Good Friday 2014

Today’s post is an image of The Crucifixion taken from the mortuary roll of Lucy de Vere. In the twelfth century, she founded the Benedictine nunnery of Castle Hedingham, North Essex and and was its first prioress. According to the British Library’s catalogue “The roll was sent to 122 religious houses in the southern half of England, each writing an answer to a request for prayers made by Agnes, Prioress of Hedingham, for the soul of her predecessor Lucy.

Mortuary roll of Lucy de Vere, Castle Hedingham

‘The Crucifixion’ from Mortuary roll of Lucy, foundress and first prioress of the Benedictine nunnery of Castle Hedingham, with tituli (responsive prayers) 1-6, (Essex, England)  c. 1225 – c. 1230. Shelfmark Egerton 2849 Part I

Happy Easter to all my readers and followers.


Images from the British Library’s collection of Medieval Manuscripts are marked as being Public Domain Images and therefore free of all copyright restrictions in accordance with the British Library’s Reuse Guidance Notes for the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

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Easter celebrations in a late medieval English parish
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© Essex Voices Past 2014

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The trials and tribulations of writing a book…

Over the last few months, I have been writing and researching my first local history book – Bishop’s Stortford Through Time for Amberley Publishing.  My book is a pictorial history of this Hertfordshire town, and uses vintage postcards from the early 1900s and compares them to modern day photographs of the same area.

Yesterday my husband, son and myself spent a beautiful sunny day walking the river banks of The Stort – taking the “now” photos of Victorian and Edwardian postcards.  All was going very well – we managed to locate all the spots where our predecessors – such as Edwardian photographers Arthur Maxwell and Harry Mardon – stood over a hundred years ago to take their photographs.  So, we lined up the shots, and my husband being the keen long-time photographer, took the photographs.

All went very well…  Until we returned home.

Then, I discovered to my horror that half the photos have a slightly bluey tinge to them. Somehow, my husband had accidentally “flipped a switch” on his supa-dupa modern digital camera, and subsequent photos now have a weird tinge.  Half are fine and really good shots.  And half are not.  Fortunately the shots where my son was hanging onto a tree perilously close to the water’s edge survived – as did the shots which could only be taken after my husband had, with the elegance of a ballerina, shimmied over a very high metal fence.

I thought I’d share my blue shots with you.  They would have been good, wouldn’t they!

Bishop's Stortford - Trout Bridge - Gipsy LaneRiver Stort, at Trout Bridge, Gipsy Lane – on the very borders between Hertfordshire and Essex

Bishop's Stortford - Twyford LockThe River Stort, Twyford Lock

Bishop's Stortford - Twyford MillThe River Stort, Twyford Mill (through the trees on the left)

Bishop's Stortford - South Mill LockAnd this is the colour the photos should have been! The glorious colours of early summer at South Mill Lock

Oh well – back to the drawing board!  I wonder what photographic problems my Edwardian predecessors had? At least hiking along the banks of the picturesque River Stort is a beautiful walk.

PS: If you are out in Bishop’s Stortford and see us intrepid three, please do come and say hi to us – we’re very easy to spot!


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The Tudor rat-catcher of Bishop’s Stortford
Bishop’s Stortford Through Time – A Progress Report

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Bishop’s Stortford Through Time – a progress update

Hmmm – nearly two months since my last post on this blog.  Sorry, that’s really not good enough of me.  However, my writing is continuing frantically away in the background whilst I work my forthcoming book Bishop’s Stortford Through Time for Amberley Publishing.

I’m also writing a monthly post on Worldwide Genealogy – a collaboration of genealogists and local historians from all round the world. On that blog, I have been posting articles about my paternal grandmother’s family, the Gurney family of South London. You may be interested in reading my posts

Who do you think they were?
Family History Show and Tell
Family History is like a box of chocolate – you never know what you’re going to get

My work on Bishop’s Stortford Through Time is going very well.  If you live in the area and are around on a Sunday morning, you will see myself and my husband walking the length and breadth of the town and river, taking photographs for the book.  Mind you, you will have to get up extra early, as we’ve discovered that the only time the roads are safe enough to take photos is very early on a Sunday morning!  A couple of times my husband has had to stand in the middle of what were once sleepy rural country roads but are now super-fast highways, where he has had to take his life into his hands for my precious book. Hockerill crossroads and the Causeway to name just two roads which were once sleepy quiet backwaters but now have lorries, cars and other assorted vehicles thundering through on them.

So, now for an update on my book:-

I have to write 96 pages comprising of 90 vintage postcards alongside 90 modern-day photographs.  Having exhausted that well-known internet auction site (plus several others not so well known), and plundered the stocks of my local friendly postcard dealer at Battlesbridge Antiques Centre, I now have 75 postcards to be used in my book.

So I am missing an elusive 15 postcards…

Can you help me?  I am looking for postcards (preferably pre-1920) particularly of the following areas of Bishop’s Stortford.  If you are out and about at antique fairs during these beautiful Spring weekends, please keep a look out for me.

- Bishop’s Stortford train station (or trains in the station)

- South Street by the publisher Wrench (or any postcards of South Street except any which show the Methodist Chapel)

- South Road – particularly the almshouses (but not the Rhodes Museum)

- Holy Trinity Church, South Street

- The Workhouse

- The Corn Exchange

- Market Square

- The Cemetery

- Any roads in Newtown (eg Portland Road, Apton Road)

- Any real photographs of The Wharf or the Hockerill Cut (real photographs only though)

And here’s one I found earlier… A photograph by Bishop’s Stortford photographers H & A Gurton (who were active during the First World War).  I do not know what the uniform is – someone has suggested that it could be a Sunday School uniform.  If you know, please do drop me an email.

Bishop's Stortford - H & A Gurton


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The Tudor rat-catcher of Bishop’s Stortford

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The Vermin man of Bishop’s Stortford: 1569-1571

At the moment, I am knee-deep in postcards, papers and books relating to the Hertfordshire town of Bishop’s Stortford, whilst I research and write my forthcoming book Bishop’s Stortford Through Time for the publishers, Amberley Publishing.  During my quest for material, I happened across a book from 1882: The Records of St Michael’s parish church, Bishop’s Stortford, edited by J.L Glasscock, Jun.  This book has verbatium transcripts of various manuscripts, which, at that time, were held  in the parish chest within the church at Bishop’s Stortford. These manuscripts included various churchwardens’ accounts – which start in 1431. My regular readers will know that I am just ever-so slightly obsessed with churchwardens’ accounts, having spent a great many years researching and analysing the Essex town of Great Dunmow’s Tudor churchwardens’ accounts.  Great Dunmow’s accounts start in the 1520s, when Henry VIII was on the throne and still married to Katherine of Aragon, and England was still a staunchly Catholic nation.  Bishop’s Stortford’s, although incomplete, start in 1431 – nearly a hundred years earlier, when the boy-king King Henry VI had been on throne 10 years, and the main protagonists of the bloody War of the Roses from the Royal Houses of Lancaster and York had either not yet been born, or were still peaceful law-abiding young men. Pretty impressive for medieval manuscripts – regarding the workings of a small English parish church – to have survived for so long.

Windhill and parish church, Bishop's StortfordWindhill and parish church of St Michael’s, Bishop’s Stortford in the 1900s

Unlike Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts – which were beautifully bound in a tooled leather volume – Bishop’s Stortford’s accounts were loose-leaved and lying scattered in the parish chest.  Amongst the churchwardens’ accounts were other manuscripts, including the “reckonings” (accounts) of the vermin catcher(s) for the years 1569 to 1571.  They make fascinating reading – so I have reproduced them here – exactly as J.L Glasscock, Jun, transcribed them over hundred years ago in 1882.

St Michael's church, Bishop's StortfordSt Michael’s parish church, Bishop’s Stortford in the 1900s

The Destruction of Vermin
The Accounte and Reconynge of me Edward Wylley of Stortford, Collectore of all man’ of veyrmane of ij [2] yeres past both of Charge and Dyscharge as here aftr folloth frome the xij [12] daye of App’lle in a° [i.e. Anno Domino]1569 to this yere of a 1571.

On the first page is what he terms his “charge,” which is an account of moneys received by him from various persons “at v [5] tymes;” he received altogether “lij.s. vij½d” [52 shillings and 7½ pence]. Then follows his “Dyscharge,” which consists of various payments made by him to the destroyers of vermin :

He paid for:

      • Hedge hoggs heads . 2d each
      • Crose [crows] eggs 2d per doz
      • Pyse [magpie] eggs 2d
      • vj [6] crose [crows] hedds 1d
      • vj [6] hawkys hedes 1d
      • xij [12] Ratts hedes 1d
      • 1 mowlle [mole] ½d
      • xij [12] myse [mice] heddes 1d
      • xij [12] starlyngs hedes 1d
      • a wysells [weasel] hede 1d
      • v [5] hedds of the kyngs fyschers [king fishers] 5d
      • a powlle cats [pole cat] hed 2d
      • 1 boulle fynches [bullfinches] hed 1d

During the two years over which this account extends I find that vermin was destroyed within the parish of Stortford to the following extent, viz :

141 hedgehogs, 53 moles, 6 weasels, 202 crows’ eggs, 128 pies’ [magpies’] eggs, 18 young crows, 80 rats, 18 crows, 2 bullfinches, 5 hawks, 24 starlings, 5 kingfishers, 1 polecat, 1,426 mice; and besides these there are 118 heads of crows, hawks, and “cadows” (jackdaws).

Note: “There used to be a standing committee in every parish for the destruction of ‘noyfull fowles and vermyn.’ The practice still exists in some rural parishes. But many readers may be surprised to learn that this object was formerly felt to be so important that the practical use of it already then existing in many parishes received the express sanction of general suggestion by statute. A committee, consisting of the churchwardens together with six other parishioners, is named with power to tax and assess every person holding lands or tythes in any parish yearly at Easter, and whenever else it may be needful, in order to raise a sum of money to be put in the hands of two other persons, who are to distribute it. And these distributors are to pay this money in rewards for the different sorts of vermin brought in. The record is curious, and interesting enough on its own account to be rescued from forgetfulness, if only for its bearing on the natural history of the country.” Toulmin Smith, “The Parish and its Obligations and Powers“, 1854 p. 232.

The Records of St Michael’s parish church, Bishop’s Stortford,
edited by J.L Glasscock, Jun, 1882, p156-157

Animals and birds caught by the vermin man of Bishops Stortford, 1569-1571Some of the English wildlife captured and killed by the vermin man of Tudor Bishop’s Stortford 1569-1571

As someone who was brought up listening to the bedtime English tales of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, The Wind in the Willows, and The Little Grey Rabbit – along with the American tales of Thornton W Burges and Old Mother West Wind  - I find Tudor tales of killing these creatures thought-provoking. Some, now as then, still vermin; whilst others are now much loved members of the English countryside’s wildlife.

Tudor Rat CatcherA Tudor Rat Catcher


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Index to each folio in Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts
Great Dunmow’s Churchwardens’ accounts: transcripts 1526-1621
Tudor local history
Pre-Reformation Catholic Ritual Year

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Witchcraft and witches in Elizabethan Essex

Ioane Cunny, liuing very lewdly, hauing two lewde Daughters, no better then naughty packs, had two Bastard Children: beeing both boyes, these two Children were cheefe witnesses, and gaue in great euidence against their Grandam and Mothers, the eldest being about 10. or 12. yeeres of age. Against this Mother Cunny the elder Boye gaue in this euideoce which she herselfe after confessed, that she going to Braintye Market, came to one Harry Finches house, to demaund some drink, his wife being busie and a brewing, tolde her she had no leysure to giue her any. Then Ioane Cunnye went away discontented: and at night Finches wife was greeuously taken in her head, and the next day in her side, and so continued in most horrible paine for the space of a week, and then dyed.” [1]

In 1589 Joan Cunny and her two daughters, Avice and Margaret, all from Stisted, Essex, were brought before the Summer Assizes in Chelmsford charged with witchcraft. Undoubtedly the two daughters, by having illegitimate children, lived outside the “norms” of Elizabethan society: a society where it has been estimated that only one to four percent of the population were illegitimate[2]. Joan and Avice were charged with causing people to die by witchcraft – a crime punishable by the death penalty and Margaret was accused of the lesser offences of two counts of bewitchment. All three women were found guilty: Joan and Avice were sentenced to hang and Margaret sentenced to one year (and six appearances in the stocks). Joan was hanged immediately after her trial but Avice had pleaded pregnancy and, as she was found to be pregnant by a jury of matrons (which included Joan Robinson who had been implicated in the St Oysth witch-trials of 1582[3]). Avice was hung the following year after the birth of her child.[4] Joan’s crime, along with two other convicted Essex witches, was duly retold in a contemporary pamphlet “The arraignment and execution of three detestable witches[1].

The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of EssexThe apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex, 1589
(Joan Cunny, Joan Upney and Joan Prentice)

The Cunny family of witches was just one small example of the witchcraft trials which took place within England at the regular county Assizes between the first Elizabethan witchcraft statute of 1562 (an “Act against Conjuracions Inchantments and Witchecraftes[5]”) and the harsher 1604 Jacobean witchcraft act (an “Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealinge with evil and wicked Spirits[6]”) which was finally repealed in 1735. Today, these witchcraft cases are much studied by historians and anthropologists both through official records such as the Assizes and Quarter Sessions accounts and unofficial accounts, such as contemporary treatises and pamphlets, in the quest to provide a picture of life and relationships within sixteenth and seventeenth century communities of England.

Contemporary people throughout England and Europe were fascinated by witches and the perception of malicious harm caused to both people and animals by people practising witchcraft. It seems that all levels of society believed in “witches” from King James I of England (who, as James VI of Scotland, wrote “Daemonologie” (1597), an influential treatise on the subject) to the victims and witnesses who reported their former friends and neighbours as witches to the authorities. In addition to the contemporary pamphlets that appeared after notorious and high profile cases such as the 1566 pamphlet describing the Hatfield Peverel witches, there were also tracts written by influential writers and contemporary clergymen. Some, such as Reginald Scot (a Kent JP) were highly skeptical about witchcraft: in 1584 he wrote “The Discovery of Witchcraft” putting over his opinion that “If it were true that witches confesse, or that all writers write or that witchmongers report, or that fooles believe, we should never have butter in the chearne, nor cow in the close, nor corne in the field, nor faire weather abroad, nor helth within doores.[7] Others, such as George Gifford, the vicar of Malden, Essex, writing in 1593 in his pamphlet A dialog concerning witches and witchcraftconfirmed the view that witchcraft existed: “there be two or three [witches] in our town which I like not, but especially an old woman. I have bene as careful to please her as ever I was to please mine own mother, and to give her ever and anon one thing or other, and yet methinks she frownes at me now and then[8].

James VI DaemonologieDaemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogie, Divided into three Bookes,
James VI of Scotland, 1597

Reginald Scot - Discovery of WitchcraftDiscovery of Witchcraft, Reginald Scot, 1584

Reginald Scot - Discovery of WitchcraftBewitched ship from Discovery of Witchcraft,
Reginald Scot, 1584

In recent times, witchcraft in early modern England has been much studied by many eminent historians and anthropologists such as Alan MacFarlane[9], Keith Thomas[10], Robin Briggs[11] and James Sharpe[12]. An explanation for witchcraft that modern historians such as Thomas and MacFarlane have put forward is that the accusations occurred when there were disputes between neighbours. Thomas observed: “[this was a] tightly-knit, intolerant world with which the witch had parted company. She was the extreme example of the malignant or non-conforming person against whom the local community had always taken punitive action in the interests of social harmony.[13] He further remarks that when there was a breakdown of the mutual help that many English villagers relied on during this period, accusations of witchcraft often followed.[14]

In addition to these socio-economic based questions, questions about gender relations within these tight-knit communities have been asked. These gender questions have ranged from the Marxist and feminist view that the witchcraft trials were “a ruling class campaign of terror against the female peasant population”[15] to the view that witchcraft was “something which operated with the female social and cultural spheres, or, at least, as a specifically female form of power[16]. As Marion Gibson observes “The stories in the pamphlets make it hard to escape the conclusion that witch prosecution was often an expression of fears of supposed female power as well as a distaste for the uneducated, impious and criminal “worser sort” and an expression of frustration from the young to the old[17].

1643 A most certain strange and true discovery of a witchThe ability to be able to stand on water – an example of the threat of female power?
Front cover of the pamphlet A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch, 1643.

From the records of the witchcraft trials, can a modern day historian ask gender questions from primary source data, for example,  what were the attitudes towards women from other females and males? Perhaps more specifically, can enquiries be made such as: if there were problems within the village and within that community there lived a female who lived outside the “norm” of contemporary society (for example, having illegitimate children or were fornicating with men outside of marriage), were they more likely to be accused of performing acts of witchcraft? Or, was an act of witchcraft one of the few ways that a contemporary female asserted her power over her fellow neighbours? Or were the witchcraft persecutions “an officially sanctioned bid to control… and to reassert male power over women[18]? Looking at the relatively few males accused of witchcraft, can the data from the records be used to establish that males only practised witchcraft in conjunction with other (female) witches or were they also “being accused for independent acts of malefic witchcraft”[19]?

1579 Richard Galis A brief TreatiseAn example of male power over females.
From A brief treastise, by Richard Galis, 1579

My study is to examine this rich area of the English witchcraft trials to perform an analysis of gender and female power within the sixteenth century and attempt to answer the questions posed above. Two principle sources for providing information about the accused witches have been used; the first is research undertaken by Professor C L’Estrange Ewen in the 1920s and published in his book “Witch Hunting and Witch Trials: The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1559-1736” and the other source are the contemporary pamphlets and treatises. Whilst Ewen’s work is the main basis for the primary source data to be analysed, the contemporary pamphlets and writings have been used to gain further data for inclusion.

The information from the pamphlets has to be handled with some caution as they are often accounts that were written for contemporary people and thus are prejudiced towards the accused witches (as can be seen in the extract at the start of this essay). Moreover, the accounts may be written by more than one person and might have been written from second-hand information with the writer(s)’ own bias evident. For example, the 1582 trial pamphlet for the St Oysth’s trials is thought to have been written by the local JP, Brian Darcy, who examined the accused before sending them to trial at the Assizes[20]. However they do provide us with contemporary attitudes and more details about some of the witches then the official records alone can provide.

Turning now to the main source of data to be analysed in my study: Ewen was a historian working in the 1920s when he transcribed and calendared from the original documents details of indictments from Assize trials held in the English counties of Essex, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Hertford for witchcraft for the period 1562 to 1736 (although his book does detail two acquitted witches from 1560[21]). Keith Thomas comments that Ewen was “The first scholar to go beyond the printed sources to the actual records of witchcraft prosecution …[his work] was very high scholarly quality and the essential starting-point for any analysis of English witch-prosecution.[22] Alan MacFarlane extensively used Ewen’s work as the basis of his 1960s historical and anthropological study “Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England”. James Sharpe commented on the validity of Ewen’s work: “Neglected during his lifetime, Ewen’s researches are now regarded as path breaking”[23]. Therefore, there is soundness in using the results of research (in effect, a secondary source) carried out eighty years ago to be the basis of a study to examine gender and witchcraft in early modern England.

Witch hunting and witch trials, Ewen, 1929Front cover of Ewen’s 1929 book showing the famous picture of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, from his 1647 pamphlet, The discovery of witches.
From Witch hunting and witch trials, by C L’estrange Ewen, 1929

Ewen’s work has limitations: he was only able to calendar approximately 77% of the original documents[24]. Also, as he was obviously only able to transcribe records of trials that physically took place, there are not any records of people accused of witchcraft but who were not subsequently brought to the Assizes (although some of this people can be found in the pamphlets). Also, Ewen only calendared the Assize records and not records from other courts such as the Quarter Sessions, Ecclesiastical or Borough Courts as detailed by MacFarlane[25]. Another weakness is that according to Ewen “Before the reign of Charles I it was not the practice to file bills thrown out by the grand jury[26]; therefore if an accused witch’s charges were dismissed by the court, s/he would still have been held and charged as a witch but no record would have been retained in the record offices and the existence of these people can only be gleaned from the pamphlets.

A further complication is that the indictments for Essex “outnumber those of the four counties of Herts, Kent, Surrey and Sussex combined”[27]. Ewen’s original comments were that the Essex Assize rolls and gaol records survived better[28] but MacFarlane refutes this when he conducted further analysis of files at the PRO and found that the number of records “missing” for each county were Surrey (thirty-six), Kent (forty-two), Essex (forty-three), Sussex (fifty-one), Herts (sixty-five)[29] prompting his comment “Within the Home Circuit, [prosecutions in] Essex was exceptional, though other counties all had their prosecutions”.[30]

For the purpose of my study, only to be used are the indictments for the county of Essex for the years 1560 (the date of the first trial that Ewen records) to 1603 (the first year of James I’s reign and the final year of the Elizabethan witchcraft act before a new harsher Jacobean act was passed in 1604). These years have also been chosen because, in James Sharpe’s words, “Despite the passing of the 1604 Witchcraft Act, witch trials were in decline in England by the early seventeenth century”[31]. Moreover the activities of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, in 1645 would distort the results if data from these years of extreme witch-hunting were included.

The indictments for this time span gives the result of approximately 178 people (18 males and 159 females) accused of witchcraft from a total of 336 indictments.[32] A full breakdown of the verdicts for the 336 indictments is shown in the table below. For those found guilty, fifty-eight were executed, another two were sentenced to be hanged but died of the plague in gaol[33] and a further three were sentenced to be hanged but were reprieved before execution and their sentence commuted to imprisonment[34]. The percentages also show that only 4.7% bills were not endorsed (ie the case was dismissed) – possibly a false percentage with the real number being a lot higher as the majority of non-endorsed indictments were not kept.

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603

To gain an overall picture of witchcraft within Essex of this period, the graph below shows the five yearly numbers of people tried and subsequently hanged for witchcraft. From this graph, it can be seen that there were three main crisis periods for both the number of indictments and executions: 1580-84, 1590-94 and 1600-03. 1582 was a peak year for prosecutions when fifteen people were tried at Chelmsford for witchcraft practised in St Oysth and its surrounding villages[35]. Thomas quantifies this figure further with: “At the Essex Assizes in the 1580s, a peak period, witchcraft cases formed thirteen per cent of all the criminal business[36]. Whilst these figures do show a large majority of witches as being female, this graph only starts to answer some of the questions regarding female power in connection with witchcraft.

