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Incidents from Tilebury's History

Dr Harriet Longstepp

1 March

The Old Staging Inn.

We all know the New Inn. In fact many of us were there at a rather rowdy event for Valentine's day recently. I must say I was rather caught up in that by accident as I had popped out to meet a friend and hadn't realised the event was on. I'm not sure it is the sort of thing which ought to happen too often in the Village. Things seemed to be getting out of hand so I stayed on to the end to make sure there was at least one responsible person present to handle anything which might have happened. I'm glad to say the emergency services were not required although it was a close call.

But it got me thinking about the New Inn (built by Henry Cutbeard in 1655-1656 during Cromwell's commonwealth) and the old Staging Inn it replaced. That was the one for which Willam Jenns carved the finials for the gate-posts. One of those finials (showing a sea battle - probably the Singeing of the king of Spain's beard) is still in use inside the New Inn to support the bannisters.

Well, one great story about the Old Staging Inn has to do with famous highwayman Elisha Finecheeks. Elisha was said to have lived in the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558) and to have ridden the turnpike roads between Gloucester and Casterbridge to prey on unwary travelers. He is said to have used a short bow which he had made himself and fired it from horseback (a very unusual thing in those days).

However, three things gave him particular notoriety. The first was that his arrows were poisoned. He never approached his victims, but instead shot an arrow into them and then rode away. An hour later when the poison had put the unfortunate traveller into a fever he would return and slit their throats.

Secondly, he never spoke. He gave no warnings of his attacks and simply took what he wanted from the bodies of those he shot.

Finally, the glimpses survivors had of him always remarked that he wore no beard and his cheeks were smooth. Since no-one knew any smooth-skinned, unbearded men in the neighbourhood, he was assumed either to be a renegade gentleman or a boy from another town.

Tilebury's link to Elisha is simple. He was caught outside the Old Staging Inn trying to outrun three queen's agents who had set a trap for him. In those days the turnpike - a huge barrier made of thorn-bushes which was swung across the road and lifted away by the Innkeeper only when a toll was paid - was directly in front of the Staging Inn. The Queen's men dragged Elisha off his horse and then picked him up and threw him onto the thorns of the turnpike itself.

There they tore back his hat and scarf to reveal... a woman named Meg Paddock. I will draw a veil over what happened next to Meg. Amazingly, however, there is at least one popular song of the time which suggests in a (rather bawdy) final verse that Meg survived (or escaped) her punishments and rode (unclothed) away in the dawn light. According to that song the Queen's men were all found in the morning poisoned and robbed of their valuables.

Perhaps these events show that the Valentine's batchelor auction was tame compared to the history these buildings have seen. I am sure there was never anything quite so lively at the Old Staging Inn as the day on which the law finally caught up with Meg Finecheeks.

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