The Foxearth and District Local History Society

Local group - events and information.

Meetings and activities, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For more information on recent events and current programme, please email or contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434



Recent Archaeological Excavations in Clare. Nov 2023 presentation.

Foxearth District Local History Society - Nov 2023 

Recent Archaeological Excavations in Clare - Joanna Caruth

“Archaeologists interpret a site as they dig it. And then they re-interpret it later as they mull” Joanna Caruth of Cotswold Archaeology told Foxearth History Society on 14 November. Her well attended talk demonstrated how the myriad of discoveries made over three seasons of excavation at Clare Castle both undermine old certainties and raise new uncertainties.

It had long been thought that the railway line driven through the southern part of the castle site had destroyed much of the archaeology. Ms Caruth showed that the excavations (2018, 2019 and 2021 – with 2020 lost to Covid) showed the opposite was true. Soil had been moved from the northern bailey to level the area by the river on which the station and tracks were built, sealing and preserving the archaeology.

The discovery of a major Anglo Saxon cemetery (with possibly up to a thousand burials) in the inner bailey raised further questions. Was this the Norman conquerors building their castle on the best site, over the town’s cemetery as a symbol of conquest as has previously been thought, or was the cemetery still in use by the priory established on the site by the Normans, and simply enfolded by one of the two castle baileys?

Satisfyingly much of the archaeology supports the written records which survive in large quantities, especially from the tenure of Elizabeth de Burgh in the 14th century, which was the castle's golden age. Finds of stained glass, hunting arrows and much equestrian equipment demonstrate the high status of the site. Pork was served a treat on Feast Days but the excavation of the kitchen s revealed an unusual number of bones from piglets, again showing the money spent on guests in this period.

Ms Caruth could not, without further excavations, provide all the answers but certainly left the audience with much to mull.

Stephen Astley

WITCHCRAFT in Essex and Suffolk. Oct. 2023 meeting

Foxearth & Distinct Local History Society - Tuesday 10th October

WITCHCRAFT in Essex and Suffolk - Professor Alison Rowlands 

Professor Alison Rowlands looked at the role played by the infamous witch-finders, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, and the many local people who helped them, and explain why their witch-finding activities spread so quickly from north-east Essex into Suffolk, to make Suffolk the county worst affected in East Anglia 1645-1647. 


Alison Rowlands, Professor of History at Essex University, had battled through gridlocked Colchester traffic to reach Foxearth. We were pleased to see the village hall packed as she gave us a fascinating account of the events of 1645-47, when the largest episode of ‘witch’ persecution in English history began in Essex and spread into Suffolk.

Civil war was raging in 1645, and in Manningtree there was a vacuum of authority after the rector left for London & the Lord of the Manor died. Personal grudges sparked accusations of witchcraft, which were investigated by self appointed ‘Witchfinders’ John Stearn and Matthew Hopkins. To discover a witch, evidence had to be found of magic-working, association with evil spirits, or having ‘familiars’ (demonic imps). Unusual marks on a body were seen as the ‘Devil’s mark’, from which familiars would suck the witches’ blood. “Harmful magic” was seen as ungodly and a capital offence.

Eighty years old and one legged, Manningtree’s Elizabeth Clarke was the first person accused. After sleep deprivation and (illegal) torture she admitted association with several witches. Before she was tried at the Chelmsford Assizes and hanged, she implicated other poor women of harmful magic, and sex with the devil. This soon led to 92 testifying against the various accused. On the 21st March 1645, 13 were arrested from communities in the Tendring Hundred. In all 36 Manningtree women were charged with witchcraft, 29 were tried in Chelmsford, and 19 hanged. Only 9 were reprieved & pardoned (but some died in jail first).

Without this result other communities might not have become involved, but now the witchfinding spread quickly. John Stearn originated from Long Melford and later lived in Lawshall. Matthew Hopkins, son of a puritan minister at Wenham, volunteered to be his assistant; he had family at Framlingham. Buoyed by their early ‘successes’, Stearne and young Hopkins now set off on proactive witch hunts, starting in the parts of Essex and Suffolk where they had family and contacts. Spurious accusations of witchcraft were widespread and ‘confessions’ forced. Trials ran into the hundreds and John Stearn boasted that over 100 were executed in just 2 years. Widespread panic set in...

In Sudbury, Anne Boreham was interrogated and finally confessed to denying Christ and having relations with the devil, but not to any acts of harm. Although she escaped hanging in 1645, records show two Borehams, a mother & daughter, were hanged 10 years later in Bury St Edmunds.

The victims were overwhelmingly women, but 90 year old vicar of Brandeston John Lowes was accused of witchcraft, tried at Bury & hanged. This is still illustrated on the Brandeston village sign!


The Witchcraft Act of 1542 had made it a criminal offence, but it was over 100 years before this frenzy took hold here - then two years later it was largely** over. Why?

