A meander through life and history in, and around, Alford in Lincolnshire. Uncover stories from the past and tales of Alfordians abroad.
Author: Mrs T
Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.
I quite like Rooks, many studies highlight their intelligence, their problem solving skills, with some colonies in the thousands they are very social birds.
However I have to admit to occasionally wondering exactly why a Rookery was worthy of note, frequently referred to in modern property or road names, as in Holywell Road in Alford, was it simply that conditions were so perfect in these locations that natural Rook colonies became particularly large or was there more to it ?
I then noticed a few lines in the Lincolnshire Chronicle that made me more curious
On Monday night … between ten and eleven o’clock, a gang of fifteen fellows proceeded the rookery of Mrs. Gibbeson, of Red Hall, near [Lincoln] and commenced taking the young birds. The old crows not relishing the molestation, began uproarious cawing, which roused the farming men, who, the number half dozen, got up and ordered the intruders off: the latter, however, showed bold front, and made Mrs. Gibbeson’s men retire, while they cleared the trees of all the birds they thought it worth while to take, and then decamped—The same night the hen-house of Mrs. Toynbee, of Waddington, was robbed of the whole of the poultry, it is supposed part of the gang who visited Mrs. Gibbeson’s rookery. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 19 May 1837
The Rookery in the report is clearly considered to be the property of Mrs Gibbeson in the same way the poultry were that of Mrs Toynbee. In1849 the late frosts were blamed for the loss of thousands of young rooks on many large estates. The piece refers to the loss in terms of shooting for some and there are plenty of contemporary articles aimed at the shooting fraternity about the beautifully crafted Rook rifles, particularly liked by shooting parties of ladies. I admit to feeing a little disappointed by this discovery, were they really just encouraged for the shoot and the pot ? There are many contemporary references to Rook Pie recipes by the likes of Mrs Beeton, maybe on the farm after a shoot, but on the estates of Lords ?
Finally I found the article below from the Spectator in 1907, as usual there is a lot of information , but rather than omit what may be of interest to some I have highlighted what I consider to be the most interesting elements.
ROOKS AND ROOKERIES.
THE Council of the Staffordshire Chamber of Agriculture has issued a circular to owners of rookeries in the ‘county suggesting that it will be advisable, in view of the increasing destructiveness of rooks in farming districts, to take counsel with a view to thinning the rooks’ numbers. It would be a valuable contribution to natural and agricultural history if the Chamber could obtain from local correspondent’s definite accounts of the damage done, and the relief, if any, afforded by killing down the birds. There are few ornithological topics which have led to closer debate than the question of the amount of harm done by the rook to sown, and ripening crops, compared with the services which he renders to the farmer in the destruction of grubs and insects injurious to plant life; and it is an interesting speculation whether the rook may not be in some respects changing his habits, like his field-companion, the starling, who now eats fruit whenever he can get it. Direct evidence on this point is not always easy to obtain. Gilbert White, for instance, has not very much to say about the rook, and what he has to say is concerned chiefly with its nesting habits, or with an example of albinism, not with its diet. He has a quaint little passage referring to a pair of milk-white rooks which were thrown out of their nest by “a booby of a carter,” from which you would gather that at the back of the rustic mind of the period was a notion that rooks were birds to be destroyed at sight ; but he does not discuss the reasons- prompting the destructive carter’s action, he merely laments the death of the birds as curiosities ; “their bills, legs, feet, and claws were milk-white.” But in Gilbert White’s day there was so much waiting for somebody to observe accurately about birds that the wonder always will be, not that he missed an observation, but that he observed so accurately.
Waterton was perhaps the rook’s first really enthusiastic champion. He bad no doubt about the rook’s right to be considered the farmer’s friend. He does not, of course, argue that the rook does no harm at all; he grants that it pulls up sprouting corn, in order to get at the grain at the root of the blade, and that it will attack cornstacks in winter, when the thatch has been partly removed by a gale. But as regards the sprouting corn, be urges that the pilfering only lasts three weeks, and can be checked by hiring a boy at threepence a day ; and as to the thatched stacks, a man would be a slovenly farmer if he did not repair the damaged roof immediately; “still, we have farmers in Yorkshire of this description.” Another fault of the bird is that it ” is certainly too fond of walnuts,”— an unmannerly predilection of which time has not cured it. But with all these faults, Waterton is convinced of the essential usefulness of the bird. He repeats on two occasions the lamentable story of the North American colonists who killed off their “purple grakles” (the local representative of the rook), and were punished by having all their grass eaten by insects, so that they had to import hay from England; and he is equally insistent on the experiences of the inhabitants of the French island of Reunion, who were guilty of a like folly and were visited with a plague of grasshoppers in consequence. But although since Waterton’s day the rook has never wanted defenders against the accusing ignorance of farmers, he has never been championed with more amazing industry than by the German doctor who made known the results of his experi- ments only last year. Dr. Hollrung in the course of his investigations actually examined the crops of four thousand and thirty rooks,—surely an appalling achievement. However, he certainly obtained some very remarkable figures. He counted every grain of corn and every insect in every crop, and found that while the four thousand crops contained as many as 42,239 sprouted and un-sprouted grains of can and 587 potatoes, they contained also 43,997 insects injurious to agriculture. Of these 43,997 insects, no fewer than 4,486 were cockchafer-beetles and grubs, and 3,896 were click-beetles and their larvae, wireworms. He then proceeded to calculate the damage which would • have been done to crops • by the cockchafers alone. If half the 2,222 cockchafer-beetles were females, they would lay 60 to 70 eggs apiece,—total, 66,660 eggs. If half of these hatched, there would be 33,330 grubs. Now a grub spends three years in the soil, and destroys perhaps ten cereal plants, at a low estimate, per annum. Imagine, however, that half the grubs get killed somehow during the second year, and an easy calculation shows that before the 33,330 eggs had matured into beetles they would have destroyed between a half and three-quarters of a million plants. Contrast these numbers with the numbers of the grains of corn eaten by the insatiate four thousand, and remember that you have confined yourself to the cockchafers only, and the conclusion is clear. You are left to imagine the gnawing remorse with which the doctor must have contemplated the defunct remains of the hapless subjects of his experiment. Would he dare to show his face to a farmer?
It may well be the case, however, that there is a limit to the number per acre at which rooks are useful to the farmer, and that when that number is exceeded some of the rooks get into bad habits, such as preferring grain to grubs, or even indulging in unhallowed feasts from the pheasantry and chicken-run. Probably, when rooks take to egg-eating and chick-stealing, they are first impelled to their horrid deeds by prolonged frosts or dry weather, which make it impossible for them to drive their beaks into the soil for their natural food. For all that, a good deal of experience seems to show that a rook who has once got a taste for eggs or young birds is like a man- eating tiger; he prefers the forbidden food to all others, and he had better be shot as an evil and unregenerate fowl if ever he is caught among the pheasants or the poultry- coops. But there is another question, in regard to the thinning down of rooks, on which collected statistics would be particularly interesting. What is the direct evidence in support of the widely held but incorrect belief that unless the young rooks are shot every year, the rookery will be deserted? How many instances are there, and when did they occur, of rookeries being deserted when the young rooks had been left un-shot the, year before? Of course, deserted rookeries are by no means uncommon, but what is the direct connexion between the thinning down of the young rooks and the desertion of, the nests? For, it is needless to say, there are plenty of rookeries in the country where the young rooks are never shot, and which go on increasing happily every year. Is it a question of tree-room? Do the rooks decide that there is room for so many nests, and for no more, here, or there, or in that space of country ?
It would seem that they do so sometimes, at all events, for they will often prevent a new rookery being built up by other rooks within a certain distance of an established colony; and they often quarrel, apparently in a purposeless way, but it may be with real instinctive knowledge, over the placing of a particular nest in a particular spot. These involved problems of the rook community are some of the most interesting in all bird history. Only experience, for instance, teaches the astonishing difficulty of trying to persuade the birds to establish a rookery in what is apparently an ideal situation, if they do not want to come there. Hand-rearing of young birds among the trees where they are wanted to build; the placing of nests, half or wholly made, among the tree-branches before the breeding season begins; even the deportation of entire nests of young into the tree-tops, after the example of Sir Edward Northey, who carted a nest from Epsom to the Temple (he established his rookery successfully),—all have failed over and over again; though, also, each method has occasionally succeeded.
It may be that British rooks during the past few years have grown too many for British acres. If so, the remedy is distressingly simple, and will not, it is to be hoped, be applied too thoroughly. It may be necessary to keep the number of rooks in certain districts within limits, but it is, after all, one of the poorest uses to which to put a rookery, to use it for rook-shooting. It is true that not all the young rooks will “stand to be killed,” as the advertisements say of keepers night-dogs; they very wisely fly away. It is true, also, that in a good snoring breeze, or even in a light wind, the bumped, dusty-black body of the young rook, half hidden in the humming greenery sixty feet or more in the air, is not always an easy mark. But the end of such witless beings is an unhappy business, and as for rook-pie, although there be those who speak with satisfaction of stewings in milk and other gastronomical essays, the thought can be nauseating enough to others.The real happiness in the possession of a rookery has nothing to do with rifles. It is in the succession of sights and sounds which it provides during the year,—the long, leisurely flights through the heavens of majestic birds, out and home at morning and evening ; sudden descents from immense heights, and strange and ordered evolutions above the trees before settling in the darkening branches; rooks in a wind, reeling up and down and aslant above the horizon of trees ; above all, rooks in the hot sunlight of a May morning, stalking shining through the buttercups or flapping clumsily from the swaying elm-branches, with all the bright air resonant with the sharp clatter of jackdaws, the gobble of satisfied nestlings, and the solemn cawing of wise and anxious parent birds. Rooks look too small, at the distance at which they keep us, to give a proper idea of their real size and importance. But bring them near to you with a pair of field- glasses, and watch them settling and resettling, pluming their wings, stooping their heads to caw portentously, and flapping away again from the dead or dying tree without which no rookery is complete, and which all rooks will prefer to conduct their business upon before a tree in leaf. Only then will you realise the largeness and handsomeness of the intimate life of a rookery. There is nothing in Japanese picture-schemes more decorative than half-a-dozen of these big, shapely birds, their black feathers glossy with shot purple, balancing on dark and spiky bare branches against a background of pure blue or tumbling clouds.
It may be that British rooks were becoming too many for British acres, by 1948 Alford was the proving ground for the clearance of the Lincolnshire Rookeries.
WAR ON ROOKS : Lincs. Assault With Gun and Hose: War with shotgun and high pressure fire hoses on Lincolnshire rookeries, whose occupants are reported to be increasing in number and causing enormous damage to growing crops, is being organised by Lindsey’ Agricultural Pests Committee. Mr. A.W. Smith. chairman of the Pests Committee, told the Market Rasen branch of the National Farmers’ Union on Wednesday how the tree-top warfare is to be waged. The co-operation of every rookery owner was required, he said. There was now every prospect that if owners did not help compulsory orders would be served on them and their rooks would be shot for them. He hoped that compulsion would’ not be necessary, but latest reports had emphasised the seriousness of the problem. Enormous damage was being done in the Louth and Alford areas. … Where water was available it was suggested that a rookery owner might ask the N.F.S. to direct powerful water jets on the nests, he added. The experiment was being tried out in the Alford area this week.
Mr. F.Strawson: It does not sound very sportsmanlike.
Mr. C. M. Brant: If I were a rook I would rather be drowned than shot. Boston Guardian 21st April 1948
Poor things …. I can safely say that I will not wonder about the Rookeries of old any more !
The British library holds a letter written in February 1477, the writer refers to her fiancé as her “right beloved valentine“. She is writing about her dowry which she hopes her father will improve, and equally she hopes that if her fiancé loves her, as she trusts he does, he will marry her regardless. The letter is believed to be the oldest surviving Valentine correspondence full of love and concern, desperate for news of his decision.
Fast forward four hundred years and Valentines not only conveyed sentiments of love and longing but rejection and loathing. The influences of satirical artists such as James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruickshank were introduced to the populace in popular print form , their humour disseminating their social observations.
