Review number 37 – April 2006

The Hilda Lamb Story

Sometime during 1958, I was aware of first one, then another of my aunts, talking about an historical novel that had recently been published and concerned the Hawes family in Walsham le Willows during early Tudor times. The novel was written by a lady named Hilda Lamb but the real point of their excitement was the suggestion that the family had royal connections, with Stephen Hawes the poet being the illegitimate child of Richard III. I then realized for the first time that my family Hawes of Barking had originated in Walsham. I was persuaded to read the book and concluded it was a good story but no more than that and promptly forgot the incident. Some forty years later and by now deeply involved in genealogy my attention was taken by several group members displaying interest in the novel. I determined to investigate Hilda Lamb and her three novels, ‘The Willing Heart’, ‘The Queens Affair’ and ‘Daughter of Aragon’.

A pen picture on the flyleaf of her first book reveals a tantalising glimpse of Hilda’s background. ‘…The story is one that has been handed down in my father’s family for generations. From my knowledge of characteristics, common to my people and from actual personalities and events, I have reconstructed an episode of family history in the form of a novel…’ Hilda continues ‘…the main characters are all real people whose names are mostly recorded in the family pedigree and whose medieval address was actually ‘Hawes in le Bushes, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk’. The characters of Richard III and his niece Margaret Plantagenet are also built up and elaborated from the impression of their personalities that invests the family legend…’ As an aside to Hilda’s explanation, it is perhaps worth noting that the medieval address of the property is today known as The Rookery, Walsham le Willows.

In Chapter III of ‘The Willing Heart’ some licence is needed and one can be pedantic with the description that Hilda puts together, ‘…so it came to be that it was in the fair countryside of Suffolk, at the little village of Walsham le Willows that Stephen grew to boyhood. His foster-father’s house, an old fortified manor known locally as Hawes in le Bushes, stood on a slight eminence above the river and not very far from the church on the outskirts of the village. The family was of Saxon origin and it was now more than two hundred years since the first Hawes owner had, in the year 1260, gained the parchment which made him a freeman and it was his son who, adding to his patrimony and aquiring more and more land, had built the present manor which now housed and maintained eight generations of Hawes, who held it in fief to the Earl of Essex…’

The second novel continues ‘…I was born in London of a Suffolk family whose long history was by a happy chance, made available to their descendants and this has provided a stimulus to my love of writing and history…’ Hilda continues with her own personal interests, family and so on, that makes me now regret paying so little attention back in 1958.

At the time of my investigation several of Hilda’s claims were unacceptable; the Hawes group’s view was that the family were villein, not free, a fact confirmed most definitely in the manorial court rolls. Certainly our first knowledge of our family was Hawys in the Poll Tax Return of 1283 *, the claim the family were of Saxon stock, was certainly possible perhaps likely, but the involvement of the Earl of Essex was to have no credence. However a Feet of Fines (Calendar of Fines) dated 1306/7 contains a reference to one Richard Hawys, previously unknown. It reads, ‘Edmund de Pakenham and Roesia his wife versus Richard son of Robert Hawys, of the freedom of Richard 20 marks of silver paid’.** Edmund de Pakenham was the lord of the manor of Walsham at that time. To have come by sufficient funds to have been able to pay 20 marks of silver to secure his freedom would suggest a man of maturity, 20 years old at least, perhaps as much as 26 years old; we do not know when Robert married. How he came by such a considerable sum can only be speculative, possibly as the result of a special service undertaken for someone with position and money. Having aquired his freedom there is only one other reference to Richard, in the court roll of 17th May 1333 which reads ‘…William Hawys pays 12d fine for entry into ½ acre of land after the death of Peter Hawys, which Richard his brother appropriated to himself with a free tenement…’ It would appear more than likely Richard was the eldest son of Robert Hawys and that Hilda’s claim that her family were free was valid. There is a possibility that Richard had a son, William, some will discredit the claim as being too speculative. It is based on two ‘scraps’ of information. First, there is the monumental inscription in St. Mary’s churchyard, Halesworth, that refers to John Hawes (1695–1759) being descended from the lineal line of William Hawys during the reign of Edward III (1327–1377). This could, of course, refer to William, son of Robert and Marsilia, in which case he would have been descended from a villein. This would conflict with the second ‘scrap’ of information contained in the novel ‘The Willing Heart’ by Hilda Lamb, formerly Hawes, in which she claims to be descended from a Saxon line and free. For this to be so the line must start with Richard, son of Robert, who was free and thus William would be his son…and free. I will return to this later.

