May Day - banner

May Day festivities in the Georgian Era

Traditionally, on May Day, people danced around a maypole erected for the purpose, and although this custom was becoming less popular in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, it was still adhered to by some.

Johann Peter Neeff (1753-1796)
Johann Peter Neeff (1753-1796)

(Derby Mercury, 22nd May 1772)

We hear from Quarndon in Leicestershire, that the young People of that Village, on Old May Day last, erected a lofty Maypole richly adorned with Garlands, &c. which drew together a great Number of the younger Sort to dance round it, and celebrate with Festivity the Return of the Summer Season. Amongst the rest was a Body of young Fellows from Loughbro’, who formed a Plot to carry off the Maypole; which they executed at Night, and removed it to the Middle of the Market-Place at Loughbro’, a Monument of Pride to the Loughbro’ Lads, but which may be the Cause of Mischief and Bloodshed; for the Heroes of Quarndon vow Revenge and are forming Alliances with the Neighbours of Barrow and Sheepshead, and give out they will soon march in a Body to retake their favourite Maypole: In the mean Time the Loughbro’ Youths keep a good Look out, and are determined to preserve Possession of their Spoils.

Dominique Joseph Vanderburch (1722-1785) (www.christies.com)
Dominique Joseph Vanderburch (1722-1785) (www.christies.com)

Male and female couples danced around the maypole, holding and entwining lengths of brightly coloured ribbons, having first set out at dawn to gather garlands and boughs with which to decorate it.

On Monday last at Cheriton, near Alresford, the usual pastime of Maying commenced, where a Maypole was erected in commemoration of the day, and in the afternoon the sons and daughters of May, dressed in a very appropriate manner for the occasion, accompanied by a band of music, proceeded to a commodious bower, composed of green boughs, garlands of flowers, &c. erected for dancing; it was attended by upwards of 50 couple of the most respectable people in the neighbourhood, till the evening. This festive amusement was repeated the next day, with the same order, and, if possible, with greater spirit, as many more genteel couples were added to the gay circle, and the dancing was kept up to a late hour, when, after playing the national air of “God save the King,” the company separated with the greatest harmony and good humour.

(Hampshire Chronicle, 8th May 1815)

The Milkmaid's Garland, or Humours of May Day, Francis Hayman, c.1741 (held in the V&A)
The Milkmaid’s Garland, or Humours of May Day, Francis Hayman, c.1741 (held in the V&A)

Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on the evening of the 9th November 1800, from their family home in Steventon in Hampshire, giving her the local news and the fate of their village maypole.

We have had a dreadful storm of wind in the forepart of this day . . . One large Elm out of two on the left hand side, as you enter what I call the Elm walk was likewise blown down, the Maypole bearing the weathercock was broke in two, and what I regret more than all the rest is that all three Elms which grew in Hall’s meadow and gave such ornament to it are gone.

www.britannica.com
http://www.britannica.com

The American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) recounted his memories of May Day in the early nineteenth-century whilst he was visiting England.

Still I look forward with some interest to the promised shadow of old May-day, even though it be but a shadow; and I feel more and more pleased with the whimsical, yet harmless hobby of my host… I shall never forget the delight I felt on first seeing a May-pole. It was on the banks of the Dee, close by the picturesque old bridge that stretches across the river from the quaint little city of Chester. I had already been carried back into former days by the antiquities of that venerable place; the examination of which is equal to turning over the pages of a black-letter volume, or gazing on the pictures of Froissart. The May-pole on the margin of that poetic stream completed the illusion. My fancy adorned it with wreathes of flowers, and peopled the green bank with all the dancing revelry of May-day. The mere sight of this May-pole gave a glow to my feelings, and spread a charm over the country for the rest of the day; and as I traversed a part of the fair plain of Cheshire, and the beautiful borders of Wales, and looked from among swelling hills down a long green valley, through which “the Deva wound its wizard stream,” my imagination turned all into a perfect Arcadia.

Held by the Elmbridge Museum, artist unknown
Held by the Elmbridge Museum, artist unknown

Sources used not referenced above:

British Library, letter from Jane Austen, 9th November 1800.

The Works of Washington Irving, volume 1, Philadelphia, 1840

 

Tom Otter - marriage to Mary Kirkham

The Murderous Tale behind Tom Otter’s Lane

A rural, country lane in Lincolnshire, between the villages of Drinsey Nook and Saxilby and close to the county border with Nottinghamshire, bears the name of a murderer who was gibbeted there for his crime.

Tom Otter's Lane, showing the site of the gibbet.
Tom Otter’s Lane, showing the site of the gibbet.

