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Legends and traditions of Huntingdonshire online

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plication was refused. Upon this, the Bishop himself
went to the King, and, as we should say now-a-days,
gave him a piece of his mind. Indeed he spoke so
warmly that the King complained to the parliament
then assembled of his conduct, and the parliament
directed that he should never again enter the royal

One day, shortly after this, some of the Bishop's
servants were repairing a fence near the episcopal
palace, when Lady Blanche's steward passing by, and
probably partaking of his mistress's animosity to the
Bishop, accused the man of encroaching upon her
property. The man indignantly denied the charge.
High words ensued, and then blows, and finally the
steward got the worst of the fight and was killed-
On hearing this news, and knowing how much con-
sideration and justice he had to expect from Lady
Blanche, the Bishop made every preparation for a
flight. He sold several of his valuables, and placed
his other property in the hands of friends, whilst he
himself retired to a place of concealment. The in-
quest on the body of the steward was duly held, and
Lady Blanche's indignation may perhaps be imagined.
She succeeded in getting the jury to return a verdict
against the Bishop, of being an accessory. Other

96 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

proceedings followed, and the Bishop's temporalities
were seized. His lordship now thought that nothing
more could be done, and he therefore emerged from
his place of concealment, and answered to a summons
to appear in the King's Bench. He then demanded
a trial by his peers, but it seems as if there was no
end to the Lady's influence, for this demand, which
would in any other case have been granted, and which
was a fair and honourable request, was refused by
the judges, who confirmed the decision of the jury at
the inquest. Judgment was accordingly given against
him. The Bishop then applied to his ecclesiastical
superior, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who advised
him to try and make terms with the King, but know-
ing that he would have nothing to expect from this
quarter, he resolved to have recourse to the assistance
of the Sovereign Pontiff, whom he knew would be
influenced by no other motives than those of justice.
He therefore started for Home, and having arrived
there, he obtained an audience of the Pope, to whom
he made his complaints. The Pope promised to do
all he could to assist the poor man, and at once cited
all concerned unto his court for the purpose of a fair
trial being accorded the Bishop. Those, however, who
had been instrumental in bringing about the Bishop's
conviction, evaded this citation. They thus tacitly
convicted themselves. The Pope at once directed

Legends^ etc, of Huntingdonshire. 97

that as they refused justice to the Bishop they should
be excommunicated, and commissioned the Bishop of
Lincoln to pronounce the sentence. He did so, and,
as many of the royal blood were condemned, and
some of the King's privy counsel, his highness was
naturally very much disturbed, but obstinately refused
to do justice to his subject. On several occasions in
English history we find that when the Pope, legis-
lating with an equal hand, condemned princes as well
as commoners, then the princes, as Henry YIII. for
instance, essayed to oppose the spiritual power of the
Pope. This was the case with Edward III. He
thought that he would fight the church by forbidding
all bulls from Rome to be brought into England. The
Pope, however, continued to legislate for the members
of the church iii England, and some messengers
bearing letters to the Bishop of Rochester were ap-
prehended and executed. Upon this news being re-
ceived in Rome, the Pope wrote to the King. The
letter was full of tenderness and exhortations to an
honourable course, but firm, and commanding that
justice should be done to the Bishop. The King
began to be of a better mind, and was about to follow
the very good counsel of the Sovereign Pontiff, when
he was prevented by the Bishop's death, and con-
sequently a quarrel which might have assumed national
proportions was put an end to.


®f)apter XM.


Many of the present residents of Alconbury can
recollect a tall, gaunt post, which stood beside the
Great North Road, near the coppice between Alcon-
bury and Brampton Hut, and around which, as boys,
they were accustomed to play on summer evenings.
The post, which was removed, or fell into decay,
about 30 years ago, was known as Matchan's gibbet.
Upon it, in the year 1786, was hung in chains the
body of Gervase Matchan, who, six years before, had
foully murdered a di'ummer boy, Benjamin Jones, on
that spot ; and who would have escaped the legal
penalty of his crime had it not have been for the
circumstances related in the following legend, which

Legends, etc., of Htmtingdonshire, 99

are mainly extracted from Matchan's confession before
the Eev. J. Nicholson, of Great Paxton.*

