Enquiry into an accidental death in building an anchorhold

In June 1488, a worker, John Ferres, was killed while doing demolition work on a house being renovated for the enclosure of an anchorite, a person who for spiritual reasons chose to live enclosed in a cell attached to a church, in this case an unspecified church dedicated to St Botulph in London. The testimony focuses on the circumstances that caused the worker’s death, but also shed some light on how the cells themselves were constructed and renovated. The last deposition, by William Mendham, who hired and managed the constructed crew, suggests possibly that the anchorite was Mendham’s own mother (though his and the other testimony is unclear).

LMA, MS DL/C/A/001/MS09065B, fols. 12v-13r, 16r.

Testimony of Richard Orme, 17 Jun. 1488

Richard Orme, tiler, of the parish of St. Botulph[1] of the city of London. He says that this witness was hired by a certain Mendham and Harrison to remove the tiles from the roof of that house because, as Mendham told him he had heard, the lord Bishop of London through his Official wanted to enclose an anchorite woman in the house on the following day. He [Mendham] agreed with this witness to give him two nobles for his work, and gave him in partial payment 12d. And afterwards this witness after the middle of the night removed tiles from the house. And he hired Henry Pole to help him and while they were working, along came three of Harrison’s servants, by his orders as he heard, Thomas Godeale, John Almayn, William Newport, John Bower of Reading [Berkshire], and many others whom he cannot now recall. They dragged to that house a certain cabull[2] and there this witness together with those persons and others, as many as twenty altogether, violently cast down the tiles and the upper part of the house. And he says that this agreement was made about 11 p.m. of the feast,[3] in the house of Robert a Lye, by Mendham and Harrison, there being present those two, Henry Pole, and the landlady of the house, and at the time of the agreement, Mendham said, “Take down the tiles and set them in the gutter and I will bear thee out [if] it cost me 100 pounds.” And he says that after they had torn down the roof and the upper part of the house, this witness and the others left and went to drink. And afterwards John Ferres swore that he would tear down the rest of the house and with a great hammer, he tore down the rest of the house, and thereby he was killed.

Testimony of Thomas Goodeale, 25 Jun. 1488

25 June

Thomas Godeale, examined, acknowledged and admitted that on the feast of Corpus Christi [5 June] last past, a certain Mendham sent for him to his house, and when he came there Mendham asked him if he would go with him and that he would be rewarded for his labour. And Thomas Godeale, indicating his willingness, left with Mendham and went to the cemetery of St. Botulph. There this witness saw many men dragging the cable to bring it to the house, and this witness, at the order of Mendham, went over to those who were dragging it, and together with them he dragged the cable and with force they broke down the top part of the house, as he says.

Testimony of William Mendham, 15 Jul. 1488

15 July

William Mendham, sworn, questioned, and examined, that on the last feast of Corpus Christi [5 June], this witness hired Richard Orme to tear down [tiles] from an anchorite’s house so that it could serve as the enclosure for an anchorite to be enclosed by the lord bishop of London, until he could obtain grace from the lord king and the lord bishop of London to obtain a house for his mother, to be enclosed there and all others to be excluded.[4] And he agreed to 1[… s.] 4d with the tiler, and for the sake of earnest money he gave him 12 [d]. And he was present in the night together with Harrison when the tiles were taken down, and he ordered them that in no way should they demolish [the house], and he left them, and in the morning he heard that one of them was killed in the demolition of the house, concerning which he greatly grieved, as he says.

[1] Unclear which one: there were four different parishes of St. Botulph in the city of London.

[2] Cabull: could mean cable, a large rope; possibly could be capul or caple, a horse (OED, s.v. cable and caple).

[3] The other testimony suggests this was the feast of Corpus Christi, 5 June 1488.

[4] This is unclear: was Mendham’s mother the anchorite?

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