The Legend of Lapwater Hall
Reprinted from The Tuapeka Times New Zealand, of 21st October 1893 Down the river, beyond Hole Haven and Canvey Island, where the river becomes the sea, there lie on the Essex shore the quaint village of Leigh. Up the hill, beyond the church, the rocks hold noisy traffic while Leigh hums slumberously below, and the ships drive out around the Nore. It is by this way, and over certain fields of corn and beans, that one takes a short cut into London road. When through the bars of the last gate, he sees this white road, the wayfarer might pitch a stone against the wall of Lapwater Hall, were it not for a clump of trees on the left which hides it and shelters the pond beside it. Leigh House is its proper name, but to speak of it with a native, it must still be Lapwater Hall. At the beginning of the year 1751, Leigh House was falling to pieces. An old house, un-tenanted and neglected for years. It was scarce worth touching except to pull down. But early in that year, when all South Essex lay in ruts and mud, the folk of Leigh came by a piece of news—for a stranger came on an ear-less mare and bought Leigh House and Farm. Whence the stranger came no one knew. He had been seen riding through Hadleigh, splashed to the wig with mud, and soon after stopped before Leigh House. He was not a handsome stranger; of middle height, but massive and ugly in shape like a prize bulldog, with a coarse face and squint. But he rode a fine brown mare, hard and useful as well as handsome, and well set on good legs: but odd, and almost uncanny to look at because of her want of ears. Now in these times, one might wait a twelve month before seeing a stranger ride by Leigh House let alone one on an ear-less mare. Wherefore Amos Tricker, who was hedging by the road when the mare stopped before him stared mightily. “What’s this place?” asked the stranger. “What the devil are you staring at? Damme! Is this Leigh House?” Amos Tricker nodded feebly. The stranger put the brown mare over the fallen paling and walked her round the rotten walls of the house. Then he trotted off Eastwood way with no further word, followed throughout by the stare of Amos Tricker, until a full mile out of site. After which Amos brought back his eyes to the hedge, dropped his knife and trudged away, the occasion demanding confabulation and a mug. Now the stranger had been seen in Hadleigh, the next village, as I have said. And the good folk of Hadleigh, having larger opportunity and mutual aid, were in case to add more imaginative embellishments to his appearance than the single head of Amos Tricker could easily conceive. Nevertheless, in all their varying descriptions of his broad frame, his long arms, his squint, his pistols, his brown mare and manner of asking the distance to Leigh House, there was no word of the mare’s want of ears, and when Amos Tricker alluded to it, the improvement was disallowed by weight of numbers. The smith who was a very old, and bow legged man, and who sat permanently at his door while his son did what was to do in the smithy, appealed to the judgement of the company as to the likelihood of a mare with no ears passing his professional eye without his instant observation of the deficiency, and the company supporting him, notwithstanding the valiant adherence of Amos Tricker to his own statement, continuing the discussion until by contrarily the mare was like to have four ears and the rider borne a tail. Then to the folk of Leigh and thereabouts there came news travelling from Rochford by way of Eastwood. Mr Gabriel Craddock had bought Leigh House and Farm, and the house was to be rebuilt at once and in uncommon haste. Before time had been allowed for a tithe of the proper canvass of this information, there descended upon Leigh House, Mr Gabriel Craddock himself with an attorney from Rochford and a master-builder: and Amos Ticker had a triumphant vindication throughout Hadleigh, for Mr Gabriel Craddock was the stranger and the brown mare manifestly had no ears. There was a great measuring in and staking out, and knocking down and digging up, and in good time the red brick outline of the new house rose above the ground. Time and again would come Mr Craddock and critically inspect the work, grumbling unceasingly with strange oaths. In everything he found delay and a trick to cheat a too easy gentleman; and the language in which he expressed his opinions to the bricklayers was something outrageously beyond what they had ever undergone from a foreman. It was uncommon strong, they held even for a gentleman. Now the journeymen who laid brick and rafter at Leigh House were stout men of Essex and good ale-fellows, who turned from no pot but an empty one. Wherefore it was provided in their hiring that they should have good beer in part wage, every man his two pots a day for the humectation of his limy throat and the comfort of his stomach. In the fetching and carrying whereof old Amos Tricker was kept at a continual trot with a great wheelbarrow, receiving fair cess of his load in divers gulps bestowed, over and above what mayhap had spilled from the droughty way. For these were good brothers of the pot, and let no man stand thirsty by, albeit a mere half-gallon a day might seem little enough to spare from. God wot. And so they took their drink joyously together, every man with his nose in his own proper pot, thanking God it was no less thinner. Now, though each man’s lawful due was but two pots a day, yet all looked to drink more on occasion. For the past memory of any bricklayer or carpenter in Essex a visit on a work from the owner, the master’s master ever brought with it ale in plenty for the pledging of his good health and the luck of the new house. And often, were he a good fellow in his degree, the gentleman would take his own pot in the midst of them, and for that pot gentle and simple, were good neighbours together. So that when Mr Gabriel Craddock first came, and having sworn his hour or two, rode away leaving no sup of ale nor piece of money behind him, he was thought to err from forgetfulness; for men’s faults should be judged with charity, and the gentleman was so free with his language he should be sparing with his liquor. But when he had come and gone again and again, it was plain that Mr Craddock was either illiberal or slow of apprehension, for notwithstanding many shrewd hits, in the way of wiping of heads, speaking across scaffoldings of the dryness of the day, the standing bottom up of the empty pots and cans, the masters wages drink was all that tasted. And son it was until the walls were of full height and the last roof beam was being fixed. Now the fixing of the last roof beam is the occasion of great jollity and rejoicing in the building of all houses, and has been since houses were first made; and at that time by good and ancient precedent all men leave toil and drink at the charge of him whose house they build. Sometimes also they eat, but that is a matter of grace and not a firm rule of honourable custom, which provides for good drink in any case, rather than as a right than as a kindness and courtesy. It chanced that as this beam was being set in its place, Mr Craddock looked on from below, and when in the end it rested as it should, and the workmen gave a cheer together and left their places gathering before the house, he, not understanding the proceeding and feeling no sentiment in the occasion, was about ordering them back to the proper use of their time; but was met by a respectful demand for the usual beer. Mr Craddock’s squint intensified with ire “Beer ye boozy scabs! Ha’n’t ye enough already? Don’t I pay you for every minute of time ye rob me of, ye swabs, ye swill pot hounds. There’s the pond for ye. Go lap the water like the lazy dogs ye are. lap water, ye hounds if more drink ye must have, lap water!” and the convivial journeymen sneaked off chopfallen under a hurricane of oaths which sent Amos Trickers daughter Nan, who was bringing a message out of earshot, aghast. The Mr Gabriel Craddock, with a furious promise to the Master Builder that he would teach his men respect due to a gentleman, and break the head of the next he caught loitering at his work or asking for a beer, took himself off. It was a sad defeat for those illustrious drinkers, the bricklayers and carpenters. Here was an immemorial precedent, a vested interest, a privilege of the craft, broken down at a blow. Insult had been added to injury, and their dry throats had been referred to a pond, which refreshment indeed they were like to be reduced, each man in gleeful anticipation of that last beam, having disposed of his two pots early in the day. What could be done? Obviously the correct thing would have been a strike, had strikes been invented, but they had not. So the journeymen were fain to begin work again with ill will and grumbling. It was the first house any man had worked on without a single drink at the owners expense, all the comfort had gone out of the day with the two pots of ale, and there was the ignoble suggestion of the pond! “Tell us to lap water, an calls us swillpot dogs” quoth one “Mighty fond of callin’ names t’would seem. Maybe’ll call t’house Lapwater Hall an folk’ll know what t’expect. This the more readily because during the years of desolation, there had arisen a Leigh House in the village hard by the Church, properly the Black house, but holding the better sounding title by spoliation from the wreck, so that in the confusion between the old Leigh House that was the new house, and the new Leigh House that was the older of the two, a distinctive name was wanted somewhere, and Lapwater Hall did admirably. Lapwater House it soon was then, in all seriousness. And Mr Gabriel Craddock’s popularity did not grow. This he knew nothing of, however, even if he cared. His affairs kept him away, and his visits became few and short, to nobody’s sorrow. But when the last dab of paint had been laid, and the builder’s men betook themselves to more potulent parts, Mr Craddock arrived to take up residence. Nan Tricker under the eye of Mrs Dudgit, who was to keep the house, had so well swept and tidied, that the master could pick no fault until he found her conversing blissfully over the side fence with Tim Ladds of the next farm. Those true lovers he parted summarily, and sent poor Nan about her kitchen duty. The next day Mr Craddock began to realise his unpopularity. The stables being ready it was desirable to fetch Meg over from the Smack. And this he sallied forth to do, riding whip in hand. Down Lost Lane walked two men “They’re into Lapwater Hall, twould seem” quoth one. Mr Craddock looked round quickly, he had not heard the sentence distinctly. Still he went across the stable yard and gazed after the two men. Then he turned and thoughtfully walked out into the road and towards the bridle path over the fields. These he surveyed with complacency. He was a country gentleman with good land of his own and a house and