Review Number 31 – September 2004

Roses round the Door

 A line drawing of a rose symbol surrounded by grey diamond shapes.

In July the Skillington Workshop conserved flaking masonry at the church. Among several tasks, the niche over the porch has been sensitively cleaned, resulting in a significant discovery. The thin dripstone at the top has three delicately carved roses flanking a fleur de lys carved in low relief immediately above the niche arch.

This means a new appraisal of the whole porch. Most guidebooks date it as 16th century, and this is largely because of the inscribed oak boards fitted as backrests for the porch seating. They are dated “MCCCCCXLI” (1541 in Roman numerals). The boards however, need not have been there to begin with. They don’t fit the plank seating very well, in fact they make the benches narrow and uncomfortable. David Elisha Davy’s detailed Church Notes of 1842 make no mention of the unusual inscription, and it seems likely that the boards came from somewhere else and were tacked on in the mid 19th century (they were there by 1878). We need not, therefore be swayed by the 1541 date, and can consider the porch as earlier, part of St. Mary’s general 15th century building campaign. The newly discovered roses fit very well with the Yorkist theme of thge church, from Edward IV’s heraldic beasts on top of the tower, to the many rose en soliel nailed to the roof timbers and the white roses in the medieval glass of the east window. All of these were added in a short space of time, for up to 1475 Walsham manor was held by Alice de la Pole, a staunch Lancastrian who would surely not have countenanced Yorkist symbols in her church. At her death the manor passed to her son John whose wife was Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister to the king. It was during the remaining ten years of Yorkist rule that the roses would have been installed. After the Tudor usurpation at Bosworth in 1485 the de la Poles would not have drawn attention to their Plantagenent background. In fact their son was executed by Henry VIII for being too close to the throne.

A line drawing of a single rose symbol. The Tudor rose, although somewhat similar in outline to the older Yorkist emblem, was more elaborate, much more difficult to carve. The newly discovered roses on the niche have remained, partly because they escaped notice, partly because of inertia. Admittedly the Puritan removal of the Virgin’s statue from the niche needed a ladder, but that merely called for a noose and a tug from below. To remove the carved roses meant a mason’s work, and fortunately he never turned up, leaving us to appreciate the craftmanship of our porch which, we can now claim, predates 1485.

 Incidentally, some other roses have recently come to light on the 14th century oak door which the porch protects. These also need the eye of faith, but they are to be found carved on the vertical mouldings of the outer face. While the 15th century Yorkist roses of the roof and niche have five petals (cinquefoils) these on the earlier door are quatrefoils (four petals). At this period,long before the contentions of York and Lancaster, the rose form was merely ornamental. Similar quatrefoils are to be seen in the exquisite carvings of the oak stalls at Stowlangtoft. These almost certainly came from Ixworth Priory, and our door was influenced by the same group of carpenters.
Brian Turner 2004

Superintendent Death

A line drawing in black and white showing a man dressed in an old fashioned police uniform which also includes a top hat!

James Turner wrote in the December 2002 ‘Walsham Observer’ about Oliver Death whose 1867 memorial cross on St Mary’s Parish Churchyard had recently been cleaned of ivy, brambles and other vegetation, including a bird-planted cherry-tree. The monument had been so overgrown that its original contour was invisible. After a few days’ work, the stone cross, askew because of serious subsidence, was revealed together with a base featuring two inscriptions.

On poor quality stone, the incised words had been painted to improve their definition. Perhaps as an afterthought, the initial letter of every word on the north side had been picked out in red, a popular Victorian style. All the paint had faded to such an extent that it was difficult to read, but now the quaint layout is legible.

1867 Memorial Cross East side Inscription
 1867 Memorial Cross North side Inscription



It is hard to believe that every member of the West Suffolk Police contributed voluntarily to the memorial. Even before the 1879 ‘Pirates of Penzance’, low pay meant that a policeman’s lot was not a happy one. Incidentally, it is inaccurate to have an image of a helmeted G & S Bobby where Oliver is concerned. His constabulary duty had to be done in the days when Peelers wore uncomfortably reinforced top hats. A photograph of the Bury Borough Police dated 1870 shows the constables and the superindendent still carrying toppers.

In Ixworth churchyard there is a tomb northwest of the tower inscribed ‘Sacred to the memory of Richard John Clark (late Superintendent of the West Suffolk Constabulary)’. Apart from the date of his death in 1861 aged forty-nine, the inscription gives no more information. It must be unusual to have two Victorian superintendents buried in adjacent villages.

