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  • Writer's pictureRichard Edmunds

Sailors, Merchants, Brewers and Witchcraft - The Lowestoft Arnolds

Georgian Lowestoft

Perched on the North Sea Coast, the most easterly settlement in the U.K,  Lowestoft in Suffolk, which owes its name to a Medieval Norse settlement, has a long connection to my family history.

My grandmother’s father, William Thomas George Rudd, a sergeant in the Royal Garison Artillery in the First World War, and before that a Police Constable stationed at Camberwell, London, was baptized at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Lowestoft in April 1890. His grandmother lived close by at Crown Street, Lowestoft, being listed there both on the 1901 census and on her death certificate in December 1902.

My grandmothers first cousin, 18 year old seaman Frederick Rudd, of 36 Rotterdam Road, Lowestoft, lost on H.M.S. Cressy, when that ship was torpedoed by a German U Boat in the North Sea, 22 Sept. 1914. Approximately 1,450 sailors were killed and there was a public outcry in Britain at the losses.

Our family roots in the town can be traced back at least five centuries to William’s earliest known ancestor, my 13x great grandfather, Thomas Arnold.

A property and land owner in Lowestoft and neighbouring Carlton Colville, the first record of the Lowestoft Arnold family is his wife’s will from 1517, in the eighth year of the reign of Henry VIII.

Both Thomas and his brother later left their own wills in the town in the 1520s.

His son, my 12 x great grandfather, John Thornton Arnold, was just a small boy at the time of his father’s death, but his own social position was greatly elevated, by his widowed mother’s remarriage to John Jettor, a merchant and shipping magnate, Lowestoft’s chief tenant, listed as the richest resident on the 1524 Lay Subsidy Rolls rolls.

The Jettors/Jetours, likely of Norman origin, are first noted on Suffolk Subsidy Rolls in 1327 as Getour. They were major landowners in surrounding villages of Lowestoft as early as 1427. John’s father, John Jettor, senior, is noted as the Church Warden of Lowestoft in 1499 with responsibility for distributing charity to the poor, and by then they were considered minor gentry there, owning 97 acres, ten per cent of all the land in Lowestoft. 

1427 Vellum bill recording the Jettors as land owners in villages near Lowestoft (Bodleian Library, Oxford)

Whilst the Protestant reforms began by Henry VIII’s break from Rome in 1534, were enthusiastically embraced by many of Lowestoft residents, the Jettors remained staunchly wedded to the old faith and would pay dearly for their religious conservatism.

When Henry’s daughter Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 she wasted little time in outlawing Catholic mass rendering people who refused to accept the new practices of the Church of England and the role of the monarch as head of the Church, Recusants, liable to prosecution.

John Arnold’s step father John Jettor had died a few years earlier, but his close kin soon faced persecution, the new head of the family, John’s step brother, Robert Jettor, being one of the first convicted and heavily fined under the new Recusancy laws, on 8th May 1560.

In 1585 another relative John Jettor, a ‘Lay Catholic of Lowestoft’ appears amongst the list of prisoners who died in Newgate Goal, London.

In October of the following year, 1586, Robert Jettor appears again in legal records as the most heavily fined of all Suffolk recusants with a financial penalty of £1,500 being imposed on him, a veritable fortune at the time, around six years’ salary for a skilled tradesman.

Their position never recovered from these sustained attacks, and with their debt to the crown still outstanding in 1593, their farm lands were seized and they were dispossessed of their large prominent property on Lowestoft High Street, being forced to relocate to more modest housing in surrounding farmland at Flixton, where they continued to be persecuted, arrested and fined for the remainder of Elizabeth’s reign.

The fall of his step family doubtless impacted my ancestor John Thornton Arnold, and evidence he also found himself vulnerable and in conflict with other wealthy landowners there, comes from the 1583 State papers of Elizabeth I, John prosecuting a case before the commissioners of the crown, after he was viscously attacked and repeatedly stabbed in the head with a dagger by the local aristocratic land lord of Lowestoft, Henry Jernegan of Somerleyton Hall.

Calendar of State Papers reign of Elizabeth I26 September 1583 - Deposition taken before commissioners to try the suit of John Thorneton alias Arnold, against Henry Jernegan and John Hoo ; proving that Mr. Jernegan did beat and wound John Arnold when he served a subpoena on him , and did strike with his dagger many blows upon the bare head and arms of the said John Arnold.

