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 offender’s 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.This may have been true for William Andrews, but a contemporary newspaper report reveals his case was not so straightforward. George Cox, a Walkern blacksmith, bore evidence that Andrews brought him a key to alter, and afterwards sent a mould which he wished a key to be made from; the mould was later ascertained to have been made from the key of farmer Stacey’s barn door.


The Judge, in passing sentence, observed that “the badness of the times required the property of farmers to be protected, as they could scarcely get a livelihood when honestly dealt with, much less when they had to contend with dishonesty.” No mention is made as to the how the badness of the times affected William Andrews…


Stealing from your master, known as Larceny by Servant, was regarded very poorly, but as Andrews did not appear to have been guilty of any previous offence, he got off relatively lightly, being sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.


However, on 14 October 1839 he was again convicted at Hertford Assizes of larceny, this time stealing three packs of oats and one pack of beans. As a second conviction, the law came down heavily and he was sentenced to transportation for life. Within 10 days he had been moved from the jail at Great Stukeley to the prison hulk Ganymede moored at Chatham and Woolwich Docks. It was noted that he had a wife and 3 children, he could neither read nor write, and “once convicted, character bad”. He arrived at Maitland, New South Wales in March 1841, but I haven’t yet traced what happened to him there.


So poor Mary and her three legitimate children were left to fend for themselves. She could not remarry as her husband was still alive, although they would never see each other again. So she sought protection with the widower George Warner. A report from the Hertford Board of Guardians of the Poor in 1843 stated that “Among the cases today of which there were a great number, one occasioned rather a warm discussion. A woman named Andrews, belonging to Walkern, whose husband is transported, who has three children by her husband and who is now living with another man by whom she has two more, applied for clothing for her husband’s children. Several of the Guardians opposed the grant on the ground that it was contrary to the general rule of the Board to give […] relief to the families of persons convicted of felony, and also that it would be an encouragement to the woman to continue her present immoral course of life, and cause a still further expense to the Union in being compelled to maintain the illegitimate children that she has or may have, whenever the man with whom she is cohabiting may think proper to separate from her. Upon a division, the clothing was granted by a majority of two.”


Well, she did carry on in her “immoral course of life”, and she bore George Warner at least four children. But, Warner died in 1847 aged 50, ten months before the cuckold riding, so he could not have been the father of the child she was then carrying. Her life appears to have spiralled downhill: John Izard Pryor’s diary states that she was “in the family way, and was saying she would swear the child to someone though she confessed she had been connected with many. Maybe several village men were worried, and we will probably never be certain as to the father of the child she was carrying… She probably wasn’t certain herself…


But, one of the witnesses in the 1848 trial of the rioters was William Hill who lived with his wife Mary in the gardener’s house at the Rectory. This is what he said at the trial:


“I am gardener to Mr Harding: I saw the crowd with a cart come opposite my house, where they stopped and shouted; I knew this was done to annoy me; they went down the village and came back and pelted my house.”
I could be doing him a great disservice, but could it have been him?


What happened to Mary Andrews? In the 1851 census she is aged 40 and described as a widow: she is living with three of her children in the workhouse in Hertford. Her oldest child, 19 year old George is a visitor at a nearby house and one like to think he was helping his mother and siblings. Another child, three year old Emily Andrews, who had died in the workhouse just before the census, was buried at St Mary’s Walkern in January 1851, and may well have been the poor soul whom Mary was carrying at the time of the cuckold riding.

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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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