The Alabaster Chronicle
The Journal of the Alabaster Society
by Laraine Hake - March 1998
It seems it is true what they say about time going faster the older you get..................as I write this, it is almost exactly two years since the last Gathering, and so one year until the next; tempus fugit (or similar) so it is time to start planning! Turn to page 6 for my ideas so far, and think about booking your travel arrangements!
Time might have flown, but still a lot has happened since I wrote the last editorial. On the Alabaster front, I spent a lovely day with Jeffrey and Audrey Alabaster (IIA) at their home in Cambridge and heard all about their visit to Bangkok; they were visiting their daughter who lives there, but decided to make enquiries about Henry Alabaster (of Siam) (IIC), and ended up being wined and dined by Henry's descendants!
Peter Alabaster (WofW) and I did some more grave-digging with thrilling results, and digging of another kind took place in the Public Record Office, Kew, where Tony Springall (IIA)had uncovered an Alabaster Pedigree of the 19th century.
Adrian Alabaster's book, "A Quintet of Alabasters" has been thoroughly enjoyed by those of you who have bought it. There are a few remaining copies available from Able Publishing, 13 Station Road, Knebworth, Herts, SG3 6AP at £8.95 plus £1.50 postage. I would certainly recommend it if you are interested in Alabasters! If demand is great, perhaps they will be persuaded to do another print-run.
I taped a play on the radio last week and accidentally caught the book programme that followed. Lo and behold, they were reviewing Bo Fowler's book, Scepticism Inc., which has just been published. (Bo is the grandson of an Alabaster in Branch IIIA!)
For the rest of us humble Alabasters, this Chronicle is the main vehicle of our writing output. Please can I ask for help by way of contributions towards Chronicle Number Eleven, even if you can only produce an outline idea, and need me to flesh it out. I do hope you will enjoy Millie Knox's quiz on page 17. A really good idea!
Please keep news coming in, by letter, phone and email.
News from Around the World
Several of the letters in this Chronicle are not from members of our Society but from other people with Alabaster interests or knowledge - I think each is interesting in its own right!
Tony Humphreys, 11 October 1997
"It is with profound regret that we record the death, on April 23rd, 1957, of David Thomas Alabaster. A member of the School for nearly five years, he was a boy of great intellectual ability, who had for many years waged a gallant struggle against the illness to which he finally succumbed. We extend our deepest sympathy to his parents."
I can tell you nothing about any other members of his family. Oddly enough, I do not remember meeting either of Ali's
parents, though I must have done so, if only when a small group of us went round to his house to pay our respects
after hearing the news of his death. I do remember that as a rather macabre occasion:- Ali was laid out in the front
room! I don't even know if he had any brothers or sisters. I do have a photograph of Ali. That however, is not as good
news as it may sound. He is one of perhaps 500 in a school group photograph dating from May 1956. I am not sure
that anything useful could be copied from it, except maybe at substantial expense.
I found this letter very interesting and evocative. To my surprise I realised that David Thomas Alabaster would have been a second cousin of mine - his grandfather, George, must have been my grandmother, Adeline Bertha's brother, in fact he would have been the child who did the pushing............see Chronicle Number Nine.
Dorothy Gould (nee Alabaster) (IV) - Xmas 1997
Many of you will remember Dorothy who came over from the US on her own especially to join us at the last Gathering. Has any other Alabaster animal been savaged by an exotic undesirable?
Eileen & Jim Alabaster (IIIA) - Dec 1997
Sheelagh M. Neuling (nee Alabaster) (IIA) - Feb 1998
Ginny Bird (IIC)
Sandy Kenyon (IIC) - February 1998
Proposed Alabaster Gathering - Saturday, 17th April 1999
At the most recent Gathering, April 1996, it was proposed that we should hold another such event in three years` time, thus it would appear that some preparations should be put in hand!