Tom Otter was the culprit: hanged on Saxilby Moor close to the scene of his awful crime, his name still resonates over two hundred years later.

He was a twenty-eight year old labouring banker (navvy) from Treswell in Nottinghamshire who had travelled across the border into Lincolnshire seeking work, leaving his young wife and infant daughter behind in Southwell. Described as a stout but handsome man, he stood five feet nine inches in height.

He had married Martha Rawlinson at Eakring in Nottinghamshire on the 22nd November, 1804; their daughter was born just a month later, baptized at Hockerton near Southwell two days before Christmas.

St Michael and All Angels Church, South Hykeham © Copyright Julian P Guffogg
St Michael and All Angels Church, South Hykeham
© Copyright Julian P Guffogg

In Lincolnshire, passing himself off as a widower and using his mother’s maiden name of Temporal, he seduced young Mary Kirkham, a local girl between twenty-one and twenty-four years of age, and got her pregnant.  Forced by the parish authorities into marriage, the couple duly obtained a marriage licence and presented themselves, accompanied by the parish constables, at the parish church in South Hykeham to say their vows, Tom Otter naming himself as Thomas Temple [sic], a widower on the marriage licence if not in the marriage register, of St. Mary Wigford in Lincoln. Mary, eight months pregnant at her wedding, was a spinster from North Hykeham.

Tom Otter - marriage to Mary Kirkham

The marriage took place on Sunday, 3rd November 1805, and that same evening the couple found themselves near to Drinsey Nook, about nine miles distant from South Hykeham, after having stopped at The Sun Inn at Saxilby for a drink and a bite to eat. On the road between Saxilby and Drinsey Nook, Tom brutally murdered his pregnant bride only hours after their wedding, battering her skull with a wooden club and throwing her lifeless body into a ditch close to a bridge passing over the Ox Pasture Drain.

There poor Mary was discovered the next morning, her head almost beaten from her body, with the wooden club and one of her patterns located 40 yards away. She was carried back to The Sun Inn for an inquest to take place, following which she was buried in Saxilby on the 5th November 1805.

Tom Otter - burial of Mary Kirkham

The burial register reads:

Nov 5th – Mary Kirkham, alias Temporel, aged 24, found murdered on the Moor. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against her husband, Thomas Temporel, or Otter.

Having been observed walking with a wooden club on the day of the murder, Tom was taken up at The Packhorse Inn in Lincoln as the prime suspect and stood trial at the Lincoln Assizes as Thomas Temporell, otherwise Thomas Otter, in March 1806. After a trial lasting five hours he was sentenced to death and to have his body dissected, but this was changed to rule that his body should be hung in chains on Saxilby Moor, at the scene of his crime. Tom had made no defence to the charge of willful murder, but twenty witnesses appeared against him, all giving circumstantial evidence but it appeared so plain and clear that after the five hour trial the jury took but a few minutes to consider their verdict.

Tom carried himself with indifference at his trial, but on the day of his execution, 14th March 1806, he was measured for the irons in which his body was to rot, and at this point his fortitude forsook him and he approached the gallows adjacent to Lincoln Castle with his head bowed.

The Sun Inn at Saxilby (© John Spooner, Flickr)
The Sun Inn at Saxilby (© John Spooner, Flickr)

The Reverend George Hall, a friend of the gypsies and known as The Gypsy’s Parson, recounted in his book of the same name how his grandfather attended the gibbetting.

[He] was among the crowd of citizens who, starting from Lincoln Castle one March morning in the year 1806, followed the murderer’s corpse until it was hanged in irons on a post thirty feet high on Saxilby Moor. For several days after the event, the vicinity of the gibbet resembled a country fair with drinking booths, ballad singers, Gypsy fiddlers, and fortune-tellers.

The gypsies used to camp close to the gibbet, near Tom Otter’s mouldering bones; the local folk kept their distance from the place after dark and the gypsies knew they would be left in peace.  Although it occurred a decade on from the Georgian era, we must recount the birth of one gypsy boy, as given in The Gypsy’s Parson.

Old Tom, whose patronymic was Petulengro, the Gypsy equivalent of Smith, was known as Tom o’ the Gibbet (he was also known as Sneezing Tommy because of his predilection for a pinch of snuff, but we’ll concentrate on the former nickname). His married sister, Ashena Brown, when an elderly lady, told the story to the Gypsy’s Parson.

