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Dear Reader #130

Dear Reader,

My latest translation by Nelmari, the Afrikaans version of Sam’s Song. Available soon 🙂

My latest genealogy article appears on page 48 of the Seaside News.

Another scene familiar to my London ancestors, High Street, Camden Town, c1890.

This week saw the longest game in World Chess Championship history, 136 moves. Eventually, Magnus Carlsen’s rook, knight and two pawns proved too strong for Ian Nepomniachtchi’s queen. Carlsen currently leads the fourteen game series 4 – 3.

Arranging our Christmas decorations with the usual suspects 🌲

I’ve traced the Gadsden branch of my family back to 1086 and the Doomsday Book. At that time the name was recorded as Gatesdene. The family were living in Hertfordshire. Maybe they arrived with William the Conqueror, or shortly after. That said some sources suggest that the name Gadsden has English origins relating to ‘valley’.

A page from the Doomsday Book

The early Gadsdens were well-to-do, landowners who relative to the times enjoyed comfortable lifestyles. For most branches of the family this pattern continued into the nineteenth century.

The Gadsdens mixed with the nobility and moved in royal circles. An example: John of Gadsden was a physician to Edward II and Edward III, the first Englishman to hold that appointment. John wrote a book, Rosa Anglica, the first English textbook on medicine, which compiled the medical knowledge of his age. 

It is believed that John of Gadsden was familiar with the method of distilling fresh water from saltwater. This process, desalination, was thought to be a modern discovery.

Some of John of Gadsden’s contemporaries regarded him as a genius, the ‘brightest man of his age’. He was a philosopher, a philologist, a poet, he was skilled at manual operations and bone-setting, and he was a great oculist. He was skilled at physiognomy and wrote a treatise on chiromancy. A great dealer in ‘secrets’, he also performed ‘miracles’.

John’s greatest skill was in concocting ‘receipts’, potions. However, some people doubted his wisdom and regarded him as a superstitious quack. His doubters accused him of ‘laying baits’ for the delicate, the ladies and the rich. 

When small pox afflicted Edward II’s son, the future Edward III, the king called for John of Gadsden. John’s ‘prescription’ was to dress his patient in scarlet and ensure that everything about the sickbed was made of scarlet. John worked on the ‘sympathetic’ concept, which stated that the colour red cured inflammation. Quackery or not, the king’s son duly recovered ‘without a mark on his face’.

John wrote his book, Rosa Anglica, while resident at Merton College, Oxford. The source of his material stemmed from the Arabians and the moderns ‘who had written in Latin just before him’. His book was an encyclopaedia of all his potions and it offers an insight into the medical practices of the day, as applied to the nobility and common people.

The preface to Rosa Anglica

John wrote ‘Rosa Anglica, or Practical Medicine From Head to Foot’, between 1304 and 1317. His book contained four tracts on urine (a key to medieval medical diagnosis and treatment). The original manuscript was owned by All Souls College, Oxford, a leading centre of medical studies in Europe during the fifteenth century.

In his preface to ‘Rosa Anglica’ John wrote, ‘Just as the rose excels among flowers this book excels among textbooks on practical medicine.’ Clearly, he didn’t suffer from undue modesty.

John found time to be prebendary of St Paul’s. He also held theological posts at Chipping Norton and Chichester. Chaucer knew of him and mentioned him as the ‘Doctor of Physik’.

So, was John of Gadsden a genius or a quack? I suspect that he was a bit of both. Here’s an example of his quackery, a cure for toothache. John recommended that you should extract a tooth by smothering it with the fat from a dead green tree frog, cow dung or partridge brain. For the tooth to grow back, you should apply the brain of a hare to the gums. Clearly, this was nonsense and liable to do more harm than good. Yet, editions of his book were published in 1502 and 1595, and for centuries read throughout Europe.

A dentist with silver forceps and a necklace of large teeth, extracting a tooth c1365.

