Episode 2 – 17th Century Ipswich and the East Anglian Witch-Hunts

In the year 1645 the biggest witch-hunt in English history got underway and East Anglia was at its grim centre. Hundreds of people were hanged in East Anglia during the following few years after being put on trial for alleged crimes of witchcraft. However, one woman named Mary Lackland who lived in Ipswich was sentenced to the especially extreme sentence of being burned for her purported crimes.

In this episode of the podcast I speak to David Jones about his book The Ipswich Witch, Mary Lackland and the Suffolk Witch Hunts.

We talk about what life would have been like for people living in 17th century Ipswich, David’s ideas about what may have led to Mary Lackland’s trial and execution, methods used by witch-finders to test for the innocence or guilt of the accused, and what might have been behind the emergence of witch-trials at such an extreme level during the 1640s.

The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and most other podcast providers. If you don’t have access to a device with a podcast app you can also listen by following this link listen to the Ipswich History Podcast


From January to April this year the exhibition You Are Here: The Making of Ipswich took place at the Ipswich Art Gallery, which featured all kinds of objects brought out of the Ipswich Museums stores to tell stories about the people who have lived in the town over the centuries. One object in particular that caught my attention was a carved wooden figure that I had seen drawings of in history books but until recently had no idea was in the collections. The carving is known as the Bluecoat Boy and is an object that opens the door to telling the story of the way education has developed in Ipswich over the past few hundred years. I started doing some digging and this brief history of the Bluecoat Boy and the school it came to represent are the result.

Bluecoat Boy
The Bluecoat Boy carving on display during the Making of Ipswich exhibition

Bluecoat was a type of dress that came to be associated with a type of charity-based schools from the 1500s onwards, which were set up to educate poor children in towns and cities. Some of these schools survive still today with bluecoat uniforms that nod towards their past, although they have mostly turned into independent or private schools.

The bluecoat boy carving in Ipswich once adorned Christ’s Hospital, which was originally established by a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1572. It was then part of a complex of buildings aiming to serve the poor of the town housed within what was once part of Blackfriars Monastery along Foundation Street. The bluecoat boy figure represents the pupils from humble backgrounds that received an education at Christ’s Hospital in Ipswich for over three hundred years.

The name can be a little confusing – Christ’s Hospital was not particularly a religious institution (although it was based on the former site of a monastery) and wasn’t really a hospital either. In this case the word refers to a place that people could stay (think hospitality not medical centre). It was established to help the needy in the town, as a place of residence for the very young and the aged homeless, as well as acting as a school (of sorts) where boys would also earn their keep by spinning and carding (aspects of the cloth making industry that was a vital part of Ipswich’s economy in the 16th and 17th centuries). Christ’s Hospital’s function as a place of instruction for boys eventually came to be the institution’s leading preoccupation as it became primarily concerned with “maintaining, educating, bringing up, and apprenticing of poor boys” according to the local historian Robert Malster.

The remains of Blackfriars, where the complex that included the school within Christ’s Hospital was originally based

We don’t know the exact date that the bluecoat boy statue, which was to come to represent the pupils of the school, was carved but we do know (from sketches that have survived) that it originally stood at Christ’s Hospital in Foundation Street. It then went on to take pride of place in a specially created niche in the walls of the school when it took up new premises across the river, off Wherstead Road, in 1841. That such special provision for the carving was made in the new building suggests that it was already venerable at the time of the move and would seem to indicate that the statue probably dates from sometime in the 18th century.

Ipswich School

During the Victorian era, in the new school, the boys were instructed in “the three Rs”: reading, writing and arithmetic. However, those in charge still managed to find time to treat the children to a dose of manual labour by involving them in the cultivating of the extensive gardens attached to the school. Christ’s Hospital continued its work until 1883, when its endowments were merged with those of the more prestigious grammar school (now known as Ipswich School), which had recently moved to Henley Road in a new building that still stands to this day.

A stone set in the wall commemorating the school that once stood here

The original site of Christ’s Hospital on Foundation Street fell into ruin along with the rest of the former Blackfriars Monastery that it was based within and has since been built upon, although a fraction of the remains still exist. As for the new school south of the river that was closed in 1883, only one year later the building was demolished and replaced with a set of terrace houses and shops in 1884. Fortunately, the carving of the bluecoat boy was saved from the demolition and donated to Ipswich Museums so that a small piece of this long story of education in the town survives to help give us a glimpse into the past.

Terrace houses on Wherstead Road where Christ’s Hospital once stood


Almond is one of those words I find myself rehearing in my head before saying out loud and in public ‘al-mond… ar-mond…’ It’s not like the pronunciation is even delineated along geographical lines – in England, it seems to me, people just pronounce it however they like. Ask yourself, honestly, do you always pronounce it the same way? I know I don’t. On this occasion, in Sainsbury’s and with a recently fought off cold, I was asking for trouble.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, as I approached a supermarket assistant in the home baking aisle. ‘Can you tell me the difference between almond essence and almond flavouring?’

The assistant initially looked slightly taken aback and then asked ‘what are you making?’

It might have been my imagination but I like to think that she had at first thought I had asked her what was the difference was between old-man extract and old-man flavouring. I really need to learn to say that word properly, I thought.

‘I’m making the Ipswich Pudding from an old recipe in here’ I said, indicating the history book I was holding.

“Oh, what’s that then?”

“It’s a local pudding that used to be made in Ipswich. I came across it in this book and thought I’d give it a go… it’s got a lot of almond in it” I added, taking extra care with my pronunciation.

“How interesting…” said the assistant, relaxing into the conversation now that she realised I had little to no interest in the odour of old men.

