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The History of Barnbow


from The Barwicker No.61
Mar. 2001

During most of the 17th. century, the Gascoigne family were persecuted for their support of the Roman Catholic church. The most dramatic event in this harassment of the family took place in the 1670s and has become known as the Barnbow Plot. An account of this is told in 'The History of Barwick-in-Elmet' by Rev. FS Colman. It is so comprehensive and detailed that we can do no better than reproduce it here, without amendment or omission of any kind.

The story of the so-called 'Barnbow Plot' is this: It was inspired by the success of the informer Titus Oates who, in the year 1678, professed to have discovered in London a plot to put the king to death, to subvert the Church of England and to establish Roman Catholicism. His tale found a ready belief and numbers lost their lives on his accusation, he was rewarded with a large salary, had lodgings and a guard assigned to him in Whitehall and was accorded an extraordinary importance. It is not surprising that he found imitators.

There was living at this time at Shippen, adjoining Barnbow, one Robert Bolron. He was a native of Newcastle on Tyne, had been apprenticed in the City of London to a jeweller at Pye Corner, and growing tired of his calling had enlisted in the army and been sent on board the Rainbow frigate to fight the Dutch. He deserted, found his way home and managed to secure the good will of Sir Thomas Gascoigne, who befriended him, and, in 1674, made him 'steward of his coal works'.

In June of the following year he became a Roman and married Mary Baker, niece to a Mrs Herrington, then living in Sir Thomas's house, who provided him with a house at Shippen held on lease from Sir Thomas. Before long he was found to be appropriating his master's money and was dismissed from his employment, though it appears he was still allowed to be about the premises.

Excited by the story of Oates' success and in revenge for his dismissal, Bolron conceived the idea of 'discovering' a Popish Plot at Barnbow. Having concocted what he thought might be a credible story he communicated, in the first place, with Mr Normanton, a clergyman of Water Fryston, who sent him to Mr Tindall, a justice of the peace, who referred him to Mr William Lowther, another justice. Growing bolder as he found himself taken seriously he determined to go to London, armed with a letter from Tindall to lay his story before the Privy Council. On the road, at Ware, he lost the letter, but coming to the Green Dragon in Bishophate Street he told his business to the landlord who took him to Sir Robert Clayton who introduced him to Lord Shaftesbury, President of the Council.

The story that Bolron told was this. Some time in 1675 he had overheard a conversation between Sir Thomas Gascoigne and Sir Miles Stapylton in which they discussed a plan to kill the king, the former repeating the steps he had taken for securing his property against forfeiture in case of failure and how he had sent 3000 to the Jesuits in London to aid the carrying out of the scheme. It was in this year that he became a Papist. Sir Thomas first persuaded him and then Father Rushton, who assured him miracles were being wrought by their Church.

One is related very circumstantially in Bolron's narrative. Anthony Fulshurst, whom he describes as a converted papist, told him he had seen it done at Francis Johnson's house in Barwick. Mary Smith, living at Garforth, was reported to be possessed by the devil and one Lawson, a Romish 'exorcist' was sent to Johnson's house to dispossess her. The sufferer was brought there and several Protestants came to see the miracle done, amongst them being Fulshurst. The possessed woman became very unruly and told the exorcist he could do no good unless all the Protestants and heretics were put out of the room. Fulshurst was allowed to stay and the exorcist subsequently told him that "Mary Smith was possessed with four devils, three of whom he quite expulst out of her, the fourth he brought into her great toe, which did lie there and do the said Mary Smith no harm which was afterwards confirmed by Mary Smith unto him the informant".

Bolron also gives details of the methods, necessarily secret, adopted by the Romanists to gather their people together for worship. There were private chapels in the Gascoigne houses at Barnbow, Lasingcroft and Parlington, and also another at the house of William Butcher in Barnbow, this last being for the use of the poorer people of the village who were not allowed to worship at the Hall.

