https://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/thurtell.html
www.murderpedia.org/male.T/t/thurtell-john.htm
http://www.executedtoday.com/2017/01/09/1824-john-thurtell-the-radlett-murderer/

Goodrum, P., ‘Five Norwich Lives’, Published by Mousehold Press 2014.

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

The Birth of the Bethel.

By Haydn Brown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

254876_full
Image: British Army Museum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethel Hospital4
James Corbridge’s 1727 Map of Norwich. Here, it clearly illustrates the U-plan of the Bethel. Norfolk Record Office.

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

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

Bethel (County Asylum 1814)

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

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

William Tuke

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

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

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

THE END

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lincolns, Gurneys and a President!

By Haydn Brown

Norfolk – The Lincolns in the 16th Century:
Early in the 16th Century there lived in Swanton Morley a Richard Lincoln – or ‘Lincorne’ as it was then spelt. He was born around 1550 in the village and was churchwarden at its All Saint’s Church from 1599 to 1620; that we know. We also know that he was the 6th times Great Grandfather of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA.

The Angel (Richard Lincoln's Home_Paul Bailey_cropped)
The Angel, Swanton Morley, the former home of Richard Lincoln, the ancestor of Abraham Lincoln. Photo: Paul Bailey (cropped).

It appears that Richard Lincoln’s son from his first marriage was Edward, and it was he who expected to benefit from his father’s Will when he passed away – but that was never to happen! In his will, written 3 January 1616, with a codicil in 1619, Richard Lincoln left everything, apart money for his burial and small gifts to the poor, to his wife and the children of his fourth marriage. The original Will, consisting of four sheets of paper, each sealed at the bottom with a red wax seal bearing the device of a hound, is still preserved in the Norfolk Record Office at Norwich.

Clearly then, Edward would not have been too pleased about being cut out of his father Richard’s Will after he had heard the news. In fact, a family squabble ensued as he abandoned his home at Swanton Morley and relocated to some small acreage at Hingham, taking with him his wife, Brigit, nee’ Gilman and his seven children. Amongst these seven children was Samuel. Now, some historians have said that this Samuel, and there have been many over the generations, may never have moved to America had his father not been cut out of Richard’s Will – meaning that the path of the Lincoln family’s history would have changed completely – and Abraham Lincoln would never have become the 16th President of the USA!

St Andrew's Church, Hingham_Simon Knott
St Andrew’s Church, Hingham, where Samuel Lincoln was baptised. Photo: Simon Knott.

Samuel Lincoln was born around 1622 and baptised in St Andrew’s Church, Hingham on August 24 1622. At the age of 15 years, when he was an apprentice weaver in Norwich; he left home and sailed on a ship named John & Dorothy from Great Yarmouth for a new life in the USA. The year was 1637 and ironically, he settled in Hingham, Massachusetts. There, around 1649, Samuel married Martha Lyford from Ireland and bought a house plot so as to provide a permanent home. There, the couple had eleven children, three of whom died in their infancy. Samuel’s eldest son, born 25 August in 1650, was also named Samuel; however, the emigrant Samuel Lincoln’s fourth son was Mordecai, who became a blacksmith, and was the direct ancestor of Abraham Lincoln.

35bf134894a350edd1b6b85683aa6318But on-board ship back in 1637, there were eleven Puritan ministers from Norwich among the passengers; they had been suspended during a purge by Bishop of Norwich Matthew Wren; the solution for these eleven, was to emigrate and seek freedom of worship elsewhere. Also on board, amongst those struggling with the demands of conscience, and maybe family as a result of Wren’s demands, was Francis Lawes, aged 57, a worsted weaver – he was young Samuel’s employer and companion for at least this journey, although it has been suggested that there were also other members of the Lincoln line from Hingham on board. Whatever may have been their reason for emigrating, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Lawes may well have been an influencing factor upon young Samuel’s own decision to place his future overseas. Samuel, in fact, was following in the footsteps of his brothers, Daniel and Thomas who had settled in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1635. Thomas, had been granted a house lot by the town and although twice married Thomas had no children. After his death, he left a great deal of his property, including several house lots, to Samuel and his nephews. Samuel was never to return to Norfolk.

