Fornication, Infidelity and Bloody Murder encapsulated in a Georgian Tumbler

It’s often been mooted in various pieces that I have written that one of the most appealing traits that can be applied to antique glassware is its ability to illuminate snapshots of social history. Whether it’s something entirely representational like an engraved rummer showing a fine sailing ship or notable feat of engineering, or the broader picture painted by the story behind the development of a particular type of glass - such as the rise to prominence of Bristol’s cobalt blue wares on the back of entrepreneurial serendipity, every piece will to a certain extent reflect the age in which it was created and have a story to tell. Today’s example is no different. In fact, given its almost abject simplicity, it reveals a tale so disproportionate in extremity to its modest form as to almost defy comprehension – and as such, it’s one of my absolute favourites amongst all those that we have listed and discussed.

It’s a small tumbler or beaker, dating to the latter years of the 18th century, and would at first glance seem to offer very little of worth to the collector. However, some well-judged supposition and a little local knowledge ultimately lead to a tale of intrigue, passion, deception, bloody murder and capital amercement quite out of keeping with such an apparently simple article.

It really is very unprepossessing at first glance. Just over four inches tall, a little less in diameter and made of common clear lead crystal; its engraving is very much of the standard scripted style of the time – not even particularly well executed. It’s just a name.
Robert Boardingham.

It’s an uncommon name, though – Boardingham. A Yorkshire name; most instances of its use can be traced back to the East Riding of the county – between Beverley and the North York Moors – from York itself to the coast at Bridlington. As a point of reference, take an unashamedly bluff Yorkshire name – Jackson; search on the UK’s leading genealogy websites and for each singular reference to any Boardingham you’ll find around 10,000 to Jackson – as I say, uncommon.

Throw in the combination with the christian name and were talking scarcer still. In fact, parish registers from across the region show just two records of any relevance (one of those being a son born to the man in whom we are interested). Robert Boardingham senior was born over the festive period of 1770/1771 (incomplete records preclude uncovering an exact date). His father was John Boardingham, and his mother, Elizabeth; the family lived in Flamborough, just to the north of Bridlington, and already had a daughter, Mary, by the time that Robert arrived on the scene. John, by all accounts, was a bit of a cove; a petty criminal who lived on the shadowy fringes of Bridlington’s smuggling community. He spent sundry spells in both the local gaol and York Castle for a number of trifling offences, andElizabeth evidently grew tired of his unreliable presence and ability to provide for his family and began an affair with a Thomas Aikney – six years her senior - during one of her husband’s periods of internment. On John’s release, the lovers fled together to Lincolnshire, leaving the cuckolded husband at home with Robert and Mary for some three months. During this time it is reported that Elizabeth constantly entreated Thomas to murder her husband, but Aikney refused to listen to such blandishments, stating that he had no intention of staining his hands with innocent blood and suggesting instead that they simply elope together. The constant inveiglement, however, eventually wore him down, and when the paramours returned to Flamborough, the die was cast. Aikney took lodgings in the town, and Elizabeth returned home in early February of 1776. For a week or so she bided her time, waiting for an opportunity to put her plan in to action before finally, on the night of the 14th, she summoned Aikney and the couple went about their murderous intent. At around eleven in the evening, she woke John on the pretext that there was a knocking at their door. Thinking that it was likely to be one of his smuggling confederates looking for a hiding place or somewhere to dump some contraband, John pulled on his waistcoat and jacket, and headed downstairs where Aikney was waiting. He rushed at Boardingham, stabbed him in the thigh and then drew his blade across his stomach before driving it up under his ribs. Mortally wounded, John staggered out in to the street shouting “murder !” sufficiently loudly as to wake his neighbours. Those who went to his assistance attested to seeing him draw Aikney’s blade from his body, and grasp it in one hand whilst trying to hold his intestines in place with the other after the eviscerating assault by his wife’s lover. John “languished in a miserable state and expired in great agonies” the following day.

Elizabeth and Aikney were summarily arrested, and tried for the murder almost immediately. They were damned in no small part by Mary, nine years old at the time, whose testimony identified the murder weapon recovered from the scene as belonging to Aikney, and both parties were moved to confess, setting out the description of events as given above as part of their admission of guilt.

Aikney was, as one might have expected, sentenced to hang, although the judge’s summing up does absolve him of some blame by assertoing the belief that he was unlikely to have ever become entangled in such a brutal circumstance had it not been for Elizabeth’s constant cajoling and coercing. That said, having been convicted of murder, Aikney was not to be permitted the everlasting peace of a decent burial, and it was stipulated that his body be sent to Leeds Infirmary where it could be “dissected and anatomized” for medical research (and that’s contemporary English usage of the “z”, not some Facebook spellchecking abomination !)

For Elizabeth, the full weight of the law was brought to bear. It must be remembered that attitudes about the relationship of husband and wife at the time were probably best described as archaic. Men were considered to be more “valuable” than women, and there was an inherent subordination involved in the status of being a wife. Any act by a married woman against her husband was enshrined in law as being the equivalent of that by a servant against his master, or against any member of the clergy if perpetrated by anyone of lesser standing in the church hierarchy. Such crimes were seen as a transgression against not just the actual victim but “the majesty of the State” too, in so far as “the State” was perceived as embodiment of the natural order of things. The conviction for any offence of this nature was deemed to confer guilt of Petty Treason upon the accused, and the punishment for Petty Treason was to be burned at the stake. Consequently, when judgement was passed on Elizabeth, it stated that “…you shall be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and there you are to be burnt with fire till you are dead, and your body consumed to ashes”. There was though, even for Elizabeth, a degree of clemency as the Judge entreated her to “admire the excellency of the constitution” which permitted him to direct that she be strangled as the stake before the faggots were lit, thereby sparing her the particularly abominable fate of being burned alive, with all the horrific torment that would entail.

The sentences were to be carried out on 20th March 1776, at the execution site known as Tyburn (after the London equivalent) which is now on the site of York’s Knavesmire racecourse – the same place where notorious highwayman Dick Turpin was hanged some four decades earlier. There was evidently a degree of notoriety about the case, as the executions took place “amidst the greatest concourse of people ever remembered upon such an occasion” – Turpin’s expiration included. Aikeny exhibited a suitable degree of penitence, but Elizabeth “did not discover the least signs of contrition and behaved with a degree of boldness and unconcern that shocked all who saw her”. The lovers are said to have briefly acknowledged each other before they were “turned off” – Aikeny being hung first before Elizabeth’s incendiary denouement provided the highlight of the event for the spectators, as was always the case.

And so, there we are – a family riven by the familiar iniquities of adulterous cozening, that left two orphaned children in its wake. Quite why it was that Robert Boardingham was presented with his engraved tumbler had thus far eluded discovery – reaching his majority in 1789 perhaps, or the birth of his sons, Robert (junior) and Thomas (who died at a very young age). He survived in relative anonymity until his death in 1853 at the age of 82, which saw him buried at Bempton, just up the road from the erstwhile family home at Flamborough – interred for eternity a stone’s throw from where the baleful events that lead to the deaths of both his parents transpired.

The “teatro anotomico” which played host to Aikeny’s final public appearance was not an unusual fate for convicted murderers – although the display of his internal organs was no doubt a little more measured than the frenzied manner in which he had seen fit to lay the entrails of Robert Boardingham open to public inspection. The final words on matters shall go to the brilliant 18th century social commentator William Hogarth, who appended the following to his etching of just such a cadaverous exposition:

Behold the Villain’s dire disgrace,
Not Death itself can end.
He finds no peaceful Burial Place,
His breathless corse, no friend.
Torn from the Root, that wicked tongue,
which daily swore and curst !
Those Eyeballs from their sockets wrung,
That glow’d with lawless Lust !
His Heart expos’d to prying Eyes,
To Pity has no Claim:
But, dreadful ! from his Bones shall rise,
His monument of shame.

As ever, here’s a link to the full description of the Boardingham tumbler

For more articles about glass in a historical context, see the following links:

A Regency wedding ale glass - love, criminality, deportation and death

A moulded Regency wine bottle with links to the Irish gentry, and medieval battles

A porcelain castor rest which links Hartlepool to Napoleon's military nadir

Exotic spirits and liquors from the 18th and 19th centuries

Some traditional, alternative uses for ales and beer

The invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks is dashed against The Wall of Christianity (part one)

The invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks is dashed against The Wall of Christianity (part two)

Competitive pineapple growing - passtime of the idle rich

Glassware on the apothecary's shelves in the 18th century

Lynn glass - an enduring puzzle solved ?

Sedition and religion come together in an engraved wine glass from 1750

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