ARTICLES FOR EXAMINATION OF HENRY JERNEGAN, ESQ, For his ill usage of John Arnold , the reasons for letting his manors of Leystoft and other lands to John Hoo , a man of such evil behaviour.

The outcome of the case is unknown, though Queen Elizabeth certainly had no personal love for the Jernegan family, having dismissed the accused man’s father from the many high offices of state he had held as the favourite of her Catholic sister Queen Mary Tudor, Privy Councillor, Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Master of the Horse and Captain of the Guard.

Perhaps never fully recovering from this ordeal, John died just five years later in 1588, the year England came under attack from the Catholic Spanish Armada.

His son my 11 x great grandfather, Matthew Thornton Arnold, was then just ten years old, and was thereafter raised by his stepfather, William Bentley, the vicar of Lowestoft, who died in the plague outbreak of summer 1603.

By then like his paternal relatives, the Jettors, Matthew had gone on to carve out a living for himself on the seas as a sailor and in Lowestoft as a wealthy fish merchant.

Boats in Lowestoft Harbour, 19th century watercolour

Several of his sons and relatives also became wealthy in the same trade, only to see their homes and businesses wiped out in the Great Lowestoft Fire of March 1644/5 which started in the town fish houses, and swept through a large portion of the surrounding residences, causing thousands of pounds of damage and leaving scores homeless.

Luckily my 10 x great grandfather William Arnold, then aged 30, was not one of these, having himself become the first of the family to enter the distillers trade as a beer brewer.

Not only did he witness the great fire, but the huge social upheaval caused by the English Civil War then concurrent, with the entry of Oliver Cromwell and his forces into the town a year earlier, and the iconoclastic attack by parliamentary Puritan zealots on their local church, which included the stripping of all the bronze plaques and monuments there to several generations of his prominent Lowestoft relatives the Jettors, recorded in the account below of the Vicar Jacob Rouse:

“In the same year after [1644], on the 22nd of June, there came one Jessope with a commission from the Earl of Manchester to take away from gravestones all inscriptions on which he found “orate pro anima;”  A wretched commissioner not able to read or find out that which his commission informed him to remove, he took up in our church so much brasses as he sold to Mr. Josiah Wild for five shillings, which was afterwards contrary to my knowledge, run into the little bell that hangs in the town house.  There were taken up in the middle ally, twelve pieces, belonging to the twelve several generations of the Jettors; in the chancel, one belonging to Bishop Scroope; the words were “Richardus Scroope Episcopus Dromorocensis et hujus ecclesiæ vicarius, hic jacet, qui obiit 10 may anno 1364.”  There was also by this Jessop taken up in the vicar’s chancel, one the north side of the church, a fair piece of brass with this inscription “Hic jacet Johannes Goodknapp hujus ecclesiæ vicarius qui obiit 4 Decembris anno dni 1442.”

St Margaret’s Church, Lowestoft

After the execution of King Charles in 1649, during Cromwell’s Protectorate, William appears noted in the town records, in 1652, when he was fined for polluting the local pond, by dumping waste wheat from his brewer’s business there.

Just two years later, at the age of forty, he died, leaving several young children including my 9 x great grandfather Matthew Arnold, then seven, and his eight year old brother William. Their mother Mary remarried and they were brought up by their stepfather Thomas Pacy, a relative of their aunt Margaret Pacy Arnold.

Will of my 10th Great Grandfather, William Arnold, Brewer of Lowestoft, Suffolk, 1654.

As teenagers, in 1662, they will have both witnessed the grim spectacle of the Lowestoft Witch Trials, when their aunt Margaret was the star witness giving evidence against two elderly widows accused of bewitching her nieces, the daughters of her brother, then Lowestoft’s leading resident and wealthiest merchant, Samuel Pacy.

The trial was presided over by Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. Samuel alleged that soon after refusing to sell fish to one of the accused witches, Amy Denny, both his previously healthy daughters had been stricken lame with loss of sight, speech and hearing, suffering violent fits and sickness, vomiting up handfuls of pins and a long nail.

