The Affray at the Ferry

  • 6 Nov 2019
  • Church Curiosities
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After the dissolution of the priory, the ferry and the boathouse passed with the Severn meadows to the new dean and chapter of the cathedral; and in Elizabethan times were the scene of an affray which became a Star Chamber matter, for strong passions disturbed the peace of the cathedral close in the days of transition from the old order to the new.

Sir John Bourne of Battenhall and Holt Castle had been Secretary of State in the previous reign of Queen Mary, and his son, Gilbert, had become a bishop. Both were ardent Roman Catholics and strongly opposed to the changes Elizabeth made. They resented particularly the intrusion into the cathedral precincts of the wives of the clergy and carried on a vigorous vendetta against the new Protestant bishop, dean and prebendaries. Alternatively spoilt by exessive power and soured by misfortune, John Bourne quarreled with Bishop Sandys and all connected with the cathedral.

One day, while crossing the Severn in the ferry from the Collage Green, he grossly insulted the wife of the dean and two of the canon's wives who were also crossing. It led to a violent altercation between Bourne's party and members of the dean's household, and a fracas ensued in which swords were drawn and blood was shred. The Privy Council was forced to intervene and after investigation, charge and counter-charge Sir John was committed to the Marshalsea. Only an abject air Johnpology secured his release.

Another son, Anthony, was of equally tough temper. On the occasion of a difference between Bishop Sandys and Sir John, Anthony had his sword sharpened publicly by a Worcester cutler and, parading in front of the Palace gates, demanded: 'Where are the Bishop's boy's', challenging one and all to combat. He lost his life not long after - perhaps not surprisingly - in a private quarrel in Gloucestershire.