Essex has the melancholy distiction of having hanged more witches than any other English county. Assizes were usually held at Chelmsford, and it is estimated that between 1566 and 1645, when the withfinder Matthew Hopkins executed 19 women in a single day, some 90 supposed witches were sent to the scaffold. All were poor, and generally elderly village women, and most were convicted on evidence which would have been thrown out by many other courts in the country. The main reason for the peculiar vindictiveness of Essex witch hunts, and fear which lay behind them, was that most people in this part of East Anglia belonged to Protestant sects who believed that witches were Satan's prime agents in his efforts to drag mankind to damnation. The first major English trial for witchcraft itself (though sorcery had often been a secondary charge in treason trials) took place at Chelmsford in 1566. The accused were Agnes Waterhouse, her daughter Joan, and Elizabeth Francis, all from Hatfield Peverell. The three were linked by the possession in turn of a cat named Satan, a resourceful beast that spoke in a strange, hollow voice and occasionally assumed the shapes of a toad and a black dog. Accoridng to the prosecution, Satan killed a man who refused to respond to Elizabeth's advances and later procured her a husband and child. She then gave the cat to the Waterhouses for whom it spoilt butter and cheese, drowned a neighbour's cows and bewitched a man to death. Despite this damning indictment, Elizabeth Francis received only a year's imprisonment and survived until she was hanged for witchcraft in 1579. Joan Waterhouse was released, but her mother, confessing to all the charges, was hanged.
Matthew Hopkins, 'Witchfinder General' during the Cromwelliam period, was born at Manningtree; Daniel Defoe the author of Robinson Crusoe, lived at Cadwell St. Mary, and the novelist Arnold Bennett owned a house at Thorpe-le-Soken. Audley End, near Saffron Walden, is one of the largest Jacobean houses in England, though only part of the original now remains, and was built by Lord Howard of Walden, Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer to James I who, in 1603, said of it "too large for a King - but might do for a Lord Treasurer"! Finchingfield, with its 15th century timber-framed Guildhall, village green, duck pond, windmill, and church on the hill, is claimed to be the most photographed village in England. Burnham-on-Crouch, famous for its oyster beds, is a mixture of Georgian and Victorian houses and weather-boarded cottages, and Castle Hedingham retains a 'Tudor' atmosphere with some pretty little streets of lovely half-timbered houses and a Norman church; the massive Keep is all that remains of the Norman castle which gives the village its name. Other lovely Essex villages include Coggeshall, with its 15th century merchant's house; Wendens Ambo, with several delightful cottages; the pretty little fishing village of Tollesbury, centre of the oyster and sprat trade; and there is the lovely village of Thaxted, which still has its 15th century Guildhall and half-timbered buildings overhanging the streets, plus a windmill. Witham has some fine Georgian houses, and Greensted-juxta-Ongar boasts a Saxon church of around 850 AD which is unique in having the only surviving log walls in Britain. Frinton, with its fine sandy beaches, has been the epitome of gentility since it became popular as a seaside resort in the 1890s and is still a quiet and sober place. Among Essex's beautiful market towns are Maldon, with its Moot Hall and All Saints' Church, being unique in possessing the only triangular tower in the country; Harwich, an ancient walled town with narrow streets and a mediaeval atmosphere; and, probably the most beautiful of all, Saffron Walden with its wealth of fine mediaeval houses. There are still 6,000 acres left of the original 100,000 acres of Epping Forest, particularly famous for its ancient hornbeams. The extensive mudflats around Foulness is an area of unspoilt natural scenery and home to ten thousand Brent Geese which migrate there every winter. Dedham Vale, subject of one of John Constable's most famous paintings, was designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1970. Constable's father owned the water-mill at Dedham, although the original was replaced by a Victorian one, but the old grammar school which Constable attended still remains.
Coggeshall: The term 'Coggeshall Job' to describe a ludicrous piece of work is said to have originated one day when Coggeshall's town clock struck 11 times instead of 12 times at noon. When word came later from Lexdon near Colchester, that the clock there had given an extra chime and struck 12 times at 11 o'clock, a Coggeshall man reputedly set off with a horse and trap to bring back the missing stroke.
Coggeshall is haunted by the ghost of a 16th century woodcutter named Robin, who is said to have carved a beautiful image called the 'Angel of the Christmas Mysteries' The statue was hidden during the Reformation and never found afterwards. Robin's ghost has been reported near a brook, known locally as Robin's Brook, and the blows of his ghostly axe have been heard at a distance.
Colchester: The town derives its name from an encampment built by the Romans on the River Colne. Local tradition, however, associates the name with the legendary British king, Old King Cole, the 'merry old soul' of popular rhyme. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the 12th century historian, relates that King Cole was the father of the Roman emperor Constantine, and gave his name to the town of Colchester.
