The Middling Sort – Part Four

Given the potential pitfalls, it is unsurprising that the office of jurat was not universally sought after. Once a man had paid to become a freeman, and been sworn in as a jurat, he was expected to devote time to meetings, tax gathering, overseeing works and acting as a J.P., all to the detriment of  earning his livelihood, and was often  required to undertake  work such as mending the sea wall or to lend money to an impecunious corporation.

Sometimes it all got too much. The cutting, or re-cutting of the haven was a recurring expense, as it silted up over and over again. In 1656, in what was almost their last attempt to save it, the corporation ordered that cutting work should start again, and valiantly offered their own money to kick start the project. The offers were generous, from Mr Weller’s five pounds to John Browning’s five shillings, but we are indebted to the town chamberlain of the moment, John Handfield, for writing a note in the margin of the minutes:  ‘Of these sums there was never a penny ever paid’.  Instead, later in the year, the mayor went cap in hand to the townsfolk to ask for voluntary contributions. It was not enough. The workmen who had done the work had not been paid and the corporation were bailed out by two of the senior jurats, both also successful businessmen, the Bassett brothers, Elias and Ferdinando.

The possibility of financial penalty for maladministration even if it was involuntary, was always there. Michael Sprott, a former mayor who had also acted as chamberlain, was fined because when in the latter position he had bought, on behalf of the corporation, match for the militia’s muskets which turned out to be useless. He could not pay the fine, so the corporation seized his goods, in the form of two silver salts and two silver spoons.  One wonders how Mrs Sprott received the news.

Then there was the saga of the escaped prisoner (yes, another one).

In 1618 Edward Harward escaped from the prison. He had been put there at the suit of Lawrence Baker of Old Romney, to whom he owed a considerable sum, over ninety-two pounds. After his escape, Harward sensibly disappeared. The corporation blamed the negligence of Michael Prowde, the town gaoler.  Baker then sued the corporation instead for his money. The corporation refused to pay and Baker took his case to the Court of Chancery.  They said the escape was not the fault of the gaoler, but had been caused by the negligence of the mayor at the time, William Knight, and that he should pay the debt owing to Baker. He refused to pay up, too. At this point in the story, Edward Harward reappeared and said he only escaped to avoid starvation, and asked that the cause be settled by arbitration.

It was not to be.  In 1622, William Knight died and, as the corporation minutes devoutly put it ‘it has pleased God to free Mr. Knight from payment’. The debt, they opined, was personal and had perished along with Mr Knight.  Unfortunately they were wrong, and later that year, four years after the escape, they reluctantly stumped up a reduced amount of thirty-seven pounds.

Occasionally, and understandably, men sometimes refused to take civic office. In 1625 John Hall was called to be freeman but said he would rather leave the town than serve. John Knight said if the town wanted to be rid of his company they only had to make him a freeman. In 1654 Richard Grenland applied for his freedom, and after some debate was asked to pay ten shillings, half the usual fee, but he said it was too much ‘and went away saying if he must pay so much he would go away a good deal freer than he came’.  Some who were rich enough paid not to be freemen:  William Deedes paid ten pounds in 1633, but was later persuaded to accept the honour and seven years later was mayor.

John Gately, a blacksmith, found another way. In May 1614 the Corporation appointed him guardian of Alice Hempsted, a six-year-old orphan who had inherited lands and money. He would have the profits of renting out the land and the interest on the money until she was of age, and would be exempt from payment of local taxes, to the corporation and the church, and from serving as an officer of the town. Of course, he paid for this an undisclosed sum, but he it would seem that for him it was a fair bargain.

 The other public service required of the middling sort was the office of churchwarden. This, like the office of jurat, was not necessarily eagerly sought after. It involved attending the bishop’s annual visitation to present the parish registers, maintaining charitable bequests, keeping church accounts and keeping the church in good repair. Churchwardens also had to keep records of those who did not attend church, collect non-attendance fines, and denounce those who were frequenting ale-houses during the time of divine service.

Attending an Anglican church every Sunday was not an option, or a matter of individupooal conscience, it was a legal requirement. If you did not go, and had no reasonable excuse, such as ill health, you would be reported by the churchwarden to the ecclesiastical courts, presented there and fined a shilling for each non-attendance. Thomas Stroghill, Hythe’s churchwarden in 1602, had no hesitation in denouncing his own servant, John, to the court.

Churchwardens also presented wrong-doers to the church courts for other offences, either drawn from personal knowledge or from information provided by parishioners. These could include slander, adultery or fornication before marriage.  The accused was summoned to the court in Canterbury to answer the charge.  He or she had to attend or be excommunicated. If found guilty, he would be liable to a penance or fine. If this was not fulfilled, he would be excommunicated – not the great punishment of the Middle Ages, but a lesser excommunication which meant he could not enter a church. This was a distinct disadvantage if a man or woman wanted to marry, and the church served up a double whammy by fining the excommunicant for non-attendance as well.

The penance, if imposed, would be arranged by the churchwarden. In 1675, Frances Bridgeman, daughter of a chimneysweep, who had been made pregnant by Abbott Terry, a jurat and gentleman, came to the church of St Leonard’s clothed in a white sheet and carrying a white wand in her hand. She stood before the congregation for the whole of Morning Prayer and then repented her sin.

 Whereas I Frances Bridgeman by the temptation of Satan and frailty of mind have highly offended almighty God and scandalised and given evil example to good people by committing the terrible sin of fornication with Abbott Terry late of Hythe aforesaid, gentleman, I do now penitently acknowledge and confess my hearty and unfeigned sorrow for the same, heartily begging pardon thereof from almighty God and of you.  

The words ‘late of Hythe’ are apposite. Abbott Terry, ‘gentleman’ so-called, had left Hythe in a hurry. Frances defiantly named her son after him.

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The Perils of Public Office

Life might have provided some luxuries for the middling sort, but the other side of the coin was that it fell upon them to provide most of the composition of the corporation and its various offices.  Gentlemen, too, played a part, but there were far fewer of them.  Hythe corporation  had a mayor and deputy mayor, up to twelve jurats; up to twenty-four commoners, a chamberlain (treasurer),  a town clerk, the warden of St Bartholomew’s Hospital;  a constable; two leather searchers; two market searchers, two flesh searchers,  the town sergeant, the mayor’s sergeant; the chamberlain and an attorney. The mayor was chosen annually from the jurats, who were themselves chosen from the common council composed of the freemen. Men became freemen either because their father was a freeman, or because they had married the eldest daughter of a freeman or by invitation and paying the asking price, usually about twenty shillings. The other posts were filled by the jurats and freemen, except that of attorney, who was legally qualified and employed on a retainer. Acting as a jurat was a double-edged sword.  Prestige was the principal reward, especially if one became mayor, but a reputation could be forever sullied if it became known or was believed that one had abused that authority. The jurats were amateurs at government, with many temptations to take advantage of their situation and little in the way of guidance to avoid pitfalls. It could be an explosive combination.

