The Foxearth and District Local History Society
The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians. (Andrew Clarke and GH) These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

If you'd like to publish any interesting material about the history of East Anglia on the site, then please send an email to the Resident Historians at Andrew.Clarke@Foxearth.org.uk and we'll add it.

Family Historians have their own area on the site, so look there if your main interest is in tracing your family history.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Islamophobia and the Grande Turke

Since the London suicide bombings, there has been much expostulation about militant Islam in the press. The public have eagerly lapped up all the stories of the menace of Islam. There is nothing new in that. In the seventeenth century, the terms 'muslim' and 'turk' were synonymous, and many pamphlets played on the fear of 'The Turke'

Newes From the Great Turke (1645), for example, was purportedly "a blasphemous manifestation of the Grand Seignior of Constantinople against the Christians, of his entrance into Christendom" supposedly a leaked document from Turkey, in which the Grand Seignior wrote "Our will is that this our army shall be the terror not only of Christendom but to the whole world, that by the multitude of our gallies and ships the sun, moon and stars administration thereof shall be changed, the fishes shall hide themselves in the deepest bottom of the sea . . . the beasts of the forests shall be afraid and the very tress rooted out and beaten down. And all Christendom shall by this our great might feel our anger and wrath" . Enough to chill the blood of any timorous Christian


The threat to Europe was very real even then, as Turkey had already invaded the Baltic states and was threatening to swallow the region covered by modern Hungary. The Great Turke's Letter Sent unto the Prince of Transylvania was published in 1645. The Great Turke was supposed to have written to the Prince of Transylvania, "Thou and thy people ought to fear and must expect nothing else but death . . . for I will destroy thee with thine own people without hindrance. I will plunder thee and leave thee a memory of my bloody sword after me.... I will moreover plant my own religion effectively therein and destroy for ever thy crucified God whose wrath I fear not...I will besides this couple thy sacred priests to plows and make dogs and wild beasts to suck the breasts of women ... I will have you all burnt".

Of course, these pamphlets were fictional but were read avidly by a public which thrilled to the idea of a ruthless psychopathic Islam. "Shall we not take pity on our brethren who are Christians? Shall we be so base as to let that Infidel invade the empire of the west as he hath done to that of the east? Shall our hearts be so frozen as not to be kindled with the zeal of avenging the injury done to the divine majesty of God?" wailed the pamphleteer.

Such was the revulsion toward the 'turke' that it was said that the Oriental drink of coffee - "The Mahometan berry" - put the drinker under "the power of the Turkish spell", thereby making him turn 'renegade' (a term originally used to describe Christians that adopted Islam). It was even said that coffee drinking was really part of a secret Turkish plot to destroy Christendom.'.

There may be some truth in this. Sir Thomas Shirley warned that "conversation with infidels doeth mutch corrupte", and that the more time Englishmen spent in the lands of Islam, the closer they moved to adopting the manners of the Muslims. "Many wylde youthes of all nationes", he wrote, "as well Englishe as others in euerye 3 yeere that they staye in Turkye they lose one article of theyre faythe..". The Islamic raiders from the Barbary coast had British renegades in their midst. These renegades, in turn, were sometimes recaptured. Archbishop Laud even devised a special ceremony for their re-conversion. One of the most influential Ottoman eunuchs during the late 16th century, Hasan Aga, turns out to have been a former Samson Rowlie from Great Yarmouth. The "Moorish King's Executioner" in Algeria turned out to be a former butcher from Exeter called "Absalom" (Abd-es-Salaam).

And yet, even as the menace seemed about to sweep across Europe and threaten the very existence of Christendom, the seeds were set for the decline on a religion whose spread was then dependent on the successful prosecution of war. For Europe was about to see a huge advance in military technology, starting with the warship, and soon encompassing the whole spectrum of military activity. The tide was about to turn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Invasion of Essex

I suspect that the last armed invasion of Essex from the sea was in 1724


Surprisingly, this incursion was not from France, Germany or Holland; but from Kent. Dutiful readers of this blog (bless them) will remember the story of the cricket match between Kent and Essex which ended in bloodshed. At the time, there was more animosity between Kent and Essex than with any 'Frenchy'. A fleet of a hundred fishing smacks from Kent invaded the oyster beds of Leigh on Sea in September 1724 with flags waving and guns firing. An attempt by local fishermen to drive them off was met with gunfire, and the invaders made off with 1,000 bushels of oysters.