The town has long been famous for its oysters, and the season is opened by a traditional festival in early September. The Mayor, civic dignitaries and members of the Fishing Board go by boat to Pyfleet Creek, where the oyster-fattening beds lie. Here the loyal toast is drunk, gingerbread and gin are consumed, and the Mayor makes the first ceremonial oyster dredge of the season. The gingerbread is traditional and may once have been an offering to the local sea god. Following this, on or about October 20, the 400 year-old Oyster Feast takes place. This commemorates the granting by Richard 1 of the River Colne oyster-fishing rights to the town.
Danbury: Satan in the guise of a monk was once blamed for damaging the spire of the Church of St. John the Baptist. According to an old chronicle of 1653, the Walsingham 'Historia Anglicana', the Devil had appeared at the church in 1402 'in the likeness of a Grey Fryer and Thunder'. He broke down the top of the steeple and scattered the chancel, then mounted the altar and sprang from side to side. In departing he passed between the legs of a parishioner 'who soon fell in mortal disease, his feet and part of his legs becoming black'.
Hadleigh: From 1812 to 1860 Hadleigh was the home of James Murrell, the last and most famous witch-doctor in Essex - though his house has now gone. Born the seventh son of a seventh son, he was known as 'Cunning Murrell', and enjoyed a lucrative career as a white magician. His equipment included a magic mirror for discovering lost or stolen property, a telescope for looking through walls and a copper charm which could distinguish between honest and dishonest clients.
Murrell often said he was 'the Devil's Master', claiming that he had the power to exorcise spirits and overcome witchcraft by counter-spells. He was well known for his iron witch bottles, into which he put samples of the blood, urine, nails and hair of clients whom he had diagnosed as bewitched. At midnight, the mixture would be heated to boiling point in absolute silence, the object being to create a burning sensation in the witch's body which would force her to remove the spell. One story relates how a girl was brought to him, barking like a dog after being cursed by a gypsy woman. When Murrell heated up his witch bottle that night, it exploded and the next day the charred body of a woman was found lying in a nearby country lane. A secretive man, Murrell travelled only at night, and always carried an umbrella with him regardless of the weather. On December 15, 1860, the day before he died, Murrell accurately predicted the time of his death to the minute. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Hadleigh churchyard.
Henham: A pamphlet entitled 'The Flying Serpent or Strange New out of Essex' was published in 1669. It told of a winged dragon, 9 ft long, that had been seen basking in the summer sun in a field near the village of Henham. The dragon had two rows of sharp white teeth and eyes about 'the bigness of a sheep's eye'. The beast never did any damage and soon disappeared from the area. Until 1939, the incident was commemorated annually by the sale of model dragons at Henham Fair, which is still held in July, and a local beer called 'Snakebite' was sold in pubs throughout the village.
The Great Dunmow Flitch: One of the oldest Essex ceremonies, the Dunmow Flitch Trial, is held about once every four years on Whit Monday. A flitch of bacon - a whole side - is awarded to married couples, from Dunmow or elsewhere, who can prove to a mock court that 'they have not repented of their marriage for a year and a day'. The court consists of a judge and a jury of six women and six men from Dunmow. The ceremony originated under Baron Robert Fitzwalter in the reign of Henry 111. The trial was then held at Dunmow Priory but, after the Dissolution, the lord of the manor took over the proceedings. In 1751, the flitch was won by Thomas Shakeshaft and his wife who were carried in the ceremonial chair - now in the parish church of Little Dunmow.
Treasurers From the Grave: Colchester's Lexdon Barrow was opened in 1924 to reveal what may be the remains of Cunobelinus, a 1st century British ruler. Many bronze items, now in the Colchester and Essex Museum, were found, including statuettes and a table. It was claimed that the barrow contained a king in golden armour, but there is no record of this tradition before 1924.
The above were provided by Anne Major
"Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink... I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, "It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.""
"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning that's as good as they're going to feel all day."
"The problem with some people is that when they aren't drunk they're sober."
William Butler Yeats
"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
"Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure."
"Reality is an illusion that occurs due to lack of alcohol."
"A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the decency to thank her."
"When I read about the evils of drinking I gave up reading."
"24 hours in a day. 24 beers in a case. Coincidence?"
"When we drink we get drunk. When we get drunk we fall asleep. When we fall asleep we commit no sin. When we commit no sin we go to heaven. Sooooo, let's all get drunk and go to heaven!"
"Wat contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?"
"Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
"Without question the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."
"Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer."
"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."
"You're not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on."
And God said, "Let there be vodka!" And He saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let there be light!" And then He said, "Whoa - too much light."
There's too much blood in my alcohol system.
Beer: Helping ugly people have sex since 1649. (maybe even longer than that...)
To some it's a six-pack. To me it's a Support Group.
Scotch: Because one doesn't solve the world's problems over white wine.
My friends speak of my drinking.... but they know not of my thirst
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