A priest named William Hardwick used to come from New Hall near Pontefract once in three weeks, riding over under the cover of darkness on a Friday night and staying till Monday. When he came he sent word to an old woman called Ellen Ballas to give notice to the rest of the Catholics that they must come to "scowre their kettles, that is, to come to confession, at such an hour".

Another priest there called Thomas Thweng, who kept what he called a boarding house for training up children in Romish principles, and who when he came was disguised as a butcher.

About January, 1676, there came to Bolron's house at Shippen this Mr Thweng, Father Rushton and several others who questioned him as to his devotion to their cause. He decared he was ready to venture his life for it, and then was taken to Barnbow Hall where a solemn and binding oath of secrecy was administered to him.

About Michaelmas, 1677, the narrative continued, a company gathered in the old dining hall at Barnbow and for six or seven hours discussed the plot. The design included killing the king and perhaps the Duke of York, setting fire to London and York, and establishing a nunnery at Dolebank, near Ripley. At this gathering were Sir Thomas Gascoigne and his son, Sir Miles Stapylton, Charles Ingleby, Lady Tempest (Sir Thomas's daughter), Thomas Thweng, Sir Walter Vavasour, Sir Francis Hungate, Robert Killingbeck, a Jesuit and William Rushton, the priest. Sums of money were subscribed in the room, Sir Thomas promised 300 towards killing the king, and 90 a year for the nunnery, and Sir Miles Stapylton said he would give 200.

It was further stated that a list was circulated containing the names of 400 or 500 people pledged to assist the plot, and to which those present put their hands. At a subsequent consultation it was agreed that the port of Hull should be captured that the French might land troops there. The proposed nunnery is said to have been established at Dolebank, near Ripley,with Mrs Lascelles as Abbess, and Sir Thomas settled on it his promised 90 a year secured on land at Manston which he purchased for the purpose from Mr Timothy Mauleverer.

The narrative proceeds to tell how that on 30 May, 1679, Sir Thomas made Bolron go into the Gallery next to the priest's lodgings in Barnbow Hall, and after a little time Father Rushton came to him and shewed him how meritorious an act it would be to kill the king, and later in the day Sir Thomas called him into his room, took him by the hand and staightway offered him 1000 to do so.

Bolron said he indignantly refused, and though he promised not to repeat what had been said he decided on second thoughts that he ought to make it known.

This was the story that subsequently came out in the evidence, and was told in the published 'Narrative'. The result was that Sir Thomas was put upon his trial for high treason at the King's bench, 11 February, 1679/80. According to the law at that time a prisoner charged with a capital offence, or indeed with any felony, was not allowed to have counsel to plead for him, and this old man of 85, very deaf, unable to hear half that which was alleged against him, had to conduct his own defence as best he could.

The judges were Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, Justices Pemberton, Dolben and Jones and Sir George Jeffreys, the Recorder. Scroggs was venal, unjust and brutal (and later in this year was removed from office by the House of Commons), he was a firm believer in the Popish Plot, and tried most of the victims of Titus Oates. Jeffreys, the Recorder, was the most notoriously corrupt and evil judge that ever sat on the English Bench, blasphemous and brutishly intemperate, whose conduct, three years later, when he was sent to the West of England to try the prisoners captured in Monmouth's rebellion has made his name a by-word for bloodthirsty cruelty. These were the men that tried Sir Thomas Gascoigne.

Bolron told his tale; Laurence Mowbray, formerly body servant to Sir Thomas, suppported him in certain particulars, but an array of witnesses followed who, notwithstanding constant interruption, testified to Bolron's shortcomings and to the threats they had heard him use against his master for dismissing him. The Counsel for the Crown, Serjeant Maynard, and the Solicitor General pleaded for a conviction, three of the judges summed up and all dead against the prisoner, yet the jury had the wisdom and courage, after a half hour's deliberation, to find a verdict of not guilty.