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603, five year totals

It has been estimated that in early modern England, only 20 to 25% of accused witches were male[37]. In the time period of my study, eighteen male witches were found in the Assizes records – a little over 10% of the total number of accused witches perhaps showing that it was only after the harsher Jacobean witchcraft act of 1604 that more men were accused. These figures have to be used in conjunction with the figures for female witches to provide some answers as to the sphere of female power within sixteenth century England.

The table below shows that 77.36% of female witches were working independently[38] and only 4.4% of female witches worked with men. In comparison, 44.44% of male witches worked independently and 44.44% had female accomplices. Could these percentages be interpreted that contemporary people viewed English witchcraft as a crime which was mainly perpetrated by women working alone and if a witch was male then he would possibly have a female accomplice? If this was the case then this evidence would bear weight to an argument that witchcraft in England was viewed as a female crime and by a woman’s power, they could manipulate males into joining their “craft”. Therefore, then, witchcraft was a very strong form of female power.

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Relationships between accused witches

James Sharpe has commented that “when male and female witches are being contrasted, it is essential to be specific about exactly what form of occult activities they were suspected of[39]. Did women perform different types of witchcraft to men and thus their differing acts show the type of power that females had during the Elizabethan age? The graph below shows the breakdown of types of witchcraft performed by each sex. This shows that males and females had roughly the same amount of indictments for witchcraft involving animals – 22.9% for females and 25.7% for males. As the England of this period had a market economy based on agriculture and many men and women had occupations based within agriculture, perhaps these figures show that one way to get revenge over a neighbour who had denied charity was to bewitch or kill his animals. This substantiates Thomas and MacFarlane’s thesis of witchcraft being sometimes a desire for revenge.[40] An interesting feature shown in the graph is that, despite a female witch’s curses and mutterings, she did not practise invocation and sorcery – there were not any recorded instances of these acts by females whereas 20% of male indictments were for these two distinct forms of witchcraft.

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Types of witchcraft acts

With regard to female power, of particular interest is that 58% of female acts of witchcraft had children as the victims, whilst only 5.7% of indictments for males had child victims (the figures are fifty-six indictments for the former and only two indictments for the latter). Raising children in the sixteenth century was very much the sphere of the female(s) of the house. By having child victims, despite the sex of the victim, can it be perceived that witchcraft against children was an act from one woman (the witch) to another (the victim’s mother)? Males perhaps would not have been interested in child victims as this act could be seen as an act of witchcraft from a “superior” male to an “inferior” female. Unfortunately the indictments do not give any indication as to whether the child victim’s mother was dead or still alive at the time of the witchcraft – if this information was available this theory could be given more credit. Further proof of this sphere of female power can be seen in the 1582 account of the St Oysth trial. Grace Thurlowe gave evidence against Ursula Kemp and related how she (Grace) gave birth to a child nearly a year previously. Grace refused to allow Ursula to wet-nurse her child and the child at the age of three months fell out of its crib and broke its neck. This would appear to be a two-way process of “female power”. Ursula was annoyed with Grace so used her “powers” to “murder” Grace’s child: Grace was perhaps not looking after her child properly, and had to blame someone for the accident, and not wanting to blame herself, accused Ursula of the child’s murder. Strong female power emitting from both the perpetrator and the victim?

The use of child witnesses related to the accused witch also provides an interesting slant to the hypothesis that witchcraft was an act of female power. Unfortunately the Assize records for this period do not list the names of witnesses: if they did, they would list a great number of children under the age of eighteen whose testimony was used against their mother[41]. These child witnesses can be found in the majority of the trial pamphlets without any contemporary comments on the unsuitability of such young witnesses. At the start of this paper, it was related how the illegitimate children of Avice and Margaret Cunny testified against their grandmother and mothers. In 1579, Ellen Smith’s twelve year old son was called as a witness against his mother[42] and in 1582 several of the witnesses St Oysth witchcraft were very young – Cecilia Celles’ two sons were aged nine and “six and three-quarters” and both were called as witnesses against their mother[43]. Perhaps the use of children as witnesses against their mother can be seen as further evidence as to the way a female exercised her power as a witch when she was going about her daily duties thus giving more evidence to the supposition that the “classic image of a witch was that of the bad mother. She was supposed to kill children …. rather than protect and nourish them.[44] Acorruption of female power?Incredibly, the St Oysth trial used the evidence of a babe in arms “the saide childe beeing an infante and not a yeere olde, the mother thereof carrying it in her armes, to one mother Ratcliffes a neighbour of hers, to haue her to minister vnto it, was to passe by Ursley this examinates house, and passing bye the wyndowe, the Infante cryed to the mother, wo, wo, and poynted with the finger to the wyndowe wardes: And likewise the chyld vsed the like as shee passed homewards by the said window[45]. This abuse of a woman’s power by her being a witch had to be stopped by whatever means or method.

A detection of damnable drifts practized by three witches arraigned at Chlemifforde in Essex, in the Countye of EssexA detection of damnable drifts practized by three witches arraigned
at Chlemifforde in Essex, in the Countye of Essex, 
Front cover of the pamphlet on the trial of Elizabeth Fraunces of Hatfield Peverel,
Ellen Smith of Maldon, Alice Nokes of Lambert (Lambourne).
Mother Staunton of Wimbish was also tried but found not guilty.


As has been discussed, from the graph showing Types of Witchcraft, it can be seen that witchcraft, in the main, was practiced by females: in contrast “cunning folk” appeared to be chiefly male. Cunning folk were practising acts such as soothsaying, healing, finding lost goods and anti-witch activities, which can perhaps be termed by modern day commentators as “white” or “good” witches. MacFarlane produced a table of “Cunning folk whose names are mentioned in the Essex Records[46]. Analysing this for the period 1560-1603 provides the following figures: forty-two people are mentioned in the table of which twenty-eight were male and fourteen were female (66% males and 33% females). Two female cunning women were eventually charged with witchcraft and hanged (Margery Skelton executed in 1571 and Ursula Kemp in 1582). Four cunning men were also subsequently charged with witchcraft, none of which were hanged and two were acquitted. This raises the question that did contemporary people consider a man’s part in “cunning/witchcraft” activity more acceptable so he was less likely to be prosecuted as a witch? Another possible cunning woman that does not appear in MacFarlane’s table was Elizabeth Lowys of Waltham who has hanged for witchcraft in 1564. According to the deposition of Agnes Devenyshe, “[Agnes] went to the said Lewys’ wife’s house, and they talked about a sore arm of hers. And she, Lewys, counselled her to go to a woman under Munckewood, and going there, the folks told her that she was a witch….[47] So she was a women that had seemingly over stepped the line of being a cunning women and had become a witch. Whilst cunning folk might have been more tolerated in Elizabethan times, this changed so that the 1604 statute had more severe penalties for crimes that might have been carried out by “cunning folk”. This was in line with the view of “Protestant theologians that “good” witches drew their powers from the devil as certainly as did the wicked ones, and should suffer accordingly”.[48] But certainly during the period 1562 to 1603 the figures appear to show that male cunning folk were relatively acceptable but female witches were not.

Looking now at the ages of witches: ages were not recorded on the indictments so actual ages or an impression of a person’s age can only be extracted from pamphlets. Can the ages of witches be used to show female power as “an expression of frustration from the young to the old[49] (and vice-versa) and/or, as suggested by Sharpe, were there negative attitudes toward post-menopausal women[50]? From the table below, it can be seen how difficult it is to determine the ages of the accused witches and that from the evidence used within my study it would be extremely hard to make any firm analysis. However, it does give an overall impression that witchcraft did not appear to have had any age boundaries: woman were practising at all ages – not forgetting also that many women such as Agnes Waterhouse, although 63 years old at the time of her execution, had been practising for twenty-five years and Elizabeth Frances learnt her craft when she was twelve.[51]

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Ages

Marital status of witches could also be used to understand female power during the sixteenth century. Similar to ages, this is also another category that is hard to quantify as many of the indictments show the words “spinster” then detail the name of the “spinster’s” husband. However, as the table below shows, of the forty-eight women where the marital status is known, 69% were married and 31% were widowed. This finding would correlate with MacFarlane’s conclusion that, over the longer period of 1560-1680, 40% were widows and would confirm his opinion that widowhood was a serious problem but that widowhood alone was not enough to make villagers accuse someone of witchcraft[52].

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – Marital status of females

Furthermore, the figures in the above table show that having the “male protection” of a husband was not enough security against the accusation of witchcraft. So witches exercised their female power over other people even if a husband was present. This appeared to be the case of Cecilia Celles whose husband believed his wife was a witch: when his son told him that he had seen imps, he said to his wife “why thou whore cannot you keepe your impes from my childre~[...] whereat shee presently called it away fro~ her sonne[53] Unfortunately for Henry Celles, believing that his wife as a witch was not enough to save him from the same accusations: he was also accused of witchcraft (arson) and held in gaol in Colchester but was released on bail before the Assizes took place. He is an example of a male that became implicated through the actions of his wife. [54]

Colchester CastleColchester Castle in the 1840s, by Thomas Dugdale, c1848.
County gaol and final home for many of Essex’s Tudor witches.

Colchester CastlePostcard c1901-1910 of Colchester Castle

Having examined the larger picture of all the witchcraft indictments for 1560 to 1603 within Essex, examining a small pocket of witchcraft can give further insight into sixteenth century female power. The small village of Hatfield Peverel appeared to be a strong hold of either witchcraft practices or the belief in witchcraft (or perhaps both). The table below shows the ten witches accused of witchcraft over a twenty-three year period, all of whom were living in Hatfield Peverel – 5.78% of the total number of Essex people indicted for witchcraft between 1560 and 1603. Two Essex pamphlets (1566[55] and 1579[56]) have been used in my study in conjunction with the data from the Assizes to construct a family of four (possibly six) witches which spanned four generations living within Hatfield Peverel – the diagram below shows their relationships. From these pamphlets we have a small insight into prevailing attitudes both towards religion and the possible heredity nature of witchcraft – or at least that witchcraft was something that could be learnt from other family members.

Witches of Hatfield PeveralFour generations of witches living in Hatfield Peverel in the 1560s and 1570s.
Pictures are from the 1566 trial pamphlet.
Rosen linked Agnes Waterhouse and Elizabeth Frances as sisters via the 1566 and 1579 trial pamphlets. Agnes Frances has not been previously linked to Elizabeth Frances but she had the same surnname and was operating as witch at the same time in the same area – it is therefore possible that they related by birth or marriage.

1566 Pamphlet detailing the trial of Agnes Waterhouse of Hatfield PeverelPamphlet detailing the trial of Agnes Waterhouse of Hatfield Peverel,
The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde
, by J Phillips, 1566

Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603Essex witchcraft indictments 1560-1603 – the Hatfield Peveral witches

Looking first at witchcraft being perceived as hereditary: Thomas comments: “The idea that witchcraft went in families and might be hereditary was often put forward”.[57] A 1652 pamphlet stated: “Some there were that wished rather then they might be burnt to ashes, alleging, that it was a received opinion amongst many that, the body of a witch being burnt, her blood is prevented thereby from becoming hereditary to her progeny in the same evil, which by hanging was not.[58] There is further evidence that witchcraft was not seen to be heredity in that women who pleaded pregnancy were examined by a jury of matrons and, if found pregnant, had a stay of execution until their baby was born. This opinion that babies were innocent of their mother’s crime had been proved early on in Elizabeth’s reign when a court case was brought against a “Sheriff in Guernsey who, when Perotine Massey[59] gave birth to a baby when she was burning at the stake, had ordered that the baby be thrown back onto the fire. The court held that as the baby had not been condemned as a heretic, the Sheriff was guilty of murder, but Elizabeth pardoned him[60]. Using the pamphlet of 1566, it can be argued that the writer(s) also did not believe witchcraft was heredity but rather a taught “art”. The pamphlet makes the comment that Elizabeth Frances “learnt this arte of witchcraft at the age of xii. yeres of hyr grandmother whose nam was mother Eue of Hatfyelde Peuerell disseased”. Agnes Waterhouse wanted to teach witchcraft to her daughter, Joan, “her mother this laste wynter would haue learned her this arte, but she lerned it not, nether yet the name of the thinge. [61] These statements by the two women surely gives weight to the argument that witchcraft was considered to be a form of female power that grandmothers and/or mothers could teach to their (usually female) children.

