In Search Of Lost Time In Eyam And An Outbreak Of Plague

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This very unusual wall sundial is to be found above the Priest’s Door on the east side of Eyam parish church in Derbyshire. It dates from 1775, and was designed and made locally. I discovered it when were in the village doing a spot of family history research – not researching in any organised way I might add – more a matter of walking ancestral paths and acquiring a sense of place. Eyam is anyway a village with an awful lot of history, not least the story of how its inhabitants dealt with an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665-1666 by imposing a cordon sanitaire around the village boundary, and for over a year sticking to it so as not to spread the disease to neighbouring communities.

Over the fourteen months that the outbreak persisted, 280 out of the 800 population died. It is thought the infection arrived in a parcel of fabric, sent in late summer from London to the Eyam tailor, Alexander Hadfield. The package was opened by his assistant, George Viccars, and it was he who was the first to fall ill and die. Thereafter, the disease spread rapidly throughout the autumn, slowed over the winter, and returned in full force in the following spring and summer. In the worst month of August 1666 seventy eight villagers died.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine was managed by the young village rector, Reverend William Mompesson, and Nonconformist minister Reverend Thomas Stanley. It was agreed that every household would bury their own dead and, in a bid to  maintain morale and give comfort to survivors, church services were held in the open air so people could gather together, but not too closely. Local landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, and others from neighbouring villages saw that supplies of food and other necessities were left at the village boundary.

It is a harrowing episode that demonstrates great human resilience and bravery, not least by the Reverend Mompesson, whose own wife was among the last victims. And today, as you wander around the village, the event continues to be marked by commemorative plaques outside the cottages that were once the homes of the families who were particularly afflicted.

It could seem mawkish, crass even, to make a visitor attraction from this horrific episode, but somehow it isn’t. The village quietly embraces you in a reflection on shared humanity – now and back through time.  In fact the sun dial says it all: Induce animum sapientum –  cultivate an enquiring mind. And then on the two supporting stone corbels, which you can’t quite read in the photo: ut  umbra sic vita – life passes like a shadow.

I especially like the way that when it is noon in Eyam, the sundial shows the relative times in Calicut, Mecca and Panama, to name but a few of the far-flung places inscribed on the dial. It also includes a chart for longitudinal adjustments of local True Sun Time to Greenwich meantime, and throughout the year. Somehow it is uplifting to feel that in this isolated Derbyshire village, and over the centuries, the gaze of its inhabitants has extended to a world beyond its village boundaries.

So far I haven’t mentioned why we were visiting Eyam or explained presumed family links with this locality. Researches into the Fox family of Callow in Hathersage (covered in other posts) suggest that a possibly direct ancestor, one Robert Fox, yeoman farmer and lead miner, was living in the area between 1678 and 1699. I have a copy of his will and household inventory, so I know he owned 13 cushions and several field beds in one or more parlours. There were no Fox plague victims in Eyam, although Robert Fox’s second wife, Margaret Mower, had lost an uncle, Rowland Mower. His will is included in the 1842 book by local historian, William Wood, The History and Antiquities of Eyam ~ with a full and particular account of the Great Plague.

The Fox family connection is all a bit of a yarn, which may never be unravelled. So for now some more views of the village:P1050536

Eyam Parish Church and its 8th century Saxon Cross complete with Celtic influences.

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This is Eyam Hall, very much post-plague, and built between 1671-6 and incorporating a much smaller existing property in the heart of the village. Its builders were newcomers, the land-owning-merchant Wright family, and their arrival signified revival, and an increasing interest in developing the lead mining potential the area. Landowners large and small were keen to exploit this highly valued mineral. And although lead had been mined across Derbyshire since Roman times, there is almost a ‘gold rush’ feel about the exploitative zeal from the late 17th century.

It is possible that post-plague opportunities around Eyam attracted the likes of putative ancestor, Robert Fox. My band of fellow Fox-hunters has not been able to establish if he was an incomer or if there were existing family connections with Eyam. His father was a tenant farmer at The Oaks, near Highlow, a few miles away, and he and Robert’s brothers may also have been involved in the lead business,  possibly smelting.

