ID TXA00220 Article from Mersea Museum

TitleSarah Wrench, died 6 May 1848, buried East Mersea.
AbstractJust to the north east of East Mersea Church is the grave of Sarah Wrench. It is unusual in that it has iron hoops over it, forming a cage. A cast iron plaque on the grave says "Sarah Wrench died 6th May 1848 aged 15 years and 5 months"

The East Mersea Parish Records tell us that Sarah Wrench was buried at EM on 10 May 1848 aged 15 years, of Peldon, by the curate Nathaniel Forster. [ EMP_BUR_001_029 ]
The Death Certificate says "6 May 1848 Peldon. Sarah Wrinch, Female, daughter of Robert Wrinch Farmer. Cause of Death Consumption. Robert Wrinch present at death Peldon." [ WCH_121]

Sarah was born at West Bergholt in 1833, the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth ( née Croyden ) Wrinch. (The name is often spelt Wrench). The children were Emma Elizabeth born 1828, Robert 1829, Sarah 1833 and Ellen 1835. Sarah was baptised West Bergholt 25 December 1833. [WCH_043]
The 1841 Census [ WCH_081] shows the family at West Bergholt:
Robert Wrinch aged 40, farmer
Elizh Wrinch aged 38
Robert Wrinch aged 11
Sarah Wrinch aged 8
Ellen Wrinch aged 5
May Ruffle aged 12 (?), Female Servant

The family appears in the 1851 Census at Rawreth [ WCH_181], but without Sarah:
Robert Wrench, Head, Married, age 54, Farmer, born Langham
Elizabeth Wrench, Wife, Married, age 51, born Peldon
Robert Wrench, Son, unmarried, age 22, Farmer's son, born W Bergholt
Ellen Wrench, daughter, unmarried, age 15, Farmer's daughter, born W Bergholt

Robert Wrench senior died 19 December 1858 at Whitland Abbey, Carmenthshire, Wales.

The Peldon connection:
The Death Certificate gives the Place of Death as Peldon, and Robert Wrinch was present. We have not found a record of the Wrinch family living in Peldon, but there is a strong link to Peldon. Sarah's mother - Elizabeth Wrinch née Croyden was born in Peldon. She was the daughter of James Croyden and Elizabeth Croyden née Harvey. James and Elizabeth Croyden were married in Peldon 27 September 1796, and Elizabeth Harvey had also been born in Peldon 2 February 1776.
Michaelmas 1844 Robert Wrench sold Pond Farm, West Bergholt [ WCH_101 ] - and by 1851 Census was in Rawreth, but we do not know where he was in the intervening years.

The East Mersea connection:
The Croyden family were associated with East Mersea Hall from 1800/01 for about 50 years (see 3. in Croyden family history below), so Elizabeth Wrinch née Croyden (Sarah's mother) would have been there in 1823 when she married Robert Wrinch. The wedding, however, took place in West Mersea Parish Church, not East Mersea. Elizabeth Croyden (Sarah's grandmother) was buried in East Mersea when she died in 1863, not many years after Sarah's death. So one can see why the family might have wanted Sarah buried at East Mersea. James Croyden and other members of the Croyden family were also buried at East Mersea, close to Sarah's grave.

The story related above is of the Wrinch family and the sad death of their daughter Sarah at the age of 15 from consumption. There is nothing unusual in the story.
Sarah's grave attracts attention because it is caged. A cage, known as a mortsafe, was traditionally put on graves to deter grave-robbers and perhaps it was thought that a young girl would be particularly attractive to grave robbers. But the grave was also said to be on unconsecrated ground because it is just to the north of the church. This was taken to mean that she was pregnant, or even a witch. However, in an article in Jan 2017 Mersea Life, the East Mersea Churchwardens said
"Examination of the area [to the north of the church] shows this is palpably untrue as among the graves in that area is the grave of a previous Rector as well as a former Churchwarden."
There are also other graves of the Croyden family in this area.

The result of a previous enquiry with East Mersea church wardens was that she was not a witch but that she was a young girl who had a child out of wedlock and so was a bad influence on the parish. Why she was buried on the north side of the church and who paid for the cage and inscription on the grave, is not known.

Croyden family history
The following information emerges from the unpublished compilation, by Christopher Martin Croyden Cooper, of the Croyden Family History and the Wrench Family History published in Ancestry.com. It supplements the information above.
1. The West Bergholt Wrench Family shown in the 1841 Census is incomplete. Emma Wrench, the eldest child of Robert and Elizabeth was at boarding school in Cavendish, Suffolk (1841 Census)
2. Eliz Wrench is formerly Elizabeth Croyden of East Mersea Hall, the eldest of the 13 children whose parents were James Croyden and Elizabeth Harvey.
3. The Croyden Family leased, lived at and farmed at East Mersea Hall from 1800/1 for more than 50 years.
4. James Croyden and Elizabeth Harvey married at Peldon on 27th Sep 1796. Elizabeth Croyden, their first child was born at Peldon on 14th Jan 1797 (sic). A further 3 children were born at Peldon before their move to East Mersea Hall.
5. Elizabeth Croyden, née Harvey, moved back to Peldon (Rose Cottage) on removal from East Mersea Hall (1861 Census refers). However, she is buried at East Mersea, adjacent to the grave of Sarah Wrench. Her husband, James Croyden and 6 other members of the Croyden family are also interred in the same part of East Mersea churchyard
6. The 1851 census shows that Emma Wrench, one of the West Bergholt Wrench family was Companion to Elizabeth Croyden, her Grandmother, at East Mersea Hall.
7. The closeness of the Wrench and Croyden families is further indicated by the name Croyden which persisted in the Wrench family until 1937. The full name of the fourth child of Robert and Elizabeth Wrench is Ellen Elizabeth Croyden Wrench. Robert Wrench, the son of Robert and Elizabeth named his fourth child Charles Croyden Wrench who died in Bromley, Kent in 1937.

Interestingly, if suicide (one of the theories) is correct, it might not have been an unknown event at East Mersea Hall. In 1837, Frederick Croyden, who is buried alongside his parents, is said to have committed suicide because he was not allowed to marry a servant whom he had made pregnant. This particular story has its origins in the spoken word of family members and has not been confirmed by hard evidence. It is by no means impossible that the story has become garbled over time and that it might have had its origins in Sarah Wrench's death in 1848 rather than in Frederick's in 1837. It may be valuable to carry out deeper enquiry.

All the evidence indicates that the Wrench family linked to the Croydens of East Mersea is the one from West Bergholt and no link can be established to any other Wrench/Wrinch family (eg Ramsey, Bradfield or the Shotley peninsular). Since Sarah Wrench appears as a member of that family in the 1841 census, it seems around 80% certain that her presence at East Mersea was for family-link reasons.
Chris M.C. Cooper 8th August 2011

Chronological list of documents
Elizabeth Harvey born Peldon 2 Feb 1776 biography WCH_021
Elizabeth Croyden born Peldon 4 Jan 1797 biography WCH_031
Elizabeth Croyden and James Wrinch married West Mersea Parish Church 17 December 1823 [ Mersea Museum Family History database - marriages ]
Sarah Wrinch 25 Dec 1833 baptism WCH_041
Sarah Wrinch 25 Dec 1833 baptism WCH_043
Robert Wrinch 1841 West Bergholt census WCH_081
Pond Farm West Bergholt 20 Sep 1844 sale WCH_101
Sarah Wrinch 6 May 1848 Death Certificate WCH_121
Sarah Wrinch 6 May 1848 Death notice WCH_161
Robert Wrinch 1851 Rawreth census WCH_181
Robert Wrench 19 Dec 1858 Death notice WCH_201
Elizabeth Croyden 1861 Peldon census
James Croyden 1867 Wills WCH_241
William and James Croyden 1867 Administration WCH_251
Robert Wrinch Jnr 1891 Pembroke Census WCH_271
Robert Wrinch Jnr 1911 Pembroke Census WCH_291
Whitland Abbey c2007 Property description WCH_311 [Google for a recent view]

6 November 2016
Much of the above has been rewritten in the light of the considerable research done by Carol Wyatt, and the documents she has found. The original research was done by the late Rosemary Rainbird.

AuthorTony Millatt
Keywordschurchyard, WCH
Published31 May 2009
SourceMersea Museum
IDTXA00220
Related Images:
 Sarah Wrench was Not a Witch
 
From Tony Clifton and Janis Meanley - Churchwardens, St Edmund King & Martyr, East Mersea
</p> <p> 
The myth about the unusual grave in East Mersea Churchyard may make a good story at Halloween 
but Sara Wrench was not a witch and deserves to be able to rest in peace in the 
tranquillity of her surroundings. Much research was carried out by the late 
Mr J. Sunnucks and by Mersea Museum into the background and story of this grave 
and a summary of their findings follows; further information is available from 
the Museum and East Mersea Church.
</p> <p> 
Just to the north east of East Mersea Church is the grave of Sarah Wrench. 
It is unusual in that it has iron hoops over it, forming a cage. A cast iron 
plaque on the grave says Sarah Wrench died 6th May 1848 aged 15 years and 5 months. 
The cage has been identified as a typical example of a mort-Safe - a structure in 
common use at that time in more urban areas to prevent interference with the interred 
remains and also to permit floral decorations to be placed there.
</p> <p> 
There has been much made of the fact that Sarah was buried on the North side of the 
Church and it has been suggested that this was an area of unconsecrated ground and 
therefore she could have been a witch and been buried there. Examination of the area 
show this is palpably untrue as among the graves in that area is the grave of a 
previous Rector as well as a former Churchwarden.
</p> <p> 
Local folklore has it that Sarah became pregnant whilst living with her family in 
Peldon and was sent to her grandparents at East Mersea Hall to conceal her condition 
from the village. She is believed to have died in childbirth.
</p> <p> 
Records show Sarah Wrench was buried at East Mersea on 10 May 1848 aged 15 years, 
of Peldon, by the curate Nathaniel Forster. No civil registration of the death 
could be found, but it was not compulsory at the time. Research carried out by 
Mersea Museum shows that Sarah was a granddaughter of James and Elizabeth Croyden (née Harvey)
who lived at East Mersea Hall between 1800 and 1850; they married at Peldon on 
27th Sep 1796. Elizabeth Croyden, née Harvey, moved back to Peldon (Rose Cottage) 
on removal from East Mersea Hall (1861 Census refers). However, she is buried at 
East Mersea, adjacent to the grave of Sarah Wrench. Her husband, James Croyden 
and 6 other members of the Croyden family are also interred in the same part 
of East Mersea Churchyard.
</p> <p> 
Note that there are only four recorded instances of alleged witches on Mersea Island; 
two of these were from East Mersea and two from West Mersea. All date to the end of the 16th Century but only Joan Colson from East Mersea was sent to Witham Assizes for further trial. She was held in Colchester Castle before going to Witham were 
she was remanded in custody and as in so many of these cases was never heard of again and is presumed to have died in prison.
</p> 
<p> From Mersea Life, January 2017, local page 19.
</p>  ML2017_001_L19_002
ImageID:   ML2017_001_L19_002
Title: Sarah Wrench was Not a Witch
From Tony Clifton and Janis Meanley - Churchwardens, St Edmund King & Martyr, East Mersea