During these fits they had cried out that Denny was the ‘Cause of their Malady, and that she did affright them with Apparitions of her Person.” They also claimed that a Rose Cullender, another reputed witch, along with Denny, would appear “ before them, holding their Fists at them, threatening, that if they related either what they saw or heard, that they would Torment them Ten times more than ever they did before.” …

Amy Denny ‘bewitching’ Samuel Pacy’s daughters as an act of revenge for his refusing her custom.

In a dramatic twist to the prosecution case, a frog, believed to be a witch’s familiar, allegedly found hiding in the clothes of one of the bewitched girls was tossed into a fire and exploded with a great flash of light. A day later one of the two accused witches was seen to be scarred by fresh burns to the face and this was taken as damning evidence of their guilt. Soon after both were convicted and executed.

An account of this case was published and widely circulated twenty years later, and reached colonial America where it was used by Cotton Mather as a template for his famous prosecution and execution of several inhabitants of Salem, Massachusetts, for near identical acts of witchcraft.

Plaque on Samuel Pacy’s former home in Lowestoft.

Account of the Witch Trial published in 1682 used as a template for the Salem Witch Trials a decade later.

What the young brothers William and Matthew Arnold thought of these events is unknown.

Both were married thirteen years later, in the year 1675, William to Elizabeth Childers, and Matthew to Thomasin Coe, daughter of Henry Coe, another of the town’s wealthy gentleman merchants.

Both brothers later went on to be influential men in the community themselves and active in the church, Matthew being a Churchwarden in Lowestoft, where he continued and greatly expanded on their father’s beer brewing business and William being churchwarden of the nearby rural village, Weston.

When Matthew died in 1709 at the age of 64, his eldest son, my  8 x great grandfather Coe Arnold, continued the family business in Lowestoft, becoming a master beer brewer and a member of the prestigious distiller’s company in London.

He was married to Susanne Pake, grandaughter of Robert Pake, town surgeon in the 1660s during the Great Plague outbreak, and niece of Joseph Pake, the contemporary town surgeon, who had raised a family with Deborah Pacy, the youngest of the two ‘bewitched’ girls at the Lowestoft witch trials four decades earlier. Their descendants include great grandson John Barker Church, born in Lowestoft in 1748, who became influential in America, as brother in law of founding father Alexander Hamilton.

John Barker Church, descendant of my ancestors Robert Pake and Alice Harmon of Lowestoft.

A year before his father’s death, in January 1708, Coe Arnold had watched his family be united with yet another prominent local family when his brother Matthew Arnold, junior, was joined in marriage at Wingfield, Suffolk, to Elizabeth Aldous, heiress of the Aldous family, tenants of Wingfield Castle.

Wingfield Castle, 18th century home of the Suffolk Aldous Family

Her surname was thereafter given prominence in the family, being carried as a forename by Matthew’s son Aldous Arnold (1712-1792), like his father a wealthy merchant in the Lowestoft fish trade, grandson Aldous Arnold (1745-1787), a London coal merchant whose father Matthew left Lowestoft to become a lighterman and ship owner in Wapping, and Coe’s grandson Aldous Arnold (1738-1803), like his maternal Pake ancestors, an eminent doctor and surgeon in Lowestoft.

Memorial plaque to Aldous Arnold (1712-1792), fish merchant, my ancestor Coe Arnold’s nephew, in St Margaret’s Church, Lowestoft.

Further honour was bestowed on the Georgian era Lowestoft Arnold family when Coe and Matthew’s youngest brother, Thomas Arnold, earned great distinction and national fame serving as first lieutenant of HMS Superb, under Admiral George Byng, at the Battle of Cape Passaro, off the coast of Sicily, on 11th August 1718, capturing the Spanish flagship, the Real Felipe, being severely wounded doing so, with the loss of the use of one arm.

His gallantry there was rewarded by his promotion to the rank of Commander and later Captain. A monument was erected to him after his death in Lowestoft church, and the colours he captured from the Real Felipe were customarily brought out and hung as flags at Lowestoft weddings for up to a century afterwards.

 Captain Thomas Arnold of Lowestoft (1679-1737)

Coe Arnold died in Lowestoft, three years after his younger brother’s brave actions in the Mediterranean, in March 1721, at 45 years of age, passing the Arnold brewing business on for a fourth generation, to his son Matthew.

His daughter Susanna, my 7 x great grandmother, then 21, inherited a half portion of her father’s large town property, Arnold House, at 4 High Street, the home their Tudor ancestors had lived in over a century and a half earlier, that their relatives the Jettors had been forcibly dispossessed of in the 1590s for their adherence to Catholicism.

Arnold House, 4 High Street Lowestoft, originally home of the Jettor family in the 16th century.

Susanna was married a year later, by License in St Margaret’s, Lowestoft, to William Gooda, a 37 year old widowed yeoman farmer in Weston. The bondsman for the wedding license was her father’s cousin and co-executor of his will, William Arnold, also a yeoman farmer there, son of their uncle William Arnold, the late Churchwarden of Weston. His sister Martha Arnold, had been William Gooda’s first wife. She had sadly died seven months earlier, after giving birth to the couples only child, a daughter, Elizabeth.

Susannah herself bore a further eight children to William in Weston and was buried there in April 1768 at 68 years of age. Her will shows she was still possessed of considerable personal property in Lowestoft, rented out to tenants. Among her personal bequests was a blue damask bed, left to her spinster daughter Sarah, and a second yellow camblet bed, given to her daughter in law Martha, evidence she lived in relative comfort and style for the era.

My ancestor Susanna Arnold Gooda’s signature and wax seal on her 1722 will, alongside signature of her executor and witness, her nephew Aldous Arnold (1738-1803) Surgeon of Lowestoft.

Georgian blue damask bed of the type and style bequeathed by Susanna Arnold to her daughter Sarah.

Decorated Cherub Gravestone of my ancestors Susanna Arnold (1700-1768) and William Gooda (1685-1764) in Weston Churchyard, Suffolk.

Susanna's granddaughter, Sarah Gooda my 5 x great grandmother, named for her spinster aunt, had been born a few weeks earlier in March 1768. Sarah later married into the Suffolk Rudd family in February 1787 at All Saints, Ellough, Suffolk where her cousin Richard Aldous Arnold was rector in the 1830s.

Their cousin William Arnold, Susannah’s bondsman in 1722, later gave up farming and entered the Customs and Excise Service, and left Suffolk, being buried in 1758 on the Isle of Wight aged 81.

His grandson William Arnold, also a customs officer on the isle, fought a vigorous battle there against smugglers, and was father of Dr Thomas Arnold, born on the Island in 1795, who in adulthood became headmaster of Rugby School. He was an author and keen family historian and this interest was passed on to his son Matthew Arnold, one of the most distinguished of the poets and essayists of the Victorian Era, who was inspired to research and write an account of our family’s involvement in the Lowestoft Witch Trials.

My third cousin William Arnold (1745-1801), Customs Officer of Cowes, Isle of Wight.

My fourth Cousin, Dr Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby School and Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. Portrayed on film by Stephen Fry in the 2005 film version of the 1857 novel ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, at the time this bust was unveiled in Westminster Abbey in 1897, Sir Joshua Fitch wrote of him in the Times Newspaper, "As much as any who could be named, Arnold helped to form the standard of manly worth by which Englishmen judge and submit to be judged.”

My fifth cousin, Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888, writer, author and professor of poetry at Oxford University, who has the distinction of being the only person to have two memorials in Westminster Abbey.

This interest in family history was also passed on to Matthew’s nieces Mary and Julia Arnold, who took a particular liking to the unusual family name Aldous, perhaps seeing it on the plaque to Aldous Arnold in St Margarets church on a family pilgrimage to Lowestoft as young girls, Mary, an author, later using it as the name of the major character, of her novel Marcella, Aldous Raeburn, and Julia giving it new life in the family passing it on to her son, Aldous Leonard Huxley, the famed intellectual and author of one of the greatest and most influential novels of the 20th century ‘Brave New World’. 

My sixth cousins Julia Arnold (1862-1908) and sister Ethel photographed by author Lewis Carroll in 1872.

My seventh cousin Aldous Huxley, (1894-1963) who owes his unusual forename to our Lowestoft Arnold ancestors, author of almost fifty books, nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature nine times, and widely acknowledged as one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th century


as referenced in this article

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