Robert owned four small parcels of lead-bearing land in Foolow, two of which adjoined Wright land. When he thought he was dying in 1691 and wrote his will, he was very concerned to make it clear he had ownership of them, and that the proceeds of his property should be managed by his brother and brother-in-law for the upbringing and education of his four children – James, William, Mary and Robert. In fact he did not die until 1699, and it is not clear what happened to his family. We think the eldest James became a shoemaker in Eyam, and that Robert was possibly a very successful joiner in Wirksworth, the lead mining capital of Derbyshire. William is the one we have our eye on as the possible ancestor for the Callow Foxes, but his baptismal record has so far proved elusive, which is most annoying when we know that his three siblings were baptised in Eyam church. Ah, well. Such are the fascinations and frustrations of tracking down traces of families long past.

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From: William Wood The History & Antiquities of Eyam 1842

Black & White Sunday: Traces of the Past

 

JOSEPH SIDDALL

P.S. A number of readers have asked what became of 3 year old Joseph Siddall. The Eyam Museum researches seem to indicate that there were in fact two surviving Siddall children, and they went to live with relatives in Sheffield, not that far from Eyam. There is quite a dynasty of Siddalls in the Eyam-Stoney Middleton area of Derbyshire, so they would not have been left without any family connections.

Thursdays Special ~ Winding Our Way Round Kingsand and Cawsand With Some Pirate Tales Thrown In

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The meandering streets of Kingsand and Cawsand were all but deserted when we went wandering there one winter’s afternoon. The twinned  villages fringe adjoining bays, clinging to the hillside above the Tamar Estuary in south east Cornwall. The river marks the county boundary – Devon, and the port city of Plymouth to the north, Cornwall to the south.

The communities of these rugged shores run together so it’s hard to know when you have left one and entered the other. They have always looked to the sea for a living, although these days this is more about providing seaside holidays for outsiders. The place had a determinedly deserted air during our December visit. Many of the houses are now second homes; unoccupied out of season.

Once, though, it would have been a teeming place – a thriving fishing community from the medieval period, and the centre of the pilchard trade from the early 16th century. You can still see the remains of the fish cellars, or ‘pilchard palaces’ that were built along the shore north of Kingsand. These were for the storage and processing of fish, and there’s a surviving example, the red sandstone building, on the far right of the next photo.

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Smuggling was the other big business – its heyday running through the 1700s and into the 1800s. The place was a smuggler’s haven in fact – with some fifty vessels dedicated to the nefarious trade in contraband liquor.

And then there were the pirates. In 1604 one especially notorious rogue, a Kent man called John Ward,  upped the stakes of his earlier career as a privateer, and decided to join forces with the Barbary pirates of North Africa. He stole a French merchant ship off the Scilly Isles and headed for Cawsand, even then a well known centre for Cornish smuggling.  Mooring in the bay there, Ward went ashore and set about recruiting local smugglers to join his enterprise as a Barbary pirate.

The Barbary corsairs were slavers, mostly North Africans from Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, but there were Dutch and Englishmen operating with them too. They terrorised Britain’s south west shores for 300 years, snatching people from their homes. By 1626 there around 60 Barbary men-of-war preying on communities of the Devon and Cornish coasts, and attacks were almost a daily event. A parliamentary committee of 1645 established that there were at least 3,000 English men, women and children held captive in Algiers. It was only in 1816 that combined British and Dutch forces ended their power, at which time four thousand Christian slaves were said to have been liberated.

As for Ward, he and his happy band of recruits wormed their way in with governor of Tunis, he who had made that city rich by providing a haven for pirates and taking a cut of their loot in goods and captives. Ward captured many ships, and directed his own pirate fleet. Then built himself a palace with his ill gotten gains and lived a life of drinking, gaming and swearing, to name the least of the vices he apparently indulged in. One wonders what happened to his Cawsand recruits. Did they ever go home? Ward himself gave up piracy, got married and took to raising chickens. He died of plague in Tunis 1622.

And now, after that little diversion, some more turny-twisty byways and shorelines from Kingsand and Cawsand, accompanied always by the sea’s ebb and flow on the nearby rocks, and the cries of gulls:

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Thursday’s Special: winding.  Please visit Paula to see her astonishing interpretation of this week’s theme.