Thereafter there is no further record, the likelihood is that he or his family moved away from Walsham and for over three hundred years the trail was cold. Until, that is, in about 1646, in a neighbouring village, a link; the village was Botesdale. But this link was many months away. I started the trail with Hilda Hawes, born in London and slowly edged my way back through time. Correspondence with the publishers Robert Hale found the staff helpful but their search unproductive. However they did confirm her living in Dublin but, unfortunately forty years was a long time to expect records to be held. It was a start, though, of a line that was to lead to John Hawes of Botesdale.

John Hawes was born about 1646, possibly in Botesdale and married Ruth Nun on 4th October 1671 in St. Mary’s church, Redgrave cum Botesdale. He may have come from Walsham, there was a John baptised there on 1st January 1654/5 being the son of James Hawes and Elizabeth, but he would have only been about 16 years old in 1671, young to be a father and for the moment must be considered unlikely. The most probable theory is that the father of this John Hawes is not known from the Walsham registers, but from a parallel source, as yet unknown, with its origins commencing with Richard Hawys rather than his brothers Walter or William. His marriage does however form part of the ‘tree’ connecting Hilda Lamb. It would seem that John and Ruth moved away from Botesdale after their marriage as no reference can be found in the registers to anyone named Hawes before William Hawes was baptised there in 1727.

We can be sure, or as sure as we need be, that John Hawes, who was born about 1671 in Rickinghall and buried in St. Mary’s churchyard, Rickinghall Inferior when he was about 49 years old, was the son of John and Ruth. He married Eleanor (Ellen), born 1675 and died in Rickinghall aged about 82 years, having been married in c.1694. John Hawes was an apothecary and the father of John (1695–1759), who was the subject of the monumental inscription found, when the Rev. J.W. Darby visited Halesworth church in 1830. He saw and recorded the inscription on a headstone bearing the following arms and inscription – a fess wavy between three lions passant (Hawes) impaling on a bend three ears of rye. The inscription read ‘John Hawys late of Botesdale in this county surgeon died here upon a visit 13th October 1759 aged 64 lineally descended from William Hawes of Walsham le Willows time of Edward III (1327–1377)’ From this inscription a claim can be made that Richard was father to William Hawys as set out above, and the ancestor of Hilda Lamb.

Fortunately, he was productive and ten of his eleven children reached maturity, married well and very importantly, made wills. Their first child John (1695–1759) was married to Elizabeth Pye in 1733 and through this couple’s children, the line leads directly to Hilda. His son Robert (1748–1800) went to London and was an unconventional man. He was in trouble on one occasion for printing seditious material. He christened his children with five or six forenames; one of them Joseph, was baptised Christian Liberty Emmanual Frederick Joseph Hawes (1785–1857) and was the great grandfather of Hilda. He settled in Spitalfields and married a Huguenot weaveress. They in turn had a son William (1826–1913) a schoolteacher and he, in turn, had a son William (1859–1935) another schoolteacher and father of Hilda. Hilda married Gilbert Lamb, a fruit grower from Armagh who, together with their two children, settled initially in Ulster and later in Dublin. Later still, when her daughter married and went to Philadelphia, Hilda made visits and finally moved there. For her first book she engaged her cousin Meredith Hawes to provide the graphics and as Principal of the Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts, he was well suited to the task.

Another son, Robert Hawes, became an apothecary in Bury St. Edmunds before dying in 1783. He was the father of Siday Hawes (1759–1828) beer brewer in Coltishall, Norfolk, whose youngest daughter Susan married in 1823 John Courage, son of John Courage a Scottish Huguenot and founder of the John Courage Brewery in Horsleydown, Southwark in 1787. When Siday died he was the owner of over fifty inns or taverns throughout Norfolk.

More work needs to be undertaken to fill the gap between 1333 and 1646 and is the ultimate challenge. For the record, Hilda and I are related, albeit distantly; we are, I believe, seventeenth cousins! And will remain so unless another link can be established within the gap.

The novel that aroused my curiosity concerns, as the principal character, a real person, Stephen Hawes, poet and groom of the chamber to Henry VII and whose works are still in print today. His will of 1521 says he was from Aldeburgh and bequeaths the majority of his money and property to his wife Katherine. At no time is there even a vague suggestion of a connection with Walsham or any other Hawes.

Having said that, I must mention one fact written by a bond fide historian, Alison Weir. In her book ‘Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy’ she claims that Richard III had seven illegitimate children, all by un-named mothers. Three children were un-named. Of the four remainig, one was John of Gloucester (c. 1470–1499), the second was Richard (1469–1550) the third was Katherine (1455–1491) and married to William Earl of Huntingdon, while the fourth is Stephen Hawes (?)…the…? suggesting whatever the reader wants.

One further reference by Chris Given–Wilson & Alice Curteis in their book ‘The Royal Bastards of Medieval England’ repeats the above four children and comments that John of Gloucester and Katherine Plantagenet are thought to be definitely identifiable, Richard Plantagenet is regarded as possible, while Stephen Hawes is doubtful.