It has been said that, despite his young age, religion did influence Samuel Lincoln in his decision to leave Norfolk; it was certainly the case that religion led future American Lincolns to connect with members of the Norfolk Gurney family and to renew a centuries-old link with the Lincoln’s ancestry back in Norfolk.

The Gurney Connection:
One Hundred and Fifty-one years after young Samuel Lincoln had sailed to America, and barely 12 years after the former colony had declared itself to be the ‘United States of America’, on 9 September 1776, Joseph John Gurney was born into the Gurney family in Norwich – the year was 1788. The Gurney family was famous for Banking and were also well known as Quakers. Joseph was one of ten children, which included his equally famous sister, Elizabeth Fry of prison reforming fame. It was with this particular sister that the now 29-year-old Joseph also campaigned for prison conditions to be improved, coupled with a call for the abolition of capital punishment. The year was 1817 and he was now an evangelical minister.

Joseph John Gurney
Joseph John Gurney. Image: Wikipedia.

In his capacity as a prison reformer, Joseph Gurney made trips to the West Indies and the United States, between 1837 and 1840, where he preached and called for an end to slavery. While Gurney was preaching in the United States he caused some controversy that resulted in a split (schism) among Quakers. He was concerned that Friends had so thoroughly accepted the ideas of ‘the inner light’ that they no longer considered the actual text of the Bible and that the New Testament Christ was important enough. He also stressed the traditional Protestant belief that salvation is through faith in Christ. Those who sided with him were called ‘Gurneyite’ Quakers. Those who sided with John Wilbur, his opponent, were called ‘Wilburites’.

Gurney (Elizabeth_Wife_Archant)
Eliza Paul Kirkbride in later life. Photo: Archant.

It was also during his first visit to America in 1837 that he, then 39 years of age, first met Eliza Paul Kirkbride, who was three years his junior. She came from Philadelphia and was able to make quite an impression on Joseph when she presented her extensive briefs on American life to him. It was also during this visit that Joseph had the opportunity to meet with Abraham Lincoln several times, and to address a joint session of Congress; he also exchanged letters with Lincoln, then a young and ambitious member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Was it simply a coincidence then that, in 1837, Lincoln made his first public declaration against slavery?

Friends MeetingHouse
Drawing of the magnificent Gildencroft Quaker Meeting House in Norwich, built in 1698. Image: St Augustines Gallery.

Eliza Kirkbride came to England with Joseph Gurney when he returned home to Norwich; she becoming a Quaker minister in July 1841, and marrying him three months later to become his third wife. For the record – Joseph’s first wife had been Jane Birkbeck, whom he married at the Friends Meeting House at Wells on 10 September 1817; they had at least two children before Jane died in in 1822. His second wife was Mary Fowler whom he married five years later in 1827 at his brother’s (Samuel) Ham House in Essex. It is not generally known that prior to this marriage, Joseph had an admirer in none other than Amelia Opie, the early 19th century Norfolk writer. According to Mrs Fletcher’s Norwich Handbook, 1857:

“In 1825, she [Amelia] was received into the membership of the Society of Friends, perhaps with the hope of becoming the second Mrs Joseph John Gurney. If so, she was disappointed…….” Mary nee’ Fowler died in 1835.

Amelia Opie
Amelia Opie

By all accounts, Eliza and Joseph were a formidable pair in their eloquent pursuit for better and fairer conditions for all. In this capacity they travelled far and wide and became well-connected; it was said that they once urged the French king Louis Philippe to abolish slavery in his Colonies! The two also founded Earlham College, in Indiana – an echo of Earlham Hall – it being the Gurney’s Norfolk family home.

Friends MeetingHouse (Burial Ground)
View of the eastern corner of the Gildencroft Quaker Burial Ground, near the Quaker Meeting House, in Norwich. It was almost completely occupied by the graves of the Gurney family. The grave of the Norwich-born poet and novelist Amelia Opie is there – and still lies in the far left-hand corner. The Georgian-looking houses in the background, once in Pitt Street, have long gone. Image: St Augustines Gallery.