Meet T’owd Man ~ AKA The Old Man Of Wirksworth

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He is said to be 800 years old, or thereabouts, this mythic little figure of a lead miner with his pick and kibble (basket). He is presently to be found embedded in the wall inside St. Mary’s Church in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Wirksworth. But this was not his original home. He once lived in the nearby village of Bonsall, where he was found during the restoration of the 13th century  parish church of St. James. This was in 1863, and it was then that T’owd Man found his way (along with other pieces of interesting medieval stone work) into the garden of one Churchwarden Coates.

This highhanded commandeering of the local lead miners’ talisman did not please the general populace, who wanted him restored to sacred territory. Somehow in the argy bargy he ended up being firmly mortared into the wall of St. Mary’s Church in Wirksworth instead – where he has remained ever since for his own good and general safekeeping. He has also become the town’s ‘unofficial’ symbol, so you can pay him a visit, AND get the tee shirt.

But this story of general displacement is making me wonder. What  if T’owd Man is a good deal older than is currently thought.  I’m assuming his 13th century date was given him because he was found in a church of 13th century origins. But to my eye he could easily be a Saxon carving. What if the medieval builders of the Bonsall church had also recycled him?  (There are in fact many examples of Saxon carving within St. Mary’s, all re-deployed from an earlier church. See my post Expressions of Power  ~ Secular and Spiritual? for more of the background history).

Lead mining was a key industry in the area from at least Roman times. There is also documentary evidence of its importance in Saxon Wirksworth. In 835 the township was ruled by Abbess Cynewaru, and in a missive of that time she states that she was every year sending a gift of lead valued at 300 shillings to Christ Church, Canterbury. Much later in the Domesday Book of 1086 the entry for Wirksworth includes 3 lead works.

Wirksworth was in fact the centre for the trade. It was a hard and dangerous business. The miners were also a maverick lot. Many were yeoman farmers who combined hill farming with lead working, and some grew extremely rich on the trade, although many died from explosions in the mines, and the general toxicity of working with lead.

All the miners’ activities were subject to a system of rigorous rules and regulations overseen by the Barmaster of the Barmote Court. This court was held in Wirksworth for at least 7 centuries, and had its origins in Saxon Burg Moots (moot is Saxon for gathering or assembly). The last version of the court or Moot Hall still survives. It was built just out of the town centre in 1814 to replace a grander Moot Hall that stood in the Market Place. It seems the noisy behaviour of the miners, and the congestion they caused in the town centre, led to the earlier building being demolished.

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Wirksworth is a fine town for a visit. Its many surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century houses attest to the general prosperity of the place over many decades.  When the lead ran out in the 19th century, limestone quarrying replaced it. Rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills, and so the industrial age kicked in. And if this smacks too much of ‘dark satanic mills’, don’t you believe it. The town sits in glorious countryside, in the heart of England, in fact at ‘its very navel’ as one-time resident D.H. Lawrence put it. Here, then, are some more views from England’s very green and pleasant navel:

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special ~ Traces of the Past Check in here to see what Paula and other bloggers have posted.

Expressions Of Power ~ Secular And Spiritual?

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These Saxon carvings in Wirksworth’s St. Mary’s Church in the Derbyshire Peak District are around 1,300 years old. They appear to have been randomly placed in the walls during the rebuilding of the church during the thirteenth century. Nothing more is known about them, or of their precise age and origins.

At the time they were carved, Wirksworth, located in the English East Midlands, was part of the great Saxon kingdom of Mercia, whose kings and sub-kings held dominion over most of England between AD 600 – 900. i.e. until the Vikings arrived and spoiled it all with the imposition of Danelaw.

Mercia also included my West Midlands home county of Shropshire and, though seventy odd miles apart, it turns out that Saxon, and indeed later, Wirksworth has much in common with Much Wenlock; so much so, I think the towns should be twinned.

One of the Mercian kings’ cunning strategies to cement their power over their extensive territory was the spreading of Christianity, and the setting up of religious foundations and church minsters on their royal estates. These were ruled by abbesses, kings’ daughters and noble women who had been thoroughly educated for the job.