farm to make any man respected. Who the devil had stacked that rick? He would visit its crookedness upon the persons head. And so he swaggered along. At the first gate he met a small boy with a basket. The boy, having no hat, pulled on his forelock, and held back the gate . “What’s that boy?” Demanded Mr Craddock pointing at the basket with his whip. Treacle and candles, sir, for Lapwatter Hall. Mr Gabriel Craddock stared hard for twelve seconds. Then he smote the boys head and stalked on. In Leigh his reception was not of a piece. One or two pulled off their hats, others stared over fences. He stalked into the Smack, and the company, half a dozen fishermen, suddenly stopped talking, and looked a little sheepish, some rose and made obeisance, others sat stolidly in their places. Among the sitters was Big Sam, a burly smuggling, hard drinking, ruffian, whom all Leigh went in fear of, who cared for nobody and would rather fight the first man he saw than not. Big Sam resumed the conversation with offensive pointedness “Gentleman? aren’t no man, let alone gentleman!” To certain expressive coughs, nods and winks Sam paid no heed. “Ta’aren’t no man as tells another to drink out of t’horse pond. Tis a swine. An so they call it Lapwater Hall. Ha! Ha! “And Big Sam guffawed in Mr Gabriel Craddock’s face. At the beginning of the speech that gentleman’s ill assorted eyes had turned ferociously on the group. Now with one stride and a surprising reach of aim, he seized the big red ear which was on the nearer side of Big Sam’s shaggy head, and banged that head mightily against the wall. Big Sam was on his feet in an instant, and hurled himself at his assailant, but was met with a straight left, flush on the face, like the kick of a horse. Then as he staggered and winked, the butt of Mr Craddocks riding whip beat across his skull, till Big Sam lay heaped upon the floor with a broken head enough for three, and Mr Craddock leaving leaving a minatory curse for the abashed company, strode through the door. It was a brisk mile to the house for the brown mare, and Meg knew she carried an ill tempered man. In the road before the gate stood a wagon, laden with many pots, pans and crockery. Nan Tricker, emerging from the back premises with a froth-some mug of ale, met Mr Craddock full in the way, and began explanations without waiting for the angry question she foresaw! “T’were for Tim, sir, Tim Ladds o’ Crispin’s. Wagoner were carrying the crocks and pots to Black House as guessing ‘twere the Leigh House meant, but Tim bringed him on here, sir, knowing as ‘twas Lapwater---- Nan Tricker checked the word too late. Go on demme! Lapwater Hall, ye’ll call it, will ye, ye drabs!” and Mr Craddock snatched the mug and flung it afar. “It shan’t have the name for nothing, rot you, dam you, ah! For water you shall drink for nothing! Burn ye, I’ll slit the gullet of the man, woman or child drinking aught but water in my and place! I’ll let the liquor out of em damme! D’ye hear” he added in a shout for general information, poor Nan having fled, “If a soul drinks my liquor, begad, I’ll take it back with a carving knife!” And Mr Gabriel Craddock stuck to his programme. He kept the cellar key in his own pocket. He wouldn’t allow brewing on the premises, and all good drink was kept for his own regalement under lock and key. Tenderly he nursed the affront offered to his house, and magnified it day by day. No innocent yokel could show himself about the place, on whatever errand, without drawing forth Mr Craddock with “Eh! You want my beer, ye sodden hound , don’t ye? And this here’s Lapwater Hall , is it? Go and lap the water, then ye son of a brach, lap water!” whereat the unhappy intruder usually made off as quickly as he might. And all this time Mr Gabriel Craddock made no friends, high or low. No man will make friends in South Essex, who is inhospitable with his drink; so this man never ha’ a friend but his brown mare, who lapped water with contentment. Even now he was away from home as much as in it, but for such irregular times that no relief was afforded by his absence. Often he would lock himself in and sleep and drink all day. The various opinions of the neighbourhood settled down into a steady belief that he was the devil. And so for months, till a winters night when the ringed moon looked now and again through a rent in swarming clouds, when all Rochford Hundred, Foulness, and Canvey lay wetter and marshier than ever; when folk were mostly indoors, and Lapwater Hall was barred, bolted ,and shuttered. Mrs Dudgit and Nan Tricker sat in the kitchen, the former sewing little bags to hold chips from the gibbet at Hadleigh Cross to cure ague, and the latter listening to a whistle which might tell of Tim Ladds going home down Lost Lane. Mrs Dudgit was never a woman of extravagantly high spirits, and tonight was more dismal than usual. A dog had been howling woefully in the yard, and now a huge tallow winding sheet had arisen by the flame of a candle, and death was certain. The dog had been quiet for some few minutes, and the winding sheet, influenced by a fresh draught, was disappearing rapidly, when there smote on Nan’s alert ear the sound of horse’s feet—a lame horse’s feet it would seem, falling slowly and painfully almost all together. As it neared the stable yard, Nan said “Tis the master, and t’mares lamed.” Scarce were the words uttered when with a great kick the yard door flew open, and before the two women stood Mr Gabriel Craddock, haggard