The old lady, bowed and with long jet black curls, began her tale:

Wonderful fond o’ the County o’ Nottingham was my people. They know’d every stick and stone along the Trentside and in the Shirewood (Sherwood), and many’s the time we’ve stopped at Five Lane Ends nigh Drinsey Nook . . . Ay, and I minds how my daddy used to make teeny horseshoes, knife handles, and netting needles, outen the bits o’ wood he tshin’d (cut) off the gibbet post, and wery good oak it was. Mebbe you’s heard o’ Tom Otter’s post nigh to the woods? Ah, but p’raps you’s never been tell’d that our Tom was born’d under it? The night my mammy were took bad, our tents was a’most blown to bits. The wind banged the old irons agen the post all night long, as I’ve heard her say. And when they wanted to name the boy, they couldn’t think of no other name but Tom, for sure as they tried to get away from it, the name kept coming back again – Tom, Tom, Tom – till it sort o’ dinned itself into their heads. So at last my daddy says, “Let’s call him Tom and done with it,” and i’ time, folks got a-calling him Tom o’ the Gibbet, and it stuck to him, it did.

Her brother, Thomas Smith, was baptized at St. Botolph’s in Saxilby, the same church where poor Mary Kirkham lay buried, on the 1st November 1840, the baptism register recording that the boy, the son of Moses and Eldred (otherwise Eldri) Smith, gypsies, was born in Otter’s Lane.

Tom Otter - gipsy bapt

Ashena Brown carried on her recollection of the gibbet and Tom Otter’s bones.

And whenever uncle and aunt used to pass by Tom Otter’s gibbet, they’d stop and look up at the poor man hanging there, and they allus wuser’d (threw) him a bit o’ hawben (food). They couldn’t let theirselves go by wi’out doing that. And there was a baker from Harby, and whenever he passed by the place he would put a bread loaf on to the pointed end of a long rod and shove it into that part o’ the irons where poor Tom’s head was, and sure enough the bread allus went. The baker got hisself into trouble for doing that, as I’ve heard our old people say.

The gibbet, with what was left of Tom inside, stood in its lonely spot, with only the occasional gypsy camp for company, until 1850, when a gale brought it crashing down.

Tom Otter - gibbet

 

 

Sources used:

Stamford Mercury, 8th November, 1805

Stamford Mercury, 14th March, 1806

Bury and Norwich Post, 19th March, 1806

Northampton Mercury, 22nd March, 1806

Northampton Mercury, 29th March, 1806

The Gypsy’s Parson by the Reverend George Hall

Murder at the Inn: A Criminal History of Britain’s Pubs and Hotels, James Moore

http://www.familysearch.org

 

Laurie banner

Looks Can be Deceiving – The Cross-dressing Nobleman in Georgian England

We are delighted to have persuaded the lovely Laurie Benson out  from her cozy drawing room as a guest writer so without further ado we will hand the post over to her to tell us about her findings.

Sometimes while I’m checking historical facts for one of my stories, I get sidetracked by some bit of information that I stumble upon. This blog post is the result of one of those instances, and I thought I’d share it with you.

When I came across this painting by Alexandre-Auguste Robineau, the sight of a fencing match between a man and a woman was too intriguing to pass by. Who was she? What prompted this scene? And why was it in the collection of the Prince Regent? Down the rabbit hole of research I went, to get some answers.

I discovered this fencing match took place at Carlton House on April 9, 1787 in the presence of the Prince of Wales and his friends. The Prince can be observed among the group of spectators, wearing the Star of the Garter. The main subjects of the painting are the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d’Eon. Chevalier de Saint-George appears to the left of the viewer, not faring too well in this encounter. The Chevalier d’Eon appears to the right. However, that bit of information raised even more questions about the painting. Now I needed to find out what I could about the unusually dressed Chevalier d’Eon.

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The Fencing-Match between the Chevalier de Saint-George and the Chevalier d’Eon c. 1787-9

The Chevalier d’Eon was born Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’Eon de Beaumont on October 5, 1728 to a noble family in France. At the age of 28, his life changed forever, when he joined the Secret du Roi. This was a secret network of spies employed by King Louis XV without the knowledge of the French government.

In addition to his work as a spy, d’Eon also served as a soldier and fought in the Seven Years’ War. He came to London in 1762 as part of the French embassy and helped to negotiate the Peace of Paris, which ended the war between France and Britain. For this work, he was awarded the Croix de St Louis.

There is some inconsistency about what happened next. In some accounts it says d’Eon was passed up for a promotion at the embassy and was insulted. Other accounts say he simply did not want to return to France when he was recalled. Either way, all accounts agree that in 1775 he blackmailed the French King by threatening to disclose secret information about French invasion plans. To silence him, Louis XVI offered him an official pension under the unusual condition that he should dress as a woman for the remainder of his days.

