W. H. Bernard Saunders.

Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

. (page 2 of 16)
Online LibraryW. H. Bernard SaundersLegends and traditions of Huntingdonshire → online text (page 2 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of their position became so obvious, that the com-
manding officer of the barracks, apprehensive that
the force under his command, consisting only of the
Shropshire militia and one battalion of the army
reserve, would not be sufficient, in case of extremity,
to environ and restrain so large a body of prisoners,
despatched a messenger requiring the assistance of
the volunteer force at Peterborough. Fortunately
the yeomanry had had a field day, and one of the
troops was undismissed when the messenger arrived.
With the most commendable alacrity the officers and
men immediately galloped to the barracks. In the
evening, the tumult still continuing amongst the
prisoners, and some of them taking advantage of the
extreme darkness to attempt an escape, it was found
necessary to require the further reinforcement of the
infantry corps at Peterborough, and of the two other
troops of yeomanry. At nine o'clock the alarm was
given in the city, and the infantry in a few mintues
were equipped for duty, and marched with the
yeomanry to ISTorman Cross, where they continued on
duty all night. The prisoners having cut down a

Legends, etc., of Htmtingdonshire. 15

part of the wood enclosure during the night, nine of
them escaped. In another part of the prison, as soon
as daylight broke, it was discovered they had under-
mined a distance of 34 feet towards the great north
road, under the fosse which surrounded the prison,
although it was four feet deep, and it Avas not dis-
covered that they had any tools. They had not, how-
ever, carried the mine a sufficient extent for it to
answer their purpose. Five of them who escaped
were re-taken in the course of a few days, but the
others got clear away.

About a month after the above incident, another
attempt was made to escape. Sixteen of the prisoners
had broken out of their cells, and were found by the
guard skulking together in a corner of the outer
prison. None of these however escaped. Whether it
was this same sixteen, or another party of the same
number does not appear, but in the following month,
Nov., 1804, sixteen of the prisoners matured their
plans and_ accomplished their purpose. Information
was sent that some of them had made their way to
Stamford, and, although it was the day of the Bull
Running there, every man in the Volunteer Corps
obeyed the summons, and with assistance from Peter-
borough scoured the whole country. No Frenchmen,
however, were discovered. Later, five of them were
re-taken in another direction.

1 6 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

Not being able to eflPecb their escape, some of the
prisoners had recourse to forgery, and in Dec, 1804,
an engraved plate for printing one pound notes was
discovered. The plate was exceedingly well done, and
all the implements for engraving and printing were
at once seized. In 1811 another prisoner escaped,
and he tells his own story in the following words : —

"After waiting day after day, and week after week,
with emotions and impatience indescribable, the
moment of liberation at length arrived, in a dark
and dismal night in the month of February. The
rain had poured down in torrents all the day, accom-
panied with a heavy fall of snow, and the wind blew
a most violent storm. Nothing could better answer
my purpose ; as in darkness lay the only chance I
could possibly have of eluding the keen and vigilant
eyes of my over-watchful guards. Being now deter-
mined to make the attempt, I took from their places
of concealment, where I had arranged all necessary
for the occasion, a strong knife to cut the wood paling,
and a rope which I had made out of wool, with
a hook at the end, to surmount the wall. I also
put a biscuit or two in my pocket, with a shirt and a
pair of stockings, (which last I found exceedingly
comfortable and refreshing to me), to put on dry
when the others were wet and dirty. I had no room
for anything else ; in short, what I had, filled my

Legends, etc., of HMntingdonshire. 17

pockets, as my dress was only a sailor's jacket and
trousers, both of coarse blue cloth, but sound and
warm. I had also a good strong pair of shoes on —
another great comfort, and which ought always to
be particularly attended to by every adventurous
wanderer. My fellow-prisoner, of whom I bought a
map, was the only one I acquainted with my purpose;
not that he might accompany me, for he had given up
all thoughts of escape himself, but that he might
answer to my name if called over, which sometimes
was the case, or otherwise assist me as far as lay in
his power, without rendering himself liable to sus-
picion. It was a regular custom in the prison to
count us out of our lodging-places in the morning
and in again at night, so that if any were missing, it
was immediately discovered, and the alarm given.
This rendered it necessary that the first attempt
should be made from within after we were shut up.
As soon, therefore, as it was dark, I began my opera-
tions, my friend standing before me as I lay on the
ground, and screening me from observation as well as
he could by several artful manoeuvres, which were
much assisted by a long bench and table near us, on
which he was apparently very deeply engaged at work.
My object was to cut out one of the boards from the
bottom of the building, which I had previously pre-
pared for removal. In this I succeeded better than I

1 8 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

could possibly have expected ; and creeping out on
my hands and knees, silently replaced the board, and,
unperceived by any one, concealed myself among a
heap of fagots in the yard, which had been brought
there during the day, for firing. The rain and wind
seemed if possible, to increase as the night approached,
and soon shrouded all around me in pitchy darkness.
There were here and there at long intervals, and at a
great distance from me, regular rows of lamps ; but
they only served to make the outer darkness more
intense. As I crouched up in my hiding place, wet
and almost benumbed with cold, which nothing but
the hope of ultimate escape could have enabled me to
bear, I could occasionally hear the clang of arms of
the sentinels at their posts, notwithstanding the pat-
tering of the rain and the howling of the wind, which
had now increased to a perfect hurricane, nay, I could
now and then even distinguish their voices. Their
proximity did not at all tend to the encouragement,
or the exhilaration of my spirits, but I was gone too
iix to recede. I continued in this horrid state of
suspense till the clock struck eleven, which I had
chosen as the most favourable point of time, the
sentinels being then, as I thought, more likely to be
tired, and not so much on their guard, being changed
at nine and twelve. Commending my soul to God
and our Holy Mother, I left my hiding place, but wa§

Legends, etc., of Htmtingdonshire. 19

at first so stiff and cramped with being confined so
long in one posture, that I could scarcely stand; how-
ever, this soon went off, and I found my courage rise
as my blood circulated more freely. The wood paling
could scarcely be called an impediment; and listening
attentively for a moment, and hearing nothing to alarm
me, I silently cut a part out, and crept through on
my hands and knees as far and as quick as I could.
I was interrupted by no one, and the sentinels were
undoubtedly sheltered in their boxes. My success, so
far, inspired me with great confidence. I knew that
I had passed the first line of the guards, and that
there svere no more obstacles on one side of the wall.
If anything, at this moment the hurricane blew with
ten-fold violence, and justly thinking no soldier would
face it, but seek shelter, I jerked the hook, with the
line attached, on the top of the wall, which, fortu-
nately for me, caught the first time, and with but
little noise to alarm. However, I listened for a mo-
ment, in gi-eat agitation, but all appeared quiet. I
then tried the rope with all my strength, and, it
proving safe, I made the desperate venture — and
desperate indeed it was, but what will not a man at-
tempt for his liberty ? Well, to proceed— with gTeat
difficulty I got to the top, and gently, and by degrees,
I peeped my head over. I listened most attentively,
you may be sure, but could hear nothing, and had

20 Legends, etc., of Htintingdonshire.

just got ray knee upon the wall in the attitude of
ascent, when a door opened close by me, and a soldier
passed along. In a moment I threw myself flat on
my face upon the wall, and very plainly heard the
footsteps directly beneath me. I continued in this
posture for some minutes, and had almost given my-
self up to despair, when, after passing and repassing
several times, for I could hear him though not see
him, he again retired to his box, and I heard the door
close after him. I seized the favourable moment,
and, pulling up the rope, descended in safety on the
other side. I then took off my shoes, and softly
walked on tiptoe across the beat of the sentinel, till I
got to some distance, when I threw myself on the wet
grass and stopped to take breath. My greatest
difficulties were now surmounted ; but as no time was
to be lost, I soon started off again, and had nearly
approached some of the lamps, which I was obliged
to pass, when I plainly saw a picquet or patrol of
five or six men across my very path. It was astonish-
ing they did not see me ; but my good star pre-
dominated, and I remained unnoticed. The lamps
were now indeed in my favour, as they shewed me
what to avoid, whilst I myself was shrouded in dark-
ness. Choosing the most obscure places, and pro-
ceeding step by step, with the utmost precaution, I at
last reached, unmolested, the boundary ditch, which

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 2 1

I soon cleared ; and in a moment after found myself
out of the prison, and on a high road, with nothing
farther to obstruct my progress."

