The SFS website owes a great debt to the historian, Allan Berry. He spent many hours in record offices and libraries chronicling the everyday life of Sudbury in Suffolk and the history of its freemen. This was at a time before archives became more accessible online, so his work involved a significant amount of travel as well as the many hours involved in typing up and collating handwritten notes.
In 2002 he published a small book about Sudbury: a year by year account of the town from 1801 to 1850. Material in the book came from various sources but much of it was based on snippets of news from local papers such as ‘The Ipswich Journal’. There is a good index of names, (which is especially useful for anyone who is researching Sudbury family history), and a wonderful collection of incidents which bring the past to life by vividly portraying not only local characters but ordinary and extraordinary events as well.
Whilst, for example, compiling the highlights of 1823, Allan Berry described some very troubling behaviour at the Dolphin Inn, (since the mid-19th century known as ‘The Angel’), in Friars Street, which had serious repercussions and led to an indictment for riot and assault.
November 9th was the day Sudburians celebrated the election of the new mayor as well as the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Together with the formal arrangements organised by the Corporation, a popular celebration took place on the Market Hill which traditionally included a combination of fireworks, bonfires, and tar barrelling through the streets. The timetable was generally spontaneous and often so dangerous that people could not cross the Market Hill safely. Those in authority tended to ignore behaviour which would, on any other day of the year, lead to prosecution.
Therefore, November the 5th, when most other places were commemorating the downfall of Guy Fawkes, tended to be much quieter in Sudbury. 1823 proved to be an exception to the rule when four young men, from land-owning families, forced their way into a local inn and attacked two women.
Brothers William Brasier and Abijah Jones from Woodhall belonged to a family that was very influential in the town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (The wider Jones family included local politicians, brewers, landowners, farmers, victuallers, butchers, and builders). Their brother-in-law, Thomas Adkin, (Freeman of Sudbury, coal merchant, and miller), was also part of the group together with Jeremiah Wase from Pentlow. All those involved were persons of considerable wealth and it is likely that their behaviour at ‘The Dolphin’ came about as a result of the drunkenness and violence that was once common in Regency Britain.
In the 1820’s ‘The Dolphin’ was kept by the Lawrence family – James and Elizabeth and their daughter Amelia with the help of a servant, Harriet Wallace. There was also a lodger, Mr. Bean, who worked for the Post Office. With a theatre at the back of the Inn, it must have been a very busy place when Mr. Fisher’s Company of Actors was visiting Sudbury.
On the night of November 5th, 1823, Mrs. Lawrence and her daughter were relaxing by the kitchen fire with Mr. Bean, Harriet and a friend, Esther Weakly. No doubt they had all had a busy day so were not pleased when they heard loud banging on the front door at 10 o’ clock. Mrs Lawrence unlocked the door and four young men forced themselves into the narrow passage; she asked if they would walk into the parlour or the bar. Without taking any notice of her question, one of them swore that they had killed all the constables, justices, and the mayor of Sudbury. They proceeded to the kitchen and told her that they were coming to give her a treat that would make her remember Gunpowder Treason.
Once in the kitchen, William Brasier Jones took a candle and started lighting fireworks known as ‘serpents’ and ‘squibs’. The noise from exploding squibs and the pungent smell of sulphur from the black powder must have been terrifying in a small space. Mrs. Lawrence did her best to put the fireworks out by stamping on them whilst her daughter, Amelia, struck WBJ on the arm as he attempted to light four or five at once at the candle. Amelia became very frightened and ran behind Mr. Bean. Jeremiah Wase then pushed her into a corner of the room and held her down by her shoulders whilst Thomas Adkin sat on her feet. Wase threw a lighted firework under her dress, burning her linen petticoats and shawl. Harriet, the maid servant, was also subjected to the same treatment; she was pushed over and the heavy wooden settle was thrown over her so she was much bruised.
Such shocking behaviour had repercussions as Messrs. Wm Brasier Jones, Abijah Jones, Thomas Adkin and Jeremiah Wase were convicted before the Mayor, Branwhite Oliver, for firing and throwing fireworks into the Inn. They were fined twenty shillings each and costs. The consequences did not stop in Sudbury as the landlord of ‘The Dolphin’, James Lawrence, prosecuted the four young men for riot and assault. The case was heard at the Bury Quarter Sessions in January 1824. The defence tried to argue that the incident on November 5th had been more of an ‘idle frolic’ than a ‘malicious one’. It is very likely that the defendants had been drunk but throwing lighted fireworks around in the kitchen of a timber-framed house, (which probably had a thatched roof), was dangerous. Putting lighted fireworks under the petticoats of dresses when so many fatal accidents at the time came about as a result of sparks catching hold of combustible materials such as linen, muslin or cotton was incomprehensible.
