Born circa 1765, John Vachell earned his BA at Pembroke Hall in Cambridge in 1787. He was ordained as a Deacon in 1788, and became the Vicar of Barton, and the Curate of Hinxton, Cambridgeshire in 1789. He earned his MA the following year.
By the beginning of October 1795, John had become the Curate at Swaffham Bulbeck, and just a few weeks later, at the end of November, he became the Vicar of Littleport.
Life at Littleport
John Vachell’s time as the vicar of St. George’s Church at Littleport began on 30th November 1795, and less than a year later, he married Charlotte Jenyns at Bottisham, Cambridgeshire. The couple had five children, all baptised at St. George’s, Littleport, although one son, Harvey, sadly died in infancy.
In 1798, John took an Oath of the Justice of the Peace (‘JP’) which therefore gave him powers as a Magistrate over the people of Littleport.
The Littleport Riots
Rev. Vachell plays a significant role in Littleport’s early 19th Century history, after he became embroiled in the Littleport Riots. Whilst the riots of Littleport would erupt in May 1816, one of the underlying problems that caused them began much earlier.
On 14th October 1800, the Earl of Hardwick (the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire) was sent a number of threatening letters that in turn had been sent to the Bishop of Ely. Amongst these letters were some anonymous ones; including one detailing the burning of an effigy of a baker in Downham Market, Norfolk, in protest of the exorbitant prices, another letter asks how people are supposed to live with increasing food prices, and another asks for the petition of Government so that trade in England can once again flourish.
Amongst these letters is also a handbill, signed my multiple magistrates including Rev. Vachell, ‘condemning riot but lamenting the distress of the poor and urging landlords and farmers to send corn to market and to sell it to millers and bakers at reasonable prices’, which would therefore help alleviate the high prices and provide affordable food for the poorer people.
It’s clear that the people were facing incredibly tough times with soaring prices and taxes, and low wages at this time, but it would not get better for some time.
Vicar Vs Vandals
When the riots began in Littleport on 22nd May 1816, Rev. Vachell soon became a target for the rioter’s attention.
As the rioters reached the Dewey household, the Reverend and his wife Charlotte attempted to placate them, but after reading them the 1714 Riot Act, the protestors told him to go home and await his turn. The Vachells returned to the safety of their home but true to their word, the angered crowd returned later that evening.
This time, John was waiting for them in the doorway, armed with a pistol. Despite his threat that he’d shoot anyone trying to enter his home, they pushed past and ransacked his house.
John, his wife Charlotte, and one of his daughters (Mary or Charlotte – it’s unclear) fled, and were picked up on the road to Ely by a carriage that had been sent to bring them to safety in nearby Ely. Here, they were able to help report on the severity of the riots.
Vachell in court
During the trials of those arrested for their roles in the riots, Rev. Vachell gave evidence against several of the accused, and was cross-examined regarding the looting of his home. In one case, on 20th June 1816, against William Beamiss and Joseph Lavender, the court found contradictory evidence from witnesses regarding the theft of silver spoons from the Vachell house.
“William Beamiss, the younger, and Joseph Lavender, were charged with having stolen and carried away from the dwelling-house of the Rev. J. Vachell on the 22nd May, several silver spoons, of the value of forty shillings and more; and Christopher Butcher was charged with having received the same, knowing them to be stolen”‘An Account of The Ely and Littleport Riots in 1816’ by C. Johnson, page 50, Harris & Sons, Littleport, 1893.
The jury could not determine whether the spoons were Vachell’s or someone else’s, and John could not confirm their value, and so the above accused were found ‘not guilty’.
John Vachell at Aldeburgh
John died aged 65 years on 17th April 1830, at the coastal village of Aldeburgh in Suffolk. He is noted in his probate record at The National Archives as ‘Reverend John Vachell, clerk of Aldborough [sic], Suffolk, formerly of Littleport, Cambridgeshire’. A monument commemorates his life inside the Aldeburgh parish church.
After John’s death, Rev. Edward Bowyer Sparke became St. George’s vicar. John and Charlotte Vachell’s son George Harvey Vachell followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a priest in 1822.
Sadly, we are yet to locate a portrait Rev. John Vachell.
More family history
Discover more family histories with The Littleport Society.