Sunday, 21 January 2018





It was towards the close of the year 1877, a very unremarkable year by all accounts that Mr. Ernest Pridhey M.A. and a young learned friend of his named Mr. James Danbury-Wethers M.A., a fellow Schoolmaster, parted company during the Christmas vacation, Pridhey, to his relatives in Warwickshire and Danbury-Wethers to the unexplored reaches of darkest Northamptonshire. I should explain that Mr. James Danbury-Wethers, a young and learned man who was well-groomed yet not so well-connected who possessed quite an immaculate wardrobe to which he was not averse to adding a splash of colour to the elegant ensemble as was the wont of the more fashionable, younger generation, had more than a scholarly affection for the works of the bard and had recently made a distinct effort in his researches in that direction for he was of a stern and stubborn clay and unshakable in his ideas and notions. One of these rather unshakable convictions to which he let Ernest in on was his theory concerning the history of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Lady Elizabeth Barnard or Bernard (it was spelt both ways as indeed were many names by those blessed with a total ignorance of the English language during a time when a fondness for rearranging vowels and interchanging consonants was the fashion!) and as to the matter of her being the last of the bard’s line of descent. It seemed like some weird and wild goose-chase to Ernest who relished most things, appending more than a touch of romance and adventure to his friend’s pursuit and James was adamant in his intention to discover the truth behind certain unconventional research he had already carried out. Ernest thought it would be a harmless venture for him and it would certainly keep his mind occupied during the Christmas vacation, which god knows can be a lonely and unforgiving time for those with little or no family and few friends. Having shown some vague interest in his work he no doubt thought that Ernest would be a good recipient to a letter he had written and posted prior to the vulgarity and charade of Christmas, a letter he received on the twenty-second of December in fact which gives an impression of Mr. Danbury-Wethers initial opinion of the Abbey in Northampton and his encounter with Dr. Thomas Prichard:


Abington Abbey,
Wednesday 19th December 1877.


Dear Ernest,

            Just a note to let you know I have arrived in Northampton and I am staying at the above address as a guest of the learned Dr. Thomas Prichard, a man with more than a passing fondness for the Episcopal gaiter and the cousin of the celebrated Doctor Thomas Octavius Prichard, (by all accounts a tall and handsome man who was brilliant yet a little touched by ‘madness’ who passed some thirty years ago I am told).  Dr. Prichard is a curious man who stepped quite easily into his cousin’s shoes to take on the directorship of the Abbey, a retreat for lunatics, just as easily as he slipped into his bed and won the heart of his grieving widow and soothed the sadness of grief with the joy of matrimony on 24th August 1848! She died some twenty-five years ago at the ripe old age of forty-four! His compassion for these poor unfortunate devils that inhabit the asylum knows no bounds and he does not use ‘mechanical restraints’ (1); he is of excellent mind, although a little vague in certain aspects of convention and decidedly averse to social engagements! ‘I am told that you have a peculiar interest in Lady Barnard!’ were his opening words to me! Well, we shall see how matters unfold. I shall be here until term begins again so letters addressed here care of Dr. Prichard shall find me. I must say Prichard is a most hospitable and gracious fellow (with an excellent wine cellar!) and I am to be in daily consultation with him concerning the history of the Abbey, a most gloomy and imposing prospect which as I mentioned is now an asylum (Tudor with Georgian additions) and its past inhabitants – the Barnards and the Thursbys! There are the remains of some long forgotten village here, evidence of a medieval manor house and mill, not to mention the gallows (2) which took five witches to their graves during the 1612 witch trials (I am told it was the first instance of the use of the ‘ducking stool’ but cannot substantiate this fact!


The blessings of Christmastide upon you!