They didn't get away with it. At the Spring Assizes, Brentwood, in 1725, the case was tried before Lord Chief Baron Gilbert, who fined the invasion force a total of £2,000.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Picture Postcards

There was a time when most towns in Britain had three deliveries of post a day, including one in the evening, and there weas even a delivery on sunday. This was from about 1900 until the war. The system was so good that courting couples could arrange an evening outing together via postcard at the start of the day. The evidence sometimes survives to this day thanks to the craze for having postcard albums. In truth, postcards became used, for a while, in the same way as we use text meaages today, and they weren't too far off the same level of usefulness either.


Most postcards date from this era. However, the first picture postcards were printed in France in the 1870s. Until 1899 they were 'court size' 115 mm x 89 mm, and afterwards they became the international standard 140 mm x 89 mm. However it was not unitl 1902 that the address and message were allowed on the same side, thereby leaving the other side free for the photograph or picture. Before then, you will often see writing over the actual photograph itself.

The years from 1900 until 1920 were the golden age of the picture postcard and most of our collection dates from this period. Every shop had its racks of postcards. Several shops in Cavendish sold them for the crowds of 'trippers' that arrived in the summer months. Then, in February 1918, the postage rate doubled to a penny. and there were further increases not long afterwards. After then, the habit of sending and collecting picture postcards began to tail off


Postcards are still being produced, but not with the same coverage as enjoyed by the Edwardians. Almost every house in the area is captured in a photograph somewhere. Even the newly-built council-houses were the subject of a postcard. The more picturesque houses in the area had several views taken over the years. One of the more prolific poscard producers, Osborne, travelled the area on a bicycle which he always seems to manage to get into the photograph. It seems to have been his 'signature' and it is amusing to look for it. Another photographer believed in having lots of people in his photographs and always encouraged them to pose by sprinkling coins around. I'm told, by more assiduious historians than I, that in many cases the people posing proudly outside their houses were, in fact, often just casual passers-by.


Fortunately, in Cavendish, the tradition of locally-produced picture postcards still exists, and these can, and should, be purchased at the Cavendish Post Office

Joy Mayhew in Pentlow

Joy Steward, who was born in Pentlow during the war has provided us with some fascinating memories of her life at Pentlow.


I was born in 1941 at Ropers Farm, Pentlow. During those early years I have a few distinct memories of the war.

The despatch riders, who came and went at all times of the day and night, were allocated half of the farmhouse. In fields behind the house a search light battery was located. My father would stand on the back doorstep where he could see the glow of the fires over London. From our bedroom window aircraft could be seen taking off and landing at Stradishall aerodrome, and on one occasion father woke us to see a doodlebug fly overhead. My brother and I also collected foil from the fields that had been dropped. My father being a farm labourer and therefore not required to serve belonged to the local Home Guard. Every Sunday this group met in the cart lodge opposite our house to practice their skills, often using our orchard, which would frighten my mother who would be hanging out washing to suddenly discover a rifle pointing at her between the fork of the tree trunk. Training also took place in the sandpits down Hoi Lanes in Pentlow.. At the end of the training and parade all the men would march up to the Pinkuah Arms to return much later in the afternoon
While living at Ropers Farm my brother and I attended Foxearth School having to walk each way although we stayed for school dinners. Children from the village of Pentlow were provided with transport which passed us many times but was not allowed to pick us up because we lived just inside the 3 mile limit, even on a wet day. Horses were still being used on the farm at this time and we were allowed to sit astride them at the end of a working day to walk them down to the pond alongside the house for a welcome drink. At this time there were 3 ponds on the farm, one being near the stackyard opposite where the sheaves of corn were stacked and thatched ready for the thresher to operate during the winter months. After tea during the harvest season we used to help pull straw with my mother to enable my father to thatch the stacks allowing him to earn welcome overtime, we also singled out rows of sugar beet which he hoed and left in bunches during the day which proved a much quicker method and more money could be earned on piece rate. In our back garden he bred rabbits to sell, turkeys at Christmas, and kept 2 pigs to sell and the other for our own use. After slaughter the offal was eaten and the carcass jointed and cured in a stone sink to be eaten later only by my father as by this time the fat became a very dark brown and looked most unappetising to 2 small children.