By 1785, d’Eon was back in England and had begun a new career performing fencing demonstrations. During these matches, he would dress in a black dress and wear his Crojx de St. Louis medal. Since there were stories of women who dressed as men to join the army and follow their sweethearts, it was accepted by most that d’Eon was a woman. However, there were those who constantly speculated and made wagers about d’Eon’s sex. There even was a court trial that declared d’Eon a woman.

Chevalier - St. James's Chronicle or the British Evening Post August 27, 1793
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post August 27, 1793

In 1792, the French Revolutionary government stopped paying d’Eon’s pension. He supported himself with fencing performances, selling his extensive library, and eventually selling his Crojx de St. Louis medal. He struggled with debt for the remainder of his life. When he died in 1810, his body was examined. Many people were shocked to hear d’Eon had the anatomy of a male.

Death Duty Register
Death Duty Register showing his address as Millman St, St Pancras

This formal portrait of the Chevalier hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. It was painted by Thomas Stewart in 1792 and is a copy of one painted by Jean-Laurent Mosnier in 1791. In the portrait, d’Eon is shown wearing the full cockade of a supporter of the French Revolution. His sympathy for the new regime in France ended with the execution of the French royal family.

NPG 6937; Chevalier d'Eon by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier
NPG 6937; Chevalier d’Eon by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier

Who says history is boring?

 

To find out more about the Chevalier d’Eon, visit these websites that I used for my research:

The British Museum

The Guardian

The History Blog

The National Portrait Gallery

The Royal Collection

 

St Peters Church, Bishops Waltham

The Gruesome Murder of Thomas Webb, 1800, Curdridge, Hampshire

We have another gruesome murder for you, this one took place on 11th February 1800.

According to Bells Weekly Messenger, 2nd March 1800, three soldiers of the Tarbert Fencibles (from the word defencible), John Diggins, Richard Pendergrass and Sergeant James Colloppy who were quartered at Botley in Hampshire, came across a poor old travelling man by the name of Thomas Webb from Swanmore, close to where they were quartered, at Curdridge .

After robbing him of a few shillings they stabbed him. Cutting him in various parts of his body they then dragged him over an adjoining bank and threw him into a ditch and stamped on him. Somehow, despite his horrific injuries Webb managed to find the strength to crawl to the cottage of a Daniel Barfoot nearly a mile away, where a surgeon was immediately sent for, who successfully removed from his body a part of a bayonet, six and a half inches in length.

St Peters Church, Bishops Waltham
St Peters Church, Bishops Waltham

The three were arrested and taken to the county gaol at Winchester. Thomas Webb lived long enough to relate the particulars of his ordeal but then tragically died.  Thomas was buried at the parish church at Bishops Waltham close to his home.

Thomas Webb

According to The Evening Mail, on the 12th March 1800 all three assailants appeared at the Lent Assizes in Winchester in a trial that lasted from eleven in the morning until midnight.  Pendergrass and Colloppy were acquitted due to lack of evidence, but Diggins (also recorded as Diggens) was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to execution on Monday 17th March 1800.

Pendergrass, although not found guilty was later given 600 of 1,000 lashes, a punishment inflicted upon him by Court Martial for Disobedience of Orders, for being absent without leave on the night of the murder. He received the first 600 after the trial, then the remaining 400 after which he was drummed out of the regiment with a rope about his neck. On receiving the first 400 apparently he did not seem in the slightest bit affected. According to the report in the Hampshire Telegraph ‘The Loyal Tarbert Fencibles are greatly incensed against the perpetrators of that most inhuman crime. No regiment can be more praiseworthy from their good conduct and behaviour in this garrison‘.

Praise was given at the trial to Daniel Barfoot and his son who immediately loaded their guns and went in search of the murders.

 

Winchester-Gaol-©Winchester-City-Council-300x230
WinchesterGaol © Winchester City Council

Diggens’ body was hung from a gibbet on the nearby Curdridge Common. Apparently he did show remorse and begged Webb’s wife and family for forgiveness, but it was too late to save him. In accordance with his sentence his body was returned to the place where the murder was committed and hung there in chains. He was 22 years of age when he died (Northampton Mercury 22nd March 1800).

There is a memorial stone to Thomas Webb located at the side of a drinking fountain in Botley, not far from the railway station. The stone must have been erected shortly after his death as it was included in ‘A Companion in a Tour round Southampton … And a Tour of the Isle of Wight‘, by John Bullar which was published in 1801.

