Essential Wessex: Sir John Popham

Sr John Popham (1531-1607) was a notorious hanging judge who also served as MP for Lyme Regis and then Bristol, and as speaker of the House of Commons. He was noted for his harsh sentences, particularly towards thieves.

In 1595, Popham was appointed Lord Chief Justice, a position he held until his death 12 years later. In this capacity, he presided over the trials of Guy Fawkes and the other Gunpowder Plotters, of Mary Queen of Scots, and of Sir Walter Raleigh when he was arrested for treason in 1603 for his part in the Main Plot against James I.

Popham was the main funder of the Popham Colony in Wabenakik, North America, near the present-day town of Phippsburg, Maine. His nephew George was the president of the colony, and several sites in the area still bear the Popham name to this day.

He lies buried at St John the Baptist Church in Wellington, where there is an 18-foot, free-standing monument to him (see photo above). He was the owner of Wellington House, and also Littlecote House in Berkshire, which became the family seat after Wellington House was destroyed in the Civil War.

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