Our free time and holidays were spent playing on the farm with the many animals we kept and walking the dog round the meadows and fields. Sometimes we would spend many hours chatting to the older farm workers, one being Dick Duce, He lived at Huntsman’s farm and would walk to work, home for dinner and return for work after an hour, which amazed us because he didn't own a watch but seemed to know the exact time to down tools and head for home. He was the only person on the farm to still be wearing a red and white spotted neckerchief and carried his elevenses in a small bag threaded on a stick and placed over his shoulder.

In 1947 we moved to the farmhouse at Pentlow Street. Here we used running water, a bathroom and toilet was added much later, until then we used an outside bucket loo and had a weekly bath beside an old beer copper in an outhouse with stable doors and a large open chimney beside a bread oven. On Saturday afternoons my brother and I would take the old tin bath to the wood beside our orchard to collect dry wood in order to light the copper for the weekly bath. The stone floor and draught did not make lingering in the bath very appealing. Electricity was installed much later so lighting was by means of a Tilley lamp with candles used upstairs and a primus stove used to supplement the cooking range in the kitchen.

During this time bread was delivered from a bakery in Glemsford, coal from Creanes of Cavendish, meat also from Glemsford and a general stores van from Beans of Cavendish sold paraffin also some items of clothing .On Tuesdays the fish man, called ,Mr Eves from Sudbury arrived driving a small pony and trap, his round took him to Cavendish where he arrived at lunchtime at the pub .Much later in the day the pony would trot past the house knowing its way home with Mr Eves not always in control sleeping off the effects of the local ale.

Always looking for the opportunity to earn some extra cash my father and I used to set mole traps in the meadows which ran down to the river ,the moles were skinned and pegged out on a board to dry these were later brushed and posted off to London.

We were still walking to Foxearth school at this time where the lessons were not always academic. During the summer we were obliged to go off into the fields to collect poppy petals and rose hips to take to the Stafford Allen works at Lyston payment was made for these but the resulting monies destination is unknown. The headmistress at the time Miss Shrive, lived at Cavendish and cycled past our house on her way to school She owned a Pekinese dog which travelled in a basket situated on the front of her bike.
In 1948 the Reverend Winsland the rector at Pentlow wrote a Nativity play( What Manner of Child) the cast of which was assembled from the village. A television crew erected a stage within the church and the play recorded for live television. When the performance was shown ,Major Bain who lived at Pentlow Hall at that time invited the cast to his home to watch the play, he being the only person to own a T.V. set.
At 11 years of age my brother attended Sudbury Secondary Modern School being taken by bus which picked up pupils from Gestingthorpe and Bulmer en route. I attended Sudbury High School For Girls having to cycle to Cavendish and then catching the school bus to Sudbury. This was rather unreliable as girls were brought in from Haverhill, Stradishall and the surrounding area before our stop and then on to Glemsford, Stanstead, Long Melford and finally Sudbury. On occasions when required to play hockey on Saturday mornings I would catch the train from Cavendish station, usually when needing to shop in Sudbury we caught the bus or cycled. For a special treat we visited Bury St.Edmunds which was our nearest big town although the bus only ran on Wednesdays and Saturdays

For entertainment we cycled to Foxearth to attend the local youth club and to Long Melford or Sudbury on Saturdays for the weekly dance. A village social was held in Pentlow village hall which was well attended, as were the whist drives. Long Melford fair, which was held on the Green, was another occasion not to be missed

In 1958 I moved to Felixstowe to begin a nursing career, while my brother started work at Bruntons, a foundry in Sudbury. My parents left Pentlow in 1960 my father to move to a farm managers position at Sudbourne.