In Much Wenlock we have Milburga, daughter of King Merewald  who ruled over the Wenlock dual monastic house (monks and nuns) from around 680 AD. Her sisters and mother also had charge of religious houses across Mercia, and this function further included the management of the considerable estates and the resources that went with them.

The spread of Christianity across Mercia had its beginnings some thirty years earlier when Elchfrida (also Alchfliad), daughter of King Oswui of Northumbria married Peada, son of Penda, the last great pagan king of Mercia. According to Bede, Oswui had murdered Penda, and the later marriage of his daughter to Penda’s son was part of a peace treaty between Northumberland and Mercia, conditional on Mercia adopting the new faith. Elchfrida thus travelled south into Mercia with an entourage that included missionary priests, and it is supposed that one of them, Betti, founded the church at Wirksworth in 653 AD.

Which brings me back to the Saxon carvings. We clearly have a king. And so perhaps also his queen? It would be nice to give them names – say, Elchfrida and Peada? On the other hand the looks they are giving us are a little disturbing; Sphinx-like, enigmatic; as if they know something they cannot now reveal. Even the wild boar that has been popped in beside them by the thirteenth century mason re-cyclers looks to have something worrying on his mind.

But there is a post-script to this story. It would seem that not long after the marriage, Elchfrida betrayed her king, which led to his murder. For a brief time, then, her father King Oswui held sway over Mercia, until the uprising of 658 AD when another of Penda’s sons, Wulfhere, restored Mercian authority. It makes one wonder if Elchfrida, Christian or not, wasn’t a double agent all along. I wonder what became of her.

Wulfhere apparently went on to implement the ‘dynastic power and faith’ model with the founding of Repton Abbey near Derby. Here he installed his daughter Werburgh (later sanctified like Much Wenlock’s St. Milburga) as the first abbess. So here we have yet another example of ‘Princess Power’ Saxon-style – of royal women extending and consolidating the temporal power of their fathers through the exercise of spiritual authority.

Back in Wirksworth a document from 835 AD indicates that at this time the Wirksworth township was under the jurisdiction of Abbess Cynewaru. But there was serious trouble afoot. It seems she was being forced to cede some of her land holdings to Duke Humbert of Tamworth. She was especially afraid that this would compromise the sending of a gift of lead, valued at 300 shillings, which she made every year to Christ Church, Canterbury. (Wirksworth had been an important lead-mining area since Roman times).  Just to make sure that Duke Humbert knows where his duty lies, and who has the upper hand spiritually speaking, she proclaims in the charter that ‘if anyone should take away this my gift from Christ Church, Canterbury, may he be smitten with perpetual anathema, and may the devil possess him as one of his own.’

Fascinating stuff all this power-wielding.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

Black & White Sunday: Expression

Ludlow Castle In Its Autumn Glory

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I recently posted a dramatic black & white photo of this thousand-year old castle – one of Shropshire’s finest. Here are the perimeter walls from a different angle, on their clifftop eyrie above the River Teme. It must have been a daunting sight for any peasant foot soldier commanded by his lord to get on and besiege the place.  It might explain why so much of the castle is still standing.

 

Traces of the past is the theme over at Paula’s Thursday’s Special.

“When I came last to Ludlow…”

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This week in her Black & White series, Cee gives us a free hand, and says we can post our favourite B & W images. Here is one of mine: Dinham Bridge over the River Teme, with Ludlow Castle above. For those of you who do not know England, Ludlow is a scenic market town in South Shropshire. All looks so tranquil here, and the town itself ever has a sleepy air.

Historically, though, Ludlow was an important border stronghold commanding the Welsh Marches to the west, and repeatedly the scene of bloody battles and political intrigue down the ages.

The castle is almost a thousand years old, having its beginnings on the crest of the hill in around 1075. The outer fortifications were added a hundred years later, and the castle continued to expand and become ever more grand over succeeding centuries.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the castle’s claims to fame is that it was here in 1501 that fifteen-year old Prince Arthur Tudor, son of Henry VII and thus Henry VIII-to-be’s older brother, spent his honeymoon with sixteen-year old Catherine of Aragon, and that Arthur caught a fever and was dead within the year, thus leaving Catherine to be betrothed to Henry.

