Story Two: Guildhall Bridewell
My name is William but you can call me rag o’ muffin, ’cause that’s what people usually shout down the road after me.
“Get away yer pesky rag o’ muffin. ” And that’s the more pleasant version.
But I’m used to it. ‘bin living like this for ’bout a year now, on account of my parents gone. Went to live with a stranger, they said he was me bruvver, but he didn’t act like one. Isn’t a bruvver s’posed to look out for ye, and do right by ye?
But I wish ‘im no ‘arm. Life was tuff for ‘im too I think.
Anyway, I decided that I was neither wanted nor useful so I up’s and run away, making me way in the world by sleeping where I could and scrounging food and foraging from hedges, fields and waste. I did alright. Usually. On the good days I enjoyed the sun shining warm on me back. Sometimes I could get paid for helping out, mostly carrying stuff for the ‘gentry, or crop picking. Back breaking, knee crunching but I grafted for me bit of bread at the end of the day, and if I was lucky a rough place to sleep. Best was if I could curl up with a dog, or ‘orse in a stable. A bit of warmth and company, two beasts seeking affection is what got me through.
But then the warmth of summer was blown away by October winds, and November frosts and it was ‘ard.
That’s when you found me. After walking all day just to keep warm and trying to find shelter, I stumbled into the churchyard. I was not brave enough, nor strong enough to enter, but lay in the ditch, the standing stones for company, the owl singing the lullaby and the moon fading behind the clouds, the curtains that shut me in. Sleep came as my only friend,
“Oi. Get up, you! Clear off yer scoundrel. Yer’s got no business ‘ere.”
Your rough hands jerked me out of sleep and up onto my feet.
“What’s yer name? Where do you live? What you been up to then?”
Questions fired at me with no time to answer, I chose to be quiet.
Now, here I am, in this small lock-up. I wonder which do I prefer? I’m not sure, but at least I’m ‘ere in this place and I’m alive.
I’ve no way of knowing what time it is, too dark to see anything, and noises seem far away, or if close to unsettling to wonder what might be making them. I doze and wake in turn, imagining what might ‘appen when someone remembers I’m ‘ere.
After what seems like hours I hear voices shouting, instructions barked and some laughter. The lock grinds and the door opens and light floods onto my unsuspecting eyes.
“Cum on then, yer lazy good for nuffin. It’s up to the justice for you today. God help ye.”
I stand. Prudence again silences my tongue and I follow instructions quietly. At least I’m given some water to moisten my lips and my throat and a scrap of hard bread, hardly appeases the hunger but I’m grateful. Beggars can only be yer know.
Then I’m taken to this big room. Men look at me. Look down at me. Look through me. Look and turn away in anger. Look and lower the gaze in disgust. But one looks at me almost with kindness.
Men speak about me. But none speak to me. I try to follow but I cannot follow the unfamiliar words, the long speeches and grunts and nods and shrugs.
I remain silent. Seems best somehow.
Finally, the room absorbs the rhetoric and my silence is met by silence. Except for one man, the important being sitting on the important seat at the front. The one who looks down at me, looks through me with just a hint of something else?
A voice that is deliberately lowered speaks my name.
I look up as ‘is Grace’ offers me grace.
“William, I like what I see. I’m giving you a chance and sending you away, but you will be looked after, and given lessons. William, you are a fine boy, but I don’t want to see you again. Off you go, and God be with you.”
This story has been loosely moulded around an actual archive. I’ve changed the setting to fit in with the setting of the stories of the Guildhall in Finchingfield.
Click on the door to follow the real story and enjoy the work of the wonderful archivists at Essex Record Office.