Anyway, you get the picture. With some helpful advice about baking with almonds I collected all the ingredients I needed and headed back to the Ipswich History kitchen.


The Ipswich Pudding dates back to the mid-1700s. There are several early recipes that state quantities differently, but essentially the ingredients themselves are more or less the same. The following recipe comes from Robert Malster’s book Ipswich: an A to Z of Local History, which he in turn quotes from the Ladies Companion of 1836:


  • ¼ pint single cream
  • 1 ½oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 2oz caster sugar
  • 4oz ground almond essence
  • 3 eggs
  • A little butter*
  • Split Almonds for decoration


Grease 2pt oven dish.

Warm cream and pour over breadcrumbs, stir in sugar, ground almonds and almond essence. Beat one egg and two yolks and add to mixture. Whisk remaining egg whites till stiff and fold into almond mixture.

Pour into dish, add dots of butter and split almonds.


Bake in slow oven for about 1 ½ hours or until pudding is well risen and golden brown. Serve at once.

Serves 4 – 6 people.


So there you have it. Ipswich’s very own pudding. If you like almond there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it! Personally, I would recommend serving it with something, as otherwise it might be a little dry. I plumped for strawberry jam. Bon appetit!


*It’s worth noting that until the mid-19th century recipes in cookery books were very often imprecise with measurements leaving the reader to guess what was meant by instructions such as ‘a little butter’. The book that changed all this was Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, 1845, which was the first to provide exact measurements and cooking times (Bryson, Bill, At Home, Doubleday, 2010, p.84).


When I was around 7 or 8 years old, my mum took me and my brothers on the Ipswich open air bus for the first time. This was a pretty big deal from what I remember. Scores of parents with their young children would wait just down the road from Crown Pools (for hours it would seem in kid world), in sizzling heat – for the bus only ran for a few weeks in the height of summer – for an open air bus to pull round the corner and send all the kids crazy with excitement. The main reason all the kids were falling over themselves to get on the bus was because anyone with any sense knew that the climax to the bus tour was a trip across the Orwell Bridge (below). If you were 7 years old in mid-1990s Ipswich, being blown around by high winds on a high bridge on an open air bus driving at 40mph was easily the most exciting thing on the cards for you. It might be sad but it’s true.

The Orwell Bridge

The reason I bring all this up is that before the bridge there was a tour to be sat through. Needless to say this was quite boring and also quite pointless, because all the children on the bus were too young to understand or care and all the parents were too busy stopping their children from climbing over the side of the bus to listen. Genuinely, the only thing I remember about the history of the town from those tours was the point at which we went past the Old County Hall, when the guide would very importantly announce that this was the place where the Simpson divorce was decided and that this had important consequences for the royal family and the country.

If you’ve watched the multi-award winning King’s Speech recently then you probably remember Wallis Simpson as the woman Edward VIII abdicated to marry. The film portrays her in a fairly bad light, but as far as I can see from a bit of research, they went pretty easy on her. To put it bluntly, she seems to have been a fairly big Nazi supporter who slept around with a lot of men and abused her position to pass British intelligence to the Germans before and during World War II. She was a bad egg.

In the autumn of 1936 Wallis Simpson spent six weeks living in Felixstowe in order to gain residential qualifications to have her divorce hearing held in Ipswich, a place in which it was hoped minimal publicity would be gained. Unfortunately for Mrs Simpson this was not to be a low key affair. Associated Press of America was informed of the pending case and the world’s press promptly arrived in Ipswich for the hearing that was to take place on 27th October.

The Old County Court on St. Helens Street

On the day of the hearing the police took the precaution of closing off St Helens Street to prevent the press taking photos of Wallis Simpson as she arrived at the County Court. Naturally, the press, always keen to report a royal public scandal, were not going to let a little thing like that get in their way and took up situations in buildings along St Helens and Bond Street. It’s an interesting example of how much freedom of the press has come on over the past few decades that police stormed these buildings and impounded any camera that they found.

The hearing itself lasted only 25 minutes. The judge, Mr Justice Hawke, seems to have been fairly unhappy about permitting Mrs Simpson her divorce, but in the end after hearing evidence from members of staff from a hotel at Bray-on-Thames, who told of her husband sleeping with another unnamed woman, he relented and reluctantly said ‘Very well, decree nisi.’ (Meaning that unless further evidence was brought before the court within six months to change the decision, then their Marriage would be dissolved).

After the decision Mrs Simpson sped out of the court and was driven at high speed to London. In another attempt to slow down and silence the press a policeman followed her car and then spun his own car round in the middle of the road to prevent them from pursuing. Those who did manage to get through found themselves held up by a ‘routine’ traffic check on the A12 and were asked to provide their driving documents.

Wallis Simpson shaking hands with Adolf Hitler

The hearing in Ipswich led to a crisis that was only resolved in December 1936 when Edward VIII announced his abdication. They were married the following year in June.

In the following years and throughout the 2nd World War the couple lived together in various countries around Europe. As mentioned, Wallis fed intelligence to the Germans through Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the one-time German ambassador to Britain who she had had an affair with. It was always Hitler’s plan, by the way, to make Edward his puppet king in England after an invasion of Britain and so presumably with Wallis as Queen.

As Edward VIII only abdicated due to his wish to marry Mrs Simpson, if she had not gained her divorce he would have remained King with her as his mistress leading into WWII. Thank goodness history took the turn it did that day on the 27th October 1936 in Ipswich. Otherwise, Britain may have found itself fighting a World War in the strange situation of the King’s mistress passing information of the highest importance to the enemies of his subjects.

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