Friday, January 15, 2021

Antiquities and highywaymen

It is 350 years since the birth of Abraham de la Pryme, a priest and antiquarian who lived but 34 years and is only remembered today because he kept a diary during his short life. Often written in retrospect the diary sometimes reads more like an autobiography, yet it is full of amusing anecdotes - such as how one would-be highwayman got the better of an experienced one - and interesting notes on the antiquities of his area.

Abraham de la Pryme was born to Huguenot parents on 15 January 1671 in Hatfield, Yorkshire. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, at the same time as Isaac Newton. After working as a curate in Hull, where he diligently researched the records and antiquities of the town, he was granted a living at Thorne, also in Yorkshire. He compiled histories of Hatfield and of Kingston upon Hull, but died young at the age of 34.

There is very little information on the internet about Abraham de la Pryme other than short biographies at Wikipedia and Stainforthonline. He is mostly remembered today because he left behind a diary, part of which is more like an autobiography. It was published by the Surtees Society in 1870 as The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme, the Yorkshire Antiquary, and is now freely available at Internet Archive or Googlebooks.

Here are a few extracts taken from 1695, some about highwaymen, one about a tree-planting scheme, and another about a plot to poison to the king!

20 October 1695
‘This [day] examining and talking with several of my oldest parishoners of this town about what was memorable relating thereto, they tell me that this Roman way, of which I have already made mention, is commonly call’d amongst them the High Street way.

This country has been exceeding woody to what it is now, above half of the woods being cut down and sold about forty years ago. Here was formerly very great roberys committed in them, this being the most dangerous place in the whole country, so that people durst scarce travel in companys. In this wood towards Thorholm more, is a low sunken place call’d Gipwell*, which was formerly a mighty deep hole, so thick beset with trees, that it was impossible to see the sun. Here it was that the rogues kept their rendisvouz and carryd all those thither that they rob’d, oftentimes murdering them and casting them therein. Within these twenty years stood a mighty great hollow tree, in which, when it was cut close up by the roots, was found a pair of pot-hooks.

There stood a mighty great famous tree likewise by this way side, which was cut down about thirteen years ago. It was nine yards about, had twenty load of wood in it besides it’s body, and spread at least twenty-five yards each way when it was standing.

There is a good law at Worlebee, a town some few miles off, which every tennant, according to the quantity of land that he takes, is bound to plant yearly so many trees thereon; but, tho’ this law is yet in force amongst them, yet it is a great pitty that it is not so much regarded as formerly.

*There is no such place as Gipwell now. There is a deep black bog on two sides of Thornhohne, and it must, I think, have been some part of this that was formerly a pond or pool; and if they put their victims in, I have no doubt they would soon sink into the bog, and never be heard of again.’

25 October 1695
‘The other day I was at the visitation at Ganesburrough. I met with nothing observable by the way but some places that looked like old fortifications; only at the very entrance of the town is a large green burrow, hollow at the top, under which, as I concieve, many Dains have been buried, because that they mightily infested this town in King William the Conqueror’s days. The church is no splendid piece of workmanship, but low, narrow, and dark. I had not time to observe what inscriptions there were in it.’

23 December 1695
‘I heard this of my patron, that is just come from London, that the king, as he was going to Oxford, was told by one of his nobles (but upon what grounds it is uncertain) that his Majesty should be poison’d at Oxford, and desired him not to tast of any of their entertainment. Upon which, when he came to Oxford, he was exceedingly welcom’d, and carryed to the theater, which was full of gentry in all the gallerys, and there was a most splendid repast provided. But the king came in with his lords and nobles, and took a view of all, and having walked about for a while went out. As he was going out several of the mobb throng’d in, upon which the gentlemen in the gallerys hist at them; and the king, not understanding the meaning thereoff, thought they hiss’d at him, and took it very ill, until that the Chancellor and several of the heads of the university hearing thereoff went and told the king the true reason of their hissing.

A great many more things I could relate about the king’s being in the country, but I am very suspitious of them, therefore shall not set any of them down.’

29 December 1695
‘Yesterday, James Middleton came over from Hatfield. He tells me a very merry thing that happen’d at Wroot, in the Isle, lately. Mr Parrel there had a great lusty man-servant, but, as appears by the sequell of the discourse, not of very much witt. About two months ago, there comes a maggot into his head to turn padder upon the highway; so he acquaints his master with his resolution. “Master,” says he, “I have been two years in your service, and what I get is inconsiderable, and will scarce suffice my expenses; and I work very hard. I fancy,” says he, “that I could find out a better way to live, and by which I should have more ease and more money.” “Ey,” says his master, “pray what is that?” “It is,” says he, “by turning padder.” “Alass! John,” says he, “that will not do; take my word,” says he, “you’ll find that a harder service than mine.” “Well, but I’ll try,” says the man.

And so, next morning, away he went, with a good clubb in his hand; and, being got in the London road, somewhere about Newark or Grantham, there overtook him on the road a genteel man on horseback. John letts him come up to him, and taking his advantage, he catches hold of his bridle, and bidds him stand and deliver. Upon which he of horseback, being a highwayman himself, he began to laugh that a thief should pretend to rob a thief. “But,” says he, “barken, thou padder, I’m one of thy trade; but surely, thou’rt either a fool or one that was never at the trade before.” “No sir,” says John, “I never was at this trade in my life before.” “I thought so,” says the highway-man; “therefore, take my advice, and mind what I say to you. When you have a mind to robb a man, never take hold of his bridle and bid him stand, but, the first thing you do, knock him down, and, if he talk to you, hit him another stroke, and say, ‘Sirrah! you rogue, do you prate?’ And then,” says the highwayman, “you have him at your will,” etc.

Thus they walk’d on for about a mile, the highwayman teaching the other his art; and as they were going a by way to a certain town, they comes to a badd lane. Says the padder to the other on horsback “Sir, I am better acquainted with this country than perhaps you are, this lane is very badd, and you’ll indanger [of] lying fast, therefore you may go through this yate, and along the field side, and so miss all the ill way.”

So he took his advice, and going that way the padder went the other way, and coming to the place where the highwayman should ride through a gapp into the lane again, this rogue, this padder, stands under the hedge, and as soon as ever he sees the highwayman near him, he lends him such a knock over the head that he brought him down immediately. Upon which he began to say, “Sarrah, you rogue, is this your gratitude for the good advice that I gave you?” “Ah! you villain, do you prate?” And with that gave him another knock.

And so, having him wholy at his mercy, he takes almost fifty pound from him and gets upon his horse, and away he rides home to his master at Wroot, by another way, as fast as he could go, and being got home he goes to his master and tell’s him, saying “Tash! master, I find this a very hard trade that I have been about, as you sayd it would prove, and I am resolved to go no more, but be contented with what I have gott. I have got a good horse here, and fifty pound in my pocket, from a highwayman, and I have consider’d that I cannot be prosecuted for it, therefore I’ll live at ease,” etc.’

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