Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Magical Yorkshire


The magic of Yorkshire's history can sometimes be literal as well as figurative! 

We are all familiar with the idea of wisemen and wisewomen as people involved in occult activity. In Yorkshire, such people seem to have been helpful rather than malicious, although that didn't mean the Church approved. 

V.1567-8/CB1 f. 25v, Borthwick Institute for Archive

In 1567, Robert Garmann was the subject of testimony to the archbishop of York during a visitation, where he was accused of being a wiseman who 'had healed beastes beinge forespoken' (bewitched or charmed). The magic spell he used to break the enchantment was 

God and sancta charytie blysse the beast. 


The belief in forespeaking carried on in Yorkshire into the ninteenth century. Around 1840, a farmer from South Crosland near Huddersfield who was noted as a cow-doctor wrote down instructions for curing a forespoken cow: 

When Cattle is forspoken Catch her waters then get a new Pipkin never been used put the waters therein then Get some Glass shave both horns a little of then Cut some hair from between her horns and Tail end then get 9 Clogg nails 9 pins never used put all together into the pipkin then as near the full Moon as Possable at twelve O Clock at Night make the doors then set the Pipkin with the above in it on a good red fire and sit with it till all be boiled away and no Smook from it then take it off and when Cold scrape all the black in the pot and nails etc on to some paper then put all in as small a parcil as you can turning each end Contrary way and if any body come to the door don’t open nor speak when doing this then in the morning take the parcel and a Gimblet big enough and go to a live Oaktree and bore a hole and put the parcel in and make a peg for it and put it in and drive it up with a hammer and then Get a egg and break the small end and put tarr in when emptied and give it to the Cow next morning keep warm and give Aird water to drink a time or two till well 
Clearly, un-forespeaking an animal was a complicated process!

Other wisewomen are on record as folk healers. During the 1598 vistation, one Widdow Carre of Darfield was reputed to be a wisewoman with skill at curing sickness. And in 1693, at the Quarter Sessions in Silkstone, appeared one William Beever who was supposed to be able to 'finde things that are lost' by the use of 'a booke whiche he calls an alminacke'. 
A wiggen, or rowan tree, Barbondale

Although these people professed benign powers, there was still obviously a fear of magic and bewitchment. The wiggen (the rowan, or mountain ash) was supposed to protect people from evil. In 1674, a witch's plot was foiled because 'they tye soe much whighen about him, I cannot come to my purpose'. It was even a cure against sickness: in 1782, an Ecclesfield man's diary records an attack of ague from which he recovered after six days 'Under Bark of Wiggin'. 

We can even track the suspicion of the occult into people's names. The surname Pricker was evidently occupational but its meaning is uncertain. In some contexts a pricker was a huntsman and in others a witch-finder. One by-name which may derive from witch-finder is Helya Prickescin, who lived around Fountains Abbey 1168-1194. 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Howzat?: Cricket and the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary

A guest post by Dr George Redmonds, author of the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary 

A woodcut of three men playing stool ball, from a 1767 book 'A Little Pretty Pocket-book'
Stool-ball, 1767, from A Little Pretty Pocket-book
The game of cricket is traditionally difficult to explain, especially to foreigners, but the history of the word itself also poses problems. Even the Oxford English Dictionary has no answer, placing the words ‘Etymology uncertain’ after the entry. The first recorded reference to ‘cricket’ as a game is in the Borough Records of Guildford in 1598 – in Surrey therefore! In that year a man called John Denwick testified that he had known a certain parcell of land ... for the space of Fyfty years and more, a fact secured in his memory because hee and several of his fellowes did runne and play there at Creckett. We can presume from this that cricket was being played at the end of the reign of Henry VIII, but unfortunately it makes no contribution to our understanding of the word.