We were told it was probably for a combination of reasons:

   • The Witchfinders received little support further afield. Norfolk and Huntingdonshire did not encourage them, and they could not widen their influence.

    • Nearer home, people were realising that enough was enough. There were more critical voices, and sermons against the self appointed Witchfinders’ lucrative activities spread. Local ministers and Lords of the Manors realised the process was doing more harm than good, and had enough authority to divert the witchhunts elsewhere. 

    • Matthew Hopkins became ill and died in 1647 – aged about 30.

    • In wartime there were practical reasons too. Colchester Castle had an outbreak of plague in the overcrowded cells holding pre-trial ‘witches’.  

    • And the biggest disincentive to new accusations may have been that the accusers or their community had to pay all the costs of the trials, and the prison fees too.  It simply was not worth it financially… 


** However, it was not entirely over – the last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1716, taking the total well over 1000….

During the many questions from a fascinated audience, Andrew Clarke pointed out that earlier indictments of 1578 in Borley and Foxearth had not been upheld so perhaps in north Essex we were saved from this later ugly persecution.

Alison was warmly thanked and we wished her a more straightforward return journey!

Mark & Clare Mathieson




The Society welcomed Martin Stuchfield, Vice-President and former President of the Monumental Brass Society, to give a talk on the Monumental Brasses of Essex and Suffolk. Martin last gave a presentation to the Society some six years ago. There was a sizeable audience hanging onto Martin’s every word and who were glued to his impressive powerpoint presentation.

We learned that by geographical distribution of brasses, Essex and Suffolk rank 3rd and 4th respectively in the United Kingdom. Essex has a total of 473 and Suffolk 436. Norfolk is in first position with 946. When it comes to effigial brasses, Essex is in second place behind Kent with 272. If those figures are impressive, Martin has visited 75% of all churches in England.

Monumental brasses were a popular form of floor or wall memorial in the Middle Ages and can still be found in many churches especially in East Anglia. Some depict important figures in British and European history, while others commemorate local ‘worthies’. In much the same way as wealthy landowners and merchants contributed to or built large churches, brass monuments signified wealth and position in society – one had arrived!

As well as being fascinating in their own right, brasses prove a rich visual imagery for those interested in other subjects including armour (Martin pointed out how these had changed over the years which he called the ‘Mary Quant effect of their time!), costume and heraldry. Remarkably they also provide a deep source of social and local history and genealogy. As an example of the genealogy's importance, two slides were shown depicting brasses of Thomas Beale, twice mayor 1593 with his two wives and eight of his surviving 21 children. The brass is particularly interesting as it also depicts his ancestors back to 1399. This particular brass is at Maidstone in Kent. The other brass is of a recumbent figure in civil dress with a curious genealogical tree of the Lyndley and Palmes family placed in the church at Ottley in Yorkshire in 1593.

Nearer to home is what Martin described as the best-preserved monumental brass in the country at Acton, depicting Sir Robert de Bures c.1331. The finest collection is, in his opinion, at Cobham, Kent where 18 full size monumental brasses have been laid on the chancel floor filling the chancel. These date from between 1320 to 1529.

During the presentation Martin held up a key which he asked the audience to identify. Correctly answering ‘church key’, he proceeded to explain that this was the church key to Little Horkesley church which was destroyed by a German bomb on 21st September 1940. He then showed a photograph of the destruction of the church and the badly damaged brass depicting Sir Robert Swynborne, Lord of the Manor, 1391, and his son, Sir Thomas, Mayor of Bordeaux, 1412. These brasses were recovered from the destroyed church, subsequently restored at Colchester Castle and returned in 1957.

Foxearth and Borley churches also have significant brasses – in Foxearth an inscription commemorating Joseph Sidey, gent., 1605. In Borley the inscription is to John, 3rd son of Thomas Derhame of West Dereham, Norfolk, Esq., 1601, aged 67. In Pentlow church there is an indent for the lost brass of a civilian with a foot inscription, dated c.1490.

This report only touches on the content of the superb, in-depth presentation. There were many other fascinating gems shared by Martin. The reusing of brass, adaptive brasses, ‘waster’ brasses where brass had been reversed. One brass had actually been reused, the original had depicted a male with two wives. The reused benefactor of the brass did not have two wives so he converted one wife to depict his mother!

As a measure of the engagement generated by Martin, there were many questions which included the method for dating and analysing the age of brass, the constituents of brass, the cost of brass memorials and engraving in today’s value (6 figures and some 7), the origins of the raw manufactured brass, how NOT to clean brasses (keep the Brasso can well away) and when did Martin take up his interest in monumental brasses.

Martin has devoted a life-time to his interest in monumental brasses that has included authoring many books and academic papers. This presentation was so full of interesting facts and discoveries it is worthy of a follow up as it is very likely Martin has only skimmed the surface of this subject.

FLDHS - Kelvin  Hastings Smith