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Many entries in the burial registers help to dismiss any idea that the Elizabethan era was somehow a 'golden age'. A few extracts, which require little additional comment, convey something of the dark side of life.
Accidental death was frequent: the sand pits (probably connected with brick-making) to the south of the town proved a particular hazard, for example:
1564 Thomas Lundell who was killed in the Earths pits; and
1587 old Edward Swaite killed in the sandpits at Cakewood hard by his house.
Wells were also dangerous:
1584 Joan Coulboune, servant to Mr Anthony Hidden, who was drowned in the well by misfortune.
Certain kinds of illness and disability were often noted. For example:
1567 John Luckeman of a 'merivalous' stone;
1573 Alice Mate a lame wench;
1588 Robarte sone ofRobarte Wilkes of a 'greefe' in his head, and
1599 Edith Sandie who languished of the great disease 12 or 13 years which had eaten through her body.
Several of the burial entries are those of vagrants, of whom Hungerford must have seen a considerable number. Towards the end of the 16th century, more and more were on the road, mostly young single people looking for work. Local officials tried hard to discourage them from staying long, although for several unfortunate people Hungerford was the end of the road:
1574 Agnes a poor vagrant,
1575 A poor maid that was brought from Froxfield and died on the way;
1582 A poor vagrant being lame out of Charnham Street; and
1589 John Drewe a poor boy that rotted away as he lay.
Illegitimacy was also a matter of official concern, because of the possibility of additional charges on the poor rate. It is difficult to chart the incidence of illegitimacy, since pregnant women were often sent away. Midwives were expected to elicit, if necessary during labour, the identity of the father, who would then be ordered by the Quarter Sessions to provide maintenance. Locally, the illegitimacy rate was around 2% of live births, a figure which reflects the national average. Individual women were not often repeatedly in trouble, with the exception of:
1593 Anne Kinge a poor woman who had three children and never married.
(From Elizabethan Hungerford, Julie Shuttleworth et al, 1995)
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