Honour and reputation were important and dismissal could mean ruin. In the early 1620s an ugly situation developed between Thomas Browning and David Gorham, both jurats, but of very different backgrounds. The Brownings were gentlemen; Thomas’s uncles had been mayors, his sister had married into the influential Tournay family of Saltwood, and in 1620 Thomas started his own campaign to become mayor by wining and dining his colleagues, an unsubtle tactic which did not go unnoticed by his opponents. Nevertheless, it proved successful, and he became mayor in 1621, and again in 1625. In the meantime, David Gorham, a fisherman, had been made mayor in 1623. He was the Cinque Ports Bailiff to Yarmouth in the year of Browning’s second term of office and created mayor again himself in 1626. However, that year Browning trumped him by being selected to be one of the Cinque Ports ‘barons’ to carry the canopy at the coronation of Charles 1 in March.

The beginning of 1627 saw Browning’s downfall. He was dismissed as jurat ‘for divers misdemeanours and for telling the secrets especially about the election and choosing our burgesses to Parliament and telling lies about them many times in a gross and ill manner’. This was uncompromising language, and Browning had no intention of letting it pass.  He petitioned anyone and everyone he knew, starting with the Lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir John Hippisley, who passed the matter up to the Duke of Buckingham. The corporation were required to explain themselves. While awaiting a decision, Browning took his case to the Cinque Ports’ Brotherhood and Guestling – and won his suit. They judged that the case against him was ‘weak and feeble’ and ordered that the corporation and Browning ‘reconcile themselves’ and reinstate him.  However, in 1628, the Lord Warden concluded that the real reason for Browning’s dismissal was ‘his contemptuous behaviour towards Mr Gorham’.

That has the ring of truth. Twenty five years earlier, another gentleman, Ambrose Warde (later mayor of Hythe himself) had taken a similarly arrogant attitude towards the mayor of New Romney, a tradesman. During a court hearing he deliberately jostled him and commented ‘in skoffynge wise’ and loud enough for all to hear that any pedlar or butcher could be mayor of New Romney.

Whatever their station in life, jurats were expected to maintain high standards in their personal lives. In 1662, Peter Philpott was dismissed as a Hythe jurat.  for ‘begetting a bastard child and other misdemeanours well known to this assembly’. Since the facts of this case were incontrovertible, Philpott stayed dismissed.

The jurats’ amateurism could also land them in hot water. As a Cinque Port, Hythe had, among other privileges, the right to any vessel, goods or fish washed ashore within the port’s jurisdiction. In February 1656, when the corporation was flat broke, it seemed that fortune had smiled on them by providing just such a gift: a Dunkerque sloop, on a mission to seize English ships, was driven onshore by the English navy and its captain and crew arrested. The fleet sailed off westward, leaving the prisoners in Hythe, where, almost inevitably, given the town’s record in this area, they escaped. They were recaptured and sent to Dover Castle (where the Lieutenant had no idea what to do with them). Not missing a trick, Hythe corporation asked the Lord Warden to reimburse them for the cost of keeping the prisoners and then seized the sloop, which had been abandoned on the beach, for the town.

A couple of months later, they sold the sloop to some of the jurats, on condition that they did not sell it on to any ‘foreigners’ ie anyone who did not live in Hythe. The jurats failed to find a local buyer, so the corporation gave them permission to offer it to all comers, which resulted in a sale a few months later. The jurats had promised to give any profits to the town, but found that after their expenses in the matter were taken into account that the total profit was exactly two pounds, fifteen shillings and tuppence

Even this slender profit was to be challenged when the sale came to the attention of the naval authorities, who were of the opinion that the sloop did not belong to Hythe at all, presumably because it was not, strictly speaking, a wreck. An emergency conference was held at the home of the mayor, Michael Lushington, attended by everyone who had been involved in the sale, and the hapless mayor was despatched to London to plead with Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, on the town’s behalf. Cromwell may have listened, as no action was taken immediately, but the navy was not so easily discouraged, and in 1661 Hythe corporation paid to the Commander of the Navy an undisclosed sum in compensation.

It was a hard lesson, but one well learned. The next time a ship washed up on the beach, in 1692, the town clerk, Thomas Tournay, prudently went to Dover to the Admiralty Court to check the situation. The ship, the Dorothea of Stockholm, was wrecked above the low water mark and Tournay asserted the town’s right to it but the court considered it was not a wreck at all, as its crew had been saved. Another disaster for the corporation was, however, averted.

The Middling Sort – Part Two

The houses the middling sort  lived in were, some of them, like the modified hall house described earlier, with a hall and parlour downstairs and stairs to the upper chambers.  If the chimney was centrally placed, visitors could be shown either to the hall or to the parlour, and it could help support a staircase. Glazing was becoming affordable, and dormer windows were introduced to utilise roof spaces more efficiently. In more modest houses, there were fewer rooms of specialised use and rarely more than one chamber for sleeping. First floor rooms might be reached by a ladder rather than a staircase well until well into the century.  Not all the hall houses in Hythe had been converted by the early seventeenth century. In 1625, John Banbury, a carpenter, was leased a house by the corporation on condition that he built a chimney and flue in brick, with fireplaces in two rooms.

Most houses were completely or largely wooden, with oak favoured.  Wattle and daub was used to infill between the timbers, but by the seventeenth century exteriors were being improved. Sometimes brick was used to enclose a timber structure and the use of weatherboarding and tiling increased.

Houses were also workshops, places of manufacture, offices, warehouses and retail shops. Almost the whole of trade was small scale and domestic, although from inventories we can tell that domestic quarters were separate from workshops.  In seventeenth century Hythe there was no commuting to work unless you were a fisherman.