and miry. “G’law, sir!” Said the women. “Shut your mouth,” he replied, hoarsely “Tie this arm with a bit of that apron” Then they saw that his right arm hung loose at his side, while blood dripped from his fingers upon the floor. Mrs Dudgit, terrified, scissored the sleeve away at his direction, and wrapped her torn apron tightly around a bad wound over the elbow joint. Mr Craddock reached for a jug of water and emptied it at a draught. “Any more lights?” pointing to the candle. “No” “Put it out” he did so himself. “Bolt and bar, and neither stir nor breathe, or by God I’ll come and twist your necks. Say nothing, whoever comes” Then he went out. Mrs Dudgit and Nan Tricker sat in the dark trembling, not daring to speak. They could hear him going to the fence by the road. In a few minutes he was heard approaching again, this time with a quiet and stealthy step, and the women clung together in a cold terror. Was he creeping back to murder them? No, the steps passed round to the back. But now there came the noise of many horses, pounding through the mire of the road and nearing. Before the house they stopped, with shouts and trampling. “House there, hulloa, hulloa!” They were coming from the road towards the door. “Hulloa, there hulloa!” And there was a thundering at the front door. The two women sat and quaked. Then many voices said many things. “Come on,come on! Why stand here?” Maybe they’ve seen him” “Get away ahead!” Where?” “Knock again or go round, They’ll lend us fresh horses” Then the thundering began again, and some came towards the stable yard shouting. Nan Tricker wept, biting hard on a thick fold of Mrs Dugit’s gown to keep back a scream. In the midst of the knocking there arose a shout of “Here’s the nag! He’s close about” and a shower of blows fell upon the door, behind which the women were. “Open open! In the Kings name! Kings Officers!” The door fell in, and Nan Tricker and Mrs Dudgit fell into a corner with a dismal howl. They were dragged out, limp and hysterical, among half a dozen men with steaming horses, as miry as Mr Craddock, and wept and gasped unintelligibly at all questions. Then the men took lights and searched high and low in the house, the yard, and the outbuildings—for two of them were officers, and the man they sought was a powerfully built fellow, of middle height, who squinted, and who was Jerry Lynch the highwayman. His operations on the great Essex road and elsewhere had been so extensive and daring that he had long “weighed enough” in the matter of rewards to make it worth while to run a party for his capture. There was no other way of doing it. He worked alone and confided in nobody, never drank while “on the game” and, in all other things was the most business like and watchful high –tobyman unhung. He had been sighted near Shenfield, and had shot one man dead in his saddle before getting away across country with a bullet through his own arm. By Ingrave, Horndon, Laindon, and Pitsea they had followed him, and the brown mare must have been already well spent, or they could never have kept within hail of Jerry Lynch who knew every dyke and fence down in the marshes, the hither side of Benfleet, he had bogged them cleverly and walked his nag slowly up the hill before their faces, back towards a further stretch of the road they had lately crossed, leaving them to come out as they got in; and so they followed the road and came to Lapwater Hall. All that night lanterns flashed about Lapwater Hall and the land near it. In the grey of the morning Meg was seen shivering and wickering piteously by the pond, and in the pond there floated a hat. They took one of those great rakes which Essex people call a crome, and dragged forth from under the culvert the staring corpse of Mr Gabriel Craddock. Under the culvert he must have hidden himself, hanging on by the broken ragstone above him, until he fainted from the drain of blood from his arm and fell. As the day came and the news flew, the Leigh folk gathered about the pond and stared and whispered. Here was judgement! The man drowned in the water he would have driven thirsty men to, whom he owed them beer! Staring so, they found another thing floating on the water and clinging near the edge. They fished it out and turned it over with amazement. It was a pair of horses ears joined by a strap and fitted with a catch to hold to the head stall. They were the false ears that brown Meg wore when Mr Gabriel Craddock was Jerry Lynch the high toby-gloak! Such was the end of Mr Gabriel Craddock. And this is the Legend of Lapwater Hall. Arthur Morrison in Macmillans Magazine (Abridged)

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Lapwater Hall was situated near what is now Lapwater Close, Leigh-on-Sea. Mr. Gabriel Craddock renamed the old farmhouse Lapwater Hall after he purchased the property in 1750, Previously, it had been called Leigh House Farm or Leigh Park Farm and before that Tile Barn Farm. The farm covered a large area approximately 120+ acres. Craddock employed builders to renovate the farmhouse. Legend says that Craddock was the alias of highwayman Cutter Lynch (Jerry Lynch) who rode a horse with ears made of wax to disguise the fact that the animal had none. The story is told, he arrived at Lapwater Hall late one night breathless and wounded by gunshot. When constables arrived at his door he absconded through a back entrance and staggered into a pond where he laid and died.
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