Sunday, 18 February 2018

Things Our Father Taught Us







It was a cold February morning, one of those dreadful limbo days between worlds, between the sleeping of the old year and the waking of the new year as the bolt of history slowly slid back and people everywhere were slowly waking up in their beds with no particular rush to leave them for it was a Sunday morning, that gift of mankind where if you were fortunate enough not to have to rise early you were allowed to enter all manner of risks and temptations of both mind and body! And with one’s attention focused we must enter upon a household beset by the usual affairs of the heart; the parade of life and that which masquerades as such.
The house, one of those rather dignified yet nothing out of the ordinary late Victorian terrace affairs, stood on a quiet road which approached the park with its church, old manor house and bowling greens, remnants of a forgotten past still lingering into the present. The house, under the ownership of Mrs Devina Derwish, a widow in her mid-forties with the figure of a woman half her age who had turned her rooms over to tenants was alive with the beating of hearts. Imagine yourself walking through the front door into the hallway and one is immediately confronted on the right hand side by the front parlour room which although simply furnished had some echo of its elegant splendour in the form of its fireplace and picture rails still in situ. The room, now a bed-sitting room, is occupied by Mr Leonard Witherspoon, a thirty-nine year old bachelor who works for some drab and dreary Insurance Company. Returning back into the hallway the next door on the right is the sitting-room or drawing-room as some like to call it with its grand bookcases either side of the ornate fireplace filled with modern authors and guide books and reference books etc. The room looks out onto the back garden and Mrs Derwish the landlady has this room for her entertaining purposes and general living quarters; a room which is patrolled by her two cats Leopold and Loeb. The sitting-room leads into the kitchen which likewise leads into the back garden with its outside lavatory and its apple tree in the corner and a few rose bushes near to the brick wall; lining the path to the back gate are three terracotta pots containing the withered stems and faded leaves of strawberries awaiting the resurrecting light of the sun. The cellar is accessed from the kitchen, descending the stone steps into a space where the daylight forces its way through a small fanlight window which in the past would have taken delivery of the coal for the fires; there is the usual array of assorted old tools and a few paint pots dotted here and there amongst the cobwebs. Back in the hallway one ascends the stairs and on the top landing straight ahead is a small bedroom which at one time was a fairly large bedroom until some bright spark had the notion of setting out an upstairs bathroom and reducing its size; this room is occupied by Major Rupert Fairweather, a forty-five year old man living on his own means. The bathroom is immediately next to the small bedroom and beside the bathroom is another bedroom which is quite large with a fine old fireplace and an old built-in wardrobe where during the war Mr Simpson used to hide when the Military Police came looking for him, a fact which no-one recollects anymore; a room which Mrs Derwish has made her own bedroom and leaving this room and turning left to the end of the landing is the main bedroom at the front of the house. This grand old room which had once witnessed a birth and a death in 1903 and 1928 respectively is occupied by a young couple, Jonathon Seabrook, twenty-eight, who works in a local printing establishment and his wife, Emily, twenty-two, who works part time in the library. And so the living has been accounted for as they glide through their short space of life with their simple gestures and emotional trifles.

How the sunlight entering these once elegant rooms washes away all the substance of the past, how it heals the hatred and anger the peeling wallpaper attempts to hide. If only the occupants knew some of the incidents of the past and what occurred at the house surely they would not sleep so soundly in their beds! For instance, no-one is probably aware that in the front parlour room Mr Melrose said his final goodbye to his family before setting off for the Front during the First World War, never to return again, or that a decade previous to that on the stairs young Harold Tomkinson, a boy of jus eight years old tripped and fell, falling dead at the bottom, his neck twisted and snapped! I’m certain no-one is aware of what happened in the front bedroom just thirty years ago when an abusive father flew at his wife and half choked her, not to mention the other abominable acts of unkindness and the times his fists left dirty great black marks upon her soft and gentle face… if only the present could reach out into the past and deliver its retribution upon these awful monsters! Yes, the house held many secrets, secrets of birth and death, as indeed do all houses that acquire a certain mystery with age and as to what occurred in the cellar during the Second World War only God can forgive! But time moves on and so do those who occupy the rooms of a house, unaware of the great passions that have played out there and the crimes of domestic abuse calling from the silence of a forgotten history, its faint persistent voice heard by no-one.

It was relatively early on this particular Sunday morning that hung between life and death when Devina’s niece Amanda Hughes, a pretty young woman of twenty sweet summers hanging over her called at the house. Devina came to the door drawing heavy upon a cigarette with her cat Loeb in her arms.
‘Hello Aunty!’ Amanda said, smiling as she stroked the cat.
‘Come in dear, how’s your mother, still a martyr to her bunions?’ Before Amanda could answer and without drawing breath Mrs Derwish continued speaking:
‘Now before we go any further I have to say that I won’t stand for any funny business, I think you know what I mean! There was a young woman here a few years back named Hardcastle, at least I think that was her name and she was out every night degrading herself; I put up with it long enough but when the police came to my door that was it and I had to turn her out! I won’t have that sort of thing under my roof you know! Oh and I’ll just put you in the picture, Mr Fairweather has vacated his room upstairs for you and he’s come in with me, I know what you’re thinking but it’s all above board as he pays me for it!’ Mrs Derwish was about to turn and show Amanda through to the sitting-room when Amanda touched Devina’s arm lightly,
‘Who’s in this room?’ Amanda enquired, pointing to the front parlour.
‘Chap by the name of Witherspoon, queer sort of fellow, Cripen I calls him, bit simple if you ask me and has his feet firmly planted in both camps if you get my meaning?’ Amanda didn’t get the meaning but Mrs Derwish continued, ‘not that I’m a prude, the late Mr Derwish God rest his soul had a fancy for vegetables thrown at him as he lay naked on the bed but he drew the line at leeks as he wasn’t overly fond of the Welsh and they gave him bad dreams!’ Just then the door to Mr Witherspoon’s room quickly opened and closed with the merest glimpse of a nose narrowly escaping being shut in the door.
‘Just you say if you’d prefer his room dear and I’ll have him out and in that little room upstairs!’ Mrs Derwish seemed excited by the thought of this.
‘I get the impression you’re not overly fond of the man?’ asked Amanda.
‘I wouldn’t trust him to open a tin of cat food!’ Mrs Derwish showed Amanda into the sitting-room after she had hung her coat on the hook in the hall and prepared some tea.
‘You wouldn’t believe the sort of things people get up to when they think you’re not looking! – I’ve had some rubbish in this house over the years I can tell you!’

Mrs Derwish brought in the tea as Amanda became the sole object of attention to the two cats Leopold and Loeb. ‘Don’t mind them’ Mrs Derwish said, nodding to the cats, ‘they’re just curious about strangers. So how are you my dear?’
‘Fine Aunty and it’s really good of you to let me stay for a few days.’ Amanda was a rather attractive young woman with long red hair and a slender figure and although she was a little short and her bust was a little on the small side of perfection in her eyes she had a well-proportioned body.
Over the tea Amanda told Mrs Derwish about her work at the clothing store and about her applying for a new position in the toy department. ‘London always overwhelms me!’ Mrs Derwish said, nibbling on a Rich Tea biscuit before sipping her tea; ‘it always seems so empty, yet terribly full!’ They talked about all sorts of trifling things until Amanda announced that she was expecting a baby and how happy she was and that she hadn’t told the father on account as she doesn’t want him in her life as they were not terribly close anyway and she didn’t love him or anything like that but had decided that she wanted the baby! Mrs Derwish showed some concern but on the whole she was quite joyful at the news and broke out a packet of chocolate digestives which the special occasion called for! Once the news of the new arrival had been exhausted Mrs Derwish went into a long and seemingly endless dialogue about her dead husband and how she was not herself to be blessed with children, something that to this day still hurt inside with a numb ache.
‘The young couple upstairs are quite nice’, Mrs Derwish said, ‘just moved in, he’s a bit strange but she’s lovely! They’re trying to start a family so I make allowances for the noise and besides Mr Witherspoon is directly underneath them and he being a Catholic he gets the lion’s share of the passion so to speak which will do him no harm! I’m sure he won’t be satisfied until we get one of those “glass ceilings” everyone keeps mentioning!’

At midday Emily Seabrook crept quietly down the stairs on her way out when Mrs Derwish poked her head around her door and intercepted her, saying ‘hello dear, got time for tea and a chat?’ Emily wasn’t in a terrible rush to get out but she had hoped to avoid Mrs Derwish.
‘Always time for tea Mrs Derwish!’ answered the young lady, rather awkwardly.
‘Make yourself at home there’s no standing on ceremony here! There’s a brew on.’ Emily sat down on Mrs Derwish’s comfortable sofa. ‘Off out were you love?’ said the nosey landlady.
‘Oh just to the shops for a few things Mrs Derwish, you know.’
‘Call me Devina, we’re all friends here. Settling in nicely are we? While I have you here I just wanted to clear up something’ said Mrs Derwish, looking Emily up and down as if she were about to purchase her as soiled goods! ‘I’ve noticed the letters addressed to you still have “miss” on them, you should make amends there or someone will get the wrong end of the stick!’ and the older woman laughed, first removing her cigarette to do so.
‘Oh I just never got round to it!’ the young woman replied a little flustered by the remark. Emily was a somewhat plain yet attractive young woman with thin yet quite full lips and long auburn hair that coiled beautifully about her shoulders with startlingly vibrant brown eyes which her elegant long lashes slowly swept across at intervals like a siren of the silver screen of old. ‘You’ll meet my niece Amanda at some point, she travelled up from London and arrived this morning, a lovely girl, expecting a baby, single parent, unfortunate but sign of the times, she’s only staying a few days and she’s in the little bedroom at the end!’
‘I shall look forward to it! I’m sure that she’s going to be a wonderful mother!’
‘By the way have you met Mr Witherspoon yet, him in the parlour room? Cripen as I call him? A funny how d’ ye do if ever there was one! You know he’s not been the same since he bought that book by the nice Mr Maugham “Of Human Bondage” and realised it wasn’t a mucky book! By the way if ever you’d prefer his room to yours just you say and I’ll have him out in a flash and installed into the small room upstairs, out of harms way! But don’t you mind me dearie, I has my little fun, you know!’ Emily looked around the room and noticed a photograph of a young man and asked Mrs Derwish if it was her husband.
And the older woman stopped puffing on her cigarette not so much out of respect but in order to answer and said that it was and that he was a good man. Emily asked how he died:
‘Oh the poor dear stepped out in front of a bus, probably day-dreaming, he did that a lot you know. Testicals like melons he had! The Doctor gave him pills to reduce the swelling but they just made him constipated and depressed and he never slept much after that I’m afraid!’ Emily made the appropriate sounds and gave the necessary looks of sympathy before asking if his death may have been intentional:
‘There wasn’t much about George that was intentional I’m afraid love, except maybe his allotment which was like a second home to him! Loved it there he did, like going to church for him it was! Well, that was until his testicals got in the way and his plot went to ruin! Like pumpkins they were in the end! Then of course he started drinking heavily which did neither of us any good!’
‘He looks very handsome in the photograph’ said Emily in an attempt to take Mrs Derwish’s mind off her late husband’s testicals.
‘Yes dear, till the fat took hold of him early, he really was a good looking fella! All the girls liked George! A simple man of simple education but like most men of his generation he had the usual well-mannered nature when it came to matters of S-E-X! I have testimonials to that effect!’ Just then Major Fairweather entered and Mrs Derwish rose to prepare his breakfast, ‘a lovely woman that Mrs Derwish’ said the Major to Emily, ‘make a fine wife, forty-eight but admits to thirty-one, woman’s prerogative!’ he continued. The Major was a tall, slim jovial fellow with a moustache which seemed just as active under his nose as he was under the eye of Mrs Derwish; obviously public school educated by appearance and always elegantly dressed with a fondness for the brown suede shoe! ‘Devina dear’ shouted the Major into the kitchen, ‘do we have to have your knitting strewn all over the house?’ and the Major gave a knowing wink to Emily – ‘Frankenstein!’ shouted Mrs Derwish. ‘She means philistine’ whispered the Major, ‘but I hate to correct her you know!’ Exactly quite what he was a “Major” of nobody really knew but it was assumed that he had been in the Army and that he never spoke about it and if anyone ever did inquire as to his military background he had a few ready answers to supply.
He sat down in an armchair and began to read the Sunday newspaper as Mrs Derwish called from the kitchen to Emily who was about to leave, ‘if there’s anything I can do for you, you know dear, just ask, I’m a light sleeper since mother was taken from us under the surgical knife!’
In the hallway the fragrance of cooking sausages and bacon battled with the divine and overpowering smell of incense emanating from the front parlour room where Mr Witherspoon was busy with his ‘Hail Mary’s’ and ‘Our Father’s’.

Later that afternoon Emily returned and was met by the landlady’s cat Leopold in the hallway, (Leopold was more black than white and Loeb was quite the reverse) as she crept past Mrs Derwish’s door which was open enough to allow a gnat to escape should it feel inclined to, she overheard the Major saying ‘Devina old girl, the garden’s looking a bit barren, I’m thinking of growing some marrows and collies!’
‘Oh please don’t Rupert, not marrows and cauliflowers, poor dear George! Why not grow some sprouts instead?’
‘Damn it woman’ shouted the Major, ‘must I always live in the shadow of your late husband’s blasted testicals!’
Emily ascended the stairs, smiling to herself. When she entered the room she found Jonathon seated at the small table with his cup of coffee and his dog-eared copy of ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ a book he could never quite seem to finish but picked it up at odd moments. ‘I spoke with Mrs Derwish earlier; she’s noticed that the letters addressed to me are to “Miss Seabrook” and not “Mrs Seabrook”!’
‘Interfering old badger!’ Jonathon said smirking.
‘I spoke with the Major too; he seems nice enough but I think he has designs on Mrs Derwish you know!’
 ‘Maybe he’s planning to murder her! I don’t like him! He’s a real bastard!’ It was unlike Jonathon to say unkind things and Emily knew it was just his odd attempt at humour which at times could be a little dark.
‘Is that in the biblical sense or the modern sense of the word?’ asked Emily.
‘Both, he’s a fully paid-up member of each club! He’s taking advantage of her.’
‘I think it’s the other way round, after all he’s the one with the money and the car!’
‘They’re both as bad as each other and welcome to what they can get! On the same subject have you met Mrs Derwish’s niece, in the room at the end, nice girl, not staying long, expecting a child?’
‘Not yet, news does travel fast!’ answered Emily.
‘Yes, you should have seen old Witherspoon downstairs when he found out, crossing himself and spouting something about “suffer the little children” and all that!’
‘How did he find out, he hardly ever comes out of his room and Mrs Derwish wouldn’t tell him?’ Emily enquired.
‘I knocked on his door and told him! Jonathon laughed.
‘Do you think that was wise? He is rather holier than thou and takes great pains to look down his nose at others!’ said Emily.
‘I just like to leave little bombs about the place, how and where they explode are not my concern!’ He said.
‘Serves him right I suppose!’ said Emily.
Jonathon put his book aside and gazed at Emily quite lovingly and said – ‘Mrs Seabrook: I love you!’ and before long they were rushing headlong at each other and tearing off their clothes and falling naked into each others arms as their lips surrendered to the overwhelming passion of their trembling bodies!
Below in the front parlour room Mr Witherspoon clenched his white fists together to the sweet strains of ecstasy as he knelt and repeated the Lord’s Prayer!

‘Devina old girl’ said the Major, ‘I’ve been thinking, if we were to put a bed down here it would free up the middle bedroom to be let!’
‘But what would we do with the sofa Rupert?’ said Mrs Derwish, quite against the idea.
‘I’ve been thinking about that too!’ added the Major; ‘we could shove it in with old Cripen, now I know there’s hardly room to swing a cat in there as it is but you know we could charge him extra for it!’ Devina’s face lit up as she suddenly sprung into life – ‘what an excellent idea Rupert!’ she said rubbing her hands; ‘we could also let him have that large unsightly wardrobe too, I know he only has the one threadbare black suit which makes him look like an undertaker that he wears constantly and for all I know sleeps in it too but he must take it off sometime and have somewhere to hang it!’
‘Now you’re thinking old girl!’ smiled the Major, ‘we can charge him for that too! We’ll put his rent up an extra ten pounds a week; it’s only fare for supplying quality furniture like that you know!’ And they did!

A few days later Amanda left and new tenants were sought for the small bed-sitting room and for the larger middle bedroom. Devina found it very difficult to let the small room and there was little interest in it but the middle bedroom was soon taken by a young man named Robert Heseltine who although a little quiet in his manner had a definite air of mystery and experience about him. Robert was twenty-four years old, tall with black hair and large dreamy eyes which seemed to conceal some sort of sadness which was considerably palpable to those of a certain disposition. He worked in a coffee house called ‘Coffee Junction’ and had ambitions of being a writer and like all writers had the embryo of his first novel within him. Emily passed Robert in the hallway and on the landing many times and they were pleasant to each other and he was very well-mannered and polite which made Emily curious about him, but as he kept a little to himself and was only encountered in passing it was a little difficult to engage him in conversation and Emily seemed to feel a little shy around him. Jonathon didn’t seem to get on with him and made some remarks which were hurtful to Emily and she thought Jonathon terribly unkind; a space between Emily and Jonathon was becoming visible to all who cared to look and the initial passion which rang throughout the household died away much to the pleasure of Mr Witherspoon whose sleep was less disturbed!

A few weeks later Emily was walking through the park idly watching the ducks and the small children running after a dog; the sun shone at every opportunity the clouds afforded it and there was a definite sense that spring was in the air. Life seemed to be about to burst out everywhere like the moment before a symphony is about to start. Looking up as she walked past one of the benches she saw Mr Heseltine sitting by himself reading a book. She could not be so rude as to walk past without saying something! ‘Oh God don’t look up! Don’t look up!’ she repeated to herself but Robert did look up and his dark eyes alighted upon her young face. She said hello and they exchanged a few pleasantries; Emily seemed a little nervous but was soon put at her ease when Robert smiled at her. It was the simple smile of a child which seemed to radiate towards her.
‘What are you reading?’ Emily said glancing at his book as she sat down next to him.
‘To the Lighthouse; have you read it?’ Robert asked as if searching Emily’s soul.
‘Yes, I’m very fond of Woolf, I find there’s a loneliness that permeates every sentence in the novel but I guess you wouldn’t agree!’ Emily smiled and Robert looked deep into her eyes and said ‘as a matter of fact I feel that loneliness only too intensely and can only assume that Woolf’s mental perception at the time of writing it and her own experiences amalgamated somehow, magically, in what can only be described as an “occult transference” which took place and so the words and substance of the book can be subconsciously un-bolted by the reader! I believe many books are created with this magical essence subconsciously by the author!’ Emily looked down shyly.
‘You work in the library don’t you?’ asked Robert.
‘Yes, where else would a book-lover work?’
‘A book shop!’ Robert smiled and Emily looked into Robert’s eyes and she felt her face flush; then they both laughed. He was terribly handsome and seemed considerate of her feelings. She felt herself drawing closer to him and already a connection was developing. They talked about books and authors and other fascinating aspects of literature and Robert mentioned that he was writing his first novel ‘A Hole in the Hebrides’ which was a modern romance and they laughed some more and after a while they felt very comfortable in each others company; there was a genuine mutual attraction between them. Following this first delightful encounter hey began to meet in the park quite regularly and sometimes Emily would drop into Coffee Junction and there would be furtive glances between them as they discussed the subtle characterisation of the likes of Waugh and Austen, travelling from Byron to Huxley and back again. They would visit the art gallery together and the museum and soon Emily felt the delightful and overwhelming sensation of romantic love blossoming between them. ‘How can this be?’ thought Emily as she lay awake at night beside Jonathon for whom she still felt love but not the great passion that stirred between them once. Days folded upon days like the leaves in the park blown together, tumbling towards some unknown destiny. Mrs Derwish noticed, Rupert Fairweather noticed and even Mr Witherspoon could see that something was wrong in the relationship, and that some turmoil had entered the loving partnership and they tried to be sympathetic and understanding about it; no-one had yet guessed that Emily was having an affair with the new tenant, Robert Heseltine!

‘I’ve got some experience in these sorts of things old boy and if you want my opinion you’ll just leave things well alone and she’ll come back to you alright!’ the Major said to Jonathon as he stroked his moustache to release the biscuit crumbs seeking salvation within it. But Jonathon was in no mood to listen to the Major and almost told him what he thought of him, but resisted!

‘It’s just a rough patch, dearie, that’s all, most marriages go through them!’ said Mrs Derwish to Emily, adding ‘he’s not seeing another woman is he?’ Emily didn’t need any advice from Mrs Derwish and she blushed and felt awkward at the intrusion into her private life but said nothing.

‘The Good Lord has blessed the holy union between you and the Good Lord shall direct the humble lives of those who serve him wisely! No one is insignificant in the eyes of the Almighty!’ said Mr Witherspoon from the narrow opening of his door as Emily passed along the hall before he closed it and began to recite ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…’
‘I’m falling apart here!’ whispered Emily into the emptiness of the hall, ‘I don’t know what to do!’

It was a few days later when Emily decided she would not see Robert again romantically and she was determined to make things better between Jonathon and herself! That night the couple talked and Emily was truthful, saying she had a moment of weakness and that she had fallen for Robert and that it was just a passing passion that overwhelmed them as they came close (not long after Emily’s confession Robert Heseltine moved out of the household and nothing more was heard of him). Jonathon was deeply hurt by the revelation and understandably so and like a wounded animal he lashed out saying many hurtful things as tears streamed down his face; it was absurd, hadn’t he always said that it was perfectly natural, reasonable and healthy to take a lover, but it was not so much the fact that Emily got herself entangled with Heseltine, it was the deception; even so, Jonathon did not expect to be consumed by such rage and jealousy, he saw no sense in it! He sat on the bed shaking, his white fists clenched in anger yet his conduct was restrained for he would never behave so abominably as to hit a woman, he would sooner hurt himself than do that, no matter how tormented he was! The long night seemed endless and Emily said that she would leave if that was what he wanted but Jonathon didn’t want that because deep down he still loved Emily and in the whole world there was no fragment greater, no thought or emotion, no physical, living, breathing ‘thing’ anywhere that he wanted more than Emily and his heart bled and he thought he would die with the pain that revolved in his head when he said that he forgave her and that they will put the pieces back together again! They fell into each others arms and became overwhelmed by desire, for the physical substance of each other to be consumed as one, and so locked in their naked embrace they yielded to the passion they had awoken once more and made love!
‘We are the food of each other that we feast upon!’ exclaimed Jonathon.
‘Our souls are cemented as one!’
‘We have the blood of our father running through our veins!’
‘We are bound together by this sacred bond of brother and sister!’
‘We yearn towards the unending moonlight that we are destined to walk within from our darkness, where no earthly shadow may show! Emily, my dear Emily, my sister love, whom I adore, I love you! I love you! I love you!’
Downstairs, in the front parlour room, Mr Witherspoon sat up in bed and frantically repeated the Lord’s Prayer!

Sunday, 21 January 2018





It was towards the close of the year 1877, a very unremarkable year by all accounts that Mr. Ernest Pridhey M.A. and a young learned friend of his named Mr. James Danbury-Wethers M.A., a fellow Schoolmaster, parted company during the Christmas vacation, Pridhey, to his relatives in Warwickshire and Danbury-Wethers to the unexplored reaches of darkest Northamptonshire. I should explain that Mr. James Danbury-Wethers, a young and learned man who was well-groomed yet not so well-connected who possessed quite an immaculate wardrobe to which he was not averse to adding a splash of colour to the elegant ensemble as was the wont of the more fashionable, younger generation, had more than a scholarly affection for the works of the bard and had recently made a distinct effort in his researches in that direction for he was of a stern and stubborn clay and unshakable in his ideas and notions. One of these rather unshakable convictions to which he let Ernest in on was his theory concerning the history of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Lady Elizabeth Barnard or Bernard (it was spelt both ways as indeed were many names by those blessed with a total ignorance of the English language during a time when a fondness for rearranging vowels and interchanging consonants was the fashion!) and as to the matter of her being the last of the bard’s line of descent. It seemed like some weird and wild goose-chase to Ernest who relished most things, appending more than a touch of romance and adventure to his friend’s pursuit and James was adamant in his intention to discover the truth behind certain unconventional research he had already carried out. Ernest thought it would be a harmless venture for him and it would certainly keep his mind occupied during the Christmas vacation, which god knows can be a lonely and unforgiving time for those with little or no family and few friends. Having shown some vague interest in his work he no doubt thought that Ernest would be a good recipient to a letter he had written and posted prior to the vulgarity and charade of Christmas, a letter he received on the twenty-second of December in fact which gives an impression of Mr. Danbury-Wethers initial opinion of the Abbey in Northampton and his encounter with Dr. Thomas Prichard:


Abington Abbey,
Wednesday 19th December 1877.


Dear Ernest,

            Just a note to let you know I have arrived in Northampton and I am staying at the above address as a guest of the learned Dr. Thomas Prichard, a man with more than a passing fondness for the Episcopal gaiter and the cousin of the celebrated Doctor Thomas Octavius Prichard, (by all accounts a tall and handsome man who was brilliant yet a little touched by ‘madness’ who passed some thirty years ago I am told).  Dr. Prichard is a curious man who stepped quite easily into his cousin’s shoes to take on the directorship of the Abbey, a retreat for lunatics, just as easily as he slipped into his bed and won the heart of his grieving widow and soothed the sadness of grief with the joy of matrimony on 24th August 1848! She died some twenty-five years ago at the ripe old age of forty-four! His compassion for these poor unfortunate devils that inhabit the asylum knows no bounds and he does not use ‘mechanical restraints’ (1); he is of excellent mind, although a little vague in certain aspects of convention and decidedly averse to social engagements! ‘I am told that you have a peculiar interest in Lady Barnard!’ were his opening words to me! Well, we shall see how matters unfold. I shall be here until term begins again so letters addressed here care of Dr. Prichard shall find me. I must say Prichard is a most hospitable and gracious fellow (with an excellent wine cellar!) and I am to be in daily consultation with him concerning the history of the Abbey, a most gloomy and imposing prospect which as I mentioned is now an asylum (Tudor with Georgian additions) and its past inhabitants – the Barnards and the Thursbys! There are the remains of some long forgotten village here, evidence of a medieval manor house and mill, not to mention the gallows (2) which took five witches to their graves during the 1612 witch trials (I am told it was the first instance of the use of the ‘ducking stool’ but cannot substantiate this fact!


The blessings of Christmastide upon you!

Your ever friend,


Ernest was a little perturbed by the letter but hastened to put it out of his mind and enjoy the festive delights.
Upon his reception at the Abbey, James was met by Dr. Prichard (3) himself who greeted the newcomer with a most affable and pleasant manner and they both fell into some dismal small talk such as the weather which often consumed the mind of the dreariest Englishman at home and abroad; James could see in Dr. Prichard a man of great intellect and learning; a man with a mind buttressed by his enormous medical knowledge, the cruel tempest of which raced with fury across his countenance from one moment to the next, the storms and eddies of his passing thoughts which occupied him greatly manifested upon his aged face. Unfortunately James was not in Dr. Prichard’s company long for he was called away to attend to some matters concerning the running of the Abbey and left to occupy his time in the library where there were many volumes which would prove of interest to the most dull and notable antiquarian!
Mr Danbury-Wethers spent his first night at the Abbey which passed without much interruption and he occupied his time the next morning investigating the twelfth century church which stands near to the Abbey (actually a manor house); the church had been nearly destroyed in a great storm during the eighteen-twenties sweeping away much of the main body of the church except for the tower; it was rebuilt by the Thursby’s and much altered. There is a memorial plaque to Lady Elizabeth Barnard and she is buried there. As he was leaving the church James encountered the Reverend Lewis Haig Loyd who is the current Rector of the church and they greeted each other cordially and after a little introduction to which James stated that he was staying as a guest of Dr. Prichard at the Abbey the Rector exclaimed:
‘Blast him to Hades! Do you know sir he had the audacity to remind me, me of all people sir that no Rector is larger than his congregation sir!’ James was a little perplexed at this outburst but slowly shook his head as if to signify agreement with the good Reverend, who continued his conversation:
‘Damn his eyes and all the Prichards! They’re no good you know! Not one of ‘em! I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours already concerning his cousin?’
‘Are you referring to Thomas Octavius Prichard?’ James asked.
‘Indeed I am sir! A most unfortunate business, most unfortunate indeed!’
‘I am not aware of the rumours sir.’ said James.
‘Of course I’m not one for tittle-tattle and to blazes to anyone who tells you I am sir but the story is that he became Superintendent at Northampton Lunatic Asylum, St Andrews as it is known in the year 1838 if I am correct? Yes, no doubt I am and his lovely wife Elizabeth at his side as Matron and five children to keep! His cousin, him at the big house became his medical assistant the following year – a pretty affair indeed sir! Prichard, the former that is was charged with incompetence (some say he was just a scapegoat) but the truth of the matter is that a post-mortem took place without the proper authority, very unethical and of course there are those who testified as to his liking for the strong drink!’ and here the good Rector tutted with a ‘dear me, dear me, before continuing, ‘rather than receive the boot and be disgraced by scandal he formally resigned in April of 1845! Not that I’m one to spread rumours of course but as you are staying under the Prichard roof you should be aware of the facts as it were and I should hate for you to go into battle unprepared!’
Quite what the battle should be James was at a loss to know but he said ‘thank you most kindly for the warning!’ He had been observing the Rector’s mannerisms and deduced his mind to be older than his body for he was by no means an old man physically and was in possession of a temperament that would shame a man twenty years his junior.
‘I of course pay no head to malicious gossip and most of my knowledge is the result of conversations with a previous Rector named Fred Thursby who passed in sixty-nine, but I’m told it wasn’t long after Prichard was removed, I mean resigned that he established the Abbey and began poaching all the rich, imbecile clientele from the Lunatic Asylum and other such localities in the district. He died of Cirrhosis of the liver, the result I am told of the demon drink!’ and here the Rector tutted some more, exclaiming ‘dear me, dear me,’ and then went on ‘that was in the year 1847 and it was only a year later that his cousin, him at the Abbey, married his poor grieving widow and old Thomas Octavius not yet cold in his grave!’ and here the Reverend shook his head and looked up in the air as if to receive God’s blessing in his moral condemnation of the Prichard’s, before continuing ‘not that I have loose lips Mr. Danbury-Wethers but it is funny don’t you think how very convenient it was for the widow Prichard to so suddenly, within twelve months in fact, fall into the arms of Thomas Octavius Prichard’s cousin, also a Doctor named Thomas Prichard and betroth herself to him and devote four years of her short life to him before expiring gracefully unto the Lord!’
‘Are you suggesting there may have been foul play sir?’ James asked, animated at the thought of a delicious murder.
‘I said nothing of the sort sir nor did I infer such a thing, I merely state that it is “funny”, that is all! How quickly some people leap to damning and casting doubts upon the astounding accomplishments and achievements of the likes of Doctor Prichard! I do not condone your methods Mr. Danbury-Wethers for they are questionable! How very easy the young jump to unwarranted conclusions! Deer me, what a very inquisitive man you are Mr. Danbury-Wethers!’ There was a short silence as the Reverend stared deep into the eyes of Mr. Danbury-Wethers, the ‘very inquisitive young man’ who looked about him awkwardly, wondering if the good Reverend were not a little unhinged in the mind himself also!
‘I suppose I must be keeping you from your work, especially at this time of year? Do please excuse me!’ said James politely as he made as if to walk away. The Rector held onto his arm gently, saying
‘Only sermons my dear fellow and such like that are my duty by the Divine will of God, heard by a handful and ignored by all!’ he said, sweeping his hand in front of him as if in dismissal of his flock. ‘Heathens!’ he continued, ‘My only pleasure sir is to sit in solemn silence in the dark of the church and listen to the angelic voice of the boy-chorister – you would need a heart of stone to not weep tears of sorrow and joy and to not fall incomprehensibly at the feet of God upon hearing the beautiful opening to “Once in Royal David’s City”! Unfortunately for the last time as I am moving on to St. Lawrence where I am informed a steady hand is most definitely needed there! That is my only pleasure sir, at this time of year but my only weakness I might add, that is a different matter, a weakness sir to which church affairs perpetually interfere, my weakness, and some would say my “sin” is golf! I’ve been so busy of late that I fear my handicap is slipping! Do you play golf Mr. Danbury-Wethers?’ enquired the Reverend of the young man, lightly touching his arm.
‘I am afraid not sir.’ The Reverend looked decidedly perturbed by this as if he had asked ‘are you fond of breathing?’ and received a reply in the negative, and said:
‘Pity, God’s game sir, God’s game!’ and thus the Reverend Lewis Haig Loyd rushed into the church to perform the detestable Lord’s work (4). James returned to the Abbey and in the seclusion of his bedchamber turned his attention to his well-thumbed volume on Shakespeareana by Halliwell-Phillipps (5).
James had been at the Abbey two days when he hit upon some major discovery to reinforce his theories, but we must return to the dark and distant past, to the seventeenth century in fact before we can proceed further. It is known that Elizabeth Hall was baptised on 21st February 1608 at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, daughter to the bard’s daughter Susanna Hall nee Shakespeare (1583-1649) and Doctor John Hall (1607-1635). Elizabeth married on 22nd April 1626 when she was eighteen, a Mr. Thomas Nash (1593-1647) at Holy Trinity, Stratford. Thomas died on 4th April 1647 and eighteen months later, forty year old Elizabeth married John Barnard or Bernard (1604-1674) on 5th June 1649 at Billesley near Stratford (6). John Barnard (for we shall use this spelling) of Abington, Northampton was a widower with several children; he was knighted on 22nd September 1661 and so Elizabeth became a Lady. Just five weeks after Elizabeth’s second marriage her mother Susanna died aged sixty-six on 11th July 1626. Elizabeth now inherited the Shakespeare property and she and her husband moved to New Place in Stratford.
James sat with Doctor Prichard, a leading name in mental illness who gained his medical diploma at the University of Glasgow and became the Medical Superintendent at Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum, in the oak panelled room at the Abbey discussing peculiar aspects of history concerning the household and the Barnards –
 ‘Skilfully in thine honour sir, hath the brandy hour approached! Will you take a glass?’ enquired Doctor Prichard of James in a distinctive theatrical manner which seemed out of place. It was usually the custom for the good Doctor to take a drop of the medicinal stuff in the late afternoon and accepting the drink, James asked the Doctor what became of Dame Elizabeth Barnard.
‘It is indeed known’ began the Doctor, ‘that when her Aunt Judith died on 9th February 1662 at Stratford, Elizabeth became the last living descendant of William Shakespeare (7). Elizabeth wrote her will on the 29th January 1669, a will witnessed by the Rector of Abington, John Howes and a person named Francis Wickes, strangely there was very little mention of her husband John Barnard in the will; she died on 17th February of that year or possibly the following year as some documents specify aged sixty-one at this very house – she died childless we are told and she is buried in the parish church just yonder!’
She was indeed buried in the Parish Church ‘just yonder’ and Doctor Prichard took from his breast pocket a small notebook, saying:
‘When I heard you were coming here to further your research I took the liberty of making some notes’ and after a brief pause, he read on:
‘On 4th December 1669 the manor was sold to Mr. William Thursby (1630-1701), a lawyer, judge and Member of Parliament who enlarged the building and gave it a much grander Georgian style between 1738 and 1743. The house was inherited by a relative of Thursby’s in 1764 named John Harvey-Thursby (1709-1764) who was also a lawyer and a Member of Parliament; he lived here with his wife Anne and eleven children I believe! Would you care for another brandy Mr. Danbury-Wethers?’
‘No thank you Doctor, do please continue.’ James said, being too polite to inform his host that he had already acquired such information for himself and he wished to discover something new!
‘Well, here we come to the crux of the matter that I informed you about. Many of the Shakespearian artefacts which were stored at the house and had not been destroyed were discovered by John Harvey-Thursby’s wife Anne and she showed them to her husband who was known to be a great enthusiast of the bard. To his utter astonishment and disbelief there was a letter in the hand of Elizabeth Barnard dated 7th September 1651 and written to her ‘sweet childe, Edward’.
‘And the whereabouts of this letter now, have you seen it yourself?’ interupted James excitedly.
‘I have not as such seen the letter myself Mr. Danbury-Wethers but I am told that upon John Harvey-Thursby’s death here at the house in 1764, on the 8th June of that year to be precise at the age of fifty-four, the collection mysteriously disappeared without trace, a great loss to the nation no doubt! But there is one further piece to the jigsaw which I must disclose and of course it is only given on hearsay so we cannot put much faith in it and that is that just prior to the death of Sir John Barnard in 1674 a man came forward calling himself Otkins who was said to be in possession of certain letters and documents which could be of a compromising nature and no doubt intended to carry out some mischief in the form of blackmail. We can only assume that the letters and documents per se were retrieved somehow and found their way back to the manor house!’
‘Yes no doubt! And Edward: have you established the identity of this man?’
‘We can of course assume it to be Edward Bagley of Dudley but there is no real evidence to back this up, but we do know that he was named as Elizabeth’s sole executor of her will, a man whom she describes as her ‘loveing kinsman’ and he stood to inherit a great deal of the remainder of monies after various settlements and legacies! If indeed this man Bagley is her son, she would have been thirty-three when Bagley was born in 1641 and still married to Thomas Nash who was in his forty-eighth year, (he was to die six years later in 1647). This man Bagley was apprenticed upon reaching his fifteenth year and was known as a “pewterer of London” – he completed his apprenticeship in 1664’.
‘But where is the child when Elizabeth marries John Barnard in 1649?’ James interjected with a look of puzzled wonder. But Doctor Prichard would say no more and said they had talked long enough on the subject and that he would resume his discourse tomorrow evening and so James took to his bed in one of the small rooms reserved for guests on the top floor. Before he went to sleep James wrote in his journal:

Thursday 20th December 1877

today I was informed by Dr. Prichard that the poor unfortunate poet John Clare was a patient at Northampton Lunatic Asylum where he was committed in 1841 and that his cousin Thomas Octavius did what he could for him before the poet’s death there in 1864. After luncheon I was invited to be a fourth at bridge and not being particularly good at the game I at first declined but was encouraged to play. One of the players, a man named Harris who has a particular fondness for digesting cut flowers, told me about an infamous talking pig of Daventry who regularly conversed with the town folk. He being an astute young man thought he would invest in the beast and he purchased the animal with the intention of making a huge profit. To his dismay the great pig seemed reluctant to speak and unwilling to engage in conversation but he was not completely distressed as he said the beast made some of the loveliest sausages he had ever tasted! Following this Harris appointed me by Royal Order of the Silver Spoon which he held aloft like a mighty sceptre and dubbed me Arch Deacon!

That night James had a very disturbed sleep and in the darkness of his room were more than the usual creaks and gentle rustlings for he was troubled the whole night by the sounds of what seemed like footsteps and breathing, but whenever he got up to investigate there would be nothing there! He was most perplexed but tried to remain rational.
The next day Doctor Prichard joined James in the library which was a room of utter silence except for the slow ticking of the clock and after some minor pleasantries, their talk resumed:
‘We know, of course that the celebrated thespian David Garrick paid a visit to Abington Manor’ said James, ‘and that he had a great fondness for Anne, the wife of John Harvey Thursby!’
‘Yes’ continued Doctor Prichard, ‘that was in February of the year 1778 and he planted the sapling in the grounds of the Abbey which was taken from Shakespeare’s actual mulberry tree in Stratford, or at least we are to assume so! As for myself I believe it to be the genuine article and all questions as to its heritage should be dismissed as pure nonsense!  It was sad that Anne should pass away a short time later that year, on the 22nd April I believe at the tender age of forty-three! She was the daughter of William Hanbury of Kelmarsh, Northampton, born in 1735 and by all accounts I’m sad to say she was a bit of a gambler!’
‘I believe’ James said, ‘that the mulberry cutting is intended as a symbol to show that the Shakespeare line did not die out with Elizabeth but continues, perhaps as a link with Edward!’
‘I’m afraid that’s pure speculation on your part Mr. Danbury-Wethers! There is no evidence to support and substantiate such a claim and such misconceptions must be declared as idle fancy!’ and here the kind Doctor gently lent his head forwards and looked up at James as if in anticipation of some remark of condescension. Such a remark not forthcoming Dr. Prichard continued ‘as to the house, in 1841 the manor was sold to a Mr. Lewis Loyd, a banker who auctioned off the contents and it was subsequently let to my cousin Thomas Octavius Prichard (1808-1847) who established this asylum as a retreat for the mentally unfit in 1845.’
Following dinner and several glasses of port and the usual extravagant pleasure of a fine cigar, James retired to his bed chamber with many questions revolving in his mind, so much that he wondered if he should ever sleep at all that night. As was his habit, James wrote a few lines in his diary:

Friday 21st December 1877
the light covering of snow in the churchyard and the grounds of the abbey gave it a peculiar and somewhat preternatural appearance and the aged stone stood solemn as the rooks cawed from the church tower. I felt as if I had dissolved through centuries and returned to the romantic light of the sixteenth century until the cries of lunatics, as if baying at an imagined full moon (it was in fact full last night!) brought me back to reality with a harsh thud. The confines of the abbey are comfortable and sumptuous though dismal and there is an air of ‘matters not resolved’ about the place. Dr. Prichard, a man of regular habits, presides over the whole abbey like a manorial squire attended to by those around him such is his reputation and general conveyance of his physical presence. I feel as if I am watched from all quarters without let up and every dark corner hides something malicious and infernal awaiting an opportunity to manifest its evil. I am overly tired of late and my thoughts are inhabited only by the previous occupants of the house which Dr. Prichard so elegantly draws for me. 

He got into bed and pulled the sheets over him and prepared for sleep and once again the disturbing sounds erupted once more in the room around him. First there was the sound of shuffling feet and then a deep and prolonged sound of breathing. More than once did he wake with a start to the sensation of feeling a thin hand being drawn across his face but he was at a loss to explain the cause of such fancies as he believed them to be!
The next day the Doctor commented how tired the Schoolmaster was looking and suggested a sedative to which James refused, saying he thought that the Abbey was not conducive to a good night’s sleep because of its history!
‘I do not believe in ghosts Mr. Danbury-Wethers but there are many who do and will tell you with some conviction that the Abbey is haunted and that phantoms linger in their unrest to pester the living. All nonsense of course and it is talk like that which brings many of our patients, or shall we term them “guests” to this delightful retreat! (7) Well, if you are up to it Mr. Danbury-Wethers we may continue our talk?’
‘Please go on Doctor!’ James said feeling a little distressed.
‘Of course you do know that Elizabeth is not the only link we have to the Shakespeare family don’t you Mr. Danbury-Wethers? The second wife of John Barnard’s father Mr. Baldwin Barnard (1554-1610) was named Eleanor Fullwood of Ford Hall in Warwickshire and her great grandmother was none other than Agnes Arden (nee Webbe), the stepmother of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden! Are you quite well Mr. Danbury-Wethers, you seem a little out of sorts?’
‘Actually I do feel rather strange, I had a terrible night again, a very disturbed sleep!’ answered James.
‘Perhaps I should prescribe a sedative for you after all?’
‘I shall heed your advice and relent.’ The good Doctor went to his cupboard which he unlocked in silence and withdrew a small bottle which he gave to James saying that he should take two an hour before retiring to bed and adding, ‘I don’t know Mr. Danbury-Wethers, you come here fresh from the simmering rim of some London stewpot and fall ill, here, in this haven of calm and beauty of all places!’ James remained silent and stared at the Doctor, who said ‘I find it hard to believe that anyone would choose to live in such a place as London, for I am told there is no hunting there and nothing to kill – it is pure folly of the greatest kind with nothing to attend to but theatres and cafes! I’m told one isn’t even allowed to visit London Zoo and shoot at the animals indiscriminately and take home the “kill” as a trophy! How unenlightened these city folk are – what is the use of such a place? Even the London parks do not permit riding to hounds for the hunt; the fox must reign supreme in London sir! I say you do look decidedly worse sir! I would certainly prescribe a good dose of fresh air, less book study if you care and a good woman as a companion; exercise caution and moderation and exert your manhood more often sir! That’s my medical opinion and I charge no fee for that!’
James had neither the energy nor the inclination to answer the Doctor and was obviously forcibly keeping his eyes from closing.
‘We shall end our talk here and I suggest you take those pills and retire to bed sir, at once!’ James did as the Doctor requested and having taken the pills went to his room to sleep.
On Friday 28th December 1877 Mr. Ernest Pridhey M.A. received a second letter from Mr. James Danbury-Wethers, dated Saturday 22nd December 1877, and it read:

Dear Pridhey!

            I have been much employed in the thick of the Shakespeare mystery and things are unfolding nicely! Prichard has become quite irritable of late and says that there is some major weakness in my scholastic pursuits to which I regret that I ashamed myself before him and took to language quite abominable and unbefitting of a gentleman, never mind a humble schoolmaster! I am not quite sure as to his sanity! I have been unwell of late and not sleeping and have been much in the company of Doctor Emery and a man named Thesicus Williams, a most extraordinary fellow who shares a similar malady, in fact he believes he is none other than Saint John the Divine! If you should not hear news of me soon you are to contact a man named Michael Dewsbury here at the Abbey who shall with all hope shed light upon matters!

Yours with affection,

Upon reception of the letter Ernest couldn’t help but feel a little concerned for his friend James and considered enquiring further as to the mysterious intelligence of the letter but thought it best to wait until term began and speak with his friend directly.
James found that the pills had worked wonderfully and he woke refreshed for dinner that evening and after some small conversation with Doctor Prichard who was delighted that the young man was feeling better they both sat down to a game or two of chess to which James was a notable fiend upon the board, or at least considered to be in his home parts but here, in the lonely wilds of Abington, he was easily trounced by the good Doctor whose alert mind wielded a mathematical delight in chess just as his skilful hands wielded a scalpel!
Feeling a little disheartened at his loss, James retired to his bed chamber around midnight and prepared for sleep. As he was lightly drifting off to sleep he could see in his mind’s eye the face of the dear Rector spitting words at him: ‘I do not condone your methods Mr. Danbury-Wethers for they are questionable!’ and ‘What a very inquisitive man you are Mr. Danbury-Wethers!’ and ‘I denounce you as the Devil sir!’ – and then he saw Doctor Prichard saying ‘You come here fresh from the simmering rim of some London stewpot and fall ill, here, in this haven of calm and beauty of all places!’ and then came ‘a most insincere young man; a sham scholar of questionable means!’ and then his friend Ernest Pridhey, his dear friend, saying ‘you must come to my parents and spend Christmas with us James!’
It was approaching two in the morning when James suddenly awoke to the sound of moaning in the room and as he lay there still he could here shuffling, distinct shuffling upon the floor as if something were walking stealthily. He opened his eyes and looked towards the window and could see the outline of a figure, dark and overpowering silhouetted against the window where the moon shone. It moved as if it were searching for something, making small purposeful movements. James was frozen with fear as the dark shape approached the bed and grew larger and he was unable to make a sound, as if his mouth were atrophied with stupor and his tongue numb!
The next morning Mr. Danbury-Wethers failed to come down to breakfast and when the maid went to his chamber she found the contorted body of the young scholar half in bed and half out, his face white and twisted with terror in some obscene grimace of death, the bed sheets pulled around him, whereon she screamed and rushed from the room in search of Doctor Prichard who was shocked to discover the dead body of his guest James Danbury-Wethers. He deduced that the unfortunate young man had succumbed to some ‘night palsy’ and being weak of heart had died in his sleep, although not peacefully by the look upon his face. Finding his journal, Dr. Pritchard read his last entry, dated Sunday 23rd December 1877, which simply said ‘I must pull myself together!’
Word of the young man’s death was sent to his friend Mr Ernest Pridhey M.A. in the following letter which was dated Thursday 27th December 1887:

Abington Abbey,

Dear Mr. Pridhey,

I hope you do not mind my writing to you in this way as your name was the only name listed in a recovered address book and it is with very deep sadness and regret that I must inform you of the death of Mr. James Danbury-Wethers. James had been a guest at the Abbey since 18th December where he wished to further his researches into the history of the occupants of the Manor in the 17th and 18th Cent. In fact, it became quite an obsession for young Mr. Danbury-Wethers and we spent much time in discussions upon the subject – he was certainly a very remarkable and headstrong young man and prone somewhat to jump to conclusions of his own in reference to historical facts without the proper evidence! I did try to dissuade him from his digging into history as I saw in him the beginnings of a strange mania which I have often encountered and in many cases has proved fatal. The deceased died peacefully in his sleep on Monday night (Christmas Eve), the result of a weak heart and stress from overwork. Prior to this it seems he had burnt all his papers and research work which is an odd thing to do and it is my opinion that his mind was on the threshold of distinctly becoming irretrievably unbalanced – he was seeing ‘ghosts’ in his room and complained of hearing noises at the Abbey, the undistinguishable voices of souls long departed. I am unaware if the deceased has any family members to be informed and arrangements are being made as to his funeral. Please respond as to any particulars I should be aware of in this matter concerning Mr. Danbury-Wethers’ remains, (his few possessions shall be kept here at the Abbey until I am advised as to the collection of his artefacts). It is such a loss but Mr. Danbury-Wethers would insist on buried secrets, which often have a habit of finding their way to the surface, being disturbed.

I am sir,
Your obedient servant

Dr. Thomas Prichard.

News of the fatality came as a great shock to his colleagues and pupils at the school and it is to be hoped that the gentle reader will also feel something for the loss of a young man ‘brimming with enthusiasm’ for his peculiar matters in history.
Dear reader, having the benefit of hindsight and the advantage of time at our disposal we know that Doctor Thomas Prichard had the good sense to die on Valentine’s Day in 1878 disclosing something of his undiscovered romantic flair one may say. The Abbey passed to his brother Henry Shutt Prichard who conveniently died in 1892 just as the lease expired on the Abbey and the asylum closed its doors the same year. Lewis Loyd had bought the house as an investment for his son Samuel Jones Loyd (1796-1883): Lord Overstone and it thus passed to Lord Overstone’s daughter upon his death, Harriet Sarah Loyd (1837-1920): Lady Wantage who in turn donated it and its grounds to the good people of Northampton and still the mulberry tree grows in the grounds of Abington Abbey, now Abington Park!

A Few Notes to Consider:


  1. Statement of Cases Treated at Abington Abbey, near Northampton, during 1853 by Thomas Prichard, published 1854. From this publication we can see that during 1853 there were 36 inmates at the Abbey, 17 men and 19 women; there was the usual propensity towards suicide and there were 3 deaths: 1 man and 2 women.
  2. Five witches were indeed hanged at Abington gallows on 22nd July 1612, namely: Agnes Browne of Guilsborough, Joan Browne (or Vaughan), daughter of Agnes, of Guilsborough, Arthur Bill of Raunds, Helen Jenkenson of Thrapston and Mary Barber of Stanwick.
  3. Thomas Prichard, University of Glasgow M.D. 1844, F.R.C.P. Edinburgh 1855. M.R.C.P. London 1860. See also ‘Statistical Report of the cases of Insanity treated in the Public Lunatic Asylums of Scotland for the year 1845-46 by Thomas Prichard M.D. Superintendent at the Glasgow Royal Asylum for Lunatics [from the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, number 171] 1846.
  4. Reverend Lewis Haig Loyd, Rector of Abington from 1869-1877, husband of Emily Harriet, he died at Eastbourne on 4th August 1905.
  5. The celebrated authority on William Shakespeare, Mr. James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-1889), the book referred to is his ‘A Garland of Shakespeariana’. 1849.
  6. John Bernard (23rd August 1604-5th March 1674), eldest son of Baldwin Bernard (1554-1610). John’s first wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Clement Edmondes (1568-1622) and they had four sons and four daughters. For a history of the Bernard or Barnard family see: ‘The Bernards of Abington and Nether Winchendon – A Family History’ by Sophia Elizabeth Higgins (in 2 volumes) published 1903.
  7. Judith Shakespeare was the youngest daughter of William Shakespeare and she married Thomas Quiney on 10th February 1616, a marriage by all accounts that was far from perfect: her three sons all died unmarried!
  8. It is recorded that one ‘patient, prior to admission, contrived to mutilate himself with a knife, and inflicted upwards of a hundred wounds upon his person. His left arm was crimped, as it were, with gashes, from the shoulder to the wrist. He had attempted to cut off his toes, and had stabbed himself in about twenty places. He was labouring under religious ecstasia at the time, and was under the impression that he could work miracles. He also imagined that he conversed with spirits, and that they held communication with him, telling him what he was to do.’ [p. 13. Statistical Report of Cases of Insanity Treated at Abington Abbey, Northampton, from January 1st, 1854, to December 31st, 1858 by Thomas Prichard, published 1859] From the same publication we are told that of the 88 patients treated between 1st January 1854 and 31st December 1858, 43 were men and 45 were women; 30 were dismissed or recovered (13 men and 17 women) and 1 woman ‘escaped’. Of the deaths 2 were men and 3 were women and of the 61 who were dismissed in total 25 were men and 36 were women. There were 27 patients remaining for treatment on 1st January 1859 – 18 men and 27 women!

Sunday, 3 December 2017







The sky above the Athenian hills was awake with an unearthly glow as the hour of gathering approached for the woods were bathed in a wondrously soft moonlight and entering these woods, beneath the bright milky haze of the full moon, were four youths who walked tall and stately, their beauty just discernible under the shade of the tree canopy that stirred not, for there was no breeze to interrupt the joyous occasion, a breeze which would have been welcomed for the summer heat seemed interminable. The four boys came upon a glade where a moonlit pool reflected the stars; it was a place to which they often came to linger and to talk during the hours of darkness when sleep was not forthcoming. Here they would bathe or lounge upon the soft crushed grass and meadow flowers and talk easy amongst the bower of friendship where little is lost in understanding and meaning, for they each in their own way wore the delicate mask of beauty and their lithe limbs rested from the soothing caresses of the Gods. As they approached the pool, Hylas who was one of the beautiful figures, suddenly said to the others:
‘By the heel of Achilles! If it isn’t our young mad fool Cissus making love to himself at the waterside!’ The other three youths looked round and there at the side of the pool was Narcissus, staring at his own moonlit reflection in the water with a deep and untiring passion.
‘Hush my friends, for I cannot be disturbed tonight; hush, that my eyes may gather the intricacies of my own beauty!’ said Narcissus.
‘Look Hylas,’ said Adonis, ‘see how he is unbroken by his own fair features! Surely he has ingested the milk of madness!’
‘Aye, or he is under some bewitchment!’ uttered Ganymede, ‘let us leave him to his moonlight and magic!’ he continued, and the four youths who by now we have learnt the names of three of them, being Hylas, Adonis, and Ganymede walked with the fourth, who was Hyacinthus, to the opposite side of the pool where they would not disturb poor Narcissus in his un-satiated hunger for his own reflection.
‘It is a wonder this pool does not dry up with shame to have such startling beauty beside it!’ laughed Adonis, who quickly sat down after removing his burdensome peplos which fell to the ground and he stretched his young vibrant limbs upon the cool grass to look up at the stars.
‘That’s what I love about you Adonis, your raging vanity!’ said Ganymede, and they all laughed as the four muscular youths, youths I might add who had not touched upon that fatal and destructive age of twenty, sat close in the bonds of a deep brotherhood of friendship beside the refreshingly cool and tranquil water, their naked bodies appearing as if made by moonlight, devouring the gentle chill from the water to escape the heat of the night.
‘By the cruel and artful lips of Aphrodite! Ganymede, have you been in battle for your body is covered in wounds and bruises?’ Adonis said with a wild look of concern, and indeed the beautiful body of Ganymede was covered in dark bruises which bloomed like roses upon his soft flesh.
‘Fear not my young friend for I do not wear the marks of battle but the marks of seduction which some say are of a similar kind!’ Ganymede answered, smiling.
‘If these are marks of love you wear recorded upon your young body Gan, then mighty Zeus walks with heavy hands upon your tender frame my friend!’ remarked Hylas.
‘Perhaps you should consider purchasing the armour of Achilles for protection!’ nudged a smirking Hyacinthus; ‘and perhaps’ continued Adonis, ‘if you were not born so fearfully handsome you would not stir the virile ardour’s and lustful glances of Zeus into a frenzy of wanton desire hammered upon your beautiful body!’
‘He must have the stamina and constitution of a Cretan bull!’ laughed Adonis, embracing Ganymede tenderly and stroking his downcast face which brightened by the show of affection.
As the companions lay by the pool in silence Ganymede sighed and trailed his hand in the water, raised it over him and let the glistening droplets fall lovingly upon his breast and trickle over his arched throat.
‘By the eyes and ears of Zeus!’ said Ganymede, ‘I see over on the yonder bank bushes twitching, perhaps some stranger feasts upon us?’ and they all looked in the direction to which Ganymede intimated except Adonis who did not have the energy or the same compulsion to open his eyes and he lay still upon his back upon the grass. As the others looked they failed to see anything in the bushes and said so –
‘You are mistaken Gan, there is nothing there!’ said Hylas.
‘Perhaps the moonlight and these forest shapes fool your eyes my friend!’ Hyacinthus said quite lovingly.
‘No I am sure I saw something… Look there!’ Ganymede shouted, ‘do you see now?’ and the others, once again excluding Adonis who was too busy mentally exercising his beauty, looked, and this time they agreed that they could see the bushes twitching and some outline of a man.
‘’Tis only some greybeard with balding pate come to admire and feast upon our naked beauty!’ whispered Hyacinthus, ‘eyes of much longing and un-satiated desires never to be fulfilled!’
‘No Cinthus, for I feel some strange foreboding’ said Ganymede, ‘you remember the story of Actaeon whose lascivious eyes poured upon the naked beauty of Diana bathing and he was turned into a stag and hunted and devoured by his own hounds!’ continued Ganymede excitedly.
‘I shall never grow up to become some wretched greybeard spying upon youths in bushes!’ said Adonis, who had finished counting his own beauty and conjuring some quite unremarkable penetrations.
‘I think the moon has induced some glamour for it is obvious to me and to every inhabitant of this wood that the stranger is none other than my beloved Heracles come to watch over his precious squire!’ Hylas said with his eyes half drawn as if trying to discern fully the contours of the stranger.
‘No, I think you will find it is my own masterful lover, Apollo, come to mindfully make love to the moonlit vision of his own desirable Cin!’ said Hyacinthus stroking his thigh as if in sympathy with his master’s will!
‘You are both mistaken, for I am quite sure, in fact, never more sure that it is my own loving God and master Zeus whom I serve diligently and ardently who comes swift-footed as Hermes through woods to gaze upon the noble and handsome face of his beloved boy!’ said Ganymede, as if not to be outdone.
‘But there, he retires, and that splash tells me he goes to swim and cool arduous thoughts and thyrsus in the small pool beyond the footbridge!’ said Hylas. ‘Perhaps it would be sporting to remove and hide his chiton and sandals for a measure of laughter!’ added Ganymede to which Hyacinthus swiftly answered that it may bring upon them some infernal torment while the moon of Hecate lies full to her enchantment. Hylas then shouted to Narcissus –
‘Cissus, are you not afraid that Echo should happen upon your supine beauty in these woods?’ but Narcissus did not answer Hylas, so Hylas took a pebble and threw it into the water near to him, splash! Narcissus was furious that Hylas should do such a thing and disturb and frighten away the beautiful object of his love, namely his own reflection – ‘By the liver of Prometheus! May you be strangled by the testicals of a hog Hylas!’ shouted Narcissus.
‘Your sword grows rusty from lack of proper use!’ Hylas responded, ‘it could yet still win you many battles and gain you many hearts!’
‘Quiet my squawking goose-footed friends!’ Ganaymede said jovially, ‘see Cissus, the affectionate contours of your sweet love approaches once more!’ and the pool was calm again like a mirror as the reflection was perfectly still and steady once more. And Narcissus returned to his gloomy despondency.
‘By the foamy balls of Poseidon! Hark! Adonis snores!’ whispered Hyacinthus and they all listened affectionately at the boy’s soft sounds of sleep.
‘He does not struggle much in the arms of Hypnus and falls easy into his grasp!’ Ganymede declared.
‘Ah, how like Endymion he is!’ declared Hylas, ‘perhaps Selene has put a sleep spell upon him that she may steal a kiss without his knowing?’ Hylas continued with a twinkle in his eyes, saying that such strong magic can ‘only be overcome by a truthful and faithful lover willing to die in seducing the sleeper from the realm of dreams!’
‘Let us see!’ suggested Ganymede, who moved closer and put his soft lips upon the fair mouth of Adonis who suddenly woke with a start to see the handsome features of Ganymede pressed so close to him – ‘Gan, I am not altogether displeased but perhaps you could have the decency to wait until I am awake next time but I must remind you that your lips are betrothed to Zeus and must remain so!’ and they all laughed.
‘You must forgive Gan dear Adonis for with his eternal youth and immortality bestowed upon him by Zeus he grows ever bold!’ Hylas said touching the soft hairless arm of Adonis, ‘and besides,’ he continued, ‘being once a boy who tended sheep he thought for once he should be a wolf!’ and amid the laughter Hyacinthus interjected – ‘a she-wolf, for they are the most feared of all!’ and Hylas spoke once more saying how the wild wolves were abroad this night with the triple-bodied ‘Goddess of the Underworld, Hecate presiding over us!’ Ganymede took it in his stride and pretended to howl at the moon and claw at the magnificent and muscular torso of Adonis with a crazed look in his eyes, to which Adonis pretended to swoon and show fear.
‘Careful Adonis, your girlish ways may bring our inquisitive visitor upon us once more!’ whispered Hylas.
‘Not a fearful wolf but a sly old fox, a mangy vixen who gathers the pox!’ shouted Narcissus from across the water whose lissom body lay motionless like a sumptuous meal prepared by the Gods, spooned over with buttered moonlight, who had overheard the proceedings and joviality, and they all roared with laughter together with a deep and sonorous laughter that rang through the woods which spoke of the eternal bond of boyhood which amongst the mischief and moonlight sang sweeter than the love of Gods for mortals! Ganymede was used to such gentle teasing and humour and took it in good stead, for knowing Gan’s fear of eagles for such was the bird (who was really Zeus in disguise) that abducted him from Mount Ida to take him to Olympus to be the cup-bearer of Zeus, supplanting Hebe in that role, that on many occasions the other three youths would shout out ‘Eagle!’ to joyously see poor Ganymede fall to the floor and cover his head with utter terror! Ganymede was very handsome, some say that he was the most beautiful boy in all of Greece and perhaps upon the face of the earth to which the other youths would disagree and declare their own interests and claims for that highly-prized position. Such Dionysian delights occupied the young boys and Ganymede was forever the butt of many a joke and tender moment of teasing –
‘You must be tired dear Gan, that cup must become very weary and tiresome to carry filled with wine which you spill more of than pour into the loving mouth of great Zeus to quench his eternal thirst for the grape!’ said Hylas with more than a hint of sarcasm, concluding with a remark concerning Ganymede being worth little more than ‘two white horses’ which is what Zeus gave to his father Tros as a sort of payment for the handsome fellow the God took a fancy to!
‘Yes’ added Hyacinthus, ‘those arms of yours have become sturdy and have the strength of two dozen angry swans at their command! I should think good and noble Zeus the happiest of Gods to find those limbs of tree-like girth matched only by the eye-watering and unnatural circumference of the heavenly member of Priapus twisted around him!’
‘By the great helmet of Hades!’ declared Ganymede, ‘it’s not easy being cup-bearer to Zeus to which you freely make jest of as a fool’s errand for the role permits me to carry the wine but taste of it nothing, except the small amounts I spill upon my hands lest my fingers become sticky and stained!’
‘By the lips of Aphrodite! We know the tribulations of your role Gan and only make sport of it for amusement in the highest light of our love and admiration for you!’ Adonis said with a look in his eyes which echoed the eyes of Hylas and Hyacinthus as if to say – ‘we are one and all beyond ordinary mortal shame for our beautiful innocence knows no guilt or regret and the love we share is endless and unbreakable!’ and then there was silence between the young and beautiful boys which fell upon them like a great sheet, wrapping them in the soft moonlight and the haunting shadows of the woods which moved about with ease around the pool, as if figures walked in endless procession in mournful silence, a silence which was broken by Ganymede declaring softly that he ‘didn’t care if he ever saw another cup of foaming wine ever again!’ and a gesture of reassurance was give to Ganymede by Hylas who touched him light and tenderly, saying ‘at least you are loved my precious friend, for I am forever wasting my delicate words and passionate glances beneath the shadow of Polystratus who fell in battle against the Molionidae and whom my beloved Heracles devoted and poured his love upon – he even cut off his hair at the loss of such a love, a love which still torments him and leaves me drowning in despair!’ and Ganymede could see a tear in Hylas’s eye.
‘Perhaps you should take an uncouth lover and live a life of gaiety?’ commented Adonis.
‘That is a great testament of love indeed poor Hylas!’ said Narcissus, ‘and it reminds me of the love of Orpheus for Eurydice. But I never understood why Orpheus looked back upon his wife’s form behind him when he was so near to winning her freedom from Hades! If he had been blessed with wisdom, he should have taken a leaf from the book of Perseus who used the polished shield of Athena to look at the reflection of the Medusa; if not a shield then a sword would have done just as well I should say, but who am I to suggest such refineries to tales of old!’
‘I would trade all my beauty for an ounce of real love!’ said Hyacinthus, ‘I have come close to adding vitriol to my perfect complexion!’ he continued in a less audible tone for fear of invoking pity, but the radiant eyes of all were on him, eyes which declared that Hyacinthus should never be alone and never be unloved while he has the arm of friendship around him!
Hyacinthus looked across the undisturbed water of the pool and met the moonlit mannequin that was Narcissus who still gazed wondrously and affectionately at his own reflection as if he were a waterside flower nodding towards its watery image while on the opposite bank of the pool, Hyacinthus felt for all the world as if he were a flower too, struck by a powerful spell which held him to the caress of moonlight and left his form changed and incomplete. Hylas thought about the great love of Achilles and Patroclus and closed his eyes with a terrible wonder that thundered through his soft and desirable body while Adonis simply closed his eyes and fell to dreaming of a wild boar to which he chased throughout the woods like some mighty Pan in pursuit of fevered love!