Some houses had gardens, but often these had been used for building a cottage or two to rent out. Those householders who found themselves without a garden often leased one elsewhere to grow vegetables for the kitchen, like Robert Foster, a fisherman who kept a garden at the back of the ‘George’ inn (now the ‘King’s Head’). Some had small orchards too. There was also a physick garden maintained by John Jacob, which supplied the town’s physicians with the herbs they needed for their remedies – perhaps pennyroyal for vertigo, burdock for flatulence, fleabane for itchy bites, pennywort for bladder complaints, or rue, for almost anything. Jacob also diversified with land ownership on the Romney Marsh ‘which he manures with sheep and some other land he sows with flax’.  Flax needs soaking, or retting, before it can be used to make linen.  Jacob unwisely chose the town ditch in which to ret his, blocking it and causing a terrible stink, metaphorically and literally.

The universal presence of timber and thatch combined with the use of fire for domestic cooking and heating resulted in a huge fire risk. In 1655 the corporation issued a decree against carrying fire in an uncovered container. If a household fire went out, the simplest way to get it alight again was to fetch a burning log or coal in a bucket from a neighbour, rather like borrowing a cup of sugar.  This resulted, as the corporation minutes eloquently put it, in the ‘sad spectacle of God’s judgement upon several places by the Rage and Power of that unmerciful element of Fire’.  The order was clearly unsuccessful, as during the next five years there were several more fires. In 1660, the corporation changed their focus and ordered that all houses whose thatch touched another house should be tiled instead.  All rate payers were to pay an additional tax so that the corporation could provide buckets, hooks and chains for carrying water to fight fire.  Hythe would not get a proper fire brigade until a hundred and forty years later.

The possessions inside the houses depended on the wealth of the occupant, and as the century wore on people of the middling sort can be seen to be acquiring more home comforts and articles which were purely decorative. In 1625, John Gately, a blacksmith, had three pewter cups, but another blacksmith, John Clement, who died in 1696 had pewter, but also two silver cups and silver spoons.  In 1647, Baker Godden, a husbandman, had a pair of playing tables (for cards) and five pairs of pictures; in 1653 Thomas Hooker, a butcher left his ‘gold ring with deathly heads’ to his daughter Susan (memento mori rings had been popular since the beginning of the century) and Catherine Littlewood, the miller’s widow, left silver spoons to her children. The most noticeable increase is in ownership of looking glasses and chairs. Chairs were a  rarity among ordinary people at the beginning of the century, but most houses had at least one by the end of it.Peter Johnson, a baker, even had one upholstered in turkey-work, a sort of woollen tapestry, and he also, unusually, had ‘a small brass clock’  On the other hand, inventories can also show that disaster was never far away.  Michael Hammon who died in 1622 has goods worth only three pounds one shilling and sixpence, but he owed money totalling three pounds eight shillings and tenpence to four creditors. Robert Wakelin, a tanner,  left goods and money worth over a hundred and twenty pounds in 1693, but of that, over half was in money owed to him.

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A seventeenth century memento mori ring

The Middling Sort – Part One

The majority of people who lived in English towns in the seventeenth century were neither particularly poor nor especially rich, and the term ‘the middling sort’ to describe them first came into use in this century. It meant those with adequate wealth, but at the time had connotations of mediocrity and meanness as well as being neither one thing nor the other. People of the middling sort worked for their income, and traded using the products of their labours or knowledge. They were a town’s main consumers, and it was they who filled the civic and church offices which kept the town running: jurats, mayors, churchwardens, overseers of the poor, constables, market searchers, town sergeants, and criers.

Their lives were tied, in one way or another, to commerce, and the whole family was involved in making the business pay to ensure their survival. Failure could be a disaster. If a man had borrowed and subsequently became ill, unable to work, and could not repay his debt, there were no bankruptcy laws to mitigate the blow: his bones would be picked bare and he would probably thrown into prison, and friends and kin who had co-signed on loans would suffer the same fate.  If he had extended too much credit and died and his creditors could not repay his widow, she would be pitched into poverty. It was a precarious existence.

Hythe supported all the trades essential to maintain life in a small town. Provisions for the kitchen could be bought from the butchers, the poulterer, the bakers, the vintners, and the rippiers (fish-sellers); other household wants were supplied by the tailors, drapers, mercers, tallow-chandlers, cutlers, haberdashers, grocers, glovers and shoemakers. Then there were the manufacturers: blacksmiths, coopers, brewers, joiners, ropemakers,  gunsmiths, saddlers, wheelwrights; and those who supplied the manufacturers: tanners, fellmongers, malsters, millers, woolcombers, weavers, physick gardeners, and malsters.

Other men and women provided services. There were barber-surgeons, physicians and midwives; painters, carpenters, glaziers, and pavers; thatchers and chimney-sweeps; schoolmasters and scriveners and innkeepers and licensed victuallers.

Finally, there were those who made their living from the land or the sea: yeomen and husbandmen (as a very rough rule of thumb, the former owned the land they worked, the latter leased it) and the fishermen.

Not all these occupations were present at one time in Hythe, but there was a profitable hinterland in the towns of the Romney Marsh with whom trade was possible. In 1623, Robert Smith, a weaver and woollen draper got his fleeces from a fellmonger in New Romney. James Pashley and John Oldfield, both brewers, supplied inns in New Romney as did George Thurbane later in the century.

Very often, a family had more than one source of income.  A man called Bridgman was both a thatcher and a chimney-sweep, presumably because he had the longest ladders.  Richard Clarke, a saddler, opened an alehouse in 1615, but overlooked getting a licence and was fined. Elizabeth Turner, wife of Richard, supplemented the family income by working as a midwife. In 1622, Phillip Van De Walle, a woolcomber, also kept ‘a shop of small wares’ and grazed a few sheep. Towards the end of the century, Vicesimus Gibson augmented his takings as a grocer by writing letters and legal documents for townspeople who could not write themselves.

At the beginning of the century, at least, fishermen did not generally need to diversify in this way, as there were opportunities for employment and trade all year round.  It was the single most populous occupation in the town.

As a buffer against financial ruin, some members of the middling sort used their savings to invest in land or property, becoming as rich, if not richer than the ‘gentlemen’ of the town who did not engage in trade.  Men in relatively humble occupations, such as William Gatley, a Hythe blacksmith or John Lambe, a carpenter bought land.  Gately bought land in Saltwood and Bilsington. The Saltwood holding passed to his niece Susan on his death in 1652. She almost immediately sold it and it eventually became part of Weller’s Gift. Susan meanwhile lived off the profits until they were spent and then applied for parish relief in her home town of Ashford. Instead she was prosecuted for not following a lawful occupation. Not all of the middling sort espoused the protestant work ethic. Lambe bought an acre of pasture land to the west of the town in 1657. The next year he bought an adjoining cottage and sold both as one lot to John Bassett, a grocer, who then rented it out.