An old cricket stool, well worn.
A cricket stool
Several possible interpretations are commented on in the OED including one theory that links cricket with stool-ball, a game played especially by young women, to which there are references from before 1473. That game is still played in Sussex, where it is thought to have originated, and the relevant point for cricketers is that two stools were formerly the wickets. The fact that a low wooden stool was once called a ‘cricket’ persuaded some historians of the game that this was a vital link in the word’s meaning. The OED view on that theory is that any connection ‘is very doubtful’ since ‘cricket’ in the sense of stool ‘is itself not in evidence till a later date’, not until just before 1643. 

Excerpt from the probate inventory of George Brough, Selby, 1673
Excerpt from the inventory of George Brough, Selby, 1673,
Selby Peculiar probate
Evidence in a Yorkshire will now removes that particular objection to such a link. In 1559, when Ninian Staveley of Ripon Park died, an inventory was made of his goods, and In the Greate Chambre were 2 old chaires valued at 12s and one litill crekett stole, worth 4s. Similarly, a Selby blacksmith was in possession in 1656 of 1 letle clap table & a crekit stole. It was not invariably a compound term. In 1673, a tanner called George Brough, also from Selby, owned 2 crecketts and 5 greene chares. Of course this does not finally solve how ‘cricket’ came to be the name of the game but it certainly renews the debate about its connection with stool-ball and the south-east of England.  

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Life and Letters of Queen Emma of Hawaii


Queen Emma of Hawaii
(Photo credit: Wiki Media Commons)
In the autumn of 1865, Powderham Castle in Devon received an unusual and distinguished guest. Queen Emma of Hawaii was touring England attempting to garner financial donations and support for Hawaii’s first Anglican Cathedral when she stopped for a few days at the home of the Earl of Devon. There she met his daughter, the twenty-seven year old Lady Agnes Elizabeth Courtenay. The two women became fast friends, and for the rest of Emma’s visit the two maintained a regular correspondence. These letters were clearly treasured by Agnes, as she took them with her when she married Charles Wood Viscount Halifax in 1869, and thus they eventually found their way into our collection.

Emma Kalanikaumakaamano Nae’a Rooke was born in 1836, two years before Agnes Courtenay, in Honolulu. Her parents were both High Chiefs directly descended from royalty, and her ancestors included Hawaii's first king, Kamehameha the Great. She was adopted and raised by her aunt and uncle, Grace and Thomas Rooke. Grace was also a High Cheifess, but her father had been a British-born military advisor to the crown, while Thomas was a British doctor who had moved to Hawaii in adulthood. As such, Emma was raised in both Hawaiian and English traditions and spoke both languages fluently.

Emma was sent to the Royal School, previously called the Chiefs’ Children’s School, in Honolulu to finish her education. Interestingly, as Hawaii had an elected monarchy, it was not always certain who the next monarchy would be so this school aimed to give each of the possible candidates received an equal education. While studying at the Royal School, Emma fell in love with Alexander Liholiho. He became King Kamehameha IV in 1855, and married Emma in June of the following year. They had one son together, Prince Albert Edward, who sadly died at the age of four in 1862 of a ‘brain fever’.

Emma's faith comes across in the letters she wrote
Inspired by Emma’s adoptive father, Emma and Alexander dedicated much of their reign to providing their subjects with accessible and affordable healthcare. After deciding they wished to establish a hospital in Honolulu, the king and queen travelled door-to-door throughout the islands asking for donations. As a result, the Queen’s Medical Centre was opened in 1860. The couple were also devout Christians, and in 1860 they appealed to the Church of England for permission to establish the Church of Hawaii. Permission was granted, and Emma and Alexander were baptised by Anglican vicars in 1862. The king and queen then decided to fund-raise to build a cathedral dedicated to St Andrew, as well as a connected school for girls. This was a particular passion of Emma’s, as she had noticed that, outside of the Royal School, girls were rarely educated to the same standards as boys and she wished to rectify this. However, a spanner was thrown in the works when Alexander died suddenly in 1863. Emma spent the next couple of years in mourning, but eventually decided to persevere with the project by travelling to England in 1865 to garner support and financial aid for the cathedral and school.
Emma's appreciation for the welcome she received

It’s unclear when precisely Emma stayed at Powderham Castle, but the letters she wrote to Agnes are dated between November 1865 and January 1866. Emma clearly received a warm welcome at Powderham. She wrote early on: “I appreciate deeply the affection and love extended towards me by yourself and your family, and feel that God has indeed given me true, earnest friends in Lord Devon and yourself.” Agnes later wrote to invite Emma to stay with her family over the Christmas period. Emma could not stay with them, but thanked her greatly for the invite, writing: “if you have ever experienced the warmth of true friendship extended to you a stranger in a foreign land? You will then have felt my appreciation of such affection as has been shewen [sic] to me”.