Gervase Matchan, or Matcham, was the son of
parents in the middle station of life, who lived at
Fradlingham, in Yorkshire. He early displayed a
love of adventure, and a dislike for the pastoral kind
of life to which his parents in Yorkshire were devoted,
and he therefore ran away from his home when he
was only a little over 12 years of age. He went to
the stables at Rise, of Mr. Hugh Bethell, and was
there engaged either as a jockey or as a stable boy,
probably the former, and continued in the service of
that gentleman for five years, when he transferred his
services to Mr. Turner, well known in sporting circles
at that time. He then devoted himself to transactions
in horse dealing, and was sent to Russia by the agent
of the Duke of Northumberland, with a present of
horses for the Emperor of that country. In making
this journey he became captivated with the idea of
becoming a sailor, and on his return to England,
attached himself as an ordinary seaman, to one of
his Majesty's ships of the line. He went on a cruise
to the West Indies, but his realization of sailor life

* These circumstances supplied the Rev. E. H. Barbara
with the materials for the " Dead Drummer : a legend of
Salisbury Plain," which forms one of the "Ingoldsby

lOO Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

not being equal to his anticipations, he left the service
on returning to England, and attached himself to
an infantry regiment. Military discipline, however,
proved as distasteful to him as had that of the navy,
and he influenced a private in the regiment to desert
whilst they were stationed at Chatham. They suc-
ceeded in leaving the barracks at night, and passing
a gentleman's residence in the neighbourhood, they
eflFected an entrance, and stole civilian suits for
themselves, and cast aside or buried their uni-
forms. They then trudged about the country for
a time, until they came to Huntingdon races, with a
view of picking up something. They were very
nearly caught here, for they were arrested for being
deserters, but they told an ingenious tale, and nothing
of a military character being discovered about them,
they were discharged. But finding it extremely
difficult to get even food, and being in constant
fear of arrest as deserters, Matchan resolved to re-
enlist, and entered another infantry regiment, the
49th. He had not been in it many weeks when he
was selected to accompany Benjamin Jones, a drum-
mer boy in the regiment, and son of Quartermaster
Sergeant Jones, to go to Diddington Hall, the resi-
dence of Major Reynolds, for subsistence money.
This was on the 18th of August, 1780. The boy^
who was a little more than 15 years of age, received

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. loi

about £7 in gold, and both proceeded to make their
return, but either by mistake or intentionally they
took the wrong turn and went on to Alconbury, where
they remained the night, and then retraced their steps
in the direction of Huntingdon. As they walked
along the road, the thought occurred to Matchan that
he could easily appropriate the money then in their
possession, if it were not for the lad by his side. If
the drummer boy was out of the way, he could
keep the money and be out of the kingdom before
the theft was discovered. Instead of banishing the
horrible temptation from his thoughts, he encom'aged
it, and then, as they were passing the wood, just
before coming to Creamer's Hut, he suddenly seized
the boy, and brutally murdered him by cutting his

Having committed the crime, he seized the paltry
bag of gold and fled, passing again through Alcon-
bury, Stilton, and on to Wansford, where he bought
a fresh suit of clothes. He then continued his
journey to Stamford, where, with a portion of the
money, he took a place on the York coach and visited
his home at Fradlingham, where his father was now
dead and only his mother living. The dead body of
the murdered boy was not found until some days
afterwards, by which time Gervase Matchan, with
the money which had cost him so dearly, was on

I02 Legends^ etc.y of Huntingdonshire.

board a ship, serving again as a sailor in the navy,
for, having reached the shore, he at once fell a prey
to the Press Gang. He fought in several naval en-
gagements, but was discharged in 178G. But one
day, crossing Salisbury plain with a sailor friend,
the two were overtaken in a violqjit thunderstorm.
Whilst the crashing thunder and the flashes of
lightning were most appalling, Gervase Matchan was
horrified to see a spectral figure standing in- his path.
It was described as something resembling a deformed
woman. Greatly agitated, Matchan pointed out the
figure to his companion, whose conscience being in a
more healthy condition than that of Matchan, he
threw a stone at it and it sank into the earth. Both
becoming alarmed, they concluded that it was an
evidence that one of them had been great oflFenders
of the Divine law, and were required to make amends.
With a view to determining which of them was the
criminal, they decided to continue their journey apart
from each other. They had not got far, when every
boundary stone and mile stone on the road appeared
to roll over as Matchan approached it, glaring at him
with huge eyes, while nothing extraordinary happened
to his companion.

