Observance of law and order has long been a prime consideration if the country was not to descend into anarchy. In 1272 Henry III ordered that watches be mounted nightly in every village, and the Sheriff was to see that in each, one or two constables were appointed. But look into any village history and you are likely to encounter many instances of wrong–doing. Among the Cartularies of Sibton Abbey there is a late twelfth–century report (no. 817) about the son of Geoffrey Ailwin. He killed the man he found embracing his wife, and was forced to flee the country. As luck would have it, Geoffrey’s brother Robert was a friend of the Earl Hugh Bigod, and through him obtained a King’s Pardon for his son.
Some local men found themselves in trouble in Norwich in 1309. In the Norfolk Records (no. 108) addressed to Norwich Castle Gaol on the 2 October, Richard Quynchard of Blythburgh and Geoffrey Chaloner, approvers, appealed Geoffrey atte Bush of Brampton for killing Thomas, son of John Spark of Yelverton, at Throwse on the night of 25 May, and robbing him of goods worth 12 pence. Additionally it was alleged that he robbed two foreigners of cloth and goods worth 8 shillings. Approvers were criminals who turned informer to achieve a pardon. However, if the appeal failed and it became obvious that the informer was lying to save his own life, then he was executed. And so it turned out for Quynchard and Chaloner. Geoffrey atte Bush said that he wished to defend himself in a duel. Richard Quynchard, the approver, claimed that he was missing two fingers on his right hand and therefore could not duel. So Geoffrey atte Bush put himself on the country. The jurors acquitted him and both Quynchard and Chaloner were hanged for false appeal.
The Manor Court Rolls for Mells show that on 8 December 1344, 25 charges were heard. Eleven concerned debt and seven were for trespass. Another defendant was accused of the neglect of an ox but he was cleared when it was found that the animal died of cattle plague. Another man was fined half a mark (33 pence) because he kept his master’s sheep badly.
During the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, an unsavoury incident occurred in Wenhaston. It was reported that 'William Deye of Shadingfield on Wednesday next before the Feast of Nativity of St John the Baptist in the fourth year of Richard II at Wenhaston entered the house of John Mekeway and threatened to behead the said John unless he paid a fine to him; and the said John made a fine with him of four marks (£2.66). And the said William was a leader of other malefactors'. It would seem that Mekeway was a victim of protection money.
Cartularies of Sibton Abbey, VII-IX, 1985-7, Suffolk Records Society.
Crimes in East Anglia in the 14th Century, XLIV, 1976, Norfolk Record Society.
Keith Johnceline, Wenhaston, November 1995
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