Thomas Cammock - a man with "a touch of swagger"


The following information is provided by Stephen P. Nunn, a local historian, and is reproduced here with his kind permission.



A man with "a touch of swagger"

Stephen P. Nunn


          THE other day I came face to face with a Tudor Maldonian.   Over the years I had seen him from a distance (ever since my boyhood Sunday school days in fact) but I had never been quite that close before.   Before you start worrying about me, I can tell you that the face belongs to an image on a monument in All Saints church.   It's not just any old monument, but an impressive representation of an equally remarkable man - one Thomas Cammock.

          Recent work in the church has seen the insertion of a new mezzanine floor in the north (St. Katherine's) gild chapel.   That new floor now allows us unprecedented access to Cammock's wall memorial above the priest's door and suddenly we can get up close to one of the most controversial characters in the long story of our town.   Back in the late 1500s he was at the centre of a scandal and everyone in the neighbourhood was talking about him.   To understand his story and the circumstances surrounding that event we must travel back to the 16th century.   Born in 1540, the son of Robert Cammock of Layer Marney (d. 1585), Thomas was a minor country landowner of "gentle birth" but "barely cleared the rank of the yeomanry".   He made his home in Maldon and he married well.   His wife, Ursula Wyrley was the daughter of John Wyrley of Didford, in the county of Northamptonshire.   The marriage was a successful one and she bore him no less than 4 sons and 5 daughters.   Tragically, Ursula went to an early grave, leaving Thomas a grieving widower who found solace and diversion in his work.   He was part of the retinue of Sir Robert, the second Lord Rich, who was the head of a powerful dynasty that acceded to the title of the Earls of Warwick.

          Thomas must have made a positive impression on his master and he became very close to the Lord and his family.   However, it proved to be too cosy a relationship for he fell in love with Robert Rich's only daughter, Frances.   Needless to say Lord Rich did not approve of the approaches of a widower and an employee, particularly one of little wealth and no title!   But it didn't put the couple off and one stormy night whilst travelling between two of the Rich properties - Leez Priory (Little Leighs) and Rochford Hall, the couple made off and eloped.   When the news reached Lord Rich he was less than pleased and instructed his son and his soldiers to go in pursuit.   They eventually caught up with the couple at South Fambridge where the lovers were attempting to cross the Crouch and head on into Thomas's home town of Maldon.   The trouble was that the ferry boat was moored on the other side of the river at North Fambridge.   Thomas decided that there was nothing for it but to swim across to recover the craft.   Frances, however, had other ideas and thanks to a remarkable surviving account (recorded by the antiquary, William Holman) we even know what she said.   This determined young woman instructed Thomas to mount her horse with her so that they could combat the strong current together.   She would, she said, "live or die with him".

          Lord Rich's soldiers reached the south bank as the couple were about half way across the river.   At that moment the horse had second thoughts, turned round and swam back, depositing the couple in the hands of their pursuers!   Nevertheless they somehow escaped, eventually crossed the river and rode on into Maldon where they "wedded and bedded" and went on to make their home throughout the 1580s and 90s.   When Lord Rich heard the full story and how his daughter had "ventured her life" for Thomas, he changed his attitude and gave them his love and full support.   Their union proved to be a most successful and happy one, leading to 2 more sons and 11 more daughters for Thomas!   What must the locals have thought at the time?   "Local widower runs off with Lord's daughter...Shocking incident at the Fambridge Ferry"!   In some ways I suppose it gave them plenty of Tudor 'street-cred'!

          Thomas has subsequently been described in many different ways - an 'adventurer', a man with "a touch of swagger", even a 'pirate'.   What we do know is that he wanted to do his bit for the local community, for in 1587 he paid for Maldon's very first convenient water supply - piped in a 600 yards lead conduit from his well in Beeleigh Road (the 'Crom' or 'St. Helen's Well') to a pump on St. Helen's Lane (now Cromwell Hill).   He died a contented man at the end of March 1602.   But he hasn't left us entirely and neither have his two kneeling wives, depicted in profile and staring at their shared husband and his 22 children of all ages and sizes in the 'predella' below - enough, one wit has said to play their own family game of cricket had it been invented by then!   (They would have known a similar game called 'stoolball').   We can still meet them today and thanks to some church works in our own lifetime we can now become very intimate with them indeed.

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