There seems to be some confusion as to which regiment the soldiers were with, many of the newspapers referring to it as being the Tarbert Fencibles whilst as you can see the stone confirms it as being the Talbot Fencibles, as far as we can ascertain both regiments were in Botley at the same time.

P1010868
Memorial Stone at Botley © Sarah Murden

The story didn’t end there however, The Hampshire Telegraph of 24th March 1800 reported the following, after the hanging of Diggens:

So was Diggins guilty of murder?  Did the wrong man hang or was  it a last ditch attempt to save himself from the inevitable? We will never know the truth.

Sources

Hampshire Chronicle 24th February 1800 which also refers to the regiment as The Talbot Fencibles

Hampshire Telegraph 17th March 1800

The Port of London in the 18th Century

We are absolutely thrilled to welcome a new guest to our blog – Regan Walker, bestselling author of historical romance. Regan has another new book due out on the 9th May 2015  – To Tame the Wind. Regan is sharing with us some of her research that has helped her in writing her latest book, which is available from Amazon.

Regan Walker profile pic 2014

In To Tame the Wind, my new Georgian romance, the hero, an English privateer, adroitly maneuvers his schooner through the traffic on the Thames to moor in the Pool of London. That’s the area just downstream from London Bridge where London’s port was originally centered. And it was a very busy place!

During the 18th century, both the city of London and its international trade went through a great expansion. The Thames became a huge traffic jam, or as one of my characters described it, ““There are so many ships in port just now, the Thames is like a kettle of stew on the boil.”

Pool of London, painting by John Wilson Carmichael
Pool of London, painting by John Wilson Carmichael

 Thousands of coastal sailing ships entered the port each year bringing coal or grain to the capital. These ships competed for space in the crowded river with vessels carrying goods like sugar and rum from the West Indies, tea and spices from the East Indies, wine from the Mediterranean, furs, timber and hemp for rope from Russia and the Baltic and tobacco from America.

As you might expect, the rate of increase in the volume of the trade fluctuated with the alternating periods of peace and war. Between 1700 and 1770 the commerce of the port nearly doubled, and from 1770 to 1795 (only 25 years) it doubled again. In 1751, the Pool of London handled 1,682 ships in overseas trade. By 1794, this had risen to 3,663 ships. By 1792, London’s share of imports and exports accounted for 65% of the total for all of England.

The heavy congestion in the Pool resulted in damage to goods and ships, theft and delays. Merchants complained loudly about the effect this had on their costs and profits, and in the 1790’s the merchants of the highly profitable West Indies trade began to campaign for better port facilities, which they eventually got.

Shipping on the Thames, painting by Samuel Scott
Shipping on the Thames, painting by Samuel Scott

Some idea of the state of congestion that existed in the river can be gathered from the fact that in the Upper Pool, 1,775 vessels were allowed to moor simultaneously in a space adapted for about 545. A ship of 500 tons was thought of as a ship of exceptional size and this partly explains the state of congestion. The great increase in the volume of trade resulted in the addition of a large number of ships of relatively small carrying capacity. The situation was aggravated by the large number of these smaller craft, estimated at about 3,500, employed to convey cargoes from the moorings to the wharves.

Ships did their best to sail up or down the Thames, but being unloaded was another matter. Until the end of the eighteenth century, there were no docks built for unloading ships (as opposed to dockyards that repaired them). Instead, cargo that couldn’t be carried from a ship to the wharf would be ferried by smaller craft.

The Port of London was the busiest port in the world.

ReganWalker_ToTametheWind - 800px

 http://www.amazon.com/Tame-Wind-Agents-Crown-Book-ebook/dp/B00VO4DZYE

 

Paris 1782…AN INNOCENT IS TAKEN

All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell’s schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear… her.

A BATTLE IS JOINED

The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire’s father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.

Regan’s Website: http://www.reganwalkerauthor.com/

Blog:  http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @RegansReview (https://twitter.com/RegansReview)

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/regan.walker.104

Regan also has a Pinterest storyboard of all her research for the book : https://www.pinterest.com/reganwalker123/to-tame-the-wind-by-regan-walker/

 

Judith - banner 2

Judith Redman: errant wife or mistreated spouse?

On the 29th July, 1760, and again a week later on the 5th August, the Leeds Intelligencer newspaper carried the following warning about an errant wife.

WHEREAS JUDITH, the wife of John Redman, of Foster-Farm, within Haworth, in the Parish of Bradford, in the County of York, Yeoman, hath eloped from her said Husband:

These are therefore to give Notice to all Persons whatsoever,

Not to give any Credit to the said JUDITH, for Goods, or other Things she may want, for that they will not be paid for the same.

