Local Family Historian Finds "The Missing Link"

By Russell Martin

I had been researching my family history for many years and had successfully got back to the time of King Charles II, when a character by the name of Charles Duncombe entered my story.  Investigating this character deeper, I learned that he had been implicated in the RYE HOUSE PLOT of but was trusted by neither side. I was much intrigued by this comment and as I do not live far from the Rye House I directed some of my research towards the background of THE PLOT.  

So who was Sir Charles? He was a Goldsmith in the City of London; as there were no banks in those days, the goldsmiths acted as money lenders and pawnbrokers, and he acquired many enemies because of his very high usury rate. In his later years, Sir Charles purchased two seats in the House of Commons and acquired various positions in the Executive and Government. These included: Cashier of Excise, Cashier for the Hearth Tax, Commissioner of the Mint and Commissioner for Tin Coinage. “It is from these various Offices that he was able to amass a considerable personal fortune” and was reputed to be the third richest commoner when he died!  

With this nugget of salacious information – what would you have done?  

In 1846, Wm Henry Teal acquired the site of Rye House castle, including the Kings Arms pub and all the ancillary outbuildings.  Over the following years, he developed the site into a playground for Londoners, much akin to Legoland or Alton Towers. He was greatly assisted when the railway arrived at Rye House in 1843. But his major triumph must have been when he acquired the Great Bed of Ware in 1870. It is reported that on the Bank Holiday there were more than 25,000 visitors to the site.  

Fast forward a few years. Just after WW1, Albert Vince was appointed as the manager of the site, and the last two of his children, Alfreda Elizabeth (Freda) and Joan Helen, were born in the Rye House Pub in 1919/22.  Through a mutual contact, I met these two “young ladies” in the mid 1990s. They were then living at Bungay in Suffolk, and my wife and I spent many pleasant afternoons “chewing the fat” with them.  

On one occasion, Freda turned to Joan and asked, “Do you think that we can trust him (me)?” After a mutual discussion, they agreed that they could, so Freda dug into a work box and produced a oak carving which was about 30mm in diameter with a plain turned stem. She asked, “Do you know where that came  from?”  

Of course, I had no idea, and it was eventually revealed that on one occasion they were using The Great Bed of Ware as a “bouncy castle” and the roundel had fallen off the bed’s headboard. They were petrified that if ever their “crime” were discovered they would be candidates for a one-way ticket to Tower Hill, so the carving had been hidden for some fifty-odd years.  

During my earlier researches, I had made contact with Dr. Kate Hay, the Keeper of English Furniture at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. At that time, as the gallery was being re-furbished, The Great Bed of Ware had been dismantled and was lodged in one of their basement storage rooms. The next occasion that I went up to the V&A, I asked Dr Hay if I could have another look at the bed, as there was something that I wished to check. As we were looking at it, I pointed out that one of the carvings was missing from the headboard, and she confirmed that it had always been so.  With a flourish I produced the carving from my pocket and asked her if she thought it would fit?  To say she was amazed was, I believe, the under statement of the year.  

When the restoration of the gallery was completed and The Bed reinstalled, the V&A sent a car to collect the two ladies. They were official guests of the museum for the official reopening and witnessed the discovery of the “MISSING LINK”. 

This page was added on 26/06/2011.

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