Wendy’s Week IF ONLY HE HAD NOT BORROWED THAT CLOAK
Two weeks ago I promised you some sad tales about Rye, which was once a fortified hilltop town, surrounded by sea. It also played an important role in defending the south coast of England, and today it is home to a local fishing fleet, but in the 1700s the harbour would have seen plenty of ships anchored, which brings me to our first sad tale.
A great party was to be held on 17 March 1742 on board a ship anchored at Rye harbour. John the eighteen year- old son of the town Mayor, James Lamb, was to make his first voyage and the Captain had invited the Mayor to attend the farewell dinner. With such an important guest to entertain the captain wanted to impress. Soon it was the talk of town, and rumours spread that French brandy had been smuggled on board and that a lavish extra delicacy of meat was being prepared for the table.
On the evening of the dinner, Allen Grebell called in on his brother-in law and found the Mayor very unwell, in fact he told him he couldn’t face the prospect of tucking into such rich food table and drink, but he didn’t want to let the captain or his son down. The Mayor thought for a minute. Why not ask Allen to take his place. After all Allen was a former Mayor and he felt sure the captain would be delighted, to at least have a Mayor present. Allen agreed, saying he would be delighted and was looking forward to the evening, but first he must go home and fetch a cloak. It had been a cold biting day with sleet showers and he would need something to keep him warm as he made his way to the harbour. ‘No need,’ said James, ’Take mine, and go and enjoy the evening, and make sure you give my apologies to my son.’ Thrilled to receive his unexpected invitation the ex-Mayor made his way to the harbour wrapped in the warm mayoral robe. Previously John Breads, butcher and owner of the Flushing Inn was heavily fined by James Lamb, then a local magistrate, for selling his meat short in weight. John was known for his sullen way and bad temper and those grievances he could not resolve by fighting, he would brood over, and after a few drinks in his Inn he would make vicious jibes to his cronies about butchers not liking lambs.
Over time the grievance had grown into an obsession with Bread’s, vowing that one day he would get his revenge on Lamb. The forthcoming dinner had become a talking point in the Inn and most probably the meat for the dinner had been ordered from Breads, and he decided this was the perfect time to get even with Lamb. After closing time he made his way to the parish churchyard and hid behind one of the tombstones. As the parish clock struck three-quarters to midnight he pulled his dark cloak around him to keep out some the cold chilly wind and waited.
Soon a solitary none too steady figure picked his way through the churchyard, and in the moonlight he could see the mayoral red cloak Breads grabbed his opportunity, and tiptoed from his hiding place and stabbed the man twice deep in the back. Breads casually threw the knife into the undergrowth and made his way home jubilant, shouting ‘Butchers should kill Lambs,’ believing at last he had got even with Lamb. Allen must have made the most of the brandy on board because he wasn’t aware that he had been stabbed, and staggered the short distance to his home and told his manservant that a drunken man had jostled with him as he crossed the churchyard, and he felt rather shaken.’ You go up to bed,’ he told the manservant, and I will sit here for a minute in front of the fire, then I’ll retire.’ Wrapping the mayoral cloak around him he sat down in the parlour to recover.
Meanwhile the Mayor, feverish from his illness was drifting in and out of the disturbed sleep dreaming of his late wife, Allen’s sister, who appeared to him twice, speaking of her concerns for her brother. Each time he dismissed it and tried to drift back to sleep, but when it happened for the third time and as dawn was breaking he decided to get up, dress and cross the road to his brother-in-laws house. He managed to rouse the servant who assured him that his master had returned safely, just after midnight, but the Mayor was still uneasy, and asked his servant to go to Allen’s bedroom to see if he was alright. White faced the servant returned and said his bed was empty and had not been slept in. Together they went to the parlour and found Allen slumped in the chair in front of the dying fire. The Mayor shook him gently, but he slumped to the floor having bled to death. The servant was arrested as being the last person to see Allen alive, but after an hour or so he was released.
The following day Breads boasted to everyone that ‘Butcher’s kill Lambs’ and to make matter worse the knife was discovered in the churchyard, a bone handled knife with John Breads engraved on it. He was arrested and taken to the Ypres Tower and tethered to the iron ring in the floor. His trial was set for May 5 1743 and the presiding magistrate was none other than James Lamb, the very man he meant to kill, unique in legal history. Breads was asked what he had to say on the matter, was defiant to the end and shaking his fists, he shouted, ’I did not mean to kill Mr Grebell. It was you I meant it for and I would murder you now, if I could.’ On June 8, Breads was taken from the Ypres Tower to the Flushing Inn for a last farewell drink with his cronies, and then hanged outside the Strand Gate. The following day, Breads dangling body was cut down, put in an iron cage and hung from a gibbet on Gibbet Marsh, to the west of Rye. Breads’ decomposing body remained for 50 years until only skull remained as a warning to others. Today it is in the Town Hall.