Illustrated handbills such as this had been a staple product of English provincial printing presses since the mid-1640s. The subject matter of these bills usually fell into one of three broad categories – lurid accounts of murders, stories about supernatural events, or finger-wagging morality tales that were designed to keep working class readers on the straight-and-narrow. This handbill, which was published in Plymouth around 1830, neatly ticks all three of those boxes. It’s unsigned but may have been the work of someone associated with a local evangelical sect known as the Plymouth Brethren, as the sheet includes copies of a sermon, prayer and hymns which falls outside the standard Anglican liturgy. The bill has also been decorated with a crude woodcut adaptation of Hogarth’s Gin Lane that has been clumsily daubed with red, yellow and brown colouring. Although the image bears no direct reference to the content of the text it was presumably included to increase the commercial appeal of the bill and provide a visual counterpoint to the underlying message of the headline article.
That article is reproduced here in full for the benefit of anyone who is thinking of stopping for a takeaway on the way home from the pub this evening.
The terrible judgement of GOD manifested on six profane young men, at Brodney, in Somersetshire; who through reading seditious and blasphemous books, became converts to Infidelity, and, in the height of their Impiety, went into the churchyard at midnight and made the horrible attempt of taking the Blessed Sacrament in the name of Satan, when the hand of heaven stopped them in the midst of their hellish wickedness.
At Brodney, in Somersetshire, lived the following personages, viz., John Williams, Henry Crosby, Stephen Newel, William Jefferies, Joseph Thomas and Robert Lawson, six wicked and blasphemous young men, whose parents lived very well in the world, and took pains to educate them all in godliness and sobriety; but they gave themselves up to wild courses of life and followed all manner of wickedness, particularly in swearing and blaspheming the name of the most High God. They had, by an habitual course of wickedness, so hardened themselves that they taught themselves to believe that there was neither God nor Devil. And when they heard their parents talk of receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they said they did not believe it signified anything, and that it might as well be received in the name of the Devil, as in the blessed name of God, since they did not believe there was neither one or the other.
But not long they continued in this wicked course of life before the vengeance of the Almighty overtook them in their career – for one night last week, as they were all drinking together at the sign of the Angel, in the said town, where they continued swearing and drinking till midnight and being much intoxicated with liquor and mad with wickedness, they conceived the horrid idea of carrying bread and wine into the churchyard and there to take the sacrament in the cursed name of the Devil, when a loud and distinct voice pronounced these words:
“Oh ye wicked and blasphemous young men! Stop your hands and proceed no further in your wicked and desperate designs. Consider there is a just and terrible God above who will send down his judgements upon you! Go therefore – turn and repent before it be too late.”
Though they all distinctly heard the voice, yet they paid not the least regard to it, but went on with their wicked design. No sooner had they begun but there was heard the most astonishing cries and bellowings, accompanied with dismal groans to melt a heart of stone, which struck a dreadful surprise to the Rev. Mr Simmons and his family who lived near the churchyard, that they could not lie in their beds. When Mr Simmons got up to see what was the matter he could see the bread and wine but none of the people. Unable to guess what had occasioned the extraordinary noise, he went to bed again.
Early next morning Mr Simmons and his family went into the churchyard again, where they saw John Williams and William Crosby laying behind the churchyard wall, in a most deplorable condition, with blood running out of their mouths and ears.
Stephen Newel, William Jefferies, Joseph Thomas and Robert Lawson, were found in different parts of the field adjoining the churchyard, in the like miserable condition, to the great grief of their parents.
This remarkable and just judgement, we hope will be a warning to all wicked persons; – the truth whereof may be attested by several people of good repute, who have desired that this affair might be printed and made public for the use of and benefit of the rising generation.