Many of John’s methods were based on superstition while others were crude. However, whether through luck or good judgment he formed a formidable reputation. 

John was a man of his time. Thankfully, over the centuries we have made advances in medicine. But we should also consider that future generations will look back on us and reckon that some of our methods were based on quackery and that they were crude.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #126

Dear Reader,

Some chart news. Operation Zigzag, book one in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series, is #1 on the Amazon charts while Operation Cameo, which I’m currently writing, is a #34 hot new release. Many thanks to all my readers for making this possible.

Through Ellen, born c1320, daughter and heiress of Sir Gilbert Strongbow, I’ve added a Strongbow branch to my family tree. I wonder if this entitles me to free cider 🤔

As mentioned above, Operation Cameo is now available for pre-order. You can find full details here https://www.amazon.com/Operation-Cameo-Eves-Heroines-Book-ebook/dp/B09K82MQNY/

A view familiar to my London ancestors, the Strand looking west towards Trafalgar Square, 1890.

Just asked my youngest son, “What do you want for Christmas?”

“A skeleton.” (He’s thinking of becoming a doctor).

“Where are we going to keep it?”

“The front room.”

Welcome to the Addams family.

In this month’s issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads…

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Joanna Penn interviewed by Wendy H Jones

Plus…Art, Author Resources, Flash Fiction, New Releases, Photography, Poetry, Puzzles, Recipes, Travel and so much more!

The son of Zephaniah Thorpe and Margaret Entwistle, my direct ancestor Ralph Thorpe was baptised on 14 March 1753 in Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire.

A warper, a common trade in Lancashire with its proliferation of cotton mills, Ralph moved south in the early 1780s and plied his trade in Essex and Norfolk.

A cotton warper oversaw the industrial process of winding threads from various bobbins on to a warp beam, which had one large bobbin at the back of the loom containing all the warp threads. These threads would gradually unwind during the weaving process, producing the cloth. Warping was the second stage of cotton cloth production, following winding.

A warping machine. Image: Wikipedia.

On 9 December 1783, Ralph married Mary Wakefield in Wanstead, Essex. The couple produced six children including my direct ancestor Thomas Thorpe who, on 9 October 1814, married Mary Ann Freeman and settled in Essex.

Mary Wakefield died on 25 February 1796. A few months later Ralph spent some time in St Thomas’ Hospital, London. That the couple were ill at roughly the same time suggests that they were affected by a transmittable disease. One possibility was smallpox.

Ironically, that same year, 1796, Edward Jenner demonstrated that an infection with the relatively mild cowpox virus conferred immunity against the deadly smallpox virus. His research was crucial in the development of the smallpox vaccine, the first effective vaccine against a contagious disease.

Painting by Ernest Board. Dr Edward Jenner performing his first vaccination on eight year old James Phipps, 14 May 1796.

St Thomas’ Hospital originated as an Augustinian infirmary in the twelfth century and was dissolved in 1540. In 1551 the hospital was refounded by royal charter and functioned as a general hospital for the sick-poor, including sufferers of venereal disease. 

Endowments gave St Thomas’ a degree of financial security. Nevertheless, they still charged patients admission fees, a policy that was condemned by the hospital’s critics for limiting the ability of the very poor to access its services.

A central court of governors governed the hospital and they could number over two hundred. These governors were wealthy individuals who gifted £50 each to the hospital.

Old St Thomas’ Hospital, Southwark, 1739. Image: The Wellcome Library.

The original St Thomas’s Hospital survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. However, upgrades were needed and between 1693 and 1720 more than £37,000 was raised in order to create an elegant classical structure around three spacious courtyards. The rebuilt hospital had nineteen wards, including two foule wards for venereal patients and a cutting ward with room for more than 400 patients. Male and female patients were strictly segregated, as were the venereal patients.

The medical staff included physicians, surgeons and an apothecary, who was not allowed to marry or run a private practice. The nursing staff included a matron, sisters and nurses. The sisters and their nurses lived in the hospital and had to be single or widowed. 

St Thomas’ catered for patients with a wide range of medical and surgical conditions although they did exclude people classed as ‘incurable’ or ‘insane’. Patients were not allowed to stay longer than three months, after which time they were deemed incurable. Ralph left St Thomas’ Hospital on 9 June 1796. Therefore, he must have entered a month or so after Mary died.

St Thomas’ Hospital treated large numbers of patients. In 1800 the total number of inpatients was more than 3,200 with a further 4,700 outpatients. In wartime the patients were often supplemented by large numbers of wounded soldiers and sailors.

‘Taking Physic’. Image: The Trustees of the British Museum.

The death rates at St Thomas’ were relatively low, although it must be remembered that the hospital did not admit ‘incurable’ patients. In 1726, 4,873 patients were cured while 392 died, a mortality rate of 7.4 percent. In 1735, 4,688 patients were cured while 307 died, a mortality rate of 6.1 per cent. This pattern of mortality rates continued throughout the century.

The patients could be disruptive with harassment, petty theft and ‘ward wandering’ reported. Some patients ran away before the completion of their treatment, especially venereal patients who were subjected to the deeply unpleasant and extremely painful mercury-based ‘salivation’ therapies.

Having recovered, but without his wife, Ralph returned to Bolton-le-Moors where, on 23 January 1803, he married Mary Holden. Ralph died on 28 August 1826 in Bolton-le-Moors.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

#1 for value with 565,000 readers, The Fussy Librarian has helped my books to reach #1 on 32 occasions.

A special offer from my publisher and the Fussy Librarian. https://authors.thefussylibrarian.com/?ref=goylake

Don’t forget to use the code goylake20 to claim your discount 🙂

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #106

Dear Reader,

Where there’s a will there’s a murder, and my 12 x great grandfather Thomas Brereton (born 1555) was implicated 😱 The case reached the Star Chamber, who produced a report covering 106 large sheets of parchment. Was Thomas innocent or guilty? More research required…

My latest translation, the Portuguese version of A Parcel of Rogues.

My 7 x great grandfather Sandford Brereton was a Norwegian rug maker in Cheshire in the 1730s. Here’s a design from that period. I shall endeavour to discover how he became involved in that trade.

A scene familiar to my London ancestors, London Bridge looking north to south, 1890.

Many of my Welsh ancestors were agricultural labourers. A local view, taken today, and an image they would be familiar with.

The Dent branch of my family dates back to Sir Roger Dent, born in 1438, a Sheriff of Newcastle in the north-east of England. The line continued through his son, also Sir Roger and a Sheriff of Newcastle, to Robert, William, James and Peter until we arrive in the seventeenth century with the birth of my 12 x great grandfather the Rev Peter James Dent.

Peter was born in 1600 in Ormesby, Yorkshire. In 1624, he married Margaret Nicholson the daughter of the Rev John Nicholson of Hutton Cranswick in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Margaret was baptised on 8 March 1602 at Horton in Ribblesdale, Yorkshire.

The couple had five children:

William, my direct ancestor, born 1627

Peter, born 1629

Thomas, born 1631

George, born 1633

Stephen, born 1635

Dorothy, born 1637

In 1659, Thomas emigrated to Maryland with his cousin John Dent and his nephew Nicholas Proddy.

The Rev Peter James Dent was a Professor of Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and practiced medicine as an apothecary.

An apothecary. Image: Science Museum.

In addition to dispensing herbs and medicines, an apothecary offered general medical advice and a range of services that nowadays are performed by specialist practitioners. They prepared and sold medicines, often with the help of wives and family members. In the seventeenth century, they also controlled the distribution of tobacco, which was imported as a medicine.

Medicinal recipes included herbs, minerals and animal fats that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or used as aromatherapy. Some of the concoctions are similar to the natural remedies we use today. 