Judith - advert 2

There was nothing particularly unusual in this advertisement: without it John Redman would be fully liable for any and all debts which his runaway wife contracted, and he wished to disassociate himself from her financially. The couple had not been married for quite two years, their wedding taking place at Haworth on the 7th September, 1758. The marriage took place with the consent of parents, so Judith was probably not quite ‘of age’ when she wed John, and the ceremony was conducted by one John Horsfall, officiating minister, maybe a relative of Judith’s.

St. Michael's and All Angel's Church, Haworth © Dave Green via commonswikimedia.org
St. Michael’s and All Angel’s Church, Haworth
© Dave Green via commonswikimedia.org

33069_256551-00011

What is surprising, however, is the response of this wife, for, in her opinion, she was no mere runaway, but a woman who had been ill-treated and hard done by – and she was not about to have her husband deny her the means of getting credit, which she felt that she was well able to repay herself, with or without any help from him!

And so, for the following two weeks, on the 12th and 19th August, 1760, a slightly different advert appeared in the same newspaper.

NOTICE is hereby given, THAT JUDITH, the Wife of JOHN REDMAN, of Foster-Farm near Haworth, in the County of York, who was advertis’d in our last Paper, doth hereby acknowledge to have eloped from her said Husband; but, that such Elopement was not on account of her Extravagancies, as represented, but on account of her said Husband being, in Times, subject to Fits of Phrenzy and Lunacy; and who has made several Attempts to lay violent Hands upon the said Judith his Wife; and that she could not cohabit with her said Husband as she ought, but was in fear of her Life: Therefore,

As the Public is acquainted with the Reasons of the said Judith’s Elopement, ‘tis hoped no Regard will be paid to her Husband’s late Advertisement, but on the contrary, believe the said Judith, for the future, to be a Person of Credit.

Judith - advert 1

Judith Redman, née Horsfall, born c.1737, lived many years after she fled from her husband, and was buried, aged 52 years, in the churchyard of St. Michael in Haworth on the 21st January, 1789. She died of ‘spotted fever’, probably either typhus or meningitis. There is a probable burial for her husband in the same church in 1780.

33069_256548-00178

Obviously, at this remove, we can’t verify either version, but we applaud Judith’s spirit. She can’t have moved far away given that she was buried in the vicinity of her marital home, and so we do hope that the plucky lady managed to live out the rest of her years happily and peacefully, receiving as much credit from the local tradesmen as she was pleased to do so and able to comfortably repay.

N.B. for the definition of spotted fever we used this Glossary of Medical Terms.

See also our previous blog, What’s the going rate for selling your wife?

The Murder of Bessie Sheppard 1817

Many people in Nottinghamshire will have travelled past the stone marking Elizabeth Sheppard’s death in 1817 and not even noticed it as it is now hidden in the undergrowth.  As a teenager I passed the stone every day on my way to school but never really knew anything about who she was or why there was a stone there, but I had heard about her ghost that was said to haunt the A60 where she died with reports of motorists stopping to offer a girl a lift, when she simply disappeared.

The story was well documented at the time and has continued to fascinate ever since. Stories normally only make it onto our blog if they contain at least one new fact, however, we have made an exception in this case as it’s such a tragic story that we think will be of interest and also quite simply because we can!

Newspapers of the day described the girl in this story as Elizabeth Shepherd, not Sheppard which seems strange that they should have got her name wrong in such an important trial. There was a baptism in 1799 for an Elizabeth Shepherd which I think was in all likelihood her, daughter of Richard and Molly. Her burial in the parish records at Papplewick also recorded her as Shepherd.

Church_of_St_James,_Papplewick
Church of St James, Papplewick

On Monday the 7th July 1817 Elizabeth left her home in the village of Papplewick, Nottinghamshire, to walk to the town of Mansfield some 7 miles away, to seek employment as a servant. She was successful in her mission and began the long walk home – but she never made it back. About 4 miles from home Elizabeth, known as Bessie, was attacked by a Charles Rotherham.

Charles Rotherham, aged about 33, was a former soldier from Sheffield, who having fought in the Napoleonic Wars had taken up the occupation of a scissor grinder, so was presumably earning a living by travelling around the country sharpening knives. There was no reason offered in the newspaper reports as to why he was in that area so we can only presume his trade had led him there.

According to the newspaper reports Rotherham, without a word and with no apparent motive, attacked Bessie with a hedge-stake. He beat her until she died. The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser described Bessie as being ‘an interesting girl of 17’ and Rotherham as ‘a monstrous assassin’.

