Foxearth & District History Society – Report of Meeting, 13th November

At the meeting of the Foxearth and District Local History Society on 13th November  President  Ashley Cooper took a record attendance of about 40 members and guests through 8 centuries highlighting the Heroes, Villains and Colourful Events that made “the news” in Essex and Suffolk in those years. Throughout his talk Ashley fired questions at the audience rewarding each correct answer with a commemorative postcard and introducing a competitive element by making it a boys versus girls contest. In an impressive display of memory I think the ladies just had the edge but it was a close run thing.

Taking as his starting point the birth of Simon of Sudbury in c1316 Ashley described the rise of this local lad to become Archbishop of Canterbury (crowning Richard 11)  and Chancellor of England  in 1380. He was beheaded the following year having been dragged to the Tower of London by leaders of the peasants who held him responsible for their misfortunes by introducing a poll tax. After being impaled on London Bridge Simon’s head was  placed in St Gregory’s Church Sudbury where – so the story goes – an unscrupulous verger would sell Simon’s teeth to visitors; later excavations on the site revealed numerous toothless skulls!  Another resident of the Tower- where he died – was a squire of Borley who held a banned catholic mass.  Edwardstone saw the birth in 1587 of John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer who led a group of colonists to the New World and became the first governor of Massachusetts in 1629. Still in the 17th century Ashley mentioned the notorious Hadleigh gang of smugglers, numbering about 100, who brought mainly horses but also spirits and tea  ashore at Sizewell. Their leader, John Harvey, served 7 years in Newgate prison before being transported.

One could not discuss great figures of Sudbury without including the famous artist,Thomas Gainsborough  (baptised 1727)  about whom the Society had a memorable lecture in 2017. Rather less is generally known about two of his brothers. Humphry Gainsborough – some 9 years older than Thomas – who was a minister of religion, an engineer and an inventor, credited with inventing the drill plough. Another brother, John, known as scheming Jack ,was also an inventor who made copper wings in an unsuccessful attempt to fly and several other improbable bits of apparatus. Both left their mark on Sudbury’s history. The list continued … in 1821 there was Henry Frost who sold his wife in a Suffolk pub, and in 1834 George Smith was transported to Australia for stealing 3 hens.

Nearer to home Ashley referred some to 20th century heroes – Major Bernard Ward MC of the Royal Flying Corps and Foxearth, killed in action in 1917,  Private Samuel Harvey of Ipswich who earned a posthumous VC at the Battle of Loos – and Sue Ryder, born 1924, who came to prominence in World War 2 and who set up the Sue Ryder Foundation in Cavendish. Finally Ashley recalled Tom Hastie, who died in 2012 and who is fondly remembered for his  pioneering research work in the early days of the Society which formed the basis for our now so well-regarded web site. No apparent villains in modern times

Ashley illustrated his talk with numerous paintings  of agricultural and village scenes by local artist, Ben Perkins, which superbly captured the essence of the periods. He was warmly thanked by Secretary Clare Mathieson and enthusiastically applauded by the appreciative audience

Ken Nice


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