Your ever friend,


Ernest was a little perturbed by the letter but hastened to put it out of his mind and enjoy the festive delights.
Upon his reception at the Abbey, James was met by Dr. Prichard (3) himself who greeted the newcomer with a most affable and pleasant manner and they both fell into some dismal small talk such as the weather which often consumed the mind of the dreariest Englishman at home and abroad; James could see in Dr. Prichard a man of great intellect and learning; a man with a mind buttressed by his enormous medical knowledge, the cruel tempest of which raced with fury across his countenance from one moment to the next, the storms and eddies of his passing thoughts which occupied him greatly manifested upon his aged face. Unfortunately James was not in Dr. Prichard’s company long for he was called away to attend to some matters concerning the running of the Abbey and left to occupy his time in the library where there were many volumes which would prove of interest to the most dull and notable antiquarian!
Mr Danbury-Wethers spent his first night at the Abbey which passed without much interruption and he occupied his time the next morning investigating the twelfth century church which stands near to the Abbey (actually a manor house); the church had been nearly destroyed in a great storm during the eighteen-twenties sweeping away much of the main body of the church except for the tower; it was rebuilt by the Thursby’s and much altered. There is a memorial plaque to Lady Elizabeth Barnard and she is buried there. As he was leaving the church James encountered the Reverend Lewis Haig Loyd who is the current Rector of the church and they greeted each other cordially and after a little introduction to which James stated that he was staying as a guest of Dr. Prichard at the Abbey the Rector exclaimed:
‘Blast him to Hades! Do you know sir he had the audacity to remind me, me of all people sir that no Rector is larger than his congregation sir!’ James was a little perplexed at this outburst but slowly shook his head as if to signify agreement with the good Reverend, who continued his conversation:
‘Damn his eyes and all the Prichards! They’re no good you know! Not one of ‘em! I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours already concerning his cousin?’
‘Are you referring to Thomas Octavius Prichard?’ James asked.
‘Indeed I am sir! A most unfortunate business, most unfortunate indeed!’
‘I am not aware of the rumours sir.’ said James.
‘Of course I’m not one for tittle-tattle and to blazes to anyone who tells you I am sir but the story is that he became Superintendent at Northampton Lunatic Asylum, St Andrews as it is known in the year 1838 if I am correct? Yes, no doubt I am and his lovely wife Elizabeth at his side as Matron and five children to keep! His cousin, him at the big house became his medical assistant the following year – a pretty affair indeed sir! Prichard, the former that is was charged with incompetence (some say he was just a scapegoat) but the truth of the matter is that a post-mortem took place without the proper authority, very unethical and of course there are those who testified as to his liking for the strong drink!’ and here the good Rector tutted with a ‘dear me, dear me, before continuing, ‘rather than receive the boot and be disgraced by scandal he formally resigned in April of 1845! Not that I’m one to spread rumours of course but as you are staying under the Prichard roof you should be aware of the facts as it were and I should hate for you to go into battle unprepared!’
Quite what the battle should be James was at a loss to know but he said ‘thank you most kindly for the warning!’ He had been observing the Rector’s mannerisms and deduced his mind to be older than his body for he was by no means an old man physically and was in possession of a temperament that would shame a man twenty years his junior.
‘I of course pay no head to malicious gossip and most of my knowledge is the result of conversations with a previous Rector named Fred Thursby who passed in sixty-nine, but I’m told it wasn’t long after Prichard was removed, I mean resigned that he established the Abbey and began poaching all the rich, imbecile clientele from the Lunatic Asylum and other such localities in the district. He died of Cirrhosis of the liver, the result I am told of the demon drink!’ and here the Rector tutted some more, exclaiming ‘dear me, dear me,’ and then went on ‘that was in the year 1847 and it was only a year later that his cousin, him at the Abbey, married his poor grieving widow and old Thomas Octavius not yet cold in his grave!’ and here the Reverend shook his head and looked up in the air as if to receive God’s blessing in his moral condemnation of the Prichard’s, before continuing ‘not that I have loose lips Mr. Danbury-Wethers but it is funny don’t you think how very convenient it was for the widow Prichard to so suddenly, within twelve months in fact, fall into the arms of Thomas Octavius Prichard’s cousin, also a Doctor named Thomas Prichard and betroth herself to him and devote four years of her short life to him before expiring gracefully unto the Lord!’
‘Are you suggesting there may have been foul play sir?’ James asked, animated at the thought of a delicious murder.
‘I said nothing of the sort sir nor did I infer such a thing, I merely state that it is “funny”, that is all! How quickly some people leap to damning and casting doubts upon the astounding accomplishments and achievements of the likes of Doctor Prichard! I do not condone your methods Mr. Danbury-Wethers for they are questionable! How very easy the young jump to unwarranted conclusions! Deer me, what a very inquisitive man you are Mr. Danbury-Wethers!’ There was a short silence as the Reverend stared deep into the eyes of Mr. Danbury-Wethers, the ‘very inquisitive young man’ who looked about him awkwardly, wondering if the good Reverend were not a little unhinged in the mind himself also!
‘I suppose I must be keeping you from your work, especially at this time of year? Do please excuse me!’ said James politely as he made as if to walk away. The Rector held onto his arm gently, saying
‘Only sermons my dear fellow and such like that are my duty by the Divine will of God, heard by a handful and ignored by all!’ he said, sweeping his hand in front of him as if in dismissal of his flock. ‘Heathens!’ he continued, ‘My only pleasure sir is to sit in solemn silence in the dark of the church and listen to the angelic voice of the boy-chorister – you would need a heart of stone to not weep tears of sorrow and joy and to not fall incomprehensibly at the feet of God upon hearing the beautiful opening to “Once in Royal David’s City”! Unfortunately for the last time as I am moving on to St. Lawrence where I am informed a steady hand is most definitely needed there! That is my only pleasure sir, at this time of year but my only weakness I might add, that is a different matter, a weakness sir to which church affairs perpetually interfere, my weakness, and some would say my “sin” is golf! I’ve been so busy of late that I fear my handicap is slipping! Do you play golf Mr. Danbury-Wethers?’ enquired the Reverend of the young man, lightly touching his arm.
‘I am afraid not sir.’ The Reverend looked decidedly perturbed by this as if he had asked ‘are you fond of breathing?’ and received a reply in the negative, and said:
‘Pity, God’s game sir, God’s game!’ and thus the Reverend Lewis Haig Loyd rushed into the church to perform the detestable Lord’s work (4). James returned to the Abbey and in the seclusion of his bedchamber turned his attention to his well-thumbed volume on Shakespeareana by Halliwell-Phillipps (5).
James had been at the Abbey two days when he hit upon some major discovery to reinforce his theories, but we must return to the dark and distant past, to the seventeenth century in fact before we can proceed further. It is known that Elizabeth Hall was baptised on 21st February 1608 at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, daughter to the bard’s daughter Susanna Hall nee Shakespeare (1583-1649) and Doctor John Hall (1607-1635). Elizabeth married on 22nd April 1626 when she was eighteen, a Mr. Thomas Nash (1593-1647) at Holy Trinity, Stratford. Thomas died on 4th April 1647 and eighteen months later, forty year old Elizabeth married John Barnard or Bernard (1604-1674) on 5th June 1649 at Billesley near Stratford (6). John Barnard (for we shall use this spelling) of Abington, Northampton was a widower with several children; he was knighted on 22nd September 1661 and so Elizabeth became a Lady. Just five weeks after Elizabeth’s second marriage her mother Susanna died aged sixty-six on 11th July 1626. Elizabeth now inherited the Shakespeare property and she and her husband moved to New Place in Stratford.
James sat with Doctor Prichard, a leading name in mental illness who gained his medical diploma at the University of Glasgow and became the Medical Superintendent at Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum, in the oak panelled room at the Abbey discussing peculiar aspects of history concerning the household and the Barnards –