As a sentinel belonging to the picquet-guard was at
his post, at one of the inner gates, one night in
January, 1812, a French prisoner asked leave to go
through. On being questioned as to his business, he
said he was going for a bucket of water, on which the
soldier observed that he already had one. But scarcely
were the words pronounced when the prisoner threw
the contents of the bucket in the sentinel's face, and
the sudden application of the water had such an effect
upon him that he dropped his firelock. This was
taken advantage of by the Frenchman, who unfixed
the bayonet and ran off with it. The soldier, how-
ever, quickly recovered "his recollection," and having
snatched up the piece, he discharged it at the prisoner.
The ball entered below the shoulder and came out at
the breast. The poor man lingered for a few days
and then died. The soldier was indicted at the fol-
lowing Huntingdon assizes for manslaughter, but ac-

In August, 1813, five French prisoners who had
escaped from Norman Cross were re-taken by some
farmer's servants in Hampshire on their way to the
coast in order to get to France.

When the peace was proclaimed in 1814, the joy

22 Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire.

amongst the privsoners was of an extravagant de-
scription. A large white flag was set up in each of
the quadrangles of the Depot, under which the
thousands of poor fellows who had been for years
in confinement — through the cruel ambition of
Bonaparte — danced, sung, laughed, and cried for
joy. The garrison of the Depot caught the infection
of wild joy, and a party of them seized the Glasgow
mail coach on its aiTival at Stilton, and drew it to
Norman Cross, whither the horses, coachman, and
guard were obliged to follow. The prisoners were
so elated at the prospect of being liberated that they
ceased to perform any work. They were all bent on
selling their stock, which they did at 50 per cent,
advanced price. Many of them had realized fortunes
of from £500 to £1000 each in Bank of England
notes. By June, 1814, all the prisoners had left, and
the following September the ammunition stored there
was removed. Two years afterwards — in June, 1816
— the building was pulled down, and the materials
sold by auction.

CJaptet $M.


Passing along the Thrapston road from Huntingdon,
by Hinchingbrook Park and the meandering Alcon-
bury Brook, through the villages of Brampton
and Ellington, the stately spire of Spaldwick Church
may be seen rising above the verdant foliage which
graces the green slopes of this portion of the county.
At the latter end of the last century there lived in the
village of Spaldwick Mr. Thomas Day, the lord of
about 1,000 of these broad and fertile acres, which he
had inherited from his father, and which, provided he
had children, were to go to his heir. In the event*
however, of there being no children, then his
brother, Mr. John Day, and his heirs were to take
the property.

24 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

Mr. Thomas Day possessed more than a fair share
of this world's goods. He was young, rich, and hand-
some. But still he was not happy. There was some-
thing more than mere wealth and its accessories which
were necessary to make the cup of earthly happiness
full. He was a bachelor, and he desired a wife. It
would have been thought that such au eligible match
Avould not have long gone begging, but the Hunting-
donshire young ladies failed to captivate his heart.
There were many reasons alleged for this, but when
in the year 1775 he led to the altar of Spaldwick
Church, a young damsel, who, up to that time had
been engaged as housemaid in his own establishment,
the secret was out. There are several descriptions
giveu of this young lady's personal appearance. None
of them, however, are very definite. Mr. Thos.
Brindley, of Leigh, Staifordshire, described her in the
"Day" trial as a "very thin woman." A witness
named Hart described her as follows : —

" What sort of woman was Mrs. Day ? "

"A genteelish sort of woman."

" Tall or short ? "

" Middling way."

" Fat or lean, was she ? "

" Rather thinnish."

Another witness described her as wearing,' "a light
coloured riding dress, with a black hat and feather,"

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 25

and again as having on " a jean dress, a black hat, and
a large bunch of ribbons." Mrs. Osborne gave the
following very clear and definite description of Mrs.

" She was not very fat, was she ? "

" She was rather jolly."

" She had black eyes ? "

" Yes, she had."

"And a fair complexion ? "

" Yes."

" I suppose her black eyes were more remarkable
from the extreme fairness of her complexion ? "

" She was not over fair, but she was not a Mulatto,

"When you say, then, that a woman is not over
fair, you mean she was one dip removed from a
Mulatto ? "

" She was not a black."

" That was what you meant when you said she was
a fair woman ? "

" I said first she was not over dark."

" You mean to say she was not over dark ? "

" She might be as fair as myself, perhaps, I don't
think she was quite so fair."

This was the lady who succeeded in captivating the
heart of Mr. Day, but like many similar unions it did
not turn out altogether happily. The lady had an

26 Legefids, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

unmanageable temper, and at length the husband and
wife agi-eed to part. The wife, whose maiden name
had been Lakin, and whose father was a carpenter
at Leigh, in Staffordshire, returning home. Her
character is thus painted by her own husband. "She
was a very bad woman, indeed, she had robbed and
pilfered him strangely ; she once attempted to burn
his house, and afterwards jumped out of the window
and cried murder." A lady with such strongly marked
traits in her character was certainly not the gentle and
affectionate wife which Mr. Thomas Day had yearned
for in his bachelor days, and he therefore arranged to
allow her £30 a year for life to live away from him.

But before leaving Spaldwick Mrs. Day had either
actually done that— or seriously false allegations were
made against her— which involved the Day family
for two succeeding generations in very costly law
suits. The allegations made against her were to the
effect, that having no children by her marriage she
had purchased an infant from a woman in Stafford-
shire, and introduced it into the family as her son, in
order to prevent the estates from descending to Mr.
John Day after her husband's death, "a thing," so
says Mr. John Day's son, "which some have suspected
her husband to have connived at, he being at the time
on very unfriendly terms with his brother John."

At all events the child in question grew up, and at

Legends, etc., of Htintingdonshire. 27

the death of Mr. Thomas Day, succeeded to the broad
pastures of Spaldwick, by will, being called by the
testator his " son."

There being gi'ave doubts as to the legitimate title
of this gentleman to the estate, the brother, John
Day, instituted a suit of ejectment for the recovery
of the estate, and the cause came on for trial at
Huntingdon, at the summer assizes of 1784, before
Lord Loughborough, Chief Justice of the common
Pleas. At this trial evidence was given by witnesses
on the part of the plaintiff to the effect, that Mrs. Day
left Spaldwick on the 22nd November, 1784, to see
her parents at Leigh, in Staffordshire, and that while
there she gave it out that she had been confined of a
son and heir, returning in three months' time to her
husband's residence at Spaldwick with an infant,
which several witnesses on the other side swore to as
"very much resembling Mr. Thomas Day." The
woman was produced from whom the child in question
was said to have been procured. On the part of the
defendant it was contended that Mr. Thomas Day
had always recognised the defendant as his son, and
had left the property to him, and that there was a
strong family likeness. The witnesses examined for
the plaintiff were as follows : William Crowger, of
Kimbolton ; Sarah Lakin, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch ;
Thomas Brindley and his wife, Sarah Johnson, Ann

28 Legends, etc., of HmitmgdonsJiire.

Obeli, Jane Turner, Mary Blood, Elizabeth Lakin,
"William Rawlings, all of Leigh ; Mr. Francis Woolley,
of Lichfield ; Mrs. Ann Harris, of Atherston ; Richard
Leigh, of Atherston ; G. Roberts, of Kettering ; Thos.
Thomas, of Kimbolton ; Mary Richardson and R. B.
Bourne, of Hints. The defendant's witnesses were :
Mary How, of Spaldwick ; Mary Read, of Stowe, in
Huntingdonshire ; Mary Cook, of Kimbolton ; Eliza-
beth Luccock, of Kimbolton ; Eleanor Johnson, of
Kimbolton ; Ann Medlow, of Swineshead, Hunting-
donshire ; Thomas Peck, surgeon, Kimbolton ; Hannah
Statham, of Leigh ; Elizabeth Rutter, of Leigh ;
Elizabeth Cornes, Leigh ; Mrs. Day herself, who de-
clared the defendant to be her son ; Mary Sharman,
of "Wornditch ; Charles Forster, of Spaldwick ; Mrs.
Beaumont, of Biggleswade; and Ann Smith, of Spald-
wick. There were thus 34 witnesses examined, 19
for the plaintiff and 15 for the defendant. The
verdict was in favour of the defendant, who was
thus left in possession of his estate.

But it was not for long, for in the beginning of the
year 1785, two of the principal witnesses at the trial,
Elizabeth Cornes and Elizabeth Rutter, stung, as
they alleged themselves to be, " with remorse of con-
science," and " probably with disappointment also of
the reward expected from Mrs. Day," went to Mr.
Horwood, the steward of the Marquis of Stafford,

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 29

and told him that what they had sworn to at the trial
was false, that they had never been happy since, and
that they were desirous of doing everything in their
power to set the matter right. " They did not know
where the child in question was obtained, but a woman
named Harris, of Bloxwich, whom Mrs. Day had also
taken with them to the trial to corroborate their
testimony, could inform him. They added that this
woman, Harris, when she was at Huntingdon, refused
to give her evidence, and told Mrs. Day that if she
caused her to be examined in court, she would inform
the court where the child came from, and whose it
really was ; and that in consequence of this declaration
and her persisting in it, she (Mrs, Harris) was locked
up in a room at the Crown Inn, in Huntingdon, till
the trial was over, and until she had quitted the town."
The two women made affidavits to this effect in
February, 1785.

In consequence of this, Mrs. Harris was searched
out, and stated that " after a child which Mrs. Day
had procured at Wolverhampton and brought to her
house was taken away by a magistrate's warrant, her
husband procured a child from one Ann Stokes, of
Birmingham," and with this new evidence Mr. John
Day was advised to take out a new ejectment summons,
" but this was found impracticable on account of the
heavy costs, which he had already paid, having reduced

30 Legends, etc., of Huntmgdonshire.

his property so much that he was not able to support
the expense of another trial." Two years later, in
1787, he was under the necessity of making an
assignment and conveyance to trustees of all his
estates and efifects for the benefit of his creditors and
the future support of his family, and his property had
to be sold for that purpose. But ten years after
obtaining this new information, Mr. John Day died,
and his eldest son, in the year 1796, "being in a
position to risk the expense of a second trial," took
out another ejectment summons, which came on for
trial at Huntingdon at the summer assizes of 1797,
before Mr. Justice Heath.

The defendant, Mr. Thomas Day, was a popular
man ; even the counsel for the plaintiff bore this
testimony to his character. He said the Jury must
"discharge all personal consideration, and do justice
with an impartial spirit, giving the defendant in the
outset all the benefit of his presumptive right, all the
advantage of the length of his possession, of the
reputation of his legitimacy, of his fair and honest
character, and of the due weight of the former ver-
dict." And again: "The defendant, notwithstanding
the suspicions which from the beginning obscured and
questioned his birth, was nevertheless acknowledged
by his family, and has arrived at man's estate with
the feelings of a gentleman. I learn indeed that his

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire, 31

conduct and character are every way worthy of a
genuine descent. I hear the best report of him from
all quarters."

The knowledge that an attempt was being made to
eject him from the estate created a popular demon-
stration on his behalf. The plaintiff in the second
action thus writes : " So unpopular indeed was the
cause which I had undertaken, and so strong was the
public mind against me, that the town of Huntingdon,
during the trial, more resembled the scene of a con-
tested election, than an assize town during the solemn
administration of Justice. I was obliged to apply to
the Mayor of the town to order out his constables to
keep the peace, and enable me to bring my witnesses
into court."

There was again at this trial a mass of evidence
taken on both sides, and the verdict of the court was
again in favour of the man who was alleged to have
been "stolen."

Finally, however, the parties to the action settled
the dispute by a compromise, the terms of which are
thus described — not impartially — by the plaintiff:
*' The defendant dared not appeal to a third jury, and
he dared not take the costs of the last trial, although
he was told by his agents, Messrs. Kinderley and Long,
that an order of the plaintiff's upon a banker lay at
his agent's ready for him, but he was at the same time

32 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

told that another ejectment was intended ; therefore,
rather than trust to another jury, he proposed (four
years afterwards) to release one hundred acres of land
in the Manor of Kimbolton, which he claimed as part
of the estate in question, and to which he was as
much entitled, and I was urged and prevailed upon
by my brother, Mr. Wra. Day of St, Neots, (though
most reluctantly, and which I have ever since re-
pented), to accept of a compromise by giving up my
claim to the estate at Spaldwick, and so put an end to
further litigation."

What became of the dark-eyed Mrs. Day ? After
her separation from her husband, she removed with
her father's family to Trentham, in Staffordshire,
where she continued to reside until after her husband's
death, when she married Joseph Slater, a tanner, of
Stafford. But this marriage was apparently as un-
fortunate as her first, for two years later she separated

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryW. H. Bernard SaundersLegends and traditions of Huntingdonshire → online text (page 2 of 16)