Very often, property in Hythe was bought from, or sold to, outsiders. George Thurbane, the brewer, bought his premises from a man in Canterbury and Ferdinando Bassett, inn keeper of the White Hart, paid £360 to a vicar in Norfolk for seven acres of fresh marsh.  William Deedes, a mercer, bought two houses and stables from Thomas White of Wapping for £100. The middling sort were not only enterprising, they were mobile and had a wide network of acquaintance outside of the immediate environs of the town.

‘Not alms but his legal due’ – Part Four

Men and women were also moved to pity when they came to make their wills. Charitable donations took two forms. The funeral dole was a medieval habit, the last chance a soul had to fulfil the church’s commandment to feed the hungry. Although the Church of England no longer taught that these sorts of actions could impact on whether a soul would be saved or not, the tradition lingered on, and money, food or clothes were handed out to the poor at the funeral.  In 1601 George Baker of Hythe asked that a shilling be given to six poor people ‘who have most need’ and William Grigson, a fisherman, left five shillings. Even as late as 1653, Thomas Hooker, a Hythe butcher left instructions for twenty shillings to be shared out.

The second way was a charitable bequest, large or small. Arthur Blechinden and Thomas Browning,   gentlemen who both died in 1612, left money to the poor of Hythe, Canterbury, Dymchurch and Postling between them;  in 1653 William Gately, a blacksmith, left three pounds to the poorest of Hythe who were not  in receipt of parish relief, recognising that relative poverty co-existed with destitution.  Other bequests were in the form of goods. Richard Knight, a gentleman, in 1639 left to Thomas Boykin, a servant at the George inn a suit of clothes.

The largest and most enduring charitable bequest was left by Lawrence Weller, a tanner, jurat and former mayor of Hythe. In 1663 he left eighty pounds and land, the income from which was to pay for apprenticeships and tools for fatherless children in Hythe. The charity was to be administered by the churchwardens and overseers of the poor with the advice of the mayor and jurats. The bequest was so important to the town that in 1830  extracts from Weller’s will were painted on a board and displayed in the church (the charity, still known as Weller’s Gift,  continues to function in the twenty-first century although the objects of its benevolence have changed).  One of the first to take up the scheme was Stephen Keeler, a butcher, whose apprentice William Baker was recorded as being able to support himself after his term ended.

The board bearing details of Weller's Gift to the people of Hythe, which used to hang in the parish church (courtesy of St Leonard's Church, Hythe)
The board bearing details of Weller’s Gift to the people of Hythe.(courtesy of St Leonard’s Church, Hythe)

The poor, lacking savings, were particularly vulnerable to economic downturn. James I  was  extravagant with money. He gave lands, monopolies, offices, jewels and houses to his favourites; he held elaborate masques and banquets. His spending was twice that of Elizabeth. Within seven years of his accession he was flat broke, and by 1617 the country was sliding into depression, although to be fair to James, he was not entirely to blame as Europe was also affected. However, the Crown’s restraints on economic activity did not help. 1622 was the worst year of the depression. Over-abundant harvests in 1619-20 had lowered the price of grain but cut back agricultural purchasing power, while the atrocious harvest of 1621 was to result in rocketing grain prices and severe hardship among workers. There was widespread unemployment and malnutrition.

The weather was the other unpredictable factor in the lives of the poor.  The seventeenth century was generally cold, so cold that the last serious and widespread famine on mainland Britain occurred in the 1690s, mainly in highland communities in Scotland.  Atlantic storms tracked consistently further south than today and deep depressions passed eastwards right across the British Isles, giving rise to severe winters. This is now thought to have been caused by a marked absence of sunspot activity, suggesting a reduction in solar energy received on earth. The Northern Lights became so rare that they hardly ever appeared.  Dust veils were also reported during the period, resulting from twelve known volcanic eruptions round the Pacific from 1638 to 1644.

But at the time, people generally blamed the visitation of divine displeasure for the sins of mankind. These were many and various and included swearing, negligence in attending church, play-going, covetousness, and extravagant female fashion. Bad weather was also attributed to Catholic, Protestant or Laudian changes in religion, or to the sins of Parliamentarians or Royalists, depending on your loyalties. Alternatively comets were to blame (there were three in 1618 alone), or eclipses of the sun.

The winter of 1607/8 was one of several in the century known as ‘The Great Winter’. Trees died due to the severity and length of the frost and ships were stranded by ice several miles out into the North Sea. This was a disaster, as much commerce was done via coastal shipping. Ice formed on the Thames in London, thick enough to bear all sorts of sports and perambulations and even cooking. The frost lasted overall for some two months and many more hard winters were to follow.

Summers seem to have been either too dry or too wet. Drought is reported as frequently as flooding caused by storms. In 1636 in the South-East, it was reported that there was ‘not a drop of rain from March to August’. Although there were occasional hot spells, summers were generally cooler than those of the twenty-first century, In 1674 and 1675, it has been estimated that the mean temperature for June, July and August was 13.7 degrees centigrade.

The affect on crops was disastrous. Winter-sown crops perished in a really bad winter; spring-sown crops could not thrive in drought or were ruined by flood.  Shortages meant that grain prices rocketed, as did the cost of bread, the staple food of the poor.  1630 saw a particularly bad harvest, and the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports issued edicts forbidding the export of grain.  Having already banned the export of corn in May 1630, by July he was writing:

Notwithstanding the order forbidding the export of corn I am informed that divers persons daily ship and export great quantities of wheat and barley, that the store of corn in those parts is so far exhausted, and the prices so much enhanced that without some speedy remedy a great dearth is likely to ensue.

The harvest of 1631 was poor again, and the ban remained in force, although the Lord Warden made an order for ‘the quiet sufferance of one hundred quarters of wheat lately bought by Sir Sampson Darrell in Sussex, for the supply of his Majesty’s navy, to pass without interruption’.  Mutinies in the Navy were not to be risked again.

There were three successive bad harvests in 1647, 1648 and 1649, and the winter of 1657/8 was brutal. Crows were allegedly found with their feet frozen to branches. Trade all but stopped and grain prices soared. The 1660s saw another cycle of poor harvests, trade depression, and subsequent high unemployment.

The effect on the poorest can only be imagined. To be hungry is one thing; to be ill-clothed and freezing or ill-housed and wet as well, with no hope of employment or improvement, is true destitution. The new Poor Laws were stretched to their limits.

The next few posts will be about ‘the middling sort’ about whom there is much more information, and how they lived their lives

‘Like prison, with the possibility of being drowned’ – impressment to the navy

If you were poor in the seventeenth century, it was hard to imagine life getting any worse, but it could, when the press men arrived. In January 1603 the Lord Warden ordered a muster of all Hythe’s mariners and seafaring men between the ages of sixteen and sixty, ‘out of which there shall be choice made and impressed’.  Impressment was the way the navy crewed its warships and the burden fell most heavily, if not exclusively, on the poor and the young.  The choice of who was impressed was largely determined by corruption, bribes and influence, and no man who could avoid impressment for himself or his son through these channels hesitated to use them. The other factor in the decision-making process was the health and strength of the men, qualities more likely to be found among the youth of the town. The requirement for ‘seafaring men’ did not narrow the field very much, as in a port and fishing town, most of the young men would have some experience of the sea.

Life in the navy was dangerous and often short. Conditions on board were notoriously tough: the food was poor, insufficient and frequently mouldy; there was no  heating and wet clothes sometimes did not dry out for weeks; sleep, especially unbroken sleep, was always at a premium.  Disease was rife; in fact ships were deliberately overmanned to allow for a high death rate, thus contributing to the problem. Commanders regularly complained that their vessels were ‘infested and noisome’, their men unfed, unpaid and unclothed and if put ashore sick were likely to be left to die by the inhabitants of the recipient port. One wrote of his crew that ‘their toes and feet miserably rot and fall away piecemeal’, which was probably the result of complications of advanced scurvy. The worst of it as far as their home town was concerned, was that the navy very often failed in its duty to support families left behind, so that they became a charge on the town.

In the end, five Hythe men were chosen to meet the complement of one hundred which the Cinque Ports had to provide.  They were told to make their way to Chatham, about forty miles distant, and given twelve pence each for imprest money and a halfpenny for each mile to Chatham. The Admiralty, exasperated by reports of pressed men arriving unsuitably dressed and unarmed, stipulated that their family and friends should, if necessary, provide them with good clothing, a sword and a dagger. This betrays either complete ignorance of the means of the average poor family, or more likely a cynical attitude: by issuing the order the Admiralty could tell its commanders it had done its best to ensure the men were well-equipped.How many of the five Hythe men got to Chatham and joined a ship is not known. The desertion rate was high, but presented dangers for the deserter. He could not return to his home town, and unless he could find work very quickly became a vagrant, with all that entailed. There was an alternative. The towns of the Elizabethan era were frequently terrorised by reports of gangs of deserters marauding their way through the countryside.

In 1627, after another impressment exercise in the Cinque Ports, the Lord Warden went himself to Chatham to check on the situation. Of two hundred men pressed, only a hundred and forty had reported to their ships, and many of these subsequently deserted. The Lord Warden hoped that they would be found and made an example of. A year later Hythe was required to provide another six men, this time for Buckingham’s bungled attempt to help save the French Huguenots from persecution by their own government by landing on the Île de Ré.  By this time the navy had been neglected for years by the king, who preferred to spend money elsewhere (on his favourite, Buckingham, for example), so ships were even more insanitary and unpleasant places to be for the two hundred Kentish men who were pressed. Hythe’s former M.P., Edward Clarke, warned Buckingham that the men were so disaffected they were ‘more apt to run into a mutiny at sea than perform their duties’, and he was proved right.

File:Invasion of Re1627.jpg

Map of the landing, siege and retreat by Buckingham’s ships at the  Île de Ré. He was unable to take the citadel as his scaling ladders were too short.

Impressment continued throughout the century and on into the Commonwealth. In 1653 when the country was at war with the Dutch, John Carter, in charge of impressments in the south, wrote frantically to the Navy Commission:

‘I have pressed 114 men in the places I was sent to, but those at Hastings have not pressed a man, and I could only press 2 there; so you may judge of their love to you…There are 33 vessels at Brighton and they have but 10 men in the service..I. have received 10 sick men from the fleet, and orders from Major Bourne to provide for them. I want to know what is to be allowed for them. There are five private men-of-war here, three from Dover and two from Rye, who receive and hide the seamen as long as there is any press in the town…. What shall I give soldiers and seamen discharged for sickness, but without certificates for relief?

I put in prison at Hythe two men whom I had pressed at Rye and sent to Chatham, but I met them again going for Dover, and put them in prison there. I wish you to ask the Mayor of Hythe how theycame be set at liberty’

The response of Austen Grenland, then mayor of Hythe, is not recorded. He was a Puritan who had always conformed to Parliamentary authority, and had shown ‘much affection’ to Parliament’s cause, so it is not likely that he was trying to undermine the government.  Perhaps someone with the keys to the gaol was moved to pity.

‘An idle sluttish and noisome people’

The vagrants who most troubled the authorities were the Irish, who as well as being poor were foreign and catholic too, a combination guaranteed to outrage the sensibilities of most respectable Englishmen.  In 1605, the Lord Warden passed on to the Cinque Ports a message from the Privy Council which described an apparent invasion of Irish beggars, the ‘swarming of this idle and sluttish and noisome people‘, who having tried their luck in France and been ejected, were gathering in Calais and making their way across the channel. There was, according to the Council, no reason why the Irish could not live comfortably in their own country (ignoring the fact of terrible English depredations there).   If they were found at a channel port, they should be immediately sent back to France or, if they had some money, made to pay for their own transportation back to Ireland.  Plus ça change….

Seventeenth Century Beggars

All newcomers to Hythe who lacked any visible means of support were regarded with great suspicion. In 1683, William Goldridge, a woolcomber of Charlton near Dover came to the town with his wife and four children because work was hard to find at home. He was required to get two men to supply a bond that he and his family  would not be a charge on the parish. They swore that he was ‘a diligent and pain-taking man labouring to his utmost for the maintenance of his family’.

Another strand of the Poor Law legislation was the apprenticing of poor children to local men. Apprenticeship was a normal rite of passage for many young people, and the theory behind this practice was sound – the young people would learn a trade and not, in future, fall back into poverty.  In ideal circumstances this was the case. However, Poor Law apprenticeships could be seen as a way of off-loading the parish’s responsibility, with little attention paid to the quality of the training provided and no chance of a job at the end of it.