But the good days were not to last; on a winter’s day in 1847, Joseph John Gurney, then 58 years of age, was thrown from his horse and died. He was buried alongside many of his family in the now overgrown Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery in Norwich; his funeral witnessed by many in the city who respected him as one of the Norwich’s great philanthropists. As for Eliza, his widow, she returned to her home country in the USA three years later, settling in an elegant 18th-century mansion at West Hill in Burlington, New Jersey from where, over the next eight years, she travelled extensively.

The_Gurney_Family_Burial_Plot
The Gurney burial plot at the Gildencroft Quaker Cemetery in Norwich; Joseph John Gurney’s grave is front right. Photo: Wikipedia.
1280px-Gildencroft_Quaker_Cemetery
Entrance to the Guildencroft Burial Ground. Photo: Wikipedia.

Eliza’s Possible Influence on Abraham Lincoln:
Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln continued on his political rise, chosen as the first-ever presidential candidate for the new Republican party in May 1860. His election in November of that year hardened the sharp divisions between North and South over the issue of slavery. Seven slave states in the Deep South left the union and declared their own country, the Confederate States of America. Unsurprisingly, the now President Lincoln, along with the Northern states refused to recognise the new ‘country’, fearing it would lead to towards splinter- groups of ‘petty nations’. Both north and south were on an inevitable collision course. The first shot in the American Civil War came on 12 April 1861.

Gurney (Elizabeth_House_New Jersey_Archant)
The elegant mansion of West Hill, New Jersey in the USA where Eliza Gurney lived until her death in 1881.  Photo credit: Archant

Eliza Gurney, like many others, had to choose sides. Being a Quaker, she was a passionate opponent of war – but also a passionate opponent of slavery. She soon decided that the northern ‘Union’ cause was the more honourable one. In this, she was determined to let Lincoln know of her convictions but her efforts to meet with him towards the end of October 1862, in the company of three other senior Quakers, failed – the Confederate army was waiting only a few miles from the capital city of Washington! But then, on the morning of Sunday 26 October an opportunity arose for Eliza and in her own words ‘the great iron door’ opened. The group was ushered into the President’s private apartments.

It was said that Lincoln rose to greet them, he remembering his old links with Joseph John Gurney, Eliza’s connection with Norfolk by marriage and his ancestral roots at Hingham and Swanton Morley. Eliza spoke to him for fifteen minutes and he listened. Afterwards, Lincoln was deeply moved for it was also said that he grasped her hand, then said: “I am very glad of this interview ……” and Lincoln never forgot Eliza – or her message of support. In fact, the two corresponded during the following two years, until on 4 September 1864, when he wrote to his ‘esteemed friend’ to thank her again for her ‘very impressive visit two years earlier’:

Abraham Lincoln_Wikipedia
Abraham Lincoln. Photo: Wikipedia.

“We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise…… For those appealing to me on conscientious grounds, I have done, and shall do, the best I could and can, in my own conscience, under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not; and believing it, I shall still receive, for our country and myself, your earnest prayers to our Father in heaven.”

Lincoln carried Eliza’s reply to this letter in his breast pocket when he went to the theatre – and was assassinated!

lincoln-letter
A facsimile of Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his ‘esteemed friend’ on September 4 1864. It was Eliza Gurney’s reply to this letter which the President was carrying when he was assassinated six months later. Image credit: Archant

In 2018, Trevor Heaton, writing for the Eastern Daily Press in Norfolk about Eliza’s reply and the closing moments of President Lincoln’s life, stated:

“Five days after the surrender of Confederate general Robert E Lee, Lincoln was enjoying a rare evening away from the crushing burden of his public office. Together with his wife and two guests, they were at the Good Friday performance of the popular comedy ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theatre in the capital. Then around 10.15pm, as the play reached its final stages, on-stage comedy turned to real-life tragedy. John Wilkes Booth, a 26-year-old actor and Confederate sympathiser, took advantage of the temporary absence of Lincoln’s bodyguard to step inside his state box in the theatre’s balcony and fire his Derringer pistol, point-blank, into the back of the President’s head. Lincoln, fatally wounded, died nine hours later. And in his breast pocket, neatly folded, was a treasured letter with a strikingly familiar Norfolk surname on it – Gurney.

