History Podcasts

John Vassall

John Vassall

John Vassall was born in 1924. During the Second World War Vassall worked as a RAF photographer. In 1946 he found employment as a clerk in the Admiralty and in 1954 he became an assistant to the naval attaché at the British Embassy in Moscow. Vassall was a homosexual and in 1955 KGB officers blackmailed him into being a spy.

After returning to London in 1956 Vassall was assigned to the Admiralty's Naval Intelligence Division. Over the next few years Vassall provided the Soviets with thousands of highly classified documents on British naval policy and weapons development. After promotion in 1959 Vassall was able to steal Admiralty secrets concerning radar, torpedoes and anti-submarine devices.

In December 1961, Anatoli Golitsin, a KGB agent, working in Finland, defected to the CIA. He was immediately flown to the United States and lodged in a safe house called Ashford Farm near Washington. Interviewed by James Angleton Golitsin supplied information about a large number of Soviet agents working in the West. He also provided information about two spies in the Admiralty. Using the information supplied by Golitsin, MI5 came to the conclusion that one of these men could be Vassall.

Nikolai Karpekov, a diplomat working at the Soviet Embassy, warned Vassall about Golitsin's defection and ordered him to cease operating until further orders. He also took away his camera that he had been using to photograph the secret documents.

In June 1962 Yuri Nosenko made contact with the CIA in Geneva. He was deputy chief of the Seventh Department of the KGB. His main responsibility was the recruitment of foreign spies. He like Golitsin, provided evidence that Vassall was a Soviet agent. However, most of his evidence undermined that given by Golitsin. This included Golitsin's claim that a senior figure in the Admiralty was a spy.

Nikolai Karpekov now contacted Vassall and gave him back the camera and ordered him to resume spying. On 12th September, 1962 Vassall was arrested. He made a full confession although he insisted that he had not stolen some of the documents that Anatoli Golitsin said he had stolen. It was assumed that these must have been taken by the other, unidentified spy, in the Admiralty. Later it was claimed that Yuri Nosenko had exposed Vassall to protect the more senior spy in the Admiralty.

In October, 1962, was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment. He was released in 1972. Vassall: The Autobiography of a Spy, was published in 1975.


Anna (Vassall) Jones (abt. 1595 - 1640)

Anna Vassall was born January 10, 1595/6 in Stepney, Middlesex, England and died in July 24, 1640. Her parents were John Vassall and Anna Russell, his 2nd wife. [1] Lady Anna (Russell) Vassall died and was buried at St. Dunstans on 5 May 1593. which is before the birth of Anna Vassall. Therefore, the third wife of John Vassall, Anne Burrough, who he married 27 Mar 1594 in St. Dunstan's Parish Church, Stepney, Middlesex (London), England, must have been the mother of Anna. [2] [3] Anna married John Jones (Jones-4316), a minister in London. She died July 24, 1640, at Highgate, Middlesex, England.


Henry Vassall House

This mansion was built in 1746 for Henry Vassall. Its residents Henry Vassall and his wife, Penelope Royall Vassall, were known as the biggest spenders of the Tory Row families. Henry Vassall was the son of a prominent Jamaican planter. He had come to Boston to enjoy its social and educational opportunities. Henry managed to squander much of his inheritance on this opulent property and accompanying lavish lifestyle. The Vassalls established a luxurious estate lauded for its access the town center while offering its owners an air of “rural peace.” They had two slaves, and five servants, as well as formal orchards and gardens. The estate included courtyards, horse stables, and a coach-house containing a slew of top-of-the-line carriages. As you can see, they lived a life chock full of material wealth and aristocratic splendor. Despite their fortune, Henry was described by a family slave as, “. a very wicked man. He was a gamester and spent a great deal of money in cards and lived at the rate of seven years in three, and managed to run out nearly all his property. He was a severe and tart master to his people, and when he was dying asked his servants to pray for him. They answered he might pray for himself.”

Henry died in 1769 of a “lingering illness,” though his wife remained here until 1775 when she fled with other Tories, fearing a colonial rebellion. As increasingly radical rhetoric inspired a rash of colonial resistance to British authority, the Tories’ prescribed role in local society came into question. By 1774, although the future of the resistance to British authority remained uncertain, the seven families knew very well that they had fallen out of the locals’ favor. All of their imported European luxuries and grand estates would have to be abandoned for the sake of their lives.

After Penelope Royall Vassall vacated the estate, the local Committee of Correspondence seized it. The Committee converted it into the central hospital for the Continental Army during the Siege of Boston.

That same year, the Continental Congress at Philadelphia named Benjamin Church, a Harvard graduate and admired Boston physician, the first Surgeon-General of the Continental Army, which was then stationed in Cambridge. Church inhabited the residence only for a few months before he was accused of treason.

For some time, those around him began suspecting Church of consorting with the British. On March 4, 1774, on the eve of the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, British Royal Governor, Thomas Gage, begged John Hancock and Dr. Church not to rouse the Boston masses through public celebration. The patriots refused to back down. Despite the unapologetic patriotism of his speech calling the British soldiers murderers and the American colonists to arms, Church agreed to a private meeting with Governor Gage the following week. In that meeting, Gage supposedly offered Church 3,000 pounds in exchange for his loyalty. Shortly after, Church’s bookkeeper noted that, “all at once he [Church] had several hundred new British guineas.” Although these allegations of bribery are based on hearsay, it was the first of many events that led fellow patriots to question Dr. Church’s devotion to the Glorious Cause.

Years after the fiasco, the legendary Paul Revere commented on Dr. Church, asserting, “…I must say, that I never thought him a man of principle and I doubted much in my own mind, whether he was a real whig.” Despite Revere’s skepticism, one must understand that Dr. Church’s resume spoke for itself. He was a seasoned Son of Liberty, member of the Provincial Congress, and head of the Committee for Public Safety. Dr. Church treated colonists wounded in the Boston Massacre. He was a published patriot who explicitly mocked the King of England and opposed the Stamp Act. Even so, it was suspected that he also responded to his own articles as an anonymous Tory in support of the motherland. In spite of many patriots’ hunches about Dr. Church’s treachery, the Continental Congress entrusted him with the distinguished position of Surgeon-General of the Continental Army. Dr. Church emphasized that many were jealous of his coveted position, which may well have been the source of the accusations. He desired to resign before he was indicted for any crimes, but his request was denied.

It was later discovered that throughout his time in Cambridge, he was in correspondence with the then head of the British forces, and former Royal Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, General Thomas Gage. Patriots never intercepted any of his letters to General Gage. However, one of his encoded letters to another British military official, Major Cane was intercepted, warranting his arrest. The discovered letter was not a smoking gun, failing to provide irrefutable evidence of his treason. He was still convicted but sentenced only to a Connecticut jail where he was forbidden from writing. Church was later brought back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he remained incarcerated until 1778, when Congress decided he was no longer a serious risk and exiled him to an island in the West Indies and, “…threatened [him] with death in case he shod ever return.” It is unlikely that the vessel carrying Church ever made it to the Caribbean. He was never heard from nor seen again.

The saga of Benjamin Church highlights a key complexity in the American Revolution. In 1775, many American colonists still felt very strong ties to Britain that they were not willing to sever. Following the discovery of his correspondence with the British, Benjamin Church was thoroughly vilified as a British spy. But to simply cast him off as a devilish traitor would be selling him short. Although Dr. Church’s loyalty may have been bought by the British, his struggle to choose a side in the Revolution and entirely condemn the other, was a struggle shared by many colonists. The decision to be a loyalist or a patriot was not always clear-cut and tore many provincial families apart. Even the Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, faced this heart-wrenching dilemma when his son, William, the Royal Governor of New Jersey, refused to reconsider his unwavering loyalty to British Crown. It can be said that the American Revolution prompted a colonial identity crisis. Despite some provincials’ reservations, with the battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, it became increasingly clear that a compromise would not be reached through diplomacy.

In a letter to General Gage, Dr. Church illustrates the provincials’ frustration with the British leadership and his own uncertainty about the future of the American colonies, “There is a general revolt of all the Colonies, and sorry I am to say that a temper of submission and accommodation undr the present claims of Britain is nowhere to be found in the Country, some expect redress from the confusion taking place in Britain & seem assured of the Ministers fall, others as sanguinely expect the resentment of Britain and already enjoy success and independence, tho’ there are but few that wish the latter but should hostilities be long continued, & present demands insisted upon I am fearfull of the event, may I never see the day when I shall not dare to call myself a British American.”


The era when gay spies were feared

In 1963 the Sunday Mirror offered its assistance to the Security Service.

"How to spot a possible homo," ran a headline in the paper. Below this, for MI5's benefit, was a list of supposed signifiers of male homosexuality ("a gay little wiggle", "his tie has the latest knot", "an unnaturally strong affection for his mother").

The pretext for this unsolicited advice - which now seems clearly offensive - was the case of John Vassall, a gay civil servant who spied for the Soviets under threat of blackmail. A gay man, the paper's reporter said, was a de facto security risk: "I wouldn't trust him with my secrets."

Fast forward 53 years and the service tops Stonewall's 2016 list of the 400 best places to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. According to the Times, more than 80 of its employees belong to an LGBT staff network.

And yet a ban on gay men and women serving in MI5, MI6 or GCHQ was in force as recently as 1991. The treatment of LGBT intelligence staff was exemplified by the case of pioneering codebreaker Alan Turing, who lost his security clearance after a conviction for gross indecency in 1952 and later took his own life.

A series of Cold War scandals featuring gay men meant homosexuality was linked in many people's minds with espionage and betrayal. As well as Vassall, who was caught in a honeytrap by the KGB, at least two of the Cambridge Five spy ring, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, were gay, while a third, Donald MacLean, was bisexual.

There was also Daily Telegraph Moscow correspondent Jeremy Wolfenden - son of John Wolfenden, who chaired the commission that recommended the legalisation of male homosexual acts - who was photographed by the KGB having sex with a man, and whom MI6 subsequently attempted to use as a double agent. He turned to heavy drinking and died in 1965 age 31.

In the United States, Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist campaign targeted scores of gay officials, explicitly linking homosexuality with subversion and Soviet sympathies, a process known as the "lavender scare". FBI chief J Edgar Hoover - himself widely believed to have been gay - used the agency to target dozens of gay government employees.

It was a period in which LGBT people risked losing their careers and their freedom if their sexuality was revealed. In 1953 President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which effectively ruled that gay people were security risks. Homosexual acts between men were illegal in Great Britain until 1967.

"Queer men were thought to be untrustworthy because of their queerness," says Allan Hepburn of McGill University, Montreal. "They were vulnerable to blackmail because the law offered them no protection."

And yet nonetheless there was a double standard at stake. Though their conduct was not illegal, heterosexuals were hardly immune from honeytraps and blackmail - as evidenced by the cases of the Stasi "Romeo spies" sent to seduce West German women.

The Profumo scandal - in which the minister of war's mistress was found to have been sleeping with the Soviet naval attache - did not result in calls for straight men to be considered suspect, or prevent promiscuous heterosexuality becoming part of the James Bond mythos.

Indeed, the Guardian's former security editor Richard Norton-Taylor suggests that the secrecy imposed on LGBT people during this era may have made them more effective spies. "They could keep secrets, and tell lies."

This association between homosexuality and secrecy, furtiveness and potential treachery ensured gay characters were a recurring trope in Cold War-era spy fiction. John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy include gay subtexts - made even more explicit in the 2011 movie adaptation of the latter.

Some have made the case that the British intelligence services appear to have been relatively accepting of homosexuality, if only compared with other parts of society that commonly persecuted LGBT people. Burgess's gay affairs were widely known in intelligence circles. As with fellow Cambridge Five member Kim Philby's heterosexual philandering, class and social status rather than sexual orientation appear to have been paramount.

According to Christopher Andrew's authorised history of MI5, gay men and women were in 1951 judged by the service when vetting public servants to be "maladjusted to the social environment", potentially "of unstable character" and vulnerable to blackmail. However, Andrew says MI5 was "relatively unconcerned" about gay civil servants so long as they "remained discreet". In 1965 MI5 resisted a view from the Treasury that homosexuality should be an absolute bar to any kind of public office that required positive vetting.

The legalisation of male homosexuality in 1967 meant the fear of blackmail could no longer hold. "You get rid of illegality and suddenly the fear of being blackmailed evaporates," says Christopher Murphy, lecturer in intelligence studies at the University of Salford, although it took public attitudes longer to catch up with the law.

The 2015 BBC espionage drama London Spy, which features a relationship between a young man and a male intelligence officer, is notable for the fact that their sexuality is not treated as particularly exceptional in itself. And when the news about MI5's place on the Stonewall list was revealed, the headlines were very different from those of 1963.


Vassall, John

John Vassall, colonial entrepreneur and chief promoter of the Clarendon County settlement on the Lower Cape Fear in the 1660s, was born in Stepney, Middlesex County, England, the son of William and Anne King Vassall. His grandfather John Vassall had emigrated as a religious refugee from France to England, where he turned to merchandising with considerable success, developing his own fleet of vessels (two of his ships took part in the campaign against the Spanish Armada), and later to overseas colonization as a member of the Virginia Company. His uncle Samuel Vassall too became involved in overseas colonization as an incorporator of the Massachusetts Bay Company, in whose territory he secured huge patents of land. He also was actively, if unsuccessfully, interested in Sir Robert Heath's attempt to settle Carolana, challenging in 1663 Charles II's grant of the Carolana territory to the Lords Proprietors on the grounds that he held an assignment from Heath of the southern half of the old Carolana grant. Although his claim was disallowed, it showed that he had a strong continuing interest in the area. William Vassall (John's father) became an assistant in the Massachusetts Company and one of its early settlers, bringing his family (which now included John at age ten and five daughters) in the summer of 1635 to Roxbury. Within a year the Vassall family moved to Scituate in the Plymouth colony. Important by virtue of both wealth and ability, William Vassall became a leader in both colonies, especially in the movement to liberalize the suffrage. In 1646 he returned to England but two years later moved to Barbados, where he acquired sizable landholdings and died in 1655.

John Vassall remained in Scituate and joined the militia, ultimately achieving the rank of captain. Sometime in the 1650s he migrated first to Jamaica and then to Barbados, where he resided when Charles II granted the Carolina territory in 1663 to the eight Lords Proprietors. Perhaps influenced by his uncle Samuel Vassall, he and his cousin Henry Vassall (Samuel's son) became involved in an effort to colonize the area. They joined a group of Barbadians in financing an expedition led by William Hilton in the fall of 1663 to explore the territory around the Cape Fear River (a year earlier Hilton, from Massachusetts, had led an unsuccessful attempt by people from that colony to settle the Cape Fear but still felt the area had real possibilities for colonization). The Barbadians who remained behind organized the Corporation of Barbados Adventurers and chose Thomas Modyford, a prominent planter and former governor of the island, and Peter Colleton, son of John Colleton (one of the Lords Proprietors), to negotiate the conditions on which they might settle in Carolina. However, John and Henry Vassall were not willing to work through the corporation, choosing rather to follow an independent course in dealing with the Lords Proprietors.

Accordingly, about the same time that Modyford and Colleton first communicated with the Proprietors, John Vassall wrote his own letter relative to a colony in Carolina. The Proprietors chose to deal with Modyford and Colleton. In response, the Vassalls, claiming to represent a majority of the corporation members, formed a separate body known as "the Adventurers and planters of Cape Feare." Henry Vassall was dispatched as agent for the group to London to obtain from the Proprietors the best possible terms of settlement. When Vassall met with the Lords, he was offered tentative terms that differed little if any from the "Declarations and Proposals" (a treatise issued earlier by the Proprietors to govern settlement in the Carolina territory). Although the terms were not altogether pleasing to the Adventurers back in Barbados, they were accepted, and Henry Vassall was instructed to complete a formal agreement with the Lords Proprietors.

However, John Vassall chose not to wait for the final agreement. With the promise of support from associates left behind on the island, he set out with a group of Barbadians in the spring of 1664, reaching the Cape Fear on 29 May. By November 1664 the settlement was incorporated in Clarendon County by the Proprietors, with John Vassall as deputy governor and surveyor-general. Using the inducements of the promise of land, freedom of religion, and the right to vote, the Vassals were able to attract settlers from New England, the West Indies, and Europe. Ultimately, Clarendon County would number about eight hundred inhabitants.