Along with chamomile, fennel, mint, garlic and witch hazel, which are still deemed acceptable, apothecaries used urine, fecal matter, earwax, human fat and saliva, ingredients discredited by modern science.

Experimentation was the name of the game. Detailed knowledge of chemistry and chemical properties was sketchy, but if something worked, such as drinking coffee to cure a headache, it became the elixir of the day.

A page from the Voynich Manuscript a book, possibly, used by apothecaries.

Peter left a Will, which I include here in his own words, for they offer a great insight into his life and times.

In the name of the Lord God my heavenly father and of Jesus Christ my sweet Saviour and Redeemer, Amen.

I, Peter Dent of Gisbrough in the County of York, apothecary, being in health and perfect memory, blessed be the name of God, doe make this my last will and testament the ffifth day of August one thousand six hundred seventy and one, hereby revokeing and making void all wills by me formerly made.

Ffirst, I give and bequeath my soule into the hands of the Allmighty, my blessed and heavenly Creator and Maker, fullly believing to be saved by faith in his mercy throught the meritts of Jesus Christ my alone redeemer and Saviour, my advocate, my all in all.

Item, I bequeath my body to the earth whereof it was made and the same to be buried in the parish of Gisburne aforesaid at the discrecon of my wife and friends.

Item, my will is first that my debts be paid and discharged out of my estate which being done, I give and bequeath unto my sonne Wm Dent all the estate and interest that I have in the dwelling house in Gisbrough aforesaid, wherein he, the said Wm Dent doth now inhabitt, he paying the rent and taxes lyable for the same.

Item, I give and bequeath to my wife, my house & garden and backside, which is in northoutgate called northoutgate house and garden, as alsoe the shep and stock in itt under the tollbooth and the two closes called the Turmyres and which I hold under Edward Chaloner of Gisbrough, Esq.

Item, I give and bequeath to my sonne Peter Dent halfe of all my goods belonging to my Apotheray trade or the value of them, with all the instrunts and other things belonging to itt, my debt books, all other my bookes, one great morter excepted.

Item, I give to my said sonne Will’m Dent the somme of ten pounds.

Item, I give to my sonne Thomas Dent tenn pounds.

Item, I give to my sonne George Dent the sume of tenn pouonds.

Item, I give to my sonne in law Oliver Prody my great brasse morter now in his shop as alsoe the summe of tenn pounds.

Item, I give to my daughter Dorothy Prody, wife of the said Oliver Prody, the summe of ten pounds and thirteen shilllings and foure pence to buy her a mourning ring.

Item, I give to each of my grandchildren which shall be living at my death tenn shillings as a token of my fatherly blessing upon them.

Item, I give to my daughters in law every one of them a mourneing ring about thirteene shillings foure pence a piece.

Item, I give to the poore of Ormsby five shillings.

Item, I give to Sarah & Abigail Nicholson, James Paul & Elizabeth Dugleby, each of them five shillings.

Item, I give to my sister Eliz. Prody 10s, to Kath Clark & Jane Con each of them 5s & to Eliz & Jane Prody 5s a piece.

Item, I give to (Christ)inna Dent, daughter of my brother Geo Dent, dec’ed, the sume of 10s.

Item, all the rest of my goods, moveable and unmoveable, I give & bequeath to my wife & desire her to discharge my funerall charges & expences not exceeding, but in a decent maner. And I give to the poore of Gisbrough ten pounds to be disposed as she shall think fitt.

Item, I do make my wife Margret Dent sole Executrix of this my last will and testa’nt & desireing her that my daughter Dorothy Proddy if living at my death may have after her mothers death the Northoutgate house and garden and all that belongings to it, except a lodging to my sonne George Dent in the said house dureing his batchlourship onely.