Terrified, as only a guilty conscience will frighten
a man, Matchan eagerly sought the refuge offered by
an inn, but before they could enter it, Matchan

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 103

observed what he believed to be the figure of our
Saviour standing on one side the road, and that of
the Dead Drummer boy, standing with his uniform
and his drum by his side on the other. They both
entered the inn, and Matchan's companion related
their experiences to the company, when the culprit
acknowledged that he had murdered the boy six years
previously, and voluntarily surrendered himself to
the officers of the law. He was taken before the
Mayor of Shrewsbury, and was sent for trial at
Huntingdon assizes.

He was convicted and sentenced to death. After
he had been executed, his dead body was ordered to
be hung in chains upon the spot where the murder
was committed, in order that the ghastly spectacle
might serve as a warning to prevent similar crimes
in future.

Cuthbert Bede (Rev. E. Bradley) furnishes the
following particulars concerning Matchan's gibbet,
in Notes and Queries, which he had gathered from an
old man who had acted as ostler in the coaching days
at the famous posting house on Alconbury Hill.
" I mind too," said the old man, " the last gibbet as
ever stood in Huntingdonshire. It was put up on
the other side of Alconbury on the Buckden road.
Matchara was the man's name. He was a soldier,
and had been quartered at Alconbury ; and he

[04 Legends, etc, of Huntingdonshire.

murdered his companion, who was a drmnmer boy, for
the sake of his money. Matchan's body was hung
in chains, close by the road side, and the chains
clipped the body and went tight round the neck, and
the skull remained a long time after the rest of the
body had got decayed. There was a swivel on the
top of the head, and the body used to turn about
with the wind. It often used to frit me as a lad,
and I have seen horses frit with it. The coach and
carriage people were always on the look out for it, but
it was never to my taste. Oh, yes I I can mind it
rotting away, bit by bit, and the red rags flapping
from it. After a while they took it down, and very
pleased I were to see the last of it."

ffi^apter X^it^J*


Standing within a few feet of Huntingdonshire soil,
and connected with a Huntingdonshire Legend, are
two large upright stones, by the side of the road
leading from Alwalton to Castor. Any old resident
in Alwalton, Chesterton, or the surrounding villages
will, in answer to questions, state that the stones of
"Gunneth Ferry," mark the spots to which Robin
Hood and Little John, standing in Alwalton church-
yard, shot each an arrow. The stones are generally
known in the district by the name of Robin Hood
and Little John.

They stand on the side of the hill directly after
passing Milton Ferry from Peterborough, about 20
yards from the road, and two or three hundred yards
from the river. They are about seven yards apart,

io6 Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire.

and stand about three or four feet above the ground.
Both are nicked at the top in imitation of arrows, and
both lean in a south westerly direction. The easterly
one is not so high as its neighbour, being about 3ft.
6in. out of the ground, oblong in shape, two sides
being about 15in. wide and the other two about 12in.
The westerly stone is higher but smaller, being about
a foot square. Both are covered with golden lichen,
which is peculiar to the Barnack stone, and Avhich
can be seen growing on the exterior walls of Peter-
borough Cathedral,

The Robin Hood legend regarding the stones is
thus told by Morton. He says : "Upon a gi'een ridge
still called St. Edmund's Balk, in Caistor Field de-
scending to Gunwade Ferry, over Avhich a bridge is
now built (Milton Ferry), are two long stones, by the
common people called Robin Hood and Little John,
from the tradition of two arrows having been shot by
those two old English worthies from Alwalton church-
yard." Camden tells us the same story though he
discredits it ; he says : " In Casterfield, near Gunwade
Ferry, are two long stones, standing upon a balk,
which erroneous tradition hath given out to be two
draughts of arrows from Alwalton church-yard thither,
the one of Robin Hood, the other of Little John."
There are two circumstances which lend a slight
colouring to this story. One is that Robin Hood