Nearly thirty years later when Catherine was embroiled in Henry’s ugly attempts to be rid of her so he could marry Anne Boleyn (he demanded an annulment on the grounds that it went against biblical teaching for a man to marry his brother’s wife) she claimed that nothing had happened between her and Arthur at Ludlow; that their marriage was never consummated.

So much for Ludlow-past as a honeymoon destination.

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But the castle has older more grizzly mysteries associated with it. They relate to the Wars of the Roses mentioned in the previous post. Ludlow Castle was one of Richard Third Duke of York’s key strongholds until it was lost to Lancastrian forces in 1459 at the Battle of Ludstone Bridge – the next bridge downriver from the one in the photo. Three years later in 1461, when his son defeated the Lancastrians and became Edward IV, the castle was restored to the Crown, and it was during Edward IV’s reign that both castle and town grew in political prominence.

And it was in Ludlow Castle where Edward IV’s sons, Edward and Richard, spent much of their childhood, and whence they were taken in 1483 to the Tower of London. Their father had died, and Edward aged twelve had been pronounced Edward V, but was not yet crowned. His father’s brother, Uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester, aka Richard Crookback and soon to be Richard III, was Lord Protector.

Then came news that Edward IV’s marriage had been proved invalid. His young sons were declared illegitimate, and Richard quickly had himself crowned. The boys, thereafter referred to as the Princes in the Tower,  were never seen again. Behind them only argument remained – did Richard III have his nephews murdered? Did the two small skeletons, later unearthed in the Tower,  belong to young Edward and Richard? When I think of them in the brooding Tower of London, which incidentally was then a royal palace and not a prison, it still gives me a pang. I sense their feelings of loss and displacement, a pining for Ludlow, ‘the hill beside loud waters’**, the forests and wide Shropshire vistas below the battlements; just the place for growing lads.

If Richard did kill the boys in a bid to secure his claim to rule, it didn’t do him much good. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485  after only two years as king. His remains were buried in the church of a Franciscan Friary in Leicester, and in 2012 were re-discovered with much fanfare during an excavation of the site, which by this time lay buried under a city car park. Leicester University scientists then set out to prove the identity of the skeleton, an exciting piece of forensic archaeology and genealogy which is detailed at this link.

After Richard came Henry Tudor who won the day at Bosworth Field, the last significant conflict in the Wars of the Roses. So ended the Plantagenet Dynasty, and so began the Tudor Dynasty with the coronation of Henry VII – which is pretty much where this post began.

These days Ludlow Castle is a prime tourist attraction. It is privately owned by the Earls of Powys, and has recently been subject to much restoration work. If you can’t visit in person, then follow this link to do a virtual tour. But if you do get a chance to go there, the town itself is also a treasure. You will not be disappointed.

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copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

*  “ When I came last to Ludlow…” from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad  LVIII

** The name Ludlow is said to derive from the Old English meaning ‘the hill beside loud waters’

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Related:

My Treat Today In Ludlow

A Five-Hundred-Year Old C.V.

A Five Hundred-Year-Old C.V. ~ And All Kinds Of Timeless Connections…

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THIS TOMB

IS TO THE MEMORY OF

SIR RICHARD CROFT . KNT .

SHERIFF OF HEREFORDSHIRE

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FOUGHT AT MORTIMER’S CROSS 1461

TEWKSBURY 1471

M.P. FOR HEREFORDSHIRE 1477

GOVERNOR OF LUDLOW CASTLE

CREATED KNIGHT-BANNERET

AFTER THE BATTLE OF STOKE 1487

DIED JULY 29 1509

ALSO OF ELEANOR HIS WIFE

DAUGHTER OF SIR EDMUND CORNWALL BARON

OF BURFORD SALOP

WIDOW OF SIR HUGH MORTIMER OF KYRE

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Sir Richard Croft (born 1429) lord of the manor of Croft Castle in Hereforshire was advisor to Edward Duke of York during the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. The Duke was eighteen years old and had recently succeeded his father, Richard third Duke of York, to the title. Richard had been killed in the previous year at the Battle of Wakefield. Lady Eleanor Croft’s first husband had also also killed in that battle. These were Wars of the Roses times wherein the Houses of York and Lancaster vied bloodily for the British crown. The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross was fought on Croft land not far from the castle (and in the English Midlands nowhere near either York or Lancaster) and was a turning point in the conflict for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

First I should say that this week’s theme at Paula’s Black & White Sunday is TIMELESS. And the reason I’ve chosen these photos is because there is quite another timeless connection – i.e. the words of William Shakespeare whose 400th memorial anniversary is being celebrated this year. In Henry VI pt 3  Act II scene i,  he makes reference to a strange meteorological event that occurred before the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, although the actual battle does not feature in the play.

