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 Historical information doesn't really go out of date!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, October 26, 2006

The Death of Gainsborough

Bury Post August 6th 1782


Death of Thomas Gainsborough


On Saturday morning last, about two o’clock, died, at his house in Pall Mall, Mr Gainsborough, the celebrated painter,--His dissolution was occasioned by a cancer in the neck; the effects of which became violent a sew months since, owing to a cold caught one morning in Westminster –hall, while attending the trial of Mr Hastings.

Mr Gainsborough a very few weeks since was in the vigour of his professional powers, he was just turned 61 years of age,--He was born at Sudbury, in this county, in the year 1727.

He very early discovered a propensity to painting;--Nature was his teacher, and the woods of Suffolk his academy, here he would pass in solitude his mornings, in making a sketch of an antiquated tree, a marshy brook, a few cattle, a shepherd and his flock, or any other accidental objects that were presented—From delineation, he got to colouring; and after painting several landscapes, from the age of ten to twelve, he quitted Sudbury in his 13th year, and went to London, where he commenced portrait painting; from that time he never cost his family the least expense—The person, at whose house he principally resided, was a silversmith of some taste; and from him he ever ready to confess he derived great assistance,--Mr Gavelot the engraver, was also his patron, and got him introduced at the Old Academy of Arts, in St Martins-Lane.—He continued to exercise his pencil in London for some years, but marrying Mrs Gainsborough while he was only 19 years of age, he soon took up after his residence in Ipswich; and after practicing there for a considerable period, went to Bath, where his friends intimated his merits would meet their proper reward.—His portrait of the Queen, the actor, which he painted at Bath about thirty years since, will ever be considered as a wonderful effort in the portrait line; it is with a degree of veneration that Mr Gainsborough always spoke of Mr Ralph Allen, Earl of Camden, and a sew other gentlemen for the patronage and savour they extended to him in that place.

The high reputation which followed, prompted him to return to London, where he arrived in the year 1744; after passing a short time in town not very profitably, his merits engaged the attention of the King. Among other portraits of the Royal family, the full length of His Majesty at the Queen’s house, will ever be viewed as an astonishing performance. From this period, Mr Gainsborough entered in a line which afforded a becoming reward to his superlative powers. All our living Princes and Princesses have been painted by him, the Duke of York excepted, of whom he had three pictures bespoken. And among his latter performances, the head of Mr Pitt, and several portraits of that gentleman’s family, afforded him gratification. His portraits will pass to futurity with a reputation equal to that which follows the pictures of Vandyke; and his landscapes will establish his name on the record of the sine arts, with honours such as never attended a native of this isle.

While we lament him as an artist, let us not pass over those virtues, which were an honour to human nature.—Let a tear be shed in affection for that generous heart, whose strongest propensities were to relieve the claims of poverty, wherever they appeared genuine.—Is he selected for the exercise of his pencil, an infant from a cottage, all the tenants of that humble roof, generally participated in the profits of that picture and some of them frequently sound in his habitation, a permanent abode.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Gunpowder Plot and the wretched Romans

    True Protestants I pray you do draw near
    Unto this ditty lend attentive ear,
    The lines are new although the subject's old
    Likewise it is as true as e'er was told.

    When James the First in England reigned King,
    Under his Royal gracious Princely wing
    Religion flourish'd both in court and town
    Which wretched Romans strove to trample down.

    To their old plotting trade they straight did go,
    To prove this Kingdom's final overthrow
    A plot contriv'd by Catholics alone
    The like before or since was never known.

    Rome's Council did together often meet
    For to contrive which way they might complete
    This bloody treason which they took in hand
    Against the King, and Heads of all the land.

    At length these wretched Romans all agreed
    Which way to make the King and Nation bleed
    By powder, all agreed with joint consent.
    To blow up both the King and Parliament.

    For to keep secret this, their villany
    By solemn oaths they one another tie
    Nay farther, being void of grace and shame,
    Each took the Sacrament upon the same.

    Their Treason wrapp'd in this black mantle, then,
    Secure and safe from all the eyes of men,
    They did not fear/ but by one fatal blow,
    To prove the Church and Kingdom's overthrow.

    Catesby with all the other Roman crew,
    This powder plot did eagerly pursue
    Yet after all their mighty cost and care
    Their own seat soon was taken in the snare.

    Under the House of the great Parliament,
    This Romish Den, and Devils by consent,
    The Hellish powder plot they formed there,
    In hopes to send all flying in the air.

    barrels of powder privately convey'd,
    billets and bars of iron too, were laid.
    to tear up all before them as they flew,
    a black invention by this dismal crew.

    and with the fatal blow all must have flown,
    the gracious king upon his royal throne,
    His Gracious Queen likewise their Princely heir
    All must have died and perish'd that was there.

    The House of Noble Lords of high degree,
    By this unheard of bloody tragedy,
    Their limbs in sunder, straight would have been tore
    And fill'd the air with noble bloody gore.

    The worthy learned Judges grave and sagey
    The Commons too, all must have felt Rome's rage,
    Had not the Lord of Love crept in between
    Oh! what a dismal slaughter there had been.

    The King, the Queen and Barons of the land.
    The Judges, Gentry did together stand,
    On ruin's brink, while Rome the blow would give,
    They'd but the burning of a match to live.

    But that great God that sits in Heaven high.
    He did behold their bloody treachery,
    He made their own handwriting soon betray
    The work which they had plotted many a day.

    The Lord in Mercy did his Wisdom send,
    Unto the King, his people to defend,
    Which did reveal the hidden powder plot,
    A gracious mercy, ne'er to be forgot

    And brought Rome's faction unto punishment,
    Which did the powder treason first invent,
    And all that ever plots, I hope God will,
    That the true Christian church may flourish still.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Housing of the Poor in Suffolk Villages 1899

“No room to live”

Startling Statements as to Over Crowding

 A Visit to Stowupland

October 7th 1899.

A special correspondent of the Daily News contributed an article to that journal on Thursday descriptive of a tour of investigation which he had recently made throughout the villages of Norfolk and Essex and Suffolk, during which he gathered facts as to the manner in which the poor live and are overcrowded in some of these villages.

In the course of this article he says—

“The most vital question connected with the agricultural villages to-day is that of housing, on this question the public conscience has gone very much to sleep.  Yet there was never was a time when village life was going through so critical a crisis as now when all the younger men and as many of the younger women as can get away. 

In order to see with my own eyes how far this condition obtains in the villages, I recently walked through some of the more purely agricultural districts of the Eastern Counties beginning with Essex and proceeding thence through Suffolk and Essex, covering the ground very thoroughly in all three counties and comparing notes with observant men on the spot. "

After speaking of the bountifulness of nature during the harvest as compared with the niggardliness of man as manifest in some villages which came under his observation, he continues:--

"Many of these cottages appeared to have hardly a foothold on the land.  Gardens on the back were an exception.  Some of the houses had patches at the ends and now and again at the front but they were all of the most scanty description.  I find in my notes written at the time, the following:

'--A number of the cottages I have passed were built close to a stagnant stinking ditch into which the pigsties drained.  One of these cottages was built or partly projected partly over a ditch which was nothing better than a cesspool.  The people seemed  generally in a low condition of health and it is rare for one to see so many rickety and ailing children and decrepit old men and women in one village. '

This was one of the worst examples—judged from external appearances that I met with: but there are many other places that vie with it in every most objectionable feature. The striking thing about this village was that it seemed to combine in itself so many of the worst features of village life, that is small houses, with insufficiency of rooms, horrible sanitary conditions, a general lack of gardens, and  an insufficient water supply. 

Another aspect of the same question is the lack of cottages, they can’t be had for love nor money and the great inconvenience is suffered in consequence. At one village I heard of a horseman who had to walk three or four miles every morning before five o’clock because he could not get a house nearer his work. 

A blacksmith and a wheelwright in another village told me he had partially engaged a wheelwright but had finally to relinquish the appointment because no cottage could be obtained for him within a reasonable distance.

In the past seems to have been very much the custom to put up a cottage where it was convenient for the farmer and to leave such matters of sanitation, water, etc to take care of themselves.  In a number of cottages within the last few weeks I have heard the complaint, “There is no water near, we have to go half a mile for it”. 

One woman whom I asked for a drink of water after walking for several miles in the broiling sun, replied, almost savagely, “I can’t give you any, we have too far to fetch water.”  One man living in a three roomed cottage in Suffolk said he had to go over a quarter of a mile across the fields to fetch water.  A woman inhabiting a two roomed cottage said she would have go without water but for her son in law going half a mile every evening  and fetching her a couple of pails of water.  This is for drinking and cooking purposes.

For washing they had to depend on the rain tub and during droughty times it was necessary to leave the family wash for weeks.  A typical village as regards the supply of water is one of the largest villages in Suffolk, having a population of over 800 and some miles of parish roads. Yet this great parish is without any adequate supply of water. There is a public well, which I am informed, was often almost dry in droughty weather and at the best of times totally insufficient for the wants of the people. When one sees women and children pale and sickly-looking, the latter often rickety, where with the wholesome country air about them they should be strong and healthy, it is impossible to avoid attributing  the result very largely to cottages in which there is not sufficient air and what there is, it often contaminated maybe by the near-standing privy. Sometimes the latter will be built right up against the mud wall of a cottage which naturally becomes so saturated that the stench fills and vitiates the air of the living room. 

In one village I came across a number of cottages in which these conveniences were built so close to the houses and to the public way that in hot weather you must hold your handkerchief to your nose as you passed, or be made sick.  I was told of one place where there were thirty houses with only one convenience of the kind amongst them and that but a few paces removed from some of the doors.

As regards the question of bedroom accommodation, the writer gives a conversation he had with a labourer who said, “The young fellows are so uncomfortable at home and crowded into bedrooms with their younger brothers and sisters, that they set up for themselves as soon as they can and their mothers and fathers encourage them because of the inconvenience of having grown up lads and girls the house together so they will marry on their first harvest money---six or seven pounds maybe, and they will have big families afore they are thirty. 

After speaking about of the vast amount of disgraceful overcrowding of families in some cottages, the writer goes on to say---

The lady, my informant (a member of the Board of Guardians) who has given a great deal of attention to the condition of the poor in the villages of her district of Suffolk, has been deeply impressed by the amount of weak-mindedness to be met with in the Suffolk villages.  After coming across case after case, she mentioned the matter to others who were in a position to observe and had from them confirmation of the fact.  She and others with whom I have spoken on the subject attribute this to the prevalence of imbecility to the awful conditions in which the poor so often live,--to the unwholesome cottages, to bad and sufficient food, to overcrowding, e3arly marriage.  That “etcetra” almost demands a chapter by itself.  And if one were to go into it thoroughly, a terrible chapter it would be.  But there is no need for so doing here. 

One gentleman, a Justice of the Peace, gave me particulars of a terrible case and he expressed the opinion, based on years of experience in positions of public trust, that there many cases of the kind, the real facts of which for obvious reasons were kept quiet.  Suffice to say that there is a strong suspicion of the wide-spread prevalence of incest consequent upon the scandalous conditions of many of the cottages of the labouring poor. 

 I had a conversation with a farmer of Stowupland—one who had formerly been a labourer—on this question of housing.  He had been referring to the difficulty of procuring labour and remarked that something would have to be done to retain the men in the villages or the matter would become very serious. Asked what he thought ought to be done, he said –They want to be treated more as men.  Their  treatment in the past has been disgraceful, the effort of farmer and squire alike has been to keep them down—to keep them dependant. 