This was particularly the case for girls, who were usually indentured to housewifry. In 1657, Elizabeth the twelve-year-old orphaned daughter of John Dyer, a Hythe sadler, was apprenticed to Henry Reade, a tanner, and his wife until she was twenty-one. The overseers of the poor agreed they would take her back if Henry died, and ‘his heirs had no use for her, providing she was not lame or maimed’.  The comparison here with  horse trading is unavoidable. Nearly thirty years later, Elizabeth Crumpe, after the death of her widowed mother, was indentured to her own half-brother Simon Crumpe and his wife, which, since they were paid a premium to take her, seems to be a very liberal interpretation indeed of the Poor Law.  However, the boys all do seem to have been apprenticed to trades where there was a real possibility of employment in later life – coopering, tanning, fishing and saddlery.

Jurats like Henry Reade, David Gorham and Austen Grenland were prominent among those taking on poor law apprentices, perhaps to try to set an example.  Poor law apprentices were often not very attractive specimens: underdeveloped, skinny and lousy , they would not be the first choice of prospective employee.

The corporation generally did its duty by the poor. It paid for funerals, provided fuel, and gave cotton and kersey to poor women to make clothes.  They were pragmatic: when John Glover died owing the corporation seven pounds in rent, they waived the debt so that his son and heir could afford to maintain his sister and not make her a charge on the parish.

In 1611, to supplement the poor rate, they passed a decree that all victuallers should pay for the maintenance of a poor child or pay an extra fourpence a barrel tax on beer. This proved unworkable, but is indicative of some imaginative thinking about social policy.  Excessive drinking was regarded as a particular problem, and this would have been a way of discouraging it, since the tax would have been passed on to the customer, while at the same time reducing the town’s financial liability to the poor.

Poverty could strike a family suddenly if the breadwinner was taken ill, injured or died. In the first two instances, a return to prosperity was possible, and might be achieved through the help of family and friends and without resort to parish relief, but the death of a working husband could leave a woman and her children destitute, as she was unlikely to have any means of supporting the family.  It has been estimated that whereas vagrants were predominantly male, women householders outnumbered men two to one as recipients of relief.

Some Hythe women did manage to fend for themselves, though. Women like  Alice Robyns, widowed in 1599, who set up a haberdashery and then acquired the land on which her late husband’s mill stood, thus ensuring her daughters’ future security ;  or  Phillice Oldfield and Elizabeth Hall, both widows, who were licensed as midwives in 1617; or two more widows, Thomasine Lee and Thomasine Sladden who succeeded them in 1629; the widow of William Kitchen who kept his mill working after his death in 1659; the woman who provided the rushes for the floor of the town hall (perhaps she also gathered them: a cold and miserable job); John Lacy’s mother who when she was widowed carried on selling brooms to support her small son; and Catherine Littlewood who ran her husband Philip’s stables after his death and maintained her four small children.

To be poor was not always to be totally destitute. There was in all towns a substantial body of wage-labourers whose income was precarious and barely sustained life. For them, employment was uncertain, usually short-term and badly paid. In mid-century, a labourer in the building trade might get tenpence or a shilling a day, subsistence wages or slightly below. By way of comparison, a building craftsman made about one shilling and fourpence a day, 33% to 60% more.

Then there were the servants, slightly more secure in their jobs, but still poorly-paid, and subject to the good-nature of their master. One Hythe servant, John Bean, giving evidence in 1601, testified that in sixteen months’ service, his master had beaten him only once. He was giving evidence as to the man’s good character.  By law, all those between fifteen and forty five who were unmarried and without estates of their own were required to be in service. Such people could be forced into service, sent to gaol or punished as vagabonds. The law was enforced only sporadically, and there is no evidence that it was in Hythe, although the authorities in other Kent towns such as Ashford were more rigorous.

Woman servant, seventeenth century

There could be some perks to a life in service, however. A good master would ensure a servant was decently fed and had a bed and clothes. A long-standing servant might even be remembered in the master’s will. In 1647, John Banbury, a Hythe carpenter, lacking sons, left his servant John Williams ‘all my tools and materials to work with (and may it please God to restore him to his former health)’; John Warde who died in 1602 left forty shillings to each of his four servants.

It has been estimated that about a fifth of the population of any town in the seventeenth century could be classified as poor. They were generally nameless, powerless and silent. Taking into account paupers and the low-paid, between a third and a half of all households were excluded from any say in the operation of the community. A great deal was talked about the poor, but they are rarely heard themselves. We simply do not know enough about their housing, diet, health care, dress or religion

Almhouses and Vagrants

Being  poor in the seventeenth century was not for sissies. Life was, however, better than it had been a hundred years earlier. In 1601, in the last parliament that Elizabeth I called, the great slew of Poor Law legislation that had been passed in the preceding years was consolidated.

Parishes were now required to elect overseers of the poor, collect a poor rate, and distribute relief to the deserving. It meant, in short, that no-one in England need ever again have to starve to death through poverty. This did not mean that their lives would be anything other than brutally hard, but relief for those too ill or too old or too young to work was to be provided in the form of a payment or items of food or clothing.

The poor had earlier been supported by alms given as acts of Christian charity. Now, however, even those who were not of a particularly charitable disposition were expected, and indeed compelled, to make a contribution. Each parish was responsible for its own poor, and inevitably disputes arose about exactly who qualified as a genuine resident. The 1662 Poor Relief Act clarified matters by establishing the principal of a ‘parish of settlement’, which would have responsibility for supporting a person if they fell upon hard times.

The law said that the ‘lame, impotent, old, blind’ should be accommodated in parish almshouses, though it was clear that the primary responsibility for the aged and for children rested with their families. Hythe already had two medieval hospitals which formed the basis of the town’s almshouse provision. St John’s, on the main street, probably survived the Dissolution because it had fallen into disrepair by then, but in 1539 it was conveyed by the Church to trustees for use as an almshouse, to be run by the town’s jurats.  A warden was elected from among them every year. In 1562 it provided maintenance for eight needy poor people and ‘such as are maimed by war’. Local men who had been pressed into the army or navy sometimes returned home from serving their country both destitute and crippled as their reward.

For most of the seventeenth century St John’s had five residents, both men and women. In addition to lodgings, fuel and some clothing, they received one shilling and threepence a week, with double at Christmas and Easter, and a Christmas gift of a shilling.  It was enough to survive on, and if they were sick, extra food, usually mutton, was provided free. Mutton from the Romney Marsh was in good supply in Hythe, and meat was regarded as the best food for an invalid. Vegetables were held to be indigestible and to be avoided if you were ill. There were occasional treats, too, such as a small feast when the plums in the garden were picked.

St John's Hospital Hythe

St John’s Hospital , Hythe

Among St John’s residents in 1614 was Richard Tilden, who had returned home to Hythe from the wars terribly injured. He was provided with custom-made wooden legs, and, touchingly, given specially knitted hose to cover them. St John’s also provided for other poor people in the town, buying shoes and clothes, most often for widows and children, and paid for the funerals of paupers.

St Bartholomew’s hospital, on the western extremities of the town, had been founded in 1336 by the Bishop of Rochester, Hamo, who had been born in Hythe. It also escaped the Dissolution and  continued to receive charitable donations.  St Bartholomew’s ten residents, made up of equal numbers of men and women, were known archaically as ‘Brothers’ and ‘Sisters’. Vacant places were filled by election by the residents and wardens. It was not easy to get a place there. Applicants had to be elderly, to have been born in the town and spent most of their lives there, to be of honest and sober behaviour and to have fallen into poverty, which narrowed the field considerably and disqualified newcomers. A feast was held to welcome each new arrival. Some of the profit from the lands the hospital rented out was shared among the residents – in 1657 this was nearly eighteen pounds. It also supported needy people outside, by repairing houses, for example.

'The Hythe birthplace of Hamo de Hethe, Bishop of Rochester
The Hythe birthplace of Hamo de Hethe, Bishop of Rochester

The almshouses between them took care of fifteen poor people, mostly elderly. Of the rest we know less of where they lived.  Hythe  corporation leased houses to the overseers of the poor, and these were used for multi-occupancy. In 1657, for example, Henry Philpott, Edward Keys and the widow Beale lived all lived in such a house.

The resident poor were one thing, vagrants quite another. Despite the poor laws, men still preferred to work for a wage rather than rely on parish relief, and tramping to seek work became an endemic disease of the poor in the seventeenth century. Men tramped most often between June and October, when agricultural work might be available, resting in barns and alehouses. They were unwelcome in towns and villages where locals feared they would take their jobs and undercut their wages, and where they were feared as potential criminals. The corporation was supposed to deal with destitute vagrants by whipping them, locking them up in a House of Correction and then sending them back to their parish of legal settlement, usually the one in which they had been born or had lived for the last three years. The Hythe jurats never got round to building a House Of Correction (implementation of the legislation nationally was always patchy and depended on individual governing bodies’ interpretation), but in extremis the gaol could be used. It was a suitable deterrent. In 1618 Edward Harward escaped from the place because he said he feared starvation and five years later John Hawks hanged himself there.

The definition of a vagrant extended beyond the tramping men. It applied also to those who became a charge on the parish but who had not been born there or lived there long enough for it to be their parish of settlement. Often, the poor person or family was removed to a neighbouring parish, such as Newington or Saltwood, which were only a mile or so away, but the interpretation of the vagrancy laws could be harsh, especially for children. In 1613,   Katherine Rolfe, an orphan child was ricocheted between Hythe and Dover while the authorities argued about which of them had responsibility for her.  Nearly sixty years later John Lacy found himself in a similar situation in the neighbouring parish of Saltwood. His parents, who had scraped a living selling brooms, had for about seven years before their deaths been based, though not continuously, in Saltwood.  When they died, the locals decided that John was not their responsibility, but that of New Romney. He was duly whipped and sent there. The overseers of New Romney refused to accept him and sent him back, although after a year of haggling, they finally conceded defeat.  John Lacy was six years old.

A Walk through Hythe in 1600 – Part Six

The road westward peters out into the countryside, and you retrace your steps a little back towards the bridge. Do not cross it, but walk on a little way along the track on the south side of the town ditch. In front of you is a horse pond, and next to that the town’s bowling green.  Here the yeomen, having refreshed themselves at the inns, are now gathering, while their mounts drink at the pond.  Bowling is a respectable and popular pastime, and the yeomen are joined by tradesmen who have finished work early today, and by two or three gentlemen of the town.  Their wives, their marketing finished, arrive in ones and twos to watch the match, which in summer always follows the market.  The gentlemen’s wives sport real farthingales, not the bum rolls of their humbler cousins. These contraptions of wire or whalebone are wheel-shaped: the woman’s waist forms the hub of the wheel, which has a slight tilt behind. The skirts spread out over this at right-angles to the body then fall straight to the ground. The gentlemen are in suits of clothes, with matching or toning breeches and doublets; their shirts and ruffs are of fine cloth, and spotless and their stockings of the finest wool and in the brightest shades. This is an age when manly ostentation is positively encouraged.

The term ‘gentleman’ is fairly loosely applied and lacks a clear definition, and in any case, small towns tend to inflate honours and the title of ‘gentleman’ here  probable has little validity in the wider world. The likes of William Knight and Arthur Blechinden, who have some land which they do not physically work themselves and live in big houses with servants, and call themselves gentlemen, would in London just be two more country bumpkins.  John Grove describes himself as both a physician and a gentleman. The awkward facts of his conviction for malpractice and subsequent imprisonment do not quite sit comfortably with your own notions of gentlemanly behaviour.

You tire of the game and see that there is a track leading away southwards towards the sea. Take this now. A lot of the land here, once under water, has been ‘inned’ and sheep graze on the acres of grassland.  The salty soil on which the grass grows is supposed to give the mutton a particularly fine flavour.

The way follows the path of a narrow waterway, which flows down to what remains of the haven.  Over to your left is a windmill, built by Reignold Robyns, the husband of Alice Robyns, the haberdasher you saw earlier. She is saving the proceeds of her business to enable her to lease back from the corporation the land on which the mill stands. She is a clever woman and will ensure that both her daughters have a title to the land for life.

You reach now the sorry remains of a once prosperous haven. It used to be a thriving harbour, with warships, merchant men and fishing vessels sheltering from the open sea, but it has been silting up for the last hundred or more years. It is not alone, and the once thriving ports of Romney, Rye and Sandwich suffer the same fate.  The haven at Hythe was cut out and repaired only a few years ago, and at present, is just about hanging on as a going concern

You wander along the shingle beach towards some signs of activity. You will not find any sunbathers or families picnicking on this beach, or anyone taking a dip. The notion of the seaside holiday, like that of the weekend, is far in the future.  The sea is regarded as intrinsically alien and highly dangerous. Charts show that the sea, even quite close to land, is infested with strange and ferocious monsters and the burial registers at St Leonard’s record the deaths of those who were foolish enough to ’venture into the sea’. In fact, this would make a very unpleasant bathing beach, as it is used as a rubbish tip by the inhabitants of the town, which is quite sensible, as most of the detritus is swept out to sea by the tide.

