Tiger escapes and infertile tortoise - Golden gems from yesteryear that made the news

Norwich market place circa 1800. Picture Archant.

Norwich market place circa 1800. Picture Archant. - Credit: Archant

As one year ends and another begins Derek James climbs aboard the time machine and slaps it in reverse gear to discover what was making the news in days gone by.

Tombland in Norwich in the 18th century. Picture Archant.

Tombland in Norwich in the 18th century. Picture Archant. - Credit: Archant

Rather than the headlines it is often the little snippets of news in our old journals and newspapers which still manage to capture the imagination and paint a picture of a very different world.

And then there were the vivid accounts of public hangings when watching people die was a form of entertainment for the whole family.

So let's take a look at just a just a little of what those who went before us were reading – long before radio, television, internet and mobile phones took over our lives.

An Old Inhabitant.

Mousehold Heath in Norwich circa 1818-1820. Photo: John Crome/Wikipedia

Mousehold Heath in Norwich circa 1818-1820. Photo: John Crome/Wikipedia - Credit: John Crome/Wikipedia

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A tortoise, brought from Smyra in Syria to Bayfield in Norfolk in July, 1686, by Mr Richard Swallow, was given by him to Mr John Jermy of that place, who kept it in his garden.

Each year in November it went underground to sleep till March, when it again came out to the sunlight. In each May the tortoise laid usually nine infertile eggs.

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After being in the garden for 58 years it died in April 1743.

A Sociable Parson and His Will.

Sir Robert Sigon, of Lynn, Priest, by his will in 1505, left the following legacy to the community of the Parish of Great Massingham:

'An Acre and a half of land lying in Lynn Road, with all the appurtances and implements thereto belonging, to make their common drinkings on the plough day, and other times at their pleasure, so that every year keep my obit, ringing a peal for my soul, and sing a mass for ever, and do other good deeds.'

An Early Motor Car in Norwich.

January 10, 1725/6. On this day I saw, with a multitude of other spectators, a chariot of a new invention, which came from the Unicorn in St Mary's, to the Back Boys, in St George, Colegate, without the help of any horse.

It had four wheels and moved along at a good foot-pace by one man only, who rode in it, and by working with his feet procured the motion; but it was so laborious to perform that it had been easier to have gone afoot,

This machine, as I was informed, was projected and made by one Robert Briggs, a Mill-wright of Magdalen Street.

Tough for the Tiger.

On November 5 1788, a large tiger, which was exhibited at the Bear Inn, Norwich, broke loose, and after devouring two monkeys, was again secured.

The tiger died soon after from a brass collar and chain, which he had swallowed, having gangrened within him.

A Norfolk Tragedy.

At the Norfolk Assizes held at the Shirehouse at Norwich in July 1807, the details of a terrible crime committed in a small cottage near Attleborough were given publicity before judge and jury there empanelled.

The perpetrator of this murder was a woman named Martha Alden, and the victim of her brutality was her husband, Samuel Alden, an agricultural worker, who was accounted a quite industrious character.

The jury heard she had killed her husband – a small man – put the body in a sack and shook the body out of it into a pond.

When the jury returned a verdict of guilty she was sentenced to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till she was dead, and her body afterwards to be dissected.

Previous to her execution, she admitted that she had quarrelled with her husband, and that she had struck him with a bill-hook, while he lay on the bed.

The execution was carried out at the 'new drop' on the Castle Hill, on Friday July 31, before a large concourse of spectators, the unfortunate criminal being dragged from a hurdle from the Castle to a gallows.

After the execution the populace of Attleborough showed their detestation of the crime, by destroying the former dwelling house of the prisoner.

A rumour started soon after, that the ghost of Alden 'walked' on Castle Hill, and in December, 1807, a roistering party went there to 'lay' the spirit.

Their conduct being of a disorderly nature, some of them were seized by the jailor and detained in the Castle for two days, pending an inquiry into their conduct.

They were afterwards liberated.


A White Leghorn fowl, the property of Mr James Freeman, of 13 Primrose Road, Thorpe, Norwich, laid an extraordinary egg. The egg was of abnormal size and weighed five and three quarters ozs. Inside this was discovered another perfect egg, with shell complete, also with one yolk.

The Great Gates and Walls.

In 1343 Richard Spynk,, citizen of Norwich, fortified the gates and towers of the city walls and builds 45 rods of wall and four towers between St Augustines and Magdalen Gates as also in great measure the two gates themselves.

He also builds the great tower of Bracondale and finished other gates and parts of the city walls at his own expense.

Something of a Show.

In December 1823, one Drake, a showman, advertised the exhibition in a commodious theatre upon the Castle Ditches in Norwich of a performing elephant a boa constrictor, and a sea serpent alive.

The said sea serpent was discovered when they were in search of the great one, 300 feet in length.

Call to the Cock Fights.

In 1725 the following event at the Bell Hotel courtyard, Orford Hill, Norwich, was advertised .

'To show 31 cocks on a side, for two guineas a side and 20 guineas the odd battle. The gentlemen shall be accommodated with a glass of excellent wine, and car taken to prevent disturbance by the mob.'

The contest was between the gentlemen of the City of Norwich and the gentlemen of the County of Suffolk.

It was not for the feint-hearted.

Sweet are the Uses of Advertisement?

On November 24, 1783, in consequence of an advertisement in the Norwich papers, a vast concourse of curious and idle persons, said to amount to more than 6,000 assembled on Mousehold Heath, to see an air balloon ascend, with a cat, a dog and a pigeon in its car.

The balloon, however, was not visible, and the multitude, as in the story of the King of France and his 40,000 men, 'Went up the hill and then came down again.'

What are the Odds?

On July 13, 1803, William Green, bricklayer, undertook at Yarmouth for a bet of £5 5s, to lay 3,800 bricks in a workmanlike manner in 24 hours.

He completed the task in 20 hours and won the bet, working on the new building at Bowling Green House.

On August 25, 1803, Mr George Wyer, of Downham Market carried a 20 stone sack of flour one mile leading through Watton for a wager of 230 guineas, which feat he performed with ease in 18 minutes, to the astonishment of a vast number of spectators.

On January 31, 1804, a Norwich baker, named Winter undertook for a wager of £10 to carry six shillings worth of bread in a basket from Norwich to Yarmouth in six hours. He accomplished the task in 5 hours 35 minutes.

On August 24m 1816, a woman called Fox, aged 100 years, walked from Norwich to Great Plumstead, a distance of nearly five miles. She commenced her journey at eight o'clock in the morning, and on arriving at Plumstead, rested three hours in a friend's house, and walking home, arriving at Norwich at seven o'clock in the evening.

And that is the end of the news....

Happy New Year.

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