If Mother Eve was grandmother to both Elizabeth Frances and Agnes Waterhouse (as has been suggested by Rosen because of the wording of the 1579 pamphlet[62]), Mother Eve perhaps started practising her “craft” in the second half of the fifteenth century (given that Agnes’ date of birth would have been c1502): a time when, although the existence of witchcraft was acknowledged and people consulted cunning men and women[63], there was no witchcraft act on the Statute books. “In 1549, one suspected sorcerer reckoned “there be within England above five hundred conjurers as he thinketh”. This was probably a substantial under estimate.[64] Moreover, this family would have lived through great upheaval that affected all parts of England because of the Reformation. Christopher Marsh comments that many rituals of the Catholic Church (such as charms, sorcery, enchantments) were banned in 1559 and this ruling was a “broader campaign to destroy the credibility of traditional religion by exposing its alleged superstition[65]”. Rosen remarks “Bitterness, resentment and pain that can no longer be discharged through familiar religious channels will almost inevitably be turned upon others; and in their delusions, such women were aided by the learned and by the religious terms in which they continued to think.[66] Agnes Waterhouse leaves us a tantalising clue about contemporary attitudes towards religion and those who practised outside the Elizabethan dictated protestant religion “she was demanded what praier she saide, she aunswered the Lordes prayer, the Aue Maria, and the belefe, & then they demaunded whether in laten or in englyshe, and shee sayde in laten[Latin], and they demaunded why she saide it not in engly[...]e but in laten[67]

So, Agnes Waterhouse at least, practised some of the “old ways” and perhaps had not converted to Protestantism and therefore operated outside the beliefs and “norms” of her society. Rosen comments that between 1534 and the time of this trial “there had been eight major religious changes requiring oaths from teachers, ministers and public officials with four total reversals of religious practice enforced by law and death sentence“. [68]. This constant change of religious policy must have had a long lasting effect on many of the inhabitants of the villages, including the community of Hatfield Peverel. Moreover, of the 238 Protestant martyrs burnt during Mary’s reign of 1553 to 1558, 39 had been burnt in Essex and many of the 78 martyrs burnt in London had come from Essex[69] showing the very diverse nature of the inhabitants of sixteenth century Essex. Agnes Waterhouse’s ability to say her prayers in Latin would have been compulsory during Mary’s reign and yet a few years later this factor was used against her as an indication that she was practising witchcraft and thus, as a witch, was unable to say her prayers correctly in English. Whilst it has long been established by modern day historians such as Keith Thomas that “in England witchcraft was prosecuted primarily as an anti-social crime, rather than as a heresy”[70] Agnes Waterhouse’s case shows that religion must have played a small but significant part in her neighbours’ belief that she was a witch although she was executed as a murderer rather than a heretic.

In conclusion, it can be seen that the subject of witchcraft within England has raised many different questions and theories: from the “refused charity” hypothesis with “social tensions thrown up by the transition from personal to institutional charity”[71] as argued by MacFarlane/Thomas to the extreme feminist argument of a “complex attack by male-dominated authority on dependent or independent women[72]. My study has used evidence from the Assize trials and the pamphlets to study the surmise that witchcraft was a form of female power. Through looking at the pamphlets (whilst appreciating their bias and the possibility that they were not eye-witness accounts), it can be seen that many of the accused witches were living outside the “norms” of their society. For example, the Cunny sisters had illegitimate children[73]; Ursula Kemp (who had also been known as “Ursula Gray”) had been openly living with a widower and had at least one illegitimate child[74]; Agnes Waterhouse said her prayers in Latin so was perhaps a Catholic[75]. These women and others accused did not live “conventional” sixteenth century lives: perhaps their witchcraft can be perceived as a form of power against conventional people within their society. Or perhaps the conventional people had accused non-conforming people of witchcraft and thus created a two-way process of power between victim and witch. Moreover, as the figures taken from the indictments found by Ewen shows, all ages of women from all marital categories were involved; accused male witches sometimes worked with females rather then on their own, and, whilst witchcraft was not perceived as heredity, (female) witches taught other (possibly related) people their “craft”. Taking these issues into account it would appear that witchcraft can be seen to be a form of female power supporting Sharpe’s theory that “witchcraft accusations were made by women against other woman” and that they “form one of the contexts within which female power was asserted and negotiated”.[76]


Skeleton of a St Oysth witchPostcard dating from the 1930s showing the skeleton of one of the St Oysth witches, Ursula Kemp, executed in 1582 but rediscovered in 1921 and dig up in 1963. Her skeleton was then moved around England, until finally, in 2012, her skeleton was reburied back in St Oysth. The story of Ursula’s skeleton is told here Witch or Herbalist? Ursula is finally returned to St Osyth and laid to rest. Before burial, she had been bound in chains, and iron rivets had been driven through her ankles, knees and wrists.

It should be noted that this blog-post deals entirely with English witchcraft and English Acts of Parliament. Scottish witchcraft and its various Acts against it took an entirely different direction and so should be considered totally and utterly separate from English witchcraft. That is, until the British Witchcraft Act of 1735 repealed the existing separate English and Scottish witchcraft laws, and created one Act, which then related to the whole of Great Britain.

Appendix 1: Map of Tudor Essex

Map of Essex witches by Peter Haining

From The witch-craft papers: contemporary records of the Witchcraft Hysteria in Essex 1560-1700 by Peter Haining, 1974.

Appendix 2: English Acts of Parliament relating to witchcraft

Punishment in witchcraft statutesPunishment in the Witchcraft Statutes 1542-1735.

1 1542 (English) Witchcraft Act – An Act against Conjurations, Witchcrafts, Sorcery and Inchantments (33 Hen. VIII c. 8). Repealed in 1547 by Edward VI.

2 1562 (English) Witchcraft Act – An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts (5 Eliz. I c. 16) . Repealed in 1604 by James I.

3 1604 (English) Witchcraft Act – An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and dealing with evil and wicked spirits (2 Ja. I c. 12). Repealed in 1735 by George II.

1735 (British) Witchcraft Act (9 Geo. II c. 5).  Repealed in 1951 by Elizabeth II by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, which, in turn, was repealed in 2008.  There are no longer any laws specifically against witchcraft on the British statute books.

Appendix 3: Text of each English witchcraft Act

Text taken from Vol 3, Statutes of the Realm 1509-1545 and
Vol 4, Statutes of the Realm 1547-1624

33 Henry VIII (1542) The Bill ayēst conjuracõns & wichecraftes and sorcery and enchantments. 

Where dyvers and sundrie persones unlawfully have devised and practised Invocacõns and conjuracõns of Sprites p~tendyng by suche meanes to understande and get Knowlege for their owne lucre in what place treasure of golde and Silver shulde or mought be founde or had in the earthe or other secrete places, and also have used and occupied wichecraftes inchauntement’ and sorceries to the distrucõn of their neighbours persones and goodes, And for execuõn of their saide falce devyses and practises have made or caused to be made dyvers Images and pictures of men women childrene Angelles or develles beastes or fowles, and also have made Crownes Septures Swordes rynges glasses and other thinges, and gyving faithe & credit to suche fantasticall practises have dygged up and pulled downe an infinite nombre of Crosses win this Realme, and taken upon them to declare and tell where thinges lost or stollen shulde be becōme; whiche thinges cannot be used and excersised but to the great Offence of Godes lawe, hurt and damage of the Kinges Subjectes, and losse of the sowles of suche Offenders, to the greate dishonor of God, Infamy and disquyetnes of the Realme :
Various Sorts of Sorceries, &c.
FOR REFORMACÕN wherof be it enacted by the Kyng oure Soveraigne Lorde w’ thassent of the Lordes spuall and temporall and the Comons in this p~sent Parliament assembled and by auctoritie of the same, that yf any persone or persones, after the first daye of Maye next comyng, use devise practise or exercise, or cause to be used devysed practised or exercised, any Invocacõns or conjuracõns of Sprites wichecraftes enchauntmentes or sorceries, to thentent to get or fynde money or treasure, or to waste consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres or goodes, or to Vvoke any persone to unlawfull love, or for any other unlawfull intente or purpose, or by occadtn or color of suche thinges or any of them, or for dispite of Cryste, or for lucre of money, dygge up or pull downe any Crosse or Crosses, or by suche Invocaeons or conjuracõns of Sprites wichecraftes enchauntementes or sorcerie or any of them take upon them to tell or declare where goodes stollen or lost shall become, That then all and ev~y suche Offence and Offences, frome the saide first day of May next comyng, shalbe demyde accepted and adjuged Felonye ; And that all and ev~y persone and persones offendyng as is abovesaide their Councellors Abettors and Procurors and ev~y of them from the saide first day of Maye shalbe demyde accepted and adjuged a Felon and Felones; And thoffender and Offenders contrarie to this Acte, being therof lawfullie convicte before suche as shall have power and auctoritie to here and determyn felonyes, shall have and suffre suche paynes of deathe losse and forfaytures of their landes tentes goodes and Catalles as in cases of felonie by the course of the Cōmon lawes of this Realme, And also shall lose prvilege of Clergie and Sayntuarie.
Persons using Invocations, or other Practices of Sorcery, to discover Treasure, &c. or to destroy or injure any one, or to provoke unlawful Love, &C. declared Felons without Clergy,&c.

