Treasure of the week no. 26: Hedgehogs, polecats and churchwardens.

This week we resume our popular ‘Treasure of the Week feature by our volunteer ‘Stackmole’. These treasures are from 19th Century Publications which give a varied insight into the Bradford of the 19th Century – history as it happened. We hope these articles will encourage people to study these items and to pursue this interest into other aspects of Bradford’s history.

Natural History Notes from the Bradford Churchwarden’s Accounts by Herbert E. Wroot. Offprint of pages 183-187 from The Naturalist, June 1895. Contains a transcript of the entries relating to payments for catching wild animals from 1668 to 1748.

JND 18/12 (Please quote this number if requesting this item)

Tres 26 image

The Churchwardens were very much the local officials in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were responsible for the administration of the law. Interesting are the payments made for catching vermin and wild animals. The entries in The Accounts of the Bradford Churchwardens date from 1668 to the end of 1748. From these, journalist and naturalist, Herbert Wroot, transcribed the entries that relate to wild animals. They give evidence that in and near Bradford there were:

  • Hedgehogs (or ‘Urchins’)
  • Wild Cats
  • Foxes
  • Otters
  • Badgers (or ‘Greys’)
  • Polecats (or Foumarts)
hedgehog from Eileen Aroon p 127

Image from ‘Eileen Aroon’ by Stables, Gordon, 1884 https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary Flickr Commons

Most common of these were hedgehogs, the deaths of 180 being recorded. Superstition against this harmless creature was strong – they were supposed to seek the milk from the udders of cows as they lay on the ground. The existence of the wild cat in the district is especially interesting; the animal being long ago extinct in England. Four specimens are referred to – two were caught in 1676, one in 1678, and the last in 1680. The badger or ‘gray’ seems to have been scarce or rarely seen. The sole specimen referred to was killed in 1676 at Shipley. Although polecats are several times noted, there were no martins, weasels or stoats. Otters were not uncommon, five having been killed, the last mentioned in 1731.

No payment was made for any of the birds whose destruction was prescribed by the Acts; birds such as hawks, kites, the buzzard, magpie, jay, rave or kingfisher. Likewise, there is no record of smaller vermin such as rats, mice or moles. The rewards paid, one shilling each for foxes and greys, and two pence each for hedgehogs, otters, wild cats and polecats, were in conformity with the scale prescribed by the Government.

The struggles of the illiterate churchwardens with spelling of the words ‘urchin’ and ‘hedgehog’ are amusing. Two examples are:

1670, April 23   Paid to Thomas Roe for Catshing two heg hoges ..… 4d.

1679-9   Aloud to the Churchwarden of Shipley for 6 uerchanes & for a wild cat ….. 2s. 02d.

Stackmole

Image from ‘Eileen Aroon’ by Stables, Gordon, 1884 https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary Flickr Commons

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