Cruickshank worked on some satirical valentines , these greetings were extremely popular from the 1840s and sometimes included prank parcels of soot and rotting fish.
By 1871 over seven and a half thousand greetings were delivered through Spilsby Post Office, the numbers grew year on year and advertisements of chocolate, porcelain novelties and fancy articles recommended them as Valentine gifts.
Alford: The birthday of St. Valentine’ was observed on Monday with due form, some thousands of the expressive messages were distributed. Tuesday morning’s delivery, however, proved to be the largest. Tradesmen were exceedingly busy on Saturday night supplying the ardent lovers, and Monday was all day selection for replies. Boston Guardian Saturday 19th Feb 1881
For those who wished to personalise their satire the 1875 publication “Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses for young and old” encouraged the use and adaptation of the prose contained within its 638 pages:
“It is intended that persons of either sex , who wish to address those they love in suitable terms, or to indulge in a little harmless satire without descending to vulgarity, should find suggestive matter in [these] pages.“
This publication had 120 pages of satirical verses, they reflected the society of the time :
A Tinted Venus
I'm fond of paintings, and admire
A form divine and human,
But one thing I abominate,
and that's a painted woman
When gazing on your tinted cheeks,
I feel inclined to scoff,
If I should kiss them, or your lips,
I know they'd all come off.
From Madame Rachel do attempt
your notions to dissever,
That's not the way, believe me,
to be beautiful for ever.
Don't credit the advertisements
In paper or in serial,
You cannot manufacture charms
with ugly raw material.
I have to confess of all the satirical verses available my favourite remains the one I shared last year …
To a Cod-eyed Spinster
The very last that I should take
To Village church or minster,
For purposes connubial,
Would be a cod-eyed spinster.
I'm fond of cod for dinner,
'tis With me a favourite dish,
But I shouldn't like to own a wife
With eyes just like a fish.
Time's hourglass now is running low,
So be no longer jealous,
Make way for younger girls
and cease to hunt up us smart fellows.
I'd sooner marry a giraffe,
Hedgehog, or porcupine,
Than from the female sex select
A cod-eyed Valentine.
“The Harpings of Lena” – Many years ago , when passing through East Lincolnshire, I came across a volume of original poetry bearing the above title, and, if I remember rightly, the work of some local poet.
Who was the author of this book, and when was it published ? N&Q 1882
In 1882 a curious war of words began in Lincolnshire Notes and Queries with an enquiry into the author of a poetry book entitled “The Harpings of Lena”. The first person to respond provides an outline of a young Bill Baitman and delivers a scathing indictment of his treatment at the hands of the Alford youth. These words elicit an equally strong defense of Alford. The correspondents provide very different perspectives and reveal some interesting information on Billy Baitman and Alford. The letters are long, I have highlighted a swift path of the most interesting elements for those of you with less inclination to trawl through it all.
For those unfamiliar with this local character Bill Baitman frequently receives a few sentences in books on Alford, he is renowned for selling his soul to the devil, frequently connected to the site of a hawthorn bush on Miles Cross Hill.
The letters of 1882
The “Harpings of Lena” being original poems by the late Edward Lenton and W.J.Baitman. To which is affixed a brief memoir of Edward Lenton. Young Lenton died in his sixteenth year; Baitman died three or four years ago. They were both poor boys. Baitman was born at Alford … about ten miles from Somersby Rectory, the birthplace of Alfred Tennyson. Lenton was born at Hogsthorpe. … Although Lenton’s name is placed first on the title page his pieces are not so good as Baitman’s.
Perhaps some who read [the piece] may picture themselves a delicate, effeminate , studious youth, quite an object of interest in the little place. He was an object of interest, certainly, and I will describe the nature of it.
Having met with one of his works about forty five years ago , when I was a boy of ten or eleven, I was very curious … and as my father was in the habit of going to Alford … I persuaded him to take me with him more than once … and this is what I saw: a middle sized, thin man, with a keen intelligent face – a lame man – who swung himself along very rapidly on his single crutch, and who lifted up his face and examined you as he passed with piercing and scrutinising glance ; and poorly clad in fustian or some such stuff.
He was a pauper, and lived on charity , as long as he could keep body and soul together in that way; but when he could not, then he went into the workhouse, and he died there. Many of his pieces are dated “Alford Workhouse”. In the preface to a second book which he published, Poetics and Prosaics 1835, he pathetically alludes to the ” affliction with the sick and dying around him” amid which it had been written. He was poor and miserable and lived in a vulgar , ignorant little town , full of poachers and smugglers, who brutally jeered and baited him because he was weak and helpless. And yet these barbarians had the sense to see that in some way or other he was superior to them, so they sapiently concluded it was through satanic agency.
It was currently reported that “Owd Bill Baitman ‘ed seld ‘is soul to tha devil !” Poor fellow! It was easy to be seen he had made a very bad bargain of it. In summer months he used to lie about the fields , and under the hedges by the roadsides, for whole days together, frequently attempting to sell one of his books to passers by , or to beg a few coppers.
The Alford boys were very much afraid of “the man who had sold himself to the devil” and the sight of him was quite sufficient to make one or two run away in terror; but when there were more, like wolves in a pack, they grew bolder, and stoned him and otherwise ill treated him. They used to knock on the door of his queer little house or hut after dark. Of course they always ran away as quickly as possible after such exploits . He wanted bread and they heaved half bricks at him.
These amiable little pastimes afforded much amusement to the elders, who recall them with great delight. You cannot speak about him today to an average middle class Alfordian without his face breaking into smiles at the pleasant recollection. “Owd Bill Baitman, tha chap what seld ‘is sen to the Devil? Do I remember him? Why in coorse I do ! What fun tha boys hewst ta’ev we’im!” Not withstanding his satanic reputation and poverty, he found a woman, a few years before his death , daring and desperate enough to marry him – not the first woman who was not afraid of the devil. She was many years the younger and is yet living.
Could not the [squire, parson of the parish, or the attorney] or a few benevolent people have subscribed a few shilling a week to have kept the poor fellow out of the workhouse? – so fond as he was of the fresh air and of the sights and sounds of nature. There are many rich and well-to-do people around Alford. … The poet Laureate appears to have been kind to him ; for in one note he gratefully observes ” I have been favoured by Mr A Tennyson, of whom Lincolnshire may be justly proud, with Warton’s History of English Poetry. … At the commencement of his book Baitman proudly prints a short note from J Montgomery, the poet, in which he says ” The Apologue is pleasingly, and indeed, cleverly imagined and executed”.It is surprising such a man was not protected and provided for. He does not appear to have written a single set of lines to glorify any of the Marsh squires or bucolic magnates of the neighbourhood – evidently a very unwise man in his generation. Probably if he could have seen how good and wise were the people around him , then they would have discovered that he was a very clever fellow , and that they ought to be proud of him. The principal kindness he received was, when a child, his lameness and intelligence attracted the attention of a prosperous person , of the name of Mason, I think who kindly gave him a plain education. RR of Boston, Lincs
Clearly R.R of Boston was not a fan of Alford, however his lengthy diatribe was strongly rebuffed by J.A. of Alford …
“Harpings of Lena“: WJ Baitman, the Alford Poet
It seems reasonable that readers should have an opportunity of hearing what can be said in reply to to R.R.’s sketch of the career of Baitman, and to his animadversion upon Alford, the town in which the poet lived.
Recollections of Baitman carry me back to my own boyhood. I remember being present, not much less than sixty years ago, at the distribution of prizes at Alford National School. The first prize was adjudges to Baitman. It was presented, and probably given, by the squire of the neighbourhood, B Dashwood of Well. There was at that time I believe a very kindly feeling for a poor lame boy, who seemed likely, not withstanding the disadvantages he laboured under to fill some creditable position , and to be – not admired perhaps – but respected. When the Harpings of Lena appeared, and Baitman was recognised as a poet, the interest in him increased. The ladies were much disposed to befriend him. How could it be otherwise ? Their goodwill was shown in various kindly ways, especially during a long illness with which he was afflicted. At a subsequent period these kind attentions were to a considerable extent withdrawn. How came this to pass ?
R.R.s information respecting Baitman is very imperfect; but he would have escaped some strange misapprehensions if he had used aright such knowledge as he had. Is it possible that, when giving a very correct description of Baitman’s degraded state, it did not occur to R.R. that it was exceedingly unlikely that a man of talent – and Baitman was undoubtedly a man of talent – should have sunk to such a condition except by his own fault ? R.R. should have made further inquiries respecting Baitman and then his views respecting him and Alford would most probably have undergone very great changes. But what are R.R.s actual notions as to this matter ? He seems to regard Baitman as a moral hero, too high – minded to be guilty of any insincerity in order to gain patronage. … Baitman, I believe, did not practise flattery, probably it would not have availed much; but there was a better and surer way than this to obtain sympathy and help in Alford, but this way he declined to take. If his conduct had been such as to make it possible to respect him I believe that the kindness he experienced in his early days would have been continued to the end of his life. But such it was not. I will not go into particulars ; but the result of all was this: When well meaning people gave him alms they were likely to feel, not the sweet satisfaction that arises from befriending the well-deserving , but an uneasy suspicion that in yielding to their kindly feelings they had done wrong. A brief and truthful life of Baitman would be interesting and instructive , but an auto-biography would have been of little value. He has been heard to say that his lameness was occasioned by a wound he received in Italy when serving under Garibaldi !
Before leaving Baitman it may be well to correct one or two of R.R.s misstatements. Baitman did not die in the workhouse. He received parochial relief, but had been allowed to live in Alford. He did not marry the “daring” woman to whom R.R. alludes.
As to R.R.s asserion that Alford is a “vulgar little ignorant town, full of poachers and smugglers” it is not necessary to say much . The statement is too remote from the truth to give serious offence. … When we consider ourselves as a community, we are confident that our little town holds quite a respectable place among the towns of Lincolnshire. … J.A Alford
Unfortunately R.R. was not about to take that response lightly …
It is very satisfactory to find that J.A. confirms the more important parts of my communication. … But the censure of the Alford people he does not like. He charges me with “imperfect information” and “two mis-statements” First as to the “mis-statements” I had good authority for both of them from inhabitants of Alford, and if Baitman did not actually die within the walls of the workhouse, he died in the receipt of Parish Relief, and had been in the workhouse , as the inscriptions to many of his poems show; and I am yet told that he did ultimately marry “the daring woman”. The most disgraceful part of the charge against his townsmen J.A. does not refer to. Is a belief in the power of selling oneself to the devil usual in the agricultural towns of Lincolnshire? or is it merely a mark of the superior intelligence and respectability of the people of Alford ?And is tolerance of a rabble who pelt a poor, lame diseased man a sign of charity and Christian benevolence ? Never mind about the character of the man. Ought any man – especially any lame helpless man – to be allowed to be so treated? Would civilised beings treat a dog so ? This barbarous conduct ill agrees with the flattering term in which J.A. speaks of his townsmen; but self praise is not exactly the highest testimony of worth. It would be more to the purpose to tell us what Alford has ever done to show the appreciation of literature, or what men it has produced eminent for anything.
… It would be better to state plainly what were the other offences committed than to indulge in vague innuendos. I know of none sufficient to justify such remarks. The poetic temperament is always a dangerous possession, especially among hard and unsympathetic people, such as he was surrounded by; but plenty of excuses would have been made for him, and his peccadilloes would have been called “eccentricities”, if he had been rich or famous.
It is my impression that the unfeeling manner in which he was treated may, to some extent, have unsettled his reason, and so furnished excuses for discontinuing the alms. He could not live on a few platefuls of cold victuals and a few old clothes given at irregular intervals. “Alms” indeed ! No wonder that a sensitive nature should be driven to desperation by this kin of patronage. The rich people of Alford should have subscribed a few shillings a week and placed him in a position where he could have respected himself; he could then, very probably, have been a credit to them; by not doing so they failed in their duty. I suppose one of his crimes was insufficient gratitude for the “alms”. But the quantity of hat touching and prostration of body and soul required by some of these “alms-givers” would disgust ordinary mortals. No wonder if they made Baitman so desperate.
When I wrote, my desire was to vindicate a man who had been harshly treated. I spoke as much of the truth about Alford people as was necessary , and no more. As before said, there were many rich men there; it abounded with people whom Carlyle would have designated “gigmanity” – quite notorious for the high estimation in which they held themselves ; no doubt very admirable people in their own way, but that way is not literary.
“Proputty, proputty’s ivrything ‘ere” * .
How should it be otherwise ? Alford and its “Marsh” is on the edge of the County, on the very outskirts of England, far away from all centres of civilisation, and the people are principally employed in agriculture.
J.A. denies that the town is full of poachers and smugglers ( I said was). This is very surprising . If he can be unaware of such notorious matters, how do we know he is not equally ignorant about the real truths of Baitman’s history, who for many years was considered too contemptible to be protected from the insults of the Alford roughs?
I have been in Alford hundreds of times , and have often passed the “haunted house” at Bilsby – a fine old place, shut up because
“Theer waur a boggle in it” *
(you see boggles and devils were fond of Alford)
I could tell J.A. about Fothby Hall, of Thoresthorpe, Thurlby Grange, and the other big farm houses round; also a good deal about the people who lived there.
“No, smugglers and poachers !” What about the Alford South End gang who shot one of Mr Christopher’s keepers dead, about two miles out of Alford ? and what about Louth poulterers who used to fetch cartloads of hares and pheasants away at once? These things were notorious .
I, many times, passed the house of a family of smugglers between Alford and the sea, about thirty-five years ago. There was a father with several sons, all of whom got their living by smuggling. They had no other occupation; they dressed as well and spent as much money as any people in those parts. They owned at least one vessel engaged in the trade. Everybody knew it. Why were they not caught? Because the whole countryside sympathised with them. An informer would would have run a chance of being shot as dead as the Alford poachers shot the gamekeeper. I have heard many curious tales from the farmers – how they used to lie still at night when they heard smugglers fetch their horses out of the stables to lead away the cargoes, and how they used to find kegs of spirits in the morning put among the straw as recompense for the use of the animals. Some of them used to boast that they got all their spirits for “nowt”. On a dark night, suitable for running cargo, these farmers would send theirhousehold to bed earlier than usual, that the coast might be clear for the horses to be fetched. No doubt many of their men went with their teams.
But where is the necessity of any further words ? Tennyson, who lived so near, and who is so keen an observer , has drawn a picture of a “Marsh” farmer to the life in his Northern Farmer , which is always considered to be meant for one of the race inhabiting the district between Alford and Grimsby, and it is as faithful as a photograph.
I could give many droll tales and anecdotes in illustration of the manners and customs in that part of Lincolnshire, but shall forbear at present, as I do not wish to unnecessarily hurt people’s feelings.
J.A has written with much tact. I think he will now be convinced that I really do know something about Alford and the people. It is with great unwillingness that I have been compelled to pass any strictures on the generally speaking hospitable men of the “Marsh” district; but in the interest of truth and justice it was absolutely necessary to do so. I now leave the matter to the impartial consideration of readers, but will conclude with some lines from the opening piece of Baitman’s Poetics and Prosaics :-
For I have longings vast and high
Of fame and immortality
and fain would pour in deathless song
My hearts deep feelings wild and strong
And the rabble were allowed to hoot and pelt him! that’s how the “longings vast and high” were satisfied in Alford. R.R. Boston
* Tennyson’s Northern Farmer
Unfortunately that was not an end to the matter, JMT chose to wade in and muddy the waters even further …
I well remember Bateman in my schoolboy days and after, and I think my old friend J.A. and R.R. are mistaken in the orthography of his name, as one of his crazes was that he was connected with the family Bateman, the then head of which was Mr Bateman Dashwood , of Well Vale, the magistrate to whom R.R refers as distributing the prizes at the National School. … It may be satisfactory to know that he was not without friends, and his occasional visits to the neighbouring vicarage of … the late Felix Laurent procured for him the loan of books and other little kindnesses which rendered his latter days less dreary than they might have been, and for which I believe he was not ungrateful. As to the peltings, I well remember he was frequently hooted in the streets , but I never saw him pelted, and this annoyance he brought on himself by his unfortunate irritability of temper. The origin of the notion that he had sold himself to the devil was, no doubt, the fact of his being an avowed atheist – a character , happily, less common at that time than in the present advanced state of civilisation. J.M.T
J.M.T. does raise a good point on the name, the poetry books are published using the spelling Baitman and we know that he was able to read and write well, but he is referred to under both spellings and may have promoted that himself.
The above letter was the final one in 1882 but this was not the end of the discussion. It was revived again some SEVEN years later by Lister Wilson, an Alford solicitor, who had recently read a review on the Harpings of Lena by R.R. Boston. For the incrediby tenacious among you I have reproduced these final letters at the bottom of this piece, headed accordingly, they are very convoluted but do provide a little more insight into Baitman and the circumstances which may have led to his downfall.
Official Records on Bill Baitman
In February 1828 the sensitivities of both young poets received praise in the Stamford Mercury. Just four months later the same paper reported the death of Edward Lenton (juvenile poet) in Alford, leaving the young Bill Baitman to face the world alone.
The 1882 letters understandably caused some consternation in Alford and others wrote to the local papers with more details on Baitman denouncing RR’s version of events.
One local explained that Baitman was not born in Alford, but in Manchester, being brought up by his grandmother,“an Old Wesleyan” in Alford .The writer continues that Baitman was a notorious cadger, always begging, and the story of his connection with the Devil originated with Baitman himself as a begging tactic.
This part of Baitman’s story can be substantiated, Louth Prison records from 1857 show Baitman as an inmate and also record him as being born in Manchester and brought up in Alford, of course it is possible that Baitman may have been the originator of this information too. He is described as lame in the right leg, aged 46 he was over 5’2″ with long pale hair. Baitman was incarcerated as a rogue and a vagabond for one month, he could read and write well and was a seller of tracts.
The 1857 prison records indicate a previous sentence, in April 1840 at the April Sessions in Louth a William Baitman was sentenced to 3 months hard labour for stealing hankerchiefs and other items at Langton. The prison records again record William Baitman as being able to read and write well which is less common than “imperfect”, with the surname spelling this suggests this may have been Bill’s first sentence.
The nature of William Baitman’s life makes it hard to track him through any official records. More than one person throughout the correspondence has confirmed that he did die in Alford, a few years prior to the 1882 letters. I have searched the civil registration death registers, for the Spilsby District, from 1862 to 1882 for a William Baitman / Bateman who died at Alford and there is only one record. Baitman yields no results. The Spilsby District reveals just one William Bateman: an Alford death and burial. This William Bateman: died in the presence of Ann Johnson at South End: his occupation is listed as a retired schoolmaster! Is this the death certificate for our Bill Baitman, the details provided by the woman who stayed at side and believed in him. I hope it is, for a man who continually reinvented himself what a perfect ending.
Robert Roberts claims that “In summer months [Bill] used to lie about the fields , and under the hedges by the roadsides, for whole days together” … was it during one of these times that the strange tale of him selling his soul to the devil at the site of a hawthorn bush on Miles Cross Hill , known to generations of locals as Bill Baitman’s bush, came about ?
I would love to know more …
As promised these are the final letters which reveal a little more about the poems and the support of Alfred Tennyson.
The Final Letters : 1887
In justice to all parties I think it is right to say that the material gathered by R.R. at the age of ten is erroneous. Edward Lenton was a clerk in our office , and I have frequently heard my mother and father speak of him as a promising poet. Of Bateman they gave a very different account; indeed I personally knew the latter, and no such delusion should exist as that a single creditable line ( if any line at all) in “Harpings of Lena” could be placed to his account.
“Facts are stubborn things” is an old an adage as our Wold hills, and it is as to facts, for poor Lenton’s sake, and for credit of a third person I am about to name, I write.
Adjoining my father’s house lived a another lad, Robert Uvedale West, subsequently known as Dr West, and as vice-president of the Royal Obstetrical Society, London. Now in a rustic building called “The Hermitage”, in the garden adjoining my father’s paddock, West and Lenton used to meet and compose poetry, &c. , admitting Bateman ( who had somehow made the acquaintance of Lenton) into their sanctum.
Lenton was born on October 29, 1812, and died on June 11, 1828. West was born at Louth in July 1810. After Lenton’s death Bateman ( who had doubtless secured his MSS [manuscripts].) persuaded West to assist him in publishing “Harpings of Lena”.
I come now to the question of the real authorship of the work, and I am glad to say Dr West’s sister permits me to append the following extracts from her letters, from which it will be at once evident that the “gems” of the book were from the pens of her brother and Lenton, out of which Bateman subsequently made a profit.
Lenton West and Bateman used to meet in our Hermitage, and there show each other the prose, articles, poems &c. which they at first contrived to get inserted in a magazine, the Olio, RU West signing Roger Walton. I myself remember several of these poems as my brother’s. [A list of poems follows] … In his own copy of [the book] , now in the possession of his son R.U. West wrote the above dates and his own signature in pencil. Perhaps he foresaw they would be attributed or claimed by others. … I remember Lenton well, a little, pale and very shy boy. We all looked on him as promising to be a genius. As for Bateman – do you know the spelling of his name Baitman was adopted because he thought Bateman common , his real name was Bateman – he was incapable of writing any of those poems, or any articles, without corrections, supervision, and assistance of every kind. He was a low, ignorant fellow, and it seems strange to me that he ever was accepted as a coadjutor by the “poets”.
I have read with interest and also great indignation the previous article. I am sure the person who wrote it knew nothing of Alford of the time he writes. … [Further lengthy assertions that her brother wrote all poems not attributed to Lenton] … I do not recognise the description of Alford and its society at all. The Listers, Carnleys &c. and very numerous others made up a society that could not be classed amongst the “poachers and smugglers”. Certainly William Bateman had not access to any of these families. Bateman was an ignorant, immoral, dishonest fellow, a scamp in every sense. For a long time my brother helped him here and there years after the aquanitance was given up, and my brother had returned to settle in Alford. I do believe there was plenty of poaching and smuggling going on in the neighbourhood and in the marshes. I remember many romantic cases of the latter myself. In all little market towns at that period there were plenty of idle and dissolute people. Bateman was one. The last time I saw Bateman shuffling along ( when I was in Alford years ago) my brother , who was with me, said as we were approaching him “I do not even speak to him. It is impossible. He is a worthless vagabond and an imposter” I said, “had he any ability really ?” “Not any pretensions to poetical ability; he could not write a line correctly. He was a parasite who hung on Lenton. He was older than Lenton, who really would have turned out a genuine poet had he lived”. …
Bateman is dead, and with him I would bury my thoughts concerning him. I know however that he never was married, and was the terror of many of the poor folk in the neighbourhood, and when he asked for a meal they dare not refuse him. Lister WilsonAlford
The final words in the matter came from the first responder R.R. believed to be Robert Roberts, stationer and printer of Boston. The contents of this letter suggest that the claim by Miss West (that her brother was actually the poet not Baitman) had, shortly after the publication of the book, caused Baitman further distress in the face of his piers.
I have been considering whether I should make any answer to Mr Wilson’s communication or not, for I think those who can read between the lines will easily see it is the amount of truth in the account of Alford in former days which rankles. Only think ! it is just seven years since the Baitman papers first appeared. What a deal has happened in seven years and yet “society” in Alford has not recovered its equanimity. It is sad; but on looking over the articles, I cannot withdraw anything of importance. I might have put things less offensively; which some may consider a mistake. Mr Wilson’s lady friend confirms part of the account, and says, “…there was plenty of poaching and smuggling going on …” So that portion of the indictment must be considered proved, not withstanding a former correspondent had said “The statement is too remote from the truth to give serious offence”. It is very satisfactory to see the witnesses for the defence demolishing each other in this fashion. As to Baitman having been ” a low ignorant fellow ” a worthless vagabond and an imposter” ” quite incapable of writing any of these poems, or a line correctly” one of the leading men of Alford (J.A.) says ” I remember being present … at the distribution of prizes … the first prize was adjudged to Baitman” . What ! To that “low ignorant worthless fellow” ? The best boy in Alford School “a low, ignorant fellow”?
R.R. does a good job of restating the content of the previous articles to contradict the points in Lister Wilson’s letter, but he saves his wrath for R U West….
Mr Wilson is forced to acknowledge that Baitman did “somehow” get into the society of the two geniuses of the place, West and Lenton. And West was a gentleman, with a “paddock” and a “hermitage” mind, you. To refute the inconsistent and contradictory statements of Baitman’s detractors is so delightfully easy that it is difficult to treat them seriously; but I now come to a graver aspect of the case. A lady rather ruffled in defence of her brother may be excused when not quite logical; but the same plea will not avail for her legal advisor, who might be expected to be a man trained to weigh evidence and to look at all sides of a question. Cannot Mr Wilson see how seriously the statements he now publishes reflect on his friends and on society in Alford ? He represents Mr West as a kind of man-cuckoo. For as a cuckoo lays its eggs in a smaller bird’s nest , so this big “poet”, Mr West, is said to place his poems in the nest of the little birds Lenton and Baitman; and afterwards he does not attempt to throw out the eggs, but worse , he throws out and tramples on Baitman, the layer of most of them. … afterwards when West found the poems “very much admired” he claimed “all those unsigned”. There are three poems in HOL professing to be written from “Alford Workhouse” and not signed Lenton. Now, if this “low ignorant, worthless fellow … could not write a poem, or even a line correctly” how came these poems to be dated from Alford Workhouse ? Is it contended they were also written by West, and that he falsely dated them as a further precaution against the real author being found out ?
Here is a dilemma . Either Mr West wrote what was false … or Baitman did actually write those three poems. And if he did he may well have written most of the others, for they are of the same quality. Another puzzle. It is said “Baitman … persuaded West to assist him in publishig the Harpings of Lena.” In whatever manner they were obtained, Mr West not only asssisted him but if he was the author he must have given the MSS to Baitman. The poems were published as [original poems by Lenton and Baitman] although it is now asserted that none of the poems were by Baitman, but by West, and that they were not “original”, … is there any evidence that Mr West resented this fraudulent contact ? Not a bit of it. On the contrary, two or three years afterwards when Baitman published another volume, “Poetics and Prosaics”, RU West esq , who had then moved to Hogsthorpe, subscribed four copies.
In the preface to this book the writer says:- “When I made my first appearance in the literary World, it was manacled and gyved by difficulties under which many would have sunk, to rise not again. But cheered on by hope, and two kind individuals, I persevered, and found that I did so not in vain. …. Of the present work , it is enough to say , that it has been prepared amid much domestic affliction, with the sick and the dying around me”. And now it asserted that this touching preface was a fraud, that it was penned by an “ignorant fellow”, a “worthless scamp” who had laid claim to poems in the first book which were known to be written by another. If he were an imposter about to deceive the public a second time, what must be thought of RU West ( now brought forward as the real author) who again aided and abetted theis “worthless scamp” and by having his name printed in the list of subscribers sanctioned the statements made in the preface. … Alfred Tennyson, Montgomery, Miss Priscilla Taylor, and many other distinguished people subscribed.
Mr Wilson and his friend must have written hastily and without carefully looking over the previous correspondence. For it is a curious way of showing respectability of Alford”society” by trying to prove that an eminent professional man there, when he was from twenty three to twenty five years of age, not only associated with a fellow he knew to be “a worthless scamp” but also gave manuscript poems to him to be falsely printed in the name of that “scamp”, for the curious reason that their real author “never posed as a poet and did not care to have his name affixed, because he was half afraid they were not good enough to be published”; but when he found they were “praised by the public”, he meanly claimed them, although he still left the lame diseased young pauper to pay for printing one, if not both of the books.
I can speak positively as to the second of them; for poor Baitman has repeatedly , when he secured a subscriber, given me fifteenpence to take to Mr Cussans , of Horncastle, to pay for a copy. Would it not have been more magnanimous for Mr West to have kept the secret, and not claimed authorship at the price of the utter ruin and degradation of the poor fellow, thus made a handle of, and who appears never to have overcome the mortification he felt ? It did not enrich West, but it made Baitman poor indeed. No stricture which has been passed upon former generations of Alford people is half so damaging to their reputation as the character now given to them by some of themselves. To imagine that a man could act as Mr West is said to have acted without meeting with universal reprehension is sufficient to mark the tone of the place. That some of its best society could even imagine an educated man doing such a thing is not complimentary. I am really sorry to be forced by the indiscreet advocacy of Mr West’s friends to show how his conduct in this matter may strike other people. This was a grievous mistake made in the youth of a man who afterwards deservedly bore a high charecter; and probably most readers will think silence had been the best policy.
Having pleaded Baitman’s cause to the best of my ability, I wish to be fair even to those who seem not to have treated him as they should have done. I therefore freely confess I see no reason to doubt that Miss West is right in claiming the half dozen poems which she names as the work of her brother. He either wrote them or so polished and altered them as to be entitled to the joint authorship at least; but to claim all the unsigned poems for her brother is manifestly wrong. Some of them would be no credit to a man in his position, and are only tolerable as the work of a self-taught pauper. Many of them have words and phrases and awkward forms of expression, such as might be expected in the writing of an imperfectly educated man, but which Mr West could not have been guilty of. … the poem ” A Minstrels Lay” …. carries conviction … it is autobiographic and naturally and correctly describes what must have been the state and feelings of Baitman; and I am convinced it was written by no one else. It would have been untrue of Mr RU West. It is very difficult to harbour unkind feelings against a whole community for seven years, especially when some of them are your friends and acquaintances, and I now gladly (and freely) bear testimony to the fact that Alford is a very pleasant, bright, “superior” little town, certainly not behind any of its neighbours. … It is not to be supposed that the upper classes of Alford ever wished to be cruel to Baitman; but he was an anomoly. “Writing fellows” – especially common writing fellows – were not much appreciated in any small agricultural town at that date, as I well know, and as the surreptitious it is now alleged that Mr West got his poems published serves to prove.
Besides, Baitman, although clever, was an impracticable fellow, who persistently sinned against the conventionalities and prejudices of the place, and indulged in much [kicking over the traces] , for which he was made to pay very dearly. But the poor, unhappy, much-afflicted man is in his grave; there, for charity’s sake, let him rest. RR Boston Lincolnshire
A report from the County Police office in Alford, January 1848, adds to previous items suggesting a somewhat bawdy element in Alford at this time, first discovered in the stories from Alford Fair.
Having dealt with four boys for obstructing the thoroughfare and creating a noise during Sunday Service, followed by two bastardy orders, the Reverends Dodson, Vyner and Travers turned their attention to Eliza …
Eliza Maidens of Alford appeared against; Robert Bell of Bilsby, rat-catcher, and general dealer, Sam Rhodes, of Alford and person called ” Red Eye,” who had been working on the East Lincolnshire railway, for entering her house on Saturday night the 15th inst, and damaging property therein of the value of 10s. the complainant begged permission of the bench to be allowed to settle the matter with the parties out of court, which was granted: the parties all left the court together, and adjourned to the Windmill inn tap.; where after settling the affair amicably they had a regular jollification, during which the fair complainant was thrown into a state of somnolency, and conveyed to her domicile minus her exterior and nether garments which were subsequently found by the police, and restored to their unconscious owner. Stamford Mercury – Friday 28 January 1848
The reverend gentlemen fined labourer Jas. Frankish for being drunk and disorderly in the street before they turned their attention to the matter of Ann Richardson’s complaint against Miss E Buffham, Alford beer -seller for having assualted her in public: Miss Buffham was fined 1s. and 5s. costs.
Alford appears to have had some miseries of its own.
Since the new machinery shelter was erected between the two containers, we have been able to house the “new” McCormick binder under cover. I have taken the opportunity to further renovate and restore this machine with lots of help from Grant and other volunteers.
There are lots of other bits and pieces that have come home and been cleaned, repaired where necessary and painted. It is quite a therapeutic process for me and a decrepit machine is gradually being returned to something of its former glory!
I recently came across evidence of a charming rural custom being practised locally. Although it is very apparent that the writer did not appreciate the old ways.
Though not generally known in more enlightened districts, it is a fact worthy of note throughout the Marsh, that little industrious insect the “Bee” is supposed to possess a knowledge of human affairs; as an instance about two years ago , a well to do farmer died in a village not many miles from Alford. I had occasion to visit his house the night after his decease, and in passing through the garden was astonished to find some of the domestics at the bee-house. On inquiring of their errand, I was told they were informing the bees of the death of their master, otherwise they stated the bees would all die. I inquired if they received an answer , when they replied the bees gave a “solemn hum” a certain sign that they understood the message. Of course none of the bees died. I was very much amused at the circumstance and tried to convince them of their ignorance. About a month ago, another farmer died and – fatal mistake – the bees are all dead, the ceremony of informing them of their master’s death having been omitted – never once thinking that the ungenial summer and the late severe winter has been the death of the contents of hundreds of hives. The last case of course , is another proof in the opinion of these superstitious sages of the almost human instinct of their idolised bee. And surely it is another proof of the necessity of greater exertions in the spreading of sound education and common sense amongst the rising generation of the Marsh. Louth and North Lincs Advertiser: 1861
The custom of telling the bees is well documented, with many variations connecting the Bees to the spirit of their keepers and the house had a duty to inform the hive of key events, particularly the death of their keeper.
Failure to do so was believed to lead to the loss of the bees in one form or another.
The bees would be informed by a gentle tap on the hive prior to delivering the news, the hives may be shrouded in black crepe, funeral cake or biscuits soaked in the chosen drink were sometimes offered to ensure their inclusion in the feast.
Other areas of the country record the hives being turned or lifted at the time of the funeral procession.
Similar activities were undertaken by some households for a family wedding.
The custom is widely documented across Europe and American Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier ensured an awareness of the tradition in New England with his poem ” Telling the Bees” in 1858, an excerpt is below :
Before them, under the garden wall, Forward and back, Went drearily singing the chore-girl small, Draping each hive with a shred of black.
Trembling, I listened: the summer sun Had the chill of snow; For I knew she was telling the bees of one Gone on the journey we all must go!
And the song she was singing ever since In my ear sounds on:— “Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence! Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”
Personally I find these tales reminiscent of Flora Thompson’s character “Old Queenie” familiar to many of us from the BBC adaptation Larkrise to Candleford, based on an old neighbour.
Alford’s past is littered with so many marvellous characters.
The new position for the combine shelter was cleared by Gordon Smith a few days previously. Two days before lockdown was designated moving day. Simon was with us all day, and thoroughly enjoyed himself, as did we all! The site for the Thompson Workshop has now been cleared ready for the Ground Works to be started.
As the leaves turn gold we face long dark evenings without the usual round of social gatherings.
While many have anticipated the prospect with despair, I have taken the opportunity to look at times gone by.
What would we have been missing in a 19th Century lockdown ?
All Hallows Eve
I started with Halloween. In the 1880s Queen Victoria was reported to have enjoyed the “Scottish” festival with processions of sprites and goblins at Balmoral, followed by dancing around the bonfire into the early hours but that was it. Some customs may have been followed quietly, if at all, in nineteenth century Lincolnshire but community events were not commented upon, with the “Spring Halloween” of St Mark’s Eve receiving more attention. The few mentions of the October festival are from the early twentieth century and relate old superstitions and folklore which are no longer practised.