John Vassall's decision to migrate to the Cape Fear before Henry Vassall had reached a final decision with the Lords Proprietors proved to be a critical mistake. Henry Vassall was never able to conclude the agreement. A rival faction in Barbados led by John Yeamans proposed a settlement farther to the south at Port Royal under conditions more favorable to the Proprietors. The Lords largely turned their back on Vassall's settlement and supported a move to develop Craven County (later to become South Carolina) below Cape Romain. John Colleton alone of the Proprietors maintained an active interest in Vassall's efforts, and he unfortunately was removed by death in 1666. England's resumption of war with the Dutch in 1664 and the Great Plague and Great Fire in London in 1666 would have made it difficult for the Proprietors to provide much support for the Clarendon settlement as it was, they provided none. Too, the Indians in the area became exceedingly hostile towards the settlement.

More and more people began to abandon the settlement until the whole effort was given up in 1667. Through it all, John Vassall acted with considerable courage and perspicacity. Even to the extent of using his personal fortune, he tried desperately to hold the colony together. In the fall of 1666, he sent at his own expense an emissary to the Proprietors to convey the terrible state of affairs in Clarendon with the hope of securing aid, only to have the emissary captured en route to England. Moreover, Henry Vassall died in 1667, ending the settlement's only immediate link with the Proprietors. As a last resort, John Vassall appealed to Massachusetts for aid, and in May 1667 the Massachusetts colony voted to send relief to the Cape Fear. If such aid was ever forthcoming, it was too little and too late. In the summer of 1667, Clarendon was abandoned, with its settlers going to Virginia or Massachusetts. Vassall, by now a financially ruined and dejected man, went to Virginia, where on 6 October he wrote to John Colleton a melancholy account of the last days of Clarendon. Unknown to him, Colleton was already dead. He seems to have remained in Virginia for some time trying to obtain redress of grievances against the Lords Proprietors.

By March 1672 Vassall had migrated to Jamaica, where he and his wife, Anne Lewis Vassall, settled in St. Elizabeth's Parish. For the remainder of his life, however, he maintained connections with the mainland colonies, engaged in the carrying trade among them, the West Indies, and Europe. In his will, proved in Jamaica on 6 July 1688, he provided for his son Samuel to be educated at Harvard College. Another son, Leonard, would live most of his life in Boston and die there. His descendants (notably his great-grandson, John Vassall) were living in the Boston-Cambridge area at the time of the American Revolution. They chose the English side, with many of them moving to England. Their vast estates were confiscated, and the family name soon lost any significance in the United States.


Transcription

[MUSIC PLAYING] This podcast is part of the Cold War season, a programme of events to coincide with our exhibition, ‘Protect and Survive – Britain’s Cold War Revealed’. Visit nationalarchives.gov.uk for details of more upcoming events. This talk is called ‘The Scandalous Case of John Vassall’, presented by Mark Dunton on the 25th of April, 2019. It was recorded at The National Archives, Kew.

I’m going to talk to you about the scandalous case of John Vassall – sexuality, spying, and the civil service. Got all the ingredients there, I think.

In Britain in 2019, gay people can commit to each other through civil partnerships, and the age of consent is equal for gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals at the age of 16. And here’s a quote from Peter Tatchell, gay rights campaigner, in 2017.

He said, ‘We have made fantastic progress. Compared to two decades ago, Britain is almost a different country. All the main anti-gay laws have been abolished. We are now one of the best countries in the world for gay equality.’

But I think Peter Tatchell would agree that not everything in the garden is rosy, of course. Homophobic bullying remains a significant problem in schools, and there are still cases of horrific homophobic physical attacks on gay people. And of course, looking outside Britain, look at the terrible repression and torture of gay people in Chechnya and the anti-gay measure recently passed in Brunei.

But focusing on Britain, we’ve come a long way, and as a generalisation, the Britain of 2019 is a much more liberally-tolerant society than it used to be. However, back in the 1950s, the climate for gay people living in Britain was very different. So prior to 1967, homosexual activity between men was illegal. And this is how the Sunday Pictorial, a popular tabloid, dealt with the subjects of male homosexuality in 1952.

So the Sunday Pictorial was a stable-mate of The Daily Mirror, and this was the first of three articles under the lurid heading, ‘Evil Men’, which the paper proclaimed, ‘broke the silence over the unnatural sex vice which is getting a dangerous grip on this country’. Douglas Wharf, the author, asserts here that the numbers and percentage of known homosexuals in Britain has grown steeply since the war, and he continues, ‘few of them look obviously effeminate, and they can be found not only amongst dress designers and the theatre, but also among generals, admirals, fighter pilots, engine drivers, and boxers. Whatever next?’

Wharf stressed the importance of warning parents, talking about the corrupting dangers of the evil men who, in increasing numbers, pervert youngsters to their unnatural ways. In such comments, one can see the appalling modelling of homosexuality with paedophilia. Depressingly, this was a commonly-held view at the time.

Patrick Higgins in his book, The Heterosexual Dictatorship, refers to a process of demonization by the popular press in the 1950s. However, Higgins is careful to point out that no other national newspaper was to follow the lead of the Sunday Pictorial at the time, they tended to prefer to just remain silent on the topic of homosexuality.

This silence was broken with the arrest of Sir John Gielgud on the 21st of October, 1953 at a public lavatory in Chelsea, and his subsequent conviction for persistently importuning other males in a public convenience. And this story received widespread coverage in national newspapers, and as Patrick Higgins states, provoked a moral backlash against homosexuality.

Fears about homosexuality were very present in the 󈧶s, and so were fears about espionage, and the two became interlinked. This had a great deal to do with the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union in May 1951. Burgess and Maclean were British members of a KGB spy ring, which I’m sure many of you will know about, which is the Cambridge spy network, a network which passed important information to the Soviet Union really from the 1930s up into the 1950s. And Burgess and Maclean were both Foreign Office diplomats. We’ve got some facsimile files for them in the Cold War exhibition.

Now the Cambridge spies, particularly Burgess and Maclean, became notorious after news of their defection was finally broken by the press. And over time, they both came to be described as homosexual. Burgess certainly was, Maclean was probably bisexual. So the focus was, they were – that they’d been part – they’d studied at Cambridge, they were part of a privilege elite, they were homosexual, and at Cambridge, they joined the communist cause.

To quote Dominic Sandbrook, ‘Many commentators in the post-war years concluded that there was a clear and indisputable link between social exclusiveness, homosexuality, Marxism, and treason’. And within the civil service, homosexuals were increasingly seen as security risks, and that’s a theme I’ll be returning to.

So all of this so far has been background, but I think it’s important to set the context for the subject of my talk today for John Vassall was homosexual, and I’m going to use that term to describe his sexuality rather than gay, which didn’t really come into common usage as an alternative to using ‘homosexual’ until the late 1960s or early 󈨊s. We need to understand the attitudes of the time in which John Vassall lived so that we can understand him.

John Vassall wrote an autobiography which was published in 1975, and it’s now very difficult to get hold of. But I’ve drawn on this book, which a friend very kindly gave me as a present, particularly to relate the story of John Vassall. So in this talk, I’m going to start by telling you that story, the narrative of the Vassall case up to his arrest, and then his trial, the aftermath of that, and the press coverage. And I’m going to look at the longer-term consequences of his case for gay people working in the civil service, and I’m going to attempt to come to a judgement on the man and his motives.

I’m going to illustrate this with images, newspaper cuttings, and copies of National Archives documents, particularly from the series TS 58, Treasury Solicitor, Registered Files, Treasury and Miscellaneous.

So John Vassall, he was born on the 20th of September, 1924. His father was a Church of England clergyman, and his mother was a nurse and a devout Roman Catholic.

It was not a happy marriage according to John Vassall’s autobiography. It was a respectable background with connections to academia combined with sporting achievements. Vassall wrote, ‘We were very much an Oxford family’. His father and his father’s brother both played rugby for Oxford University.

Vassall mentions in his autobiography that his first homosexual experience had been at the age of 12 with a school friend at Seaford House School in Little Hampton. He went to a series of prep schools before he settled at Monmouth Grammar School, which he joined in 1938. On leaving school in April 1941 at the age of 16 and a half, John spent a year in banking in London.

Now Vassall volunteered for RAF service in an air crew category in November 1942, but he was not accepted by the selection board. On the 16th of December, he volunteered to join the RAF volunteer reserve and train as a photographer, learning about developing and processing techniques. Such skills were to become highly significant later on.

Unusually, we do hold copies of his Second World War service record. Such records are usually accessed only by the Veterans Agency with access for the veterans themselves or close relatives only. Vassall served on the continent under active conditions. He later recalled being with the Tactical Air Force with fighter and bomber aircraft.

After the war, he returned to London and joined the civil service. In his autobiography, he wrote, I was, however, keen to travel, and a senior official in the admiralty whom I used to see occasionally suggested I might like to apply for one of the posts abroad, which comes up from time to time. This is how Vassall came to apply for a post in the British embassy in Moscow.

Vassall was interviewed for the Moscow post by the Civil Service Selection Board on the 4th of January, 1954. The panel stated that they considered Mr WJC Vassall a CO – clerical officer – aged 29 in the war registry to be the most suitable candidate for this post. This position, as Vassall knowingly puts it in his autobiography, promised a completely new world of excitement and danger. Vassall departed London airport for Moscow on the 2nd of March, 1954.

Now Vassall writes in vivid style about his journey through a blizzard to Moscow in a chauffeur-driven car. He wrote, ‘We entered the city and we saw the long steep, walls of red brick, which housed the large complex of buildings within the Kremlin’. Vassall describes the scene as being like an illustration from a child’s Christmas story. He arrived at a flat in a large block of apartments and went to bed exhausted and excited.

But Vassall continues, ‘The next morning when I awoke, a very strange feeling came over me. I felt terribly lonely. I was more than 1,500 miles away from home. It was an eerie moment. Looking out of the window, all I could see was snow falling and long lines of traffic below. For a moment, I felt depressed’.

At the British embassy, Vassall was introduced to Captain Bennett, the naval attache, and other members of staff, including the Head of Chancery, who told Vassall that it was a most interesting moment to arrive. Stalin had died in 1953, and there had been a relaxation of opinion in the Soviet Union.

During the first few months of his posting, Vassall was sharing a pretty basic flat with two others. In his autobiography, he begins to make criticisms of his treatment at an early stage. We more or less had to fend for ourselves. He writes that, ‘My first few months were difficult and desperately lonely in spite of the official hospitality that the most senior members of the embassy were asked by the Foreign Office to provide for the junior staff’. He developed this criticism in his confession some years later.

Vassall settled into a routine at work and he was fully occupied with paperwork. Vassall received formal invitations to receptions and parties, but he viewed these as contrived and artificial occasions. In his words, he had to learn to be self-reliant. He was keen to see the opera and ballet, for he was a highly cultured man.

In the embassy administration section, Vassall came into contact with a Polish member of staff called Mikhailsky and a Greek man who were very helpful to him in arranging tickets for concerts and plays. Little did Vassall know at this stage that Mikhailsky was an agent of the Russian Secret Service, and these seemingly innocent, kind gestures were the start of a slippery slope that would lead to entrapment by Soviet agents.

In April 1955, Mikhailsky invited him to a smart restaurant. This event became a regular occurrence, and Vassall was introduced to a number of educated and charming Russian men. Vassall was particularly attracted to one of the men he was introduced to, who told him he was a skier. He later commented ruefully, ‘The Russians must have found the chink in my armour before anyone else’.

Vassall attended a series of dinner parties with Russians arranged by ‘The Skier’, as we shall refer to him henceforth. Vassall doesn’t give him any name in his accounts. I think The Skier had something of the appeal of the milk tray man to Vassall. Some of you may get that reference. [LAUGHS]

So one day, The Skier duly introduced John to a friend. In Vassall’s words, ‘a fur-clad mystery man’ who wanted to invite John out to dinner with some comrades, and so John ended up at the plush Hotel Berlin in the centre of Moscow. He was taken upstairs to a private dining room where a table for at least a dozen guests had been prepared.

Vassall was rather mystified as to why so much trouble was being taken, but soon relaxed over dinner, enjoying the wine, and the free-flowing conversation. In his autobiography, Vassall wrote, ‘Not until 1963, nine years later, was it suggested to me that the wine I had been given must have been drugged’.

Quoting further from Vassall’s autobiography, ‘After dinner, everyone seemed to drift away, leaving three of us and the one who had brought me to the dinner party. One of them said I did not look well, and it might be better if I lay down on a large divan, which was appropriately placed in a recess. When I got to the bed, I could hardly stand up. I was asked to take off my clothes, including my underwear.

It all seemed to be beyond my control. I did not know where I was or what was going on or why it was happening. I can recall having my underpants in my hands and holding them up at the request of others. Then I was lying on the bed naked, and there – and there were three other men on the bed with me. I cannot remember exactly what took place. I saw The Skier’s friends standing in the room taking photographs’.

After a while, Vassall was helped to dress again, and his hosts insisted on arranging a taxi to collect him to take him back to his flat. To Vassall, it was an evening to be lost and forgotten as soon as possible. For some months, life went on as usual for John Vassall, and he seems to have put that eventful evening at the Hotel Berlin behind him.

We skip forward to March 1955, when Vassall accepted an invite from The Skier who wanted him to meet a friend of his, a military officer. Vassall met them in the evening and they went to a flat in central Moscow. To cut a long story short, Vassall and the military officer ended up in bed.

They were interrupted by a knock on the door and a voice told Vassall to come into the next room. To quote from Vassall’s autobiography, I staggered into the room next door to see two figures standing in large, dark overcoats with two others guarding the front door in the hall so I could not escape. Vassall was then interviewed by two sinister figures dressed in black, one of whom he recognised as a man who had introduced himself as a journalist at one of the earlier dinner parties.

They stated that Vassall had committed an offence which was considered by the Russian state to be extremely serious, and that he was in serious trouble. Vassall was interrogated for several hours. His interrogators were polite, and on the surface of things, considerate. But Vassall felt terribly alone, and he wrote, ‘I was a mere pawn’.

They asked Vassall many questions about his background, but after the niceties, they became serious, and they asked him if he was a homosexual, and with alarm, Vassall replied that he was. Quoting again from Vassall’s autobiography, ‘At an appointed time, I was shown a box of photographs of myself at a party I could not believe I had been at. There I was, naked, grinning into the camera, naked, holding a pair of men’s briefs which must have been mine.

After about three photographs, I could not stomach any more. They made me feel ill. There I was caught by the camera enjoying every possible sexual activity. If you were a man and saw photographs of yourself having oral, anal, and a complicated array of sexual activities with a number of different men, what would your feelings be, especially when these photographs were exposed to the Russian Secret Service?’ A weighty question.

Well, Vassall was told he had committed a grave crime. He was threatened with the prospects of an international incident over the affair. He was threatened with the possibility that if he did not co-operate, the incriminating photographs would be sent to the press, to the British embassy, and to his family. His interrogators told him to sign a statement of confession, but Vassall was not prepared to do this. He was terrified by the possibility of being consigned to a horrific prison in Russia.

Eventually his interrogators relented and told him he could go – he could return to his flat, though on the condition that he met them again the next evening. The Soviet Secret Service drove him home. For Vassall, ‘My world was shattered. ‘ Vassall wrote that, ‘At this time, the very last person I could have gone to was the ambassador. He was cold and aloof, and quite incapable of understanding me or what had happened. ‘

He also found the naval attache, Captain Bennett, impossible to approach on a personal level. And so, heavily resigned, Vassall met his KGB contacts at a secret rendezvous as promised.

The interviewing recommenced at a luxury hotel. The photographs were shown to him again. Vassall wrote, ‘They said they would like to meet me occasionally for a chat. They appeared to want me as a kind of friend, but finally they decided I should meet members of the Secret Service every three weeks at a pre-selected spot. If I did not comply with the condition, the ambassador and the press would be informed, and I would be exposed. I would be refused permission to leave the country and would be put on trial’.

With a promise that he could keep his word on this, Vassall was allowed to leave. Vassall now felt very much on his own. He wrote, ‘I could not confide in anyone, but I felt very sad as I went about my work with this weight upon my shoulders. It was a pain I carried with me for the next seven years. ‘

And so the regular meetings with the KGB began, and at first, they would ask him questions such as whom he liked or disliked at the British embassy. And they appeared to be interested and sympathetic about the subject of homosexuality. As Vassall states, ‘As time went on, they built up a paternal relationship towards me that encouraged me to confide in them’. Vassall learned to live under the constant threat of exposure, trying to behave normally, attending official functions, receptions, and parties.

During the summer of 1955, the Russians started to press Vassall for more important information in the form of paper or files. And after about eight months of subtle persuasion, Vassall gave in to this pressure and started handing over papers. In his own words, the ugly and awful reality of handing over secrets began.

