Life in Cromwell's England……


The years 1649 to 1660 were odd ones for English men and women. The king had gone, the Lords had gone, there was no proper Parliament and there was no Church of England. Daily life changed in quite dramatic ways.


Many of the English people's traditional amusements were banned by the Puritans. Bull-baiting and bear baiting pits were closed. In these pits, hungry dogs would be set to attack a chained bull or bear. Men of all classes, from the poorest street ruffian to noblemen, would bet on whether the bear or the dogs would triumph. The cock-pits, where hungry cockerels were set to fight each other, were also banned.


Theatres were destroyed and actors who continued to perform their plays risked being publicly whipped. The traditional maypoles (a pole with coloured ribbons around which village people danced) were pulled down. Religious festivals were abolished and at Christmas, for example, soldiers went around London, from house to house, pulling Christmas dinners out of families' ovens. This also happened on the last Wednesday of each month, which was a fast day. On such days, wrote one Londoner,"not one of us, young or old, ate so much as a morsel of bread for twenty-four hours together".(Quoted in "The Making of a Nation" A.J. Patrick.)


On Sundays the rules were even stricter. It was considered God's day and had to be devoted entirely to religion. All games and sports were banned. It was even illegal to go for a walk, except to attend a religious service in your own parish. Neither could you do any housework, again for fear of being fined or put in the stocks. The laws were difficult to enforce but good Puritans were encouraged to spy on their neighbours and denounce any un-Puritanical behaviour. They could then claim some of the fine as a reward.


Puritan church services were long; up to three hours. The congregation sat with their hats on, and sometimes people took notes. Sometimes the sermon was about a current problem and sometimes an extract from the Bible was discussed. For the first time there was freedom of religion. Even Jews could worship freely. In the end, despite Cromwell's wishes, the Church of England and Catholicism were banned, however. Any other form of worship was allowed though, and dozens of unusual sects flourished. Typical were, the Quakers, Aposticals and Ranters. from The Open Door Website.



From the (London) Sporting Life 30th March 1864, Good Friday Sports Day at Riffley Spring, continued:


The 130 Yards Race, the first event, excited some considerable excitement amongst the friends of the two competitors, a great deal of speculation having taken place upon it.  Young Tonger started from scratch, and a clever novice named Sonmot had 5 yards’ start.  The odds were in favour of Tonger at 50 to 20.  At the discharge of the pistol, Sonmot made a bad start, and before they had proceeded 20 yards, Tonger was by his side, and both struggled hard for the lead, which Tonger obtained a few yards from home, and won by about three-quarters of a yard.


Quarter of a Mile Handicap,- the following started:- Bailey and Foreshaw, scratch:  Bray, 5 yards’ start; Lake, 15; M’donald. 25; Young Bailey,25; Coe, 40; Embring, 45; Duffy 50.  Bailey was the favourite at starting, and in capital style he passed all his antagonists and landed himself a winner by about a yard. M’Donald fell, but picked himself up and succeeded in getting placed.  The following won and were placed:- Bailey, first; Coe, second; M’donald, third.  Time 1min, 16sec.


One mile Handicap.- the following accepted: - A.Flowers, scratch; Fiddaman. scratch; The Ranger, scratch; G. Bloch, scratch; W.Murrell scratch; Lord Zetland, scratch; Thrower, scratch; Bailey, scratch; Kidd, scratch; Brown, scratch; Thrower, scratch; Sucath, scratch; Bailey, 10 yards start; Ward 10; C. Sculpher, 50; G. Pratt, 65;  G. Archer. 95; Peters 95; D. Clock, 100; Joe Skittal, 100;  D. Johnson, 120; Hudson 120; Coker, 125; T. Lindsay, 130; H. Elmer, 130; Taylor 135; Arnold 150; G. Larwood, 150; J.Gibson, 150; Cox, 175; Sands 185; Duffy, 190; Cuthbertson 190; Pillon, 200; W. Curtis, 200; and J. Kent, 400. The distance was half a mile out, and the same distance home, the scratch for starting being the winning post. Betting: Even on Bailey and Ward.  A good race which resulted as follows:- Arnold, first; Cox, second; Sands, third. Won by three yards; the third well up.