 ‘Skilfully in thine honour sir, hath the brandy hour approached! Will you take a glass?’ enquired Doctor Prichard of James in a distinctive theatrical manner which seemed out of place. It was usually the custom for the good Doctor to take a drop of the medicinal stuff in the late afternoon and accepting the drink, James asked the Doctor what became of Dame Elizabeth Barnard.
‘It is indeed known’ began the Doctor, ‘that when her Aunt Judith died on 9th February 1662 at Stratford, Elizabeth became the last living descendant of William Shakespeare (7). Elizabeth wrote her will on the 29th January 1669, a will witnessed by the Rector of Abington, John Howes and a person named Francis Wickes, strangely there was very little mention of her husband John Barnard in the will; she died on 17th February of that year or possibly the following year as some documents specify aged sixty-one at this very house – she died childless we are told and she is buried in the parish church just yonder!’
She was indeed buried in the Parish Church ‘just yonder’ and Doctor Prichard took from his breast pocket a small notebook, saying:
‘When I heard you were coming here to further your research I took the liberty of making some notes’ and after a brief pause, he read on:
‘On 4th December 1669 the manor was sold to Mr. William Thursby (1630-1701), a lawyer, judge and Member of Parliament who enlarged the building and gave it a much grander Georgian style between 1738 and 1743. The house was inherited by a relative of Thursby’s in 1764 named John Harvey-Thursby (1709-1764) who was also a lawyer and a Member of Parliament; he lived here with his wife Anne and eleven children I believe! Would you care for another brandy Mr. Danbury-Wethers?’
‘No thank you Doctor, do please continue.’ James said, being too polite to inform his host that he had already acquired such information for himself and he wished to discover something new!
‘Well, here we come to the crux of the matter that I informed you about. Many of the Shakespearian artefacts which were stored at the house and had not been destroyed were discovered by John Harvey-Thursby’s wife Anne and she showed them to her husband who was known to be a great enthusiast of the bard. To his utter astonishment and disbelief there was a letter in the hand of Elizabeth Barnard dated 7th September 1651 and written to her ‘sweet childe, Edward’.
‘And the whereabouts of this letter now, have you seen it yourself?’ interupted James excitedly.
‘I have not as such seen the letter myself Mr. Danbury-Wethers but I am told that upon John Harvey-Thursby’s death here at the house in 1764, on the 8th June of that year to be precise at the age of fifty-four, the collection mysteriously disappeared without trace, a great loss to the nation no doubt! But there is one further piece to the jigsaw which I must disclose and of course it is only given on hearsay so we cannot put much faith in it and that is that just prior to the death of Sir John Barnard in 1674 a man came forward calling himself Otkins who was said to be in possession of certain letters and documents which could be of a compromising nature and no doubt intended to carry out some mischief in the form of blackmail. We can only assume that the letters and documents per se were retrieved somehow and found their way back to the manor house!’
‘Yes no doubt! And Edward: have you established the identity of this man?’
‘We can of course assume it to be Edward Bagley of Dudley but there is no real evidence to back this up, but we do know that he was named as Elizabeth’s sole executor of her will, a man whom she describes as her ‘loveing kinsman’ and he stood to inherit a great deal of the remainder of monies after various settlements and legacies! If indeed this man Bagley is her son, she would have been thirty-three when Bagley was born in 1641 and still married to Thomas Nash who was in his forty-eighth year, (he was to die six years later in 1647). This man Bagley was apprenticed upon reaching his fifteenth year and was known as a “pewterer of London” – he completed his apprenticeship in 1664’.
‘But where is the child when Elizabeth marries John Barnard in 1649?’ James interjected with a look of puzzled wonder. But Doctor Prichard would say no more and said they had talked long enough on the subject and that he would resume his discourse tomorrow evening and so James took to his bed in one of the small rooms reserved for guests on the top floor. Before he went to sleep James wrote in his journal:

Thursday 20th December 1877

today I was informed by Dr. Prichard that the poor unfortunate poet John Clare was a patient at Northampton Lunatic Asylum where he was committed in 1841 and that his cousin Thomas Octavius did what he could for him before the poet’s death there in 1864. After luncheon I was invited to be a fourth at bridge and not being particularly good at the game I at first declined but was encouraged to play. One of the players, a man named Harris who has a particular fondness for digesting cut flowers, told me about an infamous talking pig of Daventry who regularly conversed with the town folk. He being an astute young man thought he would invest in the beast and he purchased the animal with the intention of making a huge profit. To his dismay the great pig seemed reluctant to speak and unwilling to engage in conversation but he was not completely distressed as he said the beast made some of the loveliest sausages he had ever tasted! Following this Harris appointed me by Royal Order of the Silver Spoon which he held aloft like a mighty sceptre and dubbed me Arch Deacon!

That night James had a very disturbed sleep and in the darkness of his room were more than the usual creaks and gentle rustlings for he was troubled the whole night by the sounds of what seemed like footsteps and breathing, but whenever he got up to investigate there would be nothing there! He was most perplexed but tried to remain rational.
The next day Doctor Prichard joined James in the library which was a room of utter silence except for the slow ticking of the clock and after some minor pleasantries, their talk resumed:
‘We know, of course that the celebrated thespian David Garrick paid a visit to Abington Manor’ said James, ‘and that he had a great fondness for Anne, the wife of John Harvey Thursby!’
‘Yes’ continued Doctor Prichard, ‘that was in February of the year 1778 and he planted the sapling in the grounds of the Abbey which was taken from Shakespeare’s actual mulberry tree in Stratford, or at least we are to assume so! As for myself I believe it to be the genuine article and all questions as to its heritage should be dismissed as pure nonsense!  It was sad that Anne should pass away a short time later that year, on the 22nd April I believe at the tender age of forty-three! She was the daughter of William Hanbury of Kelmarsh, Northampton, born in 1735 and by all accounts I’m sad to say she was a bit of a gambler!’
‘I believe’ James said, ‘that the mulberry cutting is intended as a symbol to show that the Shakespeare line did not die out with Elizabeth but continues, perhaps as a link with Edward!’
‘I’m afraid that’s pure speculation on your part Mr. Danbury-Wethers! There is no evidence to support and substantiate such a claim and such misconceptions must be declared as idle fancy!’ and here the kind Doctor gently lent his head forwards and looked up at James as if in anticipation of some remark of condescension. Such a remark not forthcoming Dr. Prichard continued ‘as to the house, in 1841 the manor was sold to a Mr. Lewis Loyd, a banker who auctioned off the contents and it was subsequently let to my cousin Thomas Octavius Prichard (1808-1847) who established this asylum as a retreat for the mentally unfit in 1845.’
Following dinner and several glasses of port and the usual extravagant pleasure of a fine cigar, James retired to his bed chamber with many questions revolving in his mind, so much that he wondered if he should ever sleep at all that night. As was his habit, James wrote a few lines in his diary:

Friday 21st December 1877
the light covering of snow in the churchyard and the grounds of the abbey gave it a peculiar and somewhat preternatural appearance and the aged stone stood solemn as the rooks cawed from the church tower. I felt as if I had dissolved through centuries and returned to the romantic light of the sixteenth century until the cries of lunatics, as if baying at an imagined full moon (it was in fact full last night!) brought me back to reality with a harsh thud. The confines of the abbey are comfortable and sumptuous though dismal and there is an air of ‘matters not resolved’ about the place. Dr. Prichard, a man of regular habits, presides over the whole abbey like a manorial squire attended to by those around him such is his reputation and general conveyance of his physical presence. I feel as if I am watched from all quarters without let up and every dark corner hides something malicious and infernal awaiting an opportunity to manifest its evil. I am overly tired of late and my thoughts are inhabited only by the previous occupants of the house which Dr. Prichard so elegantly draws for me. 

He got into bed and pulled the sheets over him and prepared for sleep and once again the disturbing sounds erupted once more in the room around him. First there was the sound of shuffling feet and then a deep and prolonged sound of breathing. More than once did he wake with a start to the sensation of feeling a thin hand being drawn across his face but he was at a loss to explain the cause of such fancies as he believed them to be!
The next day the Doctor commented how tired the Schoolmaster was looking and suggested a sedative to which James refused, saying he thought that the Abbey was not conducive to a good night’s sleep because of its history!
‘I do not believe in ghosts Mr. Danbury-Wethers but there are many who do and will tell you with some conviction that the Abbey is haunted and that phantoms linger in their unrest to pester the living. All nonsense of course and it is talk like that which brings many of our patients, or shall we term them “guests” to this delightful retreat! (7) Well, if you are up to it Mr. Danbury-Wethers we may continue our talk?’
‘Please go on Doctor!’ James said feeling a little distressed.
‘Of course you do know that Elizabeth is not the only link we have to the Shakespeare family don’t you Mr. Danbury-Wethers? The second wife of John Barnard’s father Mr. Baldwin Barnard (1554-1610) was named Eleanor Fullwood of Ford Hall in Warwickshire and her great grandmother was none other than Agnes Arden (nee Webbe), the stepmother of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden! Are you quite well Mr. Danbury-Wethers, you seem a little out of sorts?’
‘Actually I do feel rather strange, I had a terrible night again, a very disturbed sleep!’ answered James.
‘Perhaps I should prescribe a sedative for you after all?’
‘I shall heed your advice and relent.’ The good Doctor went to his cupboard which he unlocked in silence and withdrew a small bottle which he gave to James saying that he should take two an hour before retiring to bed and adding, ‘I don’t know Mr. Danbury-Wethers, you come here fresh from the simmering rim of some London stewpot and fall ill, here, in this haven of calm and beauty of all places!’ James remained silent and stared at the Doctor, who said ‘I find it hard to believe that anyone would choose to live in such a place as London, for I am told there is no hunting there and nothing to kill – it is pure folly of the greatest kind with nothing to attend to but theatres and cafes! I’m told one isn’t even allowed to visit London Zoo and shoot at the animals indiscriminately and take home the “kill” as a trophy! How unenlightened these city folk are – what is the use of such a place? Even the London parks do not permit riding to hounds for the hunt; the fox must reign supreme in London sir! I say you do look decidedly worse sir! I would certainly prescribe a good dose of fresh air, less book study if you care and a good woman as a companion; exercise caution and moderation and exert your manhood more often sir! That’s my medical opinion and I charge no fee for that!’
James had neither the energy nor the inclination to answer the Doctor and was obviously forcibly keeping his eyes from closing.
‘We shall end our talk here and I suggest you take those pills and retire to bed sir, at once!’ James did as the Doctor requested and having taken the pills went to his room to sleep.
On Friday 28th December 1877 Mr. Ernest Pridhey M.A. received a second letter from Mr. James Danbury-Wethers, dated Saturday 22nd December 1877, and it read:

Dear Pridhey!

            I have been much employed in the thick of the Shakespeare mystery and things are unfolding nicely! Prichard has become quite irritable of late and says that there is some major weakness in my scholastic pursuits to which I regret that I ashamed myself before him and took to language quite abominable and unbefitting of a gentleman, never mind a humble schoolmaster! I am not quite sure as to his sanity! I have been unwell of late and not sleeping and have been much in the company of Doctor Emery and a man named Thesicus Williams, a most extraordinary fellow who shares a similar malady, in fact he believes he is none other than Saint John the Divine! If you should not hear news of me soon you are to contact a man named Michael Dewsbury here at the Abbey who shall with all hope shed light upon matters!

Yours with affection,

Upon reception of the letter Ernest couldn’t help but feel a little concerned for his friend James and considered enquiring further as to the mysterious intelligence of the letter but thought it best to wait until term began and speak with his friend directly.
James found that the pills had worked wonderfully and he woke refreshed for dinner that evening and after some small conversation with Doctor Prichard who was delighted that the young man was feeling better they both sat down to a game or two of chess to which James was a notable fiend upon the board, or at least considered to be in his home parts but here, in the lonely wilds of Abington, he was easily trounced by the good Doctor whose alert mind wielded a mathematical delight in chess just as his skilful hands wielded a scalpel!
Feeling a little disheartened at his loss, James retired to his bed chamber around midnight and prepared for sleep. As he was lightly drifting off to sleep he could see in his mind’s eye the face of the dear Rector spitting words at him: ‘I do not condone your methods Mr. Danbury-Wethers for they are questionable!’ and ‘What a very inquisitive man you are Mr. Danbury-Wethers!’ and ‘I denounce you as the Devil sir!’ – and then he saw Doctor Prichard saying ‘You come here fresh from the simmering rim of some London stewpot and fall ill, here, in this haven of calm and beauty of all places!’ and then came ‘a most insincere young man; a sham scholar of questionable means!’ and then his friend Ernest Pridhey, his dear friend, saying ‘you must come to my parents and spend Christmas with us James!’
It was approaching two in the morning when James suddenly awoke to the sound of moaning in the room and as he lay there still he could here shuffling, distinct shuffling upon the floor as if something were walking stealthily. He opened his eyes and looked towards the window and could see the outline of a figure, dark and overpowering silhouetted against the window where the moon shone. It moved as if it were searching for something, making small purposeful movements. James was frozen with fear as the dark shape approached the bed and grew larger and he was unable to make a sound, as if his mouth were atrophied with stupor and his tongue numb!
The next morning Mr. Danbury-Wethers failed to come down to breakfast and when the maid went to his chamber she found the contorted body of the young scholar half in bed and half out, his face white and twisted with terror in some obscene grimace of death, the bed sheets pulled around him, whereon she screamed and rushed from the room in search of Doctor Prichard who was shocked to discover the dead body of his guest James Danbury-Wethers. He deduced that the unfortunate young man had succumbed to some ‘night palsy’ and being weak of heart had died in his sleep, although not peacefully by the look upon his face. Finding his journal, Dr. Pritchard read his last entry, dated Sunday 23rd December 1877, which simply said ‘I must pull myself together!’
Word of the young man’s death was sent to his friend Mr Ernest Pridhey M.A. in the following letter which was dated Thursday 27th December 1887:

Abington Abbey,

Dear Mr. Pridhey,

I hope you do not mind my writing to you in this way as your name was the only name listed in a recovered address book and it is with very deep sadness and regret that I must inform you of the death of Mr. James Danbury-Wethers. James had been a guest at the Abbey since 18th December where he wished to further his researches into the history of the occupants of the Manor in the 17th and 18th Cent. In fact, it became quite an obsession for young Mr. Danbury-Wethers and we spent much time in discussions upon the subject – he was certainly a very remarkable and headstrong young man and prone somewhat to jump to conclusions of his own in reference to historical facts without the proper evidence! I did try to dissuade him from his digging into history as I saw in him the beginnings of a strange mania which I have often encountered and in many cases has proved fatal. The deceased died peacefully in his sleep on Monday night (Christmas Eve), the result of a weak heart and stress from overwork. Prior to this it seems he had burnt all his papers and research work which is an odd thing to do and it is my opinion that his mind was on the threshold of distinctly becoming irretrievably unbalanced – he was seeing ‘ghosts’ in his room and complained of hearing noises at the Abbey, the undistinguishable voices of souls long departed. I am unaware if the deceased has any family members to be informed and arrangements are being made as to his funeral. Please respond as to any particulars I should be aware of in this matter concerning Mr. Danbury-Wethers’ remains, (his few possessions shall be kept here at the Abbey until I am advised as to the collection of his artefacts). It is such a loss but Mr. Danbury-Wethers would insist on buried secrets, which often have a habit of finding their way to the surface, being disturbed.

I am sir,
Your obedient servant

Dr. Thomas Prichard.

