Richard Gough was born in 1635. He was educated firstly in the village school of Myddle and then in Broughton. In 1661 he inherited the family property at Newton on the Hill and married Joan Wood of Peplow. He was a yeoman, but locally he was referred to as a gentleman. He became churchwarden at the age of twenty eight or thereabouts. They had eight children, of whom four survived into adulthood. In 1700, a sixty six year old widower living with two daughters, he began writing about his community. Why he did so is a mystery. His two books, Antiquities and Memories of the Parish of Myddle and Observations concerning the Seates in Myddle and the families to which they belong, were completed by 1702. The population of Myddle at this time would have been about 450.
His work is unique because it depicted in detail the lives of the ordinary people of Stuart England.
As the title suggests, Richard Gough based the structure of his second work on this church. He listed the occupants of each pew, and then recounted their family history, pulling no punches as he did so. In his time it was only at the church that large groups of countryfolk met together. The arrangement of the pews within a church formalized the social structure of the parish, with the gentry at the front, the yeomen and husbandmen in the middle and the cottagers at the rear.
The eighteenth century equivalent of a mission statement can be found early into the second book. Gough writes –
If any man shall blame me, that I have declared the vicious lives or actions of their ancestors, let him take care to avoid such evil courses, that he leave not a blemish on his name when he is dead, and let him know that I have written nothing out of malice.
I doubt not but some persons will think that many things I have written are altogether useless; but I do believe that there is nothing herein mentioned which may not by chance at one time or other happen to be needful to some person or other.
Therefore I conclude with that of Rev. Herbert
A skilful workman hardly will refuse
The smallest tool that he may chance to use.
Reading Gough I am reminded of a quote from the painter Joan Miro:
in order to be truly universal, you must be truly local.
Gough’s Chronicles are the literary equivalent of a Breughel painting. In the Books of Myddle we find the triumphs and tragedies of everyday life, the feuds between neighbours, the petty thievery, the everyday acts of cruelty and kindness. To read it is to recognise how little human nature has changed in three hundred years.
An Irish storyteller of my acquaintance once told me that when he was a boy he went for a walk out of the village with his uncle. Every field they came to had a name and every name came from a story. So it was with Gough.
Here he is on a copse called Divlin Wood.
There is an idle conceit that the superstitious monks and friars did formerly persuade ignorant people that there were fairies and hobgoblins, and this wood being a thick, dark and dismal place, was haunted by some aerial spirits, and therefore called Divlin Wood. But truth and knowledge have in these days dispelled such clouds of ignorance and error:
He writes about a bridge not far from here …
There is a certain bridge called bristle bridge. The reason of this name was thus: there is a certain cave in the rock near this bridge which is called the Goblin Hole, and afterwards was made into a habitation. One William Preece, a soldier, came to live in this cave. After his return from the wars he told many romantic stories of his strange adventures. One was, that he had killed a monstrous boar of so large a size that the bristles on its back were as big as the prongs of a pitchfork. This story being fresh among the neighbours and the workmen that were building the bridge, they gave it the name of Bristle Bridge, which name still remains.
Gough was a magpie: tiny shiny details caught his eye. Whilst he was quick to praise those whose virtues he admired,
Gough was a master of the pithy phrase, the terse, crushing comment.
Gough wrote of one man,
He and his wife went daily to the alehouse
And soon after the cows went there also.
He had no guts in his brains,
bur it seems he had gear ion his britches,
for he got one of the servant maids with child.
Of a certain woman he wrote,
If she wanted beauty, she had a large share of tongue.
She was more commendable for her beauty than for her chastity.
He is a master of the short terse account, the anecdote that reveals a whole life ….
Francis Clarke married Elizabeth Kyffin, descended from a good, but a decaying, family in Wales. She was a sad drunken woman.
He went to fetch her from the ale house on a very dark night, but she, being unwilling to come, pretended it was so dark that she could not see to go.
He told here he would lead her by the arm, and hot her away almost half way home, and then she pretended she had lost one of her shoes.
When he loosed her arm and was groping for her shoe she ran back to the alehouse, bolted him out and would not come home that night.
Thomas Hayward was a handsome gentle man, a good country scholar and a pretty clerk. He was just and faithful in affirming or denying any matter in controversy, so that less credit was given to some men’s oath than to his bare word. He married with Alice, the daughter of the highschool master in Shrewsbury. She was a comely woman, but highly bred and unfit for a country life. Besides, she was shrewd with tongue, so that they lived unquietly and uncomfortably, and their estate consumed insensibly. Hayward had little quietness at home which caused him to frequent public houses merely for his natural sustenance. There meeting with company and being generally well beloved he often stayed too long.
Reece Wenlock lived in Bald Meadow in this parish.
He and his brother never stole any considerable goods, but were night walkers
and robbed orchards and gardens,
and stole hay out of meadows,
and corn when it was cut in the fields,
and any small things that persons by carelessness had left out of doors.
