Select Wren Miscellany

Here are some Wren stories and accounts over the years:

The Wren Boys

The day after Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, used to be the day in Cork for the "wren boys."  A Cork paper commented in 1894:
"'Saint Stephen’s his day' is a red-letter event in the calendar of Cork.  When the “wran-boys,” as they are locally termed, have captured a wren, the luckless bird is borne through the streets in a sort of triumphal progress, secured in a bush of holly or other evergreen, which is usually garnished with streamers of colored ribbons or variegated papers, according to the resources of tile exhibitors.  In early morning the city resounds with the din of the wren-boys who are making a house to house visitation, singing at each halt a chant.

The origin of this brutal custom is not known.  Professor Ridgeway, writing to the Academy, suggested the theory that the death of the wren symbolizes the death of winter.  Other correspondents traced analogy between the Cork wren-boys and the Rhodian swallow-boys and the crow-boys of ancient Greece who went around with similar begging-songs.  Meanwhile, General Vallancey has asserted that the Druids regarded the wren as a sacred bird, which caused the early Christian missionaries to place it under ban and issue an edict for its extermination.

Another origin of the wren-slaughter was advanced in Hall’s Ireland, which contained a sketch of the St. Stephen’s Day ceremony by the distinguished Cork painter, Maclise.

'As to the origin of the whimsical but absurd and cruel custom,' wrote Mr. Hall, 'we have no data.  A legend, however, is still current among the peasantry which may serve in some degree to elucidate it. In a grand assembly of all the birds of the air, it was determined that the sovereignty of the feathered tribe should be conferred upon the one who would fly highest.  The favorite in the betting-book was, of course, the eagle, who at once, and in full confidence of victory, commenced his flight towards the sun.  When he had vastly distanced all competitors, he proclaimed inl a mighty voice his monarchy over all things that had wings. Suddenly, however, the wren, who had secreted himself under the feathers Of the eagle’s crest, popped from his hiding-place, flew a few inches upwards and chirped out as loudly as he could: Birds, look up, and behold your king.'” 

Wrens and Wrenns

Wren is the more usual spelling of the name today.  But Wrenn has persisted.  The table below shows the current approximate numbers of Wrens and Wrenns.

Numbers (000's)


New Zealand


The Will of Margery Wren of Sherburn House in Durham

"On 19th day of February in the year of our Lord God [1540], I Margery Wren of Sherburn House, widow, whole of mind and memory, make my will:

I give to my daughter Katherine a dozen silver spoons, a silver salt container which lies in pledge of four marks [which is at the pawnbrokers in return for the loan of some money], or else if the money is lost, a set of plates and cups made of pewter [a silvery–grey metal], a basin with a jug of pewter, a dozen small bowls, and cloths from overseas, and my best tablecloth;

Also I give to my daughter [Eleanor] a dozen silver spoons which I made last, a set of plates and cups made of pewter, a piece of cloth from overseas, a thick embroidered cloth for covering a cupboard, and four marks in money to buy a silver salt container;

I give to my daughter Jane a dozen silver spoons, six of which they already have, two silver salt containers with a cover, a set of plates and cups made of pewter, a piece of cloth from overseas, a tablecloth;

Also I give to my son Geoffrey a dozen of my best cushions, a linen tablecloth, a red and green canopy to go over a bed, which he has already, a tablecloth, an iron chimney in the room of the steward [person who managed the household and the servants], a silver salt container with a cover, one silver and gold drinking cup, 13 silver spoons;

Also I give to my sister Wylfett my best skirt for a reminder to pray for me; also I give to my son William Wren £5, 6 silver spoons, a mattress, a featherbed, a pillow, two pairs of linen sheets; and to my daughter Kendall one mattress, a featherbed, a pillow, a pair of blankets, a pair of sheets, and a piece of cloth from overseas, to pray for me."

Early Witton-le-Wear Wren Marriages

Thomas Carre
Margaret Wren
John Trotter
Margery Wren
John Robinson
Agnes Wren
William Thompson
Elizabeth Wren
Ralph Wren
Margery Haddericke
William Dobinson
Janet Wren
William Wrenn
Mary Cowlyne
Charles Wren
Charity Emmerson
Richard Wren
Ann Coule
Christopher Miller
Katherine Wren

Two Wren Unfortunates

George Wren of Uckfield, Sussex

George Wren was from a pauper family.  He was arrested for sheep stealing in 1830, imprisoned at Horsham, and tried at the Sussex Assizes.  He was acquitted at that time, although it was said that the initial verdict was "guilty." 

Two years later Wren was arrested for rick burning.  One account said that he was at the Uckfield parish workhouse at the time of the incident and, on hearing the alarm raised, put on his boots and went to help put the fire out.  However, at the trial, it was stated that Wren's left boot coincided with a footmark at the point where the fire started.  John Markwick, an Uckfield shoemaker, confirmed the match when asked to do so by the constable who had arrested Wren.

Wren was tried at the Sussex Winter Assizes before Judge Baron Gurney.  He was found guilty, but the jury recommended mercy.  However, the judge, determined to see Wren hanged, ignored the jury.  And George Wren, later to be called the Uckfield martyr, was duly hanged in January 1833. 

Margery Wren of Ramsgate, Kent

Margery Wren, a maiden lady of eighty two, kept s small general store in Church Road, Ramsgate, and lived there by herself.  On a Saturday in September 1930 she was found lying grievously injured on the floor of the shop.

"I have just had a tumble, that's all," she gasped.

This was plainly untrue.  Something more sinister and terrible than an accident had happened.  Miss Wren had in fact been savagely beaten about the head with a pair of tongs.  There had also been an attempt to strangle her.  Whatever the motive it was certainly not robbery.  All Miss Wren's small possessions were intact.

The old lady was removed to hospital.  As her life ebbed away there were times when she was not only conscious but was able to stammer out a few disconnected sentences.  She said enough to convince the police that she knew the man who had attacked her and could give them his name had she wished.  She died the next day without uttering it.

In her last moments Miss Wren murmured:

"You say I am dying.  Well that means I am going home."  After a long pause she added: "Let him live in his sins."

At the inquest a verdict of "wilful murder by a person or persons unknown" was returned.  Miss Wren had carried with her to her grave the secret of the murder.  There it has remained ever since.

John Wren's Betting Coups

John Wren was the third son of illiterate though not indigent Irish immigrants John Wren, labourer, and his wife Margaret in Melbourne.  Leaving school at 12 to work in a wood-yard and then as a boot clicker, Wren supplemented his 7s. 6d. weekly wage by circulating betting cards, bookmaking and small-scale usury. Although short and 'bandy' from an ill-set fracture, he was a feisty 'scrapper', handy cricketer and prospective Collingwood footballer.

Laid off work during the 1890's depression, Wren launched his Johnston Street totalizator in 1893 with a stake bolstered, so he boasted, by Carbine's 1890 Melbourne Cup victory and subsequent gambling coups. This 'tote' was later to net him £20,000 per annum.  Wren became a local hero, generous both to the needy and to the Catholic Church.

Even so, a sleazy reputation clung to Wren.  While it is credible that he fixed the ageing 'Plugger' Martin's victory in the 1901 Austral Wheel Race, a similar charge about his £50,000 coup in Murmur's 1904 Caulfield Cup win is fanciful. The Victoria Racing Club's temporary refusal to accept Wren's nominations was based on competition for gamblers' shillings and distaste for his origin, associations and success.  Wren's response was to buy into Richmond, Fitzroy and Ascot pony courses which he personally controlled and cleansed.

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