Legends^ etc., of Huntingdonshire, 107

and his squire Little John were famous for being able
to shoot an arrow more than a mile, and that they
were in the habit, in various parts of the country, of
exhibiting their prowess in this respect, for the ad-
miration of others, no one else being able to accomplish
a similar feat. There is at Whitby a similar legend
to that of Castor. Abbot Richard, of Whitby Abbey,
requested Robin Hood and Little John to exhibit
their dexterity as archers. They did so, and ascending
the top of the Abbey, each shot an arrow more than a
mile, the spot where each fell being marked by two
large stones, which are said to exist there at the
present time, and are popularly known, as those at
Castor, as Robin Hood and Little John. The other
circumstance which gives a colouring to the story is
that Robin Hood was said to be Earl of Huntingdon,
and many of his exploits took place in this district.
In a " Pleasant Comodie called Look about You,"
published in 1600, he is thus spoken of : —
" Welcome, welcome and young Huntingdon.
Sweet Robyn Hude, honours best flowing bloome."
But the more reasonable story attaching to the stones
is thus told by Camden : '' The truth is they (the
stones) were set up to testify that the carriages of
stone, from Barnack to Gunwade Ferry, and from
thence to be conveyed to St. Edmund's Bury, should
pass that way toll free. They are still called St.

io8 Legends, etc., of Htmtingdonshire.

Edmund's stones, and the balk, St. Edmund's Balk.
The stones on the top are nicked after the manner of
arrows, in memory of St. Edmund, who was shot to
death with arrows." Gunton in his history of Peter-
borough adopts the same theory.

But whichever of those two stories is the 'correct
one, nothing can rob the stones of their undoubted
antiquity. The Barnack quarries have been exhausted
for the last 600 years at least. It is evident therefore
that the stones were placed in their present position
at a time when the Barnack quarries were being
worked. That would be in the days of Robin Hood,
and also when the Abbey of St. Edmund's Bury, built
of Barnack stone, was being erected. In either case
there is a venerable antiquity attaching to them
which makes their preservation a matter of more
than local interest.

emttv xiiv.


The following is extracted from Bishop Challoner's
Supplemmi to English History : — " This same year
also (1644), as Mr. Austin writes (under the name
of William Birchley) in his Christian Moderator,
Mr. Price,* a Catholic gentleman, was murdered at
Lincoln in hatred of his religion. The story he
relates thus — 'I remember an officer of my acquaint-
ance, under the Earl of Manchester, told me, that
at their taking of Lincoln from the cavaliers, in the
year 1644, he was an eye witness to this tragedy.
The next day after the town was taken, some of our
(the Parliament) common soldiers in cold blood,

* Thia is a mia-print for Apreece.

no Legends, etc., of Htmtingdon shire.

meeting with Mr. Price, of Washingley, in Hunting-
donshire, a Papist, asked him, 'Art thou Price, the
Papist ? ' ' I am,' said he, ' Price, the Roman Catholic,'
whereupon one of them immediately shot him dead.' "
It is not generally known how terrible and bitter
was the persecution against adherents to the old
Catholic Faith in England, immediately after the
establishment of the new religion. Mr. Green, in
his " Short Account of the English People," has done
something to make this fact more generally known.
It would be difficult to enumerate the many acts of
Parliament which were passed against the Catholics.
It was a crime punishable with death to be a priest,
death for any layman or any woman to shelter a
priest, death for any one to attempt to argue with
another to prove the faith of the old religion, and
fine, forfeiture, and imprisonment for being a Catholic
at all. Under such laws as these Tyburn was deluged
with blood of priests and lay-people, and not only
Tyburn, but almost every town in England of any
importance, witnessed several of these butcheries.
Under these laws, Henry Heath, a native of Peter-
borough, was hung, drawn, and quartered, for being
a priest, "Wisbeach Castle was filled with priests and
Catholic laymen. And in addition to these legal
executions, there were many instances similar to the
case of Mr. Apreece, of Washingley, That same year

Legends, etc., of Huntingdonshire. 1 1 1

(1644) two priests, Father Kipton and Father Hes-
keth, were seized by the Parliamentary soldiers, and
" driven on foot before them in the heat of summer ;
by which cruel and outrageous usage they were so
heated and spent, that they either forthwith or soon
after died."