Well at length they have turned—the younger men have revolted and revolted in the best way.  He went onto say “There is one way to hold them that have not gone and to bring back the others. It is to give them better wages and better houses—houses in which they and their families can live in decency. Now  to often they cannot—I have gone through it and I know.  I have known places in which sixteen people lived in two rooms, there were three beds in a room and you could hardly move between them. I have had to live like that myself.  I could tell you of a case near here where there is a house with only one bedroom, there is man and his wife and a grown up daughter and two sons and they all sleep in one room.  Tain’t right, half a mile from here lives a woman—a decent respectable body who said to me only the other day: “Oh  Mr B---I can’t tell you the anxiety I have because of  my sons and daughters having to sleep in the same room. It’s a constant dread to me day and night.  I’d give anything if we could get a cottage with three bedrooms”

She and her husband slept in one room and their three grown up sons and two daughters in the other. 

In  further conversation this farmer—one of the most intelligent me I have met in my journeying said—that most of the cottages about here  possessed but two bedrooms, “The boys and the girls sleep together” he said “When the children are young there is no harm done, but when they get into their teens—Well it is shameful that there is no provision for decent living, I sometimes wonder we are good as we are, considering the conditions we live in.

A similar statement was made to me by a man who was formerly one of Joseph Arch’s lieutenants, he said he had vivid recollection of what life in the cottages was when he was a boy, he was brought up in a house where there was only one bedroom, in it his father and mother and his six sisters and he and his two brothers slept. 

There were four beds, no room for curtains and very little space to get about between the beds. “Such pigging together was common then and it is yet”, he remarked.  “It leads to a lot of immorality, fortunately, thank God we came out of it alright, but there are many as don’t”.  Then he added “Ah if only Christian people knew”. 

"Ah," said a Free Church Minister, to whom I repeated this conversation, “If the Christian men and women of this country only fully realised what the burden and temptation is under which thousands of their fellow Christians live, they would not let things go on as they are but would raise a hand on their behalf”.

No-one knows, says the minister in conclusion, “No one what these people have to suffer on this account. They are literally ground heart and soul between the upper and nether millstone”.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The historical integrity of the River Stour is threatened

The River Stour is about to change its character completely. This is apparently due to a comical over-reaction by the Health and Safety inspector to an accident at work. As a result, the Environment Agency are to 'temporarily' relinquish their responsibilities for the management and maintenance of the water-levels of the River Stour for the foreseeable future.

Why is this of concern to the Local Historian? It is because we are is only too aware of the consequences of mismanagement of the Stour in the past, and ready to defend the loss of the heritage whenever this most wonderful area is threatened.

The Sluice gates on the River Stour, which, since time immemorial, have maintained the levels on the Stour, and which have acted to prevent flooding in times of heavy rain, are to be 'locked' so that they can no longer be used. Most of these gates are to be locked in the 'Up' position, meaning that the rivers will be at a low level.-until the floods come that is...

There will be two immediate consequences, Environmental and Flooding.

Firstly, the flooding problem

Some of the floodgates will be locked in the 'down' position. Whenever there is heavy rainfall, the tried and tested technique is to open every gate as soon as possible, from the lower part of the Stour upwards, to maximise the flow and drain the water out of the river before the consequential floodwater hits the river. This makes a small but vital difference to the flood levels. Any change in this method of flood-prevention will have the consequence of flooding, damage to property, and misery on a large scale. This is not just a matter for a few riverside dwellings: In September 1968, the water ran through the houses at Ballingdon, and residents had to take refuge upstairs. The worst flood got as far as All Saints Church in Sudbury. There are wide areas of Cavendish Ballingdon, Cornard and Long Melford that are at risk of flooding and any increase in that risk would be highly unfortunate. In that flood, the inundation of several houses in Cavendish was blamed on the failure to raise the gates at Pentlow Mill quickly enough.

Secondly, the Environmental problems

The river is the habitat of a large number of plants and animals, which rely on the continuation of current river levels. If the sluice hates are raised, their habitats will suffer and so, in turn, will they. Willows Poplars and Alders in particular are extremely sensitive to long-term changes in the river levels, and the birds, mammals and insects that exist only on the river edges will take a hit in their population. How much of a hit? We don't know as this has never been tried before, but one needs little imagination to guess. Even if there wer no consequences to the water margins, the consequences to fish stocks is likely to be considerable.

