Monday, April 4, 2016

Strange and Unholy Doings by Katherine Pym

London Bridge on Southwark side

Once upon a time, the London Bridge was made of wood. During this time, ferries were popular. These ferries would ply up and down the Thames, taking goods, livestock and people from one side of the river to the other.

John Overs was a ferryman. His route was where the Bridge would eventually be designed & built. He suffered from parsimony and eventually became a wealthy man. He garnered many servants, trained several apprentices and allowed his only daughter, Mary, to be educated (in an inexpensive way).

It is said John Overs’ wealth rivaled the richest Alderman in London but his house, his clothes compared with the poorest inhabitant of the city.

As Mary grew into a lovely woman, men began to hound John Overs. They wanted to marry his daughter, but John reckoned they only wanted his money. He never let these eager swains near or to see Mary. He shut her in and guarded the door. Eventually, John allowed one fellow to meet his daughter, which went very well indeed. The young man and Mary agreed to marry.

But John didn’t want to put out the money for a dower. He procrastinated. Quite some time passed, and John’s miserliness grew. He watched what his servants ate, what they wore, how they abused his good nature.

More ferries
During this time, when a master died, the household was plunged into 24 hours of fasting, prayer and the gnashing of teeth. John Overs decided to pretend he was dead. He would save money by not having to feed his household for a full day. He would also see how much his household loved him.

Mary Overs did not approve, but as a pious, honorable woman, she obeyed her father. She wrapped him in winding sheets. He lay on the bed as a dead man, one burning candle at his head and one at his feet. Soon, the household knew their master was dead.

As John lay in the bed, he was astonished to find the household burst into joy. They broke into all the stores, tuned their instruments and feasted. They danced around his body and drank all his beer and wine.

John Overs was outraged. He could not believe what was happening and struggled with the winding sheets. To the servants, the devil had entered the chamber. He would rise in John Overs’ likeness and take possession of the household, the servants and apprentices. The devil would drive them to the depths of hell rather than a merry flight to heaven.

As John continued to wrench free of the cloths, a brave fellow took hold of a stout object and felled him with a heavy blow, breaking John Overs’ skull and ‘struck out his brains’.

As for John Overs’ daughter, she wrote to her fiancĂ© telling him of her father’s demise. The young man was in the country, and so eager was he to gain the daughter and now her inheritance, leapt onto his mount. He drove his horse down the highway at breakneck speed. His horse tumbled, throwing the young man into the dirt of the road where he broke his neck and died.

Poor Mary Overs. Crushed by what had happened, she went into the nunnery and gave all her money to the church. Almost on the site of the ferry landing in Southwark, a convent was built. Later, it evolved into St Mary Overie’s Church, now Southwark Cathedral.

Archeologists and historians have tried to dispute this story, stating a convent had been on this site since the 7th century, but I prefer to believe the story true. When something like this makes the rounds for a long time, there must be a seed of truth. Going a little bit further, I also believe myths and folklore are based on truth.

And there you have it. I will stick to this until someone waves a sheaf of papers filled with proof in my face.

Many thanks to:
Abbott, Geoffrey. The Gruesome History of Old London Bridge, Eric Dobby Publishing, Ltd, Kent, UK, 2008
Wikicommons, Public Domain