Overy and out

That previous post, which ended with Bedfords trying to flog a cottage at “Burnham Overy Town”, was milling in Malcolm’s mind a while after.

You see, he was along Bankside again last weekend. The Pert Young Piece had a groundlings ticket for the opening night of Twelfth Night at the Globe, and it is essential to reserve a place at the front of the queue. The Lady in his Life and Malcolm were nominated as place-holders.

Since you ask, yes — PYP was greatly impressed; and thoroughly recommends the production. The Globe run, however, is sold out — though it transfers to the Apollo Theatre at the start of November.

That isn’t the point. The stroll back towards London Bridge and the 43 bus (not excluding a brief moment of refreshment at the Thameside Inn) is. At least in part.

When I go, I wanna go like Elsie …

Or, as Juanita.

On the way towards the Globe the Cathedral bell had been counting the long numbers of a death toll. On the way back there was a merry peal. The Southwark version of a New Orleans Jazz Band funeral, perchance.


That short walk takes us along Clink Street. Far more historic than the ersatz Golden Hinde (though the kids may not agree) is the residue of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace.

Which, in a way, is why we, following Will Shakespeare and all that mob, are here in the first place.

The City of London was very respectable. The authorities had a down on most forms of entertainment. Bear-bailing, ratting, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, brothels, low-dive boozers and theatres — all the things that make for an enjoyable life — were singly and collectively a no-no north of London Bridge.

On the Southwark side, the Bishop of Winchester held sway. Either he was a very laid back bish, or away in Winchester doing his bishoping, or he recognised good ways to turn many a semi-honest groat. So Southwark was a happening place. Pause for Stephen Whatley including this in the three volumes of his 1751 England’s gazetteer: or, an accurate description of all the cities, towns, and villages of the Kingdom:

In the times of popery, here were no less than 18 houses on the Bankside, licensed by the Bps. of Winchester … to keep whores, who were, therefore, commonly called Winchester Geese.

Not just in the times of popery, Stephen, my friend. It was still very much the mode in Good Queen Bess’s Golden Days. We have no less an authority than Will Shakespeare himself for that. Not just in I Henry VI, Act I, scene iii, but also in  Pandarus’ epilogue to Troilus & Cressida:

Brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade,
Some two months hence my will shall here be made:
It should be now, but that my fear is this,
Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss:
Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases,
And at that time bequeathe you my diseases.

After Clink Street we pass that Golden Hinde. It is moored in St Mary Overie’s Dock (which seems to have been redesignated as Winchester Square), and there is an official plaque to inform us:

This dock is a free landing place at which the parishioners of St. Saviour’s Parish are entitled to land goods free of toll.

So we are back to Overie

There are two versions of the origin of this word. One is etymological, and straightforward. The other is a fine piece of London fancy. Take your choice.

Southwark, from the London perspective, is “over there”, the other side of London Bridge. London taxi drivers still have this belief that sarf uv de riva is alien territory, especially around pub-closing time. We have a perfectly good Old English adjective ofere and its variants — but always feminine or neuter in gender. Middle English has ufore as an adverb. Hence: the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie. Job done?

Well, perhaps not.

John Stow has a short account in his Survey of London:

The originall foundation of London bridge, by report of Bartholomew Linsted, alias Fowle, last Prior of S. Marie Oueries Church in Southwarke was this: a Ferrie being kept in place where now the Bridge is builded, at length the Ferriman & his wife deceasing, left the same Ferrie to their onely daughter, a maiden named Marie, which with the goodes left by her Parents, as also with the profites rising of the said Ferrie, builded a house of Sisters, in place where now standeth the east part of S. Marie Oueries Church aboue the Queere, where she was buried, vnto the which house she gaue the ouersight & profites of the Ferrie, but afterwards the said house of sisters being conuerted into a colledge of priests, the priests builded the Bridge (of Timber) as all other the great Bridges of this land were, and from time to time kept the same in good reparations, till at length considering the great charges of repayring the same, there was by ayd of the Citizens of London, and others, a Bridge builded with Arches of stone, as shall be shewed.

It all makes an instructive story …

The long version  of that, and less decent but more London, is John Overs was more than a bit tight with his money — and he had made a fortune running his waterman business. He was very wary of suitors for Mary, his only daughter and therefore heiress. He was convinced — with some reason — that the one in particular to whom she seemed attracted had a greater interest in inheriting the business than in the person of Mary.

He was so much of a miser he faked his own death, and involved daughter Mary as an accomplice. The intent was to save a day’s vittles among his servants, who would be expected to fast until the funeral. The servants, alas, were so taken with the old bloke’s apparent decease that, far from fasting, they held a party. This incensed the “corpse” to the extent that he burst out of his winding-sheet, fuming, furious and frothing. One of the servants was shocked by what seemed an apparition of the Devil himself, took an oar which lay conveniently to hand, confronted and brained the risen dead.

The servant was put on trial for murder, and acquitted. Overs was held responsible for his own death.

Mary’s suitor, hearing she had now inherited, rushed to Southwark to seal the deal. Unfortunately in his haste his horse threw him, and he broke his neck.

Mary, two deaths on her conscience, had yet a further problem. Her father had been adjudged a suicide, and properly was refused Christian burial. With some difficulty, and a bit of palm-greasing, she prevailed upon the friars of Bermondsey Abbey, in the absence of their abbot, to allow a bit of spare ground for a grave.

When the abbot returned he took an interest in this new grave. Realising the circumstances, that his friars had accommodated a suicide and taken money for it, the abbot ordered the body be exhumed, loaded onto a donkey, and the donkey set to wander where it might.The donkey headed off down the Old Kent Road until it reached a roadside spring, dedicated to Thomas Beckett — St. Thomas à Waterings.

Chaucer’s pilgrims passed this way one April day around 1386 or 1387, guided by the inn-keeper, Harry Bailly, until they reached the second milestone out of the Borough. Their horses took a draught from St Thomas’s watering, and steadied themselves for another stretch.

Let Geoff the Shoemaker’s son (there he is, posthumously and piss-elegantly represented, right, though Malcolm prefers the Paul Bettany version) pick up the pace:

Up roos our host, and was our aller cok,
And gadrede us togidre, alle in a flok,
And forth we riden, a litel more than pas,
Unto the watering of seint Thomas.
And there our host bigan his hors areste,
And seyde; ‘Lordinges, herkneth if yow leste.
Ye woot your forward,and I it yow recorde.
If even-song and morwe-song acorde,
Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale.

However, this became the place for executions in north Surrey. In Tudor times it was the grimmest of spots.

Here in 1539, for denying the supremacy of Henry VIII, the Vicar of Wandsworth, his chaplain, and two others, were hung, drawn, and quartered. 25% of Sir Thomas Wyatt, also put through that butchery for rebellion, in April 1554 was put on display here. It remained a grisly place of execution down to 1740.

Our wandering donkey (remember him?) arrived at St Thomas’s spring, and paused for needed asinine refreshment. In that process the beast mislaid its burden; and so departs from this tale of woe.

The decaying and rather ripe remains of John Overs now lay beneath a common gibbet. Nothing to be done: they had to be buried in disgrace and ignominy at the crossroads, in unconsecrated ground.

Mary Overs (remember her?), stricken with guilt,  refused any other proposals of marriage; and retired to the nunnery, settling her considerable estate on the Church of St Saviours — henceforth the Church of St Saviours and St Mary Overie.

Believe all that as you wish.

Burnham Overy, Malcolm?

Ah, yes: where we started and to which we must return, if only for the purposes of literary art.

Let us refer to Francis White’s History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk from 1854:

Burnham Overy parish includes the large village of Burnham Overy Staith, situated nearly two miles N.N.E. of Burnham Market, on a rivulet or creek which crosses the salt marshes by two channels to the ocean …

So, it’s the Burnham “over the creek”? Not quite Old Father Thames, but as good as you’ll get in north Norfork. So, if Doubting Thomas wants to take further offence


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Filed under History, Literature, London, Norfolk, Quotations, reading, Shakespeare, Theatre

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