We have held the last three Gatherings in the Guildhall at Hadleigh, and it was my intention to do the same again; however, on contacting the council to book the Guildhall I learnt that the cost of hiring the Old Town Hall for the meeting and the adjacent council chamber for display, as we had in 1996, has risen by 200% to more than £400 from ten o'clock in the morning to ten in the evening. Accordingly, I have looked around to see what other suitable premises are available.............I am delighted to discover that the "Old School" will cost us less than one-third of the price. I think it is a lovely venue, and was even more thrilled when I realised that it was built on the site of the old Alabaster School, which I hope will be considered more than appropriate. I have booked it!
At the present time I envisage the Gathering taking the form, as in the past, of meeting together on Saturday, with displays, talk, buffet lunch and local tours, and a dinner in the evening. On Sunday, for those who stay overnight, we could attend the church service in Hadleigh church with, maybe, a pub lunch and a tour of some nearby town or village of interest, and some relevance to our Alabaster forebears.
Further details and booking forms should be with the next Chronicle, due out September 1998. Laraine.
In his book, "Hadleigh through the ages" W.A.B. Jones writes:
"The first effective 'elementary', or non-grammar, school was established under the Will of John Alabaster, 20th April
1637, made on the day before his death, at the age of 76..........His Will bequeathed to the Incorporation of Hadleigh
12 acres of land in Coram Street and a tenement called Posfords in Bridge Street, as a habitation and School House
for 'an honest, sober, and sufficient man' to be chosen by the Parson for the time being, to teach poor children of the
town gratis, to read English and to write and cast accompts.
"The Coram Street lands were not actually Alabaster's property: they belonged to Robert Greene of Kersey, who had mortgaged them to Alabaster for £70. Greene paid the money at Alabaster's death, thus making the bequest void. However, John Alabaster the son made his father's intention effective. He added £24 to the money, purchased two acres of meadow between the house called Hobbetts (now Holbecks) and Toppesfield Bridge, and gave that as endowment for the new school."
The Old School
The Old School in Bridge Street was built in 1853 as the town's Church of England Boys' School. It ceased to be a school in 1968 and remained empty until 1971, surviving the threat of being turned into a second-hand car showroom! Fortunately for Hadleigh, the American conductor and pianist Thomas McIntosh bought it in 1971 for use as both a home and an Arts Centre.
The neighbouring Schoolmaster's cottage was built around 1900 and was at one time occupied by the Headmaster and Author of Hadleigh through the Ages, W.A.B. Jones. In 1976 it came on the market and was bought by Thomas McIntosh from the Alabaster Trust.
In 1987 Thomas and Miranda McIntosh substantially rebuilt The Schoolmaster's Cottage and joined together the cottage and the school in an innovative way. The school itself remains substantially unaltered. The large school room is now used as a concert hall, as well as the venue for occasional conferences, weddings and meetings.
The Old School is now the home of the International East Anglian Summer Music Festival, now in its 20th season, as well as Opera Anglia, a small professional opera company. In the summer the walled garden at the rear is a delight and much enjoyed by concertgoers.
The Incomparable Mr Jones
by Laraine Hake
How well I remember my first visit to Hadleigh..............it was during the second-half of the 1980s and I had spent a day in Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich, hunting for Alabaster details, and had been told that the name appeared several times in the parish registers for Hadleigh during the seventeenth century. As I drove homewards from Ipswich, I turned off the newly built Hadleigh by-pass into the town itself. It was dusk and I certainly was not anticipating discovering anything fundamental, just making a brief stop. I went into the newsagents, one of a chain, and looked to see if there were any books on local history. I picked up Hadleigh through the ages by W.A.B. Jones, turned directly to the index in the back..........and was just so thrilled when I saw "Alabaster family 31,47,58,59,63,67" as the first entry at the top of the page!
