St. Edward the Martyr

St. Edward the Martyr as depicted on the stain glass window of St. George's Church, Fordington, Dorchester © Mark North/DCM 2014

St. Edward the Martyr as depicted on the stain glass window of St. George’s Church, Fordington, Dorchester © Mark North/DCM 2014

The following is an extract taken from the ‘Chambers Book of Days’ March 18th 1864, with regards to the death of Edward the king of England who was brutely murdered near Corfe Castle, Dorset.

“The great King Edgar had two wives, first Elfleda, and, after her death, Elfrida, an ambitious woman, who had become queen through the murder of her first husband, and who survived her second; and Edgar left a son by each, Edward by Elfleda, and Ethelred by Elfrida. At the time of their father’s death, Edward was thirteen, and Ethelred seven years of age; and they were placed by the ambition of Elfrida, and by political events, in a position of rivalry. Edgar’s reign had been one continued struggle to establish monarchism, and with it the supremacy of the Church of Rome, in Anglo-Saxon England; and the violence with which this design had been carried out, with the persecution to which the national clergy were subjected, now caused a reaction, so that at Edgar’s death the country was divided into two powerful parties, of which the party opposed to the monks was numerically the strongest. The queen joined this party, in the hope of raising her son to the throne, and of ruling England in his name; and the feeling against the Romish usurpation was so great, that, although Edgar had declared his wish that his eldest son should succeed him, and his claim was no doubt just, the crown was only secured to him by the energetic interference of Dunstan. Edward thus became King of England in the year 975.

Edward appears, as far as we can learn, to have been an amiable youth, and to have possessed some of the better qualities of his father; but his reign and life were destined to be cut short before he reached an age to display them. He had sought to conciliate the love of his step-mother by lavishing his favour upon her, and he made her a grant of Dorsetshire, but in vain; and she lived, apparently in a sort of sullen state, away from court, with her son Ethelred, at Corfe in that county, plotting, according to some authorities, with what may be called the national party, against Dunstan and the government.

Corfe Castle, Dorset

Corfe Castle, Dorset

The Anglo-Saxons were all passionately attached to the pleasures of the chase, and one day—it was the 18th of March 978 — King Edward was hunting in the forest of Dorset, and, knowing that he was in the neighbourhood of Corfe, and either suffering from thirst or led by the desire to see his half-brother Ethelred, for whom he cherished a boyish attachment, he left his followers and rode alone to pay a visit to his mother. Elfrida received him with the warmest demonstrations of affection, and, as he was unwilling to dismount from his horse, she offered him the cup with her own hand. While he was in the act of drinking, one of the queen’s The Murder of King Edward the Martyr attendants, by her command, stabbed him with a dagger. The prince hastily turned his horse, and rode toward the wood, but he soon became faint and fell from his horse, and his foot becoming entangled in the stirrup, he was dragged along till the horse was stopped, and the corpse was carried into the solitary cottage of a poor woman, where it was found next morning, and, according to what appears to be the most trustworthy account, thrown by Elfrida’s directions into an adjoining marsh.

The young king was, however, subsequently buried at Wareham, and removed in the following year to be interred with royal honours at Shaftesbury. The monastic party, whose interests were identified with Edward’s government, and who considered that he had been sacrificed to the hostility of their opponents, looked upon him as a martyr, and made him a saint. The writer of this part of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, who was probably a contemporary, expresses his feelings in the simple and pathetic words, ‘No worse deed than this was done to the Anglo race, since they first came to Britain.’

The story of the assassination of King Edward is sometimes quoted in illustration of a practice which existed among the Anglo-Saxons. Our forefathers were great drinkers, and it was customary with them, in drinking parties, to pass round a large cup, from which each in turn drunk to some of the company. He who thus drank, stood up, and as he lifted the cup with both hands, his body was exposed without any defence to a blow, and the occasion was often seized by an enemy to murder him. To prevent this, the following plan was adopted. When one of the company stood up to drink, he required the companion who sat next to him, or some one of the party, to be his pledge, that is, to be responsible for protecting him against anybody who should attempt to take advantage of his defenceless position: and this companion, if he consented, stood up also, and raised his drawn sword in his hand to defend him while drinking. This practice, in an altered form, continued long after the condition of society had ceased to require it, and was the origin of the modern practice of pledging in drinking. At great festivals, in some of our college halls and city companies, the custom is preserved almost in its primitive form in passing round the ceremonial cup—the loving cup, as it is sometimes called. As each person rises and takes the cup in his hand to drink, the man seated next to him rises also, and when the latter takes the cup in his turn, the individual next to him does the same.”

Extract from an article written by the George J. Bennett. titled ‘The Religious Foundations and Norman Castle of Wareham’ from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 19 1898, 

St. Edward the Martyr Sign

St. Edward the Martyr commerative sign Corfe village © DCM 2014

The Saxon Chronicler asserts that in A.D. 979 the Saxon King Edward was slain at eventide at Corfe Gate, on the 18th March, and then he was buried at Wareham without  any kind of kingly honours. Those acquainted with the records of Edward’s murder and burial are aware that the monkish historians  affirm that three times the dead king’s body was discovered by supernatural lights:- 1. In a cottage at Corfe Gate. 2. By the light which appeared above the marshy ground. 3. By the light over the grave at Wareham.

When the treacherous blow had been dealt, the mortally wounded monarch rode hastily away, but, falling from loss of blood, he was dragged a considerable distance by his horse. We learn from Hutchins (Hutchins, 1st Ed., Vol I.p. 177.) that Elfrida immediately despatched some trusty servants to ascertain the result of her treachery. Russel (Russel’s Hist. Eng., p. 47.) informs us that they traced it by the blood, and found the king’s corpse much bruised and defaced. From conflicting records we gather that Edward’s body was found at the base of the hill, by what was afterwards termed St. Edward’s, or King Bridge. Elfrida then commanded that the body should be hidden in a cottage. The superstitious affirm that during the night, the house became illuminated by a blaze of miraculous light, by which the sight of a blind inmate was restored. On the site of that house a church was afterwards built. Corfe Castle Church is one of the very few in England dedicated to King Edward the Martyr.

The morning after the murder, when she had been informed of these circumstances, Elfrida commanded that Edward’s body should be removed from the cottage secretly, and hidden in a marshy place. This was done, and it is evident that only Elfrida’s confederates in guilt were entrusted with the work. When the guilty Queen had seen her orders executed, she, in order to avoid suspicion, left Corves-geiite, and retired to the Royal residence at Bere Regis. Ineffectual search continued to be made by Edward’s retainers for the body of their late master. At length their efforts were rewarded. The superstitious supposed that “a pillar of fire,” descending from heaven, illuminated the place where it was hid. Edward’s body was then carried to Waieham, and buried with as much secrecy by the late monarch’s friends as his enemies had used in hiding it. If Edward’s body was really concealed in one of the Purbeck peat bogs, Brannon says : “The astonishing power of peat would actually embalm the body ; the presence of animal matter evolve at a strong phosphorescent light, and the ‘ pillar of fire,’ in this case an ignis not factuus, would rest over it.” By accepting this theory the supposed miracle is accounted for. When writing of the discovery of Edward’s body in the marshy place, Hutching, quoting Brompton, observes : ” Some devout people of Wareham brought it to that town, to the church of St. Mary, and buried it in a plain manner (non regio more) on the east side, where a wooden church, (Hutchins, 2nd Ed., Vol. I, p. 177. ) afterwards built by religious persons, was to be seen in that author’s time.” From Brompton, the historian, we learn some important facts. First, that the actual spot where Edward was buried at Wareham was unknown, even to the ecclesiastics, so secret was the burial. In his Magna Britannia, (Dorsetshire, p. 562. ) published 1720, the Rev. T. Cox shows that it was only by a supposed miracle that Edward’s burial place at Wareham was discovered. He writes of Edward thus : — ” His body had been clandestinely buried at Wareham, in hopes that his murder might have been concealed ; but it being afterwards discovered by a miraculous blaze of light hanging over his tomb.” The reports of the miracles and wonders at Wareham, were, according to Malmesbury, wide spread ; and much good is said to have been effected by the sanctity of the royal remains. As an historical fact, Brompton, Abbot of Forvant, informs us that the body of King Edward was buried, not in, but on the east side of St. Mary’s Church. The fact that Edward was not buried in a church, and the statement of some, probably correct, that the body was discovered in unconsecrated ground, would be ample reason for the removal of the body from Wareham. When the report of the miracles (Dorsetshire, p. 562.) and discovery of the body had been communicated to Elfrida, she granted permission for Edward’s remains to be removed to Shaftesbury Abbey, and there royally entombed. We are informed by the Saxon Chronicler that in A.D. 980 ” St. Dunstan and Alfere, the ealderman, fetched the holy king’s body, St. Edward’s, from Wareham, and bore it with much solemnity to Shaftesbury.” For his information, though brief, we are under an obligation to Brompton. He tells us that the Saxon King Edward was buried on the east side of St. Mary’s, and that on the spot where Edward had been buried a wooden church was built. And what is also important, Brompton asserts that the wooden church was still existing when he wrote at the close of the 14th century. Here we have a substantial proof that the body of King Edward was never buried in St. Mary’s Church ; that church was also existing. None of the monkish historians tell us that King Edward was buried in St. Mary’s Church, nor do the modern make any such statement.

That the late Mr. T. Bond accepted Brompton’s statement is certain. In his ” Corfe Castle ” he writes : — ” Search being made for the body, the place where it was concealed was discovered, and thereupon some devout people of Wareham, having conveyed the corpse to the church of St. Mary, in that town, buried it in a plain and homely manner on a spot where religious men afterwards built a wooden church, still standing when Brompton’s Chronicle was written.”

When, in 1841, the nave of Lady St. Mary’s was demolished, and the original St. Mary’s shortened, some ancient stone coffins were discovered and destroyed. One, however, was preserved, the remarkable boat-shaped sarcophagus of Purbeck marble now standing at the entrance to the church. In circumference it measures 17ft. it is 8ft. 2in. in length ; width at shoulders, 30in. ; greatest outer depth, 17in. ; it is estimated to weigh considerably over a ton. Some think King Edward was buried in that coffin; competent judges assert that it is much too modern. Supposing that the King’s body had been laid therein, it would have been an utter impossibility to have buried a coffin of such size and weight secretly in so small a building, 12ft. wide and about 45ft. long. To such a secret burial as King Edward had, this huge coffin would have been a mostserious hindrance. The original St. Mary’s is now used as a choir vestry and called King Edward’s Chapel.

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Dress owned by Thomas Hardy’s sister goes on display at Museum

Katharine Hardy

Katharine Hardy © DCM

Dorset County Museum’s textile archive includes a significant collection of clothing originally owned by Thomas Hardy’s family. Among the pieces is a stunning red bustle dress worn by his sister Katherine.

Until now most of the collection has remained in storage but a generous grant from the Daphne Bullard Trust has enabled the dress to be specially prepared and placed on display in the Museum’s Writers Gallery.

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

The bustle dress has been mounted on a bespoke mannequin with text panels and photographs showing the context in which it was worn. The dress, made in about 1889, consists of a bodice and skirt in red grosgrain silk. It is an evocative, personal garment with a tight-fitting, fashionable bodice and skirt. With its luxurious red silk and bustle, it is similar to the fashionable dresses Tess wears in Hardy’s famous novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Displaying the dress both safely and sympathetically was a complicated project. A particular consideration was Kate Hardy’s large bust. She also had a very small waist and narrow shoulders so a special mannequin was adapted with additional padding in the relevant areas. A petticoat was added for support and padded arms allow the sleeves to hold their natural shape. Extra pads were finally attached around the hips to help support the weight of the skirt and prevent stress on the original fastenings.

To see the dress, visit Dorset County Museum between 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Saturday.

Related Links:

Daphne Bullard Trust Hardy Signs

Katharine Hardy’s Dress exhibited at the Dorset County Museum

Katharine Hardy

Katharine Hardy © DCM

A significant collection of Thomas Hardy’s family clothes has recently been researched and documented at Dorset County Museum. This collection, spanning three generations of the Hardy family from 1800 to 1928, tell us so much about the shape, tastes and lives of the original wearers. It includes Thomas Hardy’s embroidered christening robe, a crinoline dress worn by his mother and a striking red bustle dress worn by his sister Katharine (Kate). Until now most of this collection has remained in storage, as it requires specialist mounting and display.

Dorset County Museum selected Katharine Hardy’s dress for display, as it is particularly significant in terms of colour, design, Hardy family history and in illustrating descriptions of dress in Hardy’s literature.

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014 Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy –
Images © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Kate Hardy, born in 1856, was also involved in bequeathing the Hardy archive to Dorset County Museum. The importance of this collection is recognised through its recent inscription on the UK Register of Important Literary Heritage under the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ programme.

The grant from the Daphne Bullard Trust enabled this dress to be mounted on a conservation-grade mannequin and displayed in the Thomas Hardy Gallery, in which there was previously no examples of dress. This display will be pivotal in engaging a new and broader audience for the Gallery. It is sure to stimulate public fascination and this visually attractive and accessible object of personal significance will bring the literature to life.

The Dress

Donated in 1984, the dress consists of a bodice and skirt in red, ribbed (grosgrain) silk. It was made in c.1889 by the linen drapers, Genge, Dixon & Jameson in Dorchester.

Kate Hardy (front left) with other teachers © DCM

Kate Hardy (front left) with other teachers © DCM

Kate Hardy (left) © DCM

Kate Hardy (left) © DCM

Tess of the DUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

An evocative personal garment with its tight-fitting, fashionable bodice and skirt, it closely resembles a dress worn by Kate, a local teacher, in photographs above. With its luxurious red silk and bustle it is also similar to the fashionable dress Tess wears in Tess of the d’Urbervilles when she is fleeing with her husband Angel Clare, having stabbed Alec d’Urberville:

‘Her clothes were of the latest fashion, even to the dainty ivory-handled parasol that she carried, a fashion unknown in the retired spot to which they had now wandered; and the cut of such articles would have attracted attention in the settle of a tavern.’

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Penguin Classics, 2008, (first published 1891), p. 390

Conservation and Mounting the Dress

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_001 Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_003

The intention of this project was to display the dress both safely and sympathetically by providing adequate support. It was also important for the result to look aesthetically pleasing to the museum visitor.

Dresses of this period were less structured and supported by petticoats although there is a small bustle pad attached to back of skirt.

Dresses of this period were less structured and supported by petticoats although there is a small bustle pad attached to back of skirt.

A particular consideration was Kate’s large bust as it was difficult to weigh up “filling” every fold but wanting the bodice to look as natural as possible.

A particular consideration was Kate’s large bust as it was difficult to weigh up “filling” every fold but wanting the bodice to look as natural as possible.

Kate Hardy had a very small waist and narrow shoulders so a museum grade mannequin was purchased. This was adapted by padding relevant areas with polyester wadding. Strips of wadding were sewn onto the torso with care taken to work symmetrically. When the correct shape was acquired the entire mannequin was covered with cotton jersey. The fabric was left unstitched in places to allow more padding to be added if necessary when the dress was finally placed on mannequin.

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_004 Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_005

A calico petticoat was made and attached to the torso and net flounces were sewn in layers to support the skirt and accentuate the slight train of the dress. A silk overskirt was made to prevent the net catching the fragile lining of the skirt and enable ease of dressing the mannequin.

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_008 Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_009

Padded arm supports were made with a slight curve to allow sleeves to hold their natural shape. These were attached at the shoulder point only and allowed to hang freely to enable easier dressing of the mannequin.

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_010Extra pads were attached around the hips to help support the weight of the skirt and prevent stress on the original fastenings.

A pattern was taken of neck and conservation board cut to shape and covered with a grey polyester fabric. The neck circle of the mannequin was covered in same way and reattached by sewing. A ‘bib’ was sewn onto the mannequin to match and fill the open neckline for photography and display.

The intention was to bring this vibrant dress belonging to Kate Hardy to life and this has been achieved. The dress is well supported on the adapted mannequin and is now on display in the Dorset Writers Gallery, enhancing this space with its dramatic presence.

Displaying the Dress

The display opened in the Thomas Hardy Gallery on Friday 12th December, 2014. The garment is displayed in a case together with Kate’s black and white striped parasol. It is the first time that it has been displayed alongside photographs of the wearer and in the context of Thomas Hardy’s literary heritage.

Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_004 Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_005
The dress is positioned in front of an illustration of Stonehenge, from the serialisation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in The Graphic, 1891. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, wearing a similar dress, is resting on a slab of stone before being arrested © DCM

The dress is positioned in front of an illustration of Stonehenge, from the serialisation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in The Graphic, 1891. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, wearing a similar dress, is resting on a slab of stone before being arrested © DCM

A text panel, labels and photographs interpret the dress in the context of Kate Hardy’s life, and the rich array of clothing described in Thomas Hardy’s works, illuminating fiction with fashion. The display also reflects the inspiring and engaging potential of collections, uncovering new research and displaying previously unseen objects for public enjoyment.

Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_001 Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_002

The dress will be linked with the Thomas Hardy: Fashion, Fact and Fiction exhibition at Dorset County Museum, planned for April 2019. This exhibition will examine Hardy’s work from a fresh perspective in the context of fashion, interweaving costume with images, letters, literature and diaries. It will be based around a core Dorset County Museum collection of dress worn by Thomas Hardy and his family, fashionable dress and rural workers clothing.

Dorset County Museum is very grateful to the Daphne Bullard Trust for its generous support in making this project possible.

Helen Francis, Mounting Conservator
Lucy Johnston, Curator
Dorset County Museum,
12th December 2014

Related Links:

Daphne Bullard Trust Hardy Signs

The History of the Dorchester Gallows

Dorchester GallowsFrom the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 32, 1911, an article written by the Rev. S. E. v. Filleul, M.A.  entitled ‘The History of the Dorchester Gallows’

In Speed’s plan of the town of Dorchester, published in 1610, the gallows is clearly located at the angle of what is now called Icen Way, and South Walks. It is depicted, not in the gibbet form, such as one might have frequently seen at cross-roads in the country, with the wasted frames of highwaymen hanging in irons, rattling out their unwholesome sermons to passers-by as long as they held together; but in the usual pattern of two uprights with a crossbeam connecting them. The drawing is suggestive enough of a certain width between the two uprights, giving space enough for the two-wheel cart to pass through that bore the victim and his coffin. Standing between the posts, while the rope was being adjusted, it formed the platform which relatives and friends mounted to bid their last farewells, and upon which the black-gowned priest stood to the end exhorting to confession and repentance.

Dorchester Gallows highlighted on John Speed's Plan of the town

Dorchester Gallows highlighted on John Speed’s Plan of the town

The street now called Icen Way was not so named in years /gone by. It started as ” Gaol-lane,” from the gaol at the corner of High East-street; then a section was known as Bell-street,” taking this name from the Bell Inn, which stood just above the present gasworks. Here the condemned were allowed to halt and take their last earthly refreshment. The final section up to the fatal mound was ” Gallows Hill.” Upon this spot thousands must have suffered the cruel lingering death by strangling that our murderous laws condemned man, woman, and child to suffer for even a theft to the worth of 5s. Here, periodically, following the Assizes, the State provided its public spectacles of torture, thinking to terrorise evil-doers and improve the morals of the people. Up the narrow lane from gaol to gallows the dismal processions with the jolting cart constantly climbed. Sometimes, as a heretic or a traitor, the condemned would be dragged by the heels along the rough road, or upon a hurdle or sledge, with frightened horses kicking and plunging. At the end of his journey still keener suffering awaited him, to be hung, and even before death, disembowelled, and then quartered. The crowd was always ready for the pastime, of which it never grew weary. It was mostly a bloodthirsty crowd that drank and cursed and jeered around the gallows, but many there must have been that pitied and prayed when some ragged, trembling lad was led up to close a life that had hardly begun, or as they saw husband and wife or parents and children ruthlessly parted when the last terrible moment arrived.  Dorchester gallows have a long, grim tale to tell, for they were the County gallows, fed by the County gaol.

The Dorset Martyrs, Bronze maquette, 2/8. Dame Elisabeth Frink RA, 1986. One of eight maquettes made in the creation of the statue group erected at Gallows Hill, South Walks, Dorchester. A memorial to those Dorset men and women who died for their faiths during the religious troubles of the 16th and 17th centuries, and in particular to those who were executed at Gallows Hill, South Walks.

The Dorset Martyrs, Bronze maquette, 2/8. Dame Elisabeth Frink RA, 1986.
One of eight maquettes made in the creation of the statue group erected at Gallows Hill, South Walks, Dorchester. A memorial to those Dorset men and women who died for their faiths during the religious troubles of the 16th and 17th centuries, and in particular to those who were executed at Gallows Hill, South Walks. © DCM

A hundred years after these early plans of the town were drawn by Speed, the gallows was removed to another place. It is shown, still of the same design, standing on the west side of the Amphitheatre, between it and the Weymouth-road, in the engraving of that place to be found in ” Grose’s Antiquities.” The date of the picture is 1755. And Stukeley, in his ” Itinerary,” written in 1723, tells us that ” the amphitheatre was in greater perfection before the gallows was removed hither by an unlucky humour of the Sheriff; since when the parapet at top is on that side much beaten down by the trampling of men and horses at executions.” He seems to speak of the gallows as having been recently removed, further on, when he says, “the parapet is now 3 or 4 foot high, but much ruined on that side next the gallows, since last year at an execution.” However, there is some reason for supposing that the removal was a little earlier than this. The celebrated burning of Mary Channing took place in 1703, and upon the floor of the amphitheatre. Female criminals were frequently burnt alive at that time, and for some years afterwards; perhaps it was the punishment of the worst, in the place of the drawing, hanging, and quartering which would have been the fate of a man. Had the gallows still been in its old position, she would probably have been burnt on Gallows Hill, and not at the amphitheatre. Therefore it seems most likely that the gallows was removed about the year 1700, from that place to the Weymouth-road site. I am making rather a point of this date, because it seems pretty evident that the Monmouth rebels suffered on the old site of Gallows Hill, and not .on the new site.

Maumbury Gallows Engraved by J. Newton, 1786, for Grose's "Antiquities"

Maumbury Gallows Engraved by J. Newton, 1786, for Grose’s “Antiquities” © DCM

The gallows by the amphitheatre seems to have been in regular use up to the time that the new prison was built, facing North-square, about the year 1795. At that time, or soon after, the humane method of despatching prisoners more rapidly, by giving them a longer drop, was allowed. This seems to have been provided for in executions at the prison. An Execution Bill of 1807 describes the hanging of three men on “the new drop upon the lodge of the Castle at Dorchester.” I have a broadsheet giving the sentences of prisoners at the Lent Assizes at Dorchester in 1801. There were 48 cases tried, almost all for thefts. Several were sentenced to transportation for very small offences, ten were condemned to death, one being a woman, Lydia Hiskins, for stealing a banknote. Plainly up to that date harsh measures had not succeeded in curing the poor people of their belief in the right to live by hook or by crook.

But by this time the efforts of men like Fielding and Romilly to obtain more wise and humane treatment of criminals were beginning to tell, and though death sentences were passed according to law, they were not always carried out. In the large scrap-book volume belonging to this Museum library there are several specimens of the broadsheets printed and sold in the streets after executions at the beginning of the last century. These are usually headed with a coarse woodcut of the typical gibbet, and the felon hanging, and generally give an account of his offences and of his last moments These specimens date from 1819 to 1833. They record deaths for burglaries and arson. The so-called “new drop,” which was in use for some fifty years seems to have been arranged over the stout low archway which formed the entrance into the prison from North-square, the predecessor of one lately removed. Some still living remember the body of the last criminal executed there, hanging on the skyline, a woman, Martha Brown, who had murdered her husband.

Then the scene was shifted to a spot within the walls of the prison, overlooking and within sight of the meadows by the river. Many can still tell of the thousands that used to gather below the gaol at the “Hang Fairs.” By daybreak the best places were taken, and the waiting .time was spent in drinking, fiddling, and dancing. The time, it is said, of the executions in early days determined by the arrival of the coach from London, which might possibly bear a reprieve at the last moment. The “Royal Mail”. coach was timed to arrive at the King’s Arms at 9.30 a.m., after 13½ hours run from London, via Salisbury. In Cutler’s ” Original Notes of Dorchester ” the story is told of a poor fellow who declined to halt at the Bell Inn for a parting glass with the constables; listening to his earnest request, they hastened their business, and turned him off just as the postmaster came shouting up the hill bearing a delayed reprieve. They cut the rope in a moment and fetched a surgeon. He could only shake his head and announce “Too late.” ” Sarved him right,” cried the indignant beer swillers standing around, “he should have stopped for his drink.” “Quite the contrary,” retorted the surgeon, with ill-timed levity, “I will stake my reputation on the fact—the poor fellow has taken a drop too much.”

The Mercy Weight. One of two weights made of lead, from Dorchester Prison, dating from the 19th century. These were attached to those executed by hanging, to give weight.

The Mercy Weight. One of two weights made of lead, from Dorchester Prison, dating from the 19th century. These were attached to those executed by hanging, to give weight.

The last public execution was in 1863, when two men named Preedy and Fooks suffered on the same day. The case of Preedy aroused much interest. The Rev. Henry Moule, Vicar of Fordington, visited him in the prison constantly to the last, and afterwards published a book of 94 pages, entitled Hope against Hope,’ giving an account of his life and repentance. Many thousand people assembled on this occasion. Two enterprising brothers erected a temporary grandstand in the meadows, with seats at 2s. 6d., which was so well patronised that it collapsed beneath the weight of sightseers, and they subsided into the mud below. In Mr. Thomas Hardy’s tale of The Withered Arm,’ a day of this kind provides a terrible page of reading. The saddler’s shop in High-East-street which from long custom supplied the new rope required for the gallows has only been closed this summer. This was of the best quality, always of hemp, probably supplied from Bridport; and the old Hangman’s Cottage at the bottom of Glyde-path-hill still stands, where the busy official, the last bearing the name of Davies, once lived. And a curious memorial is preserved in the Dorset County Museum, the two lead weights, engraved with the word ‘MERCY,’ provided by a humane governor of the gaol, to hasten the end of Silvester Wilkins, a very light subject, executed in 1833 for arson at Bridport. The last death sentence carried out at Dorchester was in May, 1887. I was in the neighbourhood at the time, and heard that the hangman sold the rope at so much a foot in one of the public houses afterwards ; but this I can hardly believe.

Hangmans Cottage. Colliton Park, The Walks, Dorchester.

Hangmans Cottage. Colliton Park, The Walks, Dorchester. © DCM

Out of the gloom that gathers round the history of the Dorchester gallows in past centuries, two or three figures, or groups of figures, stand out distinctly, and whilst on the subject it seems a fitting opportunity to recall them. One and the latest has been already named, the unfortunate Mary Channing, but 18 years old, burnt in the Amphitheatre in the year 1703. It was a peculiar case of murder that brought her to this end, but the punishment was not unusual. One female at least suffered in this way 18 years before, after the Monmouth Rebellion ; and the worthy Lady Lisle was condemned to this death on the same account at Winchester, though her sentence was altered to hanging after petition to the King. But the burning of Mary Channing was made a kind of county fete; 10,000 spectators gathered to view it. No doubt the nature of the spot chosen and the good view of the stake provided in this well-arranged theatre, accounted largely for the crowd that gathered, and that made the event so memorable.

The earliest recorded executions of note were those of Roman Catholics in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, on the charge of high treason. Hutchins gives the names of six that died on the gallows. Four of these suffered on the same day, July 4th, 1594; one, John Cornelius, the principal rebel, was hung, drawn, and quartered. His head was nailed to the gallows, but the Sheriff removed it at the prayer of the townsmen, who suffered ill-luck, it was thought, in consequence of it. Cornelius was born at Bodmin, but was captured while resident at the house of Lady Arundel, near Chideock. In Alfred Mark’s ‘Tyburn Tree’ a curious account is given in Strype’s words of the finding of his skull together with three others, in Blackfriars, when clearing away rubbish after the Fire of London. It had evidently been carried away from Dorchester by some sympathising coreligionists. Strype narrates the discovery of four pewter cases containing a head each. He says, “one of these pots I saw, with the head in it, in October, 1703, being in the custody of Mr. Presbury, then sope maker in Smithfield, which pot had inscribed in the inside of the cover, in a scrawling character (which might be used in the time of Henry VIII.), I. Cornelius. This head was without any neck, having short red hair upon it, thick, and that would not be pulled off ; and yellow hair upon the temples ; a little bald on the top (perhaps a tonsure), the fore-part of the nose sunk, the mouth gaping, ten sound teeth, others had been plucked out; the skin like tanned leather, the features of the face visible. The other three heads had some of the necks joined to them and had a broader and plainer razure, which showed them priests. These three heads are now dispersed. It is probable they were at last privately procured and conveyed abroad, and now become holy relics. Who these were, there is no record, as I know of ; nor had any of them names inscribed but one.” The identity of this I. Cornelius with the Dorchester victim was not discovered till some years later. I have the engraved portrait of I. Cornelius from one of the old Books of Martyrs, with the Latin inscription beneath : “Pio Cornelius Anglus Soc. Jesu (Jesuit) Novitius Dorcesta pro Catholica fide suspensus et sectus, an. 1594.” From another Book I have the portrait of John Slade, a Dorset man, who was ” drawn, hanged, bowelled, and quartered ” for maintaining the Roman power ; but the sentence was carried out at Winchester.

Lastly, we come to the batch of prisoners, 13 in number, who were condemned by Judge Jeffreys, and suffered on the old Gallows Hilll. In the Western Martyrology ” the dying speeches of three of this number are given us – Matthew Bragg, Thomas Smith, and Joseph Speed, with special details of their deaths. The 13 were hung in succession, one after the other. Smith being the first by particular order of the Judge. The bodies were treated in the manner usual for traitor, an exception being made of the body of Matthew Bragg, which was given by the Judge to his friends for burial. He was probably an innocent man, and felt, to have been so by his persecutor after the sentence was passed. but foolishly he had pleaded “not guilty ” and so lost all chance of justice. The speeches were made from the ladder, up which the prisoner climbed to reach the noose let down from the crossbeam by the hangman. ‘The cart no longer figures at this particular point in the proceedings. When the speech was finished the ladder was turned over, and so, in the common language of those days, the prisoner was “turned off ” and launched into eternity. They were probably drawn on hurdles in most places to the gallows; “sledges ” is the name given to the rude vehicles used in Dorchester and Lyme. At Lyme Regis two sets of horses refused to draw the sledge; they ended by kicking it to pieces, and the prisoners therefore went on foot through the streets. The quarters of 12 men were distributed in Dorchester and the neighbourhood, the head of one being fixed on a spike that till lately was an interesting ornament of the porch of St. Peter’s Church. This spike is now preserved in the museum. There is no entry in the Borough Records of any expense connected with the executions ; it was outside their department. But a horrible set of entries is to be found in the Weymouth records ; they are published in Moule’s Catalogue of Charters, &c., of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis,” The Mayor of this borough was ordered through the Sheriff to prepare a gallows for the execution of 12 persons, It was erected on or near Greenhill, in the confines of the borough. Thirty-two quarters and six heads were distributed in the villages round, while 16 quarters and six heads were reserved for Weymouth itself. Then the bill of costs is given— “Disbursements for the gallows, burning and boiling the rebels executed per order at this town—£l5 14s. 3d.”

From the “Western Martyrology” we gather that the ghastly preparations for the final disposal of the bodies went on in the sight of the victims. Roger Satchel, at Weymouth. is described, when delivering his dying speech from the Ladder, as ” pointing to the wood that was to burn his bowels.” The barbarous proceedings conducted at Weymouth were no doubt repeated at Dorchester and at other towns. I notice also in the same book the statement that “some scores died every week of small pox “ in the gaol. This, I think, must be an exaggeration, as there is no indication of a corresponding number of burials in our Burial Register. Eighteen only are there entered as ” prisoners ” at that time. Yet possibly friends who could afford it removed the dead to their own churchyards, all over the country, and a much larger number could thus be accounted for.

I am thankful to have reached the end of this short history of Dorchester gallows. The saddest of recollections are awakened, and even after so long a time, resentment kindles at the thought of so much injustice suffered often by helpless and defenceless prisoners. One can enter into the spirit of Dryden when he wrote of the gallows of Tyburn Tree:-

“Oh Tyburn I couldst thou reason and dispute,
Couldst thou but judge as well as execute;
How often woulst thou change the felon’s doom
And truss some stern Chief Justice in his room”.

In a short article written by R. A. H. Farrar, M.A. from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 88, 1966 entitled ‘The Dorchester Gallows’

The, Dorchester Prison mosaic, 4th Century. A tinted photographic lithograph. John Pouncy, 2nd December 1858. Using one of his new experimental photographic processes. This mosaic was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Governor of Dorchester Prison in 1885, after its removal from the Prison chapel where it had been relaid in 1858. It was set on the north wall of the museum staircase masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857.

The Dorchester Prison Mosaic, 4th Century. A tinted photographic lithograph. John Pouncy, 2nd December 1858. Using one of his new experimental photographic processes. This mosaic was presented to the Dorset County Museum by the Governor of Dorchester Prison in 1885, after its removal from the Prison chapel where it had been relaid in 1858. It was set on the north wall of the museum staircase masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857. © DCM

The late Lady Pinney’s essay, published in 1966 in the Hardy Monographs series, on Thomas Hardy and the Birdsmoorgate Murder 1856, recalls to the writer his own interest some years ago in some of the circumstances of the execution of Martha Brown. This was due primarily to the fact that it was in digging her grave, in the burial yard of Dorchester Prison, that the mosaic was found that is now fixed to the staircase wall of the County Museum, although it was not until the burial of James Seal, executed on the 10th August 1858, that rediscovery led to its excavation by Governor J. V. D. Lawrance and subsequent relaying in the former prison chapel.

The writer was of course led at that time to the valuable history of the Dorchester gallows published in our Proceedings, Vol. 32 (1911), by the Rev. S. E. V. Filleul. Since it does not appear that his account, now over 50 years old, has been enlarged on, it may be worth pointing out two errors, one of which, relating to the removal of the gallows from Maumbury Rings, had been stated correctly elsewhere, and the other bearing on the execution of the unfortunate Martha Brown.

Dorchester Prison Mosaic

Dorchester Prison Mosaic now hangs on the staircase wall of the Dorset County Museum masked by the overhanging portrait of James John Farquharson, 1857. © DCM

Filleul’s first error (excluding a mis-dating of 1703 for the 1706 execution of Mary Channing at Maumbury by burning following strangulation) was in supposing that the gallows outside the Rings remained in use until the new prison was completed on the present site in 1795. An entry in the pocket book of William Cummg, M.D., for 2nd December 1766, quoted by Boswell Stone in Proceedings, Vol. 24 (1903), p. 36, tells us that “This Day the Gallows removed fm Maumbury and a new One erected on Fordington Down at expense of ye County Cost of £4.” Newton’s view showing the gibbet at Maumbury, published anachronistically in Grosse’s Antiquities in 1786, was engraved in 1755, as Filleul was aware.

The second error concerns the position of the gallows at the County Gaol. Filleul comments on the hanging of Martha Brown over the lodge formerly existing at the North Square entrance to the prison, supposing that this was the ‘new drop’  which had been in use, as he said, for some 50 years, the site then being ‘shifted to a spot within the walls of the prison, overlooking and within sight of the meadows by the river.’ Martha Brown was indeed executed. on 9th August 1856 over the North Square lodge  in full view of the young Thomas Hardy and a great concourse of sight-seers, but this was an innovation. as the contemporary files of the Dorset County Chronicle, listed by Lady Pinney. make clear. It was not repeated, owing to the resultant dislocation of traffic in the centre of the town, and two years later, when James Seal met his end, it was once again upon the traditional ‘new drop’, over the monumental main entrance lodge that still grimly but elegantly overlooks the meadows.

According to Filleul the last execution in Dorchester was in May 1887, and the last public execution that of Preedy and Fooks in 1863, so Jim Lane of Blackdown, whose memories were taken down by Lady Pinney in 1926. was at fault in according this unenviable distinction to poor Martha.

Related Links:

Original Letter signed by Colonel William Sydenham & Bulstrode Whitelocke

Colonel William Sydenham’s Commission signed by William Waller

Remnants of the English Civil War, Weymouth.

The Crabchurch Conspiracy

Mark Vine and Professor Ronald Hutton viewing the ‘Cannonball in the Wall’ in Maiden Street, one of hundreds fired into the Parliamentarian garrison of Melcombe during February 1645.

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Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in the English Civil War

The Old Town Hall, Weymouth

The Old Town Hall, Weymouth © DCM

The following article about Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in the time of the English Civil War was written by the well-known Weymouth historian and antiquary, Mr. W. Bowles Barrett for the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Volume 31,  1910

My Paper deals with the part which Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, the twin-towns by the Wey, played in the Great Civil War, and with some local incidents of the interregnum. No connected and detailed account of these stirring events has ever appeared. I shall, therefore, endeavour to fill up this gap in the town records. It is true that we have been promised for some time past a work on the Civil War in Dorset, but it has not yet been published.(Since this Paper was read, “The Great Civil War in Dorset, 1642 1660” by A. B. Bayley, B.A., Oxon., F.R.H.S., has appeared – a truly admirable work (Barnicott and Pearce, The Wessex Press, Taunton).

The feelings of bitter antagonism which sprang up between Charles I., on the one hand, and the House of Commons and a large part of the nation behind it, on the other hand, and which, ultimately, led to the Great Civil War and the Puritan Revolution, are so well known, that I need not touch upon that part of the subject.

The war broke out in August, 1642, and continued until the battle of Worcester, in 1651, that is to say, for a period of nine years. The towns of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, and the Island and Castle of Portland, were of great importance, owing to their  geographical position, especially their nearness to the French coast. (Weymouth proper lies on the south side, and Melcombe Regis [the more modern part of the Borough] on the North side of the harbour.)

THE FORTS.

A fine Fourteenth century church, was, at the commencement of the war, standing on the Chapelhaye, Weymouth, and was reached by 70 steps from the street below. By its commanding position, on the top of a precipitous cliff, it was admirably adapted for a stronghold, and was speedily converted by the Parliamentary troops into a fort called “the Chapel Fort.” As this fort commanded Melcombe (which lay on low ground to the front), as also a part of the harbour, it was, throughout the war, the key to the local situation. Another fort was erected at the Nothe to command the harbour and the bay. Platforms for artillery were set up at both these forts. Earthworks were thrown up, some at the then northern entrance to Melcombe Regis, and others just a little north of the junction of St. Thomas Street with Lower Bond Street, extending thence westwards probably to the Backwater. Several drawbridges were built and town gates erected, the positions of which are long since forgotten.

We naturally enquire whether the Weymouth and Melcombe people were mainly on the side of the Royalists or on that of the Parliament. Like the neighbouring towns of Poole, Dorchester, and Lyme Regis, they were for the most part decidedly in favour of the Parliament. In fact, the towns-folk throughout the South and East of England were to a great extent disaffected. As regards Weymouth and Melcombe, it is suggestive that, almost immediately on the outbreak of the war, and apparently without fighting, the towns fell into the hands of the Parliamentary forces,commanded by Sir Walter Erie and Sir Thomas Trenchard, who garrisoned and fortified them (2 Hut. Hist. Dors., Ed. 3, 423.) The Parliament also took possession, about the same time, of the coast towns of Lyme Regis and Poole, also of Portland and Dorchester. This was in August and September, 1642. Colonel William Sydenham, son-in-law of John Trenchard, of Warmwell, was appointed Governor of the towns of Weymouth and Melcombe. He was a leading figure in the subsequent contests. (The Governor’s residence was on or near the site of Steward’s Court, in Melcombe Regis. The lane in which the Court is situate is still known as “Governor’s Lane.”)

Both Weymouth and Melcombe were (as I am about to relate), subsequently taken and retaken several times by the opposing forces, the fate of the towns generally depending on that of Portland, the “Gibraltar of Wessex.”

BOTH TOWNS SEIZED BY THE ROYALISTS, AUGUST, 1643.

Cannonball House, Weymouth

The house with the cannon ball embedded in the gable end, which stands at the corner of Maiden Street and St. Edmund Street. It is thought to date from the Civil War period. © DCM

Weymouth and Melcombe having remained in the hands of the Parliament for about a year, the Earl of Carnarvon (who had taken Bristol on behalf of the King, and was making a successful progress through Dorset with nearly 2,000 Horse and Dragoons), obtained the surrender of Dorchester, Weymouth, Melcombe, and Portland, and handed them over to Prince Maurice, the King’s Nephew, who had arrived with the Foot and cannon. This occurred early in August, 1643. The sight of these Ironsides in their heavy breastplates and steel morions, armed with musketoons, pistols and swords, must have been a striking one for the townsfolk, who, as yet, had seen but little of war. We may suppose that Carnarvon’s cavalry paraded in front of the bay, and that part of his horses were stabled in the late Priory in Maiden Street, then in ruins.

The conditions on which the towns had capitulated, with their arms, ordnance and ammunition, were that the inhabitants should not be plundered, nor suffer for any ill they had done ; but, unfortunately for the townsmen, Prince Maurice’s troops got quite out of hand and committed great ravages. They plundered the houses of the townsmen and, laden with booty, shouted and howled with joy. In fact, the articles agreed on at the surrender of the towns were so ill observed, that Carnarvon, who was a man of high honour, resented this conduct so much that he indignantly threw up his command and returned to the King at the siege of Gloucester. Matters were not improved for the townsmen by the landing at Weymouth in the following November of a body of 300 Irish soldiers under Lord Inchiquin, in support of the Royal forces.(Whitelock, p. 76.)

As to Portland, it was a Royal manor, and one of the King’s strongholds. It was of great importance as a base, not only on account of its inherent strength, but also of its proximity to Weymouth bay and harbour. The treasure and rich furniture which the rebels had but lately taken from Wardour Castle and elsewhere, had been lodged by them in Portland Castle, a prize which now fell to the Royalists.

On 20th February, 1643 – 4, a local misfortune befel some of the King’s cavalry which Prince Rupert had sent as a convoy with 3,000 en route for Weymouth. Some of the Parliament garrison of Poole and Wareham fell upon them near Dorchester (probably at Yellowham Wood), seized the money, with 100 horse, arms and ammunition, and carried all to Poole.(Coins were struck at Weymouth whilst garrisoned by Charles, half-crowns and, probably, shillings and sixpences were issued, the mint marks comprising part of the arms of the place.)

RETAKEN BY THE EARL OF ESSEX FOR THE PARLIAMENT, JUNE, 1644.

But the towns were shortly to be re-captured by the Parliament. The Earl of Essex, an honourable, steady man, but with little genius, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief by the Parliament. He had arrived at Blandford in June, 1644, with an army of 13,000, Horse and Foot, and, in that month, took Dorchester. It was felt that Weymouth and Melcombe were of much importance for the trade of the county. The towns, however, were of no great strength; Colonel William Ashburnham, the Royalist Governor there, and Captain-General of the county, had been negligent in completing the fortifications. Besides this, a change of government was facilitated by the fact that some of the townsmen (probably incensed by the exactions of the Cavaliers) had mutinied. Lyme was gallantly resisting a siege by the Royalists, commenced some two months previously under Prince Maurice, and Essex, proceeding on his march to relieve that town, sent to Weymouth, in advance, a party of Horse, under Sir Wm. Balfour. Four of the Weymouth burgesses went to Essex, who was then at Dorchester, to treat as to the surrender of the two towns. Favourable terms having been ultimately arranged, the Royalists, to the number of about 400, marched out of Weymouth on the following day (17th June), and proclamation was made that, upon pain of death, everyone should bring in all arms and ammunition to the Court of Guard and Town Hall before sunset.

Essex followed Balfour to Weymouth and remained there some days. Having possessed himself of the town, he rode to Sandsfoot Castle, which, being summoned, surrendered after three hours’ parley. The Earl of Warwick, the Parliamentary Lord High Admiral, had been engaged in relieving Lyme, and now appeared in Weymouth Roads with a fleet of nine ships to assist the operations of Essex in Melcombe. At this juncture Ashburnham retired with the remainder of his forces to Portland Castle, still held by the Royalists. Once more, then, the Parliament flag was floating over the forts of the two towns, and, without any fighting, a rich prize fell to the Parliament, including, it is said, 60 ships in the Harbour. Ashburnham’s conduct in retiring from Weymouth on the mere approach of Essex’s army was the subject of an enquiry by the King and Council, by whom he had the good fortune to be absolved from the charge of cowardice or neglect.

The memorable siege of Lyme Regis by the Royalists having been raised at about the same date as the surrender of Weymouth, Prince Maurice retired from Lyme to Exeter, and the surrendered Royalist garrison of Weymouth received orders to join him there. Favourable terms were granted them, as mentioned above, and the officers were allowed to march on horse-back, retaining their swords and pistols, the common soldiers to carry staves only.

Colonel William Sydenham was now re-appointed Governor of Weymouth for the Parliament, and the fortifications of the towns were vigorously proceeded with.

CHARLES I AT MAIDEN NEWTON.

In September and October of this year, the King was making a progress with his army from Chard through Dorset, in the course of which he came near Weymouth ; in fact, on the 1st October he quartered at Maiden Newton, staying at the Rectory House, and had “dinner in the field.” (Life of Bertie, Lord Lindsey.)

A ROYALIST CONSPIRACY, 1644.

Another change was about to take place, and the shadows of war were again shortly to hang over the towns. Sir Lewis Dyve, (Sir Lewis Dyve, of Bromham, Bedford, was connected with some of the principal Royalist families in Dorset. He was taken in August, 1645, with immense booty, at the capture of Sherborne Castle. Being brought to the bar of the House and refusing to kneel, he was compelled by force. He was M.P. for Weymouth 3 Chas 1..) who had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Dorsetshire Royalist forces, had received orders from the King, then at Sherborne, for the re-capture of Weymouth and Melcombe. The Roundheads did not expect this. Peter Ince (appointed by the Dorset Standing Committee to be officiating Minister of he Weymouth Garrison), wrote

“In the beginning of February ” (1644) ” we were in as sweet a quiet and security as any Garrison in the Kingdom : no enemy near us but one at Portland, and that not very considerable, being but about three or four hundred men.” But a conspiracy by some of the townsmen (in conjunction with some in Portland) to betray the towns to the Royalists had by this time been formed, and materially helped Sir Lewis Dyve in his project. This conspiracy and its results formed some of the most interesting and important incidents of the war here.

I am unaware of any Royalist records containing other than very brief accounts of the siege of Melcombe, and of the events which immediately led up to it.  I am therefore mainly indebted for information to Parliamentary sources; many of these being official, I see no reason to doubt their general accuracy. Of the sources referred to, I would particularly specify two rare Commonwealth pamphlets of which I possess copies, one being a relation of the siege, &c.,(A Brief Relation of the Surprise of the Forts of Weymouth, the Siege of Melcombe, the Recovery of the Forts and Raising of the Siege.”
By P. I., Minister to the Garrison, 1644 [March 20]. King’s Pamphlets, Vol. 198, No. 7.) by Peter Ince (before referred to), and the other a report of certain examinations taken before a Council of War at Weymouth, in March, 1645. (“The last Speeches and Confession of Captain John Cade and John Mils, Constable ; who were hanged at Waymouth for endeavouring to betray that Garrison to the enemy with all the severall examinations of the Plotters and the sentences denounced against them and others of the said Conspiracie. By W. Sydenham, Col. ; Governor of Waymouth and Captain William Batten, Vice-Admirall of the Navie and the rest of the Counsell of War at Waymouth 1645 ” [March 27]. King’s Pamphlets, Vol. 198, No. 28.)

It appears that, as early as Christmas, 1644, Fabian Hodder, a merchant and staunch Melcombe Royalist, was in secret communication with Sir Lewis Dyve, then stationed at Sherborne, and afterwards with Sir William Hastings, the Royalist Governor of Portland Castle. This was a risky business, and so the correspondence was carried on by Weymouth women, they being less likely to be suspected. (The bearers of Royalist messages from persons of high rank and importance were sometimes given ” tongue tokens,” as a proof of the genuineness of the bearers, when no written word could be risked. These tokens were tiny ovals of gold, small enough to be put under the tongue in case of need, with the head of Charles on one side and his initials on the other.)  John Cade, an Alderman of Melcombe, who had served as a Captain in the Royalist forces, and John Mills, one of the Town Constables, were two other chief plotters. In consequence of Hodder’s appeals, Sir Lewis Dyve promised that he would come with 1,500 Horse and Foot, about mid- night on Sunday, the 9th February, 1644-5, to surprise Melcombe, and that he would give the plotters (according to the confession of one of them at the Council of War subsequently held), £500. The scheme of this cleverly-hatched conspiracy was that Melcombe should be attacked by Sir Lewis Dyve on that night, and that, simultaneously, part of the King’s forces in Portland, reinforced by the Islanders there, should come out and seize the Chapel and Nothe forts on Weymouth side. Besides these, there were conspirators in some of the adjoining villages, especially Preston and Sutton Poyntz, whence about 60 men were to be let into the town to join in the attack on Melcombe. The conspirators were to take the following oath, framed by Fabian Hodder : ” You shall swear by the Holy Trinity that you will conceal the intended plot.” The pass-word was “Crabchurch,” and round the arm a white handkerchief was to be worn. The town gates of Melcombe were to be opened to let in Sir Lewis, the Main Guard was to be seized, the Major of the Parliamentary regiment was to be slain, and the doors of the marshalsea, or prison, in which the prisoners of war taken by the Roundheads were confined, were to be broken open, so that they, being released, might join the attacking forces. Some of the gunners in the Chapel and Nothe Forts were parties to the conspiracy. The time, too, was opportune, for there was no Parliament ship in the Roads.

THE NIGHT SURPRISE OF THE CHAPEL AND NOTHE FORTS BY THE ROYALISTS, FEBRUARY 9th, 1645.

When the eventful Sunday came round, an order was given during Divine Service, in the picturesque old church at Churchope, that part of the Portland garrison and the Islanders should appear, with their arms, at the Castle at Castletown, by five o’clock in the evening of that day. The men having assembled, two companies were formed, under the command of Sir William Hastings one to go by land and the other by water to Weymouth proper. One company accordingly proceeded along the road by the Chesil Beach to Smallmouth. There was no bridge in those days at this narrow inlet of the sea ; it was crossed by means of a passage-boat kept by a ferryman on the Wyke side, and was known as “The Passage.” A Weymouth plotter, John Dry, a tanner by trade, had arranged with the ferryman to have his boat in readiness to bring over the Royalists. Let us picture the scene : it is now dark, silently they effect the crossing, and are met on the Wyke side by the tanner, who conducts them to the Chapel Fort. We may assume that the route chosen, in order to secure secrecy and to attack the Chapel Fort from the rear, is by Buxton and St. Leonard’s Roads, then unfrequented lanes. Meanwhile the other company goes by water to the ancient pier (long since demolished), under the Nothe, whence,led by Walter Bond, a Hope fisherman, they creep along to the Nothe Fort. The total number of the attacking party from Portland is small and does not exceed 120. As to Melcombe, all is excitement among the plotters there, in the expectation that Sir Lewis Dyve is about to arrive and co-operate in the capture of the towns. A strange gathering of country-folk (either conspirators or, at least, Royalist sympathisers), meet on Radipole Common to watch for the arrival of Dyve’s forces and to see the Nothe fight. Some, we are told, are armed with pistols, one with a Welsh hook, and others with cudgels.

The secret is remarkably well kept ; a complete surprise of the Chapel Fort is effected about midnight, the Royalists suddenly falling upon the sentinels, while most of the Roundhead soldiers are asleep. The Roundheads sound a belated alarm with their drums, but the Royalists, with loud shouts, we may suppose, of ” For God and King Charles,” occupy the fort, practically, without resistance. The Roundheads, however, “finding,” Ince says, “such dangerous guests possesst of those places which above a half yeeres pain and sweat had indeavoured to make our security,” pull themselves together and within an hour of the surprise, make a sudden assault, but are repulsed with loss. Amongst the mortally wounded in this assault is Major Francis Sydenham, the Governor’s brother, an officer greatly esteemed, who died the next day.(Major Francis Sydenham took a prominent part in the Civil War in Dorset.)  The attack on the Nothe Fort is also successful, and once more the Royalist Standard is raised. (“God appearing for the Parliament in sundry late victories, &c. March 10, 1644.” King’s Pamphlets, Vol. I..95, No. 22.) The Parliament men, although exposed to the fire of their enemy, and notwithstanding the loss of the forts, manage to remain in Weymouth proper until the evening of the following day.(Colonel Ralph Weldon, son of Sir Anthony Weldon, Baronet, of Swanscombe, Kent, was in command of one of the Parliamentary regiments in Weymouth when the Chapel Fort was surprised by the Royalists. Not long after  the raising of the siege of Melcombe, he, as Senior Colonel, commanded a brigade sent to relieve Taunton, then besieged by the Cavaliers. Weldon entered the town and raised the siege. He was a collateral ancestor of the Rev. Canon Weldon, D.D., the esteemed Vicar of Holy Trinity, Weymouth. It is remarkable that the Canon should now have, as part of his parochial organisation, the noble schools built on the actual site of the fort which his ancestor had defended!)

Richard Wiseman, who has been justly called ” the Father of English Surgery,” was in the Chapel Fort amongst the Royalists, at the time of the surprise, and attended some of the wounded. His “Seven Chirurgical Treatises” show the great advance he made in sound surgical practice. He was appointed surgeon to Charles II. and died 1676.(Sir Thomas Longman’s ”Richard Wiseman,” 1891.)

ARRIVAL OF SIR LEWIS DYVE, FEBRUARY 10TH, 1645.

Sir Lewis Dyve had caused serious disappointment to the King’s allies, by not arriving so soon as he had promised. Instead of coming on the Sunday, he kept  the Royalists in suspense until noon of the following day (Monday). He then arrived with Horse and Foot, and, aiding Hastings, took possession of the  remaining portion of Weyinouth proper. The Roundheads, in the evening of that day, withdrew to Melcombe, raising the drawbridge which divided the two  towns. It is strange that their retreat was unopposed : Ince says “Our enemies tamely yeelded it ” (i.e., Melcombe), ” as untenable. We had scarce bestowed  a Fortnight’s work on it since we possesst this garrison.”

ROYALIST SOLDIERS AT RADIPOLE

We get a glimpse of some of the Royalist soldiers on the Wednesday following the surprise of the forts. They refreshed themselves by marching to that part of the village of Radipole called Causeway, where, together with ” Master Wood, Clerke, Curate of Sutton Poyntz,” they regaled themselves at an ale-house and we are told, I regret to say, that some of them became “distempered with beare.” About 80 years ago, a tradition existed in Radipole of the passage through the village of soldiers in the Civil War. For aught I know, the tradition may still survive.

SIEGE OF MELCOMBE BY THE ROYALISTS, FEBRUARY, 1645.

The Royalists now poured on Melcombe from the Chapel Fort ” a multitude of great Bullets and Iron Bars, hot and cold,” battering down some of the houses. ”  Some of their gunners ingaged themselves to levell us with the ground.” (Ince.)

Pikeman of the English Civil War

Pikeman of the English Civil War © DCM

The long siege of that town had begun. It was resolutely held by the Roundheads. Owing to its geographical position, they were at a serious disadvantage, whereas the Cavaliers, with ample ammunition, were encamped in what was, practically, a citadel on the top of a precipitous hill, and also held the Nothe Fort, commanding the harbour, and a small fort at Bincleaves. The Royalist forces, when at full strength, numbered 4,000 or 5,000 – the Parliamentary, 900 only, and these were looked upon by the Royalists as being almost prisoners at mercy. But those sturdy Roundheads at once surrounded Melcombe with
earthworks, and defended it with splendid tenacity, avenging the losses they had sustained on Dyve’s arrival.

All that week cannonading and burning of houses went on, but with little effect. The Roundheads, therefore, proposed that there should be no more such useless burnings ; the Cavaiers replied, ” We scorn to parley with you, and will do what we please.” Sydenham then set on fire seven or eight houses in Weymouth proper and fired some Royalists’ ships on that side. Meanwhile, two Parliament ships, aided by a favourable wind, and other welcome reinforcements to the Parliament forces, arrived, including 100 Horse. Captain William Batten, Vice-Admiral of the Navy, anchoring in the roadstead with
the “James,” landed some 200 seamen who ” have proved themselves very brave men in all this service ” ; the ships also relieved the forces in Melcombe of 200 Royalist prisoners. A further detachment of 100 Cavalry, under Lieut. Colonel James Haynes, came by land.

On the following Sunday (the 16th), Sydenham routed a troop of Royalist Horse near Radipole, slaying some and capturing about 80 Horse and 45 prisoners. The Roundheads “chased the little remnant that remained up to the gates of Weymouth.”

Sir Lewis Dyve’s, Sir Thomas Austin’s, and Cleveland’s Horse, with some Foot, blocked the Parliament forces at the north end of Melcombe. Notwithstanding this, the latter sallied forth from time to time, and on one occasion succeeded in bringing in 900 sheep, and a Royalist Captain who had mistaken the Roundheads for some of his own party.

George, Lord Goring, the King’s Lieutenant-General in Hampshire and some other counties, leaving Salisbury, had arrived in Mid Dorset at the head of an army of upwards of 3,000 Horse, 1,500 Foot, and a train of artillery, besides such reinforcements as he found in these parts. On Sunday, February 23rd, there rang through besieged Melcombe the cry, ” The Cavalry,” ” The Cavalry,” for, in truth, Goring,leaving his main forces at Dorchester, had sent a detachment of Horse and Foot which, with much beating of drums and blowing of trumpets, was now approaching the town.

There were those amongst Goring’s troops who bore names held high in honour in England, younger sons of great families who had readily accepted commissions in the company known in many a field of battle as ” Goring’s Horse.” But they had to reckon here with a resolute and sleepless foe. Goring, being joined by Sir Thomas Austin’s and Cleveland’s Horse with some Foot, drew down in a body and faced Sydenham all that day, but strange to say, no summons came to surrender. The next day Sydenham captured a work which Goring’s troops had thrown up about a furlong from the town at its north end, slaying some of his men.

PARLIAMENT REGAINS WEYMOUTH PROPER, FEBRUARY 25TH, 1645.

On the following Tuesday (the 25th) an incident occurred, apparently trivial, but which actually proved the turning point in the contest. A party of  Royalist Horse conveying provisions to the town were completely routed by the Parliament men and some prisoners were taken. The Royalists in the Chapel  Fort, apprised of this, sent out 100 Foot to relieve their Horse, who were flying before the Roundheads, and to regain the stores. Sydenham (who was then in the field with his Horse), taking advantage of this circumstance, adroitly drew out about 150 Musketeers, who, under the command of Major Wilson and
Captain Langford, crossed the bridge from Melcombe, and within an hour stormed and carried, with the loss of only one man, the Chapel Fort and Weymouth proper. The Royalists did not discover the enemy until they were on the outworks, and, probably overestimating their number, soon cried for ” quarter.” The  Roundheads took 60 prisoners, also a Lieutenant-Colonel, a Major, three Captains, three Lieutenants, and 100 inferior officers and common soldiers, with ome ” of the profidious townsmen, who after taking the covenant with us were got into arms against us” (Ince). They also took prisoner Captain Alexander  Keynes, the owner of Radipole Farm, described by Ince as ” a Papist,” and as having in his ” Portmantle, a parcell of Holy Beads, a Commission for a Ship to play the Pirat with at Sea, which lay blank at Dunkirk.” They also captured 40 loads of provisions of which they were at this time greatly in need.

This was a disaster which was bitterly regretted by the Royalists, who had held the fort for 17 days only. Sir Lewis Dyve, in reporting the loss to his step-father, the Earl of Bristol, described it as a ” strange misfortune,” and wrote to Sir John Berkeley on the day of the disaster as follows : “My Lord Goring hath set up his rest to go through with it, being confident of your speedy assistance in a worke of that infinite importance to his Majestie’s service so that this place being taken, which wee are confident cannot be a worke of many dayes, the west is not only secured thereby, but my Lord Goring will likewise have an opportunity of advancing into the associated counties, which are now left naked.”

The Nothe Fort and the small fort at Bincleaves remained in the hands of the Royalists, but these were of small account, while their adversaries held the Chapel Fort. On the two following days the two neighbour towns battered away hard at one another ” both with great and small shott.”

LORD GORING’S UNSUCCESSFUL NIGHT ATTACK, FEBRUARY 28TH, 1645.

Exasperated by Sydenham’s recent success, Goring determined to carry Melcombe and Weymouth by assault in the night of Thursday, February 27th. Ince, however, says that Goring ” had no great stomack to the businesse.” Ill-fortune again attended the Royalists. Ince states that Goring “so guarded all wayes that no intelligence must come neer us.” Notwithstanding, a Roundhead, who had been taken prisoner two or three days before, ” though very strictly watcht,” managed to escape from Weymouth on the evening of the intended assault (or on that of the preceding day) and reaching Sydenham’s Horse, then in the field, warned him of the impending blow, with the result that the Roundheads placed themselves in the best position of defence. Captain Batten, too, came on shore with 100 seamen. Meanwhile, Goring marched from Dorchester with his whole body, and about one or two o’clock in the morning of Friday, 28th of February, attacked, at the same time, both towns, in several places, (the larger number attacking at the west end of Weymouth proper), and also attacked the Chapel Fort. It was a bright moonlight night. Sydenham says, (Letter from him, to the Committee of the West, March 1st, 1644.) ” they furiously stormed us at severall places of both Townes The enemy came in great multitudes thorow the streets and backsides at both ends of the Towne and disputed with us very hotly about three houres.” The Royalists at the north end of Melcombe lay behind a bank and did not come to close quarters, but fired at a distance. At the western end of Weymouth proper, Sydenham resorted to a stratagem ; he vacated the guard there (near the old Town Hall) and made a “barricade ” in High-street (which lay immediately beneath the Chapel Fort), planting a gun there. The Royalists gave a “loud hoop” of joy as they entered the deserted work, but marching down the street were repulsed by the Roundheads, leaving some dead and carrying away others to Dorchester and elsewhere for burial. Meanwhile, the Irish and other Royalists from the Nothe Fort attacked and took a small fort near the bridge in Weymouth proper, commanded by Captain Thornhill, forcing the Parliament men to retreat, but, Sydenham coming on the scene rallied his men, and, after some sharp fighting, the fort was recovered, some of the Royalists being slain. Sydenham’s horse was here shot under him. In the result the Cavaliers were defeated in all quartets and beaten back into their works. Sydenham’s men retained all Weymouth proper, except a small part towards the Nothe ; they also repulsed the enemy in Melcombe. Many of the Royalists were drowned. According to Ince, the latter reported their losses, in and subsequently to Sydenham’s assault on the Chapel Fort, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, at 400 or 500 (these numbers were probably much exaggerated), and, it was said, that 80 dead and wounded were carried to the adjoining village of Wyke Regis. Amongst the dead and wounded there were, Sydenham adds, “divers in Buffcoats and Velvet Jackets.”

RAISING OF THE SIEGE, FEBRUARY 28TH, 1645.

It seems that the Royalists now suspected the near approach of the Parliamentary forces under Sir William Waller, who, had been ordered to relieve Weymouth, but had been delayed owing to his Cavalry having broken out into open mutiny. Consequently, about ten o’clock on the morning of Friday, February 28th, the Royalists under Lord Goring and Sir Lewis Dyve suddenly drew out their forces, abandoning the Nothe and Bincleaves Forts, leaving behind them their colours, and the guns for the most part unspiked, with much arms and other booty, and without burning the corn or houses, “and so,” Captain Batten wrote,” are gone in a very confused manner.”(Letter from Captain Batten to Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, February 28th 1644. The like from Colonel William Sydenham of even date)  They withdrew to Wyke Regis, where they remained for a short time to succour the wounded, and then marched to Dorchester, and afterwards towards Taunton. This ended the siege of Melcombe, which had lasted 18 days. Thus both towns were regained by the Parliament after continuous conflicts. The loss of these two important coast towns was a great disaster to the Royalist cause.

The losses of the Roundheads, throughout, were marvellously small. They attributed their success to the interposition of Divine Providence. Sydenham says in reference to Goring’s assault ” In all this time they wounded but one of my men.”

Considering the great inequality of the forces engaged and the weakness of Melcombe, it is strange that the siege should have continued so long. It seems to have been due to extraordinary negligence on the part of Goring. He was a man of distinguished presence and is said to have been every inch a soldier, but he cut a sorry figure on this occasion.

The Parliament soldiers at the end of the fight were in sad plight. Sydenham wrote on the day the siege was raised: “My souldiers Horse and Foot have all had very hard service of it day and night. I shall entreat you to write to the Parliament for something for their encouragement ; they have neither money nor cloathes, and yet unwearied in this business.”

PARLIAMENT POSSESSES ALL DORSET.

The whole county was now possessed by Parliament, except Portland, Sherborne, and Corfe Castle. Portland Castle surrendered to Captain Batten about a year after the rout of the Royalists in Melcombe (viz., on April 6th, 1646) (Captain Batten, in reporting the surrender of Portland to Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, wrote April 7th, 1646, “When they march’d away. . . they had not a colour in the island. As to the sequestration of their estates. . . there is not a hundred pounds a year amongst them all, the Governour excepted. . . . The island was very stronge and would have cost much blood to have reduced it by force. . . . There is more tobe done on the island with a faire carriage than by violence.”) and Sherborne and Corfe Castle having been captured, the reduction of the County to the Parliamentary forces was completed.

THE HANGING OF THE ROYALIST CONSPIRATORS, MARCH 3RD, 1645.

Dorchester GallowsColonel Sydenham, the Governor of Weymouth, lost no time in dealing summarily with the chief Royalist conspirators in the plot for surprising the forts.  Captain Batten had them, with many other prisoners, on board his ship, ” in a posture speedily to be hanged,” and wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons as to the prisoners : ” Tomorrow, we shall shorten the number by hanging some of the towns men who are prisoners on board us and were the betrayers of the town.” Accordingly a council of war was held on Saturday, March 1st, 1645, and on several succeeding days, before the Governor, all the field officers and captains of the Weymouth Garrison, Captain Batten, Admiral of the Fleet then riding in Weymouth Bay, and divers other sea Captains.  Captain Cade, the coadjutor of Fabian Hodder, made a confession and was hanged ; Samways, a Melcombe tailor, was brought to the gallows to be hanged ; but, expressing much sorrow for his treachery, he, and Walter Bond, the Hope fisherman, were reprieved and carried back to prison, ” to make a further discovery of their partners.”(Mercurius Britanicus No. 75.)  One of the plotters, ” an Irish rebell, a native Papist, put a rope about his own neck and hanged himself …. without judgement or execution, doing all upon himself.” Then, as regards Mills, the Constable, the report of the council of war states that he died ” most desperately,” ” without any signe or token of sorrow or repentance,” and that ” when he was upon the Ladder, he most desperately threw himself off, not shewing any signes of humiliation, or calling upon God for mercie on his soul, but, carelessly, in a most desperate manner, died, not so much as praying to God to receive his soul.” The hangings took place at the Nothe point, on the Monday morning following the first sitting of the council of war. Peter Ince adds with some bitterness, “There be not many of the villains left, but their sin hath found them out.” As to these, the report continues, ” Divers of them are slain, Fabian Hodder and others are in Prison at Poole and other places, not yet tried, and some are run away.” Sydenham threatened to make a halter for Fabian Hodder ‘s neck, he being the chief conspirator, but he contrived to escape and, returning to Melcombe, became, after the Restoration, a member of the Corporate body.

PUBLIC THANKSGIVING, MARCH 12TH, 1645, &c.,

On the 4th March following, an Order was made by the Lords and Commons in Parliament, for a Public Thanksgiving to be held on the 12th inst. for the success of the Parliament Forces in (inter alia) the regaining of Weymouth. (Minutes of Parliament)

The following appears in ” Mercurius Britanicus ” communicating ” the affaires of great Britaine For the better Information of the People, From Monday the 14 of April to Monday the 21 of April, 1645,” viz. : ” Divers Orders passed for payment of monies to the Garrisons of Lyme, Weymouth, and other places. But especially let Lyme and Weymouth be remembred, for never in any Nation did two places ennoble themselves by more gallant action. May we alwayes remember the famous services of Sydenham and Ceeley. May they be a patterne of imitation to others in like cases of extremitie.” Colonel Thomas Ceely was Governor of Lyme Regis, under the Parliament, during the notable siege of that town.

A month after the raising of the siege of Melcombe, the Vice-Admiral issued a warrant for clearing the streets of the soil and ruins which encumbered them, and for this purpose Lighters were impressed.

The Parliament retained possession of the towns until the termination of the war, brought about by the final overthrow of the Royalist cause at the Battle of Worcester, September 3rd, 1651. Soon afterwards nearly all the forts here (including the Chapel Fort) were dismantled and the materials sold.

EFFECTS OF THE SIEGE.

The townsmen had suffered ruinous loss and damage during the war. Many of their houses had been burnt or destroyed, others came toppling down in the streets, gardens had been dug up for soil with which to form earthworks, the church on the Chapelhay had been practically demolished, the bridge and the quays were in decay, and the harbour partly choked. The wall of the town marsh had been beaten down (why or wherefore I cannot say, possibly a battery had been placed there to reduce Melcombe) ; provisions had run short, all available supplies having been taken possession of by the military authorities, the streets had been reddened with the blood of those who had fought for King or Parliament. The townsfolk had, during part of the time, been at a charge of £30 per month to maintain soldiers quartered there, and two guards, and had been subjected to the rapine and tyrannous conduct of the soldiery. The total loss of property was estimated at £20,000. What this must have meant to such small and very poor places, dependent almost entirely on fishing, the Newfoundland trade, and the revenue from the harbour, we can scarcely realise. Indeed for a time all was in chaos ; trade wa? well nigh suspended ; the Town Clerk had gone off during the wars, and such was the death-like torpor which prevailed, that the Corporation seem to have met twice only in about two years, and entries in the Parochial Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials were for long discontinued.(In August, 1645, an Ordinance of Parliament was made, directing the Standing Committee of the County of Dorset to put in force a weekly assessment for six months, for the support of Colonel Edmund Massey’s forces. This led to the presentation of a petition by the Weymouth Corporation to the Committee. A copy of this petition is here inserted, as it throws light on the state of the town at the time.

“The humble Peticon ” &c. ” sheweth that yor petr* have sustained great losses in their estate to the value of many thousand pounds by occasion of the warre and the late seige against this towne in which divers of their houses were burnt and destroyed & ye Inhabitants of Waymouth plundered of their goods, and before that, much of yor petrs lands wasted and their houses and buildings pulled downe and their goods ymployed for ye better fortifynge of ye Garrison ; & have expended much in free quarteringe of Souldiers & cloansinge ye towne after the seige. And yor Petrs are hitherto at a great charge & trouble for ye maintenance of ye Garrison by quarteringe, Lights for ye Guard, watchinge and bearinge armes at their owne pper costs & charges pforminge that dutie of watchinge in their turnes as often as the souldiers, in wch yor petrs shall, with all readines & cheerefulnes continue as long as God shall enable them. And now yor Petrs are informed by ye Constables that aW arrant is granted by you for the raiseing of f ouer pounds weekly upon them wch (by reason of ye pmisses & their extreame poverty for want of trade as in former times) yor petrs are not only unable to pay but are put to hard shifts for ye maintenance of their owne families & the poore amongst them. And therefore yor petrs are necessitated to present their condicon unto y r serious consideracon. Humbly prayinge that they may be freed from the payment of ye said weekly assessment.”  – Weymouth Corporation Records.

A GHASTLY MURDER.

We now reach a period 17 months after the raising of the siege; the townsfolk have pretty well settled, amongst themselves, their political animosities, are clearing the narrow streets of the earth and rubbish deposited during the war, and are making good the damage done to their houses and gardens, when they are startled by an extraordinary story which forms the subject of gossip at every street corner. Personal narratives connected with sieges in the Civil War have not frequently come down to us in any detail. I will, therefore, relate this one. There is a well-known public passage which leads into New Street, on the South side of the Pawnbroker’s shop in St. Mary Street, Melcombe Regis. This passage was called, until recently, Blockhouse Lane, because it led to a square stone-built Elizabethan fort, facing the bay, called “the Blockhouse.” On the site of the pawnbroker’s shop stood, during the Civil War, what is described in an old record, as ” a house of entertainment,” meaning, of course, an Inn or Public House. It was kept by a man named John Chiles. We learn that, at the time of the siege, owing to the perturbed state of the town, the house “was for the most part full of people day and night.”

The excitement which prevails at the time I was speaking of is in consequence of Chiles having just been arrested on a charge preferred against him of having, a few days after the siege, murdered a guest in his house. What stirs the populace so much is, that this terrible charge has been made by his own wife. Let us go to the ancient Town Hall in St. Edmund Street – probably an Elizabethan building – and hear the case which is about to be tried by the Borough Justices. Chiles’ wife gives her evidence. She says that a Trader named William Courtney (who seems to have come from Taunton Dean) lodged at the house on the Thursday night after the siege ; that he was a middle-aged man, with flaxen hair and yellow beard, and wore a short coat ; that he was accommodated with a pallet of straw, by the bedside of her husband and herself ; that he had with him £300 in a canvas bag, viz : 52 in silver and the rest in gold ; that about midnight her husband asked her to agree to the murder of the trader ; that she replied that she feared to do so, lest she should be hanged, to which Chiles answered that ” it was noe matter for killinge of a man now t’was a tyme of warre ; ” that her husband then got up, took a hammer, and struck Courtney twice on the forehead, while asleep; that he ” thereupon spraled, but spoke not at all ; ” that having cut away his ” shorte coate ” and part of his other clothes, she and her husband dragged the corpse down the stairs (her husband going before and she after), and carried it into an outhouse ; that her husband then looked into the street and, not seeing anyone, they together carried the corpse to some earthworks which had been constructed on the north side of the Blockhouse, and thence, apparently, along the shore, to the end of the old jetty or pier (near where the Custom House on the Quay now stands), and there threw it into the sea. There was, certainly, an appearance of truth about all this, because the jetty was the eastern most part of the quay in those days, and Chiles and his wife would naturally think that the body would be carried out into the bay. On their returning home the same way, they were challenged by the sentry at the Blockhouse, but met with no other hindrance. This gruesome business occupied an hour and a half in that dark winter night. When Chiles reached his home, he, to quote the words of his wife, ” strooke fire and lighted a candle, and told the money in their low room, on ye bare table which stands by ye window next ye streete, and laide ye gould by itselfe, and the white mony by itselfe, and then putt it up agayne into the said bagge,” and then they both went to bed, her husband saying ” that that mony would make them both.”

Apparently, Chiles’ wife must have been actuated by extraordinary malice in bringing this accusation against her husband, so long after the event, especially as by so doing she, as an accomplice, might have risked her own neck.

Chiles denied the charge in toto. The body was not recovered, and, in fact, conflicting evidence was given to show that Courtney was still alive. The wife’s statement, however, was so circumstantial, that the Justices were greatly puzzled, and had the case under consideration for four months. At length, the prisoner was committed to the Dorset Assizes, for trial. Our curiosity as to the upshot of this seventeenth century trial cannot be gratified, for no report appears to be extant. Let us hope that justice was ultimately done. This was a cause celebre, and the alleged ghastly murder of the man with the “flaxen hair and yellow beard” must have been remembered in Weymouth for many a long year.(Weymouth Corporation Record [formerly Sherren Papers], 245, p. 78.)

THE FAT CAPTAIN OF HORSE.

We now turn for a moment to an entirely different scene. Some time after the Civil War had ceased and the townsmen had quieted down, George Fox, the celebrated founder of the Quakers, visited Melcombe and held a meeting with the Quakers, who had become fairly numerous here. He met with a remarkable man amongst the Parliamentary troops quartered in the town. Fox speaks of him as a Captain of Horse. When Fox left the place, they rode together up the old  Ridgeway road to Dorchester, and a very strange pair they were. Fox says, in his well-known “Journal,” (Journal of George Fox, by W. Armstead, Vol. 1,)

“This Captain was the fattest, merriest man, the most cheerful and the most given to laughter that ever I met with.” Fox, the grave Quaker, therefore felt bound to admonish him ” to come to sobriety ; ” but, at first, to little effect, for Fox naively adds, ” And yet, he would presently laugh at anything he saw.” What a splendid character this fat, cheery Captain of Horse would have made in Dickens’ hands! Which character, think you, would you have liked best, the fat boy in ” Pickwick,” who was always sleeping, or the fat Captain in Wey mouth, who was always laughing ? I believe you would have preferred the merry Captain, who ; would presently laugh at anything he saw.” With this tribute to his memory, I conclude my Paper.

Related Sources:

July 1862; Brutal murder in Sutton Poyntz, Weymouth.

VICTORIAN TALES FROM WEYMOUTH AND PORTLAND

Tonight being All Hallows Eve, with goblins, witches and ghouls flitting the streets, terrorising one and all on this dark eve, I thought tonight might be one for a tragic tale.

It all came about on a summers day in July of 1862.

Down in the village of Sutton (Sutton Poyntz) lived a normal working family in one of the old row of cottages.

Head of the family was Richard Cox, in his late 60’s, old before his time, crippled and unable to work regularly, frequently relying on parish relief…a pauper. Living with him was his wife Mary, and 3 of his sons, John, Isaac and Jacob.

By the time of this tragedy Isaac and Jacob had moved out, they travelled further afield to find employment, but also things were strained in the Cox household. Left at home with his elderly parents was 38-year-old John.

Three weeks prior to this…

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