This is Shakespeare’s version of what was seen, expressed in an exchange between brothers, Edward 4th Duke of York the soon-to-be Edward IV, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III:

Edward: Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?

Richard: Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun; Not separated with the racking clouds/But severed in a pale clear-shining sky. /See, see: they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,  /As if they vowed some league inviolable./Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.  /In this the heaven figures some event.

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The phenomenon described here was a parhelion or sun dog, a refraction of the sun’s rays through ice that created the impression of three separate suns rising simultaneously. According to historical accounts Edward decided that this extraordinary vision was a great portent promising victory, while his opponents were filled with terror. Thus inspired with holy certainty, Edward’s army won the day. A few weeks later Edward was crowned king. The sun thereafter featured as part of his personal emblem.
I’m afraid I have only one sun in my photo of Croft Castle and the chapel where Sir Richard and Lady Eleanor have their magnificent tomb, but then there are other interesting signs in the sky. Incidentally, Sir Richard served in his various official capacities (quoted in the memorial plaque above) under four successive monarchs, including Richard III.

Also to coincide with this year’s Shakespeare celebrations, the BBC is currently airing its own ‘Game of Thrones’ version of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses history plays, The Hollow Crown; proof of the timeless quality of good yarns, even if a few liberties have been taken with the playwright’s text. But then ‘the bard’ was nothing if not a past master at recycling other people’s tales and historical accounts, and giving them his own particular gloss; even during his own time players of his works apparently changed the words. It was ever thus with the art of good storytelling…

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

The Tale Of A Hidden House That Once Hid A King

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It’s something of a puzzle. When you first encounter Moseley Old Hall with its Staffordshire brickwork you feel sure you are looking at a Victorian building. And what’s more, rather than saying historic country manor, its looks suggest something urban and industrial, as if this might have been the home of some nineteenth century mill or mine owner.

Take another look from a different angle:

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Now consider the side elevation coming up next. There’s an important clue here that all is not what it seems (a bit like Peter Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s Contract):

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Yes, here beside the house we have a restored knot garden of the 1600s. So what’s going on?

Time to put on the reading specs, and study the next three images:

http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/articles/oldhouses/oldhouses2.htm

Fig. 1

Source: Allan Fea Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

Now look at the photos again, and you have it. Moseley Old Hall, a timbered building of 1600 has been encased in a brick skin. This apparently happened in the 1860s, presumably as the easiest means of preserving the building. These drawings date from around 1850 before the cladding operation. Even though I have stared at the evidence, I still find it hard to accept that these are the same building. It’s like a variation on a ‘spot the differences’ puzzle. But just look at the placement of windows, eaves and bays. They are all pretty much the same whether in brick or half-timbering.

And now for the hiding of a king – and the year of 1651 when the house in timbered form played its part in British history, and sheltered Charles II after his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd.

You can download the whole story in a free book at the following  link: Allan Fea The Flight of the King 1908  But the gist of the tale is this.

Moseley Old Hall is on the outskirts of Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands, and around 30 miles north of Worcester. After his army was crushed, Charles fled with a group of officers, and was guided to the Boscobel estate, not far from Moseley, by Colonel Charles Gifford who owned Boscobel. His properties there were in the care of servants, the five Penderel brothers.  This area on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border was a Catholic stronghold, and therefore most families were supporters of the king, although not necessarily brave enough to help a fugitive monarch. The stakes were far too high. Death being the likeliest outcome.

The cavalier officers who had been accompanying Charles left him in hiding at White Ladies Priory on the Boscobel estate, and carried on to Newport in Shropshire. It was thought the king would be safer travelling alone, and it was left to the Penderel brothers to effect the monarch’s disguise and scout out an escape route. The king wanted to get to London, but the roads east out of Boscobel were blocked and Cromwell’s militias were everywhere. He decided instead to head west into Wales where he had strong support.