Thus began my acquaintance with Mr Jones. During the next couple of years we corresponded by letter, and once he entertained me to afternoon tea in his bungalow. He told me that he had come to live in Hadleigh, taking up a teaching post there, but with no intention of remaining in the town for the rest of his life. He said that this had changed when he was offered the contents of a chest that had been housed for years in a solicitor's attic............according to the frontispiece of his book........."a treasure trove of 2000 documents, some going back to the 13th century, and most of them unread for hundreds of years." Thus the history of Hadleigh became part of his life's work. He was enthusiastic about our plans to hold our first Alabaster Gathering in the United Reform Church Hall, Hadleigh in 1990, and took part in this as our guest speaker. Just before his death, less than four months later, in the last letter I received from him, he wrote, "I still look back with pleasure on our grand meeting".
As we plan the fifth Alabaster Gathering to take place in the old school, it seems fitting to reprint below the full text of the talk he gave at that first Gathering, eight years ago, now historic in its own right. I have reproduced his words, verbatim; I am sure that some of you who were with us that day will almost hear his voice through the words, as I do. For the rest, I do hope it will tell you something of the nature of the Alabaster family's relationship with the town of Hadleigh!
The Alabasters in Hadleigh
A talk by W.A.B. Jones, given at the first Alabaster Gathering 21st April 1990
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and, once again, welcome to this our historic town of Hadleigh. There are, you know, fifty-one towns in England which are supposed to be perfect and may not be altered in any way and Hadleigh is one of them. If you lived in the middle of Hadleigh and your house fell down, you'd have to have the bricks that had fallen down steam cleaned, as happened at the Post Office and Gateway Stores, and then rebuilt with the same material. The centre of Hadleigh is supposed to be so perfect that it may not be changed.
Well, it's certainly my pleasure, as well as duty, to give to you today just an outline of what Hadleigh was like in the century and a half when the Alabasters were here. The whole history of Hadleigh is rather more lengthy than it is possible for me to recount to you in the time allowed. However, Hadleigh owes a great deal to the Alabasters, as his Worship the Mayor was pointing out, in particulat to a sixteenth century Thomas who secured for us the Guildhall once again, after we'd lost it. Of course, the Alabasters owed quite a deal to Hadleigh too.
It was mutual. Cyril Cook and I, who are in charge of the town documents, have examined them very, very thoroughly, picking out Alabasters here and there. You'll have a chance to see them, those who come to the Archives Office afterwards. We find that the name Alabaster first appears in 1557 with Thomas. In order to get their genealogy worked out the Alabasters were beggars, if I may say so: they named everybody cheerfully "Thomas" or "John", and all the Town Records say "John" or "Thomas". Occasionally we have a variety and see one of the books kept by John Alabaster Junior, but to fit them together from the documents is difficult, to say the least of it. I think that the work that Laraine has been doing is absolutely wonderful, because they really are difficult to sort out.
Well, the first of the family in Hadleigh that we've found in our documents is Thomas in 1557. The last was Jane who was living in a house in George Street in 1697 and it was empty in 1698. Thereafter the Alabasters, from our town documents anyway, have disappeared. About the time when Thomas first appeared, the beginning of the sixteenth century, Hadleigh was a town of about 1000 to 1200 inhabitants and they were all engaged, either in the Wool Trade directly or in the various subsidiaries of the Wool Trade. We made chiefly blue cloth, but the Thomas Alabaster in the seventeenth century went a little bit further and he made red cloth and sky-blue cloth as well. We have found one or two little receipts for sky-blue cloth bought from Thomas Alabaster at about 21d per yard. That was quite ...... Well, I can't give you all the details: they would take so long, but anyway, they made the various kinds of cloth in Hadleigh, made by the Alabasters, and for a time Hadleigh was certainly seen that it was the chief manufacturing town in Suffolk, and the sixth manufacturing town in England. That seems strange when you look around you now but that was 500 years ago. In 1470 we were the sixth manufacturing town in England. When the Alabasters first appeared there was a tremendous change just taking place in the traditional cloth-making industry. The spinning wheel had just been invented, and that made just the same impact upon the manufacturers of the sixteenth century as the invention, say, of the microchip has done to the manufacturing work of the twentieth century.
