Martha lit a candle to help her find the bowl of water waiting for her to wash in. She splashed her face with the cold water and dried it with a coarse cloth. She carefully fastened a navy blue blouse, tucking it into her long grey skirt which covered her feet. Martha crept silently around the cottage so as not to wake her mother and youngest sister, Eleanor, who were still sleeping, searching for her dirty woollen shawl to wrap around her shoulders whilst she started the fire. It was so cold in the cottage that she was desperate to find it. She eventually saw it on a peg above the hearth where it had been drying the day before.
After Martha had made the porridge for breakfast and boiled some hot water to make a warm drink to remove the chill inside of her she started her chores for the day. Martha toiled all morning in cleaning her family’s humble abode, sweeping and washing the floor, collecting firewood and cleaning their meagre supply of crockery. Once the housework was done her mother requested that Martha collect some cloth for her from the market and a few vegetables for that evening’s dinner. Her mother worked cloth into clothes for the rich aristocratic ladies of the town and Eleanor was still too young to go to work. Martha had not gone into service yet but would start the following August. Her older brothers, Samuel and Thomas, and her sisters, Jane, Elizabeth and Sarah were all in service already. They only came home for Christmas and Easter so she didn’t see much of them.
Martha slipped her cloth shoes on which provided little protection against the stones, cobbles and puddles littering the way to town. She walked down any small paths and streets before embarking on the main road of Pike Lane which led directly to the town centre. Martha was half way down Pike Lane when she passed a large white house which had been recently renovated when a local family had won the Kings favour and been given a higher status. They now had a comfortable, substantial home to live in. The owner, John Newgate, sold groceries; they were a range of poor quality but expensive fruit and vegetables. John was standing outside the house as Martha drew near and he noticed her.
“Martha, why, come buy your groceries here. Do you need anything today?” John called to her.
“I am heading to town for cloth and vegetables.” Martha replied, knowing it was wrong to ignore someone of John Newgate’s status.
“Are mine not good enough for you? I have a wide range of vegetables to offer.”
Martha wanted to march past and finish her jobs as soon as she could but that would be rude and could damage the family name. Furthermore, her friend Charles worked as a servant boy for to John and she did not want to cause trouble for him.
“I do not wish for your goods sir.”
“And why not, Martha?”
Martha began to invent an inoffensive reason before her tongue took over and spoke for itself.
“Sir, you charge more for this produce than it is worth and I cannot afford to waste money on such things as vegetables. You, sir, also force me to buy and I wish to decide for myself. I despise your forceful nature and …”
“ENOUGH! Enough I say! James. Charles. Out here, please.” John Newgate called loudly and angrily.
James appeared first, running quickly to his master, prepared to do his bidding.
“Sir, Martha.” James said, bowing to each in turn.
John lifted his hand and slapped James across the face. He clutched his cheek in confusion, searching for an explanation and for Charles who was walking quickly towards the scene.
“Do not address Martha. Do not speak to her,” John shouted at James furiously. “Charles, bring out the cart and prepare the horse. James, hold on to Martha and don’t, under any circumstances, let her move.”
John followed Charles and they disappeared into the stables. Soon John emerged with his largest cart and began to bang a nail into the centre of a board at the back.
“Sir, what are you doing? Why have you accosted me like this? I have done no wrong.” Martha asked calmly.
“You have argued with a favoured man and attempted to shame me and dishonour my profession here. For this I take your punishment in my hands, in the name of the King.”
John dragged Martha from James’ grasp and pulled her up onto the cart so that she was standing in front of the board with the nail in, on a narrow ledge at the back of the cart which was usually left clear for loading and unloading produce. John tied a rope around Martha’s feet and fastened it on the nail he had hammered in specifically for this purpose. Then he ordered Charles to attach the horse to the cart. John attached the horse to the cart and made Charles give the reins to a stable hand. John followed Charles to where Martha stood with James crouching next to Martha, tightly gripping her wrist on her left hand side. Charles gripped her right wrist and assumed the same position as James. John stood in front of Martha and grabbed the collar of her blouse, forcing her to stand upright on the back of the wobbly cart.
“You deserve this, you dirty female vermin. You had no right to say the things you did.” John spat in Martha’s face, pulled her towards him by her blouse and ripped the buttons off her blouse so that it hung like a cloak. The buttons bounced in the dirt and rolled away and Martha’s blouse rippled gently in the breeze. John reclaimed the reins from the stable hand and led the horse out of the grounds and down Pike Lane, towards the town.
The people stared at Martha in shock, many knew her and felt sympathy but could not show it in any way for fear of putting themselves at risk from John Newgate’s wrath. The people knew that she could not have committed a great crime, her family were too generous and kind for Martha to be cruel or deceiving. As the cart neared the town centre the wind picked up and blew Martha’s blouse away from her body, exposing the front of her upper body including her bare breasts to the surrounding public. There were many awkward glances at Martha though many discreetly averted their eyes from the scene. Martha stood with her head held high, trying to avoid embarrassment and stay proud and strong. Charles blushed for Martha and even reached his hand up to close her blouse and prevent her indecency but at that moment John began to shout and tell the people of what Martha had done to deserve her punishment.
One old man who was standing behind the cart heard John and began to yell out in agreement and support of John’s actions. He reached out to slap Charles as he tried to assist Martha and lessen her shame.
“Leave the girl alone, her humiliation will do her good, prevent her from stepping too far in the future.”
With this remark the old man grabbed a squashed tomato from a nearby stall and threw it at Martha. It hit her cheek, leaving a slimy trail of juice and seeds which she was unable to wipe away as her hands were being pulled to each side of her body by James and Charles. Some other onlookers and passers-by followed the old man’s example and began to throw mouldy fruit at Martha. John noticed this and encouraged the people, his anger towards Martha was only gradually being relieved by her torture.
John stopped the cart in the main street of the town to go and buy some meat that he wanted. Many people crowded from John and is cart for a better, more detailed explanation of Martha’s crime. She noticed all of this and decided if she was going to make an escape, this would be the best time to do it. Charles and James had loosened their grip on her wrists and the rope at her ankles was loose. Martha breathed in deeply and gathered up all her strength. She brought herself plunging forward, ripping the nail from its board in the cart and meaning the rope was no longer limiting her movements. She cast away the rope as she ran and left the boy servants of John behind in the cart, looking in wonder at where she had just been stood. Martha ran as quickly as she could, hitching her skirt up to make it less of a hindrance in her escape. She fled to the indoor market and searched for the second exit she had often seen on her visits with her mother to buy cloth.
As she rounded a corner by a stand selling riding materials James emerged from the other side and raced towards her as soon as he spotted her. Martha tried to increase her speed and hastened to avoid James recapturing her but James was faster and managed to throw himself at Martha, forcing her onto the ground where he sat upon her feet. The holder of the market stall selling riding materials leapt out to hold down her hands which Martha was using to slap James. When Charles ran to the scene he relieved the market stall holder of his duty and took hold of Martha’s hands, telling her to stop kicking at James and that if she calmed down John might decide to let her punishment go. Charles had begun to feel very awkward over John’s treatment of Martha, especially as they were very good friends and further steps would lie upon John and his feelings towards Martha.
James had asked the stall holder who had assisted him with Martha to go to the main street and alert John to Martha’s attempted escape and soon the two men had returned. John praised the quick recapture of Martha and promised he would reward the stall holder for his role in the act.
“Martha, you are very unwise; running away from a Newgate? We have been favoured by the King and hold power over you and all your kind. This cannot go unpunished, no.” John turned to the riding materials stall holder and asked him, “May I have the pleasure of borrowing one of your riding whips, please?”
“Certainly.” He handed over a long, relatively sharp pointed whip, understanding the purpose of his request.
Martha began to squirm on the floor of the market, wondering whether she would be able to break free of James and Charles’ grip on her body. She too had understood what John meant in his request.
“James, her blouse.” John said, turning his attention back to Martha. He motioned his servant to take Martha’s blouse off her slim frame so that her upper body was no longer shielded by any form of material.
Martha tried to resist but failed and had to succumb to John Newgate. As soon as the blouse was gone John drew the whip back, raised over his head, and began to mercilessly lash at Martha’s back and upper body. As he lashed the whip back and forth John screamed and swore at Martha. Martha screamed and cried out at each stroke, writhing on the floor in intense pain and agony. Blood covered her upper body and trails of it had run onto the floor.
The crowd of onlookers gradually grew as John shouted at Martha and of women’s desire to overpower men and their daring nature to attempt to outwit or judge goods for men. Many were horrified by the turmoil and hatred they witnessed, it no longer seemed like a worthy punishment but that Martha was being used as an instrument for John to express his views of women and what their right should be limited to forever more. The lesson John was publicly giving Martha was a lesson for all women to hide in men’s shadows and for men to act freely and without hesitation in curbing female freedom and punishing her for trying to overcome her inferiority.
It was not overly long before a guard of the realm appeared and demanded to know what was happening. A few onlookers at the back of the crowd explained the basic tale and a look of dread passed over his face.
“Really?” he whispered to the people talking to him, “But women deserve more than this, with a man like this John Newgate around women will never be equal but I suppose there is a long path to travel upon before we can even begin to consider equality.”
He passed through to the front of the crowd and demanded the whole story from John and Martha. He made the crowd disperse and didn’t act until he had heard the whole story. After this he officially arrested Martha and took her to a jailhouse with many other women for the night. He didn’t want John to cause her any more harm or to receive abuse from the crowds.
Martha spent the night in the jail before being released the following morning. On her return to her family she thought over all that had happened to her and what she would tell her mother and Eleanor. They would be ashamed for her and of what she had done but at the time it had felt right. Martha did not know what she could have done to have avoided letting her temper explode upon John Newgate. It was going to take a long time for Martha to recover her previous status in the town and for women to be granted more freedoms.