The Haunting of Chelmondiston Rectory

Located a short way along the Shotley peninsula, the village of Chelmondiston is notable for the hamlet of Pin Mill and views across the River Orwell.  Rebuilt in the 1860’s, the local parish church of St Andrews lost its tower to a flying bomb in 1944.  But it was the Chelmondiston Rectory that was the subject of interest in a Bury & Norwich Post article during November 1890. 

My books are themed, and The Ripper Deception explores the Victorian fascination with spiritualism.  Before its conclusion in London, Violet and Lawrence embark on different investigations with Violet arriving in Chelmondiston to find out the cause of strange noises in the Rectory. Her visit coincides with one by a representative of the Society for Psychical Research. 

I based this part of The Ripper Deception on the Bury & Norwich post article which described the haunting in detail.  The Rectory, standing on the left of the road running from Ipswich to Shotley, was built around 1850 and was home to several rectors before the arrival of the Reverend George Woodward and his wife, Alice.  The previous Rector, the Reverend Beaumont, had a large family but the Reverend and Mrs Woodward were childless, and the household was considerably quieter.  When they first moved to the house, they were unaware of its reputation, but before long they began to hear footfalls in the passages and doors opening and closing in the dead of night.  After speaking to the servants, it became apparent that they also witnessed unexplained noises, and one of the maidservants saw the ghost who she described as a small, shabbily-dressed, grey-bearded man. 

The disturbances continued unabated with the Reverend concerned enough to search every nook and cranny of the house looking for an explanation.  He examined drains, removed floorboards and even inspected the ivy on the outside walls, but the noises and sightings continued.  The newspaper reported that a member of the Psychical Society arrived to instigate personal inquiries but heard nothing unusual.  Neither did several gentlemen of the neighbourhood who also watched at night. 

Nevertheless, rumours of the ghost spread into the village and reached the ears of the older inhabitants. They still remembered Reverend Beaumont’s predecessor, a certain Reverend Richard Howarth who was Rector of the parish from 1858 until his death from acute bronchitis in 1863.  Reverend Haworth was an inveterate miser, so mean that he dressed in rags and only allowed himself half an egg for a meal.  He became known as “cabbage” Haworth after promising an ill parishioner a treat and delivering a cabbage.   

But why would a miserly man of religion haunt the Rectory?  Those who remembered Reverend Haworth also recalled the unusual circumstances of his will.  Buried in the Chelmondiston churchyard, Howarth was worth about £40,000 when he died, and his will was supposedly found in a pond near the roadside in a book of old sermons wrapped in a piece of cloth.  Villagers believed that his troubled spirit still searched the rectory for some hidden portion of his money.   

The story sounds unlikely, but a quick look at the 1861 census shows the Reverend living at the Rectory with one servant.  He died a bachelor on 7th February 1863 and letters of administration granted personal estate and effects to his brother George.  So far, so good.  However, an article in the Cambridge Independent Press on 23 May 1863 describes a court case resulting when an anonymous letter containing the missing will turned up at the home of his relative James Haworth. The will, drawn up and executed by the Reverend Haworth’s nephew Richard was partly burned and torn. The judge viewed the will with great suspicion, as there was no indication of how it got burned, and whether the damage constituted cancellation. He postponed the case with instructions that it could not proceed without the collection of further evidence.  And that’s where my investigation ends.  I can’t find any other articles to prove what happened next.   

However, an 1884 newspaper cutting shows a list of large, unclaimed fortunes, one of which is in the name of Haworth.  Mysteriously, the final paragraph of the Bury & Norwich Post article explains the lack of progress in the case stating that the judge who tried the issue died suddenly at the most critical point.  This is true – he did.  Justice Cresswell died in office on 29 Jul 1863 from complications arising from a fall from his horse.


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Skulduggery in Stowmarket

Suffolk’s newest Crime Festival – Stowmarket Library 27 – 30 April 2018

Tickets on sale from Stowmarket Library and Mid Suffolk Tourist Information Centre from 6 March. £5 per author talk or £20 for all six.

Stowmarket Crime Fest Line Up

 

Ipswich Journal 8th Nov 1884

Sudden death – An inquest was held at The Fox and Goose Inn on Monday morning, before C W Chaston Esq upon the body of Jonathan Carter, agricultural labourer, aged 77 years.  Harriet Corbyn stated that the deceased, who was her brother, had lived with her and her husband for the last four years; he had had fair health and the witness had not heard him complain.  He left home about nine a.m. on Saturday to be shaved, which was the last time the witness saw him alive.  Several of the family had died of heart disease.  The deceased had not for a long time been attended by a medical man.  Harriet King, widow, said that as she was walking through the churchyard on Saturday morning, about 10 o’clock, she noticed someone lying on the path, and on going up found it was the deceased.  She spoke to him, but receiving no answer she went at once for assistance.  John Edwards, baker, said that in consequence of what the last witness said to him on Saturday, he went into the churchyard and found the deceased lying as described.  He breathed twice, and almost immediately afterwards, expired.  Dr Anderson stated that he had made an external examination of the body, and found no marks of violence.  Judging from his experience and from the evidence given, he was of the opinion that death was caused by a sudden failure of the heart’s action and returned a verdict accordingly.
This inquest report and others inspired the plot of The Fressingfield Witch The Prologue describes Jonathan Carter’s journey through the churchyard.  He is heading towards the cottages in the photograph but never reaches them. Jonathan is found on the pathway as described in the inquest, but he is not alone.  Something terrifying has been placed beside him…
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The Fox and Goose, Fressingfield

IMG_0265Crucial to the setting of ‘The Fressingfield Witch’, is The Fox and Goose Inn which nestles in front of the churchyard. Formerly the guildhall of St Margaret of Antioch, the structure was built around 1509 and has been a public house since 1710. The side facing the churchyard is an attractive mix of brick and timbers and there is an interesting carved corner post with the figure of Saint Margaret on the church side of the building. The post, quite naturally, appears worn and I worked it into the book with one of the characters touching it for luck.

The village of Fressingfield in the book is populated with real inhabitants from the 1891 census, mostly where they do not play a lead role – and even sometimes where they do. The publican in 1891 was  63-year-old Benjamin Powley from Burlingham, Norfolk, coincidentally bearing the same name as one of my nephews. Prior to that, he was victualler at ‘The Feathers’ in North Walsham.

Though serving as a public house, The Fox & Goose regularly hosted inquests. The following, extracted from The Ipswich Journal 8th November 1884, records the inquest following the death of Jonathan Carter, an integral event in ‘The Fressingfield Witch’:

Sudden Death – An inquest was held at the Fox and Goose Inn on Monday morning before C.W. Chaston, Esq upon the body of Jonathan Carter, agricultural labourer, aged 77 years. Harriet Corbyn stated that the deceased, who was her brother, had lived with her and her husband for the last four years; he had had fair health and witness had not heard him complain. He left home about nine a.m. on Saturday to be shaved, which was the last time the witness saw him alive. Several of the family had died of heart disease. Deceased had not for a long time been attended by a medical man. Harriet King, widow, said that as she was walking through the churchyard on Saturday morning, about 10 o’clock, she noticed someone lying on the path, and on going up found it was the deceased. She spoke to him, but receiving no answer she went at once for assistance. John Edwards, baker, said that in consequence of what the last witness said to him on Saturday, he went into the churchyard and found the deceased lying as described. He breathed twice, and almost immediately afterwards expired. Dr Anderson stated that he had made an external examination of the body, and found no marks of violence. Judging from his experience and from the evidence given, he was of the opinion that death was caused by sudden failure of the heart’s action. The jury returned a verdict accordingly. 

Today, The Fox & Goose is a popular, friendly restaurant attracting a range of satisfied customers and even coming to the notice of The Telegraph. It is a far cry from the place of torture assigned to its upper floor in the book – a place where Matthew Hopkins accused Faith Mills of witchcraft and tried to extract a confession using the cruellest methods. Nowadays, the only cruelty is having to choose from so many delicious menu options. Time has moved on, in a good way.

 

Witchcraft and Magic at the John Clare Theatre

Francis Young

This afternoon I spoke at Peterborough’s John Clare Theatre on the subject of ‘Witchcraft and Magic in the Fens’, an event organised by Peterborough Archives. My talk focussed particularly on evidence of witchcraft and magic from Peterborough and the surrounding countryside. I am always delighted on such occasions to hear stories from the audience, and on this occasion I was not disappointed. One audience member reported that, as a small child, her mother (who was born in 1891) suffered from warts and the family was unable to afford a doctor. The girl was accordingly sent to a Peterborough ‘witch’ who lived in a brownstone cottage at the junction of Cobden Street and Walpole Street. The ‘witch’ presented the girl with a snail; the audience member was unable to remember the rest of the story, but it is likely that the snail was meant to be rubbed on the warts…

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The Smoking Baby of Fressingfield

vintage-2792557__340The Fressingfield Witch was inspired by articles from national and local papers about Mary Ann Corbyn and her alleged use of witchcraft to procure the death of her step-granddaughter.  Below is an extract from the Framlingham Weekly News 12 April 1890:

“An inquest was held on Wednesday evening at Gooch’s Farm House, Fressingfield, before C W Chaston Esq touching the death of Edith Margaret Hammond, aged 11 weeks, daughter of Ben Hammond, agricultural labourer…

…Deceased  seemed very queer on Friday, and early on Saturday morning was taken home in a perambulator by witness and his wife.  On the way they noticed smoke issuing from the perambulator and deceased died after arrival home.

Sarah Hammond, the mother, said that when she took deceased out of the perambulator, the clothing was quite hot and dry and smelt of brimstone.  She had no doubt but that deceased’s death was due to witchcraft and wickedness…

…George Corbyn of Wingfield, grandfather to the deceased, gave it as his opinion that his late wife had the powers of a witch and that he in consequence used always to try to do what she wanted him.

The jury found that deceased came to her death from shock to the system, caused by the external application of some irritant, the nature of which there was not sufficient evidence to show.”

 

 

 

 

The Fressingfield Witch…

… and it’s here courtesy of Publishnation who have helped me hit my target of publication by the end of October.

The Fressingfield Witch is a work of fiction based on a series of factual events from the 1890’s. It takes place in Suffolk, England. As usual, one or two of the characters come from my own family tree and the crime is solved with a combination of sleuthing and genealogy.  The book blurb is below:

“During the 1645 Suffolk witch trials, hundreds of innocent women were convicted. Death and uncertainty stalked the land. 

Fast forward to 1890 and two mysterious deaths in the village of Fressingfield stir up rumours of witchcraft again. Lawrence Harpham is dispatched from Bury St Edmunds to investigate. But Lawrence is still tormented by the tragic loss of his family in a house fire. Can he overcome his own demons and discover who is behind the flurry of deaths? 

The Fressingfield Witch is a fictional murder mystery based on true events. Two of Suffolk’s darkest cases of witchcraft are weaved together in one compelling story.”

The Fressingfield Witch can be purchased through the Amazon Kindle Store or  Lulu Publishing

Fressingfield Witch cover small snip