In Sickness and in Health – Part Two


The seventeenth century had medical men and women of all sorts, to suit all conditions and most purses. There were some who were licensed, some not, and some who probably should not have been. There were physicians, all university men; surgeons (or as it was spelt then ‘chirugeons’) who had been trained through an apprenticeship to perform basic surgery, treat injuries and set bones; apothecaries who dispensed drugs to physicians and also attended patients independently; and barber-surgeons, with practical skills in bone-setting, blood-letting and treating minor injuries, but who were men of little learning and generally held in low regard.  Finally there were midwives, who learned ‘on the job’ and were licensed by the Diocese on the recommendation of ‘six honest matrons’, their minister and a churchwarden.  Rich people could shop around and choose a practitioner of their liking, inside or outside the town, as most covered a wide area. The poor, as always, made do.

In fact, the practitioners who called themselves ‘physicians’ in Hythe were not university men at all, but only licensed surgeons or barber-surgeons. The terminology was loosely applied, and by the end of the century the word ‘doctor’ was generally applied to all medical men.

They offered different services and treatments. Arnold Hall seems to have specialised in providing remedial diets to patients, and also employed nurses to attend the sick. Between 1626 and 1642 he built up an extensive practice covering the Romney Marsh, Cheriton, Alkham and as far afield as Sittingbourne. William Stace, a barber-surgeon at about the same time, let blood and prescribed poultices and potions. When the blacksmith John Gately was taken ill at Rye in 1625, it was Stace he summoned from Hythe to treat him (unsuccessfully as it turned out).  James Arthur was licensed as a surgeon in 1635, over the objections of Arnold Hall. Whether the objections were on professional grounds or whether he thought one surgeon in Hythe was enough is not recorded. Arthur practised in the town for nearly fifty years, finding time also to serve as jurat, mayor and churchwarden. Sick people then, as now, sought second opinions. Elias Bassett, during his last illness in 1684, was treated by both James Arthur and Richard Jacob.

Medical men prescribed a range of treatments, nearly all thankfully unfamiliar today. Blood-letting and purges were very popular. So were poultices. In the 1630s, John Hall, Shakespeare’s son-in-law, described how he treated a man with gout: he applied a poultice of mallows, a fomentation of frogspawn and a plaster and purged him with senna powder. One must assume that the placebo effect was at work if any of these treatments relieved the condition.

Medicines were often herbal in origin, perhaps with the addition of opium, and often infused in an alcoholic beverage.  Brandy, port wine, beer, cider and ale were all popular, and spices and sweeteners were added for taste and smell. Fumigants were prescribed to banish noxious miasmas. One such, said to drive out plague, was a concoction of brimstone, saltpetre and amber which was ground and burned. The stench may well have been successful in driving rats out of the house, to say nothing of the inmates.

One Hythe surgeon, John Grove, had a most unfortunate record of prescribing.  In 1595, two years after he was licensed, he admitted to a court purging Anne Pierce, a widow, with two ounces of diacatholicon, two ounces of diafinicon, and one ounce each of electuarum rosarum and confectio hamech. Each of these mysterious-sounding compounds was a powerful purgative in its own right, and between them they contained antimony, wormwood, prunes, rhubarb root and senna.  One medical book of the time suggests six drams, or about a third of an ounce of confectio hamech alone as a purgative to cure any one or all of leprosy, madness, ringworm or scabies.   The dose prescribed by Grove was probably enough to purge an elephant, and if the unfortunate patient did not die, she would certainly have been very ill indeed.

Grove’s defence, used by schoolboys across the ages, was that he only did it once. The court took a dim view, said he was ignorant and audacious, fined him five pounds and imprisoned him – but did not remove his licence. He practised thereafter in Hythe, where as surgeon, gentleman, jurat and mayor, he achieved respectability.

Happily, physicians were starting to take a more scientific and empirical approach to investigating the workings of the human body. In 1628, William Harvey, who had been born in Folkestone, just down the road from Hythe, described for the first time the circulation of the blood. Not everyone believed him, though. He said that his medical practice dropped off after his publication because people thought he was mad.

In Sickness and in Health – Part One

The theory and practice of seventeenth century medicine is as foreign to us now as antibiotics and chemotherapy would have been to people then. Although scientific advances were made during this time, medical practice still relied largely on the teachings of the Greek physician Galen, who had died 1500 years earlier.  He taught that there were four humours in the body: blood, phlegm, choler (or yellow bile) and black bile and that their balance in the body determined healthIf there was an excess of one humour, disease could result, so, for example, too much black bile caused fever. Surplus humours could accumulate in the body and cause putrefaction. Blood-letting and purging were the only ways to treat these excesses.

Galen also developed miasma theory, which held that a polluted atmosphere, that is to say bad smells, carried disease such as plague.  Miasma could be carried in clothes or bedding, and domestic animals, especially dogs, cats and pigs might carry it on their bodies from house to house.

Both these theories ran alongside a belief in divine intervention in the affairs of man. God could, and did, send plague and other epidemics to punish men for their sins. And to confuse matters further there was some understanding of contagion, that a disease could be passed somehow from person to person.

Miasma’ was a particular problem in parts of Hythe, as it would have been in any town.  For reasons unknown, perhaps because it was private and not overlooked, the inhabitants used the lane leading to the Mount (now Mount Street) as an unofficial public convenience, or, as the corporation euphemistically put it ‘for easement of their bodies’. Naturally, it stank.  The corporation introduced a fine of a shilling for anyone caught in the act, but it was not until the visit of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1615 that the place was properly cleaned out.  It must not be thought that the people of Hythe were exceptionally coarse in their habits: Samuel Pepys, on finding that no chamber pot had been provided in his lodgings, instead used the fireplace, twice, and Mrs Pepys was not embarrassed to use the corner of a street in London when caught short at the theatre.

Dangerous miasmas were also produced by people washing inappropriate things in the public water conduit, rather than carrying the water home with them and doing it there.  In 1668 the corporation complained that ‘People are using the conduit to wash fish, innards, and clouts (probably babies’ diapers), whereby unwholesome savours do arise to the great prejudice and danger of the Inhabitants’. They imposed the usual fine, and people carried on just as before.

There were regular outbreaks of infectious diseases in every town. Smallpox became more prevalent during the seventeenth century. It killed about 15% of its victims, and often left survivors blind or scarred. The young were particularly at risk from measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, influenza, and a multitude of now unidentifiable diseases.  Locally, malaria was prevalent on the Romney Marsh, which was known as a ‘sickly and contagious place’ and ‘very aguish’ with high mortality from the disease.

It was, however, bubonic plague which, though relatively infrequent, was most devastating in its effects and most feared.  The major outbreaks in England were in 1603, 1625, 1636, and 1665.

Hythe escaped the first bout, but was hit badly in 1625 when ninety-one people died, as against an annual average of about forty. In 1638, at the tail-end of the 1636 outbreak, there were eighty deaths.

In 1578 the government had issued Plague Orders, which with some modifications were in effect until 1666. Local magistrates were to raise a tax for the relief of the sick, order the burning of the clothes and bedding of victims, and funerals were to take place at dusk to deter onlookers. Houses where there was suspected infection  were to be shut up for six weeks with all the members of the family, sick or healthy, locked inside.

The patterns of deaths seen in Hythe during outbreaks of plague tend to confirm that these orders were followed. In both 1625 and 1638 multiple deaths from single families are recorded, presumably because they had been quarantined. In a small town, this was a tough decision for the corporation to make. They were incarcerating their neighbours, friends and kinsfolk in the knowledge that this would almost certainly lead to agonising death.