Item, I desire, nominate and appoint my cozen Thomas Proddy and my cozen Thomas Spencer to be sup’visors of this my last will and to each of them I give tenn shillings.

In witness whereof I have here unto sett my hand and seale the day and yeare above written.

Peter Dent

Sealed and published in the p(re)sence of

Ger. Ffox

Ja Wylnne

5 Oct 1671 – probate issued

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Bestselling psychological and historical mysteries from £0.99. Paperbacks, brand new in mint condition 🙂
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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #94

Dear Reader,

On the trail of my 4 x great grandmother Sarah Foreman who packed her bags in the 1820s and left rural Lincolnshire to nurse in London. On 24 March 1834, Sarah married John Glissan, a surgeon. When John died in 1854, Sarah established herself as a dentist, chemist and monthly nurse, looking after newborn babies.

We’ve got the builders in 😉 And here’s some sheep 🐑


The Stokes branch of my family were carpenters for centuries, with fathers handing on the skills of the trade to their sons. 

Here is a document from 21 October 1794 when my 5 x great grandfather Richard Stokes took on an apprentice, William Reeves.

Along with his carpentry business in Pangbourne, Berkshire, Richard also owned a messuage in nearby Reading.

Richard married Martha in 1800. Unfortunately, Martha’s surname was not recorded on marriage or birth records so it isn’t possible to explore her branch of my family tree. She died young, in 1817.

Richard and Martha only had two children: Martha, who sadly died aged ten, and my direct ancestor, William. William broke the family tradition, which went back to the 1600s, when he turned his back on carpentry and moved to London. However, his son and my direct ancestor Richard resumed the trade.


From the 1930s. Hefty girls wanted. Must be ‘fairly good looking’ with no interest in marriage.


My 4 x great grandfather Henry Wheeler was born on 29 November 1797 in Westminster, London to Thomas Wheeler and Ann Fluin.

Henry married twice. First to Elizabeth Mitchell on 19 August 1817 then when Elizabeth died in 1844 he married Mary Ann Thorp of Colchester, Essex, a woman eighteen years his junior. Henry’s first marriage produced eight children while his second produced four, including my 3 x great grandmother Nancy Wheeler who changed her name to Annie Noulton.

Various censuses describe Henry as a labourer while Mary Ann’s mother, Hannah, was a straw hat maker, so maybe Mary Ann followed that trade. However, Henry also had another line of ‘work’, which resulted in regular visits to the Old Bailey.

The first evidence of Henry’s brushes with the law appear in 1817 when aged twenty in association with William Murray aged sixteen he was accused of stealing a set of harnesses value 20 shillings from Serach Atkinson. Henry duly stood trial and from the Old Bailey website https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ here is an account of that trial.

Eighteenth century trial at the Old Bailey

HENRY WHEELER and WILLIAM MURRAY were indicted for stealing, on the 13th of January, one set of chaise harness, value 20 shillings the property of Serach Atkinson.

SERACH ATKINSON. I am a plasterer, and live in New court, Chapel-street, Westminster. On the 13th of January, between six and seven o’clock, I missed my harness from my passage, where it usually hung. My brother had it out that day. That is all I know.

JAMES GILLMORE. On Monday evening, the 13th of January, the prosecutor came to me, stating that he had lost his harness, and who he suspected to have stolen it. About twenty minutes afterwards the prosecutor came to me with part of the harness, (the collar and traces), after that he sent for me to take Murray into custody-which I did. I went with Murray to Wheeler’s house, and took him into custody. Wheeler’s friends threatened to prosecute Murray, for inducing Wheeler to commit the robbery. The next morning the prosecutor brought me the other part of the harness, which he said, in the prisoner’s presence, was delivered to him by Wheeler’s friends.

(Property produced and sworn to).

J’Accuse Henry Wheeler

ATKINSON re-examined by the Court. I got the harness from Murray. I had seen him that night. I do not know where the harness hung up that night. I do not know where it was.

