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Tag Archives: Susan Gardiner

  • Chaucer's Malyn Ancestors and the 'Towne of Tavernes' by Susan Gardiner

    Anyone wishing to write a screenplay for a film or TV drama to rival Game of Thrones might do well to look towards the lovely Suffolk county town of Ipswich. Suffolk has a reputation for the tranquil beauty of its rural landscape and unspoilt coastline, and of course, for the most famous end-product of its agriculture: beer. If you live in Suffolk, it's difficult not to be aware of the significance that beer and brewing has had in the county's history and culture. Its most famous breweries also have well-known literary connections, from the many writers in the Cobbold family, of the Tolly Cobbold brewery, such as the poet Elizabeth Cobbold (1765-1824) and her son, Richard (1797-1877), the author of The History of Margaret Catchpole, to the descendant of the Greene King brewing dynasty, the novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991). It was not until I started the research for my last book, Secret Ipswich (Amberley, 2015), however, that I realised how closely another great English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), was associated with the town, and what a fascinating story it is. The further research that I had to do for my latest book, Ipswich Pubs, made me realise the significance that Chaucer's family had in the life of late-medieval Ipswich. It is a story of violence, theft, and even murder, involving, among many complicated plots and sub-plots, the kidnapping of the poet's father.

    3 Great White Horse The Great White Horse Hotel

    Chaucer's grandfather was Robert Malin le Chaucer, and it's thought the name might have been derived from the occupation of shoemaker, or chausseur. He was also known as Robert the Saddler, so it's possible that he was some kind of maker or seller of leather goods. Some scholars believe that hosiery, cloth and leather goods were often sold in taverns, and the term 'chaucer' referred to those vintners and taverners who did so. Chaucer's family was certainly in the tavern trade for many generations. His grandfather was known as Robert le Taverner and he was, as his name suggests, the owner of several taverns in Ipswich. This was not merely any old town, however, or indeed, any old tavern. Ipswich, we discover, was known as the 'Towne of Tavernes,' a deserved sobriquet, probably resulting from the great demand for accommodation from the thousands of travellers who flocked to its shrine, Our Lady of Grace, which was only third in significance in England (after Canterbury and Walsingham) until its destruction during the Reformation. Ipswich was packed with taverns, inns and beerhouses for centuries and the Malyn family owned several inns and wine shops, mostly around what was known as the 'street of taverns,' which is still called Tavern Street today, although there is not a single pub left now. One of the Malyns' hostelries was simply called The Tavern. It probably stood on the site of the huge building that became the Great White Horse Hotel, later of Pickwick Papers fame.

    2 Site of Malyn tavern The corner of Tavern Street and Dial Lane where the Holly Tavern may have stood

    In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Malyns had significant business interests in the town. Those who decry the state of the twenty-first-century Ipswich town centre might do well to remember that, in the Middle Ages, Tavern Street was at the conjunction of the Flesh Market, the Henne Market or Poultry (Tower Street), close to the Cheese and Fish Markets, and Cook's Row (now Dial Lane) was where all the bakers and cookshops were. Given that animals were butchered on the spot, the smell of the place must have been ripe, to put it mildly. It was a rough, violent time and we know a great deal about this family because, as property-owners, the Malyns were often recorded in the town's taxation records, and as a family that was constantly involved with criminal activity, they appeared in the court records just as frequently.

    In 1338, following a property dispute, a notorious fellow - who appears twice in Ipswich Pubs, committing acts of violence - Roger Bande, walked into the Holly Tavern and, with his sword, almost severed the hand of the owner, Albreda Malyn. She died from the wound he inflicted, but he went unpunished. Bande would get away with worse including murder. The Malyns - whose name may even be a version of the word 'malign' although I think it's more likely to be derived from Magdalen in some form - were little better. In 1344, Albreda's son, William was pardoned by the King "by fine of 300 marks, for all manner of oppressions, conspiracies, maintaining of quarrels, champerties, detaining of the King's wool and money, and taking of wool to foreign parts uncocketed and uncustomed, and of victuals and merchandise to Scotland contrary to the King's command."

    MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA A plaque to Chaucer’s ancestors on the site of one of their wine shops

    The most interesting story of all, however, involved Geoffrey Chaucer's father, John. In 1324 he was abducted at swordpoint by his aunt, Agnes Westhall and the man who was to be her second husband, Geoffrey Stace. The poet was later named after Stace, so there was clearly no long-term resentment, but the court case resulted in a large fine of £250 being imposed on Agnes and she was sent to the Marshalsea prison in London. The motive behind this strange turn of events was, as usual, connected with a property dispute. Agnes wanted to force her nephew into a marriage with her daughter, Joan, to ensure that through John she would get her hands on some of his substantial inheritance, as his father had died. A court case had found in favour of the child and his guardians in the disputed ownership of the Ipswich Vintry Tavern and several other nearby properties. The boy was rescued by his stepfather and stepbrother, and would be brought up in London, where he followed the family trade and became a vintner of some standing in the City of London. The forced marriage to Joan, who may have been twenty years older than John, did not take place, and everything appeared to end amicably.

    It's not known whether Geoffrey Chaucer ever visited his Suffolk relatives, but in The Canterbury Tales, in the prelude to ‘The Merchant's Tale’, he painted a portrait of a merchant, who might easily have been one of his Malyn ancestors, the river Orwell being the site of the port of Ipswich:


    A Marchant was ther with a forked berd,

    In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;

    Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat,

    His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.

    His resons he spak ful solempnely,

    Sownynge alwey th'encrees of his wynnyng.

    He wolde the see were kept for any thyng

    Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.


    The early history of the Towne of Tavernes was one of violence, criminality and intrigue. Having written a brief history of many of Ipswich's pubs, inns and taverns, it doesn't appear that things were very different over the centuries that followed. Behind the picturesque - and Ipswich has more than its fair share of wonderful fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings, most of which were inns at some time - lies a picaresque and fascinating story. How sad then that so few of these great inns still exist and that one of the most famous Malyn-owned hostelries, The Tavern, which became the Great White Horse Hotel, has become just another Starbucks' coffee shop.


    Ipswich Pubs by Susan Gardiner is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Ipswich: Three Remarkable Women by Susan Gardiner

    Writing a book with the title Secret Ipswich meant that I had to avoid the inclusion of too many famous people from the town so that I could concentrate on the more obscure people and places that are also part of its history. Ipswich's connections with Thomas Wolsey, Lord Nelson and two England football managers, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, are very well known, for example. Similarly, the Cobbold family, brewers, employers, local politicians and members of Parliament, are all too familiar as figures of local history to be included in a book about Ipswich's hidden history.

    There are a few figures in the history of the Cobbold family, however, who are not as widely known as they should be. They were all women who married into the Cobbold family, and they were all in their own way remarkable. The first, Elizabeth Knipe Cobbold (1767-1824) has become better known in recent years but is still not widely appreciated. Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1867-1963) was a traveller, who was the first British-born woman to convert to Islam and Lady Blanche Cobbold (1898-1987) was the first woman president of a league football club.

    ipswich pic 1 Memorial to Elizabeth Cobbold in St Mary-le-Tower

    I have been a little unfair to Elizabeth Cobbold in Secret Ipswich, comparing her to the fictional Mrs. Leo Hunter in Dickens' Pickwick Papers. Although Charles Dickens could not have known Elizabeth, I'm convinced that this hilarious character was, at least in part, based on her. Elizabeth was a polymath, and genuinely talented but was perhaps not the greatest poet of her age and Mrs. Leo Hunter's execrable Ode to an Expiring Frog, as well as her role as a political wife, holding fête champetres in the extensive grounds of her mansion are all too reminiscent of Cobbold. There was a great deal more to Elizabeth Cobbold than this, however. John Cobbold was her second husband, her first having died only six months after they had married. Cobbold was also widowed with 14 children from his first marriage. Elizabeth bore him seven more. Despite all her other duties, she found time to write novels and poetry, and whatever their quality, they were well regarded in her time. She was also a knowledgeable natural historian and a species of shellfish, Acila Cobboldiae, was named after her.

    In fact, Elizabeth's name keeps cropping up in my book, despite my wish to exclude better known Ipswich residents, because as well as producing her own literary works, she was a patron of the arts and attempted to help several writers, particularly those from labouring-class backgrounds. In 1803, she edited and assisted in the publication of poems by Ann Candler, who lived in the Tattingstone workhouse, enabling her to end her days in her own home with some dignity. Cobbold also encouraged Mary Ann Goward, the daughter of a brazier and maker of tin goods in Ipswich, to go on to the stage. Goward, who married fellow actor, Robert Keeley, went on to be one of the most important figures in nineteenth-century theatrical life.

    Lady Evelyn Cobbold was the daughter of the 7th Earl of Dunmore, and in many ways led the traditional life of a Scottish aristocrat, with the notable exception that she followed the Islamic faith from an early age. She was born in Edinburgh but spent much of her childhood in Egypt, where she began a lifelong passion for the Arabic language and the Islamic faith. She married John Dupuis Cobbold in Cairo in 1891, but found it difficult to settle at his home in Holywells Park, Ipswich and they formally separated in 1922. A wealthy woman in her own right, she continued to live in Scotland, where her interests included stag hunting, but also travelled in the Middle East. Her adoption of Islam and, no doubt, the fact that she was a woman, gave her access to many things that other travellers were denied, and she was able to write about the hidden lives of women in Islamic culture with first-hand knowledge. She was the first British woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, and published a book about this experience, Pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1934. An intrepid individual she was canoeing - and apparently coming to the rescue of other canoeists - in her eighties.

    Lady Evelyn Murray Zainab Cobbold died in 1963 and was buried on her estate at Glencarron in Wester Ross. At her funeral, a piper played MacCrimmon's Lament and verses from the Qu'ran were recited by the Imam of Woking mosque.

    A third formidable woman to marry into the Cobbold family was Lady Blanche Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and sister-in-law to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. She married John Cobbold, of the brewing family, who was known as Captain Ivan Cobbold. His great achievement, as far as many Ipswich people are concerned was to be a driving force behind the success of Ipswich Town Football Club in the late 1930s, enabling the club to become professional and join the football league. He was killed in an air raid in 1944 but had passed his enthusiasm for football on to Lady Blanche who became honorary president of the club in 1964. Her enthusiasm saw her fly to the away leg of the UEFA Cup Final against AZ Alkmaar at the Olympisch Stadion, Amsterdam, in 1981, where she reportedly stood on the terraces to watch her team win the trophy.

    There are two particularly well known stories about Lady Blanche Cobbold. One is that when she met Adolf Hitler in the 1930s - probably through her relations by marriage the notorious, Nazi-supporting Mitford sisters - she was distinctly unimpressed. Much later, at the 1978 FA Cup final, when Ipswich beat Arsenal, she turned down the offer of meeting Margaret Thatcher saying "Good God, I'd much rather have another gin and tonic." This was no rebuttal of Thatcher's politics, however, but - as with Hitler - a manifestation of the snobbery of her aristocratic background directed towards a grocer's daughter.

    It could be argued that Thatcher was thoroughly revenged on the Cobbolds though. It was her government that brought through legislation to end breweries' monopolies on tied public houses, of which the Tolly Cobbold brewery had many, thus arguably starting the decline that ended with the sale of the firm and its eventual closure.


    Susan Gardiner's new book Secret Ipswich is available for purchase now.

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