Much of the correspondence between Emma and Agnes was written while Emma was the personal guest of Queen Victoria, and as such Victoria is mentioned frequently in the letters and even had Agnes’s letters read out to her. Victoria had been godmother to Emma’s son, yet the two women had never met before Emma’s visit. Victoria recorded her first meeting with Emma in her diary, where she wrote: “nothing could be nicer or more dignified than her manner.” Agnes had recommended a maid to Emma, who passed the suggestion on to Victoria. One of the letters to Agnes deals entirely with this matter. Emma tells Agnes exactly what Victoria is looking for in a maid, ending with: “She is anxious to have a clever person that can do anything & every thing [sic] without much saying.” Not asking much then!


However, what comes through most in these letters is Emma’s dislike of the English weather. In a letter of November 11th 1865, she writes: “we have not yet seen the Fog. But it [the weather] looks black, cloudy, and smoky, and very cold…I am convinced that the sooner we go out of England the better.” Just two weeks later, Emma wrote again. She had picked up her husband’s habit of travelling by night so as to have more daylight hours to work. She notes that this is perfectly possible in Hawaii, but in England it often leads to one getting rather wet and cold. She had developed a nasty cough as a result. This was why she was unable to spend Christmas with the Courtenay family; her doctor had ordered her to retire to warmer climes to recover. Instead she spent Christmas in the south of France. Emma seems to have enjoyed the south of France. She wrote that it was much more similar to the countryside of her homeland, and that she had “not been troubled by that noisy cough which I had in England.” Much of her letter focuses on the people she met while in France. She was especially excited to meet a descendant of “one of my favourite Poets,” Sir Walter Scott, whom she found to be perfectly charming.

Emma signed with her English and Hawaiian names interchangeably 
After her return to Hawaii, Emma continued to live a remarkable life. After the king died in 1874, she ran in the election to become the next ruling monarch. Despite her hatred of the English weather, she remained staunchly pro-British during the run up to the election, while her opponent was pro-American. She lost the election in the Legislative Assembly, but such was the level of public support for Emma that a riot ensued now known as the Honolulu Court House Riot. After this event, Emma retired from public life, although a seat was always left empty for her at state occasions in case she changed her mind.


The letter Emma wrote in 1880
Interestingly, this collection does contain one further letter from Emma. In 1880, a Mr and Mrs Mills were on a journey that took them through Hawaii. They were friends with the Earl of Devon, and, remembering his daughter’s friendship with Emma, he sent them with a letter of introduction. Emma sent a letter back with a missionary returning to England in which she recalls happy times in England, and relates her joy at hearing news of her old friend. She writes that she heard Agnes and Charles “have a family of your own” and requests “do send me photos of yourselves and children.” She relates little of her own news, but does write that the man carrying the letter for her “has been fortunate enough to witness an eruption of our volcano” and recommends that Agnes ask him about the experience!

In spite of her illness, Emma’s fundraising trip to England was a success. She raised £16,000. Building work started on the Cathedral of St Andrew in 1867 and St Andrew’s Priory School was opened on Ascension Day of the same year. Both are still in operation today, and the cathedral is the home of the Bishop of Hawaii. Emma died in 1885 at the age of forty-nine, while Agnes Wood died in 1919 at the ripe old age of eighty-one.

Friday, 18 May 2018

By Clog and Shoe

 With all the excitement surrounding the imminent Royal Wedding, I thought it would be interesting to look at an older and less formal kind of marriage.

Black leather clogs
Black leather clogs
We are all familiar with clogs, the traditional northern wooden shoe, strengthened with iron or brass at the heels and edges. Perhaps less familiar is its use in an enigmatic entry in the Haworth parish register for 1733, which gives a list of ‘marriages at Bradford and by clog and shoe in Lancashire’.

This entry has been the subject of much conjecture over the intervening years. The 1867 Notes and Queries correspondent Llallawg asked about the meaning of the entry, noting that ‘in some parts of the West Riding it is customary to throw old shoes and old slippers after the newly married pair when starting on their wedding tour.’ They further mentioned an ancient custom of the forest of Skipton, which is near to Haworth, where in the reign of Edward II ‘every bride coming that way should either give her left shoe or 3s 4d to the forester of Crookryse, by way of custom of gaytcloys’ (here gate will be in the dialectal usage meaning ‘journey’).

I don’t know if they received any responses, but later The Derbyshire Times of 1894 carried a similar query, noting that at a time when legal marriage did not require a priest of religious ceremony (Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was still twenty years away) many people married clandestinely or by unusual methods (similar to 'jumping the broom' which was still referred to as a folk practice when I was growing up). Two solutions were then offered to the ‘clog and shoe’ conundrum. One suggestion was that a pub called the ‘Clog and Shoe’ in the Bradford area might have been operating as ‘marriage shop’. Apparently, taverns were often popular locations for clandestine marriages. This idea was supported by a (poorly cited, so I can’t track down the original) reference to ‘a book at Elwick, Durham’, which suggested that marriages were celebrated ‘by’ the clog and shoe, ‘with’ the clog and shoe and ‘at’ the Clog and Shoe, the constructions seeming to suggest a place such as a tavern.

Frontispiece and Title page from Richard Braithwaite, A Boulster Lecture, London 1640
Frontispiece and Title page from Richard Braithwaite, A Boulster Lecture, London 1640
An alternative was the custom of marrying by exchanging a man’s clog for a woman’s shoe in front of witnesses. A further illustration from Braithwaite’s A Boulster Lecture (1640) emphasizes the potential symbolism of some of these traditions:
When at any time a couple were married, the sole of the bridegroom’s shoe was to be laid upon the bride’s head, implying with what subjugation she should serve her husband.
Dr George Redmonds, the author of the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary, offers a less romantic explanation: it might simply have meant that the couple had walked over into Lancashire to get married. Haworth was, after all, right on the county boundary.

Allegations from CP.I.1110
Isaac Smith c. Benjamin Kennet, 1739
This more prosaic definition has some help from our archival records. In the 1730s, the minister to the Howarth curacy, Rev. Isaac Smith and the vicar of Bradford (its mother parish) Rev. Benjamin Kennet, engaged in a protracted dispute through the church courts around the issue of irregular marriages. Rev. Kennet was accused of conducting improper marriages, by marrying a couple without the publication of banns and out of ceremonial hours (after 12 noon on a Sunday), and by receiving additional payments for doing so. The couple in question, John Arthington and Ann Swaine, had been forbidden permission to marry by her father. When the case was brought several years later, Kennet attempted to clear his name by producing a witness, Lucy Brigg, who swore that she remembered the banns being read at Bradford church sometime in the June, July or August before the wedding but unfortunately it was shown that at the time she was confined to a room for lunacy. I don’t know what punishment, if any, was meted out to Kennet but he didn’t lose his position as he continued as vicar to Bradford until his death in 1752 (outliving Smith, I’m sure to his great satisfaction, by ten years).

The papers for the numerous back-and-forths in the church courts between Smith and Kennet (which include the memorable occasion when Smith hired the Bradford town crier to tell Kennet’s parishioners what he thought of him) are freely available online under the references CP.I.1739; CP.I.1099; CP.I.1100; CP.I.1101; CP.I.1102; CP.I.1103; CP.I.1104.

It’s interesting that we have a verifiable recorded case of improper marriage at exactly the same date as the ‘clog and shoe’ marriages. The situation in Haworth perfectly illustrates the motivation behind Hardwicke’s Act for the Better Prevention of Clandestine Marriage in 1754, to tighten up the legal definition of a marriage service once and for all.

Can you help us to tighten up our definition of clog? Do you know what marriage ‘by clog and shoe’ means? I’d love to hear from you!

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Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Introducing our new and improved online catalogue!


If you’re a regular visitor to our online catalogue Borthcat (and if you aren’t I recommend checking it out!) you may have noticed a few changes lately.  This is because we’ve made the upgrade to AtoM 2.4, the latest release from Artefactual systems who develop AtoM, or Access to Memory, the archives management system we use here at the Borthwick.  

We first launched Borthcat in April 2016 with 376 top level descriptions of our archival collections and 578 authority records (histories of the individuals, families or organisations which created or featured in them).  Since then Borthcat has grown enormously, reaching users in 136 different countries.  As of April 2018 it boasts 563 top level descriptions and over one thousand related authority records.  A significant number of these archives now also have full catalogues available online, including the Borthwick’s Yorkshire hospital archives, the archive of the Earls of Halifax, and the archives of the Rowntree Company and Vickers scientific instrument makers.

We are always looking to improve Borthcat and make it more accessible and intuitive for our users.  We created a special guide for those users looking for wills or other probate documents that can be accessed whenever someone clicks in the search box.  We also backed up our detailed help page with a page of frequently asked questions and a glossary of terms to help users better understand the way the catalogue works.

The new AtoM release adds yet more improvements that we hope will fill in some of the gaps on Borthcat and introduce new ways of navigating the ever growing mass of information it holds.

So what’s new about AtoM 2.4 and why should you care?

You can search by date

 You might be surprised to learn this wasn’t previously a feature of Borthcat.  When most of the archival descriptions were ‘top level’ or fonds level descriptions this was not such an issue, but now Borthcat has so many full catalogues the ability to filter your search results by date or to sort search results by start or end dates will be incredibly useful.  Are you looking for patient records at The Retreat hospital but only for the 1860s? Just open the advanced search, search for ‘patient records’ in ‘The Retreat Archive’ and fill in the ‘filter by date range’ fields with the earliest and latest date of your search.


Equally you could open The Retreat Archive, select ‘Browse as list’ from the ‘Explore’ menu to the right and order your results in order of the start or end dates.  




Or perhaps you just want to know what our earliest dated archival collection is (the Takamiya Fragments Collection dating from 900 AD) or our most recent (too many to list! We are constantly adding to existing archives).


One of our Takimaya Fragments


You can keep track of the records you’re interested in

Another new feature that we think will be very popular with both users and staff is the clipboard function, as represented by the paperclip seen here on the top right of the page.


As you look through archival descriptions or authority records on Borthcat you will see the paperclip symbol on every entry when you browse archival descriptions as a list (with the text ‘Add to clipboard’ appearing when you hover over it with your mouse) or the option to ‘add’ to the right of an entry after you open it.  




Clicking on it automatically adds the record to your clipboard which can then be opened using the button at the top of the page.  This works for any authority record and any archival description (at any level of description from fonds down to item) and it means you can create a list of the records you are interested in as you browse, saving yourself the job of writing them out!  Moreover, once you’ve created your list in clipboard you can use the ‘print preview’ button to save the list as an image which can be kept for your own research or emailed directly to us if you’d like to preorder some records before you visit.
Tip:  If you’re saving both archival descriptions and authority records to your clipboard be aware these will display as two separate lists and that you will have to toggle between the two using the ‘Entity type’ drop down menu.







You can see the whole archive structure at once

The clipboard button isn’t the only change you’ll see when you open an archive catalogue on Borthcat.  Whereas before the full hierarchical arrangement of a catalogue was displayed to the left in a small sidebar, now it can be clearly seen at the top of the page.  



If you’ve had experience of navigating a catalogue through the sidebar the advantages to this new page-width display will be obvious.  You can now see the whole of the catalogue structure at once, without long titles being truncated by limitations of space. You can also expand each level to its fullest without concealing the rest of the archive.  You can also expand the display window to take up the full page should you wish!






We can upload or generate finding aids for you more easily

Finally the upgrade to AtoM 2.4 means we have new ways to share finding aids with our users.  We can now generate them from full catalogues already available on Borthcat - or we can upload our paper finding aids for archives that currently have only a top level archival description online.  The latter replaces a rather cumbersome system of linking across to paper finding aids that we’d uploaded to a hidden page on our website, a workaround we used to great success with our parish record collection but which was far from ideal as a long term solution.  

Now users will be able to download full catalogues to browse offline, to share, print out and annotate as needed - just look for the ‘download’ button on the right of the entry!  



To begin with we will only be uploading the finding aids that were already available as linked documents, but going forward we will be generating new finding aids from complete online catalogues and using our Twitter and Facebook accounts to let people know when these become available.


Looking to the future

AtoM 2.4 brings a number of useful new features to Borthcat but this first upgrade is only the beginning.  AtoM is under constant development, both by Artefactual and by its global user community, and future releases promise yet more innovations alongside improvements to its existing functions.  We would welcome your feedback on Borthcat, the new features, or even features you would like to see in the future - you can let us know what you think here. In the meantime we will continue to add new catalogues, new authority records, and new finding aids - so be sure to keep an eye on our ‘newest additions’ list!

Now you’ve heard about all of the new features, why not try them out for yourselves?

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Great Storm of 1703

The wills that first intrigued me

A few days ago, I was rummaging through a box of wills when I noticed something odd. Amongst the wills of those who died in 1703, and unusually high proportion had died aboard a ship. Closer inspection revealed that each of the thirteen Yorkshire men who died in December 1703 had died on one of five ships. Immediately my curiosity was piqued. I knew that in 1703 England had been embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession. Perhaps there been a disastrous naval battle? However, the answer turned out to be far more prosaic; not a naval battle, but bad weather.

On the afternoon of November 26th 1703[1], Daniel Defoe noticed that the mercury in his barometer had dropped unnaturally low; so low that he assumed that his children had been playing with the instrument and had damaged it. That night southern and central England was hit by an extra-tropical cyclone, unprecedented both in its ferocity and duration. Diarist John Evelyn wrote that the storm was “not to be paralleled with anything happening in our age or in any history.” In London, the damage was extensive. Lightning started fires in both Greenwich and Whitehall, while the wind was so strong that nearly 2000 chimneys were blown down and the lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey. Some, fearing that the roofs would collapse above their heads, tried to take shelter outside, only to find that roof tiles were whirling through the air. Those living near St. James’s Park also noticed that fish from the park’s lake had also been swept up by the wind and sent flying. So many roofs were damaged that there were genuinely not enough tiles in England to replace those that had been lost or broken. The damage was not restricted to London. According to Defoe, windmills across the country span so fast that the friction generated caused them to spontaneously combust. The winds in Kent were so fierce that they lifted a cow into a tree. There was also severe and prolonged flooding, especially around Bristol. The River Severn rose a full eight feet and spread mile from its bank, destroying farms and killing livestock on the way.

A contemporary print showing the rough seas
As is to be expected under such conditions, the seas became incredibly rough. Eddystone Lighthouse in Plymouth was completely destroyed and swept away. A boat in Kent was picked up by the wind and waves and washed 800 feet inland, while a ship on the Helford River in Cornwall was torn from its moorings and eventually washed up eight hours later in the Isle of Wight. Meanwhile, the HMS Association was blown all the way from Harwich in Suffolk to Gothenburg in Sweden. For the Royal Navy, the storm could not have come at a worse moment. They had been planning an assault on Cadiz, but strong winds in the days leading up to the storm had prevented ships from crossing the Channel. Instead, they were gathered, along with a collection of mercantile ships, at the mouth of the River Thames. Almost none of the ships sheltering here survived intact. Many were wrecked upon Goodwin Sands. As Goodwin Sands is largely uncovered at low tides, many sailors were able to climb onto the sands to await rescue. However, the ferocity of the storm meant that few rescue boats ever arrived. It’s estimated that nearly 1500 sailors were killed on Goodwin Sands alone, including the entire crews of both the HMS Northumberland and the HMS Restoration. In the Great Storm of 1703, the navy lost 13 ships and approximately one-fifth of their men.

The inventory of Christopher Abbott
This explains why so many of the testators in December 1703 had died aboard ship; they were all naval men who died upon Goodwin Sands. Looking at these wills more closely it becomes apparent that all thirteen were proved at the same time. Each bond is written in the same hand, with Lovell Lazenby acting as a witness to the majority of them, and each of the inventories of the deceased men’s goods has been written up by the same person. None of the men left very much. Edward Postgate and Christopher Abbott both left nothing more than one month’s back pay[2]. Both Christopher Abbott and Edward Moore’s inventories note that they did have more in “purse and apparail,” but that this too had been lost in the ship wreck. A few of the men were slightly better off. Both William Easingwold and Joseph Hunt were recorded as having owned “books and instruments,” while Robert Coats owned a chest and towels. Only three wives (Mary Thorpe, Isabell Wolfe and Ann Abbott) were named as executrixes. Both Edward Postgate and Henry Lund named their sisters as their executrixes. Six of the men left their goods in the care of their parents, while Samuel Bramman chose his “Loveing Friend Grace Baker, Widdow…or her son Lawrence if she be Dead.” As such, it seems safe to deduce that many men who joined the navy were fairly poor, unmarried, and young. They also seem to have been aware of the dangers they were facing. Samuel Bramman wrote that he made his will “considering the Dangers of the Seas and the Frailty and Uncertainty of this Transitory Life.”

The notes left by Lancelot Thorpe on the back of his will
Perhaps the most interesting of all of these wills is that of Lancelot Thorpe. His will, clearly written by a professional scribe, leaves just over £12 worth of goods to his wife. Yet, on the back of his will are two notes written in his own hand. The first epistle is to his wife, Mary. He starts by explaining that he “did aske <th>e ofesers [officer’s] advice” when writing his will, to make sure that everything would be made as easy as possible for Mary. He had noticed that a “great maney of our men dieth be for thay ken get thar willes wret,” and wanted to ensure that he was not in the same position. He wishes her “all <th>e Joy (and) Comefor that I have” and requests that she “doe not falle to write.” He then writes a longer note to his daughter. I’ve not been able to find her birth record, but as Mary and Lancelot had married in 1696, it’s unlikely that she was any older than six. He writes that he is “Rejoyesed boath in hart (and) seowle [soul] to heaeyer that you are seoe tendr and Dutifull to your der mother.” He reminds her of the love both he and Mary have for her, before entreating her to remain dutiful to her parents, keep good company and to look after the good of her soul. He writes: “if it plese god that you leive to be a mother of Cheildren you may find some of my words treu.” Personal messages are rare within probate files, so this hand-written note is a fortunate and very sweet survival.

Stories of the storm gathered by Daniel Defoe
The Great Storm of 1703 had a monumental impact upon the public consciousness. As with many great disasters of the day, it was believed the storm was a divine punishment, sent from God to punish England for their poor performance in the War of Spanish Succession against the Catholic Bourbons. January 19th 1704 was declared to be a national day of fasting to ask for forgiveness and mercy, and the Great Storm continued to be a common topic of sermons and homilies well into the nineteenth century. The physical effects of the storm were also felt for years after the event. The flooding round Bristol caused the land to become saturated with salt water. As a result, for years afterward the grass grown in this area had a salty taste to it, which in turn caused the animals that grazed upon it to be in poor health. One man in Somerset wrote to a local newspaper that the worst impact of the storm had been the loss of the local orchards. Thanks to their disappearance, there would be no cider the following year – a true tragedy! However, the reason this storm remained within public consciousness can also be partly put down to the fact that it coincided with the advent of English journalism. As such it was the first weather story to be reported as national news (a tradition we have continued ever since). Special broadsheet were produced and circulated across the country given details of the storm and the damage it had caused.  Similarly, in the days following the storm, Defoe put an advert out in many pamphlets and broadsheets requesting that people write to him with their own impressions and tales of the storm. These were put together into a book simply titled The Storm first published in July 1704. Surviving copies of this book is where the vast majority of current knowledge about the storm has stemmed from, and it remains a fascinating read.

As an interesting side note, the damage sustained by the navy during the Great Storm of 1703
meant that they never did attack Cadiz. Instead they changed the focus of their attack to the much smaller and less well-defended Gibraltar. The attack was successful, and Gibraltar was ceded to the British. So if you’ve ever wondered why Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, it turns out the weather is to blame.


[1] December 7th in the Gregorian calendar
[2] £1 3s.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Eavesdroppers

A guest post by Dr George Redmonds, author of the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary.

If I were accused of eavesdropping I might be mildly embarrassed but I would certainly not expect to
be punished for it. The truth is that we use the word loosely these days, not stopping to consider that the eavesdropper was once the scourge of the local community – a person who lurked at night under the eaves of a neighbour’s house in the hope of gathering titbits of gossip that could then be turned to advantage. The serious nature of the misdemeanour is clear from definitions in Law dictionaries, one of which describes the eavesdropper as a person who ‘hearkens after discourse … to frame slanders and mischievous tales’.

Entry on Eaves-droppers from Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1768.
There is no record of just when eavesdropping started to be considered as an offence but in 1377, in Methley near Wakefield, Matilda Seamster was indicted at the manor court for listening under the walls of her neighbours’ houses at night and ‘narrating idle speeches’. That entry was in Latin, so the word ‘eavesdropper’ was not used but in Nottingham, in 1487, a jury found that Henry Rowley was a man who wandered around the village during the hours of darkness, and they indicted him as a common evys-dropper.

In Yorkshire it was more usual for the offender to be called an ‘eavesing dropper’ or an ‘easing dropper’ and a few early examples are found in the court rolls. In 1577, for example, Elizabeth Banke of Acomb, a village near York, was ordered to kepe hir house in the neight season and not be an esinge dropper; in Rastrick, in 1664, Elizabeth Dyson was presented for standeing under the ewse of the house of Joseph Goodheire as an ewseing dropper and was fined 10 shillings.

St Peter the Little, York today - now called Peter Lane
It is not difficult to see how the word had acquired its meaning. In Old English the noun ‘eavesdrop’ (yfesdrype) referred originally to the water that dripped, or dropped, from the eaves of a house, but from that it came to mean the edge of the roof itself. In 1338, the sale of a house in York, in the narrow lane called St Peter the Little, required the parties concerned to agree about the space they would need should repairs or rebuilding be necessary. Two English words that were included for greater clarity were gettes and efsdropes, that is to say the ‘jetties’ or overhanging upper storeys and the ‘eavesdrops’ or projecting parts of the roofs.

The Shambles, York
The Shambles, York
showing jetties and eavesdrops
Clearly, both of these affected the space available between the buildings at ground level and that could be a problem in narrow town streets – like the Shambles in York. As a consequence it became customary to restrict a person from building right up to the edge of his land, lest the water dripping from his eaves should cause a problem. That custom appears to be implicit in a Kent charter dated 868 where the word ‘yfæs drypæ’ is on record for the first time. It was in the space between the house wall and the ‘eavesdrip’ that our more inquisitive ancestors found shelter and were privy to a neighbour’s secrets. 

Etymologically, the Old English word ‘efes’ was actually singular but the final –s has been mistaken for a plural and that is how we interpret ‘eaves’ now. When John Tyndall wrote in 1872 that ‘water trickles to the eave and then drops down’ he was employing what is called a ‘back formation’ – as we do when we use the word ‘pea’ and not ‘pease’.



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