There will be other problems, such as the recreational and agricultural ones, which need to be considered too.

About three years ago, there was an unfortunate accident to one of the staff of the environment agency whilst working a sluice gate at Nayland. Mercifully he was not permanently disabled, but it could have been worse. As a delayed reaction from this incident, which appears to be the first ever such accident, the Health and Safety experts have condemned the hand-operated sluice gates as being a hazard. I have worked such a gate myself for twenty years in all weathers, and can say with authority that this is bunkum. Nevertheless, the Environment Agency have felt compelled to react by placing all such gates (almost all) out of bounds to their staff.

This matter is unlikely to be resolved for some years. Most of these gates are, by some bizarre quirk, still privately owned as they date back to the commercial use of water-mills. Even with generous government funding, it would be difficult for the Environment Agency to convert these gates to modern safety standards, as they don't own them.

In the meantime, the water companies are planning to pump much more water down the Stour than ever before in order to accommodate the huge number of 'Prescott Homes' that are being built in Essex. The Colne and Stour are to become conduits for water to fill the reservoirs at the mouth of the Stour and Colne. This is going to put an extra strain on the spillways and sluices that maintain the level. It is obvious that this scheme will have to be put on hold until the problems with the gates is resolved.

The management of the river is a considerable part of the work of the Environment Agency. It is not the most exciting or high-profile work, but is essential. It seems unprecedented that such a statutory body can relinquish their responsibilities, yet retain staff funding and facilities allocated to them to do the work. Besides, it is a strategy fraught with far worse hazards to human life than that imagined by the Health and Safety officer responsible for the crisis in the first place. The river has had artificial levels since Roman times, and has always been managed. There is no 'laissez-faire' solution.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Naked Ladies of the Melford Disaster

A singular episode in Melford history is stated in the “Ipswich Journal” August 1794. Three young ladies, one famous for intellectual gifts, desired to bathe in the river. They rose at 4 a.m. and walked to a remote spot and stripped off naked. They were however followed by a blacksmith who did not reveal himself until the ladies were bathing, their confusion and distress may be imagined. He stole their clothes but after an hour’s agony they were enabled to obtain some, in which they returned to Melford.

The occasion was marked by the following ballad


When twas talk’d with disdain Among the profane That the Ladies go there naked

The Melford Disaster

A new Ballad to the tune of “Tom of Bedlam"



All in the Land of Suffolk
At Melford at the unwary
On the side of a bank
Was played such a prank
By’s Devil yclep’d Vagary

To look about thee, Bury
(Thy Ladies are so charming)
I’d have thee begin
For the Father of Sin
Get’s a taste that’s quite alarming

On Melford’s reputation
For scandal we did take it
When twas talk’d with disdain
Among the profane
That the Ladies go there naked

Twas early in the morning
Just as the Sun was peeping
Three daughters of Eve
Got up without leave
To a farmer’s to creep in

Nor look ye, were thy Niads
Nor mind ye, were they Graces
For the Women of old
By Ovid were told
Wash’d nothing but their faces

Long time in Nature’s buff-suits
Not much oppressed with blushes
Now in and Now out
They paddled about
Like ducks among the rushes

Nor did ye dream, ye fair ones
When taking such a frolic
That the sweet West wind
Tho’ it blew fo kind
Could give a maid the cholic

While thus in sportive humour
They flounced about-God bless them
That villain, Old Nick
Was playing a trick
On purpose to distress em

Three things as soft as pillows
With stays and caps together
This cunning old wag
Put his in a bag
And flew away like a feather

Cloaks petticoats and kerchiefs
On Satan’s back suspended
With stockings and shoes
And eke furbelows
Clean out of sight ascended

I’d sing the sequel solemn
Did Modesty allow it
But a dock leaf vest
Is but ill exprest
By Painter or by Poet

Let Coventry no longer
For sights like these be reckoned
For, Melford, thy fame
Has got thee a name
Of Coventry the second

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