Lady Tempest, Sir Thomas Gascoigne's daughter, was tried at York, 23 July 1680, for her share in the plot and she too was acquitted. Thomas Thweng, described as "late of Heworth in the County of York, Clerk," and Mary Pressicks, wife of Thomas Pressicks of Barwick, were tried for their complicity at the same assize. It is difficult to see how the Crown could have rested a case on evidence which, in the first trial, was treated as unworthy of belief. However, Bolron and Mowbray repeated much the same story, they do not appear to have 'remembered' anything fresh. It was alleged that Thweng had tried to persuade Bolron to share in the plot, but against Mrs Pressicks nothing seems to have been charged except that she had called the king names and accused him of immorality.

The female prisoner was acquitted, but Thweng was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged and quartered. The sentence was carried out, with all its horrible barbarity, on 23 October, 1680, at York when Thweng publicly thanked God that for fifteen years he had been able to discharge his priestly functions. Sir Miles Stapylton was likewise tried on 16 June, 1681, and was acquitted.

Bolron has left us two pamphlets. One is entitled
"The Narrative of Robert Bolron of Shippon-Hall, Gent, concerning the late Horrid Popish Plot and Conspiracy for the Destruction of His Majesty and the Protestant Religion, etc. London - Printed for Thomas Simmons at the Princes Arms and Jacob Sampson next door to the Wonder Tavern in Ludgate Street, 1680".
The other production is
"The Papist's bloody oath of Secrecy and Litany of Intercession for England, with the Manner of taking the oath upon their entering into any grand conspiracy against Protestants. As it was taken in the Chapel belonging to Barnbow-hall, the residence of Sir Thomas Gascoigne, from William Rushton, a Popish Priest. 1680."

The former of these runs to 36 pages, it is dedicated to the king in very fulsome and grandiloquent style, and relates the information laid at various times before the Privy Council. It concludes with a list of those whom Bolron accused, and this illustrates the amount of mischief that could be wrought by one evil disposed man in a time of such suspicion and social unrest.

The list includes Sir Thomas Gascoigne, in the Tower; Sir Miles Stapylton, in the Messenger's custody; Charles Ingleby, Esquire, in the King's Bench; Thomas Riddell, Esquire, in Morpeth prison; Sir Thomas Haggerston, Bart.; Richard Townely, Esquire; Robert Doleman, Esquire.; Dr Peter Vavasour; Richard Iles, Gent.; Robert Stanfield, Gent.; Lady Tempest; Thos. Pressicks Gent; Richard Sherbourne, Esquire, in Lancaster Prison; Mary Pressicks and Thomas Thweng, Priest, both in Newgate; John Pracis alias Cornwallis, Priest, prisoner in York Castle; Mrs Lascelles and John Andrews, Priest, both prisoners in Ouse Bridge in York; Mrs Beckwith, Mrs Benningfield, Mrs Cornwallis, Ellen Thweng, Mary Root, Elizabeth Butcher, all belonging to the Nunnery.

Others not yet apprehended were Thomas Gascoigne, Esquire; Richard Sherbourne, the younger; Sir Francis Hungate, Bart.; Lord 'Mollyneux'; Francis Calvert and his wife; Stephen Tempest, Gent.; Richard York; Sir Walter Vavasour; John York; Christopher Mitcalfe, these three deceased; and twenty four priests.

Besides the trials named above there were those of John Andrews, at York on 8 July, 1679, Robert Doleman and others at York on 27 October, and Thomas Riddell, of Fenham, all in the same year and on Bolron's evidence. In no other case but that of Thweng was a conviction obtained. For some time this Bolron actually held a general search warrant from the Privy Council, and he followed his profession of informer with a reckless audacity which earned him the title of the 'Titus Oates of the North'. After this portion of his career he disappears from view and nothing more is known of his life.

After his acquittal, Sir Thomas Gascoigne passed his later years at the Abbey of Lamspringe in Lower Saxony, where his brother John was Abbott. Let us hope he found the peace denied to him in England. He died on 3 May, 1686.


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