Suffolk Placenames and how they should be pronounced

We all laugh when Londoners, touring East Anglia in their shiny gargantuan 4x4s, stop to ask the way to places using phonetic pronounciation of local towns and villages in East Anglia. Avid readers of this Blog would, if they existed, remember that Braintree is actually pronounced 'Brantri', and the Rodings are 'Rootings'. Rodbridge is not 'Rod Bridge' (and amateur historians have invented an imaginary former bridge constructed with rods) but a mediaeval spelling or 'Road Bridge' which is how it is pronounced.

This is not always a quaint local dialect rendition of a name as, in most cases, the original written names approximate more closely the modern dialect renditions. The written names consolidated and set in the Seventeenth century in several erratic ways, and it is a mistake to always assume that the spoken name is a rustic rendition of the written name.

Here is a definitive list of Suffolk places and their pronounciation, first printed in Vivian Harveys' 'Pronounciation of East Anglian Locations' Notes and Queries 1868-1870, and reproduced in the essential 'Origin of East Anglian Words and Sayings' by Castell Publishing, a mine of information, and quite the best current booklets on East Anglian dialect.

Spelt...
Pronounced...
Aslacton
Aselton
Aylsham
Elsham
Barwick
Barrik
Basingham
Bazyng-game
Brockdish
Brodish
Buekenham
Bucknum
Bunwell
Bunn'I
Caldecote
Corket
Cawson Woodrow
Karson
Chelmondiston
Chemton
Chillesford
Chillfud
Coddenham
Coddnum
Costessy
Cossy
Covehithe
Cothy
Cowlinge
Cuilinge or C'lidge
Cranwich
Cranice
Cressingham
Crissengim
Cretingham
Creetnum
Culpho
Cuttfer
Dallinghoo
Dall'n-goo
Darmsden
Dammerson
Debach
Debbidge
Debenham
Debnum
Deopham
Deepum
Dersingham
Darsn'm
Dunwich
Dunnidge
Easton Bavents
Est'n Bev'n
Edwardstone
Eddist'n
Ellough
Ellier
Elmsett
Emmset
Elvedon
Elld'n
Erpmgham
Arpyng-game
Eyke
Ike
Fakenham
Fake-num
Falkenham
Fork-num
Felixstowe
Flaixstow or Flixstow
Forncett
Fonsit
Fouldon
Fouden
Framlingham
Franningum
Frostenden
Frozend'n
Garboldisham
Garble's'm
Gayton
Gyton
Gedding
Giddin'
Gipping
Gippen
Gooderston
Goodson
Gosbeck
Gorz-brook
Gressenham
Gresnel
Grimston
Grimson
Groton
Grawt'n
Halesworth
Holser
Happisburgh
Hazebro
Hardingham
Hardengim
Hardwick
Haddick
Hargham
Harfham
Hautboys
Hobbos
Haverhill
Have-rill
Haveringland
Havilland
Helmingham
Hemmingum
Hemingstone
Hamst'n
Hepwoth
Hepper
Herringswell
Hornsell
Heveningham
Heningham
Heveringland
Havaland
HoHesley
Hosely
Horham
Horrum
Horningsheath
Horringer
Horsford
Hosfer
Hoxne
Hoxen
Hunstanton
Hunston
Icklingham
Ickegum
Ipswich
Ipsitch
Ixworth
Ixuth
Keddington
Ketton
Kenninghalt
Gennigal
Kesgrave
Kez-grev
Kettlebaston
Kettlebarston
Kettleburgh
Kerry-brah
Knettishall
Nettsull
Lawshall
Lorz'l
Laxfield-
Laxful
Layham
Hum
Leiston
Lay-st'n
Leizate
Langfer
Letheringham
Lethringum
Letheringsett
Larmett
Levington
Leverton
Lidgate
Liggit
Lindsey
Linnsey
Long Melford
Mell-fud
Lound
Leund
Lowestoft
Low-es-toff
Mattishall
Ledjet
Methwold
Muel
Mettingham
Mett-en-gum
Monewden
Mun-ey-don
Moulton
Molht'n
Mundford
Munfer
Mutford
Mutt-fud
Narford
Narfer
Naughton
Now-t'on
Neatishead
Netes-shed
Necton
Nayton
Nedging
Negen
Needham >Market
Needum
Newbourn
New-bonn
Northwold
Norrel
Norwich
Narge or Nurritch
Oakley
Ogly (with long O)
Onehouse
One-us
Oulton
Oleton
Ousden
Owsd'n
Ovington
Overton
Pakenham
Poik-num/Pake-num
Pettaugh
Fetter
Pickenham
Picknum
Postwick
Pozzick
Rattlesden
Ratelson
Redlingfield
Red-'n-ful
Rickinghall
Rick-en-hall
Ringshall
Rinn-shul
Rumburgh
Rum-brer
Rushall
Rhueshall
Saham
Same
Santon Downham
Downham
Scoulton
Scowton
Semer
See-mer
Shipmeadow
Shipp-medder
Shouldham
Showld'm
Snettisham
Snets'm
Southwold
Sole or Soul
Stanford
Stanfer
Stiffkey
Stewkey
Stoke by Nayland
Stoke Benn-ay-lunm
Stonham Aspal
St'n'm Arsp l
Stradbroke
Strubbock
Stratford St Andrew
Stratt-fer
Stratford St Mary
Stratt-fiidd
Sturston
Stusson hixoe
Wixer
Sudbury
Suddbreh (clipped as'eh?')
Sweffling
Swuffl'n
Swilland
Swillun
Talconeston
Tackleston
Tannington
Tannert'n
Tattingstone
Tattest'n
Taverham
Taberham
Thelnetham
Feltam
Thetford
Thetfor
Thorington
Torrint'n
Thrandeston
Transt'n; Framson
Threxton
Trexon
Thrigby
Trigby
Thwaite
Twaite
Tibbmham
fid'n'm
Tuddenham
Tudd-num
Ubbeston
Upp-st'n
Wacton
Woughton
Waldingfield
Wonnerfeld or Wdnnerful
Waldringfield
Wonnerfel or Wunnafiil
Walsham le Willows
Wall-sum
Wangford
wangfer
Wantisden
Worn-s'n or Wonsden
Wattisfield-
Wassf'l
WestBastwick
West Barrstwick
Westerfield
Wesserfel
Whelnetham
WellNeeth-um
Wherstead
Wursted or Wusted
Willingham
-Willigub
Witnesham
Wittleshum
Wordwell
Woddle
Worlington
Woll-'n-t'n
Worlingworth
Warl-'n-wuth
Wratting
Ratt'n
Wymondham
Windham

