A curious Cransford tale with a cruel twist

Thunder storms raged across Suffolk and Norfolk in June 1900. (Photo by NOAA on Unsplash.)

#52Ancestors Week Four

Q. What to do when the theme of #52Ancestors is ‘curious’?

A. Find a tale in the newspaper or in an archive catalogue that includes the word ‘curious’!

 Of all possible things, the British Newspaper Archive returned, under “+curious +Cransford”, an article entitled SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS.

Wild Weather

It was not what I set out to find, but it sounded interesting; I’m British, after all, and discussing the weather is supposed to be part of my DNA.

The returned article was published in the Framlingham Weekly News on 16 June 1900. The storms had occurred on the evening of the 12th, a Tuesday.

This is a simple blog post drawing mainly from the article and a few others that describe what happened next. It covers my One-Place Study of Cransford but also goes a little further afield – to Wetheringsett, Framsden, Framlingham and Saxtead. 

And so, with no further ado:

“The intense heat which prevailed throughout Monday and Tuesday culminated in severe thunderstorms on Tuesday…”

At Cransford

“…the storm was most severe about ten o’clock, damaging the church to a considerable extent. Most of the windows, including the stained glass window in the East, were smashed, and the flag staff on the tower was dislodged and hurled a distance of over 50 yards. A portion of the roof on the south side of the sacred edifice was torn off and was found in the interior of the church. 

The severity of the storm is in evidence in other parts of the village.”

The windows as they are today can be seen on Simon Knott’s Suffolk Churches site.

The FWN considered the damage from the June 1900 storm significant, and I suspect the parishioners thought so, too. It was a small community, and the clean up would have cost money. A longer article appears in the Ipswich Journal, where, contrary to the description in the FWN, it stated that the church at Cransford was “slightly damaged”. The IJ article is worth reading if you’d like to learn how the storm affected the rest of Suffolk and Norfolk.

At Framlingham

“…the storm was of lengthy and great severity. The sky became overcast between 5 and 6 o’clock in the afternoon, and very dense dark clouds gathered, and semi-darkness ensued, so that shops and other places of business had to be lighted up.

Ominous prolonged peals of thunder followed, and soon the lightning became very vivid, with loud peals of thunder. Soon after 8pm the storm was renewed with greater severity, the lightning flashes became more rapid and exceedingly vivid, and the crashing peals of thunder longer. This continued for nearly an hour, rain falling in torrents accompanied by large hail stones, and a number of places in the town being flooded.

…Glass was smashed and produce in the fields and gardens much damaged in various parts of the town by the large hail stones which accompanied the first storm. Framlingham and the locality have not been visited by such a prolonged and severe storm within living memory.”

The Framlingham Photographic Archive has several images of flooding, although none explicitly dated to this event in 1900. Here is a view of Albert Place, for example, which regularly flooded.  

At Saxtead

“The hailstorm…told its saddest tale in the little village of Saxted [sic], where several acres of spring and winter beans and other crops were destroyed. Windows were smashed by the merciless downfall all over the village, no less than 19 panes being broken in one house. A large oak tree near the School was struck by the lighting, and other damage was done by the same cause. It is feared that some of the farmers in the parish have suffered damage to the extent of at least £50. It is a curious fact that the hailstorm hardly reached the adjoining parishes of Tannington and Bedfield.

Measuring Worth tells us that “the relative value of £50 0s 0d from 1900 ranges from £5,531.00 to £56,020.00”. Small farmers would certainly not have found this loss easy to deal with, especially after several years of poor harvests. The school where the oak was struck is now a dance school.

At Framsden

“A horse was killed by lightning at Framsden on the farm in the occupation of Mrs Freeman.”

We don’t know much about Mrs Freeman from the original article but might infer she was widowed (if not, the newspaper would likely have named her husband). I suspect the article refers to a Mrs F Freeman of Valley Farm, Framsden, who advertised for a general servant in September of the same year (see ÊADT ref below this post). 

An Elizabeth Freeman, widow, was at Valley Farm with children and domestic help in both 1901 and 1911. Her husband had been Frederick, who died in 1898. Was it Elizabeth who first discovered the fate of her horse?

At Wetheringsett

The worst consequences of the storm were felt in Wetheringsett, about fifteen miles west of Cransford. The FWN continues this story…

“At 8.15 on Tuesday night the lightning struck the house of Mr James Chapman thatcher, who lives at the end of Wetheringsett, killing instantly Mr Christopher Chapman, and seriously affecting his mother, Mrs James Chapman. Mr Christopher Chapman was a young man of great promise, and much respected. He was only 24 years of age…The house was much damaged.”

Christopher’s death, and the subsequent inquest, made news across the country. The ÊDP reported that lightning had apparently “come down the chimney of the house and struck deceased while in the passage”. The inquest was held at the White Horse Inn, Wetheringsett (which eventually closed under that name in 1985). 

According to the Diss Express, the family lived at White House Farm, and on the night of the storm, there was a house full – Christopher, his brother George, two sisters, a three-year-old boy and Christopher’s parents. In order to support his mother, who was afraid of the lightning, Christopher had taken her into the passage so that she wouldn’t see as much of it. 

Then, tragedy hit. After two minutes in the passage, Christopher’s brother George heard his mother scream. Following the noise, he discovered his mother on her knees next to his brother’s lifeless body.

The surgeon, Mr Dufton from Brockford, thought that death had been instantaneous. The lightning had left marks ‘resembling trees with branches’ on Christopher’s chest and a wound over his right eye.

Later, the doctor examined the house. He discovered a large hole in the roof near the chimney and another in the bedroom floor directly below. 

Christopher’s mother also had significant injuries, but the lightning had travelled through her legs. She survived but suffered from shock. Mr Dufton, giving evidence, said that he hoped she would recover. 

The jury returned a verdict of ‘Instant death by a shock from electricity, to wit, a stroke of lightning’.

Christopher’s parents, James and Mary Ann, were enumerated at the last inhabited house in Wetheringsett in 1901, along with Christopher’s brother, George. This evidence shows that Mary Ann did survive the physical effects of her lightning strike. A possible burial in Brome suggests she died in her early 70s in January 1911. 

Curious…but cruel

What started as a quest to find something curious in Cransford ended with the discovery of a tragic tale in another Suffolk village.

Christopher Chapman appears in at least 11 trees on one of the major commercial genealogical websites. Some are private, but not all. To my knowledge, not a single one notes the unusual cause of his death.

May he be remembered as a young man who died while looking out for his Mum.


Framlingham Weekly News. (1900) Severe Thunderstorms. Saturday 16 June 1900. p. 4.

Ipswich Journal. (1900) Violent Thunderstorms in Suffolk. Saturday 16 June 1900. p. 3. 

Eastern Anglian Daily Times. (1900) Situations Vacant. Wednesday 19 September 1900. p. 6. 

1901 Census. England. Framsden, Suffolk. 31 March 1901. Freeman, Elizabeth (and family). RG 13 1768. Folio 98. ED 9. p. 3. SN 19.

Eastern Daily Press. (1900) Norwich. Saturday 16 June 1900. p. 4.

Diss Express. (1900) Struck Dead By Lightning. Friday 22 June 1900. p. 5. 

1901 Census. England. Wetheringsett, Suffolk. 31 March 1901. Chapman, James (and family). RG 13 1763. Folio 128. ED 10. p. 28. SN. 190.

Memorial Inscription. Brome, Suffolk. Mary Ann Chapman (1838-1911). Accessed: