In the early hours of the 26th October 1664, Mary Waterman, wife of John Waterman from Fisherton Anger, gave birth to triplet girls, Mary, Martha and Efflett. What makes this birth even more remarkable was two of the girls, Mary and Martha, were conjoined. A description of the twins is provided in a letter from the Salisbury Oculist Dr Daubeney Turberville to Robert Boyle - a founding member of the Royal Society:
“On Tuesday night last, these was borne in Fisherton adjoining to our Town of Salisbury a monstrous Issue in part, the women has three children girls the one very well formed & fat, the other two as you may call them hath but one Body, continued handsomely to their shoulders, from whence growth four Arms completely …ade, two necks & two heads very well featured with all the parts, but they are contrary posited, one at one end of the Body & the other at the other, out of the side there is a Belly, Navel, a woman’s part, & one Fundament, and two complete Legs, & thighs, feet, & nails, they were at writing here of very lusty, & doe take their food, sugar & water, look about & wag all parts, the one is more sleepy then the other, both very pretty”.
The baptism register of Fisherton Anger only confirms their baptism, with no mention of their physical condition. Interestingly it was one of the ‘Monstrous’ twins rather than the ‘normal’ daughter who was named after their mother.
John was an ostler and described as the ‘labouring poor’. A physician, William Hann, who had witnessed the birth, described the Waterman home as a ‘poorly appointed dwelling, ‘full of holes’ and the girls as having only a linen cloth for its covering, which was taken off at the desire of every new spectator’, which had already brought ‘a thousand’ people to the Watermans’ door; making this a very cold environment for the newly born girls. Hann wrote to Robert Boyle to inform him of the twins’ birth and how he first heard about the birth at Fisherton, whilst at a local coffeehouse he overheard Mr Kent, minister of Fisherton, say that he:
"could justify the baptizing it with two names, adding, that it was a question to be debated by divines, whether it were to be reckoned as two persons, and whether it had two souls".
“On Sunday last (says he) the wife of one Waterman an Ostler in Fisherton was in Travell the whole afternoon, & about 11 of the clock at Night she was delivered of a Daughter every way well shaped & proportioned, about an hour after she was delivered of another strange misshapen Birth, having two heads, the one where of was at the place of the Feet, 4 Arms& 4 hands, both the heads arms, & hands well proportion[e]d as low as the Breast, about the middle of the Body there came forth 2 feet Legs Thighs, & Buttocks, with the parts of a woman, & the Arms (& all these by one side) & 2 or 3 Inches above the pudendum the Navel grown out”.
The twins, at first seem to thrive, but died after two days within minutes of each other. Sadly, Efflett also did not survive for very long; she was buried on the 2nd November, only seven days after her birth.
Robert Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society of London which was founded in 1660 for ‘Improving Natural Knowledge’ with two other members, Sir Christopher Wren, who, incidentally, was born at East Knoyle, 18 miles west of Fisherton Anger, and William Petty. It was granted a royal charter by King Charles II who was a patron of the arts and sciences. It is Robert’s correspondence with William Hann (now archived at the Royal Society) that detail the decision to dissect, embalm and have the twins displayed. The Watermans were clearly not wealthy, and the financial incentive to have their daughters displayed was most probably the key factor in their agreeing to this proposal. John initially refused to allow the dissection of his daughters, saying that ‘if he should suffer it, he should offend God’
Last summer I visited the Natural History Museum in London. While looking at the displays one item on display caught my eye, a mummified cat! This was of interest to me because kept in a strong room at the History Centre is a mummified cat, who, we’ve affectionately named Bing Clawsby!
In 1989, the then County Archivist Ken Rogers and Archivist Margaret Moles collected the archives of solicitors Mann, Rodway and Green from their offices at 57 Union Street, Trowbridge. While clearing their strong room a dead cat was found amongst the documents. A feeling of sadness was felt for the cat and they decided to bring it back to the Record Office in Trowbridge. “Bing Clawsby” now resides in Strong Room 2 here at the History Centre in Chippenham. Bing’s hearing and eye sight is not what it used to be and now spends most of the day asleep in its box.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, predominately during the witch-trials (first half of the 17th century), people believed that Satan was very active and that witches made pacts with him, they would hand over their soul in exchange for supernatural powers. Witches had the ability to take the form of animals to help them perform their evil deeds. Witches also had the help of familiars. These were believed to be supernatural entities that would assist the witch. Familiars would often appear as animals and could even take the form of humans. It was vitally important to take steps to protect oneself and the family and to destroy witches and their familiars. The house had to be protected by day and night from these evil forms that would enter the home and cause harm to the family.
One important way to protect the home would be to conceal items within the wall, roof space, under the floor but quite often near points of entry, the door, window and chimney area. Concealed items included shoes, horse skulls, witch-bottles, dried animals such as birds, rats, mice and cats. These objects would have been hidden in secrecy because this itself was considered an act of magic and such beliefs were regarded as unlawful.
Mummified cats or “Dried Cats” as they are officially known were used across Europe. It is not known if these cats had died before or after concealment, but some had been placed in a position that looks like they are about to pounce, which must have occurred after death. Cats were regarded as possessing a sixth sense and would carry on hunting in the afterlife. Some cats have been found with a dried rat or mouse next to them, one cat even had a rat in its jaws. Cats have been found from the period when London was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Some of these cats were in building designed by Sir Christopher Wren and could have been put there by Wren’s masons.
As with cats, horses are believed to be able to see things on a spiritual plane and would be able to watch over the family and guide them from witches and spirits.
We are delighted to share this comic by Katy Whitaker, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Reading about where Wiltshire's Sarsen stones come from (some of the theories are pretty outlandish!):
I am researching the past and present use of sarsen stone, those great grey boulders we are familiar with at Stonehenge and Avebury. Sarsens are a special part of the Marlborough Downs landscape. They are best known in prehistoric monuments. During the Neolithic in the period c3,900 - 2,500 BC sarsens were used in other ways, too. This includes as quern stones for grinding grains into flour; in burials; as tools such as hammers; as boundary markers and laying out the first fields. Archaeologists haven't researched the stone in its own right before, so my project does just that. I am based at the University of Reading, with support from the University of Southampton, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre is a partner in the AHRC scheme, and my project will be using archaeological data and archive material from the Centre.