Who was Walkern’s ‘notoriously bad woman’?

by janet on 5 November 2012 · 1 comment

Who was Walkern’s ‘notoriously bad woman’?

By Janet Woodall

A ‘Cuckold Riding’ took place in Walkern on 31st January 1848. Cuckold Riding was the local version of the Skimmington Ride designed to humiliate someone considered to have violated the standards of the rest of the community, in this case by committing adultery. It took the form of a cart, on board of which were two men simulating the adultery, being parading to the offenders? houses, causing great disturbance and playing ?rough music? with pots and pans. So who were the intended ?targets? of the Cuckold Riding?

The newspaper report of the trial that followed the riot stated the Cuckold Riding arose ??out of the intimacy of a married man with a widow of the village.?

And John Izzard Pryor, squire of Clay Hall wrote in his diary for that day:

‘A great row took place in the village this evening in consequence of a gang of working men going about with rough music, intending to give a bad woman a ducking. She was a notoriously bad woman, and in the family way, and was saying she would swear the child to someone though she confessed she had been connected with many.’

One woman stands out in the records of Walkern as fitting the bill: In the 1841 census a Mary Andrews appears to be living, with her three children, in the household of George Warner a widower, and his 17 year old son. Further inspection of the St Mary?s register of baptisms proves even more revealing with Illegitimate children being described as ?baseborn?, and during Rev John Harding?s time as Walkern Rector, he did on occasion add an explanatory note. Mary Andrews is mentioned several times?

In 1842 David the baseborn son of Mary Andrews was baptised. In 1844 it was Samuel Warner the baseborn son of Mary Andrews. Female occupations were rarely given, but here Harding has noted her trade, strawplaiter. Sadly this son didn?t survive.

Mary appears again in 1847 when she bore ?Elizabeth Warner, baseborn daughter of Mary Andrews, and uniquely (maybe with a touch of exasperation) her trade, is given as ?Anything?!

Of particular interest in the 1844 baptism record is that she is noted as being the ?Wife of William Andrews who was transported March assizes 1839?.


Mary had married William Andrews, a labourer, in around 1830 and they had three sons. In 1836, William was convicted of stealing four bushels of barley, the property of his master, Mr James Stacey, of Walkernbury farm. Nowadays we tend to assume that most people caught stealing in the 19th century did so through necessity, maybe to feed their family.

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L truesdale September 11, 2015 at 5:51 pm

William HIlls had a daughter, Martha. She gave birth in 1848 to an illegitimate son, John, who was my great-great grandfather. I don’t know his exact date of birth but he was born possibly in April 1848 as there is a baptismal record. His birthplace is listed on the 1881 census as the union workhouse, Hertford, although not on any other census. On the 1851 census he is listed with a different surname; Sutter. I wondered if that was his fathers name? There was a Sutter family living in Walkern at the time. By this time Martha had married Joshua Whyles (himself illegitimate) and on a subsequent census John is listed as John Hills Whyles, presumably by accident. Martha and Joshua had several children, many of whom died young before Joshua died in the asylum in his 40s. Martha then married her next door neighbour, Benjamin Hart, who died in the same year. She doesn’t seem to have taken on his children as she then married Samuel Crane and moved to Cheshunt with her youngest daughters. They lived on a farm owned by James Hills, who I think was her brother and Samuel was employed by him. I wondered if she was so disgraced by what happened that her father and brothers disowned her as her brothers appear to have had some prosperity, but then mellowed a bit in later life?


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