Once the spinning wheel had been installed, straight away you found that much more cloth could be made by many fewer hands in much less time than when all the spinning was done by hand in the distaff. Some people were bright enough to take advantage of that, and for those who were, well of course it was literally and absolutely a money-spinner. I sometimes wonder whether that phrase dates from that age. Unfortunately, it meant that unemployment was going to loom up for those people who did not adapt. The Alabasters, I may say without praising you too much, were among the brightest people in Hadleigh and they promptly took advantage of it. Because, you see, always when you get a big group you get a few natural leaders who crystallise and come out of it. The Alabasters were people like that. They, and one or two others, who were joined on to them, you see they always married in little groups with similar interests, they were known as the "Principal Inhabitants".
We didn't have the Mayor and the Corporation then, the Alabasters would (have) them later on, they called themselves the Principal Inhabitants and they began to dominate the industry. Gradually the Alabasters and one or two other families, where people worked in their kitchens you see, father and mother and children, the domestic state of the industry...Now the Alabasters -- it dawned on them before anyone else -- that they did much better if they went round to the sheep farmers and bought all the wool, raw wool, then they issued the raw wool out in turn to the combers who combed it and cleaned it and the spinners who spun it and then to the weavers who wove it and so on, and then they collected the finished cloth at the end. People who did that were called Clothiers. Well, you can see that gradually the people who worked in their kitchens and houses and homes became more and more dependent on the Clothiers to be supplied with the work. I mean they were like factory hands who were not in factories but working at home. Unfortunately the little group of Clothiers gradually began to reduce the wages of the people who were working for them and we got a period developing in which some families became extremely wealthy and others became very poor. The Alabasters, you will see in a moment, made good use of that.
In 1573 to 1574, Thomas Alabaster and three friends bought back the Guildhall that had been seized by the Crown at the Reformation. When Henry VIII seized the monasteries he seized our Guildhall. A little group of four people bought it back from the person who had secured it. Some of the money they collected from the town to help them out, but some of it they paid themselves. So it was largely their enterprise and generosity that gave us the Guildhall back.
But, I might add, grateful as we are to them, it was also an extremely good investment for the Alabasters, because having got the Guildhall and given it to the town, they decided that a good use for it would be to make it into a Workhouse for those people who had been thrown out of work by the introduction of the spinning wheel. Then, when they got the poor people in there, the Principal Inhabitants then, very kindly, gave to the Workhouse a sufficient supply of Spinning Wheels and an adequate supply of raw wool from the sheep and set them to work spinning inside. So actually, in the end, they got their spinning done at a very much cheaper rate, they did very well. You see, the Alabasters helped the town and the town helped the Alabasters. A very good mutual arrangement.
During the sixteenth century, of course, the whole of England was torn by those dreadful religious controversies. People were burning each other for slight disagreements about particular points of theology that seem to us quite stupid today. Anyway, in Mary's reign, who became Queen in 1553, three people in Hadleigh were put to death because of their religious opinions, but the Alabasters, who I am saying were extremely sensible people, kept very quiet about it and, very sensibly conformed with whatever religion was the official one at the time. Our friend Thomas, we shall see his brass in the church this afternoon, died in 1592 at the age of 70, and when one thinks of what his religious beliefs were during that seventy years ending in 1592, he started out as a Roman Catholic, then under Henry VIII he became a Henry VIII type of Catholic, then under Edward VI he became an ardent Protestant, then under Queen Mary, who burnt people who were not Catholics, he became a Catholic once more and then Elizabeth became Queen and he became a very supportive member of the Church of England. So during his life he had five different forms of religion, but he kept his head and he kept from being burnt too.