The activity you have noticed is the solution to the lack of a decent haven, for the fishermen, at least. Some poor nags known as sea horses are turning capstans to haul a fishing boat, the ‘Marygold’ from the water onto the open beach. This landing place is called the stade, and its existence ensures that fishing continues to flourish in Hythe despite the decline of other commercial markets. Next to the stade are a few store houses where nets and fishing tackle are stored, and occasionally other goods, intended for illegal exportation.  Smuggling is a locally sanctioned way of supplementing income, and now that you have seen what poverty means in the seventeenth century, you may be inclined to believe that it is a perfectly valid alternative to penury.

The ‘Marygold’ has been fishing conger in home waters, and its load must be quickly processed to get it fresh to the London markets, so the boat owner’s entire family, from the youngest to the oldest are here to do the work.  This is the only boat on the stade at present. Most of the larger vessels have headed north to catch cod and ling off Scarborough, but as you look out to sea you spot another vessel approaching. It is a three masted square-rigged ship, of about three to four tons, a collier from Newcastle bringing coal to the town. It has been spotted from the town, too, and men and boys on wagons are coming to unload it, to take coal to Guy Wilmot, John Oldfield, John Gately, the bakers, the tallow chandlers, the malsters, and all the other tradesmen who will ensure that Hythe, though struggling, will not sink.

Your imaginary walk has finished. The next post will deal with historical facts and what really happened to the poor in Hythe

A Walk through Hythe in 1600 – Part Five

Skirt round this scene, turn right and carry on in a westerly direction. There are several narrow lanes leading to closes or to the back lanes which run parallel to the main street.  On your left is the lane leading to the Mount, which despite its promising name is actually a raised gun emplacement, with good views of the sea. Here people like to ‘take the air’. If you want to take the air there, do not use the lane to your left.  Despite the corporation’s best efforts to deter them, people use it as the town’s unofficial public latrine. Use a more circuitous route.

The next lane on the right, which leads uphill again looks, and smells, more promising. You venture in and walk the short distance up to the lane running parallel to the main street. Here there are smaller houses, just one storey, with no visible chimneys. They are all thatched and huddle together so that it is difficult to see where one begins and another ends. A fire in one of these would spread like – wildfire.  As you pass, you see an open door. Mostly the doors are shut, because the fire in the central hearth needs to be drawn through the roof and not out of the door, but one is open. Step inside. The single room has a few pieces of furniture – a bed, covered with blankets, but no sheets, and a pillow, a trunk in the corner, which hold a couple of towels and a tablecloth, and some cheesecloths. There are some basic items of clothing in a press.  By the cold fire are an iron stew pot and a spit, on the table a candlestick and a frying pan and a couple of pewter plates. These householders are poor, but not destitute: hanging on the wall is a side of bacon; there is a kneading trough for bread which shows signs of use, and there are the tools of a labourer near the door, some pails, a shovel and a mattock. This is the house of someone who is able to work for his living and provide, if not luxury, then the necessities of life.

As you leave the house, a very young child runs past you, sobbing, stumbles and falls on the rutted mud, cries louder and carries on running. You watch as he turns into what appears at first to you to be a dilapidated lean-to shed at the end of the row of one storey cottages. It is, in fact, his home. Look inside. There is nothing that could be called a home comfort: a straw mattress, some soiled ragged blankets, a couple of pots, some spoons and wooden dishes and a pail of water. Outside are the remains of a fire. The ‘householder’ must cook outside. You cannot imagine how they manage to keep warm in winter. The child throws himself onto the pile of rags on the bed, and a face emerges. It is the child’s mother. Her wasted face and exhausted eyes tell you that she is sick and probably on the verge of starvation.  There is no hope for these two.  Seventeenth century poverty is cruel, and particularly cruel to women and children.

There is nothing you can do. You are only a chimera. Return to the main road, and continue your walk.

A small group catches your eye, gathered around a very old man who is been resting in the sunshine on a stool brought out to the pavement for him. John Warde is reputed to be over ninety years old, and his great age has made him something of a local celebrity.  He still holds the rank of captain, and has done for over sixty years.  The next generation of the family, in the person of Ambrose Warde, at present drinking with his cronies in the ‘George’, is less respectable. Ambrose is a convicted murderer and an alleged smuggling mastermind.

Some of the group, you see, are sharing a small pipe of tobacco. It is not a cheap habit, but its devotees claim it is good for the lungs.

You are nearing the western extremities of the town now. The houses thin out a little but their place is taken by barns, stables, granaries, orchards and gardens. These last are for growing vegetables for the home, and are rented by those who do not have a plot attached to their homes. You see vegetables you recognise – cauliflower, celery, artichokes, turnips, and cabbage, spinach, radishes, chard, beetroot. Herbs are grown too, for the pot and for medicinal use: several sorts of mint, chives, pennyroyal, chervil, and hyssop.  In one plot there are some rhubarb crowns, but these are grown only for medicinal purposes: their roots are a powerful purgative, and purging is a standard treatment for all manner of ailments.

The road now takes you over the bridge spanning the town ditch. This is not particularly pleasant on a summer’s day, and you hurry over and carry on westward past the Green on your left. This is the site of the town’s two annual fairs. Backing onto the Green are some more artisans’ houses, a wheelwright’s, a rope-maker’s and a blacksmith’s.  Outside the blacksmith’s forge you see the beer cart which earlier had caused so much trouble at John Oldfield’s brewery. One of the horses has thrown a shoe, and John Gately, the blacksmith is replacing it.  The driver has just bought a mug of ale from Phillis Gately, John’s wife. She has no licence to sell ale but the authorities turn a blind eye to this sort of casual transaction. Phillis has now gone to feed her infant son, William. John Gately is newly arrived in the town.  He was obliged to situate his forge on the outskirts of town, to minimise the fire risk inherent in the blacksmith’s trade, but it is also   ideally situated to attract trade arriving from, and in this case going to, the Romney Marsh. John will prove to be an astute businessman, as eventually will little William.