William Strickland: The man who gave us the turkey dinner

By Stuart Harratt
BBC News, Hull

  • Published
Carved turkey lectern
Image caption,
The church features a carved turkey lectern in place of the traditional eagle

As the UK sits down for its Christmas lunch some may wonder how the turkey, a bird native to the Americas, became the centrepiece of our festive meal?

The popular story is that we owe the introduction of the turkey into England to William Strickland, who lived in East Yorkshire.

It is said that Strickland acquired six turkeys by trading with Native Americans while on an early voyage to America in 1526.

He brought the birds back and sold them in Bristol market for tuppence each.

Strickland is said to have continued in the turkey trade and is reputed to have made so much money that he was able to build a stately home in Boynton, near Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

The current owner of Boynton Hall is Richard Marriott, a descendant of Strickland.

Mr Marriott is still looking for firm evidence of his ancestor's role in bringing the bird to England. He hopes that newly discovered family documents, found in Canada, might shed more light on the story.

"Unfortunately, there is no real proof that he was the original man who brought the turkey into England," he said.

"He is reputed to have sailed with one of the Cabots out of Bristol, but unfortunately we cannot make the facts fit the story.

"I am sure there must be something there which links him more positively with the story of the turkey but it is very, very difficult to pin down a provable historical fact."

Strickland seemed keen to promote the story, adopting the turkey as the family crest in 1550.

The drawing of his coat-of-arms, held at the College of Arms in London, is thought to be the first depiction of the bird in Europe.

The village church, in which William Strickland is buried, is adorned with images of turkeys. It has stone sculptures on the walls, stained-glass windows and a carved lectern.

Newly-rich Strickland became a member of Parliament in the reign of Elizabeth I. He was a strict Puritan and acquired the nickname of "Strickland the Stinger" for the ferocity of his debating style in the House of Commons.

Mr Marriott believes that this hard-line approach to politics and his religion made Strickland adopt the turkey as his own.

"I believe that William wanting to prove himself to be a new man took a new bird, from the New World as his crest."

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