9. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

I discussed the wreck Seynt Cristofre from 1386 with the local HER (Historic Environment Record) officer last week. He kindly supplied me with further information from the Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, which has enabled me to enhance the record further. It was the final outstanding reference, so it is a very good example of harnessing the work of HER officers.

It is an exceptionally detailed record for a wreck from the Middle Ages, both in terms of containing information from several different sources – as we saw with the ‘tin ship wreck’ a couple of weeks back, three references were exceptional even several centuries later – and in the level of detail concerning the ship and circumstances of loss. The ship’s name, date of loss, manner and location of loss, master, owners, cargo and voyage details are all present. A hit rate of perhaps three of these details would be considered good going for documentary evidence of a medieval wreck, from my point of view. Unusually, the paper trail starts with the wreck event – quite often, the first record commissioning an enquiry or “inquisition” is missing from the surviving documentary evidence, and we pick up the trail some time later, so the name, for example, which might have been present in that first mention, isn’t recoverable.

We do not always get to find out what happened subsequently, since the trail often runs cold due to the lack of extant documents before the matter was concluded. You could say that medieval wrecks are often lost twice over – once in the wrecking process, and again through the haphazard survival (at best) of contemporary records.

Here we have a very specific date of loss – on the eve of All Saints; moreover, since the cargo was carried away on that day, the wreck must have occurred sufficiently early in the day for arrangements to be made to hire the carts by the master, which then seem to have been diverted, embezzled, or what you will! The survival of the crew and quantity of goods carried away suggests a location at some fairly accessible point of the inter-tidal zone – at the least, accessible at low tide. Looking at Admiralty Easytide, high water on that day was just after noon, at 12.08pm, which would appear to lend weight to this suggestion. It would be easy to conjecture that at some time that morning the vessel was lost before the tide reached its height in order for the carts to be hired and the goods taken away before it became dark.

The question was, therefore, whether the peck of pickled peppers was picked by the Prior of Prittlewell, or by Pultere his bailiff on his behalf! Claim and counter-claim ensued as Pultere was accused of embezzling some of the goods and the carters of diverting some of the rest. Mismanagement was clearly seen all around, since the wreck was blamed on the seamen’s ‘carelessness’. This seems a little harsh, given the circumstances of a storm.

William Camden, writing in the 1600s, describes the local topography of Shobery Nesse:

Heere by reason that the bankes on both sides shrinke backe, the Tamis at a huge and wide mouth rowleth into the sea.

[William Camden, Britain, or, a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: George Bishop and John Norton, 1610) Copyright 2004 by Dana F. Sutton. This text was transcribed by Professor Sutton, of the University of California, Irvine, from Philemon Holland’s 1610 translation] accessed here.

A Vision of Britain has some nice historical maps – click here for a map of Shoebury:

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