Today is all hallows eve, the eve of all saints day, and to-night churchyards yawn and graves give up their dead, or at least their ghosts walk if old tales be true. To-night too those who have the temerity to eat an apple before the looking glass will see their future spouse looking over their shoulder in the glass, and other forms of divinations may be practised to the same end. What is the connection , by the way, between apples and all hallows eve, that so many spells and games with apples form art of the old celebrations? Biting the twirling apple hung by a string or the apple floating in a tub of water are the most characteristic of the latter. But all these things are a memory nowadays and there is probably not a house in Lincoln in which the eve will be anything but Tuesday night. In the colonies old English Customs thrive the better, as it were, for exile. All Hallows Eve a mere name in England is observed in Canada, throughout the length and breadth of the land. Apples will be bobbed for “candy” will be pulled, and large parties and “socials” for charitable purposes given to-night. Lincolnshire Echo – Tuesday 31 October 1905
A later, 1956, article revisits the “old Halloween” before providing an insight into the contemporary experience.
I would like to write about one of the strange facts that people associate with October. On the last night of this month, so people say, witches ride their broomsticks high above the trees and chinmney pots, goblins come in from the woods and turn the milk sour and ghosts wander the earth under the light of the moon. It is the night for strange tales by the light of the fireside and the night for jack o’lanterns and roasting chestnuts, the night when fortunes are told and the long dead superstitions come to life again. At this time of year people associate themselves with supernatural influences, that is mostly superstitious. We know that Halloween was celebrated in Britain before the arrival of christianity. The people who took part in the celebrations were mainly druids … But to-day it is the children and young people who really take part in this anvcient festival. … Boys and girls go from door to door wearing weird coloured masks and carrying turnip lanterns, turnips through whose hollowed out eyes and mouth glow eerily. Halloween parties are held in rooms with decorated silhouettes of witches and broomsticks, apples are roasted or bobbed for, and people gather round to have their fortunes told. Boston Guardian – Wednesday 07 November 1956
While Halloween seems to have been pretty quiet in the 19th Century, people did come together to appreciate the countryside and woodlands.
One Autumn pastime that quickly came to the fore was nut gathering, it was clearly common place. Frequent mention of the practice appears in the press, sometimes to prohibit it, on other occasions a couple of sentences simply referred to an outing having taken place and “a good time was had by all“. I was intrigued by the phrase “Nutting Party” this was about more than a small family outing to gather hazlenuts and filberts.
There seem to be various types of party undertaking this venture which varied from pleasant community outings to the wanton destruction of woodland. Although this may have depended on your viewpoint.
The following Lady’s Own article embodies the fondness of a certain class for the venture.
Nutting : Those … who have passed the spring time of life …. Who can remember without regret the pleasures of his earlier years – the sports, the freedom, the exuberence of delight which accompanies youth … The seasons as they pass fleetly on bear with them recollections of past enjoyments, which it is some relief in our chequered career to cherish. With September comes our excursions in the green fields, before the cold winds of coming winter have robbed the trees of their freshness – when the clustering fruit of the hazel would tempt our longing palates, and would create as much joy as that which Aladdin experienced in the enchanted cave of precious stones. Many a nutting expedition in thick woods can we remember! Many a day passed with companions, lightsome and careless as ourselves in the fastnesses of nature. Surpassingly beautiful is the rich mellowness of Autumn. … It is difficult to account for the many ceremonies practised anciently with nuts. They were then thrown in all the avenues leading to the nuptial apartment, before the feet of the passing bride; and the ceremony of strewing nuts was the conclusion of the wedding day. … nuts are very useful under different point of view … giving light, warmth and food.. Numerous divinations and superstitious practices were formerly done with nuts, particularly about the eve of all hallows. Lady’s Own Paper – Saturday 08 October 1853
An article in the Lincolshire Chronicle at around the same time provides a different perspective, revealing a possible cause for the controversies surrounding the practise.
The Nutting Season: what a fine season for nutting parties; and where we should like to know is the place presenting such facilities for this autumnal enjoyment as Bourne? A large and well ordered wood, within a mile of the town is, through the kindness of the noble proprietor , at the service of the inhabitants. We are gratified to add that this indulgence is duly appreciated, as nothing annoys those who enjoy this privilege more than wanton mischief. The author of the “year book” says ” of all places at this season give me the nut wood, and the old umbrageous lanes, with the tall hazel thickets and hedges. How many delightful days spent in these places with young hearts and congenial souls come back upon the memory. They set out a la gipsy in a common cart or waggon containing eatables and drinkables, sundry rheumatic old maids and young wives to whom the talk would be too exhausting; the eternal gabbling of the damsels and the screeching and screaming at getting over the stiles; the arrival in the wood; the rushing away to pull down the brown clusters; the meeting to show plunder and take tea on the grass; the sentimental song in a trilling voice by the young lady of the party; what pleasures of the city and artificial life are worth one day of this description! Alas the game laws should have thrown their baleful interdict on even the pleasure of nutting. Alas! that in thousands of woods and woodland places throughout the kingdom, the nuts should fall and rot by the bushels lest pheasants should be disturbed”. Should we not then appreciate the privilege vouchsafed to us by the “Lord of Burghley” Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 26 September 1851
Having established the usual approach and outline for the pastime I looked more closely at a couple of local stories which resulted in events which were clearly not so commonplace. In October 1820 a nut gathering party from Louth set out for Burwell. It has to be said that the composition of the group suggests they sought monetary gain rather than the light relief described above. They certainly encountered a very different experience.
Shooting a Nut gatherer at Little Cawthorpe: James Lee, aged 50, late of Little Cawthorpe was put on his trial on an indictment … charged with wilfully, maliciously, feloniously and unlawfully shooting with a loaded gun at, and wounding in the left leg, William Fawley, nail maker of Louth on the 1st day October last. … The prosecutor Fawley was one of a party of about 20 mechanics and others of Louth who on the day stated went to gather nuts in Burwell and Muckton Woods.
The prisoner, Lee, was an assistant gamekeeper, employed with other servants… to protect the woods from nut gatherers and other trespassers. A severe conflict arose between two of these servants and four of the trespassers from Louth, … and blood was shed by the blows given on either side. An attempt was made afterwards by the four servants to apprehend these more violent offenders, and in the course of it words arose with others of the nut gatherers , whose bags were seizd and cut by the keepers, and the nuts scattered, so that as little advantage as possible should be had from committing the trespasses.
The prisoner having during some altercation lost the custody of another man whom he had seized chose to take Fawley, ( who had not been of the fighting party) and was assuming to conduct him to Louth as a prisoner, when Fawley not considering himself bound to go with him, ran off: on which the prisoner discharged his gun at him, ath the distance of 18 yards and dreadfully lacerated his left leg and foot. It became necessary to convey Fawley to Louth in a cart; he was in a very dangerous state for a fortnight and under surgical care for three months after.
John Sirey , gardener to MB Lister, Esq of Burwell Park was called for the defence, to show the lawless and persevering conduct of the trespassers; Thomas Cartwright to prove that the prisoner was a mild, good tempered man and human man; and the Rev Wm Chaplin to give him a most excellent character particularly for having conducted himself for many years as a game keeper with more caution , consternation and propriety than any man in such a situation whom he ( Mr Chaplin) had ever known.
The judge [spent some time directing the jury on the law and the technicalities of the three possible outcomes.] Having retired for a quarter of an hour the Jury and brought in a verdict of guilty with intent to do Grevious Bodily Harm :
Sentence Death – reprieved Stamford Mercury – Friday 10 March 1820
Throughout the period landowners and estate managers posted warnings in the press about the destruction of trees and threatened the prosecution of nutting parties. In 1857 another notice relating to Burwell Wood appeared announcing the complete closure of the wood to strangers due to the damage done by nutting parties.
The practice continued locally as a report in the 1891 York Herald underlines.
A skeleton in a Lincolnshire wood: A party of ladies and gentlemen were nutting in Greenfield woods, near Alford, Lincolnshire when to their horror they discovered the clothed skeleton of a man. They immediately gave notice to the police , and Superintendent Wood and Dr Handsley proceeded to the spot and found a body as described. It was afterwards identified as that of Henry Taylor, a labourer, lately residing at Ailby, near Alford, who had been missing since the 28th May last. This wood had previously been searched by the police , and also by the deceased friends but the body had been overlooked owing to the fact that it was lying in a small grip or ditch, and was concealed by the overhanging nut trees and long grass.
As we seem to have moved away from the more pleasant pursuits and inevitably reached the macabre despite the absence of Halloween maybe it is time to take a look at November 5th.
Guy Fawkes Celebrations
The history of November 5th is one peppered with the twists and turns of political and religious divides. Dissenters used it as a night of riot and violence, carrying effigies of their enemies off to the bonfires. In the early 1800s The Times first reported the appearance of children begging in the street seeking recompence for their “Guy”.
Lincolnshire was no exception to these events, local newspaper reports slowly reveal the transition from early days of mischief to more organised community events. Boston, Spalding and Stamford among others, saw tar barrels set alight and rolled through the streets. Policeman were attacked and injured and various fires set. Guys were displayed for coin in order to purchase fireworks for the evenings entertainment.
On 5th November 1813 the Rev. William Chaplin of Thorpe Hall, South Elkington celebrated the capture of Guy Fawkes along with the more recent news of the allied defeat of Napolean at the Battle of Leipzig with two suitable effigies.
In rural Lincolnshire the firing of pistols was a particular problem and Alford was no exception in struggling with an unruly element.
When shall we mend ? a question that we may reasonable ask when the youth of a Christian community are retrograding into a state of semi barbarism … last Sunday evening, in leaving a place of worship, a woman with a child in her arms was seized and thrown down in the street and this is not a solitary case. … On the 5th November a large bonfire was made and squibs etc. were thrown about until near midnight, near to a number of thatched houses. Happily no other mischief was done than the stealing of kids, wood, doors and anything else these ill taught urchins could lay their hands upon. Everynight since the report of pistols has been heard in the streets ; and the question now seems to be are we to quietly submit to these nightly molestations or will some kindly gentlemen come forward, act the part of the philanthropists, and use their influence to stem the torrent of immorailty? Stamford Mercury – Friday 15 Nov. 1839
The above article was followed immediately by the information that a spacious Temperance Hall had been recently erected at Alford.
Nationally legislation was introduced to prevent the disruption of the riotous behaviour on November 5th, this dampened spirits in the towns but the festivities frequently moved slightly further afield.
Guy Fawkes day passed off very quietly at Alford. There was no public demonstration although several fires were made on private grounds and a few fireworks discharged. The small boys, as is usual, ran about the streets but beyond harrassing the police nothing took place. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 November 1876
Belleau with Aby – Guy Fawkes Day falling on a Sunday, the various rites and ceremonies connected therewith were duly observed on Sat eve. Bands of juveniles dressed in fantastic costume paraded the village and solicited all good folk to “Remember Remember the fifth of November. Fires were lighted in various parts and cast a lurid glare over the busy scene; and to terminate the proceedings in a befitting manner there was a good display of fireworks. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 November 1876
Gradually the community took back November 5th working together to organise the event, although the intention to burn one effigy remained a step to far for some.
Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in Alford on monday last. a figure on horseback representing the much talked of Egyptian rebel was a prominent part of the make up of the procession. Arabi was preceded by a sais, or running footman, according to Eastern Custom; next came the Excelsior brass band , followed by a misc. body carrying torches. The music was of an inspiring character. At the large bonfire built in Mr Hibbitt’s field, near to the Grammar School, boys great and small enjoyed themselves as is usual on such occasions. Later in the evening the procession returned through the town but the torches this time were coloured ones, supplied by Brook and Co of London. The rain fell fast during the whole evening which considerably marred both effect and pleasure as well as curtailing the procedings. It really was too bad of some of our radical friends to object to the supposed indignity said to be intended by the burning of Arabi, which atrocity however was not carried out. All’s well, it is said, that ends well and we shall be able to congratulate sympathisers with the great rebel upon the feelings they exhibited if through supineness or lack of spirit of our own or any other authority he does not receive his deserts. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 Nov. 1882
Guy Fawkes day arrangements for Alford are upon a scale not previously attempted. The volunteer and excelsior bands will combine and form one monster band , and a procession will be lighted with coloured and brilliant lights one way through the town and the other way by ordinary torches , and during the evening balloons are to be despatched. An application was made to the magistrates on Tuesday last for sanction to be given to these arrangements , but the chairman observed there was no power to do this: if however all was orderly carried out, there would be no interference. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 02 Nov. 1883
The event continued in the same vein, a later article reveals that it was in the hands of a committee and supported by community donations.