The story of how that letter came to be written makes for one of the most moving insights into the character of a man hailed as one of the greatest-ever presidents, the man who finally ended the shame of American slavery. And how curious that Lincoln’s life should be book-ended by Norfolk connections. For his roots were set deep in the county, with family links to Hingham and Swanton Morley. Only a few months later prayers were being said for Lincoln not in support of the great burden of his office but for the comfort of his soul……… And of all the fine things that Eliza Gurney did in her life, probably she rendered no nobler service to humanity than when she gave spiritual comfort to a great president in his hour of need. No wonder, then, that as he lay dying, it was her treasured words that were – literally – the closest to his heart.”

american-abassador-to-hingham
The 1919 street Celebration for American Ambassador John Davis, who was in Hingham, Norfolk to honour Abraham Lincoln. He presented a bust of Lincoln, which is now in the village church. Image: Picture Norfolk 
Lincoln (Hingham)
The bust of Abraham Lincoln in St Andrew’s Church, Hingham. Photo: Wikipedia.

THE END

A Time When James Returned to Norfolk!

By Haydn Brown

Preface:
The Norfolk writer, Bruce Robinson, died in 2016 at the age of 80 years. His wife, Cynthia, said in his obituary – published in The Guardian newspaper, on 14 July 2016 and modified on 28 November 2017 – that he was:

“Quietly spoken, unassuming, browns and beige on the outside but inside seething with ideas that tumbled over each other to reach the daylight; my husband, was a born writer; someone for whom the honing of a chapter was as natural as the squeezing of oranges he juiced each day for breakfast.”

Notable, after his retirement in 1993 Bruce Robinson wrote mainly for pleasure; focusing on local history, novels with a Norfolk connection, plus miscellanies. Included amongst these was his ‘flongster blogspot’, from which the following two extracts about the late James Stewart, famous film-actor, were taken – Enjoy!:

James Stewart’s visit to Tibenham in 1975:

“…….In early June, 1975, I took a phone call from a [Tibenham] gliding club member who told me that film star James Stewart was planning a private visit to the base – a members’ only job, apparently; very hush-hush; no fans; no Press! But if I didn’t let on how I knew, kept in the background, and didn’t wave a notebook about, then I might be able to pass muster as a club member.

James Stewart (WW2)
James Stewart.
Believed to be on the Control Tower of the old US airbase at Tibenham, Norfolk. Image: Courtesy of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library Collection and EDP.

However, Stewart’s visit was not a total surprise because during the Second World War he had been based at Tibenham (and elsewhere), from where he flew 20 bomber missions. He was a genuine war hero, and now, thirty years and many films later, he was appearing in the stage play ‘Harvey’ in London, and was simply taking advantage of a day off. Though I didn’t know it at the time, he had also planned to do a photoshoot with Terry Fincher for the Daily Express.

James Stewart (1970's Theatre Poster_Vinterior Co)

On the day in question I did my best to melt into the background and became a quiet bystander as James toured the base and the ruined control tower, and gazed at the runway. He clearly found it all very affecting. When they offered him a towed glider flight to RAF Coltishall and back, he jumped at the chance, and happily squeezed his lanky frame into the tiny cockpit. While he was away ….. I withdrew for a pub lunch.

James Stewart (1975 Visit to Tibenham)2
James Stewart, the famous Hollywood actor, seen here on a visit to the old US airbase at Tibenham, Norfolk, England in June 1975 – he was stationed there during the Second World War as a pilot. Photo: Terry Fincher, © The Fincher Files. 2013

Back at Tibenham again, Mr Stewart was ushered into the clubroom for sandwiches and coffee, where he looked at more memorabilia and chatted freely with everyone. Every so often his gentle drawl, ‘ahhh, well,’ and ‘kinda’ and ‘sorta’ could be heard across the crowded room. Relaxed and affable, he was in his element.

James Stewart (1975 Visit to Tibenham_Fincher)3
James Stewart looking along the old runway of the former U.S. air base at Tibenham, and from where he took off on some 20 combat missions during World War Two. It was here that he served with distinction. Photo: Terry Fincher © The Fincher Files.2013

I was sitting in a corner munching sandwiches when Stewart’s agent came across. ‘He knows who you are,’ he said. ‘He knows you’re a local journalist.’ I envisaged a firing squad. ‘Would you like to meet him?’ Yes, please!