In the early part of the present year [1887] a
decree was passed by the Sacred congregation of Rites
at Rome, and which received the signature of Pope
Leo XIIL, declaring that Mr. Apreece had suffered
death for the cause of rehgion, and declaring him to
be worthy of the title of "Venerable." His name
was included in a list of several hundreds of other
priests and laymen who were butchered at the time of
the Reformation in England for their adherence to
the Catholic faith. The name of the Venerable
Henry Heath, Of Peterborough, was included in this
list. The cause of the canonization of those
mentioned in the list was commenced in the Ecclesi-
astical Court of Westminster, and the present decision
is only the completion of the first step.

The Apreece family was one of the oldest in Hunt-
ingdonshire. For centuries they took a prominent
part in the government of the county. In 1527
Robert Apreece was High Sheriff for the counties of
Huntingdon and Cambridge, and held the same office
again in 1543. Thomas George Apreece was High

112 Legends^ etc., of Hunlingdo7is/dre.

Sheriff in 1818. John Apreece, who died in 1821,
left money to be distributed to seven poor women of
the parish of Stilton, who should have attained the
age of 60 years. The money is annually distributed
by the Vicar and Churchwardens.

AVashingley Hall is still one of the finest of the
many stately mansions which adorn Huntingdonshire.
It is surrounded by a park, about 40 acres in extent,
which contains a profusion of timber, and is orna-
mented with a fine piece of water. After the last
member of the Apreece family had died — which oc-
currence took place in London in the early part of
the present century under somewhat tragic circum-
stances — the hall remained uninhabited for some
years. A large portion of the old house then fell
in a great measure into decay, and the present build-
ing is almost entirely modern.

ffii)aptci- XV*



In the Universiiy Weeklij Journal of ]\Iarch the
8th, 1740, the subjoined incident was recorded : — A
woman living at St. Neots, returning from Elsworth,
where she had been to receive a legacy of £17, for
fear of being robbed, tied it up in her hair. Before
she reached her home, she overtook her next door
neighbour, a butcher by trade, who also kept an inn
and lived in fair reputation. She was glad to meet
him, told him what she had been about, and where she
had concealed her money. The butcher finding a
convenient opportunity, when they reached a lone

114 Legends, etc., of Hunti7igdonshire.

part of the road, dragged her from her horse, cut her
head oif and put it into his pack, and rode on as
quickly as the horse could carry him. A gentleman and
his servant coming by directly after, saw the body on
the ground. He ordered the servant to gallop on at
all speed, and to follow the first man he overtook
wherever he went. The servant came up with the
butcher about a mile in advance of the place whence
he started, and asked what that town was before
them ? He replied " St. Neots." "My master," said
the servant, " is just behind, and has sent me forward
to enquire for a good inn." The murderer made
answer that he kept one of the best in the town,
where they should be well entertained. The gentle-
man overtook them, went to the house and dismounted,
telling his man to look after the horses, whilst he took
a stroll through the town and would return presently.
He went straight to a constable and related the whole
affair. The constable said the butcher was a very
honest man, and had lived there many years with an
excellent character. But he went back with the
gentleman immediately, and searching the pack great
was his surprise and consternation when he discovered
and recognised the head of his own wife. The mur-
derer was sent to Huntingdon gaol, tried shortly
after, and executed.

Legends ^ etc., of Fhcntingdonshire. 1 15




Oil Monday, May Uth, 1812, as Mr. Spencer
Perceval, the Prime l\Iinister, was entering the House
of Commons, a little before five o'clock, for the dis-
charge of his important public duties, he was shot
dead by John Bellingham, a bankrupt merchant, of
Liverpool, and a native of St. Neofcs. The murderer
had appealed to the government for compensation for
losses sustained in the Baltic, and ministers had not
been inclined to accede to his demands. This was
the motive for the crime. Bellingham was executed
at the Old Bailey, on May 18th, a week after the
perpetration of the crime.


In 1814, there was an establishment at Buckden,
kept by Dr. Maltby, for the education of the sons of
gentlemen. There was also another establishment,
older than the former and better known, viz : the
George Inn, one of the posting houses on the Great
North Road. At the time above named, the landlord
was Mr. Scarborough, and the extent of the business
transacted may be imagined when it is stated that a
sum of £35,000 was paid by the landlord to one firm

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