Guy Fawkes Celebration.—This was held on Wednesday last and so far the weather permitted proved success. The Committee were very successful In their appeal for cash as well in kind : for which they desire to testify their thanks, to the respective donors- Tolerably punctual to the time announced, the procession started led by number of men carrying flambeaux, next in order came the band, formed by the amalgamation of the Excelsior with the Rifle Corps Band. Then came the only and original Guy (Guido Fawkes) who was represented being taken prisoner by some stalwart myrmidions of the law, when in the very act of attempting to fire his train of powder which was to have sent the Houses of Parliament to immortal smash. The procession was brought up by number of boys carrying torches, formed thus the procession attended by an immense number of people marched to a field at the West End of the town where a large fire had been kindled. Here the continuance of such nefarious practices on the part of Guido Fawkes were successfully put an end to, by his incineration, amid the plaudits of the whole of the spectators. The procession reformed and marched back the market place, coloured fires being burnt on the journey, the effect being very pretty, seen from short distance. At this time the rain began to decend somewhat heavily but the procession crowded on to the Market-place attended an immense number of spectators, where after listening to a few tunes played by the band the crowd to the strains the National Anthem quickly dispersed. Boston Guardian – Saturday 15 Nov. 1884
Alford Winter Fair
Early November was the season for the Alford Winter Fair, as with the descriptions of the Guy Fawkes festivities the earlier reports of the fair bring to mind scenes more akin to a frontier town that a Lincolnshire farming community. Primarily about livestock the fair was a large draw and grew to include the elements of the large Bartholomew Fair.
Alford: the 8th November being our fair we had a large arrival of pickpockets. The fair seemed more remarkable for bustle and pocket emptying than for business ; several unsuccessful and some successful attempts were made; two small farmers were left to return home sans money, one being robbed of 6l, the other of 35l. Stamford Mercury – Friday 15 Nov. 1839
Alford: the Winter Fair held here on Monday last was considered larger and better attended than on any former occasion. A considerable impetus was given to the stock trade of all descriptions by the unprecedented number of buyers in attendance. There were upwards of 1000 sheep penned , which met with a brisk demand … About 1200 beast were exposed for sale. The fair was held as last year in Mr Hibbitts close and in Mr Rose’s paddock adjoining the sheep market. The farmers and dealers grumbled very much (and not without cause) at the inconveninece of having so frequently during the day to pass from one lot to another. It is hoped before the next winter fair such arrangements will be effected as to remove all cause for complaint on the part of the public. Hordes of itinerant chapmen with dog carts and “ladies of easy virtue” came int town the evening before the fair, and so crowded were the common lodging houses that many had to put up with very inconvenient accomodation. During the fair we heard of nothing demanding the immediate attention of the police , except a small transaction that took place in the suburbs of the town , between a gentleman from a neighbouring parish ( who has arrived at the venerable age of three score and ten) and a young frail one in her “teens” , in which the old lothario was relieved of his purse and cash amounting to 15l. What a lesson for youth, and how disgraceful to old age ! At what period may we ask do mankind turn wise? Stamford Mercury – Friday 12 Nov 1852
Alford Winter Fair – the stock fair was as usual held in the fields belonging to the Windmill and the White Horse Hotels, and attracted a large company. The pleasure portion of the fair consisted of a shooting gallery, an art exhibition and Ginnetts circus. The circus was well patronised and the performances received merited applause. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 November 1882
Alford Fair was held on Sat last, Nov 8th. The ground was well filled with stalls, shooting galleries, swings and roundabouts, the last named with the inevitable organ which music (?) was ground out to the no small delight of the many patrons but somewhat to the annoyance of the inhabitants, who thought it was just possible to have too much of a good thing. There was very large attendance of visitors throughout the whole the day and taken altogether the business done was satisfactory. The various public houses certainly had no room for complaint as unceasing stream of thirsty souls were to be seen doing a pilgrimage to the shrines of Bacchus, whence after paying their ablations, they emerged borne down by the weight of the penance imposed by his high priests, as evidenced by their somewhat erratic and unsteady gait. Many, too, paid court to terpischore at the various inns, much to their own enjoyment and we hope also to the satisfaction and profit of the musicians. Boston Guardian – Sat 15 Nov 1884
Alford Fair is once more upon us—and the Market-place and its approaches are in the possession of vendors of all sorts. Booths where all kinds of possible and seemingly impossible feats ef endurance are watched; shooting galleries with their everlasting popping and bell-ringing; ring throwing. Aunt Sally, bazaars, &c., &c. And then there is the roundabout, where the patrons sit a-horseback according to their own sweet will, and are whirled around and around to the strains, “Oh, shade of Orpheus”—strains they are—of barrel organ that emits sounds comparable to something between a foghorn and a set of broken-winded bagpipes. As an accompaniment to these dulcet strains (?) a small boy incessantly belabours drum, to the no small annoyance of the surrounding inhabitants. Hurrah for an English fair and its accompanying saturnalia. Boston Guardian – Saturday 14 November 1885
Reports reflect the gradual decline of business at the fair around the turn of the century. A brief 1916 article confirms the existence of the stock fair but the amusements are expectedly absent at this time. While in 1925 mention is made of children dressing “grotesquely” on the 5th November to obtain coins for the fair, the reporter however indicates that this is preferable to their carolling which will inevitably follow.
So to return to the beginning, what would we have been missing in a 19th Century lockdown ? Well, while we may have been pleased to avoid some of the more violent and bawdy aspects of venturing out in the early 1800s, I truly believe we would still have missed the opportunity to get together, after all there was a lot to talk about.
The Historic Vehicle Day was a successful happy occasion! The weather was very warm and sunny and “Smoke and Mirrors” performed on the lawn accompanied by nostalgic period music whilst visitors enjoyed tea and cakes, in front of the Manor House. An idyllic late summer’s day!
Eleven assorted Austins and their owners from the Pre War Austin Seven Club visited and some other Classic Cars came along too.
James Howe and Claire brought Ruby the three year old Shire Horse. They had been up early plaiting her mane and polishing the bells and brasses that were part of the gleaming harness. Ruby towed a 1925 hay turner from Tothby Manor and back! This was the first time she had been harnessed to this machine, but she took it all in her stride with no fuss!
The Museum of Rural Life demonstrated the Massey Harris combine, and ran it up several times. Both the Cook’s Elevator and the Maldon Elevator were running most of the time, as well as several of our Stationary Engines, and there was a steady stream of visitors in the “Barn”
Two days earlier the second container arrived from Hansard’s Haulage, and the driver skillfully re positioned the original container before unloading the “new” one. Grant supervised with a tape measure!
A few days later, a working party of volunteers assembled the cover that fits between the two containers in less than four hours! It fitted perfectly! Gordon’s site work and Grant’s measuring were spot on!
We spent a busy Friday morning using the Fordson to move both of our elevators and the McCormick binder under the new shelter. It is great to have all them properly protected from the elements, and another benefit is that restoration work can be easily undertaken in dry conditions without the need to remove sheets.
A Ransomes Sims and Jefferies lawn mower was rescued from a damp shed, and donated to the Museum very recently. Tony discovered that it had a “spark” from the magneto, so lots of activity took place cleaning thick tarry deposits from the fuel system, and freeing off the seized up clutch mechanism. Grant made some new wooden front rollers as the originals had literally turned to dust! The machine was then duly reassembled and after a couple of swings of the starting handle, the engine purred into life! Tony couldn’t resist a trial run on the grass even though it was raining!
We have discovered via the internet, that this mower is a Minor Mk 6, 12” cut model and dates from about 1951, has a brass flywheel and, unusually, is started with a handle. It is actually in very good condition and still has most of the original green paint and decals in place.
After this success, Tony may look at some of the other motor mowers in the Barn, which we have never had running, with some enthusiasm – watch this space!
Another arrival this month is a market barrow which once stood outside Stevenson’s green grocers shop in Louth. We were advised that it needed a little tlc…………………!
Austin agreed to renovate it, and dismantled it to rebuild at home. The pictures show that underneath the green and yellow paint, there are problems! When completed, it will be used in conjunction with our existing market barrow for selling our produce.
As always many thanks to Clive Sutton for his fabulous photos.
In June 1828 a young woman wandered through Alford leading a horse, she was looking for someone to help her. Eventually she engaged a man called Greenfield, he was to sell the mare at market. Frances Stephenson stood just 5’2″ high, with dark hair and grey eyes and may well have looked older than her 20 years. Life had already been hard and things were about to get worse, something had aroused suspicion and Frances was detained for horse stealing, a capital offence, she must have been desperate to risk a second conviction in Alford that day. Frances was committed to the Georgian Gaol at Lincoln Castle on 13th June 1828 to await trial at the Summer Assizes, she would spend close to 12 months there.
Frances Stephenson was no stranger to hardship, one of five children born to Dinah (Grime) and Soloman Stephenson of Huttoft her mother had died in July 1810 leaving four young children to be cared for. Frances and her sister, also called Dinah, were the youngest; both of them were under three years old. Soloman had to seek Parish Relief to pay for his wife’s burial and some time later he applied to the Parish for money once more, to buy shoes for Frances. 1 Soloman married again the following year, Ann Tinker is recorded as having children prior to the marriage and twins were added to the family in 1815. Soloman died in 1824.
Newspaper reports reveal that Frances and her sister had turned to stealing clothes in their late teens. In December 1826 Frances Stephenson (alias Grime) was sentenced to 3 weeks in the new House of Correction at Spilsby for stealing a pair of shoes from George Holmes of Hundleby. While confined Frances gave birth to her son, John, he was baptised by the prison chaplain on 16th January. A few months later, in July, Dinah was sentenced to 6 months hard labour at Spilsby for stealing two petticoats, a lace collar and various other items of clothing from Mary Booth of Ingoldmells.
The Spilsby House of Correction, along with the newly extended Louth House of Correction, were a product of the prison reform movement of John Howard in the late 1700s, built upon by Elizabeth Fry and the Quakers in the 1820s. Mrs Fry and her brother Joseph Gurney had travelled British towns extensively reporting on the state of prisons in the towns which were not covered by the first reform bill in 1823. The new rules sought cleaner surroundings and better ventilation, clothing was provided along with rules on bathing and matrons were employed to oversee female prisoners. In new builds such as Spilsby there was the provision of an infirmary. In some circumstances the situation in the House of Correction was an improvement on the harsh realities of daily life. The new regimes were also based on ensuring more punitive measures and industry for the prisoners, for women this would mean sewing, laundry and oakham picking.
It was just 18 months after her time in Spilsby House of Correction that Frances found herself inside the walls of Lincoln Castle, and expecting another child. The Georgian Gaol was built in 1788 and comprised separate areas for felons and debtors. Each felon was allowed a rug, three blankets and straw for bedding. The night cells were 10′ by 8’6″ and 11′ high. Each accomodated two prisoners on the wooden bedsteads fastened to the floor. There were four day rooms with fireplaces in them each with a communicating courtyard of approx. 10yds by 15 yds enclosed by a 24′ wall. These rooms were for different classifications of prisoners.
Initially Frances shared with Ann Smith2, who had been convicted at the Grimsby Sessions and sentenced to seven years transportation. Ann (Boyes) was born in Beesby, she married Thomas Smith of Hundleby in 1813, he was a respected gamekeeper by 1828. Her conviction caused a stir, a former professor of Religion, with good connections, she had swiftly fallen from grace when she stole various articles of linen from the shop of her friend Mr Dales. The Stamford Mercury reported :
No person has been transported from Grimsby Borough Sessions for upwards of a century; which circumstance, together with the peculiar nature of the theft, and the reputable sphere of life in which the prisoner moved, excited mingled feelings of indignation and compassion … she has fallen a victim to disgrace. 9th May 1828
It is interesting to wonder how the two women, from such different walks of life, got on together during the their few weeks in that small cell. They may have been able to hear the construction of the new tread-mill. It was close to completion by the end of June when the Stamford Mercury reported that it had “attracted various visitors who have been essaying the effects of the punishment , and it is described as being a sickener for the idle who may stand in need of such an instrument to rouse them to useful exertion.” The treadmill had been adopted as a means of creating hard labour at prisons across the Country since 1817.