Amelia and Harriet were called as witnesses. Both produced their clothes which had been much damaged by the fireworks. Fortunately, Amelia had been wearing a dress made of a woollen material otherwise the consequences could have been life-changing. The Jury did not take long to find all four defendants guilty and they were sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment and each fined £50.
The defendants may or may not have served their sentences. Brothers William Brasier and Abijah Jones were admitted by birth to the Freedom of Sudbury on June 12th, 1826, just in time to vote in the general election of that year. The Jones family supported the Tory Party and opposed reform. Allan Berry notes that, in 1832 William Jones, (father of William Brasier and Abijah), “marked the passing of the Reform Bill by hoisting a black flag to the top of a tree on his farm, annoying local Reformers, one of whom, John Adams, climbed the tree and removed the flag. Caught in the act, he was sent to Bury Gaol.” The flag continued to float as William Jones believed that the Reform Bill was “an omen of coming evil.” (Non-resident freemen lost their right to vote but non-freemen in the town were able to vote for the first time by virtue of a property qualification.)
William Brasier continued the family tradition of taking a warm interest in the Conservative cause when, in 1835, in Ballingdon, he threatened a mild-mannered and respectable clockmaker who was attempting to help a neighbour by removing a blue flag which had been affixed to her house without permission. William Brasier and his Tory friends were taking liquid refreshment at the Ballingdon ‘White Horse’ when they noticed the clockmaker, Henry Howes, throwing a cord over the flag pole so they ran towards him. Mr Howes, suspecting violence, drew a brace of pistols from his pocket which were unloaded and waiting to be repaired. He then, very sensibly, walked to the house of the local constable for protection. Meanwhile, William Brasier Jones went one step better by approaching a local magistrate and swearing that his life was in danger. He persuaded the magistrate to issue a warrant and six additional special constables were sworn in to seize Mr. Howes when he came to vote. The plan was frustrated by the clockmaker’s friends, and he polled the second day of the election.
The day after the election, Mr. Howes went to the magistrate’s house to meet the charge and was kept in custody. William Brasier continued to state: “I’ll swear my life is in danger, and I go in bodily fear of Howes; if he is not bound over I shall leave Ballingdon – I must leave Ballingdon.” The result was that the clockmaker was ordered to be kept from his business and imprisoned for a further six days. Four month later the unfortunate Mr. Howes was taken to court in Colchester by William Brasier and was not only bound over to keep the peace for six months but also fined £50.
Four years later, in 1839, he who had been ‘threatened’ by pistols, was charged with wilfully shooting at a young boy at Middleton, near Sudbury. The details of the case were widely circulated in local newspapers. Rev. Oliver Raymond, who leased the Middleton Hall Farm, disliked William Brasier Jones who persisted in shooting upon the estate, (farmed by Mr. Hurrell), contrary to his wishes. One September morning, he was out shooting with his servant when they met Samuel Plum, (a Ballingdon butcher), in a turnip field and spotted Jones sitting in a cart by the roadside with his gamekeeper and two dogs. Oliver Raymond asked him what business he had to shoot there; he replied that he had a right and immediately went into the field to join his friend. George was left to keep watch as his master was deeply suspicious. Meanwhile Plum found a bird and fired at it; he shot at it again. The defendant and his friends went into another field to hunt with their dogs and then came back.
Seventeen-year old George Candler described how Jones, when at a distance of about 40 yards, twisted himself round, levelled his gun and aimed at him: he fell over backwards and the shot struck his cap and his face. He watched Jones reload his gun and observed the two gentlemen laughing. When George went home, it was noted that his face was scarred and bloody as was also his hair. When he looked in his cap he found holes in the pasteboard which had been made by the shots. With the assistance and encouragement of his master, George sought legal redress. However, members of the bench were inclined to believe Jones who insisted that he had not seen the boy when he fired the gun at a pheasant. They could not see any specific reason why Jones should fire at the boy; if any ill blood had been shown it was between Jones and Raymond and not Candler.
The magistrates in Halstead may not have been privy to the past history of William Brasier Jones. They had allowed the case to be remanded at the last Bench to give him an opportunity to obtain Counsel’s opinion as to whether or not Samuel Plum could be called as a witness for the defence. When the case went to the Essex Quarter Session at Chelmsford in October 1839 the Grand Jury threw out the Bill, believing that William Brasier Jones did not set out to ‘feloniously and maliciously’ shoot at George Candler.