I came across a couple of really interesting characters who were said to have been very well known in their local area, at the time. The first was a Martha Staninought, who today, would possibly have been identified as having mental health issues, but at the time was simply regarded as eccentric.
Martha was generally known as ‘The Queen’. In her younger days she lived as a servant in some of the families in Great Yarmouth, during which time she demonstrated some symptoms of eccentricity, but for many years past she was reported to have been ‘in a state of insanity’ and was supported by an allowance from the parish and by private money, which was loaned to her, to be paid back when due.
Martha believed that her brother John was entitled to the Crown and that she ought to be considered and treated as The Queen. Under this illusion Martha carried in her hand, as symbols of her right, a seal, a triangular piece of French chalk, a dollar or a French half-crown, and the title page of some Acts of Parliament.
She was said to have taken great offence if not addressed by the term ‘Your Majesty’, and when she was at church, which she attended regularly, she always made a formal protest against praying for the King and Queen, when the prayer was read; and if the word Society occurred in the service, always called out ‘No Society’.
Her mind was frequently distressed by her apprehensions, sometimes that the state, sometimes that the Catholic faith, were in danger; but, excepting her insanity upon the subject of royalty, her conduct was perfectly correct and inoffensive. She was very neat in her appearance and very civil in her behaviour, just as long as she was treated with respect.
She always refused to take alms, though she would accept a loan in advance of her revenue, and frequently repaid it when she received her allowance, which accumulated during her absence upon the road, as she spent a great part of her time in travelling, visiting frequently ‘her cathedral’ at Norwich, and ‘her courts’ at Westminster.
In her progress to town, she was taken ill at Leiston, in Suffolk and was sent to Yarmouth, where she was taken into the workhouse, and treated with the utmost attention, her imagination remaining to the last impressed with her ruling idea. In her health she bestowed dignities upon her favourites, and in her last illness, she promised handsome regards to her faithful attendants.
Martha died in the workhouse at the age of 70 and was buried on 22 October 1804 at the parish church of St Nicholas with St Peter, St John, St Andrew, St James, St Paul and St Luke, Great Yarmouth.
The second character was Edmund Noakes, who died at Hornchurch, in Essex in 1802. He was by a tinker by trade, which he followed zealously until about six weeks before his death.
His rooms portrayed symptoms of the most abject poverty and yet, despite this, he was found to possess property to the amount of between five and six thousand pounds (about ¼ million in today’s money).
He had a wife and several children, which he brought up in the most frugal manner, often feeding them on grain and offal, which he had purchased at reduced prices.
He was no less remarkable in person and dress. In order to save the expense of shaving, he would encourage the dirt to gather on his face, to hide the fact. He never allowed for his shirt to be washed in water, but after wearing it until it became intolerably black, he used to wash it in urine to save the expense of soap.
His coat which time had transformed into a jacket, would have puzzled the wisest philosopher to make out its original colour, so covered was it with shreds and patches of different colours, and those so diversified, as to resemble the different trophies of the several nations of Europe and seemed to compete with Joseph’s ‘coat of many colours’.
The interest on the money, together with all he could heap up from his penurious mode of living, he used to deposit in a bag, which was covered up with a tin pot, and then conveyed to a brick kitchen, one of the bricks was taken out and a hole made just large enough to hold the pot. The brick was then carefully marked, and a tally kept behind the door of the sum deposited.
One day his wife discovered this hoard and resolving to profit from her discovery, took fifteen guineas from the pot. Edmund soon discovered what she had done and from that day forward he never spoke to her without calling her a thief.
In his younger days, to save money, when any of his children died, rather than having a coffin supplied for their body, he had a deal wood box made up (which would be much cheaper) and rather than undergoing a regular funeral, he would take them to a place dug for them.
A short time before his death, which he evidently hastened by the use of almost a quart of spirits, he gave strict instructions that his coffin should not have a nail in it, and that the hinges be made of cord. No plate on the coffin just his initials cut out of the lid. His shroud was made from a pound of wool and his coffin carried by six men, to whom he had left half-a-crown and at this specific request, no-one who followed him to the grave should wear mourning clothing, on the contrary, their whole dress should be striking. Even the undertaker wore a blue coat and scarlet waistcoat.
He died without a will and his fortune was equally divided between his wife and family. There was a burial on 17 October 1802 for an Edward Nokes, which it is fairly safe to assume was him, so he was buried officially, despite not having done so for his children.
Staffordshire Advertiser, 1 December 1804
Sussex Advertiser, 6 December 1802
View of Yarmouth Yale Center for British Art