Having found no money upon her person, he stole her new shoes, ones she was wearing for her interview, and her umbrella and threw her body into a ditch. Apparently, shortly after having committed such an appalling crime he continued his journey toward Nottingham, stopping at The Hutt, an Inn, (opposite the entrance to Newstead Abbey, which was until 1816, owned by Lord Byron), for a drink, having passed Bessie’s mother who had set off in search of her daughter who was later than expected. According to the newspapers Bessie’s mother had seen a man with an umbrella on his arm.

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire by J.C. Barrow, 1793.
Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire by J.C. Barrow, 1793.

When her body was found the following day in a ditch, it was described as being in a dreadful state with her brain protruding from her skull, one eye knocked out of the socket. Rotherham was quickly pursued and arrested, by Constable Benjamin Barnes, at which time Rotherham allegedly said ‘I am guilty of the crime and must suffer the course of the law’. He was taken to the scene of the crime and showed the officer the stake he had used, but could offer no explanation as to why he had done it, but his clothes showed signs of blood stains. He had money, 6 shillings in fact, in his pocket, so possibly money was not the motive, but he had successfully sold both her shoes and her umbrella.

The Hutt
© Copyright roger geach and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At his trial he entered a plea of guilty, but for some reason the judge persuaded him to change his plea to not guilty. The case was heard, with ‘a considerable number of people called’ including Bessie’s mother; the newspapers reported him as being ‘resigned to his fate’. Right up to the time of his death Rotherham said he had no idea what made him commit such a heinous crime. He was visited by the Rev. Dr. Wood prior to the hanging and seemed to show remorse for what had happened.  His fate, however, was sealed and he was hanged on the 28th July 1817 in Nottingham. Some 20,000 people attended the execution, after which his body was given over to a surgeon for dissection and was then interred at St Mary’s churchyard, Nottingham.

Rotherham left a wife, but no children, plus a brother and two sisters. According to the newspapers he had served as a solider for 12 years in the Artillery Corps and had been present in battles in Egypt, Portugal, Spain and France. Apparently on the day of the murder he had drunk 7 pints of ale in Mansfield before walking to the spot where the crime was committed.

Elizabeth was buried on the 10th July 1817 at St James’ parish church, Papplewick. The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser of 13th March 1819, a little under two years later, reported that the local community was so shocked by this murder that money was raised to purchase a stone so that her memory would live on.

On Tuesday night a neat monument was erected on Sherwood Forest, on the spot where this unfortunate female was murdered and on which was engraved the following inscription ‘this monument was erected in memory of Elizabeth Sheppard, of Papplewick, who was murdered on this spot by Charles Rotherham on the 7th July 1817 in  the 17th year of her age.

bessie sheppard

The Bessie Sheppard Stone

Was he guilty? My view is that despite the evidence he was not guilty, surely if he had just beaten someone to death he would not have simply carried on walking to an inn, with blood stained clothes surely he would have wanted to avoid being seen. Wouldn’t Bessie’s mother have recognized the umbrella? Some reports state that Bessie was travelling from Mansfield towards Nottingham and that Rotherham was travelling towards Mansfield when the incident happened i.e. in the opposite direction, if that were the case, did he change his mind and head back toward Nottingham, if not then he could not have passed Bessie’s mother. It also raises the question as to why people felt compelled to mark her death with the stone, not many murders are marked in such a way.

The story of Bessie’s murder lingers on and there are still reported sightings of her ghost and as I grew up I was always aware of the legend that if the stone were ever moved from that spot that she would appear – to answer your question, no, I never saw her ghost.

Lincoln Cathedral, from the Castle Moat, Peter De Wint 1784-1849 Bequeathed by John Henderson 1879 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03479

The Lincoln Magna Carta in the early 19th Century

In the first decade of the 1800s a centuries old copy of the Magna Carta was rediscovered in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral.

Cathedral Church at Lincoln exhibited 1795 by Joseph Mallord William Turner, exhibited 1795. (www.tate.org.uk)
Cathedral Church at Lincoln exhibited 1795 by Joseph Mallord William Turner, exhibited 1795. (www.tate.org.uk)

Magna Carta, or the Great Charter, was ‘signed’ by King John in 1215 at Runnymede near Windsor (his seal was affixed to the document by the royal chancery). It is one of the most famous documents in the world, a ‘peace treaty’ and established the principle that everybody, including the King, was subject to the law. It was signed by twenty-five Barons, and also by various Bishops and Abbots, and one of those who signed was Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln who attended alongside Lincolnshire’s Cardinal Archbishop Stephen Langton. It is thought that Bishop Hugh, who was named in the document as one of King John’s advisors, probably brought this copy back with him to his Cathedral on his return from Runnymede, and that it had been lodged there ever since.