Oliver Death’s father, also named Oliver (1776-1834), was born a butcher’s son in Wattisfield. He moved to Walsham where he in turn set up as a butcher and became prosperous, owning, in 1817, five acres. He is buried together with his wife Lucy Debenham of Rickinghall (1771-1841) in Walsham churchyard. Next to this ridged tombstone with its dignified deep-cut letters, the West Suffolk Police set up the superintendent’s rather gimcrack monument. They arranged a parade funeral with mourning carriages and black plumed horses, reported in the local press, and paid for the wrought-iron railings which enclose the superintendent’s cross together with his parents’ grave. Unfortunately the railings are immovable and this has caused the maintenance problem mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Family records show that the younger Oliver, baptized in Walsham 6th January 1814, left the butcher’s shop and went like Whittington to London, where he joined the City of London Police. Although he had not necessarily made his fortune, by 1841 he at least had enough security to marry Sarah Shott, and they had a son, another Oliver, born in London in 1843. Following Sir Robert Peel’s development of provincial police forces during the late 1830’s, Oliver returned to Walsham as a sergeant. Perhaps he fulfilled the dying Hamlet’s quip: ‘Sergeant Death is strict in his arrest’ for by 1844, aged thirty, he was appointed a superintendent at Clare. There in 1846 Sarah bore him a son, Samuel Shott, named after her family. A third son, James Debenham, named after his grandmother Lucy’s brother, was baptized at Bardwell and died aged twelve days in 1850. The baby is repoirted as buried at Walsham, possibly next to his grandparents’ grave. The superintendent himself died in Clare police station, but was brought back to his birthplace for burial. Sarah moved to Kent where she died in 1900. Their eldest son Oliver became an engineer and died in London in 1902. Samuel Shott Death, who married a cousin Lucy, is recorded in the 1881 census as farming 120 acres and living at Bardwell manor. He died aged seventy-seven in 1924, and is buried in Bardwell with Lucy who died aged eighty-five in 1929. There are several other Death graves at Bardwell, mostly from the 19th century.

Other members of the Death family, pronounced simply as in ‘death’, are still remembered in Walsham. Presumably related to the superintendent through cousins at Bardwell and Wattisfield, they ran the local cycle shop from 1911 until 1965 at the property called Dages. Five of this branch of the Death family are buried in Walsham cemetery.

Brian Turner 2004

I am indebted to James Turner who, through his correspondence with one of the superintendent’s descendants, Mrs. J D Taylor of Kettering has supplied many of the details for this article.

Books consulted

  1. Clark A.A.Police Uniform and Equipment Shire 1991
  2. Jarman O.G.Victorian Bury St. Edmunds in Photographs Ipswich 1980
  3. Walsham Village History GroupGravestones in Walsham le Willows, Suffolk Walsham 1999

More Walsham Soldiers

In Review No 30 I wrote about some men from Walsham who fought for their counrty. Another soldier from Walsham who fought in the Peninsula war was John Tricker who was born in the village in 1784. His father Robert who died in 1807 was a churchwarden whose name can be seen on a lead plaque inside the church porch. John joined the Royal Artillery Drivers and was sent to fight the French in Spain and Portugal. He would have driven the teams of horses that pulled the heavy guns to the battles and sieges that took place during the campaign. A French victory would have cut Britain off from the rest of Europe, but by June of 1813 it could be seen that the conflict in the Peninsula was nearing an end and the threat of Napoleon invading England was now remote. The Bury Post reported that Captain Golding of the Walsham volunteers assembled his men together for the last time and thanked them for their good conduct. The men numbering about 100 retired to the Swan Inn, now Cygnet House where the Captain had provided a good dinner of old English fare. In October 1813 after bloody battles at San Sebastian and Pamplona the French were pushed back into France. It was about this time that John Tricker was killed. His family in Walsham however did not receive this news as it was over a year later that Abraham Tricker, who was probably his uncle, wrote to the regimantal H.Q. in Woolwich asking for news. The letter in reply stated,’ I have to acknowledge your inquiry on the 21st and inform you in reply that John Tricker died in the Peninsula on the 15th. October 1813′(1)

Thomas Moule left Walsham to join the Coldstream Guards. A farm labourer, he was 21 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall with a fair complexion, light hair, and hazel eyes. He became a Corporal and in 1854 left England with his regiment to fight in the Crimean War. He was away for over two years and took part in the Battle of Balaclava, in which the charge of the Light Brigade took place. He was also in the Battle of Inkerman and the seige of Sebastipol. The above information came from a lady from Nova Scotia who was in Walsham tracing her family history. She still has his papers and medals and clasps that her 3X grandfather won in the Crimea. Thomas was discharged in 1860 but records suggest that he did not come back to Walsham to live.

