Driving down the A34 it is easy to pass through the village of Sandon with hardly noticing it. Similarly the village itself is so used to the constant rumble of rubber on tarmac that it almost forgets the great highway that dissects the community.
Until the Middle Ages Sandon was actually two villages – Great and Little Sandon. The former lay clustered around the ancient parish church that now occupies an isolated position on the hilltop overlooking the valley below. What caused the decline of this community is unknown. Often settlements in close proximity to great Houses, such as Sandon Hall, were removed at the whim of the owner of the estate under the pretence of spoiling his view. The disappearance of Great Sandon, however, occurred much earlier than the removal of villages for purely aesthetic purposes became fashionable. Possibly its demise may have been the result of the Black Death, or the subsequent conversion of arable land to pasture.
While Great Sandon disappeared its little sibling in the valley below continued. Yet daily life in this agrarian community was far from harmonious – at least for one married couple. On April 28th 1772 Mary Griffin brought before the local Justices of the Peace at Stafford Quarter Sessions Court ‘Articles of the Peace’ against her husband Thomas, a yeoman, ‘for fear of her life or some bodily hurt.’
Mary complained that her husband was ‘much addicted to swearing’ and had many times threatened to murder her. He had beat her, she claimed, at different intervals to such an extent that she had on various occasions fled the house at night for fear of her life.
On April 14th,without provocation, Thomas began swearing and cursing Mary in a ‘very wicked and abusive manner.’ When Mary challenged him about his behaviour, he swore that she would have no better treatment as long as she lived. Thomas told her that if she did not immediately leave their house he would get his gun that he kept in the bed chamber and shoot her dead. Mary was left with no alternative but to leave, believing that her husband meant to carry out the threat.
Sometimes she would be subjected to other inhumane behaviour. As she was lying in bed one night during the previous December he had thrown the contents of the chamber pot over her. Mary also said that within the space of six months Thomas had thrown sticks at her, an iron hanging clock, and several other things with great force and violence. Mary did not demand the peace against her husband through any malice, only for her own safety.
It was not only married couples that suffered indifferences. At Staffordshire Quarter Sessions in July 1798 Henrietta Harrison, a widow of Hanbury, complained about local labourer Thomas Morton. Henrietta claimed that the previous month, as well as on several other occasions, Morton had threatened to beat and kill her. This culminated in an incident where Morton was heard to proclaim “Damn your souls madam, I shall draw you into the street and murder you!”
Perhaps one of the strangest requests for Articles of the Peace exhibited against a husband was that brought before the Quarter Sessions by Ann Bowness in July 1791. She lived with her husband Thomas in Wiggington near Tamworth. About a month beforehand Thomas had threatened her by saying “Damn your eyes, limbs and bones, in a little while I will munch you!” For this and other threats Thomas was ordered to find sureties for his future good behaviour.
So the next time you travel through a seemingly tranquil village like Sandon, bear in mind that behind the doors of the picturesque dwellings, life for some was not always a bed of roses.