Sir Stout A. Fleecing, ‘The Lesser Parishes of London’, Studies in Psychogeography, Vol. 72, No. 1 (Winter, 1979), pp.234-236.
Altogether, Hatcham is a humble piece of land, with little to recommend its history – save its complications with miasma (crazed lambs, boggy waters, etc.). According to the Domesday Book, the chapelry of Hatcham’s assets were:
3 hides; 3 ploughs; 6 acres of meadow; woodland worth 3 hogs; rendered £2.
The name ‘Hacheham’, in its original orthography, means home of a man named Haecci – although history has not seen fit to record this progenitor. Across the centuries, the precise county in which Hatcham lay became a matter of dispute. It sat in a lump between Kent and Surrey, a muddy hinterland that originally formed part of the Brixton Hundred. Then, it was moved from one county’s jurisdiction to the other, joining the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford at the turn of the century. Now, Hatcham roughly coheres to the modern district, ‘New Cross Gate’.
However, one notable legend remains. Allegedly, in the mid-fourteenth century, this chapelry was terrorised by a local beauty named Dorcas Hidebound. She was said to have gone mad, believing herself to be one with the birds, then living her life as a hawk on a piece of land assigned to her by her husband, where she eventually died in poverty. For centuries, Dorcas was a bogeywoman used to scare children in the local parish of Deptford. One mid-nineteenth century municipal guidebook of local ghosts paints a torrid, if likely fictitious, picture of her life.
Harrid Fallon, ‘The Lady-Ghost of Hatcham’, Parish Tales of the Grotesque (London: Bilby & Sons, 1867), pp.375-377.
The Hachecham acreage had been purchased by one Ezekiel Hidebound, son of a prosperous merchant who amassed his fortune in the tanning of cowhides, and intended to expand his father’s enterprise by crafting a pleasure garden out of the mudded land on the hill. However, Mr Hidebound’s plan did not come to fruition. A maid named Dorcas was promised to him during girlhood by her father, a baker by trade, riddled with debts. Her glorious hazel eyes were remarked upon in the parish, as were her honeyed buns, whose sweetness drew queues of customers. For all Madam Hidebound’s beauties, her frenetic mind was common knowledge to the parish on the hillside. Had she been less fearsome, she should have been burnt as a witch for multiple bilious acts: learning herself to read and write from her father’s ledgers, slapping an almsman for sporting a red hat in church, alleged fornication with swans, and burning a manure effigy of her late cleft-chinned grandfather, a noted tyrant amongst the womenfolk.
On her wedding day, she pinned dried ferns to her bridal dress in the shape of a cross. Her husband tolerated her eccentricity, until she howled to the entire parish of the reek about his loins, and so he took measures to quiet her tongue. Mr Hidebound worshipped her silent still. Madam Hidebound was a friend to the crawling things of the earth and was always bringing home creatures from the neighbouring bog. No heirs continued the ancestral line. According to local gossip, Madam Hidebound abandoned her husband after a year of marriage to commune with flora and fauna in his proposed spot for a pleasure garden. She left the house with a sack of pickled goods and her best woollen cloak, armed herself with a knitting needle and refused to return home, climbing up trees too high for Mr Hidebound to tear her down. She marked out for herself a goodly portion of his acreage, and erected a sizeable barricade made of saucepans, covered over with tar. It is said that various women contributed householdly goods in midnight additions to the wall. The husband permitted this insolence until his death – although the wall could have readily been demolished. In Mr Hidebound’s will, he bequeathed herthis portion of acreage to live upon. Apparently, she nourished herself for a decade on the fat of the land, and anonymous deliveries from those sympathetic in the parish. She could be smelt from a mile off. Little is known of Madam Hidebound’s passing. She was presumed to have died of natural causes. Her spectre stalks the parish bounds at night. Those who are so unlucky as to stumble into her in those dead hours are blessed to escape with voices to speak of their ordeal.
Fletchen Amos, ‘Chapter 2: The Mildewed Conundrum’, Stranger Than Fiction: The Biggest Academic Frauds of The Past Century (London: Slibee Press, 2009), pp.98-100.
During groundwork undertaken for a block of luxury housing in 1987, builders excavated a series of writings preserved in the Hatcham mud, wrapped in woollen cloth. These are now known by their unofficial title, the Mildewed Scripts. In letters scratched on to bark peelings in a crooked hand, analysis by the infamous scholar, Dr. Felicitous Stanger, at the University of Thrennson, resulted in the revelation that the work was likely that of a medieval female writer – owing to description of what appears to be symptoms of the menopause, racy sections on self-love, and execrations about mankind. The author signed her barkish inscriptions with a single initial, a large, scratched D. For months, Dr. Stanger, who was then the preeminent living scholar on Margery Kempe, devoted herself to studying the text, creating versions of the script for sense, adjusting spellings for ease of modern attention. Much of the writing was inconclusive. The various sections were difficult to parse, given stains of lard, excrement, and unknown smudges.
But Dr. Stanger went on to claim that this writing was in fact the work of one Dorcas Hidebound, a wild woman said to be living in the precise location of Hatcham in and around the 1360-90s, who was excommunicated by her parish. The inscriptions diarise elements of her life, foraging in the parish, descriptions of the lay of the land, and include recipes for local delicacies, such as roasted toad with bugleweed – inscrawlings that quite leap off the bark. Most significantly, one crucial text offers the only recorded incidence of the word ‘skid-markenes’, a hapax legomenon. Dr. Stanger shared some of these unsavoury discoveries through her paper ‘trailynge bledenge thurgh the under-wode: Bearing Witness to the Menopause in the Late Middle Ages’. Her presentation at a conference on medieval secular writing in Silto University caused something of a stir in the academic community. Stanger boldly claimed that Dorcas’s work was one of the most important assemblage of writings ever created by a woman in England, in its vigorous depiction of feminine issues – especially given the general illiteracy of the fairer sex in the medieval era. Consider the recent, surprising discovery of the involvement of nuns in the production of manuscripts, in Dalheim Abbey, Germany. Archaeologists found lapis lazuli, a common material in fine inks used to illuminate manuscripts, wedged in the gums of one feminine skeleton, the place a pen’s nib may have penetrated.
But in a queer turn of events, the original Mildewed artifacts were lost in an archival disaster, where the Department of Medieval Studies, Thrennson College, University of Fairling, was found to be rife with asbestos. The entire building of scholars was evacuated. Many valuable works were safely retrieved, but lamentably, a worker accidentally left a torch shining on the first floor of the building overnight. This resulted in the fire of 1989, on New Year’s Day, burning down the entire department, and many of the valuable, priceless manuscripts then under study. Many leading professors in their department found their projects in ashes, founded on documents that had no physical presence. Only those academics with systematically digitised copies of their work could be retained. Dorcas’s testimony was lost to the flames, but Dr. Stanger was unique among her colleagues in keeping her own precise photographic records of the scripts in her accommodation.
In certain circles, it was suggested that the writings of Dorcas were an apocryphal series created by Dr. Stanger, as a kind of live art installation of post-post-prandial-feminist practice. Others alleged that Stanger invented this writing as part of her bid for tenure, during a time of funding cuts for the department. How she could have snuck into the excavations and deposited her own confabulated bark tales is yet unknown. Notably, she was a SouthLondoner by birth, and indeed, was born relatively close to the site, in a block of flats that has since been demolished. If this is the case, how Stanger thought such a forgery would go unpassed for long is dubious, given there are some notable inconsistencies within the Middle English. Whilst this is characteristic of the orthography of the age, given the fires, there was no way of verifying and carbon-dating these lost documents. Dr. Stanger was known for securing all materials away from prying eyes in a safe in her office, in the Department, and guarded them imperiously from interference. Though Stanger was showered with accolades after the publication of her first DPhil thesis, detailing the ties between Margery Kempe’s purported postpartum psychosis and her religious affliction, her maverick reputation only grew after the discovery of the scripts.
She started wearing fishnet stockings to chapel services, and holding ancient, bawdy rituals in the woods for select post-graduates. Things came to a head at a scholar’s drinks on May Day, when Stanger began raging loudly about the manuscripts lost to time – bewailing the many women, often nuns, who were able to write, but whose books were turned to fish wrapping or toilet paper, testimonies turned to more practical usage. Her tale took a sinister turn when, that night, after one disgruntled colleague accused Stanger of setting the fire herself, she responded by pouring a bottle of merlot over his head. Following her dismissal, there were claims that the disgraced academic ended up living in a tent in the forest. She was last seen by one of her ex-acolyte students, drunkenly wandering along Fielfeld Marsh, wearing leopard-print pumps rather unsuited to the boggy terrain. Thrennson College managed to seize the remaining documentation from her possession under court order, but after further investigation from senior scholars in the field, the scripts became something of an in- joke. How Stanger managed to persuade anyone that this collection of scribblings was a bona fide manuscript is the real mystery here. One extract from the Mildewed Scripts is enclosed below, for the reader’s discretion. In any case, it is an amusing piece of work, and speaks to the rampant sexuality of the writer, in whatever century she wrote. The author has done his best to render this text in a sensible fashion.
The Mildewed Scripts 1.v.18.3
Ich gathere in the wildenesse of frogged neuwtes, a hogges-hed of algae, a slipanet til- into the gras-grenery, tikeling the larded slugges hou plume their-self upon thane rotted fruites & slyde alonge the growne, fine-lumped & plomped into viscouse slatheringe liqued bog. Squelche & furrowe in thilke dewed grounde, moulde as a todes wyfe amassing hir hats, rollickeing, glutt myselfe on damming- water & the skidmarkenes of blakberis, nat riper thanne a nunnes twa buttokes, thikk as a Son-dai in Juyne. Scuddinge with sope suds, the grond yildinge undir me, groninge to a holt, in a mustere, musti wildenesse of mudde & leafe. I rubbe myself on thanne dede stumpe of an gentil oke tre, ronkled, perand binethen ny the trede of myn squirelfot, cousine to the crowes, burowinge doun the muk, nesten into grovs myldewed. Ich bury myself dep in blis, cold as eg yelk.
Annie Hayter is a writer from South London. They won the BBC Proms Young Poet, were shortlisted for The White Review’s Poet’s Prize, Young People’s Laureate for London, Bath Flash Fiction, The London Magazine Short Story Prize, & came third in Cúirt New Writing Prize. They have words in: The Big Issue, Token Magazine, Tentacular, Magma, Time Out, Bedtime Stories for the End of the World Podcast, & a forthcoming poem in the Nine Arches Press anthology, After Sylvia. ‘Mil-De-Wed’ was shortlisted for the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize and was first published in Eleven Stories, 2022.
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