5 Elizabeth I  (1562) An Act agaynst Conjuracõns Inchantmentes and Witchecraftes.

Where at this present, there ys no ordinarye ne condigne Punishement provided against the Practisers of the wicked Offences of Conjuracõns and Incovacõns of evill Sprirites, and of Soceries Enchauntmentes Charmes and Witchecraftes, the wch Offences by force of a Statute made in the xxxiij yere of the Reigne of the late King Henry the Eyghthe were made to bee Felonye, and so continued untill the sayd Statute was repealed by Thacte and Statute of Repeale made in the first yere of the Reigne of the late King Edwarde the vjth; sythens the Repeale wherof many fantasticall and devilishe p~sons have devised and practised Invocacõns and Conjuracõns of evill and wicked Spirites, and have used and practised Wytchecraftes Enchantementes Charms and Sorceries, to the Destruccõon of the P~sons and Goodes of their Neighebours and other Subjectes of this Realme, and for other lewde Intentes and Purposes contrarye to the Lawes of Almighty God, to the Perill of theyr owne Soules, and to the great Infamye and Disquietnes of this Realme:
St. 33 H.VIII. c.8. against Witchcraft, repealed by the Operation of Stats E.VI. c. 12.
FOR REFORMACÕN wherof bee it enacted by the Quenes Maj wch thassent of the Lordes Sp~uall and Temporall and the Cōmons in this p~nte P~liament assembled, and by thaucthoritee of the same, That yf any p~son or p~sons after the first daye of June nexte cōming, use practise or exersise any Invocacõns or Conjuracõns of evill and wicked Spirites, to or for any Intent or Purpose ; or els if any p~son or p~sons after the said first daye of June shall use practise or exercise any Witchecrafte Enchantment Charme or Sorcerie, wherby any p~son shall happen to bee killed or destroyed, that then aswell every suche Offendor or Offendors in Invocacõns or Conjuracõns as ys aforesayd, their Concellors & Aidours, as also every suche Offendor or Offendors in Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerie wherby the Deathe of anny p~son dothe ensue, their Aidours and Concellors, being of either of the said Offences laufully convicted and attainted, shall suffer paynes of Deathe as a Felon or Felons, and shall lose the Priviledg and Benefite of Sanctuarie & Clergie: Saving to the Wief of such parsone her Title of Dower, and also to the Heyre and Successour of suche p~son his or theyr Tytles of Inheritaunce Succession and other Rightes, as thoughe no suche Attayndour of the Auncestour or Predecessour had been hadd or made.
Persons using any Invocations of Spirits whatever, or practising Witchcraft,-&c. whereby Death shall ensue, declared Felons without Clergy.
And further bee yt enacted by thaucthoritee aforesayd, That if any p~son or p~sons, after the saide first daye of June nexte cōmyng, shall use practise or exercyse any Wytchecrafte Enchauntement Charme or Sorcerie, wherby any p~on shall happen to bee wasted consumed or lamed in his or her Bodye or Member, or wherby any Goodes or Cattelles of any p~son shalbee destroyed wasted or impayred, then every suche Offendour or Offendours their Councelloures and Aydoures, being therof laufully convicted, shall for his or their first Offence or Offences, suffer Imprisonement by the Space of one whole Yere, wthout Bayle or Mayneprise, and once in every Quarter of the said Yere, shall in some Market Towne, upon the Market Daye or at suche tyme as any Fayer shalbee kepte there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the Space of Syxe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Errour and Offence; and for the Seconde Offence, being as ys aforesayd laufully convicted or attaynted, shall suffer Deathe as a Felon, and shall lose the Privilege of Clergie and Sanctuarye : Saving to the Wief of suche p~son her Title of Dower, and also to Theire & Successor of suche p~son, his or their Titles of Inheritance Succession and other Rightes, as thoughe no suche Attaindor of Thancestor or Predecessor had beene hadde or made.
Penalty on practising witchcraft, &c. to the Bodily Harm of any one; First Offence, One Year’s Imprisonment and Pilory.; Second Offence, Felony without Clergy.
Provided alwaies, That yf the Offendour, in any of the Cases aforesayd for whiche the paynes of Deathe shall ensue, shall happen to bee a Peere of this Realme, then his Triall thereyn to be hadd by hys Peeres, as yt ys used in cases of Felonye or Treason and not otherwyse.
Peers shall be tried by Peers.
And further to thintent that all maner of practise use or exercise of Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerye shoulde bee from hensforthe utterly avoyded abolished and taken awaye ; Bee it enacted by thaucthoritee of this P~nte P~liament, That yf any p~son or p~sons shall from and after the sayd first daye of June nexte cōming, take upon him or them, by Witchecrafte Enchantement Charme or Sorcerie, to tell or declare in what Place any Treasure of Golde or Sylver shoulde or might bee founde or had in the Earthe or other secret Places, or where Goodes or Thinges lost or stollen should bee founde or becume, or shall use or practise anyc Sorcery Enchantement Charme or Witchecrafte, to thintent to provoke any p~son to unlaufull love, or to hurte or destroye any p~son in his or her Body, Member or Goodes ; that then every suche p~son or p~sons so offending, and being therof laufully convicted, shall for the said Offence suffer Imprysonement by the space of One whole yere wthout Bayle or Mayneprise, and once in every Quarter of the said yere shall in some Market Towne, upon the Marcket day or at suche tyme as any Fayer shall bee kept there, stande openly upon the Pillorie by the space of Sixe Houres, and there shall openly confesse his or her Error and Offence; And yf anye p~son or p~sons, beyng once convicted of the same Offences as ys aforesayd, doo eftesones p~petrate and cōmitt the lyke Offence, that then every suche Offendour beyng thereof the seconde tyme convicted as ys aforesaid, shall forfaitee unto the Quenes Majestie her heires and successoures, all his Goodes and Cattelles and suffer Imprysonement during Lyef.
Penalty on practising Witchcraft, &c. to discover Treasure, or to proke unlawfulI Love, &c.  First Offence, One Year’s Imprisonment and Pillory : Second Offence, Forfeiture of Goods and Imprisonment for Life.

2 James I   (1604) An Act against Conjuration Witchcrafte and dealinge with evill and wicked Spirits.

Be it enacted by the King our Sov~aigne Lorde the Lordes Spirituall and Temporall and the Comons in this p~sent Parliament assembled, and by the authoritie of the same, That the Statute made in the fifte yeere of the Raigne of our late Sov~aigne Ladie of moste famous and happie memorie Queene Elizabeth, intituled An Acte againste Conjurations Inchantmente and Witchcraft, be from the Feaste of St. Michaell the Archangell nexte cōminge, for and concerninge all Offences to be cōmitted after the same Feaste, utterlie repealed.
5 Eliz. c. 16. repealed.
And for the botter restrayninge the saide Offenses, and more severe punishinge the ,same, be it further enacted by the authoritie aforesaide, That if any p~ron or persons, after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell nextcōminge, shall use practise or exercise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and wicked Spirit, or shall consult covenant with entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or purpose; or take up any dead man woman or child out of his her or theire grave, or any other place where the dead bodie resteth, or the skin bone or any other parte of any dead person, to be imployed or used in any manner of Witchcrafte Soreerie Charme or Inchantment ; or shall use practise or exercise any Witchcrafte Inchantment Charme or Sorcerie, wherebie any p~son shalbe killed destroyed wasted consumed pined or lamed in his or her bodie, or any parte thereof; that then everie such Offendor or Offendors, theire Ayders Abettors and Counsellors, being of any the saide Offences dulie and lawfullie convicted and attainted, shall suffer pains of deathe as a Felon or Felons, and shall loose the priviledge and benefit of Cleargie and Sanctuarie.
Invoking or consulting with Evil Spirits, taking up Dead Bodies, &c. for Purposes of Witchcraft, &c. or practising Witchcraft, &c. to the Harm of others, declared Felony without Clergy.
And further, to the intent that all manner of practise use or exercise of Witchcrafte Inchantment Charme or Sorcerie should be from henceforth utterlie avoyded abolished and taken away, Be it enacted by the authoritie of this p~sent Parliament, That if any p~son or p~sons shall from and after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell next cōminge, take upon him or them by Witchcrafte Inchantment Charme or Sorcerie to tell or declare in what place any treasure of Golde or Silver should or might be founde or had in the earth or other secret places, or where Goode or Thinge loste or stollen should be founde or become ; or to the intent to p~voke any person to unlawfull love, or wherebie any Cattell or Goods of any p~son shall be destroyed wasted or impaired, or to hurte or destroy any p~son in his or her bodie, although the same be not effected and done ; that then all and everie such p~son & p~sons so offendinge, and beinge thereof lawfullie convicted, shall for the said Offence suffer Imprisonment by the space of one whole yeere, without baile or maineprise, and once in everie quarter of the &aide yere, shall in some Markett Towne, upon the Markett Day, or at such time as any Faire shalbe kepte theme, stande openlie upon the Pillorie by the space of sixe houres, and there shall openlie confesse his or her error and offence ; And if any p~son or p~sons beinge once convicted of the same offences as is aforesaide, doe eftsoones ppetra and cōmit the like offence, that then everie such Offender, beinge of any the saide offences the second tyme lawfullie and duelie convicted and attainted as is aforesaide, shall sufer paines of death as a Felon or Felons, and shall loose the benefiti and priviledge of Clergie and Sanctuarie:
Penalty on declaring by Witchcraft where Treasure, &c, is hidden : procuring unlawful Love : or attempting to hurt Cattle or Persons : 1st Offence Imprisonment : ad. Felony without Clergy
Savinge to the wife of such person as shall offend in any thinge contrarie to this Acte, her title of dower; and also to the heire and successour of everie such person his or theire titles of Inheritance Succession and other Rights, as though no such Attaindor of the Ancestor or Predecessor had bene made:
Saving of Dower, Inheritance, &c.
Provided alwaes, That if the Offendor in any the Cases aforemde shall happen to be a Peere of this Realme, then his Triall therein to be had by his Peeres, as it is used in cases of Felonie or Treason, and not otherwise.
Peers shall be tried by Peers


[1] Anon; (1589) The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex[2] Munro, J; (2004) The economic history of later-Medieval and Early-Modern Europe, p28

[3] Harris, A; (2001), Witch-hunt: the great Essex witch scare of 1582; p63

[4] Rosen, B; (1991) Witchcraft in England 1558-1618; p182

[5] MacFarlane, A; (1970) Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study; p14

[6] Ewen, C L’Estrange; (1929) Witch Hunting and Witch Trials : The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1559-1736; p19

[7] Scot, R; (1584) as quoted in Haining, P; (1974), The witch-craft papers: contemporary records of the Witchcraft Hysteria in Essex 1560-1700; p68

[8] Gifford, G; (1593), as quoted in Haining, P; The witch-craft papers; p78

[9] Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England

[10] Religion and the decline of Magic

[11] Witches and neighbours[12] 1) Witchcraft in early Modern England; 2) The bewitching of Anne Gunter: A horrible and true story of football, witchcraft, murder and the King of England, 3) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volumes 1 to 6 (Gen Ed)[13] Thomas, K; (1991), Religion and the Decline of Magic; p632

[14] Ibid; p662

[15] Eirenreich, B and English D, (1973) Witches, Midwifes and nurses, a history of women healers as quoted in Sharpe, J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England p10

[16] J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England p10

[17] Sharpe, J. A; (2003) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 2 Early English trial pamphlets; pxi

[18] Jackson, L; (1995) Witches, Wives and Mothers: witchcraft persecutions and women’s confessions in seventeenth century England; Women’s History Review Volume 4, Number 1; p71

[19] Sharpe, J. A; (2001) Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p68

[20] W. W; (1582) A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S. Ofes in the countie of Essex

[21] Ewen, C L’Estrange; Witch Hunting and Witch Trials; p117. Indictments number 1 & 2.

[22] Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p517

[23] Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p11

[24] Ewen, C L’Estrange; Witch Hunting and Witch Trials; p100

[25] MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p271-303

[26] Ewen, C L’Estrange; Witch Hunting and Witch Trials; p99

[27] Ibid; p99

[28] Ibid; p97 & p99

[29] MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p64, footnote 32

[30] Ibid; p61

[31] Sharpe, J. A; (2003) English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 1 Early English demonological works; pxii

[32] My figures vary between 175 to 178 people accused of witchcraft as my Access tables might contain duplicates where Ewen or MacFarlane have not identified two people with similar details as being the same person such as Agnes Duke (id numbers 77 and 106) of Hatfield Peverel and Agnes Whilland/Agnes Whitland (id numbers 120 and 126) of Dagenham and Joan Cock (numbers 11 & 79) of Kelvedon/Hatfield Peverel (the two villages are nearby to each other).

[33] MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p256 (Ewen indictment number 58) & p260 (Ewen indictment number 233b)

[34] Ewen indictment numbers155-157, 159 and 160 (all three were part of the St Oysth trials of 1582)

[35] W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches

[36] Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p536

[37] University of Essex, (2005) Witchcraft and Masculinities in the Early Modern World

[38] There is difficulty with finding female-related witches as often women were related but did not have the same surname. For example, it is only through the 1582 pamphlet that we know that Margery Sammon was Alice Hunt’s sister. This case has further complications in that the Margery Sammon was held without charge in 1582 but then there was another trial two years later by which time she was known as Margery Barnes.

[39] Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p69

[40] MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p623

[41] Interestingly, Robbins in his 1964 Encycopedia of Witchcraft preferred to use the term “informers” as opposed to “witnesses” perhaps to support his thesis that witchcraft came “from the top down”

[42] Anon; A detection of damnable driftes, practized by three vvitches arraigned at Chelmifforde in Essex

[43] W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches

[44] Briggs, R; (1996) Witches & Neighbours: The social and cultural context of European Witchcraft ;p241

[45] W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches, taken at S. Ofes

[46] MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p117-8

[47] Haining, P; The witch-craft papers; p20

[48] Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p101

[49] Sharpe, J. A; English witchcraft 1560-1736; Volume 2 Early English trial pamphlets; pxi

[50] Sharpe, J. A; Witchcraft in Early Modern England; p68

[51] Phillips, J; (1566) The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde

[52] MacFarlane, A; Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England; p164

[53] W. W; A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches

[54] Harris, A; Witch-hunt; p65

[55] Phillips, J; The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde

[56] Anon (1579) A detection of damnable driftes, practized by three vvitches arraigned at Chelmifforde

[57] Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p 552 and his footnote number 102 regarding Ewen’s Witchcraft and Demonism index “heredity in witchcraft”.

[58] E. G; (1652) A prodigious & tragicall history of the arraignment, tryall, confession, and condemnation of six witches at Maidstone, in Kent

[59] A Protestant Marian martyr burnt for her religion during the reign of Mary I.

[60] Ridley, J; (2002) Bloody Mary’s Martyrs; p215

[61] Phillips, J; The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde

[62] Rosen, B; Witchcraft in England; p94

[63] Marsh, C; (1998) Popular Religion in Sixteenth Century England; p147

[64] Ibid

[65] Rosen, B; Witchcraft in England; p148

[66] Ibid; p43

[67] Phillips, J; The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde.

[68] Rosen, B; Witchcraft in England; p35

[69] Ridley, J; Bloody Mary’s Martyrs; p216

[70] Thomas, K; Religion and the Decline of Magic; p527

[71] Ibid

[72] Ibid

[73] Anon; (1589) The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches

[74] W. W; (1582) A true and iust recorde, of the information, examination and confession of all the witches

[75] Phillips, J; (1566) The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde

[76] Marsh, C; Popular Religion in Sixteenth Century England; p150


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You may also be interested in the following
The Tudor witches of Great Dunmow: Part 1
The Tudor witches of Great Dunmow: Part 2
Tudor local history
The Tudor witches of Essex
Colchester Castle, Essex’s County gaol

© Essex Voices Past 2014.

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My first born: An ordinary miracle

I have written much on my blog about my young dyslexic son and my battle to secure him an education he can access.  I haven’t written much, if anything, about my other much loved and cherished children.  Today, my eldest – my first born, my darling girl – is getting married. She came into this world kicking and screaming 23 years, 9 months , 2 weeks and 6 days ago – and I fell in love with her the minute I held her for that very first time – a love that has strengthened and increased with each passing year.

My beautiful girl.

Now a young woman and about to marry her love and embark on a new life as a wife – and one day in the (hopefully not too distant) future, a mother.

Many, many years ago, in another life and another century, I lived in the beautiful Cotswold town of Stroud, Gloucestershire and my elder brother lived in a rented cottage in nearby Slad.  The very cottage which was owned by the famous author, Laurie Lee, and the very cottage where Cider with Rosie was written (and, indeed, where most of his books were written).  It is to Laurie Lee that I turn to now, and his words to tell you about my precious first born by way of his short essay (much abridged by myself) on his darling girl, his First Born, which was first given to me when my girl was merely days old.

She was born in the autumn and was a late fall in my life, and lay purple and dented like a little bruised plum, as though she’d been lightly trodden in the grass and forgotten. Then the nurse lifted her up and she came suddenly alive, her bent legs kicking crabwise, and her first living gesture was a thin wringing of the hands accompanied by a far- out Hebridean lament.

This moment of meeting seemed to be a birth time for both of us; her first and my second life. Nothing, I knew, would be the same again, and I think I was reasonably shaken. I peered intently at her, looking for familiar signs, but she was convulsed as an Aztec idol. Was this really my daughter, this purple concentration of anguish, this blind and protesting dwarf.

Then they handed her to me, stiff and howling, and I held her for the first time and kissed her, and she went still and quiet as though by instinctive guile, and I was instantly enslaved by her flattery of my powers.

Only a few brief weeks have passed since that day, but already I’ve felt all the obvious astonishments. New-born, of course, she looked already a centenarian, tottering on the brink of an old crone’s grave, exhausted, shrunken, bald as Voltaire, mopping, mowing, and twisting wrinkled claws in speechless spasms of querulous doom. But with each day of survival she has grown younger and fatter, her face filling, drawing on life, every breath of real air healing the birth-death stain she had worn so witheringly at the beginning.

She is of course just an ordinary miracle, but is also the particular late wonder of my life. So each night I take her to bed like a book and lie close and study her. Her dark blue eyes stare straight into mine, but off-centre, not seeing me.

© Laurie Lee, 1963

My darling girl. My love.  So so proud of you and all you have achieved.  I have loved every minute and every second of being your mum.  I have watched, awe-inspired, as you grew from a child, to a teenager, to a young woman. Beautiful in heart, mind, personality and looks.  I am so very much looking forward to this next part of your life as a couple with your love, and all the joy you will have together – first as a couple, and eventually as a family.

Please join with me in wishing my darling girl and her lovely new husband all the very best in their new life together as husband and wife, Mr and Mrs D.

The images below are from Harrison Fisher (1877-1934), an American artist who had the gift for drawing beautiful Edwardian and art-deco scenes.  There is a final, 6th, postcard in this series, but not wanting to jinx our young couple’s future, I’ll leave it to your imagination what the final card depicts.

Harrison Fisher - Wedding postcardsThe proposal

Harrison Fisher - Wedding postcardsThe trousseau

Harrison Fisher - Wedding postcardsThe wedding

Harrison Fisher - Wedding postcards
The honeymoon

Harrison Fisher - Wedding postcardsThe first evening in their own home


All my love to you both, A & A – the new Mr and Mrs D – now and forever

Mum xx 
© Essex Voices Past 2014.

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Wedding Day in Great Dunmow

It early summer sometime in the mid-1890s. The flowers are in bloom and the leaves are in their full glory on the trees. A young bride poses with her new husband on their wedding day. She is dressed in the fashion of the time – a dress with full leg-of-mutton sleeves with a long train at the back of the dress. She clutches her beautiful spray of fresh flowers, and poses with her wedding party for the camera-man, Stacey of Great Dunmow.

Stacey of Great Dunmow - late Victorian wedding partyStacey of Great Dunmow – late Victorian wedding party

One of the female guests lightly rests her hand on the seated older gentleman. Father and daughter? Sister of the bride or of the groom? Is the elderly gent the father of the bride or groom? The bride has two bridesmaids who are both wearing matching dresses and hats, and are holding sprays of flowers (the second bridesmaid’s bouquet is hidden behind the bride’s head). Who are they? Unmarried sisters of the bride and groom, or childhood friends? Who is the woman sitting next to the groom? Is she the mother of either the bride or groom – she’s not wearing a corsage. Or is a corsage for the mothers, a modern-day tradition?

So many questions. The main question being: whose wedding is this? It looked to have been a beautiful sumptuous wedding with all the wedding party in all their full splendor.

That well known internet auction site yielded up this picture but with no clue as to who these people were – apart from the signature of the photographer, Stacey of Great Dunmow. In the Victorian era, Stacey the photographer was also a nurseryman, so it is highly possible that it was his shop who made up the beautiful floral bouquets for the bride and her two bridesmaids, and made the beautiful buttonholes for the males of the wedding party. A beautiful summer’s event captured over a 100 years ago. Someone’s great-grandparents (or great-great?) consigned to the anonymity of the modern age’s internet. It always saddens me when I see these photos of families from long ago times. They had probably been kept by the bride and groom’s descendants for 100 years, but now thrown out with the rubbish in a house clearance. The picture is excellent condition so has been stored safely for over 100 years – but probably not put out on display because age has not marked the picture.

Here they are now out on display into the modern world of the 21st century. The Great Dunmow wedding party of summer sometime in the mid-1890s – captured forever by Stacey’s of Great Dunmow.


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You may also be interested in the following
The Victorian ladies of Great Dunmow
The Victorian Gentlemen of Great Dunmow
The Victorian Wedding of Great Dunmow

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WordWide Genealogy blog about my great-grandparents wedding
Family history is like a box of chocolates… You never know what you’re going to get

© Essex Voices Past 2014

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Happy second Blogiversary to me: The future

Do you believe in serendipity and synchronicity? The strange forces at play when various unrelated events appear to coincide with each other? As 2013 drew to a close, I had my own piece of inexplicable synchronicity.

In my last post, when I reflected back on two years of writing a blog, I told how it came about that my severely dyslexic son is now in a school for dyslexic children. This hasn’t just been a change for him but also for me as it’s meant the end to my career and working life in London. His wonderful school is in the wrong direction to London and there are absolutely no means by which I can do the school run both ends of the day whilst working in London. So, I’ve had to give up my London-based career of 30 years, and once he settled in his new school last term, I was about to start looking around for a new one.

Just as I was about to start making my plans, into my email inbox flew an unsolicited email from a commissioning editor from Amberley Publishing – a mainstream publisher of local and specialist history book. The editor had read my blog and wanted to talk to me about commissioning me to write a history book! Much toing and froing of emails went backwards and forwards between us until finally, just before Christmas, they agreed to commission not just one, but three history books from me.  I now appear to have a new career as a fledgling author of local history books.  A strange coincidence that just when, for the first time in my adult life, I had time on my hands to write and needed a new career, Amberley Publishing were looking for new authors and stumbled across my blog. Coincidence or synchronicity?

So now, I’m officially researching for my books and will be writing each of them in the coming months and years.  If you have read my blog over the last two years, you will know that I am an obsessive collector of old vintage postcards – particularly those depicting our country’s rich past – moments in time captured by our ancestors through their camera lenses.  It will be no surprise to you, therefore, that each of my books is based around vintage postcards on a particular theme or subject.

Here are the titles and release dates for each of my books.

Bishop’s Stortford Through Time
(publication date: late 2014)
This book continues Amberley Publishing’s Through Time series of fully illustrated books which traces towns and villages of Britain by comparing vintage postcards to modern-day photographs.  My book will tell the story of this Hertfordshire market town through postcards dating from the first half of the twentieth century, compared to modern day photographs of the same locations. Bishop’s Stortford has a rich heritage and rural past before urban regeneration took place and transformed it into the large sprawling town it now is, with a growing population of just under 40,000.  I hope to capture some of its past in my book and show the town as it once was in its Edwardian and pre-First World War heyday.

Bishops Stortford - The Old Boar's HeadBishop’s Stortford – The Old Boar’s Head

Bishops Stortford - Cricket Field LaneBishop’s Stortford – Cricket Field Lane

Bishops Stortford - The River StortBishop’s Stortford – The River Stort

Sudbury, Lavenham and Long Melford Through Time
(publication date: Summer
Continuing Amberley Publishing’s Through Time series of illustrated books about Britain’s towns and villages, this book will trace these three beautiful medieval  Suffolk wool towns through Edwardian, pre-First World War and inter-war postcards. It is ironic that the continuing existence of many of Suffolk’s outstanding medieval buildings bear testimony to the collapse of the wool trade in the area.  This collapse led to rural poverty, which, in turn, meant that many medieval Suffolk buildings were left in tact and were not “enhanced” or replaced by the enterprising Victorians. Many Edwardian postcards of these three towns show these medieval buildings – which were once homes and trading-places of fabulously wealthy merchants – but in the Edwardian period reduced to unsanitary and poverty-stricken living quarters.  Modern photographs will show how these buildings have been restored in modern times to their former medieval glory.

Lavenham, The Guildhall of Corpus ChristiLavenham, The Guildhall of Corpus Christi

Long Melford, The GreenLong Melford, The Green

Sudbury, Thomas Gainsborough's birthplaceSudbury, Thomas Gainsborough’s birthplace

Postcards from the Front: Britain 1914-1919
(publication date: Summer 2016)
During the Great War (and in the years immediately afterwards), soldiers, sailors and nurses regularly sent home postcards to their loved ones. With the censors removing anything which could give away the sender’s location or military strategy, most soldiers posted simple messages sending their love to all at home. In amongst the hundreds of thousands (if not, millions) of postcards sent home from the Front, some postcards have short messages giving fuller testimony to experiences of war. This book recounts the stories of a few of Britain’s men and women who served in the Great War through their postcards home. This book was entirely inspired by my post Postcards from the Front – from you loving son.  I am so happy that I have been given the opportunity to turn this one post into a full book and so can retell the stories of some of the men and women who gave their today for our tomorrow.

Postcards from the Front: Christmas Day in the trenches 1916Postcards from the Front: Christmas Day in the trenches 1916

Postcards from the Front: Christmas Day in the trenches 1916The flag we are willing to sacrifice our lives for in order that they may continue to float over free peoples. What I tale I will have to tell you all later of a Xmas day in the trenches. Fred

The future of my blog?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to persuade Amberley Publishing to commission a Through Time book on Great Dunmow as the population of the town isn’t big enough.  A shame in one respect because I have so many previously unpublished postcards of the town, but good in another respect because it means I can keep blogging my stories about Great Dunmow – which, for contractual reasons, I wouldn’t have been able to do, if I was writing a book about the town.  So my blog will continue… when I have time to write posts.

I would also like to find a publisher for a book retelling some of  my stories about Tudor Essex. For example: the witches of Tudor Essex; the assize judge who condemned many Essex people to death; and the (not so) invisible women of Tudor Essex.  If any publisher or e-publisher would like to commission me to write a book on Tudor Lives of Essex, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, I hope to continue to write stories about the Tudor Lives of Essex folk on my blog.

A plea for help…
If you can help me in any way with vintage postcards of subjects for any of my books, please do get in touch with me at thenarrator[at] Or, if you can help me with access to any areas – schools, churches, stately homes – so that I can take modern-day photographs of the towns and villages I am writing about, please do contact me.

There is one final part of strange coincidences to this story. Amberely Publishing are based in the small Cotswold town of Stroud – the very town where I grew up and spent my formative teenage years. A town I once knew and loved well.  I hope to be spending some happy hours revisiting my childhood roots when I visit “my” publishers.

© Essex Voices Past 2014

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Happy second Blogiversary to me: Reflections on writing a blog

Exactly two years ago this week, I created this blog and published my very first post – a verbatim transcript of the first page of the 1520s financial accounts of a church: the churchwardens’ accounts of Great Dunmow, a small town in Essex. Not a dry dusty document consisting of monetary figures, but a living breathing document which opened up to the modern reader, some small insight into the workings of an East Anglian town, during the turbulent reign of Henry VIII and his children.

Local History of a small East Anglian town
My initial post came-about because originally, my blog’s sole purpose was to publish some of my research for my dissertation ‘Religion and Society in Great Dunmow, Essex, c.1520 to c.1560′ from my Cambridge University’s Masters of Studies in Local and Regional history awarded to me in January 2012 (sadly, the degree no longer appears to be running).  Before creating my blog, I had decided that I wanted to record for myself a semi-permanent record of the results of the research I undertook for my dissertation, along with verbatim transcripts of Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts – an incredible primary source dating from the 1520s which formed much of the basis of my dissertation.

So my blog was created for purely self-indulgent purposes of furthering some of my dissertation’s research and recording some of the research I had already carried out. However, to my surprise, I found that as I started to write more and more posts, I began to collect a great many readers from all over the world who appeared to enjoy my posts and were interested in my research. So I carried on researching and writing posts about Great Dunmow to be shared with you, my readers.

Here are some of my posts based on my dissertation’s research:-
- Great Dunmow’s churchwarden accounts 1526-1621
- Reformation Wills and Religious bequests
- The only Welshman in the village – a Tudor Conundrum
- Balancing your books in pounds, shillings and pence
- Plough Monday: a medieval tradition
- Thomas Bowyer, weaver and martyr of Great Dunmow
- Queen Elizabeth I’s Visit to Great Dunmow – Part 1
- Queen Elizabeth I’s Visit to Great Dunmow – Part 2
- Church bells and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry
- Building a late medieval church steeple
- Great Dunmow’s Tudor dialect
- Sturton family of Tudor Great Dunmow and Great Easton
- Henry VIII’s 1523-4 Lay Subsidy Tax
- Tudor Tradesmen of Great Dunmow
- Clergy of pre-Reformation England
- Christmas in a Tudor town

Tent design for the 1520 Field of Cloth of Gold Tent design for the Field of Cloth of Gold (1520), shelfmark: Cotton Ms. Augustus III. 18, ©British Library Board. Henry VIII’s 1523-4 Lay Subsidy taxation was used to raise money for his wars with France.

Local Essex history and the First World War
Previously to my masters research in Tudor Great Dunmow, I had spent many years researching the men of Great Dunmow who had marched away to war in distant lands during the years of 1914 to 1918, never to return. Families and localities torn apart by wars fought in far distant lands – far away from the rural peace of East Anglia.  I decided to include my research into these stories onto my blog too. By using contemporary postcards of the time, I have been able to retell the stories of many men of Essex – including my own ancestors, my grandfather’s cousins, the Kemps of Great Dunmow.

Here are some of my posts about Great Dunmow and the First World War:-
Great Dunmow’s Military Funeral: A follow-up
War and Remembrance: It’s a long way to Tipperary
War and Remembrance: Great Dunmow’s Emergency Committee
War and Remembrance: Great Dunmow’s Military Funeral 1914
Postcard home from the front – The Camera never lies
Postcards from the Front – from your loving son
Memorial Tablet – I died in hell
Memorial Tablet – I died of starvation
Memorial Tablet – I died of wounds
The Willett family of Great Dunmow
Postcard from the Front – To my dear wife and sonny
War and Remembrance – The Making of a War Memorial
Great Dunmow’s Roll of Honour
For the Fallen
Christmas Greetings from the trenches 1914-1918

Gordon Kemp, Royal Oak, Great DunmowGordon Parnall Kemp – my grandfather’s cousin – in the early 1900s, before he was killed amongst the mud and horror of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. His father, James Nelson Kemp, a respected publican in Great Dunmow is standing in the doorway of his pub, the Royal Oak.

Victorian and 20th century history of Great Dunmow
My research into Great Dunmow in the First World War naturally led me into researching other aspects of the town’s Victorian and Twentieth Century history:-

Here are some of my posts based on this research:-
- Bringing home the bacon: the Dunmow Flitch Bacon Factory
- Interwar Great Dunmow from the air
- Berbice House School, Great Dunmow
- The Victorian Children of Great Dunmow
- The Victorian Gentleman of Great Dunmow
- The Victorian Ladies of Great Dunmow
- The Dunmow Flitch Trials 2012
- The Dunmow Flitch: Bringing home the bacon

Essex GirlsOne of the original ‘Essex Girls’ – a Victorian miss dressed in her
Sunday-best, captured through the lens of
Great Dunmow’s Victorian photographer.

Local history of Essex’s past
My dissertation wasn’t my first adventure into the past of Essex – the county which I have lived in for exactly half my life and nearly all my adult life.  I had long been researching various other aspects of Essex life and during the last two years published on my blog some of that research.  I have many many more articles lingering on my computer written during my time in Essex – I need to dust them off and polish them up so that I can then publish them here – which I hope to do over the coming months.

Here are some of my posts I’ve already published on my blog about Essex in general:-
- Colchester Castle, Essex’s County Gaol
- Witchcraft and witches in Tudor Essex

The apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of EssexThe apprehension and confession of three notorious witches. Arreigned and by iustice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex,
(Joan Cunny, Joan Upney and Joan Prentice) (1589)

The wider historical context
Of course, any micro-historical study of a tiny aspect of local history also has to consider the wider environment. The events of 16th Century Great Dunmow and Essex did not happen in isolation: they were a result of the actions and edicts of the Tudor kings and queens.  So on my blog, I have posted articles about the kings and queens of fifteenth and sixteenth century England.

Here are some of my posts I wrote about the English kings & queens:-
- 28 January: A remarkable date in Tudor history
British Costumes in the time of Henry VII and Henry VIII
Arthur – Prince of Wales
Tudor Coronations
Images of a king: Henry VIII in love
Elizabeth of York

Royal 2 A XVI f.3 Henry VIIIHenry VIII praying in his bedchamber
from The Psalter of Henry VIII (England, S. E. (London), c1540-1541)
shelfmark Royal 2 A XVI f.3.

Medieval illuminated manuscripts
Whilst researching some of my posts on the Tudors, I also discovered some of the most beautiful primary sources in existence: exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Here are some of my posts sharing with you the illuminated manuscripts of the medieval world:-
- Medieval manuscripts: The Macclesfield Psalter
The sinful hermit
The Medieval Spinsters
The cats of the Macclesfield psalter
The snail and the knight
Images of medieval cats

Harley 6563 f. 72 Book of Hours - Cat in a tower ‘Cat in a tower, throwing stones down at attacking mice’ from Book of Hours
(S.E. England, c1320-c1330), shelfmark Harley 6563 f. 72, © British Library Board.
This has been the most shared image from my entire blog.

School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged
Unknown to me, at the same time of creating my blog, my small son’s time at one of Essex’s oldest public schools was coming to a disastrous and awful end because of his severe dyslexia.  To cut a very long and painful story short, I removed him from the school, home educated him for over a year whilst fighting my local educational authority through the courts to make them provide him with an education he could access.  This resulted in two highly stressful Tribunals within a 10 month period – with one going to a full contested Hearing consisting of expert witnesses and a leading educational barrister, in front of a Judge and Panel, to decide my son’s educational future.  Fortunately the Judge agreed with myself and all the experts (which ironically included the local authority’s own experts) and my son is now in a tiny wonderful school which specialises in children with dyslexia and other related educational needs. (If you told me two years ago that I would have to go to a court of law, and instruct solicitors and barristers to enable my son to have an education, I would have laughed at such a ridiculous notion.  I know better now.)

I can honestly say that this was one of the most stressful and painful experiences of my entire life – not only having to come to terms with the extent of my son’s disabilities, but also because of the appalling manner the local education authority conducted themselves during this time.  This is not the place to document this awful experience – suffice to say that it is now in the hands of the Local Government Ombudsman who have launched an official investigation against the local education authority into my son’s case.  The appalling and morally corrupt process in this country for making local authorities put in place an education a child with special educational needs can access, has left me a fervent campaigner about the rights of disabled children, and their right to an education.  A basic right most people think as a “given”- but which is sadly not for many thousands of disabled children in this country. You may have seen me on Twitter commenting on this.

During my fight for my child, I came to hate the very name of my blog because the very county I loved so much and whose history I had written about with such great affection, had turned in on myself and my son.  Unfortunately, despite having national laws protecting vulnerable children, these laws are very much open to interpretation by the local authority in which the child lives – an accessible education for a disabled child really is a post-code lottery.  At the height of my fight, after being told to leave Essex by my barrister and move to a local authority which treated children with special educational needs better, I hated Essex so very much that I was determined to destroy my blog, all my research and all my postcards and sources I have about Essex.  But fortunately, I realised in time that this would be a foolish knee-jerk action and would only hurt myself and other Essex historians.  The self-serving department within Essex County Council that my action would have been aimed at are far too ignorant to have cared one jot.

However, one bright point in this horrendous situation was personally teaching my son to love history.  One of his teachers at his previous school unkindly told me that my son was “academically challenged”.  It was with her words ringing in my ears that I decided to blog about teaching my son a love for history: School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged.  During our year together, my son (and I!) learnt a great deal about our great country’s history.  There’s not many small children who can boast that they have personally visited the site of Richard III’s burial under a council car park in Leicester! I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my love of history with my son by way of our field trips, and then writing about our visits to share with you. Whilst he cannot read my posts on my blog, he takes great interest in what I write and we often sit together looking at the photos on this blog of our trips around England. Ultimately, we went on many more trips then I had time to write-up – I was also working part-time whilst home educating him during this period.  So my blogging came after his needs and my fast learning of the educational law of England.

Here are some of my posts for School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged:-
- Richard III lyth buried at Leicester
- Bosworth Field: 22 August 1485
School Trip Friday – Walk in our shoes
School Trip Friday – St Michael’s Mount and the Tudor Pretender, Perkin Warbeck
School Trip Friday – Weald and Downland Open Air Museum
School Trip Friday – Chapel of St Peter’s on the Wall, Bradwell
School Trip Friday – Imperial War Museum Duxford
School Trip Friday – Of Cabbages and Kings
- School Trip Friday – Hadrian’s Wall
- School Trip Friday – Messages from England’s Roman Past
- School Trip Friday – What did the Roman’s ever do for us?

Player's Kings & Queens cigarette cards - Plantagenets to TudorsUsing vividly painted 1930s cigarette cards and 1900s postcards to teach my son the chronology of English kings and queens.  The tableau above was when we learnt about the Princes in the Tower, and who we thought murdered them. This image came from my most viewed post of the last year (or so!) School Trip Friday – Of Cabbages and Kings

Looking towards the future of my writing…
Finally, apologies about the length of this post. But two years is a long time in the life of a blog, in this fast moving internet age.  It seemed that the time was ripe for me to reflect back on my blog and self-indulgently share those reflections with you.

I now want to share with you the future of my blog and of my writings.  2014 is a new year and a new beginning for many members of my family – including my son in his new school. I too have a new beginning which I want share with you, my kind and encouraging readers, who have spurred me on to keep writing during the highly stressful year that was my 2013.

Next week I will tell you my own “news” about the future of my writings.

Medieval Scribe

© Essex Voices Past 2014

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The sugar beet factory of Felsted/Little Dunmow

I have written before on my blog about the aerial photography taken of the town and environments of Great Dunmow by a small aircraft flying high in the skies of East Anglia in 1928.  During the same flight, the small airplane also flew over the tiny village of Little Dunmow and captured for posterity one of the area’s main employers, the factory of the Anglo Scottish Sugar Beet factory. This part of Essex and East Anglia has a long history of the refining of sugar beet and it is incredible to see an aerial photograph of a factory in it’s inter-war heyday.

Little Dunmow from the air, 1928Anglo-Scottish Sugar Beet Factory, Little Dunmow, 1928. This photo is from English Heritage’s Britain from Above project. Click the photo to be taken directly to a zoomable image of this photo from their website.

During a recent rummage around an antiques shop in Lavenham, Suffolk (a small beautiful town which also has a history of small sugar beet factories), I found the 1976 book Essex and Sugar by the local historian Frank Lewis. It is to him I turn to now regarding the Anglo-Scottish Sugar Beet Factory in Little Dunmow, Essex. In his book, Mr Lewis refers to the factory as being in Felsted, the neighbouring village to Little Dunmow.  As the two villages are so near each other, the location of the factory changes in documents/books between Little Dunmow and Felsted.  The factory also appears to have changed name over time and at points in its history was known as the “Anglo-Scottish Sugar Beet Factory” or the “British Sugar Corporation Sugar Beet Factory”.

Our main Essex interest in beet sugar lies now with the Felsted factory of the British Sugar Corporation. With Mr. and Mrs. Chartres, I spent a full and interesting day at the village, now for over three decades [i.e. by the time of the book's publication in 1976] associated with sugar production, but famed more for its ancient school [Felsted School]. In the morning at Princes Farm Mr. Gordon Crawford showed us the “Forecaster” at work, the most advanced beet-harvesting machine, and far from the days of hand-digging of obstinate roots is the operation of this mechanical giant, also an advance on machine harvesters needing an accompanying lorry in which to deposit the uplifted beet. The Forecaster is an Essex development, and is constructed as a compact unit, carrying the extricated beets to a receiving space at the top of the machine, detaching earth or mud en route, at the same time slicing off the tops of the next row of beets preparatory to lifting. Only when full did the harvester go off to deposit its contents in a lorry, thus one man only was needed for the actual harvesting; in the early days, several laboured at an arduous and unpopular toil. The crops, destined for the nearby factory are grown from seed supplied by the buyers to ensure uniformity and quality. Mr. Crawford harvested his first sugar beet with a pair of horses in 1930, and he is a member of the family formerly of Suttons Farm, Hornchurch, the site of the R.A.F. Station.

The Forecaster, Sugar Beet harvester 1976The Forecaster in 1976

During the day we had observed the lofty buildings of the British Sugar Corporation establishment with its plume of white smoke, and later its dominance in the scene when lit up at night. One writer has remarked that with a favouring wind the factory smell carries for miles around, and a former woman member of the office staff recalled her strongest memory was of the ‘sickly sweet smell you couldn’t get away from’, but though beet processing has its characteristic odour, as does a refinery, our party were not conscious of strong odours, either in or out of the buildings, though I questioned a girl on this point, knowing from experience how responsive young women are to sugar smells, pleasant or unpleasant. The warmth of the building was felt by her, not to a too trouble-some extent. On commencing this conducted tour, we were made aware of the fact that this was a factory in the country when we were informed that the visiting party in which we were included would be the last for a long period, as a precaution against the foot and mouth epidemic appearing in that region.

The factory tour showed the cleansed beets pass to machines slicing them into strips, a glimpse of the revolving drums in which the strips yielded their sweetness into water (diffusion), the resulting thin syrup of ‘juice’ charged with lime and carbonic acid gas which combined to form a precipitate trapping impurities in the juice (Carbonatation) the extraction by filtering of this precipitate, a second carbonatation and filtering, the juice treated with sulphur dioxide to a neutral reaction, the concentration of juice containing 15% sugar to syrup containing 65% sugar under vacuum in huge boilers or vessels called evaporators, another close filtering, no char, and the rest of the process as described in a refinery with vacuum pans, centrifugal machines, final drying.

This huge Essex successor to the ventures of Marriage and Duncan treats annually over 300,000 tons of beets from 23,000 acres spread over Essex and surrounding counties from Cambridge to Kent, and each day can process 2,500 tons of beet to yield 350 tons of white sugar, 250 tons of dried pulp or pulp nuts for cattle food and 130 tons of molasses for industrial and other uses. (An acre of beet will yield from 38 to 40 cwt of sugar against 8 to 12 tons per acre from cane; and the sugar content of the beet is 15% to 16%, the cane about 13%.) The personal of 325 men and women operate the process continuously day and night for approximately 120 days, each season or campaign from about late September to the end of January; and this seasonal labour force is recruited from the surrounding locality and from Ireland. Delivery of beets to the factory is by road, though in the past some cargoes in sailing boats travelled from Walton to a suitable point for Felsted. 

Mrs B. McArdle, who mentioned the ‘sickly smell’ has provided me with some other early memories of the Felsted factory where in her early 20s she was employed as a compotometer operator in the 1927 and 1928 campaigns. In those days no refining plant existed and she recalls the piles of brown sugar to be sent to Tate and Lyle. The small office had a canteen attached for the clerical and similar staff of 12; she can remember that wellington boots were worn for the necessary journeys to muddy and wet floors where the beet was washed and writes of having to work out prices for the farmers according to sugar content of beets, and allocating molasses on the amount of beet sent in. She lodged at a farm near the Flitch of Bacon [a pub still in existence today] in Little Dunmow, where only one shop existed, and without public transport the journey to and from the factory was a fair walk, unless a lucky car picked her up. Apparently there was little time for amusements as she worked ‘fairly late’, also Saturday and Sunday mornings when the beets were coming in; but a hard tennis court was outside the office, there were whist drives and dances in surrounding villages, a cinema at Braintree where you had to book your seat and the music was supplied by one tinny piano, and the manager sprung a party at his home for the staff. She was young and evidently found her situation not uncongenial, for both in her letters to me and to the Essex Countryside [a monthly local interest magazine] she writes of a ‘happy time of long ago’ and ‘pleasant memories of the happy time I spent at Felsted’.

Essex and Sugar by Frank Lewis, 1976 pp107-p111

Sugar Beet Factory, Little Dunmow, 1976Sugar Beet Factory in 1976

Sugar Beet harvesting in 1948Sugar-beet harvesting in 1948.  Click on the image above to be taken to British Pathe’s website to see a short film of Felsted’s sugar-beet harvesting in 1948.

In February 1999, the Sugar Beet factory was demolished and now in its place is a large housing development.  The estate was originally known as Oakwood Park, but in very recent years has now been renamed to Flitch Green – a throw-back to the days of the Dunmow Flitch, when it was originally held in Little Dunmow.


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You may also be interested in
The Dunmow Flitch Bacon Factory
Interwar Great Dunmow from the air
The Dunmow Flitch – Bringing home the bacon
The 2012 Dunmow Flitch
Berbice House School, Great Dunmow
War and Remembrance: Great Dunmow’s Military Funeral 1914
Great Dunmow’s 1914 Military Funeral: A followup
The Willett family of Great Dunmow

© Essex Voices Past 2014.

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