Then James Stewart came across and sat down beside me, balancing a cup and saucer on his knee, and we talked for ten minutes. Deliberately, I ignored my notebook and later on had to struggle to remember some of the quotes. But in a way I was glad. It was not an interview, it was a neighbourly chat, freely offered and entered into.

James Stewart (1975 Visit to Tibenham_Daily Mail)
James Stewart at the derelict U.S. air base at Tibenham in June 1975. In the background, the former Control Tower where it is believed the above image of him, sitting on its rail during the war, was taken. Photo: © As on the above image.

James Stewart was like that. Aimable, interested, and at ease. He talked about Tibenham and how tough he had found it to remember his way around the base. ‘The only thing I can really orientate on is the control tower,’ he said. He talked about his glider flight, and I asked if he had taken the controls. ‘Sure I flew it. Sure I did.’ And then he talked about Norfolk and Norwich and how he hoped one day to visit the city’s American Memorial Library. Then his agent came back, and Stewart rose, shook hands, and wandered back towards the sandwiches.

James Stewart (1975_Glider Flight)
James Stewart being prepared for his glider flight to Coltishall and back in 1975 –‘”Sure I flew it. Sure I did.”  Photo: Courtesy of Mark Wright.

An Aside: In 2012, a Tibenham housing development was opened, and named “Stewart Close” in memory of James Stewart and his links with the village.

James Stewart visits Norwich and the Norwood Rooms:
“Having revisited his War-time Norfolk air base at Tibenham in 1975, Hollywood film star James Stewart kept his word and joined in with two or three of the subsequent 2nd Air Division reunions. But he did not come back to England as a visiting ‘celeb,’ but as an ordinary ex-flyer, one of the boys. He stayed with his mates in the same hotels, travelled with them by coach as they did the rounds of once-familiar locations, and remained as anonymous as possible within the group. They all liked him for that.

James Stewart (LIbrary_ 1975_EDP)
The former Norwich Central Library in which the American Memorial Library was located. Photo: EDP.

One of his more formal appearances was on the day he and his group went to see the former American Memorial Library – later severely damaged by fire, and replaced by a new Memorial tribute in the Forum – which at the time was housed at the old City library. Here he did pose for photographs, and behaved as a visiting dignitary would in a public role.

I have no doubt, however, that he had his ‘anonymous’ role firmly in mind when he and his colleagues, on another of their four-yearly visits, went to the former Norwood Rooms in Aylsham Road, Norwich – a popular dancing and dining venue at the time – for a veterans’ banquet. My wife and I were also invited, and we saw what happened.

James Stewart (Norwood Rooms)
The former Norwood Rooms, Norwich in which James Stewart made an appearance.

First, he did not sit with the brass and bigwigs on the top table. He stayed at his table on the floor of the hall surrounded by his pals. And second, he was a very reluctant speaker.

When he was finally persuaded to clamber on to the band platform to say a few words, he thanked everyone, including the people of Norfolk, for the welcome they gave the Americans during the War, and he told the story of the powdered eggs. Apparently powdered eggs were the staple breakfast diet in the officers’ mess at Tibenham, and Stewart became heartily sick of them. On other days, however, they were fed fresh farm eggs straight from a local farm. Unfortunately, those were the days on which a bombing mission was scheduled. So that was how they knew what was happening. Dried eggs, and they had their feet on the ground a little longer. Fresh eggs, and it was bombs away!

James Stewart (Glenn_miller_story_Wikipedia)

Later the same evening there occurred one of those rare, unrehearsed and unexpected events that invariably stick in the memory. The band was playing some Glenn Miller favourites, which got the veterans whistling and cheering. It was particularly apt because the film, The Glenn Miller Story, starring Stewart as Miller, was still doing the rounds. The band leader beckoned to Stewart and invited him to take over the conducting role. Stewart shook his head. Then the audience started clapping and shouting, and he reluctantly clambered back on to the stage and led the band through an admittedly slowish version of Moonlight Serenade. It brought the house down.

