Archives and sources

I was now combining my reading with research in the Kent archives.  We are lucky in Kent in having both the County Archive, at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone, and the Canterbury Cathedral Archive, set behind the cloisters at the cathedral.

The Kent History and Library Centre has a modern, purpose-built archive and reading room, fully (and sometimes fiercely) air-conditioned. You need a Kent Library ticket and some extra ID to gain access, and desks should be booked in advance. They have an online catalogue, so that you can choose and order documents in advance, too. The variety of documents is enormous.  Some that I used for my research follow:

Wills and probate inventories.

Wills tell us about the testator’s family, friends, where he lived, sometimes his occupation and wealth (I say ‘he’ here deliberately, as few women in the 17th century made wills). They can also tell us about his religious beliefs, as most start with the bequest of the immortal soul and wat in which this is worded reflects the personal beliefs of the testator. For example, George Baker, who died in Hythe in 1601 used the words ‘I recommend my soul unto the hands of Almighty God from whom I hope for salvation only by the merits of his son Jesus Christ’ .  He is saying that he believes in justification through faith alone,  which indicates that he was true to the teachings of the Church of England at that time (I will come back to this later).   

Inventories were taken for probate purposes until the eighteenth century and tell us what possessions the deceased had.  They are useful for building up a picture of how people lived.  A labourer who died in 1647, for example, had in the two rooms of his house:

A flock bed, 2 blankets, 2 old rugs, 3 shirts, a tablecloth, a napkin, a pillow case, 3 towels,  3 cheesecloths, an old trunk, 1 stewpot, 1 warming pan, an iron pot, a candlestick, 1 table, 1 press, 2 spits, 1 andiron, 1 frypan, pair tongs, a philch and a half of bacon, 2 bills and a hatchet, small pieces of pewter, a bread trough, 4 pails, a shovel, and a mattock.

A wealthier man like Thomas Browning who died in 1639 , a had many more rooms and many more possessions.  Thomas had  several feather beds (mattresses) instead of lumpy flock made of waste wool;  linen cupboards and presses; a smoothing iron; carpets (for hanging on the wall to keep the draughts out, not for putting on the floor); silver spoons, a looking-glass, a bible and four other books. From this we can determine that he was literate in that he could read, but he could not necessarily write much. It depended on how long he stayed at school, as reading was taught first and writing later in the curriculum.

Local government

Local government has always produced reams of paper and the seventeenth century was no exception. What survives from the minutes, accounts and records of court cases  is largely a matter of chance.  The Hythe records are patchy, but I was delighted to find further references to the non-existent Minister, William Wallace, when in 1649 the Hythe jurats awarded him £10 a year, as he was poor and was ‘a well-deserving man’.

It is also useful to see how local government interpreted the edicts of parliament and the monarch.

Property transactions

These sound, and often are, dull, but they can shed some light on who was buying and selling, their occupations, how contracts were drawn up, and on the physical layout of the town. After examining several documents, I managed to work out where the Bowling Green in Hythe lay (only to discover, weeks later, an unpublished History of Bowling in Hythe, where the author had done exactly the same thing. There is so much unpublished research out there…).

Canterbury Cathedral Archive is charming. Built in the style of a Victorian reading room, complete with galleries, it is accessed via the cloisters at the Cathedral. A County Archive Research Network (CARN) card is required. They also have an online catalogue, but fewer desks, so booking is absolutely essential.  The chairs are especially comfy.

The archive has an eclectic range of material, not just church records, including records of land disputes, marriage settlements and some Cinque Ports documents. These last include a Quaker petition against the Mayor of Hythe. Apparently in one Sunday in 1655, George Rofe, a Quaker, went to Hythe church as the morning service was ending and stood in front of the pulpit. The mayor said ‘take away this fellow’ and the congregation, or rather as Rofe puts it ‘a multitude’  ‘laid hands on the said George striking him with their fists and kicking him and throwing him down the steps’ . Today Quakers are known as pacifists; then they were regarded as dangerous blasphemers and it is likely that one of the reasons George was so badly treated was because, like all Quakers, he kept his hat on in the church. The etiquette of when a man should wear a hat and when he should uncover was crucial in seventeeth century interactions at every level.

Of the church records, ‘Ecclesiastical Causes’ are most interesting, as these courts dealt with offences such as adultery, scolding, riotous living, bastardy, drinking on the Sabbath, non-attendance at church and contested wills. They are, however, written in Latin, though the judgement is in English.

Other Archives

There are relevant documents in archives outside the county, too. The National Archive in Kew has the Customs records for Hythe; the British Library some early books with local relevance; Lambeth Palace Library has more details of monies paid to William Wallace; The Bodleian Library has a copy of a 1648 petition, signed by Hythe jurats, calling for the King to be executed ( Everitt says the signatures are probably forged, but provides no evidence of this); the House of Lords Archive has the Protestation Returns for Shepway Lathe in 1642 (the closest thing we have to a census for the period); and, improbably, in Staffordshire County Record Office, some records of the Cinque Ports, which were retained by Lord Cobham, an early seventeenth century Lord Warden, and are now in his family papers.



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