By the end of the sixteenth century the group of Principal Inhabitants was getting more and more ambitious. They wanted a Town Charter and they wanted a Town Charter because that would give them the legal power to control the inhabitants of the town in the same way as they were doing it by economic pressure. I have been highly delighted these last two or three days, when one thinks of what is going on with President Gorbachov and Lithuania to see he is doing now, in 1990, over the Lithuanians, exactly the same sort of thing that the Principal Inhabitants of Hadleigh were doing to their spinners and weavers in the year 1590, you see, using economic pressure of various sorts to keep their noses to the wheel. John Alabaster, of the time, opened the fund and John and his friends subscribed twenty pounds each. To give you an idea of the value of money, in those days a skilled craftsman like a builder or a skilled carpenter received a shilling a day. If you compare that with what they get nowadays, it gives you an idea of the change in the value of money. When they gave twenty pounds it was quite a lot. John went off to London, of course Kings didn't give Charters because they wanted to help people or anything like that: the civil service had to be requited, so John went up to London and there were various entities around and he gave a tenner to different officials where it was useful and so this Charter came to Hadleigh. In December 1618, thanks to this subscription and the work done by John Alabaster and one or two others, Hadleigh received a Charter, giving it a Mayor and a Corporation.
They met in the Guildhall for the first time. It is rather interesting, they received the Charter at Christmas time and as soon as Christmas was over they met in the Guildhall and they did things very well. Having assembled in the Guildhall, the first thing they did was to send out the caretaker to fetch a gallon of wine. Then the next thing was, they were going to do everything in fine style: they looked at the stools that had been provided for them to sit on; apparently in those days everybody stood up in church except the Corporation weren't going to: they had stools, and decided that they weren't quite good enough. They sent them back to the carpenter in order to have them made better. Then they thought about themselves again. We had our Mayor here merely in a gold chain today, at least a gold covered chain I had better say, and they decided that every member of the Corporation --- there were twenty-three of them altogether plus the Mayor --- they decided that every member of the Corporation should wear a gown of a certain colour and that the mayor was to have a different one and when the Corporation attended church, in fact they actually had a special porch which is now pulled down, they went in state through the doorway. When the Corporation attended church, or when they came to a Corporation council meeting, every member of the Corporation wearing his gown should go to the door of the Mayor's house, then lead the Mayor, in procession, from his house either to church or to the place of the meeting, and in front of the Corporation there were to go two mace bearers. I found in the documents, also, a bill: they actually ordered four dozen buttons to be fastened on each mace bearer`s uniform, so what they must have looked like on their procession through the town, I don't know. If anybody turned up without his gown to meet the Mayor, there was a fine of ten pounds. Well, of course, because the Charter had come from the King, the King appointed the first Mayor. When his year of duty finished and the town could appoint its own Mayor, of course, as you would expect, they appointed an Alabaster. So the second Mayor was John and his special chair you will be able to see when we go to the Archive Office because it is still kept there. I should say it is quite remarkable: I am told that there is only one other like it in England dating from that time, so they must have made a jolly good chair. I had to send a photograph of it to the Victoria and Albert Museum because they were quite interested in it.
One thing about the Corporation, you can't help noticing: they kept everything in their own hands, just that same little circle. Altogether, I think, there were sixty-nine Mayors, but if you go down the surnames there were only nineteen surnames amongst sixty-nine mayors. Out of those surnames, six were Alabasters, there were five John Alabasters, and one Thomas. One John Alabaster was dignified as John Junior, otherwise it was just John Alabaster and one single Thomas. They certainly ruled the town firmly. There was a prison that stood near where the Town Hall is now, at the back of the Guildhall, and one or two of the food bills have been kept. The allowance for a prisoner in Hadleigh gaol was 2d in old money, that is in our English money roughly 1p per day, to supply him with food, that is all he was allowed. If an offender stole 6d worth of goods, that's two and a half pence in modern money, they were flogged on the bare shoulders until the blood ran, all the way from the market place here, right down along the High Street to the other end of the town, but it was always part of the sentence that the blood must run while they were flogging them.