Q. Did you never say, it hung behind the street door in the passage – A. I might. I do not know that it did

Q. Will you swear that it was not hanging there – A. I do not know. I did not see it there at all. I did not see it there that day; my brother had it out.

Q. Did you not tell the magistrate, that it hung up in the passage leading to the street door, and that the prisoner must go through that passage to go out – A. I do not know. I suspected Murray, by his calling on me; I missed it about half an hour afterwards. I had not seen it that evening.

Q. After you had seen Gillmore, where did you go to – A. Into Tothill-street, to Murray’s, he is a harness-maker, Wheeler was selling the harness there.

Q. How came you to tell me that you knew no more about it – A. It did not strike me then; I met him at this end of Tothill-street, the sadler’s is in the middle.

Q. Will you swear he was at the end of the street – A. Yes.

Q. How came you to swear that Murray was waiting at the other side of the street – A. Wheeler gave me part of the harness, and brought the other part home.

Q. Why did you not tell me this story before – A. I do not know.

Q. Is what you swore before the magistrate true or not? Which story do you stick by, what you swore before the magistrate, or what you say here – A. I stick by what I say here.

NOT GUILTY.

Second Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Recorder.

Acquitted (on this occasion) Henry Wheeler

Henry disappeared from the historical record for gaps of several years. This is not unusual. However, the gaps between his first and second born children with Elizabeth Mitchell and Mary Ann Thorpe, nine years on each occasion, are very unusual. These women were fertile and produced children on average every two years. So why the infertile periods? The records don’t offer conclusive proof, but given Henry’s background it seems certain that he was in prison on each occasion. 

The situation is easy to imagine: Henry married Elizabeth then she gave birth. Surviving on a pauper’s wages and with a wife and baby to feed he resorted to stealing. This exact pattern was repeated with Mary Ann. Stealing is of course criminally and morally wrong, but when societies encourage vast gulfs between the rich and poor then the poor are often forced to step outside the law simply to survive.

Dorset Street, London, photographed in 1902 for Jack London’s book The People of the Abyss.

The Victorians were worried about the rising crime rate for good reason because offences shot up from around 5,000 per year in 1800 to around 20,000 per year in 1840. They were firm believers in punishment for criminals, but faced a problem: what should the punishment be?

Options included the often small and badly-run prisons, transportation to America, Australia or Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), or execution: hundreds of offences carried the death penalty. By the 1830s society was having its doubts about these punishments and favoured the building of new, larger prisons.

The Victorians also insisted that these prisons should be unpleasant places, to deter people from committing crimes. Inmates had to face up to their crimes and to encourage this they were placed in solitary confinement or when in company restricted to vows of silence. Work too was hard and boring with spells on the treadmill and picking oakum as common punishments.

Millbank Prison in London by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1829.

As my ancestor, I would like to think the best of Henry, and the pattern of his prison sentences suggest that he was stealing to support his wives and children. That said, he was an habitual criminal who did not feel inclined, or maybe did not have the opportunity, to mend his ways.

With Henry in prison, Elizabeth and Mary Ann must have struggled to survive. Yet, survive they did. There is no record of them entering the workhouse so somehow these women kept their families together.

Salamanca Court and Salamanca Street, deprived areas and home to various generations of the Wheeler family.

Henry was buried on 19 October 1874. At 76, he lived a long life considering his background and periods of hardship. In the Regency era life expectancy for poor people was extremely low – in cities a lifespan of 13% for poor people compared to the wealthy. From medieval times, through Henry’s time to our time the ratio is 85% life expectancy for the poor compared to the rich.

A widow, Mary Ann lodged with relatives until her death in 1903, aged 87. Another remarkable age given her background. You wonder what attracted Mary Ann to Henry. Maybe it was love. Or maybe she sought companionship and freedom from loneliness. If it was the latter, this is ironic because Mary Ann and Henry spent at least a third of their married lives apart.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx