Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Trolling in Alstonefield= an example from 1737



Until a few years the only troll I heard about existed in Scandanavian legend. They were the ugly, misshapen creatures of evil intent who undermined the good order of society by causing chaos and disruption. Now Trolls are ugly, misshapen individuals who use social media to bully threaten and accuse with equally damaging effects on the good order of society. The original trolls were destroyed by light. I suppose the modern day ones are equally damaged when exposed to the glare of public obloquy. Although on reading a newspaper article some time ago my perceptions about trolls and trolling were questioned when I discovered while most are  isolated young men, there are some trolls who are older and more socially adjusted than I had imagined.

In the past society took a very dim view of people who slandered others believing such actions “contrary to piety, justice to our neighbours and sobriety to ourselves” it became the practice to hear false accusations against people in Consistory Courts, an ecclesiastical court presided over by a Chancellor usually a Cathedral official who could pass judgement on offenders. Their remit was to keep good order in society and as it was a time when the vast majority of people would go to church it had power over people. Originally a medieval court, by the 17th century consistory courts dealt with cases in certain areas: defamation, wills, matrimonial disputes including divorce and accusations against the clergy. (Many of the functions of the court were transferred over to civil courts during the Victorian era.)


The clergy could be summoned for a variety of transgressions such as dereliction of duty, not carrying out their priestly duties and brawling.

The Consistory Court that covered the Moorlands met at Lichfield. They had a variety of punishments at their disposal such as excommunication or ordering penance, although the church authorities sought initially to mediate.

One serious case of brawling in Hanbury near Burton was heard in 1746. John Cauldwell the Vicar was involved in a fight with a churchwarden named Robotham over the offertory box. During the kerfuffle the contents of the box were spilled in front of the altar and Cauldwell hit Robotham over the head with the empty box. Both men were dismissed for failing to restrain themselves.


The court also dealt with a 1737 case of slanderous comments being made in Alstonefield against a widow in her 60s, a button maker called Rachel Brindley. She brought a case against Grace Chapman  a local woman alleging that she had slandered her accusing her of lax morals. Matters came to a head in Alstonefield Churchyard and in a scene reminiscent of an Ena Sharples encounter with Elsie Tanner many years ago they set about each other with some venom. They were involved in a lengthy shouting match, with each woman calling the other one whore and other names. Witnesses from Alstonefield sided with Widow Brindley describing  her as a pious woman who paid her taxes and did not take any money from the parish in poor relief. There were some snide remarks made about Grace. At the hearing in Lichfield it was discovered that the underlying quarrel revolved around the ownership of a shop in Hollinsclough. The dispute was resolved through arbitration.