There were stocks in the Market Place for people who had sold faulty goods, so they were careful not to, and persistent offenders were hanged. I found a bill for hanging one person. It cost 6/6d that is thirty-two and a half pence in modern money. So you can see that, roughly, if you were going to sentence a person for more than six weeks in prison, it was a good deal cheaper to the town to hang him instead. So the people they had to bury, when you look down the churchyard, on the far side of the churchyard, the north side, you see the path ........ and it`s in that piece of grass between the north path and the fence of Hadleigh Hall that they used to put the people they hanged, all along there, so they were on the edge of the cemetery but not actually in it.
I don't want to bother you now with a lot of political details, but the fact is that there were various political uprisings and things like that, round about the year 1685/6. It was the time when King Charles II died and King James II was becoming King in his stead, and there were various political disturbances and upsets. During that time our Charter was taken away. What actually happened was that some members of the Corporation had done things that weren't quite legal. We have been seeing the same sort of thing in Councils at this present time with the introduction of the Poll Tax. Apparently our council, our Corporation, had been doing various little things that weren't legal, and some people who didn't like them went and complained to the Attorney General at the time and when the members of the Corporation knew the Attorney General had been told, they very, very hurriedly decided to resign the Charter. They simply wrote to the government and said that they resigned the Charter and they wouldn't have a Corporation any more. That saved them from getting into any further trouble but, of course, Hadleigh lost its Charter and having a Mayor and Corporation and we didn't acquire a Mayor again until Local Government Reorganisation took effect in 1974.
I think I have given you a little picture there now.
This map (right) is from W. A. B. Jones`s book Hadleigh through the ages. The map has no title or date, but I assume it is drawn by Anne Rea, to whom Mr Jones gives credit on the opening page of the book, its use being to indicate the position over the years of various significant landmarks in Hadleigh.
To my delight, it marks the Alabaster School, which is the reason I have taken the liberty of reproducing it here. LH
A SELECTION OF OCCUPATIONS OF THE ALABASTER FAMILIES, TAKEN FROM THE 1881 CENSUS FOR MIDDLESEX
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SAILOR: WHAT'S MY LINE?
Many thanks to Millie Knox who contributed this quiz. For the answers and details, not only of who held these occupations, but precisely where they were on the night of 3rd April 1881, .........
"The Burke's Peerage World Book of Alabasters",
Burke's Peerage, Marlborough, Wilts., about 140pp., undated, but issued on 1 October, 1997. Price £26.90.
This book contains: interesting information on the early origins of man and the European settlement of the New World and the Antipodes; the meaning of certain names; an account of coats of arms in general; how to set about family research, including very good lists of official addresses world wide; a blank family tree; and a useful list of English Probate Courts.
As for information about Alabasters, what is mainly offered is a list of names and addresses of Alabasters in 14 countries comprising Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Altogether 388 addresses are provided, of which 70% occur in Great Britain, 11% in the US, 10% in Australia, 6% in New Zealand, 2% in Canada and single cases in Germany and the Netherlands. For each country, figures are also given for total estimated Alabaster households and total estimated Alabaster populations, but the methods of estimation are not given. Of the address in Britain, many (41%) are in London and adjacent counties, Essex having most (15%). But the list is neither up-to-date nor complete; my brother, for example, who has lived at the same address in Wales for the last 50 years or so is not included, nor is one of my sons who has always lived in England. In addition, there is a single record of an Alabaster Will proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (Henry Alabaster, Devon, October 1783).
For anyone new to family history research this is a useful general guide, but information specific to Alabasters is sparse and incomplete.
John S. Alabaster, October 1997
May I say here that John actually returned his copy of the book to the publishers -- and if anyone is new to family history research, there are many useful general guides which cost a great deal less than £26! Laraine Hake, April 1998.