Reece had a cow that was stolen away. he went to a woman, whom they called the wise woman of Montgomery, to know what had become of his cow. As he went he put a stone in his packet and told a neighbour that he would know whether or not she was a wise woman by whether or not she knew of the stone.
When he came to her she said to him,
"Thou hast a stone in thy pocket, but not as a big a stone as the one thou used to knock out the prongs of your neighbour's rake."
The greatest diskindness Wenlock did to his neighbours was by tearing down their hedges. It is reported that he had made a new oven; and according to the manner of such things, it had to be well burnt. This he intended to do in the night. At that time his neighbour was William Higginson, who dwelt at Webscott. Higginson had a servant, named Richard Mercer, a very waggish fellow. This Mercer did imagine that Reece would steal from his masters hedges to burn the oven; as Mercer walked by a hedge which was near to Reece's house he saw a great dry stick of wood. Mercer took it home with him, bored a hole in the end of it, poured a good quantity of gunpowder in, and a peg after it. Then he put the stick back in the hedge. Reece Wenlock took this stick from the hedge among others. When he cast it into the oven it blew up and set fire to the end of the house. Reece went out and made a hideous crying "Fire! Fire!"
Higginson, being the neighbour, heard the shouting and called his servant. Mercer said,
"I know what is the matter"
They both went down to Meare House and found the oven broken to pieces.
Here's a poem about another rogue, one Richard Clarke.
Thomas Jukes had three sons and never a good one.
Thomas, the youngest, used to break his neighbours houses, but had the fortune to be catched before he had done any mischief. At last, his father, in some drunken humour, set him apprentice to a juggler, a very hopeful employment.
His second son, Richard, was a companion of John Owen who was one of the falsest thieves of the country.
Vincent, the eldest son, was an active, nimble man; he went to be a seaman, and was taken prisoner by the Turks og Tangiers, and another Englishman his companion. These two, after some time, changed their religion (if they had any before), and became Turks, and so got more liberty than other slaves. Sfter some time, these two were sent roving in a small vessel, and only 8 Turks in their company: These two, watching an opportunity, when the Turks were all under deck, shut down the hatches, and kept them there. They hoisted up sail, and meeting with some English merchants, they brought the little vessel to England. Vincent Jukes bought a new suit of clothes, and a good horse, and came down to Myddle, and was there at the time they were singing ballads abroad in market towns of his adventure.
Of one Richard Owen there is a strange and remarkable story which I will relate because I am sure it is a certain truth.
This Owen was seized with a violent fever which in a few days deprived him of his reason and understanding but not of his speech.
He talked anything that came in his fancy and was like a man in a frenzy, so that they had much to do to keep him in bed: But afterwards his sickness brought him so weak that his speech failed and at twelve days he died.
According to the usual manner he was laid straight upon his bed, his eyes were closed and only one linen sheet cast over him.
Thus continued one whole day, while his wife was taking care to provide for his burial. She procured her sister Jane Tyldesley, of Newton, to bear her company, for her children were young.
These two women sat by the fire all night, and at about that time of night which we account cock crowing they heaed something give a great sigh. Alice Owen said it was Richard, but her sister Jane would not believe it.
They took a candle and went into the chamber and cast the sheet from his face and perceived no alteration in him. Jane said it was some beast who was outside the house. They took the candle and went outside but found nothing. They came and sat by the fire and soon after heard the same noise again. They went to Richard Owen and found him all one as they had left him.
They stayed with him... and after some time they saw him open his mouth and give a sigh!
They warmed the bed clothes and laid them upon him, and by the time that it was day the colour came in his face and he opened his eyes on his own accord. By noon he recovered his speech though very weakly.
He continued weak for a very long time, but at last recovered his health and lived after this above twenty years.
Gough's work is peppered with lines from Greek and Roman writers. One quote particularly leaps out at me-
Do something that deserves the gallows,
or jail, at least,
if you would be famous.
These words have as much potency now as they did then. Happiness writes in white.
The eye drifts over the compliments he pays to devoted couples, and lingers on the acts of Reece Wenlock and his kind.
John Owen was the falsest thief that ever I heard of in the parish. His common practice was to sleep in the daytime, and to walk abroad in the night. Whatever was found loose was a prize for him. Among the many mischiefs which I have heard that he did, I will mention but one. It was thus- there was one Jukes who kept an inn in Myddle. It was usually the way of the Newport butchers to go to Oswaldstrey fayre, and there to buy fat cattle, to come the same day back to Myddle and to lie at Jukes inn. It happened one day, that these butchers came with their cattle to the inn. This Owen was drinking there. He went out to see the cattle put into the back side. Among these was a delicate pied heifer, which was exceeding fat. John Owen came in with the butchers and sat drinking until they had gone to bed. In the night this John Owen caught the heifer and thrust a wire into her throat so that she bled inwardly. In the morning, when the butchers arose, they found the pied heifer dead; they all concluded that, being so very fat, she had been overdriven and so died. Owen told them the poor people would be glad of the meat and therefore would buy her, hide and all, which accordingly he did for little money. When they were gone he and the innkeeper had a great deal of good beef.
