Wymondham Magazine lettering

Prisoner of the past at Heritage Museum:

Elizabeth Pulley

Neil Haverson Published: 01 April 2023

Facebook iconTwitter iconWhatsApp icon
Wax family in dungeon

Elizabeth Pulley was 18 when she made her first appearance at court. She was charged with stealing wearing apparel but was acquitted. However, a year later she was back before the court, where she admitted stealing clothing. She was sentenced to three weeks in Wymondham’s notorious Bridewell and then to be whipped at the town’s Market Cross.

The story of Elizabeth Pulley and her incarceration forms the basis for the recreated dungeon and accompanying commentary at Wymondham Heritage Museum.

Elizabeth Pulley was born in Hethersett in 1761. It is thought that she may have been employed in laundry work as her early crimes involved theft of clothing.

Indeed on August 11 1781 she was again before Norfolk Assizes charged with stealing an old cloth coat, a silk handkerchief and a coloured apron worth 3½ pence. This time she was sentenced to 12 month’s hard labour at Aylsham Bridewell.

Had she learnt her lesson? Not a bit of it. On Christmas Eve 1782 she broke into a shop owned by Hethersett widow Mrs Minns. This time she took quite a haul. Ten pounds of cheese value 3 shillings, three pounds of bacon value 1 shilling and 6 pence, 24 ounces of butter value 1 shilling, seven pounds of flour value 1 shilling, and 2 rolls of worsted cloth value 1 shilling.

At the Norfolk Lent Assizes in Thetford, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, the sentence was commuted to seven years transportation. Pulley was one of the first convicts to be transported. But Britain had lost her American colonies so she spent three years in Norwich Castle before she boarded the hulk "Dunkirk" at Plymouth bound for New South Wales. They landed at Sydney Cove on Saturday January 26th 1788.

Male convicts had landed a week earlier. Among them was Anthony Rope from Essex. He had been found guilty of stealing goods and money value 35 shillings.

Anthony Rope and Elizabeth Pulley met and formed a relationship. On May 19th 1788 they were married at St. Philip's Church witnessed by two fellow convicts. The first of eight children, Robert, was born on October 30. Their home was a wattle and daub single room thatched with rushes.

In 1790 Elizabeth Pulley became a free woman and her second child, Elizabeth, was born. Anthony Rope was freed in 1791 granted 70 acres of land and given two sow pigs and machinery and seed for one sowing. The family moved a number of times ending up at Rope’s Creek.

Elizabeth Pulley became a mother of seven children and had 38 great grandchildren. She died on August 9th 1837 aged 76 years. Anthony died on April 20th 1843 aged 84 years.

In 2008 the great great granddaughter of Elizabeth Pulley visited Wymondham Heritage Museum.

Visitors to the museum can descend the stone steps to the dungeon and learn more of what life was like for women prisoners such as Elizabeth Pulley serving their sentences in The Bridewell. The museum is open seven days a week; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 1-4pm; Thursday and Friday 10am-4pm. Tearoom: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 1-4pm; Thursday and Friday 10am-4pm.

For more information about what to see and do at the museum go to www.thewhm.org.uk

Facebook iconTwitter iconWhatsApp icon

Read our February E‑Edition in full:

Latest issue