Match: One mile Race,- A match took place between Sanpher and Young Frost, the former undertaking to run a mile whilst the young-‘un ran the same distance less 200 yards.  Sanpher ran in an improved form, and accomplished the mile in 5 min. 10sec.  Frost, finding he was pumped out before completing the first half-mile, gave up.


Mr Ellis Middleton’s Letter in full:


“According to tradition, the Reffley Society, came into being in the days of the Commonwealth. It is said that, during Cromwell’s protectorate, a gathering of thirty men or over was an illegal gathering, the law presuming, with patently good reason, that the object of any such meeting was most likely to be conspiracy against the government.


The citizens of King’s Lynn and its neighbourhood were strongly Royalist in sympathy.  The town had been held for King Charles 1 during the Civil War, and had only surrendered to the attacking Cromwellian forces to prevent the threatened destruction of the lovely church of St Margaret, the situation of which rendered it particularly vulnerable to bombardment by the enemy artillery drawn up on the opposite bank of the River Ouse.


This surrender was not indicative of any change of heart in the people of king’s Lynn; on the contrary, bitterness and resentment were no doubt added to their old antagonism because of the means by their foes to compel it.  Consequently it was but natural that some of the bolder spirits among them should take pleasure in defying the laws which were, as they viewed it, presently designed for their oppression, and some thirty men decided that, law or no law, they would forgather on one day in each year to show their contempt for their rulers, and to enjoy themselves in any way they might think fit.

Perhaps, because discretion tempered, to some extent, their boldness, they chose as their meeting place the secluded Reffley Spring, ***  and their successors the Reffley Bretheren or ‘Sons of Reffley’, have continued, for nearly three centuries, to meet annually at the same spot. Always have the Bretheren been thirty in number, except when death or other contingency temporally depleted their ranks, and thirty in number they still remain to the present day.


I personally see no reason whatever to cast doubt upon the Bretheren’s firm belief in the lawless but romantic origin of their Society.  The absence of any written records of the days of its inception is hardly to be wondered at, for even granted that their scholarship was equal to the task, its founders would see but little point in committing to paper names and facts which might mischance, fall into the hands of the authorities and be used against them as proof of their delinquencies.


Moreover, it is quite evident that not for many years after its foundation did the members of the Society consider necessary any written accounts of their activities. The earliest manuscript book in the Society’s possession, a ‘Bett Book’ (sic) wherein is recorded a number of quite remarkable bets made by the Bretheren, is dated 1789, the year of the building of the Temple, whereas the Latin inscriptions on the base of the Column say that the Spring was dedicated to ‘Bacchus and Venus, the gods of this place’, on 24th Jun 1756, when the column rose, more beautiful than before, from its ruins.’  From this it is manifest that the present column was the second to grace the Spring, and by whom could the first have been built if not by the ‘Sons of Reffley’? The inscriptions seem to me to establish beyond all question that the Society must have come into existence long before the year 1756.


It is also, I think, a significant fact that the Society has no avowed object save ‘conviviality and good fellowship.


It may interest Dr Scholes to know that whilst looking through some of the papers I came across the following paragraph, which appears with some notes procured from Dr. Mann, who, it seems, has or had the original copy of Dr Arne’s Cantata. At its foot are the words ‘Extract from Norfolk and Norwich Notes and Queries’.


“When in August 1818 Sir Martin Browne Ffolkes. Bart.  He is described as owner of the soil and Patron of the Spring, was returned to Parliament, the ‘Sons of Reffley’ held a sort of a sylvan celebration of the event.  A bugler stationed on the confines of the wood heralded the approach of the Patron, who was received by a numerous company, and preceded by musicians was conducted to the scene of the feast.  The rustic board was presided over by a Mr Marsh who ‘displayed those convivial talents which he so eminently possessed.’: there were toast drinking and singing, and the woods resounded with the sounds of mirth and revelry.  We are told that the utensils for the dinner were supplied by the Mayor of Lynn, but whether the ‘utensils’ included any of the corporation plate I am unable to say.


The mentions in this extract of ‘musicians’ and ‘singing’ is perhaps noteworthy.  Might not these festivities have included a performance of the Cantata or some part of it?


Mr Ellis Middleton

Hon Secretary, The Reffley Society

(n.b.This document is undated and is a copy of a letter addressed to Percy Scoles following his visit to the society in the 1930’s-1940’s)