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Battle of Fornham Heath

GH has now finished trawling through the early papers of the Ipswich Gazette of the 1740s, and, for a change, has started looking through a previously overlooked paper, the Bury Free Press. To celebrate the start of a new series, we reproduce here an example of the entertainment to be found in the pages of this paper.

September 20th 1856

Colchester. On Sunday evening a body of Wesleyans held their annual camp on Fornham Heath, Colchester, which was attended by a large concourse of people, and a corporal and a private of the British German Legion quartered at Colchester.
After the service, from some reason unknown without the slightest provocation, the labourers commenced a wanton and furious attack on the soldiers with stones and sticks.
The latter took off their belts and used them about the heads and faces of the foolish assailants, a regular melee ensued with sticks, belts and hillaahs were wielded with obstinancy on both sides assuming the aspect of some Irish factor fight "Town or Gown" row,
At length the soldiers beat a hasty retreat before superior forces. p.c. Maguire made his appearance and advised the Germans to return home to their quarters, the soldiers took the advice but one labourer struck the officer twice in the face and will be brought before the magistrates on Saturday.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The oppression of taxation

From the Gentleman’s Magazine 1732. We reproduce the following correspondence to show how little has changed in the concerns of the local businesses in Sudbury


February 19th 1732.
Copy of a letter from the Borough of Sudbury in the County of Suffolk, to John Knight and Carteret Leathes Esqs, their representatives in Parliament.



Gentlemen, February 19th 1732.
The many gradual advances that the Laws of Excice have made upon us, proves burdensome and discouraging to Trade, and the present design, which we hear is on Foot, to extend this further gives us too much Reason to fear, that they will increase to so great a number as will prove fatal to Trade and Liberty of the Subject.
And therefore, as you are our Representatives in Parliament, we earnestly request, nay, let us conjure you, by all the Obligations which the important Trust reposed on you, and your high Station lays you under, that if a Motion for extending the said Law, should be made in Parliament, you would strenuously oppose it, and thereby demonstrate you are acting becoming the Representatives of a Trading Borough, in the Honourable House of Commons of Great Britain, by which, will much oblige many of the Electors of the Borough of Sudbury,
Your Humble Servants.

The Answer of a Member of Parliament, to a Letter lately sent him from the Borough of Sudbury
To the Mayor, Aldermen, Common Council, and Burgesses of Sudbury

Gentlemen,
I have received the Letter you have been pleased to honour me with, wherein you seem to be under great Apprehensions, that something will shortly be offered to the House, Injurious to Trade, and dangerous to the very Being of Parliament, and our excellent Constitution –Should that be the Case, I flatter myself you will never entertain so disadvantageous an Opinion of me, as to think I can be regardless of the Trust you have reposed on me, or of the Duty which I owe my Country.
As to Trade, I have ever thought it a matter of such Consequence, as to deserve the more the immediate Care of the Representatives of a Trading People, almost preferable to every other Consideration, as to the surest Basis of Riches, Strength, and the Prosperity of these Kingdoms.
You are pleased however to own, that your Apprehensions on this Occasion proceed from the Surmises which you can scarce give Credit to, and I hope you will very soon be convinced, that they are without any real Foundation.
But as I am not acquainted with what is intended to be proposed, I think it will be very ill of become me, to be so far guided by implicit Faith, as either to approve or condemn what at present I am a Stranger to.
Should it tend to what Jealousy may possibly suggest, though it appears detrimental to trade, dangerous to the Constitution of Parliament, or the Liberties of my Fellow Subjects, I hope it is not in my Nature to forget I am an Englishman.
But, if the contrary to the Sentiments which are present entertained by many persons who wish well to their Country, it should prove a Benefit to Trade, by pointing out a Remedy for Frauds which are universally practis’d to the great discouragement and Predjudice of the fair Trader, if without creating any new Duties, or increasing those which are already established, it should considerably improve the Revenues as upon any Emergency to supply the Necessities of Publick, if the Government should thereby enabled to lessen the National Debt, or give Ease to those branches of Trade, which are most burdensome to our poor Manufacturers, if this should be the Tendency of the Scheme, I am sure my Assent to it cannot fail of your Approbation.
In Confidence of which, acting upon these Principles, and upon this Foundation, I can have no Reason to doubt the Continuance of your Favour, to which it will always be my Endeavour to deserve.
I am Gentlemen
Your most Faithful
and obedient humble Servant.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The undead

You will know already, I'm sure, that it was only recently that excommunicants and suicides were allowed to be buried in churchyards. The reason, though, may not be entirely obvious.


In mediaeval times, they seemed to have some difficulty in keeping the corpses of people who had had a 'bad death' from walking. In a previous blog, we mentioned local press-cuttings that showed that, even at the beginning of the ninetweenth century, suicides were buried in the road with a stake through their heart, or 'Sepultum in Via'. There was a widely-held belief that, were they not to do so, they would be troubled by the walking of the 'undead' or 'revenant'. William of Newburgh, writing in the 1190s, exclaimed "one would not easily believe that corpses come out of their graves and wander around, animated by I don't know what spirit, to terrorize or harm the living, unless there were many cases in our times, supported by ample testimony". He goes on to describe such a beast that attacked Melrose Abbey. He then goes on to describe a zombie wandering around Berwick and causing such a foul smell that 'the air around the town would become infected by the corpse and to lead to general sickness and death'. In another story Newburgh tells of husband who returns from the dead and comes to visit his widow at night in her bedchamber and he "..not only terrified her on awaking, but nearly crushed her by the insupportable weight of his body." This goes on for three nights, and the revenant goes on to repeat these nighttime visits with other nearby family and neighbors and "..thus become a like serious nuisance", eventually extending his walks in the broad daylight around the village. Eventually the man's tomb was opened wherein it was seen his body was still there, and a letter of absolution from the bishop was placed on his chest, and the tomb re-interred and sealed. William of Malmsbury describes a revenant in Wales in 1150 which who rose from the dead and wandered the streets of his village at night calling out the names of whose would die of sickness within three days. He caused such a nuisance that he had to be chased back into its grave by a mob and beheaded. Thomas of Cantimpre relates a fourteenth century incident in the town of Nivelles where a corpse, within a coffin that is awaiting burial, sits up and is felled by a cross wielded by a pious virgin

Revenants were sometimes difficult to stop. In Breslau in 1591, a troublesome revenant, or walking corpse, was such a nuisance that he was disinterred and reburied under the gallows. This did not work so they dug up the corpse, and cut off its head, arms and legs. Then they took out its heart. They then burned the whole lot and threw the ashes in the river. This put an end to the public nuisance.

Now we are medically more astute, we can recognise that, in point of fact, a lot of the contemporary descriptions of revenants suggest that someone had 'jumped the gun' in assuming that a patient had died. It must have seemed somewhat unkind that someone reviving from a catatonic state should be chaed by a mob wielding axes and beheaded. Instead of speculating how the devil had worked the trick of causing a corpse to walk, they should, perhaps have questioned their own medical skills in pronouncing them dead in the first place.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Old Pretender

The Borley Rectory affair has turned out to have a remarkable longevity. There have been eight books, a few booklets and thousands of articles on the subject. My own book on the subject is on the site in its draft form, and is due for publication by the society. There is, however, a problem with packing it off to the printers: New facts keep popping up.

The Harry Price Library, now part of the University of London, has had a number of donations recently that shine a new light on the controversial man. Also, the indexing of the existing mass of correspondence and written materials has turned up some quite startling new facts. I'm having to review what I've written in the light of the new evidence that is emerging

Of all the biographies of Harry Price, white the best was that of Trevor Hall. He has often been accused of a mean-spirited attack: in fact his book is extraordinarily restrained. As some of the characters in the Borley Rectory affair were still alive, he did not explore Harry Price's extra-marital affairs, though he knew about them, and he did not expose the full extent of the smokescreen that Harry Price invented about his background, credentials, qualifications or experience.

It would seem that none of the participants on the Borley Rectory affair believed what Harry Price said. Mrs Smith, the rector's wife, was sure he faked phenomena: so did her maid. Most of the Bull family, who had lived and been brought up in the house, thought that the talk of ghosts was nonsense and were perplexed by the poltergeist phenomena that happened only when Harry Price was around. The Foysters famously quarrelled with Harry Price and thought he was sinister and exploitative. His acolyte, Mollie Goldney, turned against him. Even the
saintly Rev Henning had grave doubts about Harry Price's integrity. The parish were convinced to a man that Harry Price's 'Marie Lairre' was actually some old pig's bones, and forbade a 'burial' at Borley Church. Sidney Glanville eventually realised that he had been duped by Price.

In fact, Harry Price was in every respects, a conjuror, who did what all illusionists do, to create a fog of mystery around perfectly explicable events to create the climate for a belief in magic and ghosts. The stage is darkened, the magician dons a black hat and coat, and spouts baloney, and the audience suspends its normal critical faculties. Borley Rectory was Harry Price's best conjuring trick, and we should all gasp in wonder and amazement, but we should not go on to believe that he really sawed the lady in half, or that he really created doves out of the air. Borley Rectory was a trick, and a very splendid one, particularly as it was mostly woven out of the actions of members of the audience.

The mystery is that the whole affair, which was about money, sex, madness and
gullibility, should be quoted all around the Internet as the best evidence for ghosts; that it should be the setting for the annual gathering of tourists eager to see the 'ghost'. The Borley Rectory Affair was a grand illusion and we should marvel at it for that, not as evidence for ghosts.

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