Matthew Hopkins, the witchfinder general, woz ere

One half looks Victorian, the other Georgian but the truth, say 'The House Detectives', lies in the chimney - it's Elizabethan.
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The Independent Online
This Tuesday's edition of The House Detectives features two homes built from one house. The occupants of numbers 38 and 40 the High Street in Manningtree, Essex, wrote to the BBC on the same day to ask if their homes could be researched without ever mentioning it to each other.

Street entertainers Mandy and David Rose at number 38, and Ron Tanser, a laundry owner, at number 40, all believed that the large, old, timber- framed house from which their homes are constructed had an unusual history. Local legend about the place includes witchhunts, smugglers, and the Spanish Armada.

Number 38 has a Georgian appearance; Number 40, Victorian. But the house gives the lie to this construct: atop the two is an Elizabethan chimney stack.

The House Detectives got to work. Taking the two homes together, there is a clear suggestion of a wealthy individual who originally owned the property before it was split in two. Mac Dowdy, who knows a lot about timber frames, reckons that the building dates from the 15th century. He calls in a wood-dating specialist for a more precise answer.

The question of why the house has such a mishmash of styles remains unanswered. Original deeds have vanished, but copies were dug up from the local museum. These showed the house was once owned by a merchant before an incarnation as a tavern in the 18th century, complete with cellars and vaults, while the 1841 census shows it housing a bank.

A visit to Colchester Records Office produces a rental agreement of 1628 which offers a couple of names of possible owners in that century. One, Richard Edwards, was especially interesting. A strong Puritan, it was through him that the detectives discovered a possible link between the house and witchcraft. The trail heats up from here until in the 17th century, the witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins, becomes involved.

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