A great heavie cleaver

by Nick

Since having a baby, my waking and sleeping thoughts have occasionally been overtaken by the worry that SOMETHING DREADFUL will happen to him. It turns out that a worried parent’s mind is capable of dreaming up increasingly inventive and disturbing scenarios for how their child may be horrendously injured. All of which ran through my mind when I came across this passage in the notebooks of Nehemiah Wallington, a puritan wood turner who lived in mid-seventeenth century London:

There fell out of the hie garret into the shope a great heavie cleaver with three irone teeth my wife and my Daughter Sarah siting at the upper end of the shope this heavie cleaver fell close unto them: but did not hit them the Lords name be praised: for if it had hit them it would have maimed them if not killed them.

Againe that day at night I and my wife sitting by a good fier and my Daughter Sarah was blowing the fier with a small pare of bellowes and shee had fell flatt into the fier had not the Lord keept her for as shee was folling my wife gave a sudden starte and shoved her side so that shee had none hurt blessed and praised be the Lord for it Amen.

Another mercie of God toward me in my poore childe Sarah is this That… [she] went forth with another littel childe to play as wee had thought, but it seems my daster Sarah left the other childe and went herselfe as farr as the furder tower hil and as shee was going into estsmithfeld shee fell down and hite herselfe a sore bloe on the forehead. Then shee began to cry. Then a woman spake unto her: but she could not answare her: then the woman took her up and began to carrie her into Wopping thinking shee had dwelt there: but a portter seeing her asked the woman where shee carried that childe, and shee said into Wopping. Then the proter told her that she dwelt in escheape: so the woman brought her home againe to us thankes be to God…

And how could we eate or have sleapt that night with thinking what is become of our poore childe thinking it may be it is drowned at the watterside or some other mischife hath befallen it: and how should we have gone to chruch the next day being the Sabbath being full of grife and such disstractfull thoughts as we should have had: But oh oh the goodnesse of my God in sending this my child in saftie home again his Name for evermore have the prayse and the glory of it Amen Amen.

David Booy, The notebooks of Nehemiah Wallington, 1618-1654: a selection (2007), pp. 69-71.

Poor old Nehemiah had lost some of his other children at a young age, including his first child, Elizabeth, in 1625:

And one the next dat being Satterday in the afternoone: Ruth [Wallington’s maid] tolde my wife that shee had a pricking in her necke which words put us all in feare and towards night shee went to bead. And about eaight a clocke at night my wife was in the cleaching washing of dishes my dauster Elizabeth then being mery went unto her mother and said unto her what doe you heare my wife? And at night when wee were abead: sayes shee to mee, Father I goe abroode tomorrow and bye you a plomee pie. These were the last words that I did here my sweete child speeke. For the very pangs of death seassed upon her one Sabbath mornning and so she continued in great agonies (which was very grevious unto us the beholders) till Tuseday morning and then my sweete childe died at foore a clocke in the mornning being the eleventh day of October and was beuried that day at night.

David Booy, The notebooks of Nehemiah Wallington, 1618-1654: a selection (2007), pp. 59.

Elizabeth was only three when she died.

If you read Wallington’s later notebooks you get an impression he was somewhat neurotic, and that to some extent he is the architect of his own misfortunes (like when he’s burgled and has only the vaguest idea of how much has been taken, because he hasn’t been keeping his accounts up to date) : but he probably had every reason to be neurotic given the experience of his early years.