The myth about the unusual grave in East Mersea Churchyard may make a good story at Halloween but Sara Wrench was not a witch and deserves to be able to rest in peace in the tranquillity of her surroundings. Much research was carried out by the late Mr J. Sunnucks and by Mersea Museum into the background and story of this grave and a summary of their findings follows; further information is available from the Museum and East Mersea Church.

Just to the north east of East Mersea Church is the grave of Sarah Wrench. It is unusual in that it has iron hoops over it, forming a cage. A cast iron plaque on the grave says "Sarah Wrench died 6th May 1848 aged 15 years and 5 months". The cage has been identified as a typical example of a "mort-Safe" - a structure in common use at that time in more urban areas to prevent interference with the interred remains and also to permit floral decorations to be placed there.

There has been much made of the fact that Sarah was buried on the North side of the Church and it has been suggested that this was an area of unconsecrated ground and therefore she could have been a witch and been buried there. Examination of the area show this is palpably untrue as among the graves in that area is the grave of a previous Rector as well as a former Churchwarden.

Local folklore has it that Sarah became pregnant whilst living with her family in Peldon and was sent to her grandparents at East Mersea Hall to conceal her condition from the village. She is believed to have died in childbirth.

Records show Sarah Wrench was buried at East Mersea on 10 May 1848 aged 15 years, of Peldon, by the curate Nathaniel Forster. No civil registration of the death could be found, but it was not compulsory at the time. Research carried out by Mersea Museum shows that Sarah was a granddaughter of James and Elizabeth Croyden (née Harvey) who lived at East Mersea Hall between 1800 and 1850; they married at Peldon on 27th Sep 1796. Elizabeth Croyden, née Harvey, moved back to Peldon (Rose Cottage) on removal from East Mersea Hall (1861 Census refers). However, she is buried at East Mersea, adjacent to the grave of Sarah Wrench. Her husband, James Croyden and 6 other members of the Croyden family are also interred in the same part of East Mersea Churchyard.

Note that there are only four recorded instances of alleged witches on Mersea Island; two of these were from East Mersea and two from West Mersea. All date to the end of the 16th Century but only Joan Colson from East Mersea was sent to Witham Assizes for further trial. She was held in Colchester Castle before going to Witham were she was remanded in custody and as in so many of these cases was never heard of again and is presumed to have died in prison.

From Mersea Life, January 2017, local page 19.

Date:January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum
 Inscription on grave of Sarah Wrench on north side of East Mersea Church. She died of consumption on 6 May 1848, aged 15 yrs 5 months.  TM2_2872
ImageID:   TM2_2872
Title: Inscription on grave of Sarah Wrench on north side of East Mersea Church. She died of consumption on 6 May 1848, aged 15 yrs 5 months.
Date:31 May 2009
Source:Mersea Museum / Tony Millatt
 Grave of Sarah Wrench on north side of East Mersea Church, died 6 May 1848, aged 15 years 5 months.
 The cage over the grave was known as a mortsafe or mort safe, and was used to deter grave robbers.  TM2_2871
ImageID:   TM2_2871
Title: Grave of Sarah Wrench on north side of East Mersea Church, died 6 May 1848, aged 15 years 5 months.
The cage over the grave was known as a mortsafe or mort safe, and was used to deter grave robbers.
Date:31 May 2009
Source:Mersea Museum / Tony Millatt
 Grave of Sarah Wrench on north side of East Mersea Church. She died 6 May 1848, aged 15 yrs 5 months  TM2_2874
ImageID:   TM2_2874
Title: Grave of Sarah Wrench on north side of East Mersea Church. She died 6 May 1848, aged 15 yrs 5 months
Date:31 May 2009
Source:Mersea Museum / Tony Millatt


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