Suffolk Record Office and The Hold

Trick or treat?  Looking ahead to Halloween in the Archives!

Autumn is a fantastic time of year in Suffolk.  The colour of the landscape, the crisper mornings, and the sight of wildlife hunkering down for the colder weather all herald the changing season.  And of course, autumn means Halloween!

  From K505/3503 – ghostly group at Hardwick Hall, October 1882 Image courtesy of Bury St Edmunds Past & Present Society

From K505/3503 – ghostly group at Hardwick Hall, October 1882 Image courtesy of Bury St Edmunds Past & Present Society

The archives in our 3 branches are crammed full of spooky stories and terrifying tales fit for an autumn fireside on 31st October; below are 2 examples to fire your imagination.

The Lowestoft Witch Trials

Record Office staff member, Ivan Bunn, has studied extensively the story of two poor Lowestoft women, Amy Denny and Rose Cullender, who were accused at Bury St Edmunds assizes (by their relatively rich and well-to-do neighbours led by Samuel Pacy) of causing carts to overturn, the death of a child, bedevilling cattle, and lice infestations.  Records available in the Suffolk Record Office and in the National Archives piece together their tragic story.  On March 10, 1662 they were found guilty of various crimes of witchcraft and hung on Monday 17th March 1662.  

  Image of the Salem Witch Trials

Image of the Salem Witch Trials

Documentation from this trial was used in evidence thirty years later at the notorious Salem trials, when many more lost their lives as a result of the witch-hunt of 1692.  Ivan has examined in detail the lives of the two women, their neighbours and the circumstances, beliefs, political concerns, hysteria and prejudices of the time that caused such fear and hatred resulting in their ultimate deaths.  Their story includes leading personalities of the time from the fields of law, medicine and politics including Sir Matthew Hale, the presiding judge, and Sir Thomas Browne, the verifying doctor.  

John Lowes of Brandeston

When the Witchfinders Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne crossed into Suffolk, the Civil War had been raging for 3 years. This was a period of immense turmoil; a time when many people would turn to their pillar of local authority – the vicar. However, as Hopkins and Stearne found in Brandeston, parishioners saw their vicar, John Lowes, as someone who had “most inviously plaged and molested his neighbours.” Lowes had been the subject of several court cases, repeated petitions to the Archbishop of Canterbury pleading for him to be removed and of a pamphlet entitled “a Magazine of Scandall” by the time he was arrested for the second time as a Witch in 1645. (BRO Education room file 1774)

After being arrested by Hopkins, Lowes was taken to Framlingham Castle to be swum in the moat. He floated in the stagnant waters, proving to the Witchfinders and spectators his guilt. From here he was taken to the assizes at Bury St Edmunds, where he was tried, found guilty and hanged as part of the largest witch trial held in England where 18 people were executed in one day.

  From HD1150/5 which contains a copy of the pamphlet regarding John Lowes’ trial

From HD1150/5 which contains a copy of the pamphlet regarding John Lowes’ trial

Last but not least, while we’re on the subject of witches, we thought we’d mention that our friends at ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ productions are currently running a community heritage project called ‘Witches of West Suffolk’ – if you are interested in learning more, please visit their website: https://bringoutyourdeadproductions.com/witches/