Being over six feet tall, way above average height at the time, Charles was something of a challenge when it came to disguises. The Penderels cut his hair short, gave him coarse labourer’s gear, patched stockings, and a ‘greasy’ tall hat to wear. The shoes had to be cut to fit the king’s feet. These last were to cause the monarch much agony and multiple lacerations. Finally, after some lessons in local dialect and labourer gait, he was mounted on a farm horse. This beast was also to cause him much grief, and almost did for him when it stumbled. After that Charles had to walk cross-country tortured by the ill-fitting shoes.

The attempt to cross the River Severn into Wales failed. The crossings were all guarded, and Charles was forced to return to White Ladies. This was extremely dangerous. There were soldiers searching the woods all round, and Charles had to spend one whole day hiding inside an oak tree (the now famous Boscobel Oak). Meanwhile the Penderels were out searching the district for safer quarters.

So it was that Moseley Old Hall came to provide a safe haven. At the time it was lived in by Thomas Whitgreave and his widowed mother. Thomas was a Royalist but had not fought at Worcester due to ill health. Other occupants of the house were Father John Huddleston, a Benedictine priest, and his three pupils, who included two of Whitgreave’s nephews. The hall also had a priest hole, a relic of the earlier Catholic persecutions.

Charles was brought exhausted, and with bleeding feet to the hall where Father Huddleston set about tending to the king, and giving him fresh clothing and sustenance before showing him to a  comfortable bed. Meanwhile everyone else in the house was charged to keep a look out for the militias. (Can’t you see glimpses of those fearful faces peeping from every window around the hall?)

Thomas Whitgreave describes what happened next:

“In the afternoon [the King] reposing himself on his bed in the parlour chamber and inclineing to sleep, as I was watching at the window, one of the neighbours I saw come running in, who told the maid soldiers were comeing to search, who thereupon presentlie came running to the staires head, and cried, ‘Soldiers, soldiers are coming,’ which his majestie hearing presentlie started out of his bedd and run to his privacie, where I secured him the best I could, and then leaving him, went forth into the street to meet the soldiers who were comeing to search, who as soon as they saw and knew who I was were readie to pull mee to pieces, and take me away with them, saying I was come from the Worcester fight; but after much dispute with them, and by the neighbours being informed of their false information that I was not there, being very ill a great while, they let mee goe; but till I saw them clearly all gone forth of the town I returned not; but as soon as they were, I returned to release him (the King) and did acquaint him with my stay, which hee thought long, and then hee began to bee very chearful again.

“In the interim, whilst I was disputing with the soldiers, one of them called Southall came in the ffould and asked a smith, as hee was shooing horses there, if he could tell where the King was, and he should have a thousand pounds for his payns… This Southall is a great priest-catcher.”

After this episode the king no longer felt safe at Moseley. Another refuge had to be found and the means to get him there safely. It was at midnight, one week after the defeat at Worcester, that Thomas Whitgreave led Charles into the orchard of Moseley Old Hall where it had been arranged that Colonel John Lane would meet him with horses, and thence escort him to his home of Bentley Hall near Walsall.

This next stage of the escape was safely accomplished. Over the following weeks, and using various stratagems and much subterfuge, Charles dodged his enemies. Many attempts to find a boat and passage to France proved fruitless as he moved through Devon and along the south coast. There were even days when he hid at Stonehenge. Finally, on the 15th October, after six weeks on the run, he set sail from Brighton for France. It would be another nine years before he returned to claim his throne.

Now for more views of Moseley Old Hall. Another visit will be required before I can show you the interior. When we went on Sunday the weather was far too glorious to go indoors. So please enjoy a stroll around the gardens while imagining a battle-weary king with very sore feet arriving here secretly one September night. Look out, too, for Cromwell’s militia!

 

I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

They call it the Slave Grave, but who was I.D.?

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Here lieth the Body of I. D.