288-2

Some years’ later, our local morning newspaper began a scheme promoting plaques to be fixed to buildings where famous people had appeared. Most of those erected, it seemed to me, related to 1960s and 1970s pop groups. There was nothing to remind passers-by, for example, that Count Basie and his band once appeared at the old Samson & Hercules dance hall in Tombland, Norwich. Or that at the old Norwood Rooms a famous Hollywood film star once clambered on to the stage, borrowed the resident band, and reprised a tiny piece of one of his best-known film roles.

THE END

Sources:
http://flongster.blogspot.com/
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/14/bruce-robinson-obituary
James “Jimmy” Stewart | Norfolk’s American Connections

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.

 

Norfolk in Brief: The Lobster Coach!

By Haydn Brown.

In the days of stage coaches, the ‘Unicorn’ plied its services between Norwich and Cromer. It was said that the coach set out twice a day from the Coach Office in Lobster Lane, Norwich and travelled via North Walsham to Cromer. What the “Unicorn” was like we may see from Pollard’s picture. It was something between an omnibus and a hearse, and was drawn by a “unicorn” team—i.e., three horses; hence the official name of the coach; it was also called the Lobster Coach after its destination – Cromer!

i295
The ‘Unicorn’, Norwich and Cromer Lobster  Coach.
From a print after J. Pollard, 1830.

Then in 1907 yet another Lobster Coach hit the headlines! It was designed by a Thomas Cook, father of Lieut. Colonel Sir Thomas Cook, J.P. In the beginning, it was run as a road coach from the Grand Hotel, Cromer, to the Maids Head Hotel, Norwich – and back. In the summer of 1909, it offered a daily service and, again, was known as the ‘Lobster’ – for the same reason as previous coaches – its association with Cromer.

Lobster
A postcard showing what is thought to be the very Lobster about to depart from the Maid’s Head in Norwich, to the Grand Hotel at Cromer. Image: Courtesy of Bill Atkins.

Its route involved three intermediate ‘halts’, each with a change of four horses – The New Inn at Roughton, the Black Boys in Aylsham, and “The Crown” at Newton St. Faiths. The teams were comprised of different coloured horses for each of the four lengths, with five changes – skew balls, bays, blacks, browns and greys. On entering Aylsham from Cromer; a fifth horse, known as a ‘Cock Horse’, was provided to pull the coach up the hill past the Church.

The Lobster arrived at Norwich in time for lunch, calling at Aylsham for tea on the return journey to Cromer. There were two grooms stationed throughout the season at each ‘halt’, with additional staff at the main stables in Cromer. The professional driver was a Mr. Harry Milton, a well-known Park Lane, London, horse dealer, father of Harry Milton the film actor so they say. The horn blower, known as the Guard, was a Mr. T. Manley; he also won a number of National blowing competitions.

lobster1

Subsequently, the Lobster took part in International Horse Shows at Olympia, right up to the outbreak of the first World War. These competitions included a marathon race from Ranleigh, finishing up round the arena at Olympia. The coach was also used for private purposes from Sennowe, up until the sale of the horses in 1915. It was dragged annually to Fakenham Races by a team of Suffolk’s, until the outbreak of the second World War in 1939. It survives today in the Coach House at Sennowe Hall (see below), together with another coach, 14 other carriages and a large collection of harness, all of approximately the same age.

SENNOWE HALL:

Sennowe Hall (also known as Sennowe Park) is a large country house and estate located near the village of Guist in Norfolk, England. The clock tower, the house and the stables, all located in a beautiful landscape park, are Grade II* listed buildings. The Hall was originally a Georgian house built in 1774 and owned by Edmond Wodehouse MP. It was subsequently owned by the Morse-Boycott family, who had it re-built by Decimus Burton. It then passed into ownership of the lighting engineer Bernard Le Neve Foster.

lobster2

The Estate was bought in 1898 by Thomas Albert Cook grandson of Thomas Cook founder of the firm of travel agents called Thomas Cook and Son (now Thomas Cook plc). He commissioned the Norwich architect George Skipper to remodel and considerably enlarge the existing house. The house and its surrounding estate is still owned by his descendants. The Hall was the main filming location for The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor, an episode of the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

THE END

Sources:
The Newmarket, Bury, Thetford and Cromer Road. by Charles G Harper, 1904 https://woodnorton.norfolkparishes.gov.uk/the-lobster-coach/