The Haggard Family – Part I

William Meybohm Rider Haggard

Well, I wasn’t expecting to find tales about ‘gibbet irons’ when I started researching my latest photograph from the Barnstaple Album. This gentleman has the impressive name of William Meybohm Rider Haggard, and he was easily traced from the inscription on the back of the carte-de-visite which says ‘The Old Squire / W. Bradenham / for my friend A.D.P. Oct 20 – 1880 / Wm Haggard’. It turns out there is plenty of information on the web about William M R Haggard (see here for instance) so I’ll keep his biography brief and thereby move more quickly to the ‘gibbet irons’.

William Meybohm Rider Haggard

William was born 19th April 1817 in St Petersburg, Russia, to parents William Haggard and Elizabeth Meybohm, and he inherited Bradenham Hall which is situated between Dereham and Swaffham in Norfolk. As his image suggests he appears to have been an imposing man of not only considerable wealth, but also considerable qualifications and titles, being described in various censuses as ‘Barrister’, ‘Justice of the Peace’, ‘Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk’, ‘Captain of the East Norfolk Militia’, ‘Chairman of the Quarter Sessions’ and (not forgetting) ‘Landowner’.

In 1844, he married Ella Doveton and together they had ten children, one of whom became the author H Rider Haggard, best known for his book ‘King Solomon’s Mines’.

Banging of Doors

H Rider Haggard’s account of his father in his autobiography ‘Days of my Life’ gives the impression of a loud man, one who made his presence felt whatever the occasion. For instance, during arguments that sprang up at the table… he {father} would rise majestically, announce in solemn tones that he refused to be insulted in his own house, and departed, banging the door loudly behind him. Across the hall he went and banged that door, out of the drawing room into the vestibule (here there are two doors, so the bang was double-barrelled), through the vestibule into the garden, if the row was of the first magnitude. If not, he banged his way back into the dining room by the serving-entrance…

The author goes on to remark: Only the other day I examined those Bradenham doors and their hinges. The workmanship of them is really wonderful.

A Benevolent Side

Despite his moody temperament, William Haggard also displayed a more compassionate nature as demonstrated at the wedding of his eldest daughter, Ella Doveton Haggard. The ‘poor of the parish’ were brought in, although separately, to join the marriage celebrations:

Norfolk Chronicle - 24 Jul 1869
Norfolk Chronicle – 24th July 1869

There are other examples of his benevolence, a trait he seems to have inherited from his father who once supplied the ‘poor of the parish’ with blankets:

Bury and Norwich Post - 11 Nov 1829
Bury and Norwich Post – 11th November 1829

It would be nice to think these acts of kindness were carried out with sincerity.

An Interesting Will

William M R Haggard died at Bradenham Hall on 21st April 1893 at the age of 76. His Will, written in his own handwriting on 10th April 1893, was deemed interesting enough to be summarised in several newspapers.

Elizabeth Hocking:

He left his cottages at Half-mile Drift to Elizabeth Hocking who was maid to his wife Ella, who pre-deceased him. The Will states this is in order that she {Hocking} may take care of her late mistress’s grave. Hocking is described in H Rider Haggard’s autobiography as a handsome, vigorous, black-eyed, raw-boned Cornishwoman, and it was back to Cornwall she went, and can be found in her birthplace of Helston on the 1901 census. Perhaps Elizabeth didn’t like taking orders from beyond the grave!

A Gruesome Relic:

And so we reach the tale of the ‘gibbet irons’. A second request by William Haggard was that his collection of armour may be preserved. I can find no further reference to the armour, but a report in the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser dated 30th September 1898 describes a gibbet discovered by William Haggard at the corner of East Bradenham Common in 1882. The gruesome part being that a portion of the skull was still visible in the upper part of the gibbet!

Cheltenham Chronicle - 24 Feb 1906
Cheltenham Chronicle – 24th February 1906

The contraption was donated to Norwich Castle Museum. According to the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website the owner of the skull fragment was called Watson, and hence the gruesomeness continues. A newspaper report from 1801 describes how a starling’s nest… was taken from out the breast of Watson, who hangs on the gibbet on Bradenham Common…

The Ipswich Journal - 27 Jun 1801
Ipswich Journal – 27th June 1801

I wonder what William M R Haggard would have made of this snippet of information?

William Meybohm Rider Haggard CDV

Newspaper clippings are from The British Newspaper Archive  © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


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