Hoxne Heritage Group

Hoxne village hall

Last night I spoke to the Hoxne Heritage Group on the theme ‘Where is St Edmund?’, examining the different theories regarding the fate of the body of St Edmund after the Reformation, as dealt with in my book Where is St Edmund? (2014). I was especially delighted to be speaking in Hoxne’s rather remarkable Village Hall, which was designed by James Kellaway Colling in a mock ‘Anglo-Saxon’ style in 1879. The hall is located next to the celebrated Goldbrook Bridge, under which a local legend says that St Edmund hid from the Danes, and there is even a roundel on the Village Hall depicting the scene. The Hall was commissioned by Sir Edward Kerrison, 2nd Baronet, who also arranged for a memorial to be erected on the site where, in 1848, an ancient oak tree fell down and was found to have an iron arrowhead embedded in the trunk. Hoxne has claimed to be the martyrdom site of St Edmund since the eleventh century (part of a long-running feud between the Bishops of Norwich and the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds), and has its own unique traditions about the saint (most notably the Goldbrook story), but interest in the saint was revived in the village by the discovery of the arrowhead, which led local residents to conclude they had discovered the very tree against which St Edmund was martyred.

Hoxne’s claims to be the true martyrdom site are dubious by contemporary historical standards, but the fact remains that Hoxne is probably the only place in Suffolk where the cult of St Edmund – in the sense of stories told about him – has continued unbroken since the Reformation.


A Millennium of Justice in Bury St Edmunds

Bury Magistrates Court
Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court © The Bury Free Press

A few weeks ago the Government announced that the Crown Court in Bury St Edmunds, which also houses the Magistrates’ and Family Courts, will close at some point later this year. The Crown Court has not been used for some time, but retained the status. The closure of Bury’s own court brings to an end at least a thousand years of continuous administration of justice in the town, so it seems a good time to take a historical look at Bury’s judicial history.

Thingoe Hill

Thingoe Hill is located to the northwest of the old boundary of the town, the banleuca. The hill has been cut in two by the A14 since the 1970s, and is located to the west of Fornham Road. The name derives from Old English thing how, ‘thing’ meaning a parliamentary assembly and ‘how’ meaning a hill. It is possible that Thingoe Hill pre-dates the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. One of the hundreds of Suffolk, which date back to the tenth century, is named after the hill, and Anglo-Saxon local assemblies took place at sites like Thingoe Hill even in pre-Christian times. Sadly, it seems that no excavation of the area took place when a road was run through the middle of it.

The Abbot’s Hall of Pleas

The traditional date for the foundation of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds is 1020. By that date, the banleuca already existed as an area around the town of Beodricesworth marked by four crosses; the base of one of those crosses, Heyecross, can still be seen on Risbygate Street outside West Suffolk College. In 1043 King Edward the Confessor granted the eight-and-a-half hundreds of West Suffolk to the Abbey, meaning that the Abbots thereafter exercised royal jurisdiction over the Liberty of Bury St Edmunds (anything inside the banleuca) and a large degree of influence over the Liberty of St Edmund (the entirety of West Suffolk). Anyone who committed a crime inside the banleuca was exempt from the jurisdiction of any ordinary court but was subject to the Abbot, and it is likely that in the eleventh century trials were carried out in the presence of the Abbot himself in the Hall of Pleas (part of the Abbey precincts).

Shire House Heath

Shire House Heath was an area of heathland that originally extended from the North Gate of the town (close to today’s Northgate Roundabout) to Fornham All Saints. The Heath included Thingoe Hill, but it was so-called because of another small hill called Hen How on which a small Shire Hall was built. As far as I am aware, the exact location of Hen How has not been determined with certainty, but it was the centre of the administration of justice in the ‘little shire’ of the Liberty of St Edmund. The Abbot had the right to act as Sheriff within the Liberty, meaning that he (or rather his officials) presented the accused for trial; he also had the right to appoint judges to serve as Justices of the Liberty of St Edmund. These were royal justices who also served on other circuits, and the first record of one of them hearing a case at the Shire House comes from 1187. However, the Abbots would not allow the justices to hold trials within the banleuca because they were royal justices, and the Abbots would not allow anyone acting on royal authority to enter the banleuca since they reserved this right for themselves. Furthermore, the status of the citizens of the banleuca was different from those who lived outside it, and the banleuca was not itself part of the Liberty of St Edmund, so the Abbots considered that the justices had no right to hold their court in Bury itself.

The Shire Hall

One of the few gains made by the people of Bury St Edmunds as a result of the dissolution in 1539 was the removal of the Abbot’s ban on assizes for the Liberty of St Edmund taking place in the town. Accordingly, trials moved into the Chapel of St Margaret, on the south side of the Great Churchyard, which was located just to the west of the present Shire Hall between it and St Mary’s Church. It would seem that St Margaret’s, or a surviving part of it, was still in use as a Shire Hall as late as 1821, but it must have been pulled down to make way for the present building in the mid-nineteenth century. The relationship between the two jurisdictions – the Liberty of Bury St Edmunds and the Liberty of St Edmund – was complex, because Bury St Edmunds was not located in the jurisdiction of the Shire Hall that was in Bury St Edmunds, yet the court of the Liberty of Bury St Edmunds probably used the same building. The issue came to a head in 1778 when there was doubt about a man accused of murder who lived within the banleuca in terms of whose jurisdiction he came under. It seems unlikely that a court specific to the town of Bury St Edmunds met often (or ever) after the dissolution, but the two courts were not formally amalgamated until 1835.

The end of judicial independence

Remarkably, the Liberty of St Edmund continued to have its own justices until 1873. Thereafter, the Shire Hall in Bury St Edmunds became a Crown Court whose judges were royal justices like any others. However, Bury remained an assize town because in 1874 it formally became the county town of West Suffolk (whose boundaries were the same as the old Liberty of St Edmund anyway). In 1974 Bury was stripped of this status and the County of West Suffolk abolished, but the Crown Court remained. This year, the last vestige of Bury’s ancient judicial independence will finally disappear, as Ipswich becomes the sole location from which justice is administered in Suffolk. To say that this marks the end of an era would be something of an understatement.


The Curse of the Greengage

GreengageSince the publication of my Gages of Hengrave book last June (and, to be fair, before that) I have laboured under the curse of the greengage – which is to say that every time I have spoken about the Gage family, someone has asked me whether they are connected with the Reine Claude green plum. So much nonsense is peddled about the greengage that it is not an easy task to disentangle truth from fiction – and I am beginning to regret that I did not settle the issue in the book. I decided to leave the whole matter aside as I was unable to find any reliable evidence. However, for my peace of mind I have decided to present here some of the better evidence for why the greengage is so named. Whether what follows resolves the issue once and for all, let the reader decide.

In 1812 Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) wrote the following in Transactions of the Royal Horticultural Society, vol. 1, Appendix, p. 8:

The Gage family, in the last century, procured from the monks of the Chartreuse, at Paris, a collection of fruit-trees: these arrived in England with the tickets safely affixed to them, except only the Reine Claude, the ticket of which had been rubbed off in the passage. The gardener being, from this circumstance, ignorant of the name, called it, when it bore fruit, the Green Gage.

This note, which sounds like a retrospectively invented aetiology, does not specify which Gage family obtained plum trees from the Paris Carthusians – the Gages of Firle or the Gages of Hengrave. An old greengage tree used to be proudly shown at Hengrave as one of the originals brought over from Paris, but this really proves nothing other than that Hengrave acquired greengage trees at some point and that Sir Joseph’s story came to be accepted there.

However, there is a better source than Sir Joseph, which is the reminiscences of the horticulturalist Peter Collinson (d. 1760), published in 1843. Collinson recorded that,

I was on a visit to Sir William Gage at Hengrave, near Bury; he was then near 70; he told me that he first brought over, from France, the Grosse Reine Claude, and introduced it into England, and in compliment to him the plum was called the Green Gage; this was about the year 1725.

Portrait Sir William Gage 2nd Bart
Sir William Gage, 2nd Baronet of Hengrave (c. 1650-1727) in around 1688

Collinson appears to be referring to Sir William Gage, 2nd Baronet (c. 1650-1727), who would indeed have been in his seventies in 1725. Sir William had strong Paris connections, having been educated there at St Gregory’s College; he met his future wife, Mary Charlotte Bond, at the court of the Dowager Queen Henrietta Maria at St Germain-en-Laye. In 1675 Sir William returned from his time in Paris for a double wedding at Hengrave, attended by the King’s brother James, Duke of York, in which he married Mary Charlotte Bond and his sister Mary Gage married William Bond. It is certainly possible that Sir William arranged for trees to be brought back from Paris at the time, although there is no record of any such transaction in the Gage family papers – but then there are no horticultural records of Hengrave dating from the 1660s or 1670s.

One of the false stories about the greengage originated with Dr Robert Hogg, who in his Fruit Manual (1884) reported that the greengage was introduced by Sir Thomas Gage, who obtained it from his brother, ‘Rev. John Gage, a Roman Catholic priest, then resident in Paris’. There was a Sir Thomas Gage whose brother was Fr John Gage, a Jesuit priest, but this was Sir Thomas Rookwood Gage, 5th Baronet (1719-1796), who never lived at Hengrave but rather at his mother’s family seat of Coldham Hall. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Fr John Gage was ever in Paris. Perhaps Hogg’s story was given credence by the Carthusian association, since a Carthusian monk was gardener to the English Augustinian Canonesses of Bruges at Hengrave during their exile there between 1794 and 1802. Matters may have been further confused by the fact that a type of greengage was first cultivated in Bury St Edmunds at the end of the eighteenth century (although this was Coe’s Drop, the so-called ‘golden gage’, rather than the original greengage) as well as by the fact that Sir Thomas Gage, 7th Baronet (1781-1820) was a noted botanist after whom plants were named. It seemed quite natural, therefore, to attribute the introduction of the greengage to Hengrave at a later period.

The erroneous association of the greengage with the Gages of Firle Place, the Hengrave Gages’ Sussex cousins, must have occurred as a result of the fact that there were two Sir William Gages alive at the same time: Sir William, 2nd Baronet of Hengrave (c. 1650-1727) and Sir William, 7th Baronet of Firle (1695-1744), who is otherwise famous as a cricketer. When the misattribution occurred I have not been able to determine.

There seems no particular reason to disbelieve the near-contemporary testimony of Peter Collinson that Sir William Gage, 2nd Baronet of Hengrave was responsible for introducing the greengage to England, although this does not necessarily prove that the old greengage tree displayed at Hengrave is descended from the original stock.


Roger Martin’s Prayer Book?

Melford Hall
Melford Place, once home to the Martin family

Of all Suffolk recusants, Roger Martin of Long Melford (c. 1527-1615) is perhaps the best known. Martin emerged from the historical shadows in 1989 when David Dymond and Clive Paine published an edition of Martin’s remarkable account of the ceremonies and furnishings of Holy Trinity, Long Melford, ‘The state of Melford Church … as I did know it’. It certainly helped the popularity of Dymond and Paine’s volume that Holy Trinity, Long Melford is one of the most architecturally spectacular churches in Suffolk, but it also coincided closely with the publication of Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars and the subsequent resurgence in the study of the English church on the eve of the Reformation. Martin’s ‘State of Melford Church’ is now recognised as one of the most important and detailed sources on the experience of the pre-Reformation worshipper.

Long Melford Church
Holy Trinity, Long Melford © Long Melford Church

I first encountered Roger Martin when I was studying A Level History – it is a great privilege, therefore, to be in a position to announce to the world that I may have discovered his personal prayer book. My article ‘Early Modern English Catholic Piety in a Fifteenth-Century Book of Hours: Cambridge University Library MS Additional 10079’ appears in the 2015 number of Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society and advances the argument that the manuscript I have dubbed the Rookwood Book of Hours originally belonged to Roger Martin. I spotted the Rookwood Book of Hours for sale at Sotheby’s in November 2014 and persuaded Cambridge University Library to buy it for £13,750 – for which I shall be eternally grateful to the UL. At the time, I argued that the manuscript was important because it was the only manuscript known to survive from the eighteenth-century library of the Rookwood family. The catalogue of this important recusant library forms part of my edition of the Rookwood Family Papers to be published later this year by the Suffolk Records Society.

Rookwood Hours05
The burial service in the Rookwood Book of Hours

It was only when I inspected the Rookwood Book of Hours for the first time, in January 2015, that I began to suspect that the manuscript’s older provenance lay with the Martin family of Long Melford rather than the Rookwoods of Stanningfield. The book of hours undoubtedly belonged to Thomas Rookwood of Stanningfield in 1726, but the name ‘martyn’ appears in fifteenth-century script at the front of the book. This I believe to be the autograph of Roger Martin’s great grandfather Richard Martin, a cloth merchant who probably purchased (or commissioned) the book of hours from the Low Countries in the 1460s. The Rookwoods acquired a good deal of property from the Martin family in the early eighteenth century (Thomas Rookwood married Tamworth Martin) and it is likely that the book of hours came into the Rookwoods’ possession at this point as well. However, the most remarkable feature of the manuscript is not contained in the book of hours itself but takes the form of accessory material in a sixteenth-century italic hand. I was eventually able to identify these prayers as having been copied from a series of preces privatae by Erasmus. I was also able to date the prayers to the period 1553-58 and probably November 1558, as there appears to be a reference to the last illness of Queen Mary I.

In Mary’s reign Roger Martin was the pre-eminent resident of Long Melford, a churchwarden in charge of restoring Holy Trinity to Catholic splendour and a man who had been offered a place in Mary’s Privy Council (which he turned down). The likelihood that the book of hours belonged to the Martin family in the fifteenth century, combined with the appearance of the name ‘Roogers’ elsewhere in the manuscript (which I interpret as ‘Roger’s’) as well as Roger Martin’s known learning (he trained as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn) and interest in preserving pre-Reformation objects make for a compelling circumstantial case that CUL MS Add. 10079, the ‘Rookwood Book of Hours’, was Roger Martin’s private prayer book. If true, this would make the manuscript the first book known to have belonged to Martin, and an important part of Long Melford’s and Suffolk’s religious history. Fortunately, the prayer book will now be preserved by Cambridge University Library for generations of future scholars to study and reach their own conclusions.


A Bury St Edmunds martyr? German Gardiner

after Unknown artist, line engraving, possibly late 18th century
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester: German Gardiner’s uncle and employer.

In 1886 Pope Leo XIII beatified, along with other martyrs of the English Reformation, a man named German Gardiner, who was the secretary and nephew of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. As for many of these martyrs, very little was actually known about Gardiner’s life – and he remains a most shadowy figure. However, there is a case to be made that German Gardiner was a native of Bury St Edmunds on two main grounds: firstly, he was a relative of Stephen Gardiner, whose family originated in Bury and who was certainly born in the town; and secondly, his rather unusual name suggests a Bury connection.

German Gardiner was executed at Tyburn on 7 March 1544 for denying the Royal Supremacy. Gardiner acted as an intermediary between his uncle, who was in many ways the leader of the conservative faction in the English church, and a group of prebendaries and other clergy of Canterbury Cathedral who in 1543 drew up a lengthy list of articles designed to prove that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was a heretic (an event known as the Prebendaries’ Plot). The investigation into the affair was conducted by Richard Cox, later Bishop of Ely, and German Gardiner was something of a scapegoat – as well as, perhaps, a warning to his powerful uncle.

Stephen Gardiner was the son of John Gardiner (d. 1507), clothier of Bury St Edmunds and his wife Agnes, and was born in around 1495. The Gardiner family were prominent in the town; in 1471 the then alderman, Robert Gardiner, who was probably Stephen’s grandfather, drew up a protest against the Abbot on behalf of the townsman. This was part of a centuries-old dispute between the Abbey and the town about rights and liberties. After the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539, Gardiner remained close to the families who carried on administering the patrimony of St Edmund, such as Sir Clement Heigham, Steward of the Liberty of Bury St Edmunds. As Stephen’s nephew, it is likely in any case that German Gardiner was also a native of Bury, but the case is strengthened by his unusual name. In the sources he is sometimes referred to as German, Germaine or Jermyn – all of them abbreviations of the name Germanus. It seems unlikely that German Gardiner was named after St Germanus of Auxerre – a saint venerated at this time primarily in Cornwall – and light is shed on this matter by M. R. James, who noted in 1930 that the obscure East Anglian St Jurmin was also known as Firminus, Hiurminus or Germanus. Jurmin may have been obscure – he was the semi-legendary son of the East Anglian King Anna, who was killed fighting pagans in the seventh century near Blythburgh – but his cult was very prominent in the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. After Abbot Leofstan succeeded in translating the relics of St Jurmin from Blythborough to Bury in the eleventh century, the cult of St Jurmin took its place as a secondary but important one within the Abbey Church – Jurmin’s shrine, a silver-plated altar, faced the splendid feretory of St Edmund himself. It is highly likely that the medieval cult of St Jurmin is the origin of the Norfolk and Suffolk family names Jermyn, Jermy and Jarmyn.

If German Gardiner was named after St Jurmin – a saint peculiar to Bury St Edmunds – it could be an indication that he was born on St Jurmin’s feast day of 23 February. Alternatively – and perhaps more probably – Gardiner was named after the Jermyn family of Rushbrooke Hall, with whom his branch of the Gardiner family might well have had family or patronage connections. Either way, Gardiner’s unusual baptismal name places him securely in the local context of Bury St Edmunds. In the absence of any direct evidence concerning the place of his birth, the suggestion that he was born in Bury must remain speculation, but it is strongly supported by the limited evidence available. If Bd German Gardiner is a Bury St Edmunds martyr, he would take his place alongside the two Benedictine martyrs St Alban Roe (1583-1642) and Bd George Gervase (1571-1608), the latter of whom spent some of his boyhood in the town.