Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Witches of Hull


Halloween is a time for ghosts and ghouls, monsters and witches. Today these are happy, fictional characters but 400 years ago witchcraft was seen as real. In an age when little about the natural world was understood by science, so much that was uncertain or unknowable was explained with magic. If you, or your child, or your cow fell sick and died, that was as likely as not due to the malign acts of a local witch.

In the summer of 1604 Hull was experiencing another plague epidemic. In what must have been an atmosphere of panic and suspicion, many people thought that the infection could only be explained by black magic.

We know this from a brief account in one of the Bench Books – the minute books of the town’s governing Bench of Aldermen (C BRB/2). A transcription of the account by historian of Elizabethan Hull Helen Good is available.

Extract from the Hull Bench Book, Sep 1604 [C BRB/2]

In September 1604 a judge, Baron John Savile, arrived in Hull to hold a Session of Gaol Delivery, a trial of serious criminal cases. Baron Savile found that many (“divers”) people, men and women, were to be tried for witchcraft. Unfortunately we don’t know any specifics of the cases but it is likely that fear of the plague had prompted neighbour to turn on neighbour, and long festering disputes and resentments had broken out in wild accusations of witchcraft.

Witchcraft was in everybody’s mind. The new King James I had arrived from Scotland the year before with experience and a morbid interest in witchcraft. A new law was about to come into force at Michaelmas (29 September) 1604 tightening up an existing law of 1563. Under both laws witches who were found guilty of harming people were to be put to death.

On 4 September Baron Savile found five men and women guilty of witchcraft: Roger Beadney; John Willerby; Mary Holland; Janet Wressell, alias Beamont; and Janet Butler. All five were sentenced to be hanged. Helen Good makes the point that the surnames of the witches were not Hull names, but were to be found in the three parishes of Hullshire – Hessle, Ferriby and Kirkella – which came under the authority of the town. These people were outsiders, literally and figuratively.

Baron Savile is unlikely to have been a gullible man; he was intelligent, well educated, and a hugely experienced lawyer. But he may have had a point to prove to the new King – that the Common Law could deal with witchcraft – and he was also a committed Puritan, a group of Christians traditionally unsympathetic to accusations of witchcraft.

So Beadney, Willerby, Holland, Wressell and Butler were hanged on Saturday 6 September, on the gallows where Adelaide Street now stands, then in the royal manor of Myton, where a field was once called Gallows close. Hull didn’t run to employing a fulltime hangman. According to the Bench Book, Baron Savile reprieved a horse thief, Henry Oliver, tried and convicted before him, on condition that he hang the witches. As a horse thief Oliver will have known his way around ropes and halters.

Illustration of witches being hanged, 1655

Before Oliver’s noose went round his neck, John Willerby confessed “many
Thing[s] and at his deathe accus[ed] divers for witchcraft”. We can imagine the last desperate angry ranting of a man with nothing to lose, accusing former friends and neighbours in a scene reminiscent of The Crucible or The Name of the Rose.

We don’t know where the witches were buried. Soon after the trial, the Bench ordered various sanitary improvements which would have had a greater impact on the Hull’s public health than ridding it of witches.

But that, I’m afraid, would not have been the view of most people in Hull in 1604.

Happy Halloween everyone!


Martin Taylor (City Archivist)

Friday, 19 October 2018

Educating Cottingham: Mark Kirby's Lasting Legacy of the Mark Kirby Charity

22 October 2018 is the tercentenary of the death of Hull merchant, Mark Kirby. Born in Cottingham in 1638, Kirby imported and exported a variety of goods and was an extremely wealthy man. Hull History Centre holds a record of port transactions known as the ‘Wool House Book’, which records that in just one day in 1716 Kirby exported 78 tons of lead, 188 tons of red lead and 1,000 dozen men’s stockings [C WW].

Wool House Book recording Kirby's accounts, 1693-1703 [C WW]

Papers held at Hull History Centre include a pedigree showing Kirby family members [U DDSY/105/9], a book said to belong to Kirby [U DDSY4/7/1], and his will [U DDSY/110/8] which shows that he owned properties all over the East Riding. The will also records various bequests, including one to the vicar of the ‘high church in Hull’ who received 2 guineas and a pulpit cloth for preaching the sermon at Mark’s funeral. But his most generous bequest, now known as ‘The Mark Kirby Charity’, was the gift of two pieces of land to the ‘Free School’ in Cottingham:

‘I give and devise…the yearly rents and profits…shall be paid to the schoolmaster…and to his successors forever for teaching 10 poor children whose parents are not of the ability to pay for their learning’

Mark Kirby's signature and seal at the foot of his will [U DDSY/110/8]

Kirby’s bequest was not responsible for establishing the school as it was already in existence, however, his generosity led to the school becoming known as ‘the Mark Kirby Free School’ and it survived as such until 1876. By 1860 a new school had been erected at the side of the churchyard in Church Passage, which was later taken over by St Mary’s Church and is now the church’s coffee shop. The original school building was situated in the churchyard and can be seen in an engraving which appeared in the ‘Gentlemen’s Magazine’ in 1797.

When the school ceased to function, the charity continued to exist. The trustees took several years to decide upon a new scheme which would be true to the spirit of the original bequest. Kirby had made his bequest to support pupils in the parish of Cottingham. In 1897 Reverend Malet Lambert was appointed Chairman of the trustees, and under his leadership the decision was taken to use the proceeds for scholarships. There were to be 6 general scholarships and 2 for pupil teachers.

By the 1920s these had become scholarships to high schools. By the 1960s grants were being awarded for school uniforms and today grants are given for musical instruments, school trips and children’s activities. The bequest has become a lasting legacy from a man who was well known in his day, and whose family went on to play an important part in the history of the East Riding.

Mark Kirby's notebook [U DDSY4/7/1]

Kirby’s son, another Mark, must have inherited his father’s business acumen as he was known locally as ‘the Merchant Prince’. Kirby Jr’s financial success allowed him to purchase the Sledmere estate. On his death, the estate passed to the children of his sister Mary who had married Richard Sykes, and thus Sledmere passed into the hands of the Sykes family. Their descendants still own the estate today and the house is a significant part of the local East Yorkshire landscape.

Elaine Moll, Archivist/Librarian (Hull City Archives and Local Studies)

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

This Month in Hull: October

After a month’s hiatus, (because we forgot about September!) our This Month in Hull blog is back to give you some more historical facts. So here they are, some interesting things you may or may not know happened in Hull during the month of October.

Beginning in 1541, on the 2nd October, a visit by Henry VIII to Hull is recorded. The purpose of the visit was to inspect the town’s defences. As a result of his visit the following recommendations were made: Suffolk Palace, once standing on the site now occupied by The Deep, was to become a citadel surrounded by a moat which was to be scoured; ramparts, which had fallen into disrepair, were to be brought back into a fit state for defensive purposes; and the town’s gates were to be provided with guns.

Illustration of Beverley Gate in the 19th century, this would have formed part of the defensive walls under siege in 1643 [U DDMM/30/6]

In 1643, on the 11th October, a heavy siege of the town was broken. The town had been under siege from Royalist forces for weeks, putting the inhabitants under immense strain. After building up a strong force, the town’s governor, Lord Fairfax, ordered the Parliamentarian troops to advance out of the town and a battle ensued. The siege ended the following day and Fairfax declared the 11th October to be a public holiday of thanksgiving, which it remained until the restoration.

Illustration of the south blockhouse of the citadel, c.100 years after the defensive improvements ordered by Henry VIII [U DDMM/30/8]

In 1926, on the 13th October, Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales) visited Hull to lay the foundation stone of Ferens Art Gallery. The gallery was funded by MP, philanthropist and major figure in the History of Reckitt and Sons, Thomas Ferens. His philanthropy also included the donation of £250,000 in 1926/27 to found the Hull University College (now the University of Hull).

Ferens Art Gallery shortly after opening in 1927 [C DIMB/1/1/41]

In 1939, on the 16th October, Hull’s New Theatre opened in Kingston Square. The first ever production was a performance of ‘Me and My Girl’ by the Hull Repertory Company. Whilst, we don’t have a flyer for this particular performance, we do have many thousands of theatre play bills for various local theatres which have existed in Hull since the 18th century.

New Theatre after a performance in 1954 [Lp.792 NEW/2]

In 1985, on the 8th October, Clive Sullivan died in Hull aged 42. An internationally renowned rugby player, Sullivan played for both Hull KR and Hull FC Rugby League teams. He was so loved locally that a section of the A63 was renamed Clive Sullivan Way in honour of his memory.

Clive Sullivan playing for Hull FC [Local Studies]

As always, if you want to find out more, drop into Hull History Centre to see what records we have!

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist (Hull University Archives)