A Native of Africa

who died in ths Town

Sept 9th 1801

 

God hath made of one Blood, all nations of Men. Acts 17 ch. ver. 26

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Our recent outing to the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair (see Summer came back on Saturday and took us to the fair) wasn’t all giant bubbles, stilt walking and steam traction engines. In the graveyard of St John the Baptist parish church there is a mystery. In the north east corner, and well shadowed by English ivy, holly and hazel is the finely carved gravestone dedicated to an African whose only identity is indicated in the letters I.D.  Also, unlike the other memorial stones, the inscription is sited on the western rather than the eastern face. It is hard to read now, and even harder to photograph.

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There seems to be some strong indication (see the quote below) that I.D. stood for John Davies. ‘I’s’ were often used interchangeably with ‘J’s’ in old records and inscriptions, and the only burial record for around the date on the gravestone 9th September 1801, is for one John Davies on the 12th of that month. There is apparently some original annotation in the church record that links this name to the gravestone.

So what can be deduced from this scant evidence? Clearly whoever undertook to bury the African did not spare any expense. The stone is beautifully carved. The Bible quotation also indicates their disposition towards equality in a line that was also quoted by slavery abolitionists such as Dr Joseph Priestly. I.D. may not have been a slave at the time of his death, but a free man and/or the servant of a rich landowner. It was usual for slaves to be given their masters’ names. Yet the elegance of the stone itself indicates someone who had attained high status, and was very highly regarded.

In an interesting article in the  South West Shropshire Archaeological Society no 19, 2008, Judith Payne discusses the evidence. Firstly, she says no record can be found of a John Davies living in the town of Bishop’s Castle. However, this does not preclude his being a slave or servant – perhaps to gentry who owned a house locally as well as elsewhere. It had long been the fashion for wealthy Britons to have black servants.

She also suggests that he might have been travelling with someone connected with the abolitionist movement, since abolitionists were active and had much support in Shropshire. A 1790s petition against slavery delivered from the county was nine and half feet long, and in November 1793, Thomas Clarkson, a prominent campaigner, was known to be visiting Bishop’s Castle.

Another possibility is that I.D. belonged to the household one of the land-owner politicians who around 1801-2 was attempting to end  the Clive family’s political control of the town. Bishop’s Castle was a notorious rotten borough.  Payne also posits that the reason for the simple I.D. instead of the full name, was because whoever buried him, knew that this was not his true name. That he was placed in a Church of England graveyard further implies that he was a Protestant.

I also had the notion that whoever had I.D. buried, might not necessarily have known him. They were perhaps some local benefactor with a passion for abolition, someone who wished to make reparation for the shame of slavery by giving some poor itinerant black man a decent burial.

And there we have it. The mystery remains. But the stone itself has been listed by Historic England. Here is what they have to say:

 We have no absolutely certain information about the person commemorated by this headstone. However, the burial register records the internment of John Davies on 12 September 1801, and contains an historic annotation linking Davies with the I.D. tombstone. Shropshire is not notable for its links with the West Indies and the slave trade, but it seems likely that ‘I. D.’ came to Bishop’s Castle or to one of the country houses hereabouts, at least initially, as a servant. The quality of the headstone, with its elegant inscription and decoration, suggests that the person commemorated held a certain status, whether as a servant or not. The biblical quotation is one sometimes employed by abolitionists, and its levelling sentiments suggest that the person responsible for erecting the memorial was sympathetic to the movement. The positioning of the tomb is very curious, it being turned away from the other graves in the area. This headstone faces west, towards an ancient yew tree; the inscription is therefore hidden from general view.

Historic England listing

 

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We are not ones for religious dogma in the Farrell household, but as we left I.D.’s grave, and walked away from this picturesque English churchyard, we were heartened by this small monument of human compassion with its fierce sense of justice. Why in the name of the universe does skin colour matter? Why should people be judged superior on the basis of whiteness. Why do many still look down on people of colour because they were once enslaved? If the palaeontologists are correct, we are all Africans under the skin. And if Africa is where we evolved, then everyone’s ancestors would have been some shade of brown.

But this unsolved mystery is not the end of this particular story. At the top of Bishop’s Castle’s steep main street that leads up from the church, we came upon a current and timely expression of human compassion. Someone had placed a notice in the window of their house:

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Written in response to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: letters – and commemorating a visit to Bishop’s Castle where different ‘letters’ came together to form powerful messages of common humanity.

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell