TALES OF TRING
If you walk up the side of the church towards the front you will see a small door next to the pulpit (it’s locked!), and then if you look up to the top of the arch, another little door set high up into the wall. There are steps inside the pillar leading from the door at the bottom to the one at the top and several hundred years ago the staircase led to the Rood-loft, which was a sort of platform from which the priest could make important announcements or read from the Bible.
The Rood itself was a large cross which was fixed so everyone in the church could see it – we have a painted version on the wall still. Below the rood-loft was the rood-screen, which divided the most holy bits of the church (the chancel) from the bit where ordinary people were allowed (the nave).
The area of the church around the altar is sometimes called the sanctuary and until 1623 criminals had the right to be protected from arrest for 40 days if they could just get into a church. Furthermore, the people who lived near the church had to provide food for the crooks until the 40 days were over! In 1751 an elderly Tring couple, John and Ruth Osborne, were accused of witchcraft and tried to take sanctuary in the church, but after a mob had taken the Governor prisoner and threatened to burn down the whole town, they were dragged out to be ducked at the pond in Wilstone.
THE GORE MEMORIAL
Sir William Gore was probably bald. His wig would have been made of human hair, most likely from a corpse. In 1665, during the Plague, Samuel Pepys was too scared to wear his new wig, because he thought the hair might have come from someone who had died of the disease and, when the fashion for wigs was at its height, there were even rumours that people were murdered especially to get their hair!
Wigs also had to be sent to be cleaned because they got nits, although important people would have more than one wig. Someone like Sir William Gore was officially a ‘big wig’ because he is wearing a large wig made from lots of hair, showing everyone who saw him that he was very wealthy.
For women like Lady Gore, small waists were considered a sign of beauty and the lady of fashion was supposed to be able to span her waist with her hands. Lady Gore probably also has a piece of wood, called a busk, pushed into a pocket at the front of her corset so that her chest looks flat.
WITCHES, MURDER & RETRIBUTION
In April 1751, John Butterfield, the publican of the Black Horse in Gubblecote accused Old Mother Osborne and her husband John of witchcraft: she had allegedly made his cows ill and made him suffer from fits – and all because he had once refused to give her some buttermilk!
Anonymous letters were written to the town criers in Leighton (Buzzard), (Hemel) Hempstead and elsewhere to announce a trial by ducking at Long Marston on the 22nd. A large crowd gathered and the accused couple were taken by the parish officers from the Tring Workhouse to the church for sanctuary.
Unable to find them at first, the mob smashed the windows and demolished part of the Workhouse; they seized the Governor and threatened to burn down the town! As the threat was very real, the poor couple, both over 70, were eventually given up to the mob and dragged to the pond at Wilstone where they were tied in sacking and ducked under: Ruth was soon dead and her husband died later.
At the coroner’s inquest 30 men were found guilty of murder and one, Thomas Colley, sentenced to death. In August 1751 he was taken from gaol in Hertford to Gubblecote Cross with an escort of nearly 120 cavalrymen to ensure sentence was carried out – local people were certainly on his side for having rid them of a witch. Nevertheless, he was hanged and his body left on the gibbet for some years – as a lesson to all.
Before he died, the minister of Tring read out Colley’s dying declaration, expressing his penitence and rejection of his belief in witchcraft.
But there are still tales of a large black dog haunting Gubblecote Cross…
Stand in the middle of the church and look up. You will see lots of strange looking animals crawling down the wall. These are called corbels and date from the medieval period. Try to spot the monkey which is dressed to look like a medieval priest or monk and is carrying what looks like a bottle. In the 21st century we think of priests as being very holy people, but in the Middle Ages monks were often shown as being fat and greedy (think of Friar Tuck and Robin Hood).
Monks were supposed to give up their money and live a simple life. They could not get married, had to wear simple robes of coarse cloth and spend lots of their time praying. However, when Chaucer wrote ‘The Canterbury Tales’ about a group of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury and the stories they told each other to pass the time, he described his monk as riding a horse, like a wealthy man. Chaucer’s monk also wears a rich robe trimmed with fur and he has a gold pin from his girlfriend! The Tring monkey is probably another example of medieval people making fun of hypocritical monks and priests.
Going back to the Gore family: in about 1715 William Gore, the son of Sir William ‘Big Wig’ Gore decided to do a ‘Changing Rooms’ makeover on the church and had all of the church pillars painted to look like blue marble by Italian workmen. The pillars were blue for over 100 years until the vicar, Charles Lacey, decided he couldn’t stand the fake marble effect any more and paid somebody to paint them white.
And remember the Tumultuous Tringons, who threatened to burn everything down in 1751: the people of Tring in Charles Lacey’s day also got upset that they had lost their blue pillars. An angry mob gathered outside the church and did not leave until they were told it wouldn’t cost them anything as he was paying, although we presume they actually liked the change when they saw it as there is no record of any further grumbling.