The Record Commission gave preference to the Lincoln Magna Carta in their ‘Statutes of the Realm’ published in 1810, inserting this copy in its publication.

Lincoln Cathedral from the Holmes, Brayford circa 1802-3 Joseph Mallord William Turner. (www.tate.org.uk)
Lincoln Cathedral from the Holmes, Brayford circa 1802-3 Joseph Mallord William Turner. (www.tate.org.uk)

The Lincoln Magna Carta is widely travelled, having made quite a few trips ‘over the pond’ to America for displays there, most recently to Boston, Williamstown and Washington during 2014. During the 2nd World War, whilst the document was on show at the Library of Congress when America entered the war, it was stored for security in Fort Knox in Kentucky alongside America’s gold reserves, not returning home until 1947.

Since 1993, the Lincoln Magna Carta has been on view in Lincoln Castle, but now, in 2015, to better preserve it and to mark 800 years since the Magna Carta was sealed, the document has a new home in a vault in the refurbished Lincoln Castle, which reopened to the public on the 1st April.  The Charter of the Forest, dating from 1217, will also be on display there. In honour of this, we have a couple of early references from the newspapers relating to the 19th Century rediscovery of the Lincoln Magna Carta.

A New Cure for Jackobinism or A Peep in the Tower, Charles Williams, 1810. © Trustees of the British Museum. Featuring Sir Francis Burdett who thought the actions of Parliament were an unconstitutional violation of Magna Carta.
A New Cure for Jackobinism or A Peep in the Tower, Charles Williams, 1810. © Trustees of the British Museum.
Featuring Sir Francis Burdett who thought the actions of Parliament were an unconstitutional violation of Magna Carta.

Stamford Mercury, 6th December, 1811

It has been lately discovered by the Commissioners of Public Records, that the most correct and authentic manuscript of Magna Charta, is that now in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral, which is supposed to be the charter transmitted by the hands of Hugh, the then Bishop of Lincoln, who is one of the Bishop’s named in the introductory clause. The parchment on which it is written measures about 18 inches square, but has no seal.

Stamford Mercury, 22nd August, 1823

CHARTERS OF ENGLAND – That there might be a complete edition of the Statutes (which is now in progress of printing, under the sanction of Parliament,) the Royal Commissioners of Public Records lately caused the most extensive examinations to be made. For the purpose of examining all charters, and authentic copies and entries thereof, two Sub-Commissioners have occupied one whole summer in making a progress through England and Ireland, to every place where it appeared such charters, copies, or entries might be preserved; and searches have been made successively at every Cathedral in England which was known to possess any such documents, also at the Universities, &c. They have made some most valuable and interesting discoveries. Besides the rare Chantularies or collections of charters found in Rochester, Exeter, Canterbury, and other Cathedrals, in Lincoln Cathedral they found also “An Original of the Great Charter of Liberties granted by King John in the 17th year of his reign,” in a perfect state. This charter appears to be of superior authority to either of the two charters of the same date preserved in the British Museum. From the contemporary endorsements of the word Lincolnia on two folds of the charter, this may be presumed to be the charter transmitted by the hands of Hugh, the then Bishop of Lincoln, who is one of the Bishops named in the introductory clause; and it is observable that several words and sentences are inserted in the body of this charter which in both the charters preserved in the British Museum are added by way of notes for amendment, at the bottom of the Instruments.

Liberty suspended! With the bulwark of the constitution! by George Cruikshank, 1817. © Trustees of the British Museum. Magna Carta used as condemnation for the government banning habeas corpos during the economic crisis following the Napoleonic Wars.
Liberty suspended! With the bulwark of the constitution! by George Cruikshank, 1817. © Trustees of the British Museum.
Magna Carta used as condemnation for the government banning habeas corpos during the economic crisis following the Napoleonic Wars.

And, incidentally, George Washington was descended from King John and twelve of the Barons who were involved in Magna Carta.

Magna Carta - George Washington

Sources not mentioned above:

Magna Carta: Through the Ages, Ralph V. Turner, 2003

Magna Charta Barons, Charles H, Browning, 1915

British Library website

 

Further reading:

http://www.lincstothepast.com/exhibitions/treasures/magna-carta-/-charter-of-the-forest/

http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation

http://lincolncathedral.com/library-education/magna-carta/