I will omit the rest of the evil things I have heard of him, and hasten to his end. He was tried and condemned at Shrewsbury. At his trial, a list of articles of many of his villanies was presented to the judge who, upon reading of them said, it was a great shame that such a man should live. Great numbers of people came to see his execution and to hear his confession, and discovered all the villanies that he could remember that ever he had done, among which were several felonies that other persons had been blamed for. In the conclusion he said that a lewd and wicked woman in this parish had brought him to that end. She had tempted him to kill his wife, and he designed it. He enticed his wife one Sunday afternoon to come with him into the cornfields to see if the corn were ripe. As they were walking along between two lands he had a hammer in his pocket to knock her on the head. He turned to strike her, but she smiled and spoke lovingly to him. He could not find it in his heart to do it. Thus John Owen was hanged.
Hugh Elks was an ill man. Knowing that a neighbour you lived in Eyton had a considerable sum of money in the house, Elks and some other of his companions came to Eyton on the lords day at time of morning service, and, having visors on their faces, they came into the house and found there only one servant maid who was making of a cheese. This Elks stooping down to bind her she saw under his visor and said,
"Good uncle Elks do me no harm"
Upon that he pulled out his knife and cut her throat. His companions being terrified at the act fled away to Baschurch. Elks seeing his companions were gone, fled likewise, took no money and for haste shut the door behind him, leaving his dog in the house.
When people came from church to Eyton, they found the girl dead and Elks dog in the house almost bursted with eating the cheese. They followed the dog who brought them to Elks house and Elks was apprehended.
Thomas Elks of Knockin, had a young nephew who stood between him and his fortune. He hired a poor boy to entice the nephew into the corn field to gather flowers. The corn was then at its highest. Thomas Elks met the two children in the fields; sent the poor boy home, took his nephew in his arms and put the child's head into a pail of water. Elks stifled him to death and left him in the corn. At evening the nephew was missing and much enquiry made for him. The poor boy told how Elks had hired him to entice the nephew into the cornfields and there took him away in his arms.
The people suspected that the nephew was murdered and searched the corn field. They found the child. Elks fled and took the road directly for London. The neighbours had intelligence which way he fled, and sent two men to persue him, who followed him almost to London; as they were passing the road near Mimmes in Hertfordshire they saw two ravens sitting upon a heap of hay, pulling the hay with their beaks and making a hideous and unusual noise. The two men alighted and went over to see what the matter was. There they found Tom Elks asleep on the hay, and apprehended him. He confessed that these two ravens had followed continually from the time that he did the act. He was tried in Shrewsbury and hanged on a Gibbet on Knockin Heath.
Margaret Davis, the wife of Thomas Davis, died on the 17th day of this instant, January 1701. She took cold in child bearing above twenty years before her death; she was seized with pain and lameness in her limbs and made use of several remedies for curing thereof. but all proved ineffectual. At last, she was in an Apothecary's shop buying ointments when my uncle Mr Richard Baddely, an able surgeon, saw her and asked her how she got her lameness. She said by taking cold in childbirth.
"Then," says she, "spare this charges and labour for all the doctors and surgeons in England cannot cure it. Thou mayest live long, but thy strength will still decay."
After this she went to little more charges, only when King James the second made his progress to Shrewsbury, she was admitted bt the Kings doctors to go to his magesty for the Touch, which did her no good. She was forced to use crutches almost 20 years ago, and I think it is now 10 years since she grew so weak that she was fain to be carried in persons arms. About two years and a half before her death she kept her bed continually. She was bowed so together that her knees lay close to her breast. There was nothing but skin and bones upon her thighs and legs. About a year and a half ago, her two thigh bones broke as she lay in bed, and one of them burst through the skin and stood out about an inch, like a dry hollow stick, but there was no flesh to bleed or corrupt. She could stir no part of her body save her head and hands a little. When she was dead they did not endeavour to draw her body straight, but made a wide coffin and put her in as she was.
It is not be forgotten that Vicar Gittins, seeing that Thomas Davis had a great charge of children, and his lame wife upon his hands, did give him his house and garden rent free.
And now I come to speak somewhat of myself, who am the sixth Richard of our family. I married Joan, the daughter of William Wood of Peplow. He was descended of that ancient family of the Woods of Muckleton. I had issue, Richard, my eldest son, who was the seventh Richard of our family; but he died before his middle age and lies buried in Myddle chancel. Badderley Gough, my second son, was apprentice to Mr Johnson, a dyer in Salop, and died of small pox, and lies in St Alkmund's church there. William, my youngest son, is a grocer in Salop. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr Richard Hatchett, of Lee. William and Elizabeth have a son named Richard.
I have omitted to say anything of two children that I had which died in their childhood.
I have three daughters - Joyce, Anne, and Dorothy.
My dear wife died at Shrewsbury, where she went to take physicke. She was brought to Myddle, and lies buried in the chancel under the same stone with her mother.
Too good to live with me; and I
Not good enough with her to die.