Just before Christmas 1955, he was given by his Russian masters a cigarette box, and in it was a large sum of rubles. Now Vassall wrote, ‘I was afraid to refuse’. The hold that the KGB had on him had just got stronger, and Vassall had some continental holidays around this time, and it seems he was able to relax somewhat during these trips to cities such as Rome and Frankfurt, but his KGB contacts had to be fully consulted, of course, about these trips. Indeed, they got involved in the arrangements, and they continued to apply pressure on him.

So Vassall, he started to make arrangements to leave for England because his two-year appointment had come to an end. And at last – one of his last meetings with the Russians before he left Moscow, Vassall was introduced to a man called Gregory whom John described as, ‘an experienced man with an overpowering personality’. It was explained to Vassall that Gregory was to meet him in London when he got back.

Vassall wrote, ‘My heart sank. I had imagined that on leaving Moscow, my troubles would all be over. The Russians even set the date and the venue for the meeting. Frognal Station in Finchley’. [LAUGHS] sorry. It just makes me laugh in a way some of these settings. Frognal Station in Finchley Road on a day in October 1956.

During the final session, Vassall was asked if he had ever operated a Minox camera, a miniature camera often used by spies. De rigueur for them, really. Well, having returned to England, Vassall reported back to the Admiralty in London and he had an interview with the civil assistant of the Naval Intelligence Division who offered him a job in the Office of Director of Naval Intelligence, which Vassall was happy to accept, thinking it sounded rather grand. And so he started immediately in an office overlooking Horse Guards Parade.

Now that office dealt with a high volume of classified material, and Vassall says that his main thought was really to keep away from the Russians, but he felt compelled to keep his first meeting with Gregory as he had been instructed in Moscow, and he was walking along from the Finchley Road underground station.

Now Vassall was told to reveal his identity by wearing a green Tyrolean hat with a brush of feathers. So obviously not drawing attention to himself in any way. And carrying a newspaper. I love this sort of stuff. He should not approach Gregory, but he had to wait until Gregory approached him and say, can you tell me the best way to Belsize Park tube station? And Vassall had to reply, the best way is to take a taxi.

This is kind of classic spying activity or espionage taking place in the most suburban settings, and these low-fi recognition protocols remind me of the Bond films, when Bond greets an apparent stranger with some innocuous conversational exchange who turns out to be Felix Leiter more often than not.

Vassall took secret documents with him on occasions to show Gregory, who would then disappear for a while to get them copied. Gregory arranged with Vassall that in an emergency, Vassall could go to the Duchess of Bedford Walk in Kensington and leave a circle in pink chalk on a wooden fence directly above the trunk of a tree outside Plain Tree House. This was to show – in order to meet someone the following evening. So yes, that’s a quote from his confession where he’s saying about the circle in pink chalk indeed. I’ll come back to that later, actually, briefly.

And another means of communication – this is again from his confession document – ‘another means of communication which I had with Gregory was by means of telephone to Kensington 8955, the instruction being to ask for Ms Mary. I only rang this number once to test it’. I mean, to us now looking at this, there’s a rather camp, comic aspect to some of these secret codes. That Gregory encouraged Vassall to get a flat or a house to himself, and Vassall duly started looking. He seems very suggestible at this time, and he doesn’t seem to realise that his whole life is being shaped by the KGB.

After about a year with the Naval Intelligence Division, Vassall went for an interview with the new Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Thomas Galbraith, MP for Hillhead, Glasgow, and Vassall became his assistant private secretary. Now, the Private Office of the Civil Lord overlooked the Mall. And instead of looking over Horse Guards Parade, Vassall now had a view of Admiralty Arch and Captain Cook’s statue.

Most of Vassall’s work concerned Galbraith’s parliamentary business. Vassall started going to the House of Commons with the black box for carrying ministerial documents. And Vassall talks about this period with enthusiasm in his autobiography. He loved being at the centre of government, and he enjoyed warm and friendly relations with Tom Galbraith and his wife. He personally took documents up to Galbraith’s home in Scotland for Galbraith to work on. And according to Vassall, the Russian authorities were not actually particularly interested in anything he passed to them while working for Galbraith. Apparently Gregory, his contact, was upset that Vassall had been moved from Naval Intelligence.

Around the autumn of 1958, Vassall moved into a small flat in Dolphin Square in Pimlico for an annual rent of 500 pounds. Vassall does not spell out where the money came for this in his autobiography. It would have been beyond his means if one considers his pay as a relatively junior civil servant and he was only earning 700 pounds a year. But Vassall I think explains at some point that he had an inheritance from a distant relative. I mean, he had also discussed securing a property with his parents, and they were certainly models of rectitude.

Vassall continued to enjoy holidays abroad. In 1959, he visited Capri and Egypt. Then Mr Galbraith was moved from his post in a ministerial reshuffle, and so Vassall moved on to the military branch of the admiralty. Now the papers that Vassall dealt with at the military branch were of great interest to his Russian masters, but Vassall was not happy there.

Early in 1961, news broke of the Portland spy case. In March, three men and two women were tried at the Old Bailey, charged with plotting to pass official secrets to the Russians. All were found guilty and received long sentences. Now there’s a lot more to this story, but time doesn’t permit me to go into it here. But for Vassall, it was a powerful warning.

Around this time, Vassall’s Russian contact changed. There was a new man called Nikolai, and he instructed Vassall to stop operating until further notice, which was a great relief to John. Shortly after Christmas 1961, Vassall was informed by Nikolai that he could start bringing them documents again, and in early 1962, he was instructed to pick up a new Exakta camera from Nikolai, which he collected wrapped as a parcel, left in a telephone booth in Grosvenor Road, SW1, after an elaborate ritual. A very suburban spy, almost sort of Mission Impossible kind of territory here. Now Vassall had this feeling that time might be running out for him.

It was September 1961, and Frank Ifield was at the top of the hit parade, yodelling his way through ‘I Remember You’. I like to set the scene, OK? Now on the evening of Wednesday the 12th of September, John Vassall left work as per usual.

Quoting from his autobiography, ‘In spite of my premonitions, it was a complete surprise when as I left the northwest door of the Admiralty in the Mall and I went across the road, two men in Mackintoshes came forward Third Man- style, flashed a warrant, and asked me to accompany them to a car waiting by the statue of Captain Cook. It was as if I’d been swept into space. My feet never returned to the ground. I was pushed into the back seat’, and Vassall was taken to Scotland Yard.

Now Vassall was told that his flat was to be searched, and he immediately told the security services what was to be found there, including two cameras and rolls of film in a concealed compartment in a bookcase. As soon as he was interviewed, his approach was to tell all and plead guilty. Vassall went on talking until the early hours, and then signed a confession document that the special branch had drafted.

And having looked at this, there are some inaccuracies in this document, but then that would be understandable because Vassall writes that he was exhausted by this time. ‘My head was spinning with nausea, physical and mental’, he wrote. Now the Radcliffe reports on the Vassall case stated that Vassall’s detection was brought about by information which had reached the security service from around March 1962 onwards, and that source would appear to be KGB defector Anatoli Golitsyn, who defected to the United States in late 󈨁.

Now the shockwaves immediately hit the inner circle of governments. ‘We have arrested a spy who is a bugger and a minister is involved’, the Director of Public Prosecutions succinctly told the attorney general on the evening of the 12th of September. The minister was a reference to the fact that Vassall had worked for Thomas Galbraith.

Now earlier on, when the head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, told Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, I’ve got this fellow, I’ve got him! He commented that Macmillan didn’t seem very pleased. Macmillan replied, ‘No – ‘ I wish I could do his voice, but I can’t, really – ‘No, I’m not at all pleased. When my gamekeeper shoots a fox, he doesn’t go and hang it up outside the master of foxhound’s drawing room, he buries it out of sight. But you just – you can’t just shoot a spy as you did in the war. There will be a great public trial. Then the security services will not be praised for how efficient they are, but blamed for how hopeless they are.

There will then be an inquiry. There will then be a terrible row in the press. There will then be a debate in the House of Commons, and the government will probably fall. Why the devil did you catch him?’ it said in typical Macmillan’s style, and using the metaphor of the gamekeeper shooting a fox speaks volumes about his grouse moor image that Macmillan had acquired.

But much of what Macmillan predicted did come to pass. Vassall initially thought that he would not be prosecuted, that he would be seen as a victim of circumstances, but this perspective soon changed as the press went mad over the story. More on that in a moment. Now Vassall was taken to Brixton Prison. He took comfort from his Catholic faith. Vassall had been received in the Roman Catholic church in 1953, taking his lead from his mother. He was also comforted by visits and messages from friends and well-wishers.

Though it – though it seemed like an eternity to him, he didn’t have long to wait for his trial. Some details of the case were revealed when Vassall was charged at Bow Street on October the 9th and a statement from him was read out. So actually, on here, you can see there’s a tree, a picture of the plane tree where the pink circle was meant to be drawn. Some of these details started coming out. And of course, you can see how the press just go a bit mad over it all. ‘Brandy and Threats’. ‘I Fell Into Red Trap’. You got ‘Court is Told of Tricks That Spies Use’.

Now Vassall’s trial at the Old Bailey opened on the 16th of October, 1962, and Vassall pleaded guilty to the four charges shown on this document, charges of espionage. And on the 22nd of October, the day of sentencing, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, told Vassall, ‘I take the view that one compelling reason for what you did was pure, selfish greed’. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. But Vassall’s case continued to hit the headlines for several months. More on that in a moment.

But first, it was all happening at this time in October 1962. On the very day of Vassall’s sentencing, news broke of the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy went public about the discovery of sites under construction in Cuba for the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles, leading to a 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which people across the world held their breath under the threat of nuclear Armageddon. The Cold War was at its zenith, and this must have reinforced Vassall’s status as a traitor, a total outcast for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. There was a real convergence of things going on at this time.

On October the 5th 1962, not only was the first Beatles single ‘Love me Do’ released, a sensation in itself, I’d argue, but also, Dr. No, the first James Bond film was released in the UK. And as Dominic Sandbrook has written, this was to spark a spy craze in British popular culture. I have sometimes wondered if Vassall ever got to see From Russia with Love.

Again, to quote Dominic Sandbrook, Vassall was not merely a spy, he was a conspicuous consumer in the class of James Bond himself. This was evident from extravagant spending on clothes and holidays, which must have been paid for out of the payments he received from his Russian masters, an aspect that the press was keen to focus on.

Once the trial was over, the press seized upon the details of the case with glee. Vassall was described as vain and greedy, a traitor who had sold his country down the line in return for cash. And this quote from The Daily Mirror of the 23rd of October is typical of the tabloid reporting of the time:

What manner of a man was John Vassall? Vanity and greed were his twin gods, and they turned that dandy clerk into a traitor. He gave away thousands of secrets to his Russian masters so that he could parade in elegant suits and silk shirts and live the life of a man about town. And indeed, you can see there, the headline, ‘The Dandy Clerk Took Up Treachery To Pay For His 30 Suits’.

Now Vassall’s solicitor had been approached by newspapers for stories, and Vassall agreed to do a story for The Sunday Pictorial for £5,000 , and in his autobiography, he explained that he agreed to do this in order to pay his legal costs. So The Sunday Pictorial duly ran the story on the 28th of October 1962.

This photo montage rather reminds me of the cover of the Beatles A Hard Day’s Night, but that’s perhaps a bit by the by. Anyway. Now Vassall handed over to The Sunday Pictorial handwritten letters and postcards from Thomas Galbraith and his wife Simone. The authorities had already made their own copies of these when they’d found them in Vassall’s flat.

And media speculation about the minister began to rise. All sorts of constructions and meanings were being read into the Vassall story. The Daily Mail stated that authorities had discovered a postcard sent during a holiday abroad to Vassall from a leading public figure which indicated a friendliness which one would not expect between a clerk and a senior colleague.

Vassall’s trip to Galbraith’s Scottish home to deliver documents was speculated about, and so much pressure was mounting that the government were forced to publish the letters, an internal inquiry into the Vassall affair was already underway.

Now the reality was that these letters were innocuous. As The Annual Register for 1962 commented later on, the letters contained nothing more damaging than the former civil lord’s interest in his office carpets, crockery, and paperclips. But the press had got themselves worked up into an absolute frenzy. Even the fact that a letter from Galbraith to Vassall began, ‘My dear Vassall’, was taken as proof of a homosexual conspiracy. At least this was the strong implication of a Daily Express headline.

Galbraith had done absolutely nothing wrong, but within hours of this edition hitting the newsstands, he felt compelled to resign. The deputy leader of the Labour Party, George Brown, tried to exploit the government’s embarrassment over the affair. Macmillan was furious that a minister had been toppled from his position in this way, and a great deal of his anger was directed at the press.

During a Commons debate, Macmillan complained that Fleet Street has generated an atmosphere around the Vassall case worthy of Titus Oates or Senator McCarthy, a dark cloud of suspicion and innuendo. Macmillan did more than complain – he established an independent tribunal under Lord Radcliffe, as I’ve mentioned, to examine the security implications of the Vassall case, and the scope of this tribunal included the role of the press in the affair.

And the tabloids continued to sort of foster this atmosphere of a witch hunt. Take this article from 28th of October 󈨂 in The Sunday Pictorial. ‘A secret list prepared by detectives names homosexuals who hold top government posts. This list will be considered by the Prime Minister’s Committee of Inquiry set up to probe the John Vassall spy case’. And here’s another from The News of the World in the same day, which – and this article begins, ‘Frankest details of the private lives of all government workers, men and women who handle secrets, are to be probed in a sweeping new security drive ordered by the cabinet’. There was hysteria present in a lot of the reporting before and after the Radcliffe tribunal reported.

So Vassall himself appeared before the tribunal, and in his autobiography, he wrote that, ‘There was some intensely uncomfortable moments for me in questions about homosexuality or about women’s clothing’. In those days, the subject must have seen – the subjects must have seemed outrageous. and this extract from the evidence gives a flavour of the ingrained negative attitudes towards homosexuality which were apparently embedded in high officialdom.

So the Attorney General says to Vassall, ‘It has been said that you are a known pervert, that you are a person who has homosexual tendencies. Is that right or is it not?’ Vassall just says, yes. Attorney General – ‘And that you practise it occasionally?’ Vassall – ‘yes’. That’s from evidence given at the Radcliffe Tribunal in 1963 as cited by Patrick Higgins.

One of the questions which the press took up their cudgels about in a relentless manner was the failure of top figures in the Admiralty to detect the activities of the spending £700 a year clerk sooner than they did. The first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Carrington, was harangued by the press. The Daily Express claimed that the first lord and his service chiefs knew there was another spy in the Admiralty after the Portland spies were apprehended in January 󈨁.

When you look at the Radcliffe Report, it is striking as to how much space is given to discussion on the question of how one can detect whether a man is homosexual. In a broad sense, this defensiveness shows how under siege the Macmillan administration felt, as well as revealing much about anxieties concerning homosexuality, and these quotes serve as a good example of this. ‘There was nothing in Vassall’s conduct or conversation that indicated even to a sharp observer a man addicted to homosexual practices’. Another quote – ‘We are convinced vessel had no office reputation of homosexuality’.

Of course, for the sake of thoroughness, the tribunal put the question to as many of Vassall’s former colleagues as possible. And this is how they summarised the feedback that they received. He was effeminate, not manly, a bit of a mess, as one fellow clerk said. Well, but not ostentatiously dressed, though one observer did go so far as to say foppish. Very polite and anxious to please. That was all it came to. Another quote from the Radcliffe Tribunal Report.

Now the tabloid press reacted sceptically to the tribunal’s line on how one can detect whether a man is homosexual. Yes, this is the jaw-dropping headline from The Sunday Mirror, April the 28th 1963 – ‘How to Spot a Possible Homo’. which offers a course, a short course on how to pick a pervert.

Suspects include fussy dressers, over-clean men, and men who are – men who are adored by older women. Three telling categories there. Notice the exploitative photo of Vassall reclining on a bed. Back to the Radcliffe report and the issue of whether John Vassall should have been detected as a spy because of his extravagant lifestyle. So referring to views expressed by Vassall’s office colleagues, their general impression was that he was a man of good family with some private means. There’s an implication that it would be very impolite, very un-English to make direct inquiries into a man’s source of income.

The tribunal’s report was published on the 25th of April 1963, and it exonerated Lord Carrington and Thomas Galbraith. The report cleared Galbraith of any involvement in Vassall’s spying activities and stated that there was nothing improper in the relationship between Galbraith and Vassall.

The report was very critical of the press. Two journalists were sent to prison for revealing – for refusing to reveal – their sources for certain stories that the press had run, and this caused much bad feeling in Fleet Street, but to quote from Matthew Parris and Kevin Maguire’s book on great parliamentary scandals, ‘The two gaoled reporters were back behind their desks before the whirligig of time bringing its revenges early – their services were required to report the disgrace of Profumo and the resignation of Macmillan’.

So the Vassall case was really just – it was sandwiched in between the Portland case and Profumo scandal. So, no wonder Macmillan was absolutely exhausted and rather depressed in 1963.

How significant were the secrets that John Vassall passed to the Soviet Union? Was he a grave danger to the state? To explain this document’s image, JK Macafee was a colonel in the Royal Marines and a director of naval security who was shown copies of the photographs developed from films found at Vassall’s flat, and he’s saying disclosure of them to a potential enemy would be a grave danger to the state.

Regarding this issue, one has to bear in mind that Vassall’s status was a clerical officer, and much of his work was of low classification. The Russians were not always that interested in what he provided to them. The Radcliffe Report states that, referring to his time working in the military branch, had he been a more adventurous spy, he could have readily gained access to a great deal more secret material.

However, Vassall sometimes acted as personal assistant to the head of his section, and in August and early September 1962, he took advantage of this position and was able to abstract material of much greater importance than he was likely to handle in the course of his normal duties, to quote the Radcliffe Report, which refers to the films found that his flat without going into any detail.

So it was certainly classified Admiralty material, some of the stuff was top secret. But I have yet to see a document which spells out in detail the exact defence secrets that Vassall gave away.

Well, what happened to Vassall after he was sentenced? Well, he served his time initially at Wormwood Scrubs, and then Maidstone and Durham. And he adjusted quite well. His charm did not desert him, and he made several friends, including George Blake, the notorious double agent – before Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs, that is.

Vassall took up pursuits such as weaving and gardening, and was in many ways a model prisoner. John Vassall was released from prison on parole in October, 1972, having served 10 years in prison. And he had some great support from friends who helped him make the transition to ordinary life. And he took strength from his Catholic faith and sought the help of a psychiatrist. In 1973, he went to a monastery to write his autobiography, which as I’ve mentioned, was published in 1975.

Because I’d like to just touch on the consequences of the Vassall case for the treatment of gay people working in the civil service with reference to security, particularly for those in the Foreign Service and those who had access to classified material. Because this is a topic in its own right, so what follows is highly summarised.

A system of positive vetting was introduced at the beginning of 1952, and positive vetting, as the phrase suggests, involves apparently thorough checks on the suitability of a particular candidate to hold a post in government service with information taken from various sources. Vassall went through various security checks during his career, but at the time he went to Moscow in 1954, his post was not designated as one requiring positive vetting.

Following the Maclean and Burgess case, a security conference of privy counsellors was convened in 1956, and this slide shows an extract from their statement of findings. And I suppose the key sentences at the end there, it says, ‘There is a duty on departments to inform themselves of serious failings, such as drunkenness, addiction to drugs, homosexuality, or any loose living that can seriously affect a man’s reliability’.

So homosexuality was explicitly considered a defect of character with regard to the vetting of civil servants, and this policy was incorporated into personnel security procedure. Following the Vassall case, the positive vetting system was tightened and extended to many posts in the home and diplomatic services of the foreign office.

For example, if a candidate for a diplomatic post in an Iron Curtain country in Eastern Europe was found to be homosexual, their application was likely to be vetoed due to fears about possible blackmail. Access to classified material could also be restricted. As the late Ian Boost, a British diplomatic campaigner for gay rights, pointed out, successful positive vetting opened the way to promotion to the many other senior posts in which secret or similar knowledge is essential for the job to be properly carried out. Its withholding meant that staff hit a glass ceiling and effectively had no long-term career prospects in the service.

After the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts, the Personnel Security Committee discussed the implications, but it was decided not to change the rules regarding homosexuals in security. Over time, homosexuality was seen less as a defect of character, but positive vetting restrictions concerning sexual orientation remained. Reform began under John Major. A circular of July 󈨟 announced that homosexuality was no longer a bar to full security clearance, and in the year 2000, restrictions on gay men and women serving in the armed forces were lifted.

Now I’d now like to move towards a conclusion and to make a judgement about John Vassall. Now we’ve heard the view of Lord Parker when sentencing him – ‘I take the view that one compelling reason for what you did was pure, selfish greed’. That, as we have seen, was very much the view of the press at the time.

Even Patrick Higgins, author of Heterosexual Dictatorship – Male Homosexuality in Post-War Britain, from whom we might have expected some sympathy for Vassall, describes him as vain and greedy, arguing that while it was his homosexuality that allowed the Russians to collect an album of incriminating photographs, it was his social ambition, his dreams of a grander life, and the resentments that he felt towards his superiors that led him to becoming a spy.

But is this fair? When Vassall in his autobiography describes his early meetings with his Russian masters, he describes how wretched he felt, and I find his account convincing, as given in these comments. ‘The ugly and awful reality of handing over secrets began. I was betraying a sacred trust. I always felt ghastly.’

The documents we hold here at The National Archives, such as his confession, show that once apprehended, he was very eager to confess, which he did in conscientious detail, co-operating with the authorities in pretty much all respects. And one can sense the enormous sense of relief that he must have felt now the game was over, and that in itself is a positive aspect about him, I think. Unlike Burgess and Maclean, Vassall was not a communist.

We should take into account the cleverness of his Russian masters, and this is something I must emphasise. They enticed him into that honey trap situation using the most beguiling methods. Once the blackmail threats had been made, they tended to take a civilised and apparently sympathetic tone in their meetings with him, apparently interested to hear Vassall’s views on homosexuality, developing a paternal relationship with him.

Vassall’s contact, Gregory, also appears to have had great powers of persuasion. To quote Vassall, ‘He impressed upon me that any information I passed would be useful for the cause of peace, and there was nothing wrong in what I was doing’. Now some of Vassall’s defence of his actions was weak.

In the closing paragraph of his confession statement, Vassall, referring to life in the British embassy in Moscow, states, ‘I felt that the general atmosphere in the embassy was an unhappy one among staff. The senior officials mostly seem preoccupied with their own private and official duties, and in some ways, junior staff were left to fend for themselves. If we were cared for as one family, I do not think that some of us would have got into these troubles’.

Now I don’t think this really stacks up as a defence. Perhaps the senior officials could have done more to look after their staff, but Vassall was tremendously resourceful, possessing much charm and charisma, and he had no trouble, it seems to me, establishing a very active social and cultural life in Moscow, almost on a par with a top diplomat. And I think he would have gone down that road regardless of any perceived cold atmosphere in the embassy.

Now, the issue of accepting payments for spying. So once he’d accepted the first payment from the Soviet controllers, their hold on him became even tighter. It was a classic element in the game of espionage, and I think it’s fair comment that some Vassall – Vassall was someone who strived for acceptance in high society.

For example, he was very proud of his membership of the Bath Club and the way that he proudly kept all his correspondence with Thomas Galbraith, and the cuttings about the MP also underline this. And I think he used the money he received from the Russians to help build a fantasy life for himself of luxurious holidays and fine clothes, but he was using the fantasy world as a way of insulating himself from the trouble he was in as a means of escapism.

As Vassall commented, who on earth would do it for money? All money does is give you a false feeling of security and a certain amount of personal freedom. The whole thing is an illusion, a stay of execution, nothing more. He was naive, foolish, and gullible, but worse than that, he was a traitor. And as a patriotic Englishman, I find it difficult to get into his mindset, but as a gay man myself, I feel sympathy for him and his predicament.

Look at his eyes as depicted in Cecil Beaton’s superb portrait which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, and what you see is vulnerability. As well as a traitor, he was also a victim of a classic blackmail operation concerning the most personal of matters at a time when homosexual relations between men were illegal and the subject of widespread prejudice, and this must be taken into account. John Vassall was a cultured man of fine sensibilities, and there’s a sincere tone to his autobiography which I find convincing.

Now I’ve shown you how the newspapers covered the Vassall case at the time with their black and white condemnation of Vassall and prejudices about homosexuality to the fore, but in my research for this talk, I found one refreshingly different voice in the newspaper archives.

D Wells, a columnist with liberal views who had a distinguished career as a journalist and broadcaster, and D Wells wrote an article in The Daily Herald entitled, ‘Scrap this Law Which Breeds Blackmail’. And D writes about John Vassall, ‘Though I haven’t much sympathy with him, because I think he was foolish to do as he did, nonetheless, I can see why he did as he did. I can almost sense the craven fear and the panic he must have suffered.

I can almost see how the first step into treason must have been hideously difficult for him to take, and how the later steps would have been progressively easier. And I can see that in some measure, our law and our attitude to homosexuality helped to push him into taking those foolish and disastrous steps. There for me speaks the voice of reason, and this is a fair and balanced judgement concerning the traitor and victim John Vassall’.

And a brief postscript about John Vassall. When talking just earlier about his life after prison, I mentioned that in 1973, he went to a monastery to write his autobiography which was published in 1975. Vassal subsequently changed his surname to Phillips and gravitated to the world of archives. He worked as an administrator at the British Records Association, the secretary, I believe.

It’s interesting to reflect that several colleagues at The National Archives have met him, and he’s been described to me as dapper, a natty dresser, charming, with a frivolous and chatty sense of humour. Vassall also worked for a firm of solicitors in Gray’s Inn. He died aged 71 after suffering a heart attack on a London bus in November 1996. Apparently, it took nearly three weeks for the press to become aware of his death, so the cloak of anonymity that he chose to wear in the latter part of his life seemed to serve him well. Thank you very much. Thank you.


Document gallery

In Britain, in 2012, gay people can commit to each other through civil partnerships. The age of consent is equal for gay men, lesbians and heterosexuals at the age of 16. Gay people are prominent in the media and front popular TV and radio programmes including current affairs, sport, chat shows, soaps, drama and documentaries. They are very much involved in the national discourse. But 60 years ago the climate for gay people living in Britain was very different prior to 1967 homosexual activity between men was illegal.

The Sunday Pictorial, a popular tabloid, produced an article about the subject of male homosexuality in 1952. The Sunday Pictorial was the stable-mate of the Daily Mirror. This was the first of three articles under the lurid heading ‘Evil Men’ which, the paper proclaimed, ‘broke the silence over this unnatural sex vice which is getting a dangerous grip on this country’.

Douglas Wharf asserts in this article that ‘the numbers and percentage of known homosexuals in Britain has grown steeply since the war’. He continues: ‘Few of them look obviously effeminate, and they can be found not only amongst dress designers and the theatre but also among generals, admirals, fighter pilots, engine drivers and boxers.’ Wharf stressed the importance of warning parents, talking about, quote: ‘the corrupting dangers of the evil men who, in increasing numbers, pervert youngsters to their unnatural ways’.

In such comments one can see the appalling muddling of homosexuality with paedophilia. Depressingly, this was a commonly held view at the time. Patrick Higgins, in his book, The Heterosexual Dictatorship, refers to a process of demonization by the popular press in the 1950s. However, Higgins is careful to point out that no other national newspaper was to follow the lead of the Sunday Pictorial at the time. They tended to prefer to remain silent on the topic of homosexuality.

This silence was broken with the arrest of Sir John Gielgud on 21 October 1953 at a public lavatory in Chelsea, and his subsequent conviction for ‘persistently importuning other males in a public convenience’. This story received widespread coverage in national newspapers and, as Patrick Higgins states, ‘provoked a moral backlash against homosexuality’.

Fears about homosexuality were very present in the 1950s. So were fears about espionage, and the two became interlinked. This had a great deal to do with the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union in May 1951. Burgess and Maclean were British members of a KGB spy ring known as the Cambridge Spies, a network which passed important information to the Soviet Union during the Second World War and the early part of the Cold War. Burgess and Maclean were both Foreign Office diplomats.

The Cambridge Spies, as they became known, particularly Burgess and Maclean, became notorious after news of their defection was finally broken by the press in 1955. There was a good deal of focus on the fact that they had been homosexuals at Cambridge where they joined the Communist cause. To quote Dominic Sandbrook: ‘Many commentators in the post-war years concluded that there was a clear and indisputable link between social exclusiveness, homosexuality, Marxism, and treason.’

Within the civil service, homosexuals were increasingly seen as security risks. This is the theme I will be returning to. All of this so far has been background, but I think it’s important to set the context for the subject of my talk, for John Vassall was homosexual, and I’m going to use that term to describe his sexuality rather than ‘gay’ which did not come into common usage as an alternative to using ‘homosexual’ until the late 60s or early 70s. We need to understand the attitudes of the time in which John Vassall lived so that we can understand him.

John Vassall wrote an autobiography simply called Vassall: The Autobiography of a Spy, which was published in 1975, and now that’s very difficult to get hold of. I’m very grateful to a good friend of mine, Mark, for this present. And I’ve drawn on this book in relating the story of John Vassall. So in this talk I’m going to begin by telling you that story, the narrative of the Vassall case up to his arrest, his trial, and the aftermath of this, and the press coverage. I’m going to look at the longer term consequences of his case for gay people working in the civil service, and I’m going to attempt to come to a judgement on the man and his motives.

John Vassall was born on 20 September 1924. His father was a Church of England clergyman and his mother was a nurse and a devout Roman Catholic. It was not a happy marriage, according to John Vassall’s autobiography. It was a respectable background with connections to academia combined with sporting achievements. Vassall wrote: ‘We were very much an Oxford family.’ His father and his father’s brother both played rugby for Oxford University.

Vassall mentions in his autobiography that his first homosexual experience had been at the age of 12 with a school friend at Seaford House School in Littlehampton. He went to a series of preparatory schools before he settled at Monmouth Grammar School which he had joined in 1938. On leaving school in April 1941 at the age 16 and a half, John spent a year in banking in London.

Vassall volunteered for RAF service in an aircrew category in November 1942 but was not accepted by the selection board. On 16 December he volunteered to join the RAF volunteer reserve and to train as a photographer, learning about developing and processing techniques. Such skills were to become highly significant later on. Unusually The National Archives does have a copy of his Second World War service record. (Such records are usually located at the Ministry of Defence with access either for the veterans themselves or close relatives only.)

Vassall served on the continent under active conditions. He later recalled being with the tactical air force with fighter and bomber aircraft. After the war he returned to London and joined the civil service. In his autobiography he wrote: ‘I was, however, keen to travel, and a senior official in the Admiralty, whom I used to see occasionally, suggested that I might like to apply for one of the posts abroad which comes up from time to time.’

This is how Vassall came to apply for a post in the British Embassy in Moscow. Vassall was interviewed for the Moscow post by a civil service selection panel on 4 January 1954. The Panel stated that they considered Mr WJC Vassall, a CO – clerical officer – aged 29 in War Registry to be the most suitable candidate for this post. This position, as Vassall knowingly puts it in his autobiography, ‘promised a completely new world of excitement and danger’. Vassall departed London Airport for Moscow on 2 March 1954.

Vassall writes in vivid style about his journey through a blizzard to Moscow in a chauffeur driven car. ‘We entered the city and saw the long steep walls of red brick which housed the large complex of buildings within the Kremlin.’ Vassall describes the scene as being ‘like an illustration from a child’s Christmas story’. He arrived at a flat in a large block of apartments and went to bed exhausted and excited.

Continuing from Vassall’s autobiography: ‘The next morning when I awoke a very strange feeling came over me. I felt terribly lonely. I was more than 1,500 miles away from home. It was an eerie moment. Looking out of the window, all I could see was snow falling and long lines of traffic below. For a moment I felt depressed.’

At the British Embassy Vassall was introduced to Captain Bennet, the naval attaché, and other members of staff including the head of chancery who told Vassall that ‘it was a most interesting moment to arrive’. Stalin had died in 1953, and there had been a relaxation of opinion in the Soviet Union.

During the first few months of his posting Vassall was sharing a pretty basic flat with two others. In his autobiography he begins to make criticisms of his treatment at an early stage. ‘We more or less had to fend for ourselves.’ He writes that, ‘My first few months were difficult and desperately lonely in spite of the official hospitality that the most senior members of the embassy were asked by the Foreign Office to provide for the junior staff.’

He developed this criticism in his confession some years later. Vassall settled into a routine at work. He was fully occupied with paperwork. Vassall received formal invitations to receptions and parties, but he viewed these as contrived and artificial occasions. In his words he had to ‘learn to be self-reliant’.

He was keen to see the opera and the ballet. In the embassy administration section Vassall came into contact with a Polish member of staff called Mikhailsky, and a Greek man also, who were both very helpful to him in arranging tickets for concerts and plays. Little did Vassall know at this stage that Mikhailsky was an agent of the Russian secret service and these seemingly innocent, kind gestures were the start of a slippery slope which would lead to entrapment by Soviet agents.

In April 1955 Mikhailsky invited him to a smart restaurant. This event became a regular occurrence, and Vassall was introduced to a number of educated and charming Russian men. Vassall was particularly attracted to one of the men he was introduced to who told him he was a skier. He later commented ruefully, ‘The Russians must have found the chink in my armour before anyone else.’

Vassall attended a series of dinner parties with Russians arranged by ‘the skier’, as I will refer to him henceforth. I suppose in a way I like this air of mystery that surrounds the skier. One day the skier duly introduced John to a friend – in Vassall’s words, ‘a fur-clad mystery man’ –who wanted to invite John out to dinner with some comrades. So John ended up at the plush Hotel Berlin in the centre of Moscow. He was taken upstairs to a private dining room where a table for at least a dozen guests had been prepared. Vassall was rather mystified as to why so much trouble was being taken, but soon relaxed over dinner, enjoying the wine and the free-flowing conversation.

In his autobiography Vassall wrote, ‘Not until 1963, nine years later, was it suggested to me that the wine I had been given must have been drugged.’ Quoting further from Vassall’s autobiography:

‘After dinner everyone seemed to drift away, leaving three of us and the one who had brought me to the dinner party. One of them said I did not look well, and it might be better if I lay down on a large divan which was appropriately placed in a recess. When I got to the bed I could hardly stand up. I was asked to take off my clothes including my underwear. It all seemed beyond my control. I did not know where I was or what was going on or why it was happening. I can recollect having my underpants in my hand and holding them up in the air at the request of others. Then I was lying on the bed naked, and there were three other men on the bed with me. I cannot remember exactly what took place. I saw the skier’s friend standing in the room taking photographs.’

After a while Vassall was helped to dress again, and his hosts insisted on arranging a taxi to collect him to take him back to his flat. To Vassall it was an evening to be lost and forgotten as soon as possible. For some months life went on as usual for John Vassall. He did not seem to have been that perturbed by the eventful evening at the Hotel Berlin.

We now skip forward to March 1955 when Vassall accepted an invite from the skier who wanted him to meet a friend of his, a military officer. Vassall was intrigued. He met them in the evening, and they went to a flat in central Moscow. To cut a long story short, Vassall and the military officer ended up in bed. They were interrupted by a knock on the door, and a voice told Vassall to come into the next room. The military officer got dressed and left abruptly. To quote from Vassall’s autobiography: ‘I staggered into the room next door to see two figures standing in large dark overcoats with two others guarding the front door in the hall so I could not escape.’

Vassall was then interviewed by two sinister figures dressed in black, one of whom he recognised as a man who had introduced himself as a journalist at one of the earlier dinner parties. They stated that Vassall had committed an offence which was considered by the Russian state to be extremely serious and that he was in serious trouble.

Vassall was interrogated for several hours. His interrogators were polite and, on the surface of things, considerate. But Vassall felt terribly alone. He wrote, ‘I was a mere pawn.’ They asked Vassall many questions about his background, but after the niceties they became serious and asked him if he was a homosexual. With alarm Vassall replied that he was. Quoting again from Vassall’s autobiography:

‘At an appointed time I was shown a box of photographs of myself at a party I could not believe I had been at. There I was, naked, grinning into the camera, naked, holding a pair of men’s briefs which must have been mine. After about three photographs I could not stomach any more. They made me feel ill. There I was, caught by the camera, enjoying every possible sexual activity. If you were a man and saw photographs of yourself having oral, anal, or a complicated array of sexual activities with a number of different men, what would your feelings be, especially when these photographs were exposed to the Russian secret service?’

Vassall was told he had committed a grave crime. He was threatened with the prospect of an international incident over the affair. Apparently he was threatened with the possibility that the incriminating photographs might be sent to his family. His interrogators told him to sign a statement of confession, but Vassall was not prepared to do this. He was terrified by the possibility of being consigned to a horrific prison in Russia.

Eventually his interrogators relented and told him he could return to his flat, though on the condition that he met them again the next evening. The Soviet secret service drove him home. For Vassall, ‘my world was shattered’. Vassall wrote that: ‘At this time the very last person I could have gone to was the Ambassador. He was cold and aloof, and quite incapable of understanding me, or what had happened.’ He also found the naval attaché, Captain Bennet, impossible to approach on a personal level.

And so, heavily resigned, Vassall met his KGB contacts at a secret rendezvous as promised. The interviewing commenced at a luxury hotel. The photographs were shown to him again. Vassall wrote:

‘They said they would like to meet me occasionally for a chat. They appeared to want me as a kind of friend, but finally they decided I should meet members of the secret service every three weeks at a pre-selected spot. If I did not comply with the condition, the Ambassador and the press would be informed, and I would be exposed. I would be refused permission to leave the country and would be put on trial.’

With a promise that he could keep his word on this, Vassall was allowed to leave. Vassall now felt very much on his own. He wrote: ‘I could not confide in anyone, but I felt very sad as I went about my work with this weight on my shoulders. It was a pain that I carried with me for the next seven years.’

And so the regular meetings with the KGB began. At first they would ask him questions such as whom he liked or disliked at the British Embassy. They appeared to be interested and sympathetic about the subject of homosexuality. As Vassall states: ‘As time went on they built up a paternal relationship towards me that encouraged me to confide in them.’

Vassall learned to live under the constant threat of exposure, trying to behave normally, attending official functions, receptions and parties. During the summer of 1955 the Russians started to press Vassall for more important information in the form of paper or files. After eight months of subtle persuasion, Vassall gave in to this pressure. In his own words:

‘The ugly and awful reality of handing over secrets began.’

Just before Christmas 1955 he was given, by his Russian masters, a cigarette box, and in it was a large sum of roubles. Vassall wrote: ‘I was afraid to refuse.’ The hold that the KGB had got on him had just got stronger than ever. Vassall had some continental holidays around this time, and it seems he was able to relax somewhat during these trips that he went to cities such as Rome and Frankfurt. But his KGB contacts had to be consulted, and they continued to apply pressure on him.

Vassall started to make arrangements to leave for England because his two-year appointment had come to an end. At one of his last meetings with the Russians before he met Moscow, Vassall was introduced to a man called Gregory whom John described as ‘an experienced man with an overpowering personality’.

It was explained to Vassall that Gregory was to meet him in London when he got back. Vassall wrote: ‘My heart sank. I had imagined that on leaving Moscow my troubles would all be over.’ The Russians even set the date and venue for the meeting: Frognal Station in Finchley Road on a day in October 1956. During the final session Vassall was asked whether he had ever operated a Minox camera – a miniature camera often used by spies.

Having returned to England, Vassall reported back to the Admiralty in London and had an interview with the civil assistant to the Naval Intelligence Division who offered him a job in the Office of the Director of Naval Intelligence which Vassall was happy to accept, thinking it sounded rather grand. And so he started immediately in an office overlooking the Horse Guards Parade. That office dealt with a high volume of classified material.

Vassall says that his main thought was to keep away from the Russians, but he felt compelled to keep his first meeting with Gregory as he had been instructed to do in Moscow. Walking along from the Finchley Road underground station – that’s where they met – we now enter a period where classic spying activity or espionage takes place in the most suburban British settings.

When they met – in classic spy fashion, reminiscent of James Bond – they would have innocuous opening conversational exchanges such as, Gregory would say: ‘Can you tell me the best way to Belsize Park tube station?’ And Vassall would reply: ‘The best way is to take a taxi.’ Vassall took documents with him on occasions to show Gregory who would then disappear for a while to get them copied.

Gregory arranged with Vassall that in an emergency Vassall could go to the Duchess of Bedford Walk in Kensington and leave a circle in pink chalk on a wooden fence directly above the trunk of a tree outside Plane Tree House in order to meet someone the following evening. He gives these sort of details in his confession, a document which can be accessed under the reference TS 58/665 (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4304553).

‘Another means of communication,’ Vassall then goes on to say, ‘which I had with Gregory was by means of telephone to Kensington 8955, the instruction being to ask for Miss Mary. I only rang this number once to test it.’ There’s a rather camp and comic aspect to these secret codes. Gregory encouraged Vassall to get a flat or house to himself, and Vassall duly started looking. He seems very suggestible at this time, and he doesn’t seem to realise that his whole life is being shaped by the KGB.

After about a year with the Naval Intelligence Division, Vassall went for an interview with the new Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Thomas Galbraith, MP for Hillhead, Glasgow, and Vassall became his assistant private secretary. The private office of the Civil Lord overlooked the Mall. Instead of looking out over Horse Guards Parade, Vassall now had a view of Admiralty Arch and Captain Cook’s statue.

Most of Vassall’s work concerned Galbraith’s parliamentary business. Vassall started going to the House of Commons with the black box for carrying ministerial documents. Vassall talks about this period with great enthusiasm in his autobiography. He loved being at the centre of government, and he enjoyed warm and friendly relations with Tom Galbraith and his wife.

He personally took documents up to Galbraith’s home in Scotland for Galbraith to work on. (I’ll give more on Vassall’s relations with Galbraith later.) According to Vassall, the Russian authorities were not particularly interested in anything he passed to them while working for Galbraith. Apparently Gregory, his contact, was upset that Vassall had been moved from Naval Intelligence.

Around the autumn of 1958 Vassall moved into a small flat in Dolphin Square in Pimlico for an annual rent of £500. Vassall does not spell out where the money came for this in his autobiography, but as Dominic Sandbrook has written: ‘It obviously would have been beyond his means were he not a spy.’

Vassall continued to enjoy holidays abroad. In 1959 he visited Capri and Egypt. Then Mr Galbraith was moved from his post in a ministerial re-shuffle, and so Vassall moved on to the military branch of the Admiralty. Now the papers that Vassall dealt with at the military branch were of great interest to his Russian masters, but Vassall was not happy there.

Early in 1961 news broke of the Portland spy case. In March three men and two women were tried at the Old Bailey, charged with plotting to pass official secrets to the Russians. All were found guilty and received long sentences. (There is a lot more to this story, but time does not permit me to go into it here.) For Vassall it was a powerful warning. Around this time Vassall’s Russian contact changed. There was a new man called Nikolai. He instructed Vassall to stop operating until further notice, a relief to John.

Shortly after Christmas 1961 Vassall was informed by Nicolai that he could start bringing them documents again. And in early 1962 he was instructed to pick up a new Exakta camera from Nicolai which he collected, wrapped as a parcel left in a telephone booth in Grosvenor Road, SW1, after an elaborate ritual – all very suburban spy, almost Mission Impossible territory. Vassall had a feeling that time might be running out for him. There were some strange incidents at this time, and I think that he felt that he might have been under surveillance at times.

It was September 1962. Frank Ifield was at the top of the hit parade, yodelling his way through I Remember You. On the evening of Wednesday 12 September John Vassall left work as per usual. Quoting from his autobiography:

‘In spite of my premonitions, it was a complete surprise when, as I left the northwest door of the Admiralty in the Mall and went to cross the road, two men in mackintoshes came forward, Third Man style, flashed a warrant and asked me to accompany them to a car waiting by the statue of Captain Cook. It was as if I had been swept into space. My feet never returned to the ground. I was pushed into the back seat.’

Vassall was taken to Scotland Yard. Vassall was told his flat was to be searched, and he immediately told the security services what was to be found there, including two cameras and rolls of film in a concealed compartment in a bookcase. As soon as he was interviewed, his approach was to tell all and plead guilty. Vassall went on talking until the early hours and then signed a confession document that Special Branch had drafted.

Now I think there are some inaccuracies in this document, but then that would have been understandable. Vassall writes that he was exhausted by this time. He wrote: ‘My head was spinning with nausea, physical and mental.’ I think the talking process went on until the early hours. As mentioned earlier, this file containing his confession is available at the National Archives under the reference TS 58/665.

The Radcliffe Report on the Vassall case stated that: ‘Vassall’s detection was brought about by information which reached the security service from March 1962 onwards.’ The source would appear to have been a KGB defector, Anatoli Golitsyn, who defected to the United States in late 1961.

The shockwaves immediately hit the inner circle of government. ‘We have arrested a spy who is a bugger, and a minister is involved,’ the Director of Prosecutions told the Attorney General on the evening of 12 September. The minister was a reference to the fact that Vassall had worked for Thomas Galbraith. Earlier on, when the head of MI5, Sir Roger Hollis, told Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, ‘I’ve got this fellow – I’ve got him,’ he commented that Macmillan didn’t seem very pleased. Macmillan replied:

‘No, I’m not at all pleased. When my gamekeeper shoots a fox he doesn’t go and hang it up outside the master of foxhound’s drawing room. He buries it out of sight. But you can’t just shoot a spy as you did in the war. There will be a great public trial. Then the security services will not be praised for how efficient they are, but blamed for how hopeless they are. There will then be an inquiry. There will be a terrible row in the press. There will be a debate in the House of Commons, and the government will probably fall. Why the devil did you catch him?’

Now that quote is said in typical Macmillan style, using the metaphor of his gamekeeper shooting a fox. That speaks volumes about the grouse moor image that Macmillan had acquired. But much of what Macmillan predicted did come to pass.

Now Vassall initially thought that he would not be prosecuted. That he would be seen as a victim of circumstances. But this perspective soon changed as the press went mad over the story – more on that in a moment. Vassall was taken to Brixton Prison. He took comfort from his Catholic faith. Vassall had been received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1953, taking his lead from his mother. He was also comforted at this time by visits and messages from friends and well-wishers. Though it seemed like an eternity to him, he didn’t have long to wait for his trial.

Some details of the case were revealed in newspapers when Vassall was charged at Bow Street on 9 October 1962 and a statement by him was read out. The Daily Mirror, for example, carried a story headlined ‘Brandian frets “I fell into Red Trap” – court is told of tricks spies use’. And this is dated 10 October 1962. Accompanying the article was a picture of the plane tree which I mentioned earlier with a caption stating that, ‘A chalk mark, similar to the one arrowed, was said to be a signal to Russian agents.’

Vassall’s trial at the Old Bailey opened on 16 October 1962, and Vassall pleaded guilty to four charges. On 22 October, the day of sentencing, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, told Vassall that, ‘I take the view that one compelling reason for what you did was pure, selfish greed.’ He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. But Vassall’s case continued to hit the headlines for several months. More on that in a moment.

But first, it was all happening at this time in October 1962. On the very day of Vassall’s sentencing, news broke of the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy went public about the discovery of sites under construction in Cuba for the installation of Soviet nuclear missiles, causing a 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during which peoples across the world held their breath under threat of nuclear Armageddon.

The Cold War was at its zenith, and this must have reinforced Vassall’s status as a traitor, a total outcast for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. There was a real convergence of things going on at this time. On 5 October 1962 not only was the first Beatles’ single Love Me Do released, but also Dr No, the first James Bond film, was released in the UK. And as Dominic Sandbrook has written, this was to spark a spy craze in British popular culture. I wonder if Vassall ever got to see From Russia with Love?

Again to quote Dominic Sandbrook: ‘Vassall was not merely a spy. He was a conspicuous consumer in the class of James Bond himself.’ This was evident from extravagant spending on clothes and holidays which must have been paid for out of the payments that he received from his Russian masters, an aspect that the press was keen to focus on.

Once the trial was over, the press seized upon the details of the case with glee. Vassall was described as vain and greedy, a traitor who had sold his country down the line in return for cash. The Daily Mirror ran an article on 23 October 1962 headlined ‘The Dandy Clerk took up treachery to pay for his 30 suits’. Here is a quote from that article:

‘What manner of a man was John Vassall? Vanity and greed were his twin gods, and they turned the dandy clerk into a traitor. He gave away thousands of secrets to his Russian masters so that he could parade in elegant suits and silk shirts and live the life of a man about town.’

Vassall’s solicitor had been approached by newspapers for stories. Vassall agreed to do a story for the Sunday Pictorial for £5,000. In his autobiography he claims that he agreed to do this in order to pay his legal costs. The Sunday Pictorial duly ran the story on 28 October 1962. One headline was ‘Why I betrayed my country’. Another article was headed ‘42 faces of the spy who bears his soul’ by John Vassall, accompanied by a whole series of passport sized photographs of John Vassall in profile.

Vassall handed over to the Sunday Pictorial handwritten letters and postcards from Thomas Galbraith and his wife, Simone. The authorities had already made their own copies of these when they found them in Vassall’s flat. Media speculation about the minister started to rise. All sorts of constructions and meanings were being read into the Vassall’s story.

The Daily Mail stated that authorities had discovered a postcard sent during a holiday abroad to Vassall from a leading public figure which indicated ‘a friendliness which one would not expect between a clerk and a senior colleague’. Vassall’s trip to Galbraith’s Scottish home to deliver documents was speculated about. So much pressure was mounting that the government were forced to publish the letters. An internal inquiry into the Vassall affair was already underway.

Now the reality was that these letters were innocuous. As the Annual Register for 1962 commented later on, ‘The letters contained nothing more damaging than the former Civil Lord’s interest in his office carpets, crockery and paper clips.’ But the press had got itself worked up into an absolute frenzy. Even the fact that a letter from Galbraith to Vassall began ‘My Dear Vassall’ was taken as proof of a homosexual conspiracy. At least this was the implication of a Daily Express headline which ran on 8 November 1962, front page headline: ‘My Dear Vassall’. This of course is immediately after the letters have just been published.

Now Galbraith had done nothing wrong, but within hours of this edition hitting the news stands he felt compelled to resign. The deputy leader of the Labour party, George Brown, tried to exploit the government’s embarrassment over the affair. Macmillan was furious that a minister had been toppled from his position in this way. A great deal of his anger was directed at the press.

During a Commons debate he complained: ‘Fleet Street has generated an atmosphere around the Vassall case worthy of Titus Oates or Senator McCarthy, a dark cloud of suspicion and innuendo.’ Macmillan did more than complain. He established an independent tribunal under Lord Radcliffe to examine the security implications of the Vassall case. And the scope of this tribunal included the role of the press in the affair.

The tabloids helped to foster the atmosphere of a witch hunt. For example, there was an article in the Sunday Pictorial, again dated 28 October 1962, and it’s headed ‘Spy catchers name sex risk men’. It begins with these lines: ‘A secret list, prepared by detectives, names homosexuals who hold top government posts. The list will be considered by the Prime Minister’s committee of inquiry set up to probe the John Vassall spy case.’

Another article in the News of the World dated 28 October 1962 begins: ‘Frankest details of the private lives of all government workers, men and women, who handle secrets are to be probed in a sweeping new security drive ordered by the Cabinet.’ That’s an article headed ‘Spies Vice Probe’. There was an hysteria present in a lot of the reporting before and after the Radcliffe tribunal reported.

Vassall appeared before the Radcliffe tribunal. In his autobiography he wrote that: ‘There were some intensely uncomfortable moments for me with questions about homosexuality or about women’s clothing.’ In those days the subjects must have seemed outrageous. Here is an extract from the evidence which gives a flavour of the ingrained negative attitudes towards homosexuality which were apparently embedded in high officialdom.

The Attorney General states: ‘It has been said that you are a known pervert, that you are a person who has homosexual tendencies. That is right, is it not?’ Vassall replies: ‘Yes.’ Attorney General continues: ‘And that you practise it occasionally.’ Vassall: ‘Yes.’ That was from evidence given at the Radcliffe tribunal in 1963, cited by Patrick Higgins.

One of the questions which the press took up their cudgels about in a relentless manner was the failure of top figures in the Admiralty to detect the activities of the spending-£700-a-year clerk sooner than they did. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Carrington, was harangued by the press. The Daily Express claimed that the First Lord and his service chiefs knew that there was another spy in the Admiralty after the Portland spies were apprehended in January 1961.

When you look through the Radcliffe Report it is striking as to how much space is given to discussion on the question of how one can detect whether a man is homosexual. In a broad sense this defensiveness shows how under siege the Macmillan administration felt, as well as revealing much about anxieties concerning homosexuality. The following quotes from the Radcliffe report are good examples of this. ‘There was nothing in Vassall’s conduct or conversation that indicated, even to a sharp observer, a man addicted to homosexual practices.’ Another quote: ‘We are convinced Vassall had no office reputation of homosexuality.’

Of course for the sake of thoroughness the tribunal put the question to as many of Vassall’s former colleagues as possible, and this is how they summarised the feedback that they received: ‘He was effeminate, not manly’. ‘A bit of a miss’, as one fellow clerk said. ‘Well, but not at all ostentatiously dressed’, though one observer did go so far as to say ‘Foppish. Very polite and anxious to please. That was all it came to.’

The tabloid press reacted sceptically to the tribunal’s line on whether one can detect whether a man is homosexual. The Sunday Mirror ran an article on 28 April 1963 entitled ‘How to spot a possible homo’ which offers a short course on how to pick a pervert. Suspects include: fussy dressers over-clean men and men who are adored by older women. The article was accompanied by a provocative photograph of Vassall looking – I think Vassall in his underpants, or swimming trunks, reclining on a bed.

Back to the Radcliffe report and the issue of whether John Vassall should have been detected as a spy because of his extravagant lifestyle. Now referring to views expressed by Vassall’s office colleagues, the report says their general impression was that he was a man of good family with some private means. And the implication comes across that it would be very un-English to make direct inquiries into a man’s source of income.

The tribunal’s report was published on 25 April 1963. It exonerated Lord Carrington and Thomas Galbraith. The report cleared Galbraith of any involvement in Vassall’s spying activities and stated: ‘There was nothing improper in the relationship between Galbraith and Vassall.’

The report was very critical of the press. Two journalists were sent to prison for refusing to reveal their sources for certain stories the press had run. This caused much bad feeling in Fleet Street but, to quote from Matthew Parris and Kevin Maguire’s book on Great Parliamentary Scandals: ‘The two jailed reporters were back behind their desks before – the whirligig of time bringing its revenges early – their services were required to report the disgrace of Profumo and the resignation of Macmillan.’ The Vassall scandal, as we’ve seen, went on for several months, but it had only just died down when the Profumo scandal hit the press. That particularly took off around June 1963.

How significant were the secrets which Vassall passed to the Soviet Union? Now JK Macafee was a colonel in the Royal Marines and a director of naval security, and he was shown copies of the photographs developed from films found at Vassall’s flat. One of the documents held by The National Archives under the reference CRIM 1/4003 (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4204112) includes a statement by Macafee. And he is referring to the photographs which have been developed from the films. He says: ‘Disclosure of them to a potential enemy would be a grave danger to the state.’

Regarding this issue, one needs to bear in mind that Vassall’s status was a clerical officer, and much of his work was of low classification. The Russians were not always that interested in what he provided to them. The Radcliffe Report states that, referring to his time working in the military branch, had he been a more adventurous spy he could readily have gained access to a great deal of secret material.

However, Vassall sometimes acted as personal assistant to the head of his section, and in August and early September 1962 he took advantage of this position and was able, quote, ‘to abstract material of much greater importance than he was likely to handle in the course of his normal duties’ – quoting there from the Radcliffe Report – which refers to the films found at his flat without going into any detail. So it would seem that there were some significant secrets that had been filmed by Vassall and that some of them he may have been on the edge of sort of passing them on to the Soviet Union. But the fine details of this are not known – or at least I could not find those details.

What happened to Vassall after he was sentenced? Well, he served his time, initially at Wormwood Scrubs and then at Maidstone and Durham. He adjusted quite well. His charm did not desert him, and he made several friends. He took up pursuits such as weaving and gardening and in many ways was a model prisoner.

John Vassall was released from prison on parole in October 1972 having served ten years in prison. He had great support from friends who helped him to make the transition to ordinary life. He took strength from his Catholic faith and sought the help of a psychiatrist. In 1973 he went to a monastery to write his autobiography which was published in 1975.

I’d like to touch upon the consequences of the Vassall case for the treatment of gay people working in the civil service, with reference to security, particularly for those in the Foreign Service and those who had access to classified material. This is a topic in its own right, so what follows is highly summarised.

A system of ‘positive vetting’ was introduced at the beginning of 1952. Positive vetting, as the phrase suggests, involves apparently thorough checks on the suitability of a particular candidate to hold a post in government service with information taken from various sources. Vassall went through various security checks during his career, but at the time he went to Moscow in 1954 his post was not designated as one requiring positive vetting.

Following the Maclean and Burgess case, a security conference of privy councillors was convened in 1956. And the Cabinet document which is part of the Cabinet memoranda – CAB129/80 – I’ve chosen a quote from this report, this statement of findings by the security conference of privy councillors. And here is the quote.

‘Some of the recommendations of the conference deal with what may be called the relation between security risks and defects of character and conduct. The conference recognise that today great importance must be paid to character defects as factors tending to make a man unreliable or expose him to blackmail or influence by foreign agents. There is a duty on departments to inform themselves of serious failings such as drunkenness, addiction to drugs, homosexuality, or any loose living that may seriously affect a man’s reliability.’

Homosexuality was explicitly considered a defect of character with regard to the vetting of civil servants, and this policy was incorporated into personnel security procedure. Following the Vassall case, the positive vetting system was tightened and extended to many posts in the home and diplomatic services. For example, if a candidate for a diplomatic post in an Iron Curtain country in Eastern Europe was found to be a homosexual, their application was likely to be vetoed due to fears about possible blackmail. Access to classified material could also be restricted.

As Ian Boost, a British diplomat and a campaigner for gay rights, who sadly passed away recently, pointed out in a paper he kindly shared with me: ‘Successful PV’ – positive vetting – ‘opened the way to promotion to the many other senior posts in which secret or similar knowledge is essential for the job to be properly carried out. Its withholding meant that staff hit a glass ceiling and effectively had no long-term career prospects in the service.’ Many of Ian Boost’s papers are now in the Hall Carpenter Archives.

After the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts, the personnel security committee discussed the implications. But it was decided not to change the rules regarding homosexuals and security. Over time homosexuality was seen less as a defect of character, but positive vetting restrictions concerning sexual orientation remained right up to 1991 when John Major was Prime Minister. A circular of July 1991 announced that homosexuality was no longer a bar to full security clearance. In the year 2000 restrictions on gay men and women serving in the armed forces were lifted.

I would now like to move towards making a judgement about John Vassall. Now we’ve heard the view of Lord Parker when sentencing him: ‘I take the view that one compelling reason for what you did was pure selfish greed.’ This, as we have seen, was very much the view of the press at the time. Even Patrick Higgins, author of Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Post-war Britain, who we might have expected to show some sympathy for Vassall, describes him as vain and greedy, arguing that: ‘While it was his homosexuality that allowed the Russians to collect an album of incriminating photographs, it was his social ambition, his dreams of a grander life, and the resentments he felt towards his superiors that led him to becoming a spy.’

But is this fair? When Vassall in his autobiography describes the early meetings with his Russian masters he describes how wretched he felt. And I found his account convincing, as given in these comments: ‘The ugly and awful reality of handing over secrets began. I was betraying a sacred trust. I always felt ghastly.’ The documents we hold here at The National Archives, such as his confession, show that, once apprehended, he was very eager to confess, which he did in conscientious detail, co-operating with the authorities in pretty much all respects. And one can sense the enormous sense of relief that he must have felt now that the game was over.

This in itself is a positive aspect. Unlike Burgess and Maclean, Vassall was not a Communist. We should take into account the cleverness of his Russian masters. Once the threats had been made they tended to take an apparently civilised and sympathetic tone in their meetings with Vassall. They seemed interested to hear his views on homosexuality, developing a paternal relationship with him. Vassall’s contact Gregory appears to have had great powers of persuasion. To quote Vassall: ‘He impressed upon me that any information that I passed would be useful for the cause of peace, and there was nothing wrong in what I was doing.’

Some of Vassall’s defence of his actions was weak. In the closing paragraph of his confession statement, Vassall, referring to life at the British Embassy in Moscow states: ‘I felt that the general atmosphere in the embassy was an unhappy on amongst staff. The senior officials mostly seemed preoccupied with their own private and official duties, and in some ways junior staff were left to fend for themselves. If we were cared for as one family, I do not think that some of us would have got into these troubles.’

I don’t think this really stacks up as a defence. Perhaps the senior officials could have done more to look after their staff. But Vassall was tremendously resourceful, possessing much charm and charisma, and he had no trouble establishing a very active social and cultural life in Moscow virtually on a par with a top diplomat. So I think he would have gone down that road regardless of any perceived cold atmosphere in the embassy.

Vassall does seem to have had a struggle with the truth. For example, in his autobiography he never reveals the source of funding for his flat at Dolphin Square, annual rent of £500, but he was only earning £700 a year. Now surely this must have been funded by his Russian masters, unless the money came from a private inheritance. But I’ve never seen a clear statement from Vassall to that effect.

Once he had accepted the first payment, their hold on him became even tighter. It was a classic element of the game of espionage. I think it is fair comment that Vassall was someone who strived for acceptance in high society. For example, he was very proud of his membership of the Bath Club. And also, if one thinks about the way that he proudly kept all his correspondence with Thomas Galbraith and cuttings about the MP, this also underlines this point. I think he used the money he received from the Russians to help build a fantasy life for himself of luxurious holidays and fine clothes and a well-appointed flat. But he was using this fantasy world as a way of insulating himself from the trouble he was in as a means of escapism.

He was naïve, foolish and gullible, but worse than that he was a traitor. As a patriotic Englishman I find it difficult to get into his mind-set. But when you look at his eyes as depicted in Cecil Beaton’s superb portrait which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery (http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07990/William-John-Christopher-Vassall), what you see is vulnerability. As well as a traitor he was also a victim of a classic blackmail operation concerning the most personal of matters at a time when homosexual relations between men were illegal and the subject of widespread prejudice, and this must be taken into the equation.

I’ve talked about how the newspapers covered the Vassall case at the time with their black-and-white condemnation of Vassall and prejudices about homosexuality to the fore. In my research for this talk I found one refreshingly different voice in the newspaper archives: D Wells, a columnist with liberal views, who had a distinguished career as a journalist and broadcaster. D Wells wrote an article in the Daily Herald entitled ‘Scrap this law that breeds blackmail’. This was published on 25 October 1962. D Wells writes about John Vassall:

‘Though I haven’t much sympathy with him, because I can see he was foolish to do as he did, nonetheless I can see why he did as he did. I can almost sense the craven fear and panic he must have suffered. I can almost see how the first step into treason must have been hideously difficult for him to take and how the later steps would be progressively easier. And I can see that in some measure our law and our attitude to homosexuality helped to push him into taking those foolish and disastrous steps.’

There for me speaks the voice of reason. This is a fair and balanced judgement concerning the traitor and victim John Vassall.

A postscript about John Vassall: when talking earlier about his life after prison, I mentioned that in 1973 he went to a monastery to write his autobiography which was published in 1975. Vassall subsequently changed his surname to Phillips and gravitated to the world of archives. He worked as an administrator at the British Records Association. It’s interesting to reflect that several of my colleagues at The National Archives working here today have met him. He has been described to me as dapper, a natty dresser, and charming, with a frivolous and chatty sense of humour.

Vassall also worked for a firm of solicitors in Gray’s Inn. He died, aged 71, after suffering a heart attack on a London bus in November 1996. Apparently it took nearly three weeks for the press to become aware of his death, so the cloak of anonymity that he chose to wear in the latter part of his life seemed to serve him well.

Transcribed by Mary Pearson as part of a volunteer project, February 2015


The Scituate Historical Society

The following pages list persons who settled in Scituate beginning in 1633, the date of the Town’s earliest records, together with their occupations, birthplaces and location of lands granted to them in Scituate, if known. Unnamed wives, children and servants are not included.

While there may have been residents in our town prior to that year no good primary sources have been found. However, there is implied evidence that a settlement did exist before 1633. There are also families who arrived a generation later who went on to have enormous roles in the development of the Town and the country.

No offense is meant by the inclusion or the exclusion of any family. The work continues and the sources emerge.

Samuel Deane’s “History of Scituate, Massachusetts” published in 1831, includes sketches of many of our early families but should be used with caution.

A map of settlement for the "Men of Kent" appears at the bottom of this page.

SCITUATE: pronounced Sit-chew-it - accent on the first syllable.

Common land: town 1633. Incorporated 1636.

Annexed: -additional land, 1640 - “Two Miles” [now Marshfield, Pembroke]

Set Off: -part of the new town of Hanover, 1727

-part to Marshfield, 1788 - “Two Miles”

-part to Cohasset, 1823, 1840

-part to new town of South Scituate, 1849

INCORPORATED TOWNS IN PLYMOUTH COLONY 1620-1685:

Plymouth, Scituate, Duxbury, Marshfield, Barnstable, Sandwich, Yarmouth, Taunton, Eastham, Rehoboth, Dartmouth, Bridgewater, Swansea, Middleborough, Bristol, Little Compton, Freetown

PLYMOUTH, BARNSTABLE, BRISTOL COUNTIES were established 1685

Towns in Plymouth County, 1685: Plymouth, Duxbury, Marshfield, Scituate,

PLYMOUTH, BARNSTABLE AND BRISTOL COUNTIES were absorbed into the Province of Massachusetts 7 October 1691, effective 14 May 1692

Hingham and Hull, set off from Suffolk County to Norfolk County, 1793, but on their protest restored to Suffolk in the same year, were added to Plymouth County in 1803. Both towns were originally part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Cohasset incorporated as a district from part of Hingham, 1770 town, 1775 elected to become a part of Norfolk County, 1793.

SCITUATE’S FIRST SETTLERS, 1633-1639

Anthony Annable, married in Cambridgeshire, England, was a freeman by 1633. In 1634 he was dismissed from the church in Plymouth with Henry Cobb and wife, William Gilson and wife, Henry Rowlee and wife, Humphrey Turner, Edward Foster, and Richard Foxwell on condition that they “join in a body at Scituate.” In 1633 Annable was granted a four acre parcel of land in Scituate, the sixth lot south of the stony (Satuit) brook, bounded on the south by the meeting house common. Annable was a resident of Barnstable by 1640. His daughter Sarah Annable married Henry Ewell

Francis Bavers/Babers built his house, the thirty-seventh in Scituate, before October 1636. He is styled “Mr.” in Lothropp’s notes. His surname could possibly have been Bowers.

Thomas Besbeech/Besbedge/Bisbetch/Bisby from Kent, England,and his daughters Mary and Alice were part of the Tilden group who came to Scituate on the ship Hercules in 1634/5. Thomas was a freeman in 1637 and deacon of the First Church in Scituate at its first institution. In early records he is styled as “Mr.” After 1639 he may have moved to Duxbury.

William Betts, a dishturner, married Alice___, “Goodman” Ensign’s servant, “in the Bey” (Massachusetts Bay Colony), October 27 or 28, 1638 moved to Barnstable, 1639. Betts sold four acres of Scituate uplands east of “the King’s hieway” to Thomas Ensign in 1638. (PCLR 1:96)

Thomas Bird/Byrd was a freeman in 1633 according to the Lothropp notes he built the fortyeighth house by 1637.

Thomas Blossom , resident of Scituate by 1634, was the brother of Elizabeth Blossom who married Edward Fitzrandolph. Mrs. Ann Blossom/Rowley, their mother, married Henry Rowley in Plymouth. Thomas, his mother and stepfather, sister and brother-in-law all moved to Barnstable

Thomas Boiden/Boyden was a servant to William Gilson he joined the church in Scituate 17 May 1635 and was one of the members who remained after the Lothropp group left. He later removed to Watertown in the Bay Colony.

Henry Bourne was a freeman by 1636/7. He acquired Richard Foxwell’s first house, which Lothrop called the 11th built “since my coming,” i.e., 27 September, 1634. It was on Kent Street, the fourth lot south of Meetinghouse Lane. Bourne removed to Barnstable in 1639.

George Bower was listed as a freeman, 1636/7. By 1636 he was the owner of the sixteenth house built by “Goodman” Haite (probably Simeon Hoyt). Bower may have relocated to Plymouth by 1639 as he was granted land there by Gov. Winslow (PCLR 1:52). John Lothropp styled him as “’Mr.”

Priscilla Browne, “orphan” daughter of Mayflower passenger Peter Browne of Plymouth, was placed by the Plymouth Colony Court with William Gilson for 12 years in 1633.

Thomas Chambers from Kent, England was the stepfather of John, Richard, Thomas, and William Curtis. Chambers owned land on Third Cliff and at the New Harbour marshes by 1639.

Josias Checkett, styled “Mr.,” by Rev. John Lothropp, acquired land on the Driftway near First Herring Brook adjoining Lothropp’s farm.

Thomas Chittenden/Chittingden, linen weaver English birthplace unknown, married Rebecca Bamfort at Wouldham, Kent. Thomas, age 51, his wife Rebecca, age 40, and sons Isaac, age 10 and Henry, age 6, sailed from England on the ship Increase in 1635. As noted by Lothropp, Thomas built the thirteenth house - on Kent Street, the fifth lot south of Meeting House Lane.

Henry Cobb, tavern keeper, was appointed deacon of the First Church in Scituate, 1635. Moved to Barnstable by Oct. 1639. His first Scituate house was located on a four acre lot to the north of Anthony Annable’s and was the seventh built according to the Lothropp notes. It was later acquired by Henry Rowley, then by Steven Vinal before 1639. Cobb also owned land on Second Cliff and 80 acres of upland and marsh on the North River, sold to Manasseth Kempton, 1640.

Joseph Colman was allotted a farm on the Driftway near the hills which bear his name.

John Cooper was a freeman in 1634, removed to Barnstable, 1639. Tongue, also called Long, Island was granted to him in 1638. He sold it to William Wills in 1639. (PCLR 1:96)

John Crocker and his brother William Crocker were in Scituate by 1636 and moved to Barnstable, 1639. William owned marsh near the Third Cliff which he sold to Nathaniel Tilden in 1638 his deed included a “sufficient way of thirty foot broad from the heigh way near Greenfields’s stile unto the marsh. ” (PCLR 1:103) Lothropp noted that “Brother Crockers junior” built the forty-fourth house in Scituate. John, oldest son of William, was born in Scituate 1 May 1637, baptized 11 Jun 1637.

James Cudworth, salter, was baptized at Aller, Somerset and was a member of Lothropp’s Southwark congregation in England. Before September, 1634 he built a house north of the brook at the harbor which may have been used for church meetings until construction of the first meeting house was completed in November, 1636. He sold his harbor property to Thomas Ensign in 1642. Cudworth was in Barnstable, 1640, but was back in Scituate by 1646. In a letter to his stepfather Dr. John Stoughton, dated December, 1634, Cudworth wrote “but we are but few--not passinge 60 persons,” i.e., then living in Scituate.

James Cushman/Coachman was one of eight Scituate men who were charged for “receiving strangers & foreigners into their house and lands without license of Governor or Assistants, or acquainting the towne of Scituate therewith.” This was an action of the Plymouth Court taken 4th Dec 1638 when the court was proceeding against a religious dissident, Samuel Gorton. Besides Cushman the group consisted of John Stockbridge, Edward Fitzrandall, Samuel Hinckley, Thomas Chambers, George Sutton, Thomas Rawlins and John Hanmer. All were later discharged. (PCR 1:106)

John Damon/Daman and his sister Hannah Damon were in Scituate by 1633 They were the nephew and niece of William Gilson and inherited his property.

William Dauckings/Duckings/Dorkins - Lothrop listed him as living in the twenty-second house built by George Lewis, Jr. He is styled “Mr.” in the Lothropp notes. Dauckings owned land on Third Cliff by 1635.

Edmund Edenden/Eddenden is listed in the Lothropp records as building the fifty-third house about 1637 he was a freeman by 1641 and later was appointed to the Committee of Assistants to the Plymouth Court.

John Emerson, planter, and Barbara Lothropp, daughter of Rev. John Lothropp, were married in Duxbury by Capt. Miles Standish 18 July 1638. Emerson built the forty-fifth house in Scituate which was possibly on Third Cliff as he sold land there to Nathaniel Tilden in 1639. (PCLR 1:102) The Emersons were among the group who went to Barnstable.

Thomas Ensign, planter, bought James Cudworth’s five acre house lot at the harbor in 1642. Cudworth’s deed to Ensign reads in part: “all that his dwelling house where the said Thomas now dwelleth. lying to the land late Mr. Lathrops to the north, and to the land of Mr. Timothy Hatherly east and south and to the common lane west. ” (PCLR 1:84) By 3 March 1640 Ensign owned all of First Cliff which was conveyed to him by Timothy Hatherly. (PCLR 1:70)

Henry Ewell , shoemaker was a passenger with Nathaniel Tilden on the ship Hercules in 1634/5. Ewell and Sarah Annable, daughter of Anthony Annable, were married at Green’s Harbor [Marshfield], Nov 1638. Lothropp noted that Henry Ewell built the forty-first house, later bought by “Goodman” [Henry] Merritt. Ewell was in Barnstable, 1639. but later returned to Scituate.

Edward Fitzrandolph, from Nottinghamshire, England, arrived in Boston 1630, married Elizabeth Blossom in Scituate 10 May 1637 he was a freeman by 1636/7, removed to Barnstable, 1639. He built the 38th house which later was acquired by Richard Sealis. Fitzrandolph was styled “young Master Fittsrandolf” by Lothropp.

Edward Foster and Lettice Hanford, niece of Timothy Hatherly, were married at James Cudworth’s house by Miles Standish in 1635. Foster was among those who were dismissed from the Church at Plymouth in 1634 and was granted the first lot south of the stony (Satuit) brook, bounded by the highway on the east. His house is listed as the ninth, built about 1633/34. He also owned land on Second Cliff and at First Herring Brook. He died early his widow later married Edward Jenkins.

Richard Foxwell, tailor, was dismissed from the church in Plymouth in 1634, with Henry Cobb, Edward Foster and others “in case they join in a body at Scituate.” Lothropp noted that Foxwell built two houses in Scituate: the eleventh, on land allotted to him 16 Oct 1634 which was later acquired by Henry Bourne, and the fiftieth, built by 1639. Foxwell’s first house was the fourth lot south of Meeting House Lane, bounding on the highway to the east, on the north by Walter Woodworth. Foxwell removed to Barnstable, 1639.

Samuel Fuller, freeman in Scituate, 1634, was in Barnstable by 1 Aug 1641 where his daughter Sarah was baptized. He and Jane Lothropp, daughter of Rev. John Lothropp, were married at Mr. Cudworth’s house in Scituate on 8 April 1635 by Captain Miles Standish. On that same day Samuel was granted a four acre lot, the first lot on the north side of the Green Field, bounded by Barnard Lombard’s lot on the south.

William Gilson was granted land on 12th April 1633 and built the third house in Scituate according to the Lothropp notes. His house lot was located on Kent Street, the second lot south of stony (Satuit) brook. Gilson also owned land on Second and Third Cliffs and built a windmill on the latter, possibly the first in the Plymouth Colony. William Gilson died 1 Feb 1639.

Elizabeth Hammond, daughter of William Hammond of Watertown in the Bay Colony, was described as his “sister” by Rev. John Lothropp. She married Lothropp’s brother-in-law Samuel House in Scituate about April, 1636.

Eglin (Hatherly) Hanford/Handford, widow, born in Devonshire, was Timothy Hatherly’s sister. She was 46 years of age when she left London for New England 10 Apr 1635 with two of her daughters - Margaret Hanford, age 16 and Elizabeth Hanford, 14. Hatherly’s deed to Eglin dated 24 Feb 1640 reads “This land [five acres] was given to Egline Hanford the xxvith day of Septembr in the yeare AD1634.” The description continues: “bounded on the east end by the common path that runneth from the brooke to the harbours mouth. on the north by Gowin White on the west with a common drift path or lane that runneth almost north and south. on the south by land of Richard Sealis.” (PCLR 1:71) Hatherly described it as the third lot north of the stony brook. Eglin Hanford married Richard Sealis in 1637.

Thomas Hanford/Handford, son of Eglin (Hatherly) Hanford/Handford. No further record in Scituate.

John Hanmer was in Scituate, 1639 built the 47th house on “the Cliffe.” In 1648 he sold marsh and upland on Third Cliff to Joseph Tilden. Ann Hanmer released her dower rights. (PCLR 1:168).

Jane Harris/Harrice may have been a member of John Lothropp’s congregation in Southwark, Surrey, England. She joined the Scituate church on 21 Jun 1635.

William Hatch, merchant of Kent, England, was a freeman by 1635 and later was ruling elder of the second church, now First Parish in Norwell. In 1634/5 he and his wife Jane, their five children and six servants were passengers on the ship Hercules with Nathaniel Tilden and others. On 12 June 1635, Hatch was granted a five acre lot on the south side of Greenfield Lane “buting with east end upon the way called Kente streeate.” It was bounded on the north by Greenfield Lane, on the south by Samuel Hinckley’s lot.

Thomas Hatch, brother of William, possibly arrived in Scituate @1638. Thomas was not listed with those able to bear arms in Scituate, 1643.

Timothy Hatherly, “father of Scituate,” described as a felt maker, was baptized at Winkleigh, Devonshire. As one of the Merchant Adventurers who financed the Pilgrims, he made several trips to New England before settling permanently in Scituate by 1634. Hatherly arrived in Plymouth on the ship William by 22 Feb 1632 “to set up a fishing in Scituate” according to notes of John Winthrop of the Bay Colony. He acquired a large tract of land (Conihasset Grant) north of the brook at the harbor which he sold in shares to twenty-six partners by deed dated 1 Dec 1646 (PLCR 1:158). After 1641 he married Lydia Tilden, widow of Nathaniel.

John Heliere owned land on Third Cliff by 1635.

John Hewes, Huses or Hughes built the eighth house in Scituate by September, 1634. On Kent Street, it was on the second lot south of Meetinghouse Lane.

Thomas Hiland/Hyland, from Kent, England, was a freeman in 1638 his house lot was on Kent Street near the Driftway he also owned farm land on Fourth Cliff. His son Thomas married Elizabeth Stockbridge, daughter of John and Ann____ Stockbridge.

Samuel Hinckley, from Kent, England, was a freeman in 1636/7. On 12 June 1635 he was granted a lot on Kent Street, the second south of Greenfield Lane. It was bounded on the south by Nathaniel Tilden’s lot. Hinckley was in Barnstable by 1640. He, his wife Sarah and four children, one of whom was Thomas who later served as governor of the Plymouth Colony until its merger with Massachusetts, as well as a “kinswoman,” Elizabeth Hinckley, were on the ship Hercules with Nathaniel Tilden, 1634/5.

William Holmes was a servant of William Hatch and traveled with the Tilden group from Sandwich, Kent on the ship Hercules in 1634/5. According to the Lothropp notes he built the 46th house. He also owned land east of the “King’s Hieway,” near that of William Betts, William Perie/Perry and Robert Shelly/Shelley.

Samuel House/Howse/Howes, ship carpenter, born in Kent, England, was a brother-in-law of Rev. John Lothropp and a member of the Lothropp congregation at Southwark. Samuel was a freeman by 1636/7 removed to Barnstable by 1 Aug 1641 but returned to Scituate by 1646. On 1 Jan 1661 his daughter Elizabeth married John Sutton, who with his parents John and Julian (___) Sutton, settled in Hingham, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1638. (NEHGR 91:61-65)

Simon or Simeon Hoyte/Hoyt/Haite, of Somersetshire, was listed as a fence viewer in Dorchester, Massachusetts Bay Colony Simon and his wife joined the church in Scituate 19 April 1635. His house lot was on Kent Street, south of Greenfield Lane. The Lothropp records list it as house #16. Hoyt later moved to Connecticut.

Samuel Jackson was in Scituate by 25 Mar 1638 when his daughter Anna “who was born two or three years before” was baptized by Rev. John Lothropp. Samuel and Hester Sealis, daughter of Richard Sealis, were married in Scituate 20 Nov 1639. Jackson was listed as a freeman in Barnstable, 1641. The family returned to Scituate by 1647.

Edward Jenkins, servant of Nathaniel Tilden, came with him on the ship Hercules in March 1634/5. He lived at the harbor where he later received a license for an ordinary. Jenkins married Lettice (Hanford) Foster, widow of Edward Foster and niece of Timothy Hatherly.

George Kendrick/Kennerick, planter, freeman, 1635. On 6 Jan 1635 he was granted a five acre lot on Third Cliff, bounded on the south by John Hanmer, on the north by William Dauckings. 6 Sept 1636 he was granted a five acre parcel, the second lot on the south side of the drift way adjoining to the south side of Nathaniel Tilden’s lot, bounded on the east by the highway called Kent Street, Daniel Standlake’s lot on the south and Isaac Stedman’s lot on the north.

Thomas King from Essex, England traveled to Scituate with William Vassall, 1635 he was appointed elder of the second church (South Scituate) 1642/3 his house lot was at Belle House Neck near Mr. Vassall’s he also owned land at Rotten Marsh.

Thomas Lapham died before 1650. He was a servant to Nathaniel Tilden and arrived in Scituate in 1634/5 on the ship Hercules from Sandwich, Kent. He married Mary Tilden, Nathaniel’s daughter.

Jarvis Large, servant to “Goody” Hinckley. Died early - buried in Scituate 9 Aug 1636.

Henry Lazell was mentioned in John Lothropp’s church records 20 Nov 1637 as “confessing his failures. toward William Tillden.”

George Lewis /Lewes, clothier, of Staplehurst, Kent, was a freeman in 1636. On 10 April 1635 he was granted a four acre house lot on Kent Street, the first south of Meetinghouse Lane. Removed to Barnstable, 1639.

John Lewis/Lewes, butcher and innkeeper of Tenterden, Kent and a freeman of Scituate by 1637, was on the ship Hercules with the Tilden group. On the 20th of June, 1635 he was granted the fourth lot on the south side of the drift way adjoining the south side of Nathaniel Tilden’s lot. It was bounded by Daniel Standlake on the north and George Lewis’s lot on the south.

“One Linckes” - Lothropp noted that he was “slain by a bow of a tree in ye cutting downe of the tree, March 6, and buryed in the way by John Emmersonn’s House neere Goodman [John] Stockbridge.” He was buried 10 Mar 1637. John Emerson and John Stockbridge owned adjoining land on Third Cliff.

Robert Linnet/Linnell was the brother-in-law by marriage to Rev. John Lothropp. He and his second wife Peninah (House/Howes) Linnell were in Scituate by 1638. Prior to their marriage they were members of Lothropp’s Southwark congregation in England and were part of the group which removed to Barnstable, 1639.

Barnard Lombard/Lumbard was born in Dorset, England and was one of the early settlers of Dorchester in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He joined the Scituate church 19 April 1635 was appointed a freeman, 1636/7. His house is listed in the Lothropp records as the fourteenth, built before October, 1636. It was on a four acre lot located on the Green Field, bounded on the north by Samuel Fuller, Hoyt’s lot on the south, with a highway crossing the lot. Lombard removed to Barnstable, 1639.

Rev. John Lothropp/Lothrop or Lathrop, pastor of the First Church in Scituate, was baptized in Etton, Yorkshire. Originally an Anglican priest who became the pastor of Henry Jacob’s Independent Congregation in Southwark, Surrey, he was banished from England after being released from jail in London and arrived in Scituate with some of his children 27 September 1634. Lothropp’s house at the harbor, built by October, 1636, was the tenth built in Scituate he sold it to Richard Sealis in 1640. Lothropp was also granted other land which included a farm on the Driftway where he probably built the fifty-first house by September 26, 1637, as recorded in his notes. He and his family removed to Barnstable, arriving there 20 Oct 1639.

Henry Merritt, planter, was in Scituate before 1639. His house lot was on the Driftway.

William Parker took the oath of allegiance in Scituate, 1638 married Mary Rawlins, daughter of Thomas Rawlins, in 1639. He and his second wife Mary Turner, daughter of Humphrey Turner, were fined five pounds “for entertaining a strange Quaker called Wenlocke” in 1660. William Perry/Perie - by 1638 he owned land in Scituate abutting upland of William Betts, east of “the King’s hieway.”

Thomas Pinchin/Pincin was chosen as an arbitrator in a difference about a “parcell of fence” lying on Third Cliff. A descendant later owned land in the Maple Street area on the hill which bears the family name.

Abraham Preble, from Kent, England, was in Scituate before 1639 as he witnessed a deed from John Emerson to Nathaniel Tilden dated 10 Oct of that year. (PCLR 1:103) Preble married Judith Tilden, daughter of Nathaniel. Moved to Georgiana (York) Maine around 1642.

Thomas Prior/Pryor was buried in Scituate 22 Jun 1639. His will dated 21 June 1639 was witnessed by John Winter, Joseph Tilden, William Crocker and George Kennerick. Two sons of Thomas, John and Daniel, both baptized in Hertfordshire, were in Scituate by 1635, having sailed on the ship Hopewell 11 Sept 1635. In that year John was 15, Daniel, 13. Daniel was in Barnstable by 1641.

Thomas Rawlins, planter, carpenter and housewright, first settled in Roxbury in the Bay Colony. He bought Anthony Annable’s dwelling house lying on the northeast side of First Herring Brook in 1639 and purchased another 100 acres of upland and marsh on First Herring Brook and the North River from Annable in 1642. (PCLR 1:82). His daughter Mary married William Parker daughter Joanna married Ephraim Kempton [Jr.]

Isaac Robinson, son of John Robinson, pastor of the Mayflower Pilgrims, was born in Leiden, Holland. He was a freeman by 1636 and removed to Barnstable, 1639. After 27 Jun 1636 he and Margaret Hanford, niece of Timothy Hatherly, were married in Scituate. Robinson was granted property on the south side of The Driftway.

Henry Rowlee/Rowley moved from Plymouth to Scituate in 1633 listed as a freeman by 1634. Rowley was allotted the third lot on the south side of the stony (Satuit) brook where his house was the fifth built as recorded by Lothropp. It was bounded on the north by William Gilson, south by Humphrey Turner. Rowley married Mrs. Ann Blossom, widow of Thomas Blossom and mother of Elizabeth and Thomas Blossom. She was among those dismissed from the church at Plymouth in 1634. The Rowleys removed to Barnstable, 1639.

Richard Sealis/Sillis was a freeman, 1636/7. and a resident of Scituate by 15 Dec 1637, when he married Eglin Hanford/Handford, sister of Timothy Hatherly. By deed dated 28 Dec 1640 Rev. John Lothropp sold Sealis his five acre lot north of the brook where Lothropp’s dwelling house and “one outhouse thereto belonging,” were located bounded on the north by Eglin Hanford, on the south by Thomas Ensign, east with the common foot path from the stony (Satuit) brook to the Harbor’s mouth. (PCLR 1:71) According to the Lothropp records, he had also acquired the thirty-eighth house built by Edward Fitzrandolph before 1639.

Robert Shelley and his wife Judith Garnett from Boston were married by Mr. Hatherly in Scituate, 26 Sep 1636. He built the 39th house between 1636 and 1637 and removed to Barnstable in 1639.

“The Smith’s” are entered in the Lothropp records as building a house before October, 1636 identified by Rev. Lothropp as “Goodman Haits brother.” As noted in Anderson’s “The Great Migration,” Lothropp may have been referring to an occupation and not a specific family.

Daniel Standlake/Standley was a freeman in 1636 his house lot was on Kent Street, near the Driftway. His death is entered in the Lothropp notes - “Goodman Standley was buried in Scituate 7th May 1638.”

Isack Stedman was in Scituate by 1636 when he built the twenty-sixth house he owned land in the vicinity of First Herring Brook next to that of Edward Foster’s, later George Russell’s. Stedman and his wife were covenanted members of the church who remained in Scituate after the Lothropp group left they later removed to Boston.

Robert Stetson/Studson appears to have been a resident of Scituate by 1639 as the birth of his son Joseph is recorded in the Town’s vital records in June of that year.

John Stockbridge, wheelwright, possibly of Essex, England, his wife Ann and son Charles, age 1, were passengers with William Vassall on the ship Blessing which arrived in New England in July, 1635. He bought part of the mill at Greenbush, had land on Third Cliff and later was one of the Conihassett Partners. Lothropp lists him as building the twenty-fifth house in 1636.

George Sutton was a servant of Nathaniel Tilden’s who arrived on the ship Hercules in 1634/5. He married Sarah Tilden, Nathaniel’s daughter. Sutton lived on Greenfield Lane where he built the forty-third house by 1636. After converting to the Quaker faith George and his family moved to North Carolina where he died in 1669. His son Joseph “of Corralinah” testified that “my mother Sarah Sutton did Receive in Corralinah. £5 in full of a legacy from my grandfather, Mr. Timothy Haterly. ” (PCLR3:2:306)

Nathaniel Tilden, gentleman, of Tenterden, Kent, came to New England with his wife Lydia, seven children and seven servants on the ship Hercules in March, 1634/5. Lothropp recorded that Mr. Tilden had built the 20th house by October 1636. Tilden was appointed ruling elder of the First Church in Scituate, 1635 died before 6 Sept 1641, when his will was presented for probate. His widow Lydia married Timothy Hatherly.

Sarah Tinker/Tynkler was one of the members of the church who remained in Scituate after the Lothropp group left.

Humphrey Turner, tanner, possibly born in Essex, England, was allotted the fourth house lot south of the stony (Satuit) brook where he built the sixth house constructed in Scituate he also had a farm on the Driftway near the Colman Hills. Turner was one of the seventeen organizers of the church in Scituate under Mr. Lothropp, 1634/5.

John Twisden was a freeman by 1639. He purchased Isaac Robinson’s farm southeast of the Colman Hills moved to Georgiana (York, Maine) around 1645.

William Vassall of Stepney, Middlesex, England, merchant, age 42, was a passenger on the ship Blessing which arrived in New England by July, 1635. A few of the other passengers were Thomas King, age 21, Jo: Stockbridge, age 27, Ann Stockbridge, age 21 and Sara Tynkler, age 15. Vassall was granted 150 acres on Belle House Neck by the Plymouth Colony Court in 1638 and was one of the founders of the second church (South Scituate) he died at Barbados in 1655. The Lothrop records note that he was the first person to join the Scituate church “in our new meeting house, Nov 28, 1636.” Vassall’s daughter Judith Vassall, age 16, was also a passenger on the Blessing. She married Resolved White and was one of the original members of the second church (South Scituate).

Stephen Vinal, possibly from Kent, England, appears to have been in Scituate around 1636/7 when, according to the Lothropp notes, “Goodman” Vinal acquired the house built by Henry Cobb. Stephen was proposed as a freeman, 1638/39 and possibly died around that time as no one by this name is shown on the 1643 ATBA list of men from Scituate between the ages of sixteen and sixty. Anna (nee Vridge?) Vinal was possibly his wife. Records of St. George’s Church. Benenden, Kent, include the baptisms of Martha, daughter of Stephen Vyneall, 10 Aug 1627, and Steven, son of Steven Vynall 28 Nov 1630. and John Vinall, son of Stephen baptized in the neighbouring parish of Biddenden 30 Mar 1634.

Nicholas Wade, in later years a tavern keeper, was in Scituate by 1638 when he took the oath of fidelity. He married Elizabeth Hanford, niece of Timothy Hatherly.

Isack Wells took the oath of fidelity in Scituate Feb 1, 1638/9 he was in Barnstable by 1639.

John Whiston was a servant to Timothy Hatherly. He married Susanna Hanford, Timothy Hatherly’s niece.

Gowin White, servant to Timothy Hatherly, and Elizabeth Ward (she may have been a ward of Timothy Hatherly) were married in Scituate by Mr. Ginnings (Jenkins) 15 Oct 1638 their house lot was at the harbor, the fifth north of the stony (Satuit) brook.

George Willerd/Willard took the oath of fidelity, 1638 he was punished in 1641 for protesting against paying rates for religious purposes.

John Williams was listed as a freeman in Scituate by 1639 but his name is not included in the list of house builders as recorded by Lothropp from 1634 to Oct 1639. Williams and his son John Williams, Jr. were possibly “squatters” who farmed at Cedar Point which was part of Timothy Hatherly’s Conihasset Grant.

Richard Wills/Willes of Plymouth, bought the house and land of George Lewis, 1639/40.

William Wills/Willes was married in Plymouth on the 4th or 5th day of Sept 1638 to Luce (___) as listed by John Lothropp in his Scituate records. Wills bought what was then called “Long or Tongue Island” in the North River from John Cooper in 1639. (PCLR 1:96) The island is now known as Wills Island.

John Winchester of Hingham, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Hannah Syllice/Sealis, daughter of Richard Sealis, were married in Scituate 15 Oct 1638 by “Maister Ginings” (Jenkins). Winchester does not seem to have owned land in Scituate - he and his family later moved to Muddy River (Brookline) in the Bay Colony.

Christopher Winter, planter from Somerset, England, was in Scituate by 1638. He owned land on Third Cliff purchased from George Bower which he sold in 1640 to John Whitcombe. (PCLR I:58) He also purchased twenty acres on the north side of Second Cliff from Thomas Tart who bought it from Anthony Annable.

John Winter, born in Somerset, England, possibly a brother of Christopher Winter was in Scituate by 1638. He owned land near First Herring Brook which he sold to Humphrey Johnson before 1650.

Walter Woodworth was in Scituate by 20 Feb 1634 as he was named as an abutter in a grant of land to Anthony Annable at First Herring Brook. On 10 Oct 1634 a four acre lot, the third lot on the south side of Meeting House Lane, was allotted to him.

Anderson, Robert Charles. “The Great Migration Begins, 1620-1633” 3 Vols. NEHGS Boston, 1995>

Anderson, Robert Charles Sanborn, George F. Sanborn, Melinde Lutz. “The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635.” NEHGS Boston, 1999-2005

Bangs, Jeremy Dupertuis. “The Seventeenth Century Town Records of Scituate Massachusetts” 3 Vols. NEHGS. Boston. 1997-2001.

Collard, Mrs Julia, Hon Archivist, St. George's Church, Benenden, Kent, UK

Deane, Samuel. “History of Scituate, Massachusetts from Its First Settlement to 1831.” J. Loring, Boston. 1831.

McConnell. Dan R. “The Roots of the Ancient Congregational Church in London, Scituate, and Barnstable, Rev. John Lothropp, Minister” Cape Cod Genealogical Society Bulletin, Fall 2008.

New England Historic and Genealogical Society. Vital Records of Massachusetts to the Year 1850.

Charge of the Eddy Town-Record Fund. Boston, Mass., 1909 (various towns)

New England Historical and Genealogical Register "Abstracts of the Earliest Wills in the Probate Office, Plymouth," Vol. 4, 1850, 33-36,173-174,280-284,319-320 Vol. 5, 1851, 259-262,335-338,385-388 Vol.6, 1852, 93-96, 185-188.

New England Historical and Genealogical Register “Scituate and Barnstable Church Records” Vol.9, 1855, 279 Vol.10, 1856, 37

New England Historical and Genealogical Register “The Sutton Family” Vol. 91, 1937, pp 61-68 Pulsifer, David, Ed.

“Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, Deeds, etc. Vol.1, 1620-1651”

Press of William White. Boston. 1861 Shurtleff, Nathaniel B., Ed.

“Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, Court Orders. Vol. I.” Press of William White. Boston. 1855.

Stratton, Eugene Aubrey. “Plymouth Colony Its History & People 1620-1691” Ancestry Publishing. 1986


Henry Vassall House (1746)

The oldest part of the Henry Vassall House, on Brattle Street in Cambridge, may date to as early as 1636, although the date usually given today is 1746. In that year, the property was sold by John Vassall Sr., who had purchased it in 1737, to his younger brother Henry Vassall. John Vassall’s son, Maj. John Vassall, built the nearby Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House. Henry Vassall was a loyalist at the time of the Revolutionary War and the Vassall House is one of several homes belonging to loyalists along the section of Brattle Street known as Tory Row. These homes were either sold by their owners or seized during the Revolution. Vassall had died in 1769 and in 1775, his widow, Penelope Royall Vassall, fled to Boston and then to her estates in Antigua. According to the Historic Guide to Cambridge (1907):

“Just before sailing Madam Vassall petitioned the Provincial Congress, then sitting at Watertown, that she might be allowed to take with her some of her effects. Congress permitted her to take anything that she wanted except “provisions and her medicine chest.” The estate was not confiscated, as it belonged to a widow who had taken no active part against the patriots.”


John Vassall II

American Loyalist, shown as of Cambridge, New England in 1771, but dying in England. He had inherited Newfound estate in Hanover from John Vassall I, almost certainly his father, as a minor before 1757.

Born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, 12/06/1738. Married Elizabeth, sister of Lieut.Gov. Thomas Oliver, 12/01/1761. Died 24/09/1797 at Clifton, England. Boarded with his guardian, Spencer Phips, from his father's death in 1747 until around 1754. Attended Harvard University in the 1750s. Moved to Boston 1774 and sailed for England 1776. Obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine stated: "He had a very considerable fortune in America, where he lived in princely style. Some time after the disturbances took place, having taken a very active part and spared no expense to support the royal cause, he left his possessions there to the ravagers, and having fortunately very large possessions in Jamaica, he came with his family to England." Lived alternately at Chatley Lodge, Wiltshire, and Bath.

Will of John Vassall of Bath Somerset [made in 1794] proved 05/01/1798. Under the will he left £4000 to his daughter Mary [he had previously settled £4000 on his daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Eustacius LeMaistre charged on his Newfound estate in Hanover], and his real estate in trust (his trustees were his wife Elizabeth and the London merchants John Wedderburn and David Webster), for his wife to have for her life his house in Brunswick Place, Bath and (subject to the prior charges) an annuity of £600 p.a. and his sons to have annuities of £200 p.a. (John), £100 p.a. (Spencer Thomas, Thomas Oliver and Robert). He divided his residuary estate between his fours sons in the portions 2/5th (John) 1/5th 1/5th 1/5th.

Sources

Charles Maclear Calder, John Vassall and his descendants (1921) pp. 23-25.


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