Ann Smith received a full Pardon on Sunday 6th July, rather than transportation she returned to her two children, leaving Frances at the Castle to face her fate.
On 26th July Frances stood before the Grand Jury at the Crown Court held in the Gothic Court House built within the castle walls for the assizes in 1826. The Stamford Mercury reported on her trial.
Stealing a Mare at Raithby.
Frances Stephenson, aged 21, a single woman, was charged with stealing a bay mare the property of Edward Lindsey, at Raithby, on the 10th of June. The novelty of this case excited considerable attention, which was not at all diminished by the appearance of the prisoner, who was neatly dressed, and rather of an interesting appearance, but the strange situation which she was placed seemed to excite no terrors in her; she gazed around with a considerable portion of effrontery, although the eyes of every person in tbe court were fixed with earnest curiosity upon her.
The evidence for the prosecution, which was of considerable length, but not requiring a detailed notice, went plainly to prove that, shortly after the robbery, the female had the mare in her possession, and employed a person to dispose of it, under the pretence that her master, the prosecutor, was distressed in his circumstances, and that he had commissioned her to dispose of mare.
The Counsel for the prisoner insinuated that the mare had been given to her by Mr. Lindsey for certain familiar favours which had been allowed by her. Tbe prosecutor, in reply to a severe cross-examination upon this point, steadfastly denied that any thing of the kind had occurred. In her defence, the prisoner admitted taking the mare from the prosecutor’s stable, but asserted that it was with his license, as he resorted to this mode of requiting her for the favours already alluded to, and in consequence of which she declared that she was at that time far advanced in pregnancy.
Verdict: Guilty: Sentence of death recorded. Stamford Mercury: 1st Aug.1828
Following her conviction Frances was returned to a shared cell at the Castle Gaol to await the birth of her child before her sentence was carried out. Shortly after her conviction the treadmills at Lincoln Castle Gaol were set in motion.
The tread-wheels at Lincoln gaol commenced their revolutions last week: four culprits are at present occupied upon them, one of whom is always in reserve as a relief. There are two wheels each of about 12 feet in length. The total number of persons who may be kept in occupation by them is about 18, allowing for the necessary reliefs; but one on each wheel is sufficient to keep it employed, and the machinery is so constructed (by a self adjusting principle) that whether there be one or six on the wheel , it revolves at the same rate. The workmanship of the machinery, ( by Mr Isaac Aydon, of Wakefield ) is considered to be of superior quality: it does not turn any mill , nor is intended to answer any productive object, beyond what may proceed from amending the manners of the prisoners. Stamford Mercury – Friday 29 August 1828
Records on 2nd October reveal that Alice Cater2 of Freiston was her cellmate. Alice was 39 years old, a mother of two, she had been convicted of stealing at the Boston Sessions in July and had been sentenced to 7 years transportation. Later in October she was removed from the Castle to the notorious Millbank Penitentiary in London to await her fate. In 1832 prison petition records list Alice Cater among those who were granted a free pardon, her location is simply stated as “penitentiary” suggesting she may have spent over three years at Millbank, Alice may have avoided transportation but those three years would have been spent in dreadful conditions.
On 17th November 1828 Frances Stephenson gave birth to a daughter, Dinah, her second child born in prison. The whereabouts of her son John is unknown and criminal registers after 1828 refer to her as a mother of just one child. Prior to the birth of her son Frances had named a farm servant from Binbrook, Joseph Wildman, as the father of her unborn child. The assizes had made Joseph responsible for the upkeep of the child for its first 8 years. Lincoln Prison Surgeons2 recorded the birth of her daughter and scant notes on the health of Dinah and her Mother continue into February when the little girl was vaccinated. On March the 14th 1829 Frances recieved “her Majesty’s most gracious pardon on condition of being transported beyond the seas for the term of her natural life.”
Two months later, on 14th May, Frances and her young daughter were removed from Lincoln Castle and transported to Woolwich to board the convict ship ” the Lady of the Lake”. The method of transfer for Frances and baby Dinah is uncertain, the reports of the quakers reveal many methods of transfer for those to be transported. Some transfers from Lincoln Castle were undertaken by way of the Steam Packet from Hull but this method of transfer was not successful and somewhat short lived.
Five convicts who were recently removed from Lincoln Gaol to be put on board the Retribution at Sheerness, for transportation, became so outrageous on their journey and passage that the severest methods were obliged to be had recourse to, but without effect. They expressed their determination to swamp the boat, and to drown themselves and the crew; and made several attempts to do so. On being put on board the packet they commenced a desperate struggle with the officers, whom they challenged to shoot them, being determined if possible to escape or be killed. They were eventually subdued, after receiving some severe contusions from the officers’ staves. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 04 June 1829
At Woolwich Frances would have truly entered the realm of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Frances was exactly the kind of person that Mrs Fry was so determined to help. Sustained by her faith as a Quaker she worked tirelessly to improve conditions based on her belief that no one was beyond redemption. She first visited Newgate prison in 1813, the horrors she had already seen tending to the poor and destitute in London and then in Plashet (East Ham) became displaced in the face of the suffering she found in the prisons. In 1817 she began her task in earnest, winning the women over with her care of their children.
The situation Frances found herself in is revealed in the correspondence of Elizabeth Fry. The convict ships at Woolwich had already fallen under the watchful gaze of the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners created by Mrs Fry in 1817. Building on her successes at Newgate Mrs Fry applied her methods of classification (by character), employment and instruction. The “comparatively uncontaminated” should not mix with the “most abandoned“. From 1818 the ships were a key focus of Mrs Fry’s attention, her companion Mrs Pryor was particularly devoted to this cause, visiting all but one of the female convict ships that sailed until her final illness in 1841. Every aspect of the convict’s situation was examined and the Ladies then worked tirelessly to improve their circumstances and their outlook.
Their reports to Government began with the condition of the prisoners on arrival at Woolwich. In the 1820s the groups of prisoners arrived at the vessels from around the Country. Some marched, others arrived on carts or the exterior of coaches, while more arrived on small coasters. Some were handcuffed , chained together and heavily ironed this made the breaks in the journey even harder to manage. In one reported incident the women had to descend the exterior of the stage coach as a group and manage the children they carried, despite being handcuffed and chained together, without any assistance from the attending turnkey. They had travelled to Woolwich from Lancaster Castle in this way. Many arrived in a dishevelled state with equally destitute children, or were distraught at having been separated from a young child.
Liaisons aboard the convict ships between the women and crew were notorious, tales abound of “delayed ships”, one in particular where children were conceived and born before arrival. Penny dreadful stories and images such as the one below leave little to the imagination. Similarly the situation for the female convicts upon arrival was not conducive to following the righteous path advocated by Mrs Fry.
During the voyage the women were in originally in the care of the Master and crew with the exception of the Naval Surgeon Superintendent. There was no instruction in reading or religion and no provision to enable them to keep clean or ensure proper clothing. Mrs Fry worked closely with Admiral Young of Deptford and Admiral Byam Martin Comptroller of the Navy. These gentlemen respected her motives as just and humane and admired her relentless pursuit of the cause. On one occasion Mrs Fry and Mrs Pryor had to be rescued from a small rowing boat when returning from one visit to a hulk on the Thames. Admiral Young’s department was responsible for fitting out the convict ships, he had suggested the provision of patchwork for the employment of the women during the voyage. The instruction in sewing and provision of materials for patchwork among other skills followed.
In a letter written in 1820 to Admiral Martin Mrs Fry thanks him for the increased provision of soap and towels for the female convicts during their voyage. When one request is met with disdain by a Navy Surgeon Mrs Fry writes
I believe I may say for all the ladies of our Association , that we do not desire indulgences or increased comforts for convicts, except so far as good and orderly conduct may conduce it. Some of our prisons we think decidedly too comfortable ; and our great wish is, that by employment and instruction, with habits of cleanliness and order , the time of their imprisonment may be a time of reformation, not of indulgence. … I believe kindness does more in turning them from the error of their ways than harsh treatment; and that many a poor creature claims a compassion and tenderness that is little known, but to those who visit prisons; as there are many of whom it may be said that, they were driven into guilt , and only want the way to be made open , to return with joy into the paths of virtue. Surely for their welfare … and hope that even the worst may be preserved from futher evil as well as for the sake of the colony , the women’s morals should be protected on the voyage; it is worth the effort to make the convict ship a place for industry, instruction and reform. extract from : Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry1847
Frances joined the convict ship The Lady of the Lake in May 1829. The ship’s surgeon was William Evans RN Supritendant, his journal provides an insight into the voyage undertaken.
… From 18-31 May 1829, we received 10 free women and 19 children; 81 female prisoners and 17 children, the largest ever sent to New South Wales in so small a vessel; and I may here observe that she was the smallest ship ever taken up to convey convicts. We were visited repeatedly by Mrs Pryor and Miss Lydia Irving, the quakers, while at Woolwich, who appeared to be indefatigable in endeavouring to impress upon the prisoners the necessity of abandoning their evil ways and becoming useful members of society. After several excellent admonitory discourses they distributed to them testaments , religious tracts, and several articles of comfort for their use during the voyage.
Appointed Mary Ann Newsome, Schoolmistress over the children in the prison, and Mrs Shacklock, a free woman, Schoolmistress over the children in steerage. The two to have a sovereign each at the end of the voyage, if they perfomed their duty, Mrs Pryor having deposited that sum with me for such purpose.
A cook, and a cook’s mate , were selected from among the convicts:- these have for their trouble, the drippings and fat, which are sold in New South Wales, to the soap boilers, for ten to twelve pounds.
Mary Stewart Mason and Mary Ann Guy were appointed overseers, one on each side of the deck in the prison, to see it cleaned every morning , and swept after every meal; they were also to see that the cisterns of the water closets were filled at least twice a day, and to select delegates from the messes in succession to superinted the issuing of provisions, in order to prevent the possibility of complaints arising on that head at the conclusion of the voyage.
The cooks were let on deck at six in the morning , the deegates at seven, and the prisoners doors opened for the whole to come on deck at eight o’clock.
They were mustered below at sunset every evening, during the voyage, and locked up for the night.
Divine service performed every Sunday, on the quarter deck in fine weather , and in the Prison-room when the weather was boisterous.
On Sundays and Thursdays at 10am, they were mustered to see that they were clean in their persons; and Wednesdays and Saturdays were set apart for washing days.
On 12th June , received despatches for his Excellency Governor Arthur, and sailing orders to proceed with all dispatch to Hobart Town Van Diemen’s Land.
… [On Monday 15th June] put all hands upon an allowance of six pints of water. From this period to the second July we experienced a series of Westerly and South Westerly strong breezes, accompanied with much rain, which rendered the vessel exceedingly damp, and during thisperiod the convicts suffered greatly from Sea sickness. Thermometer ranging between 560 and 580. Fires were had recourse to between decks , and the floors of the hospital and prison were sprinkled frequently with the solution of the Chloride of Lime. … put on , as in , whitewashing with a brush to the sides, deck and berths, [to] render a crowded prison perfectly sweet in a few minutes, especially with the aid of good fires in the swing and airing stoves.
On 8th July we reached Tenerife to replenish our water and procure fresh provisions for the convicts. On Saturday 11th July we got underway … fresh trade winds … rendered our passage from Teneriffe to the equator exceedingly tedious … the weather … was often sultry and oppressive.
The general health on board suffered a great deal about this period. From the Meridian to the Cape of Good Hope we experienced a succession of very heavy gales … accompanied by much rain, hail and sleet until we reached Van Diemen’s Land.
On the 16th October , it blew a complete hurricane, when the ship was obliged to be hove too the wind, and under bare poles. – During this part of the passage , the sea constantly washed over the ship, and the hatches were frequenlty obliged to be put on;- not withstanding , the Prison and Hospital, as well as the bedding and the clothing of the Prisoners were saturated with salt water, and we had no means of having them dried, – the water being ankle deep between the decks. The consequence was that a great number of Catarrhal cases, Pneumonia, Acute Rheumatism, and Scorbutic Dysentery [ Scurvy] came under my observation at this time; indeed towards the latter end of the voyage Scorbutic cases became very prevalent, and had the passage been prolonged we should have lost more.
[On 1st November ] … we came to an anchor in Sullivan’s Cove, Hobart Town. On the 4th November , the prisoners were inspected by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, who was pleased to say that he was perfectly satisfied with their appearance, and with their management during the voyage, and on the 6th November they were all landed and assigned to the service of settlers with the exception of three.
I may here be permitted to observe , that a ship of the small tonnage of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ is by no means adapted to carry out female prisoners; from being constantly wet between the decks and the hatches being obliged to be put on, there by causing great deterioration of the atmosphere in the prison.
Surgeon’s Journal of His Majesty’s Female Convict Ship ” the Lady of the Lake 1829
During the voyage 2 female convicts had died, one fell overboard, and three infants died. Frances and Dinah had survived this terrible ordeal, they now faced their life in Hobart, much of which had also seen the guiding hand of Elizabeth Fry during the planning but on the other side of the World the diligent attention of the Quaker reformers was lacking when it came to reporting and influencing the reality.
Elizabeth Fry had first become aware of the hopeless situation, which met female convicts in New South Wales, through her visits to Newgate. The Reverend Samuel Marsden subsequently appealed to her for help from his home in Parramatta in February 1819. He cited the plight of these women whom he saw frequently in his roles both as a missionary and as a magistrate, underlining that they had no righteous paths open to them upon their arrival, with no shelter, no work and children to feed they quickly fell into disreputable ways.
“I meet with those wretched exiles who have shared your attentions and who mention your maternal care with gratitude and affection. From the measures you have adopted, and the lively interest you have excited in the public feeling , on behalf of the of these miserable victims of vice and woe, I now hope the period is not very distant when their miseries will in some degree be alleviated. … For the last five and twenty years many of the convict women have been driven to vice, to obtain a loaf of bread or a bed to lie upon. To this day there has never been a place to put the female convicts in when they land from the ships. … All female convicts have not run the same lengths in vice, all are not equally hardened in crime . And it is most dreadful that all should alike, on their arrival here be liable and exposed to the same dangerous temptations without remedy.” Rev. Samuel Marsden: Memoirs Elizabeth Fry
Throughout the 1820s Mrs Fry championed the cause of these women. In 1823, following the opening of a building for female convicts in Paramatta 2 years previously, she wrote to her friend the Right Honourable R Wilmot Horton on the need for a similar building in Hobart:
I take the liberty of stating in writing our views relative to the female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land; in order that they may be submitted to the consideration of Lord Bathurst as we cannot but feel anxious that the care we extend to this degraded class of the community, not only in different prisons but also on the voyage , should be rendered permanently beneficial through the co-operation of government in the colonies. In the first place we deem it expedient that a building be erected at Hobart Town for the reception of female convicts. … That a respectable Matron be there stationed to superintend the whole estabishment. Part of the building be appropriated to the use of an adult and girl’s school and that the school mitresses be selected by the Matron from among the reformed prisoners, provided they be sufficiently qualified. That immediately upon arrival of the ship , after it has been visited either by the Governor or by some other person appointed by him, for the purpose of inspecting its general condition; the convicts be quietly (and as privately as possible) conducted from the ship to the said building, where the deportment of every prisoner shall be scrutinised with exactness. If the Secretary of State for the Home Department were to direct, that the surgeon superintendent should be furnished by the magistrates with a written account of the general conduct and character of every individual seen previously to their commitment, together with the nature and extent of their offence; we think it would greatly aid the Governor in his decision with regard to the proper disposal of the prisoners on the colony. That those who merit a favourable report be selected and allowed to be taken into service , by respectable inhabitants under such retraints and regulations as may be considered needful. The other to remain confined receiving at the same time suitable instruction and employment until they evince sufficient amendment in habits and dispostions to warrant the grant of a similar indulgence. We would also propose that a sufficient supply of strong and decent clothing ( not parto coloured) be provided for them during the voyage; to be put on when they enter the ship in exchange for their own. [All kept under inventory to be returned on discharge from prison] Great advantage during the voyage and while in the river that the women should wear a simple uniform dress, indispsensable for establishing order and for enforcing the regulations on board the ship that a matron be stationed there constantly whilst they remain in the river, to attend to clothing and search female visitors in order that no spiritous liquors or anything else improper be introduced. Could a person in that capacity accompany them on the voyage. …We are pleased to understand that the factory in Paramatta has more than cleared its expenses during the last year. …we are fully aware that much has been accomplished ; that many of our requests have been granted with obliging readiness, and we shall feel our sense of gratitude much increased if Lord Bathurst will condescend to peruse these remarks and to act in compliance, as far as his judgement can approve, and his authority enforce. Elizabeth Fry Memoirs 1847
John Skinner Prout 1844
The building sought by Mrs Fry was completed in December 1828. The Cascades Female Factory was a repurposed distillery at the foot of Mount Wellington and despite the noble ideals behind its creation the reality fell a long way short. Those women previously housed in the town were moved into the new building first and then classified according to the new regime.
The building Frances and Dinah would have seen in 1829 consisted of one rectangular yard. Surrounded by high walls with just one entrance. Within the courtyard internal walls created seven smaller yards, one for the entrance and the offices, one for each of the hospital kitchen and nursery and three more separated the different classes of women, their yards adjacent to their sleeping quarters and dayrooms. The two storey buildings lined the external yard walls, and also housed staff. A chapel and further sleeping rooms extended into the centre. 12 solitary confinement cells underlined the harsh regime.
The classification of the women was as follows:
Class 1: Women arrived from England with a good behaviour report from the Superintendent Surgeon, along with those who had returned to the Factory from Service with good characters. This class of women were assigned to service as soon as possible.
Class 3: The lowest classification was reserved for those transported for a second time, noted as disorderly by the surgeon or had committed offences within Cascades. The second class was comprised for those women between the other two classes some of whom were working their way up while others were slipping down.
As suggested by Elizabeth Fry the classifications designated the work of the women. Those ranked in the higher class would be assigned to better families and for better duties such as cooks or overseers. Second class convicts would be provided work on site making and mending clothes, while the lower criminal class would be employed carding and spinning wool.
Despite previous convictions for stealing, along with lewd and disorderly behaviour, Frances Stephenson had good behaviour reports from the gaol and the ship’s surgeon. Unable to read or write she was categorised as a farm servant / housemaid, able to wash and iron, capable of plain cooking and milking. Her convict records reflect that she is likely to have been among those assigned on arrival, depending on when Dinah was weaned. Frances’ records do show that she spent some time at cascades but this may have been between service assignments. Young Dinah would by necessity be left in the care of the nursery at Cascades. In February 1829 the Hobart Times3 reported on the arrangements in relation to the arrival of the convict ship The Harmony in January:
The new House of Correction is likely to be attended with much advantage, an instance of which already sensibly appears in the disposal of the female prisoners by the Harmony. Many of the best servants, it is well known, were necessarily kept in the late Factory, owing to the children, which there was no means of disposing of, but by leaving them in the charge of the mother; for few, if any families could be expected to incur the expense and trouble of one or two little children for the sake of the small attendance. In the new establishment, however, this inconvenience is wisely provided for. Matrons, or proper persons are appointed in apartments for that purpose, to nurse and educate the children as soon as they can with propriety leave the mother, who is thus left at liberty to go to service. By this means a large proportion of the prisoners from the Harmony, who had children with them, and who on the former system must have remained a charge on the public, have been assigned to service. February 1829the Hobart Times
A newspaper article in 1892 related the reality of these separations. George Pullen was the nephew of the assistant superintendent at Cascades and he wrote of his childhood recollections of the Cascades Factory from its opening in 1828 to his uncle’s resignation in April 1831:
For some days after the arrival of a female prison ship, a stranger, looking on from the outside, would have concluded that the ‘Factory’ was en fete. Vehicles of every description then used might be seen driving up to the gates and setting down the—well, I will make one word do for the wives of the wealthy, the middle class and the humble artisan, and style them all ladies. The ladies, then, alighted from their vehicles, and producing their orders for servants on assignment, the women were called in one by one and put through their catechism. “Can you wash?” “Can you sew?” “Can you get up fine linen?” “Can you cook?” “Are you fond of children?” etc. After thus examining some half-dozen a choice was made, and mistress and servant drove off together. Before the close of a week by far the larger portion of the human consignment was distributed amongst and in the homes of their masters in both town and country. … The Colonial Surgeon, Dr. J. Scott, R.N., made periodical visits for the purpose of reporting on the sanitary condition of the whole place and its inmates. The hospital was never overcrowded; many of the cases only helping to swell the expenses of the nursery and Orphan School. To these cases Colonel Arthur showed no mercy. The unfortunate creature nursed her child for nine or twelve months, after which it was taken from her arms, and consigned to the tender mercies of strangers in the nursery. The mother was then sentenced to an imprisonment of eighteen months before she became eligible for assigned service. Many of the poor mites seemed discontented with the new world into which they had been ushered, and left it altogether; while those of stronger constitutions, but less fortunate, pined within the stone-wall enclosure, with only occasional peeps for a short time at nature’s verdure outside, fighting for life against the neglect and peculation of their convict nurses for two or three years, when they were removed to the less confined and more healthy atmosphere of the Orphan School at New Town. The scenes witnessed at the separation of mother and child were sometimes very harrowing. Backward Glances : Launceston Examiner 1892
The cascades factory quickly became notorious for the poor state of those confined there , in particular the children.3 The buildings were already in the shadow of Mount Wellington and the high yard walls ensured a state of permanent damp and shade prevailed. Inadequate rations, cramped conditions and poor hygiene took their toll with death rates in the nurseries four times higher than in the town. Reports abound on the poor state of the conditions; children crowded by the dozen into small rooms, buildings piled with rubbish and crawling with bugs, while settlers complained that the women arrived from the factories in a filthy state.
In March 1830 young Dinah succumbed to these conditions, born in Lincoln Castle Gaol in November 1828 she had been transported for months across the seas to the terrible conditions in the convict nursery, where ,separated from her mother, she gave up her fight for life.
Frances continued along the dictated path. In December 1830 a marriage application is recorded for Frances Stephenson, Lady of the Lake, and Henry ( Harry) Sherwood, Hibernia. Harry had been transported for sheep stealing in 1818, the two were married in March 1831.
Harry and Frances went on to have eight children between 1832 and 1847.
The 1832 and 1833 musters record Frances as assigned to a Mr R Barker. In 1835 she received a ticket of leave, with a conditional pardon in 1840 and a free pardon being fully approved in 1842, records reveal that she was “recommended by several persons of respectability in her neighbourhood as an exceedingly well conducted and steady woman”. Although one newspaper report in April 1840 suggests that her life remained complicated ; Samuel Barton had his ticket of leave suspended and was given three months hard labour on the roads for carrying out an illicit correspondence with a married woman and assaulting her husband, Harry Sherwood.
Frances would later marry again, following the death of Harry she married Joseph Haywood in 1875, subsequently widowed once more she married Richard Price in 1887 at the age of 80. Frances died in October 1889 , she is buried in Yarram, Victoria. She endured the absence of John and the loss of Dinah, out living three of her husbands and five of her eight1 children with Harry Sherwood.
The young woman who had reportedly looked around the court of assizes with such effrontery, 60 years before, seems to have been in possession of a remarkable inner strength which provided her with a dogged determination to just keep going.
Many thanks to Carol Mayall for giving me permission to use information sourced from “tangible” documents in the form of parish registers.
As above Carol Mayall provided the names of Frances’ cell mates from Lincoln Castle records; accessed while researching “one of [her] most colourful ancestors“.
The Female Convicts Research Centre Website contains a wealth of information on the subject of Cascades and many other Factories and stories. https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au