Mary Adams and the Monster of Tillingham


The Ranters was a term used around the time of Cromwell's Reign to describe people who refused to follow accepted religion as they believed that God lived in them and so they had no need to attend Church or follow accepted practices.

Control proved difficult as Ranters had no organisation or leaders and so imprisoning individuals had little effect.

Modern research questions how widespread Ranters actually were and whether inflating the threat that they actually posed provided convenient for politicians and churchmen alike.

Ranters were subject of many lurid stories in pamphlets most of which are believed to be fiction or place a specific interpretation on actual facts.

In these pamphlets Ranters flout most conventions including practicing sex outside marriage and were often naked in public

The story of Mary Adams

One of the most famous pamphlets called The Ranters Monster was written by a London Journalist called George Horton in 1652.

The Ranters Monster purported to be a true story about a girl called Mary Adams who lived in the village of Tillingham.

Mary was a single girl who lived in Tillingham. She lived a normal life with parents who cared for her and all seemed well until she joined the Baptists who were just starting to bring a new style of worship to Essex. This led to her adopting strange practices and eventually became a ranter.

People noticed that Mary became obviously pregnant and when challenged she said that she was the Virgin Mary and that she had conceived the child of the Holy Ghost.

She added that Christ had not yet come forth to the world in the flesh and that she would bring forth the saviour of the world and that all that did not believe in him would be damned.

Reverend Hadley who was the local minister ordered that she be arrested and detained until after the birth of her child and so Mary was locked up.

Delivery of the baby was problematic and the child was born on the ninth day of her labour.

The child was stillborn but described as an ugly misshapen monster with no hands or feet but with claws like a toad.

So hideous was the child that it terrified the women assisting in the birth and they buried the monster with great haste.

Immediately after the birth Mary's body became covered with blotches, boils and putrid scabs.

Within a few days Mary's health had deteriorated badly and she then committed another sin by committing suicide by stabbing herself with a borrowed knife.

The truth of the story was verified in the pamphlet by a group of local residents.

Was it true?

Truth didn't greatly worry the pamphlet writers of this time and the story is very similar to other stories of the day about other women in other parts of the country.

There really was a Reverend Hadley who could have been in Tillingham at the time although it has not proved possible to trace the local residents who were witnesses.

The Parish Records and Tillingham started in 1652 the year that the events took place so there is no record of her birth and neither she nor her child would not have been buried in church land so there is no record of eithers burial.

Adams was a very common name in Eastern Essex but there is no record of a will in the name of Mary Adams.

 Whilst there is no evidence that Mary Adams actually lived in Tillingham there is no evidence to the contrary.

If there is truth in the story it may be a very sad tale of a girl who became mentally ill and was made pregnant. 

Sadly the child died in her womb some time before birth and deteriorated further during the 9 days of labour.

Given the strain on her body Mary's body may well have developed sores etc.


It may all have come from the fertile imagination of George Horton to bring the little village of Tillingham national fame in 1652.