Corvus corone aka the carrion crow appears throughout ‘The Fressingfield Witch’. In fact, the book was nearly entitled ‘Crowfall.” It features a crow which was adopted as an unofficial family crest following the Witch Trials and was subsequently used to create terror amongst those of a superstitious nature.
Fear and prejudice has long been held against the crow whose poor reputation existed from ancient times. A single crow is considered unlucky and it is unsurprising that the collective name for these birds is a ‘murder’ of crows. If a crow perches near or circles a house, it foretells a death. If it swoops over the paternal house, it is a sign of misfortune. A crow forsaking a flock indicates a famine.
Crows have often been used in literature. Shakespeare prefaced some of his darker scenes with the introduction of crows or ravens; this below from Macbeth:
“Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to th’ rooky wood.
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
While night’s black agents to their prey do rouse.”
Crows are intelligent animals. They remember faces, particularly when they have experienced cruelty. They possess the rare ability to problem solve. Crows are smart enough to drop nuts from great heights to get at the kernel and, in this more modern age, have been seen tossing nuts in front of passing cars to take advantage of an easy nut-cracking facility.
The Fressingfield Witch begins with a quote from Hudibas. This 17th century narrative poem by Samuel Butler satirised the Civil War. It also features crows.
TheFressingfield Witch is my marmite book for genealogists. It’s a good story (though I say so myself), but I’ve used some real historical figures and ordinary folk from the 1891 census. I’m not keen on pigeon-holing books so blended genres get my vote every time, but genealogy is largely based on weeding fact from guess work and the blurring of boundaries may be divisive.
There’s something compelling about giving a voice to unknown ancestors. Everyone has heard of Winston Churchill and Jane Austen, while long dead George Corbyn and Elijah Scoggins rest in eternal obscurity. Well, not any more. I would be interested to hear your opinions, though. Should ancestors be left to rest in literary peace, or is it reasonable to resurrect them at the risk of second-guessing their personalities?
For any genealogists out there with connections to Fressingfield in the 1890’s and Suffolk and Essex in the times of the Witch Trials, real surnames used in the book are below:
… and it’s here courtesy of Publishnation who have helped me hit my target date of publication by the end of October.
The Fressingfield Witch is a work of fiction based on a series of factual events from the 1890’s. It takes place in Suffolk, England. As usual, one or two of the characters come from my own family tree and the crime is solved with a combination of sleuthing and genealogy. The book blurb is below:
“During the 1645 Suffolk witch trials, hundreds of innocent women were convicted. Death and uncertainty stalked the land.
Fast forward to 1890 and two mysterious deaths in the village of Fressingfield stir up rumours of witchcraft again. Lawrence Harpham is dispatched from Bury St Edmunds to investigate. But Lawrence is still tormented by the tragic loss of his family in a house fire. Can he overcome his own demons and discover who is behind the flurry of deaths?
The Fressingfield Witch is a fictional murder mystery based on true events. Two of Suffolk’s darkest cases of witchcraft are weaved together in one compelling story.”
It’s the first day of a week away from work. The weather is disgusting. My dog is sullenly pacing round the house eyeing me with disapproval. It’s so foul outside, that today we are going nowhere.
I like a walk. It keeps the dog happy and my Fitbit from nagging. Today my Fitbit sits redundantly on my arm while I contemplate the pile of books I have been looking forward to reading, but have lain gathering dust on my bedside table while other things take priority.
The Fressingfield Witch, is one of those other things. My latest novel is a Victorian murder mystery set in Suffolk and based on a real news item that hit the local headlines in 1890. It was an allegation of witchcraft. The news itemwas only short, but had an immediate impact on me. For starters, it involved one of my very distant relatives. That’s always a good lure to a genealogist. And it involved death and witchcraft, so my inner writer pricked up her ears. Before I knew it, we had conjured up a novel from this tiny eleven-lined piece of inspiration.
I’ve taken a risk with this book. The real village of Fressingfield has been populated with actual people from the 1891 census. This will be like marmite to some. They will either appreciate the idea of real people living on in print, or they will disapprove of the merging together of fact and fiction. I hope it is the former.
The final cover and finished drafts are with Publishnation and should be ready for purchase very soon. All of which gives me the rest of the week to catch up with a little light reading of my own. Unless the rain lifts and the dog demands a walk. Doing a little rain dance now…..
Treat yourself to a historic novel set in Suffolk and based on a true crime. Vote For Murder is just 99p on Kindle Countdown until 20th December or free with Kindle Unlimited. 5* reviews – “a real page turner”
This new book, published by Poppyland Publishing with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Overstrand Parish Council, tells the story of all the soldiers, sailors and airmen of Overstrand and Suffield Park who died in the First World War. It also gives accounts of those who returned to the village after the conflict.
With 208 pages & colour throughout, ‘Overstrand in the Great War’ provides a fitting tribute to the young – and sometimes not so young – men and women of Overstrand and Suffield Park from a century ago. General the Lord Dannatt kindly contributes a foreword and puts their sacrifice and service into the context of the continuing commitment required of our armed services.
My great grandmother’s first husband died young, but new records from ancestry have revealed how he died.
Charles Inman was born in North Anston in 1874. He married my great grandmother, Harriet Herrington, in 1905 but by the time of the 1911 census, she was shown as a widow with 4 young children to support.
The Ancestry link to the Coal Mining History Resource centre reveals that Charles Inman was killed in a mining accident at Shireoaks Colliery. On 4th June 1910 he set off for work in his occupation as Dataler. This job involved service work and the construction and maintenance of mine roadways. The work was casual and a dataler was paid by the day. Regrettably, on this particular day Charles was setting up a prop on the overhanging side of a road way when a large stone fell & killed him. The accident was reported in the Sheffield Telegraph:
Early on Saturday morning during driving operations necessary for the installation of a compressed air engine in the more distant workings of the Shireoaks Colliery. Charles Inman, of Lindrick Dale, was killed. He was engaged in driving a wedge, when, without any warning, a piece of stone, about a tone weight, became dislodged from the roof, and struck him on the head, killing him instantaneously. His fellow workmen escaped injury. Deceased, who was 36 years of age, leaves a widow and four children.
Charles was the only fatality at Shireoaks Colliery in 1910 although road maintenance must have been nearly as hazardous as mining itself as there was another fall in the roadway in 1908 that took the life of Thomas Barrowcliffe and a previous accident in 1904 killing Henry Marrison.
A subsequent tragedy in 1912 involved my relative, John Cuff, who was also killed in Shireoaks Colliery. John was recorded in the 1911 census as a coal miner hewer working underground in the mines. At the time of the accident his occupation was listed as Stallman. On 27th September 1912 he was walking along the gate road to his stall with 3 other men when he found the roof was ‘biting’ slightly. As he was examining it, a large stone fell from the roof and buried him. Another man suffered a dislocated ankle, but Cuff was the only fatality that year.
From the time the colliery was sunk in 1856 to the time it finally closed in 1990, there were 75 fatal accidents. A statistic indicative of the dangerous trade of the coal miner.
Great. The long awaited 1939 register has arrived, containing detailed historical family records that anyone with the vaguest interest in family history will be delighted to see. And it’s available on Monday. I should be in seventh heaven and clearing my diary for a few evenings of pleasant research.
But not at that price, Find My Past!!!
I have been a subscriber of FMP for many years. It is a great site and a worthy rival to Ancestry. The variety of records on FMP is fantastic (although I prefer Ancestry’s search facility), but I already pay an annual subscription, so the thought of an additional £6.95 per family when my working database contains 44,888 individuals, is not a comfortable financial place to be. I would have to sell my house to afford a fraction of what’s on my wish list. I appreciate how long it takes to transcribe all these records and how time consuming and how costly it is to do so – but really – £6.95 per family!
Which brings me to this website – a labour of love going back more years than I care to mention, freely given to public. Nowadays I find my own research bandied all over ancestry, intermingled with records that have nothing to do with my family; freely given research ending up in ‘private’ records or behind pay walls. My days are spent un-spamming the website or, worse still, trying to rescue the thing from hackers. See previous blog rant – a week of my life I will never get back again.
The hours of research I have spent, together with the costs incurred in running the site, not to mention to the ever-increasing money spent on subscriptions, can seem worthwhile sometimes. On a good month, kind folk offer a wealth of information and advise me of errors and corrections, for which I am always very grateful. On a bad month, I get complaint emails, people expecting changes to be made instantaneously (if they only knew how long it takes to upload a site this size) and demands for information that I cannot provide. On a bad month, I get emails from paid genealogists, not only using my free records and my data to further their own billed research, but asking for more information besides. And on a bad month, I find out that Find My Past want to relieve me of an additional £6.95 per record on top of my standard subscription.
I am at a crossroads. Do I continue providing all this information free of charge? Is it ethical for me to dish out free information, when there are genealogists out there trying to make a living? Should I crowd fund the site? Or just remove it? Would people miss it if it wasn’t there? Would I?
East Anglian Ancestors currently has 31652 individuals. If I update the site, there will be another 13,236 to add – and counting. It’s a massive job and will take hours and hours of time and yet more money. It might be time to let it go and concentrate on my writing. Funny that it’s taken the 1939 register costs to focus my mind on this disparity. Thanks FMP. I shall have to give it much thought. In the meantime, if you want to support East Anglian Ancestors, why not download one of my books from the kindle store?
One of the great joys of genealogy is to be able to flesh out the facts and get to know more about our ancestors’ lives. Judging by the transcriptions below, my ancestors had more than their fair share of trouble. I transcribed some newspaper articles relating to my ancestors in Brettenham & Thorpe Morieux a few years ago and I’ve just taken the time to add some family history charts in for clarity. It is disturbing to note how many members of the same family fell foul of the law. Perhaps it’s in the genes? Hopefully not. My greatest misdemeanour was a parking ticket about ten years ago, so I’m guessing all the law-breaking stopped in the mid 1800’s. Anyway, the various transgressions of my relatives are recorded below.
2 Sep 1887 Ipswich Journal
James Race labourer, Stonham Aspall, was charged with assaulting Alice, the wife of James Race labourer, Stonham Aspall, at Stonham Aspall on the 22nd ult. – Defendant pleaded guilty. – It appeared that the defendant slapped complainant’s face and used very bad language, and threatened to run the fork through her. Defendant alleged that the complainant called him a liar, and he thereupon slapped her face. – The Rev J G Pooley said defendant had a violent temper – Defendant was fined £1 1s including costs, which he paid.
Bury & Norwich Post & East Anglian 10 Mar 1841
Inquisitions taken by Harry Wayman, Gent., Coroner for the Liberty and Borough of Bury St. Edmunds: – On the 5th inst., at Brettenham, on the body of a new-born female infant. Ann Horrex, a labourer’s wife, deposed that Mary proctor, her daughter in law, whose husband had been transported, and who co-habits with John Winter, was delivered of a female child on 24th ult. Winter came and informed the witness’s husband, and she went to the house, when she found Mary Proctor in bed and a female child lying dead on the floor, not having been washed or anything done for it. Witness wrapped up the child, and laid it aside. She suspected her daughter-in-law to be in the family way. – William Bird, whose wife is mother to Winter, deposed that at Winter’s request he made a box to bury the child in, and put the body into the box, and gave it to the clerk to be buried. – Thomas Oxer, the parish-clerk, deposed that on the 26th, William Bird gave him a box, which he said contained the body of a child, and he buried it; last night he took the box up again. – Mr. Growse, surgeon, deposed that the body was that of a full grown and perfectly healthy foetus; there were no external marks of violence, but the umbilical cord was not tied, and it appeared to have been brought forth without proper aid or attention; he opened the body, and found the lungs had been inflated, from which he inferred that the child breathed after the birth; his opinion was that the death of the child arose from its not being properly delivered, and from the want of what was necessary in the birth. – Ann Hoddy, a married woman living under the same roof as Mary Proctor, deposed that no alarm was given to her on the night of the birth, or she could have rendered assistance, having herself had ten children. Mary Proctor was about 26 years of age, and had had children before. – The inquest was adjourned till the following day, to enable Mr. Growse to make a further examination of the body. – Mr. Growse then deposed that he found the vessels were not empty, and therefore he was of opinion that the child did not die in consequence of neglect to secure the umbilical cord; it appeared to have breathed but a very short time after its birth; there was nothing to account for its death, which probably arose from the sudden manner of its being brought forth, and this need not necessarily attaché any distinct want of precaution on the part of the mother. – The jury returned a verdict of Natural Death, the jury adding that the mother was highly culpable for not obtaining proper assistance by which the life of the child might have been saved.
Bury & Norwich Post & East Anglian 29 Dec 1841
County Petty Sessions Bury Dec 22
Burglary – Joseph Ranson & George Bird, labourers, were charged with burgariously entering the house of Mr. Alfred Melton, junr., of Brettenham, grocer, – Mr. Melton deposed that on the night of Tuesday the 30th of November, or morning of the 1st of December, he was disturbed from his rest by a noise like more than one person moving about in the house. He got up and fired a gun out of the window to alarm his neighbour, Mr Horrex who got up and prosecutor let him into the house. They then went into the warehouse, which adjoins the shop, and found three candles burning, and saw that some porter had been spilt about the floor. Mr. Melton missed 8 stone of pork, which he had put into the pork tub on the Monday before, 4 stone of moist sugar, 3 pots of butter, about one stone of raisins, about 1 dozen bottles of ginger wine, apiece of pickled port about 4lbs. in weight, 3 small ribs of beef, a wrapper marked £Pickering, Bury,” a plum bag, some Lucifer matches; all of which things he had seen in the warehouse the night before. A plough coulter was left by the burglars in the warehouse. On going out at the back of the house, footsteps of two or three persons were seen; and in a meadow behind the house one of the missing pots of butter was found.
William Levitt, rat-catcher, of Brettenham, deposed, that on the 11th instant he was out rat-catching in the stack-yard of the Rev. Mr. Cole; when the dogs found against the cart-lodge, under some straw a bag containing 6 stone of port. In another place was also found a check apron with 3 or 4 stone of sugar, 9lbs of raisins in a handkerchief, 2 bottles of ginger wine, &c. Witness sent for Mr. Melton, and then took the things to his house, where he left them.
Mary Crick, wife of James Crick, labourer, of Brettenham, identified the apron in which the sugar was found; she made it herself, and on the night of the 30th of November it was hanging before the fire-place, when she went to bed at nine o’clock. After she had gone to bed the prisoner Bird came to her house with her husband and another man, at about a quarter-past 10. She saw Bird as he went with her husband to draw some beer. They did not stay 10 minutes, and when they left, her husband went to bed, locking the doors and taking the key up as usual. When she got up in the morning, at half past five, the door was locked, and the house all secure, but the apron was gone, and also two shoe brushes which she had also left the night before on a shelf before the fire.
The prisoners declared they knew nothing about the matter. They were fully committed for trial.
The Bury & Norwich Post & East Anglian 3 Aug 1842
Housebreaking. – James Bird was charged with breaking open the dwelling-house of the Rev. S. Cole Brettenham, and stealing there from sundry articles of plate. The Rev. Samuel Cole. Deposed –On Sunday, the 3rd of July, all my family went to Church. When I returned I found the back door broken open. Part of the door is glass, and one pane was broken, so that a person could put his hand through and unlock the door. The property stolen consisted of four silver table spoons, 4 dessert spoons, 6 tea spoons, soup ladle, meat skewer, sugar tongs, all silver, marked C, also 2 forks which are not found. Prisoner lived at Brettenham. His two sisters were, about 5 years ago, servants in my family. – Mary Brady, cook and housemaid to the prosecutor, deposed that in addition to the things stolen from the pantry, seven sovereigns, a half-sovereign, some silver, a punch bowl, and a silk handkerchief, were taken from a box in her bed-room. – Several witnesses spoke to the prisoner being in the neighbourhood that day, and John Norman, driver of the Telegraph swore the prisoner was a passenger on the night in question, and got off the coach near Mile End. – Augustus T. Fish, pawnbroker, Hackney, deposed that the prisoner called at this shop on Monday the 4th inst., and offered for sale a bent soup ladle. He gave him in charge to James Attwood, one of the metropolitan police, who found on him 4 table spoons, 4 dessert spoons, 6 tea spoons, a silver skewer, a pair of sugar tongs, soup ladle, 2 knives, a comb, and 5s. 2d. in money, which were identified. – Robert Seaman, constable Bildeston, produced a piece of earth with marks on it, corresponding with the nails in a boot taken from the prisoner. – The prisoner entered into a rambling defence as to the possession of the property, stating that he bought it of a person at Ofton, but could not produce him. – The Jury returned a verdict of Guilty. A previous conviction for felony was proved against the prisoner, and his Lordship sentenced him to be transported for life. After sentence was passed, he demanded to have returned to him two knives, a comb, and a pair of boots. – His Lordship only allowed the boots to be returned.
Ipswich Journal 19 Jun 1850
Committed to Buy Gaol – Edward Sewell, by the Rev. J.S. Henslow, charged with having, at Hitcham, feloniously stolen from the person of Emma Last, an umbrella, the property of John Scott of Brettenham, farmer.
Bury & Norwich Post 12 Nov 1856
Plough boys: – 1st prize of 1/ to John Bird, in the employment of Mr. John Scott of Brettenham.
Bury & Norwich Post & Suffolk Herald 12 May 1857
Inquisition before G.A. Partridge, Esq., Coroner for the Liberty. – On the 7th inst,. At Brettenham, on the body of William Risby, one of the twin illegitimate children of Eliza Risby, of that place. – Mrs. Hoddy, a neighbour who had been accustomed to feed the children, which were born about a fortnight back, and who was present when they died, said they did not take their food so fast as some infants. She had heard their mother say they would not suck. – Mr. Growse, surgeon, who attended Eliza Risby in her confinement, said the children were premature and he did not expect they would live. He had made a post mortem examination of the female child and attributed death entirely to natural causes: there was nothing to excite suspicion in any way. Verdict accordingly.
Bury & Norwich Post & Suffolk Herald 28 Jan 1862
On the 24th Inst., at Brettenham, in this county, by the Rev. J. Betham Joseph Bragg, to Louisa Hoddy. The bridegroom is 80 years of age, and has gone on crutches the last twelve years.
Bury & Norwich Post & East Anglian 2 Oct 1839
Suffolk Show -…Rewards
Labourers from bringing up Families 21. Each – Amongst others, James Saddler, Thorpe Morieux, 9 children, little relief, none within last 13 years, and 38 years’ service.
28 July 1855
ALLEDGED ABDUCTION – About eight weeks ago, a man named Alfred Bowers, aged 42 years, of Thorpe Morieux, Suffolk, absconded from that place, taking with him a young girl (Mary Scarffe) of prepossessing appearance, under the age of 16, against the will of her parents. They had been lost sight of till last Friday, when they were discovered at Littleport, living as man and wife. Bowers was apprehended, and the girl taken care of until Monday, the 16th inst., when he was taken away by the officer of Thorpe Morieux.
Bury & Norwich Post & Suffolk Herald 24 Nov 1857
Inquisitions held before G.A. Partridge, Esq., Coroner for the Liberty. – On the 19th inst., at the Bull Inn, Thorpe Morieux, on the body of John Green aged 73 years. – Ebenezer Snell stated that between twelve and one on the previous Monday, while he was littering some bullocks down in a shed on Mr. Hustler’s farm, the deceased came into the yard and spoke to him about the beasts, and suddenly fell down. Witness went and lifted him up, but he died almost directly. He immediately ran and called a man named Howe, who was at work in a field close by. – Howe corroborated Snell’s testimony, and the Jury returned a verdict of “Natural Death”.
Ipswich Journal 28 May 1859
TRESPASS. – Henry Bird, of Thorpe Morieux, labourer, was charged by Mr. Walter Rossiter Scott with trespassing in search of conies. Bird was fined 1s. and 11s. costs, which he was allowed one month to pay.
The Bury & Norwich Post & Suffolk Herald 3 Mar 1868
County Petty Session
Affiliation – John Osborne, of Thorpe Morieux, was summoned by Matilda Horrex, of Felsham, who charged him with being the father of her illegitimate child. – The Bench made an order for payment of 1s. a week and costs.
The Ipswich Journal 11 Nov 1882
Fowl Stealing. – Maria Bird, wife of John Bird, of Thorpe Morieux, labourer, was charged by Mr. Henry Hunt, of the same place, farmer, with having on the 18th October last, at Thorpe Morieux, unlawfully stolen one fowl, value 2s. 6d., his property.
Mr. James Hunt proved missing some fowls, and he believed the remains of the fowl produced were part of one that was lost.
Eliza Salmon, prosecutor’s servant, stated that defendant was at her master’s house and expressed a wish for some fowls. She afterwards saw her lay her hands on a fowl, and go into a meadow to count some stockings which was an unusual occurrence. She was gone about ten minutes. The head of the fowl and feathers produced were those of a fowl that was in the meadow.
Policeman Barnard stated that from information he received he went to defendant’s house and questioned her. She fetched a pan containing the head and feet of a fowl, and part of a fowl was being stewed in a saucepan. Defendant stated that a dog had dropped it, and she brought it home. She afterwards said it was a fox.
Defendant wishing the case to be summarily dealt with she was fined £2, including costs.
Six weeks allowed for payment.
Game Tresspass – William Bird of Hitcham, labourer, was charged with trespassing on land, the property of T. B. Beale, Esq., at Brettenham, in search of game, on the 20th October last.
Defendant did not appear, and service of summons having been proved, the case was heard in his absence.
James Hassell, gamekeeper to Mr. Beale, proved hearing the report of a gun, he went in the direction of the smoke and saw defendant in Mr. Beale’s field.
Defendant having been four times convicted since 1881 of similar offences, he was fined £2 and 8s. 6d. costs.
During my research for Vote for Murder, I came across the following extract in a letter from P Jones to his friend and cousin Major Jones in which he mentioned murderess Mary Emily Cage, my inspiration for the book. The letter entitled, The brutality and cruelty of the British people , describes several British murders during 1851 including two Suffolk murders & the Chelmsford poisoning. He claims that “such occurrences are seldom or never heard of in our southern states”.
“It will no doubt be in the recollection of many persons that the High Sheriff of Suffolk, in March last, was placed in no very pleasant position in consequence of the services of a hangman not being obtainable to carry into execution the last sentence of the law upon Maria Clarke, for the murder of her illegitimate child, by burying it alive in the parish of Wingfield. The high-sheriff, however, on that occasion, was spared an unpleasant duty by a reprieve coming down for the condemned woman two days before that on which her execution was to have taken place. At the assizes held at Ipswich, on the 2d inst., Maria Emily Cage was found guilty of the murder of her husband, James Cage, at Stonham Aspel, by administering to him a certain quantity of arsenic. Her execution was ordered to take place on Saturday (Aug. 16), in front of the Ipswich county jail, but the same difficulty was again presented as in March. Calcraft, the hangman, on being applied to, could not attend, as he had promised to perform a similar office the same morning at Norwich. An application was next made to the hangman at Warwick jail, but that functionary could not attend, as he would be similarly engaged at Shrewsbury on that day. A messenger was then despatched to the Secretary of State’s office, who explained the unpleasant position in which the high-sheriff of Suffolk was placed, and requested that the execution of Mary Emily Cage might be postponed. The answer from the Secretary of State was to the effect that no alteration as to the day named could be made; thus leaving the high-sheriff to get out of the difficulty in the best way he could. To have had the law carried into effect on Saturday would, in all probability, have been repugnant to the feelings of the high-sheriff, for, as no person could be found to supply the place of Calcraft, the high-sheriff must have performed the horrid duty himself. To avoid doing that, the high-sheriff has, on his own responsibility, ordered the execution to be delayed until an early day in the ensuing week. The condemned woman’s demeanor is becoming her awful position. She appears to be resigned to her fate, but protests that she is innocent. The unpleasant position of the high-sheriff, not only on this but on a former occasion, may be attributed to the usual course not being adopted—the making sure that Calcraft can attend before any day be appointed for the execution.”— The Times, August 17th, 1851.
It must have been rare for an execution to be delayed for want of an executioner, but there were an unusually high volume of death sentences that year. Somewhere in the region of 50 death sentences were handed out in 1851, resulting in the public hanging of 3 women. Despite the delay recorded above, Mary Cage was ultimately executed by William Calcraft – the longest serving executioner. Calcroft executed approximately 450 people, 34 of whom were women.