It has also been suggested that Richard III did not utter his famous cry, at the battle of Bosworth ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ but rather ‘ A hawse, Hawse…!!!’


  1. E. Powell A Suffolk Hundred in the Year 1283 (CUP 1910)
  2. ** Suffolk Record Office (Bury St. Edmunds) 19.8 page 114 no. 29
David Brown

What the Papers Said

Bury Post 28th June 1870

‘A match between the Quoits Clubs of Walsham and Bacton ended in a Walsham win 101–82.. Mr. Catling of the Six Bells provided an excellent tea amd a very social and pleasant evening was had by all.’

Bury Post 27th September 1870

‘The fire alarm was raised in Walsham Street when a straw stack in a cart shed on Mr. Colson’s premises caught fire. Nearby thatched cottages were saved when the village fire engine controlled by Henry Drake and a private engine owned by Henry Miller played water on them thus preventing ignition. The Walsham engine unfortunately became blocked, as the water from the river was thick and muddy. Mr. Miller’s machine was supplied with water drawn up by steam power from his own well and carried opn the work. The cause of the fire is unknown.’

Bury Post 24th January 1871

‘The village assumed quite a holiday aspect when Miss Frances Dupre, daughter of the vicar of Walsham, married Henry William Cooper of Beyton. An archway of flowers across the church gates was erected bearing the words ‘May Happiness Attend You’ and a little further on an arch of evergreens was erected by the poorer inhabitants. The bells rang merrily throughout the day and after the festivities the couple left for a honeymoon in Brighton.’

Bury Post 25th July 1871

‘An auction of property took place at the Blue Boar in Walsham le Willows.

Lot 1. A comfortable farmhouse with buildings and 52 acres of very superior land known as Folly Hall Farm now in the occupation of Mr. George Pearson. 2550L Mr. G. Pearson.

Lot 2. An enclosure of arable land lying next to Market Lane. In the occupation of G. Pearson. 85L Mr. W. Hatten.

Lot 3. Newely erected messuage called the ‘Toll House’ with 38 acres of excellent land in the occupation of Mr. Pearson. 1435L Mr. H. Stanley.

Lot 4. A messuage of two tenements with carpenter’s workshop and other buildings now in the occupancy of Messrs. Jaggard and Sons. Also a boarded house with shoemaker’s shop adjoining. Occupied by the widow Hayward. 395L Mr. W. Jaggard.

Lot 5. A messuage recently occupied as two tenements with shop, warehouse and oither buildings situated next to Lot 4. Occupied by Mr. Thomas Wilson chemist. 265L Mr. Jaggard.’

In an article on the Hawes family printed in the Quarterly Review No. 22, I mentioned a novel called ‘The Willing Heart‘ published in 1958 where the main characters are all real people whose names were recorded in the family pedigree and whose medieval address was Hawes in the Bushes, Walsham le Willows. There is a copy of this book in the Record Office at Bury St. Edmunds and I have now read the other two. None of the books are Literary masterpieces and ‘The Daughter of Aragon’ is not about Walsham people but ‘The Walsham Book of Customs’ and ‘The Court Roll of Manors of Walsham and Walsham Church House’ are mentioned in the bibliography of ‘The Queen’s Affair’. The author must have spent some time looking at these archives and, although perhaps unable to read the medieval Latin script, was able to pick out the names of people such as Thomasine, John, Eleanor, Andrew, James and Stephen Hawes, Robert Rayneberd, Francis Rokewood, Nicholas Fuller and Father Rampole. The Rookery known as The Bushes and East End are the Hawes family homes and even the church has a couple of pages. ‘At Walsham le Willows, however, when the orders had come for the demolition of ‘images and papist symbols’, there had been no great enthusiasm for carrying out the work beyond the token removal for safe-keeping, of some of the jewel-like stained glass from the windows. Even the few acknowledged Protestants in the village were not militant enough to want to see their church disfigured… surely it was enough that the Ixworth monks and those of the dependant priory at Walsham had been disbanded… By calculated procrastination, the isolation of the village and the manoeuovres of Father Rampole, ex-monk and more scholar than priest, it was hoped to escape further despoilment. So the carved golden angels in the rafters still spread their wings over the congregation under a painted sky full of silver stars … A favourite carving depicted a soldier caught with his neck and shoulders beneath a descending portcullis …’ She even has an explanation for the jar found under the doorstep of the Priory.

A descendant of the medieval Hawes family of Walsham, now living in Wales, has researched and written the full story. I must add that the Rookery, although a substantial building , was, of course, not the site of a manor house, that was in Summer Road.

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