News of the fatality came as a great shock to his colleagues and pupils at the school and it is to be hoped that the gentle reader will also feel something for the loss of a young man ‘brimming with enthusiasm’ for his peculiar matters in history.
Dear reader, having the benefit of hindsight and the advantage of time at our disposal we know that Doctor Thomas Prichard had the good sense to die on Valentine’s Day in 1878 disclosing something of his undiscovered romantic flair one may say. The Abbey passed to his brother Henry Shutt Prichard who conveniently died in 1892 just as the lease expired on the Abbey and the asylum closed its doors the same year. Lewis Loyd had bought the house as an investment for his son Samuel Jones Loyd (1796-1883): Lord Overstone and it thus passed to Lord Overstone’s daughter upon his death, Harriet Sarah Loyd (1837-1920): Lady Wantage who in turn donated it and its grounds to the good people of Northampton and still the mulberry tree grows in the grounds of Abington Abbey, now Abington Park!

A Few Notes to Consider:


  1. Statement of Cases Treated at Abington Abbey, near Northampton, during 1853 by Thomas Prichard, published 1854. From this publication we can see that during 1853 there were 36 inmates at the Abbey, 17 men and 19 women; there was the usual propensity towards suicide and there were 3 deaths: 1 man and 2 women.
  2. Five witches were indeed hanged at Abington gallows on 22nd July 1612, namely: Agnes Browne of Guilsborough, Joan Browne (or Vaughan), daughter of Agnes, of Guilsborough, Arthur Bill of Raunds, Helen Jenkenson of Thrapston and Mary Barber of Stanwick.
  3. Thomas Prichard, University of Glasgow M.D. 1844, F.R.C.P. Edinburgh 1855. M.R.C.P. London 1860. See also ‘Statistical Report of the cases of Insanity treated in the Public Lunatic Asylums of Scotland for the year 1845-46 by Thomas Prichard M.D. Superintendent at the Glasgow Royal Asylum for Lunatics [from the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, number 171] 1846.
  4. Reverend Lewis Haig Loyd, Rector of Abington from 1869-1877, husband of Emily Harriet, he died at Eastbourne on 4th August 1905.
  5. The celebrated authority on William Shakespeare, Mr. James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-1889), the book referred to is his ‘A Garland of Shakespeariana’. 1849.
  6. John Bernard (23rd August 1604-5th March 1674), eldest son of Baldwin Bernard (1554-1610). John’s first wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Clement Edmondes (1568-1622) and they had four sons and four daughters. For a history of the Bernard or Barnard family see: ‘The Bernards of Abington and Nether Winchendon – A Family History’ by Sophia Elizabeth Higgins (in 2 volumes) published 1903.
  7. Judith Shakespeare was the youngest daughter of William Shakespeare and she married Thomas Quiney on 10th February 1616, a marriage by all accounts that was far from perfect: her three sons all died unmarried!
  8. It is recorded that one ‘patient, prior to admission, contrived to mutilate himself with a knife, and inflicted upwards of a hundred wounds upon his person. His left arm was crimped, as it were, with gashes, from the shoulder to the wrist. He had attempted to cut off his toes, and had stabbed himself in about twenty places. He was labouring under religious ecstasia at the time, and was under the impression that he could work miracles. He also imagined that he conversed with spirits, and that they held communication with him, telling him what he was to do.’ [p. 13. Statistical Report of Cases of Insanity Treated at Abington Abbey, Northampton, from January 1st, 1854, to December 31st, 1858 by Thomas Prichard, published 1859] From the same publication we are told that of the 88 patients treated between 1st January 1854 and 31st December 1858, 43 were men and 45 were women; 30 were dismissed or recovered (13 men and 17 women) and 1 woman ‘escaped’. Of the deaths 2 were men and 3 were women and of the 61 who were dismissed in total 25 were men and 36 were women. There were 27 patients remaining for treatment on 1st January 1859 – 18 men and 27 women!

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