There are other bfief references to soldiers from Walsham. In the Bury Free Press dated 14th July 1900 it was reported that, at the annual Foresters Gala in the village, mention was made of a Corporal Pollard. He had been engaged in the relief of Ladysmith and had gone on to face further difficulties in the fighting against the Boers.

Another villager, Private Death of the Northumberland Fusiliers, had been imprisoned in Ladysmith when the Boers laid siege to the town.

In many of the great conflicts of the world, The English Civil Wars, Napoleonic Wars, Crimean War, The Boer War, the First and Second World Wars soldiers from Walsham le Willows have been involved.

James Turner 2004

(1) SRO (Bury)Acc. 1045/35 (Martineau Estate Papers)

Death and Violence at Walsham Gala

Most of the time Walsham is a quiet and peaceful village, but in the past it was not always so. On one day in particular it was the scene for a violent fight which ended up with one man dead, seven men with bullet wounds, several people with other wounds and two men and a woman charged with murder.

It all began on a summer’s day on Saturday July 8th 1911; the Ancient Order of Forester’s Annual Gala was drawing to a close on what is now the Sports Field on the Summer Road. A fair was in attendance at the Gala and all was quiet enough to begin with. There was a boxing booth at the fair and a Jamaican boxer challenged any local people to a fight, several of the local lads took up the challenge but were beaten, some said that the defeats in the ring added fuel to the tragic events that were to follow but it was never proved, although the boxer was certainly one of the targets during the ensuing violence.

Shorly after 11pm an argument broke out over some change given on the steam horses and, as the argument got more heated, some of the Walsham men tried to wreck the steam horse. The staff of the fair got the rifles used on the rifle target stalls and turned them on the local men. The Walsham men then went home and returned with their own guns and started to return the fire.

In the terrible fighting that followed several people were injured, James Clark was shot below the heart, Arthur Nice, an auxiliary postman, was shot in the back and in the collar bone, his son Harry Nice aged twenty-eight, was knocked down with a pole but when he got up he was then hit in the head by a bullet and collapsed into the arms of Bob Moore. His Mother on seeing her son hurt ran over to him, but she was hit on the head by a rifle butt and fell to the ground unconscious and remained so for several hours.

Police Constable Double from Rickinghall had just come inside the gate when he too fell down, with a bullet in his thigh. James Dew was also hit by a rifle bullet.

Meanwhile on the road on his way home in a pony and trap was a Mr Davey who kept the Anchor pub at Blo-Norton, when he also was hit by a bullet that was to prove fatal.

Dr. Malcom Poignand and his son Dr. Ralph Poignand worked well into the early hours of the next day attending to the injured; a man was dispatched to Hitchcocks Motor Works in Elmswell for a car to take the injured people to hospital in Bury St. Edmunds.

Mr Davey and Mr Harry Nice were later transferred to Norwich hospital, as their condition was very serious, Mr Davey, aged thirty-seven, later died of his injuries. He was the father of six children. The condition of Mr Harry Nice was desribed as hopeless, but some older residents may recall that Harry (Cucky) Nice lived to a ripe old age. Incidentally Harry fought in the Boer War and had a bundle of Assagai (spears) in his cottage behind the Six Bells, in what would have been number one Summer Road when the group of cottages were three separate dwellings.

The Jamaican boxer named Samuel Minto, Lavinia Wheatley, and Robert Grey, all members of the fair were jointly charged with murder. They made a number of court appearances at Ixworth Magistrates Court and were eventually sent for trial at Ipswich Assizes on October 28th 1911. At the trial there was a lot of conflicting evidence, so the Judge directed that the charges be altered to one of unlawful killing, The Jury were unable to agree on a verdict that day, so they had to spend the night under police guard at a hotel. The next day they found Samuel Minto and Lavinia Wheatley not guilty. Robert Grey was found guilty of unlawful killing and received ten months hard labour, but as he had already been in custody for four months this was taken into account, so he only had to serve six months of his sentence.

On the day after the shooting six empty cartridge cases were picked up on the meadow. The fight only lasted about half an hour, but it must have been a terrible half an hour.

When one is sitting on the Sports Field now on a summers day perhaps watching a peaceful game of cricket it doesn’t seem possible that this beautiful field was once the scene of so much bloodshed and violence.

John Champion


When I first decided to research this event there were so many different accounts of the fight that I thought that as it happened so long ago the most accurate facts would be the written word. The Bury Free Press very kindly allowed me access to all the old copies of the Free Press. As I had no definite date of the event I started at 1914 and worked backwards, eventually after many hours and days I found the items that I wanted. Without their support and suggestions this account would not have been possible.

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