The limited understanding of contagion led to other measures to protect the town. During the 1625 outbreak, the Cinque Ports Brotherhood and Guestling due to be held at New Romney in July was cancelled ‘by reason it pleased God to visit this kingdom with a great plague’.  People took their own precautions, too. One Folkestone couple got a licence to marry in Hythe in December 1625, because the plague had run its course there whereas it was still ‘very hot’ in Folkestone, and ‘people are very fearful to meet together’.  The Cinque Ports meeting was cancelled again in 1637 when the plague had reached New Romney. The burial records for Hythe for 1665, the year in which plague killed one-sixth of London’s population, are not extant so we do not know how badly it affected the town, but we do know that the corporation put the Plague Orders into effect.  The fair was cancelled, and any innkeeper or other person accommodating someone from a plague area would be fined.  The Mayor or a jurat was to approve bills of health for visitors to the town. Alexander Ames was shut up in his house as he exhibited signs of the sickness. He was one of the lucky ones, and survived another three years.

The haven in Hythe was another potential source of infection, as it brought in foreigners from infected areas. In 1629, the town was ordered to be especially careful as plague had broken out in Holland and France. Any vessel arriving from these areas was to be quarantined and all its goods to be thoroughly aired for as long as it took to ‘give hope and likelihood they are free from danger and infection’. As an additional precaution, one of the annual fairs in 1630 was cancelled.

Plague was often attributed to God’s judgement on a sinful nation, and towns wereL supposed to be particularly sinful. Since epidemic plague was concentrated in towns, the theory held water. The concentration of people and rats in towns was coincidental.

Remedies for plague included repentance and prayer, shutting south facing windows to keep out the injurious south wind, and burning the bedding of the sick (which may have helped).  Theriac, commonly called ‘treacle’, was often prescribed. It contained opium (which also may have helped, at least with the pain) and viper’s flesh to destroy the poison of plague.  A roasted onion stuffed with ‘treacle’ was the medicine most often recommended for the infected.  If the patient did not respond, it was God’s will: medicines only worked by the grace of God, and as God has made us to die, medicines would do no good if the time had come.  For the physician this was a splendid get-out clause.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Five

The government had set up the national Customs Board in 1671 to try to combat smuggling more effectively. Two sloops patrolled the south coast in search of the smugglers, but then fell foul of some seventeenth century austerity measures and were replaced by eight locally-employed riding officers, thus saving a thousand pounds a year. The result was that smuggling increased.

The lot of Customs officers in Hythe seems not to have been a happy one. In 1676 John Johnson, the Collector at Hythe, asked rather plaintively ‘to be removed to some better place in another port’, or to have his salary increased.  He did not get his wish until four years later, when in April 1680, John Brewer was appointed in his place. In July that year Brewer was assaulted by a gang of smugglers and was paid compensation by the Board. Two years after that, he got permission to go and live in New Romney, and the Board psupplied him with a horse so that he could commute.

By the end of the century, the smuggling situation in Hythe was worse, not better, than it had been a hundred years earlier. Troops of dragoons were deployed to the town, and in desperation the government passed the Wool Act in 1698, forbidding anyone living within fifteen miles of the coast from selling wool without a certificate from the Customs House. This desperate piece of legislation was as ineffective as all the other efforts had been, and the smuggling problem was to persist into the next century and beyond.

There is some suggestion that the privileges of membership of the Cinque Ports federation were an encouragement for smuggling.

The organisation had its origins in a royal charter of 1155 which established the five ports which would maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of need – Hythe, New Romney, Dover, Sandwich and Hastings. The chief obligation laid upon the ports was to provide fifty seven ships for fifteen days’ service to the crown annually, each port fulfilling a proportion of the whole duty.

In return, they received significant privileges, including exemption from tax and tolls; self-government; permission to levy tolls; and the power punish offences and detain and execute criminals both inside and outside the port’s jurisdiction, and punish breaches of the peace; and possession of lost goods that remain unclaimed after a year, goods thrown overboard, and floating wreckage.

The arms of the Cinque Ports

The freedom for a port to apprehend and punish its own offenders probably meant that a blind eye was often turned to what was regarded as a legitimate means of supplementing a meagre income when times were hard (which they often were).  If the choice for the authorities was to be between ignoring the fact that a man was a smuggler, and having him and his family as a charge on the parish, then pragmatism would surely win the day.

Over the years the original five ports gained an accretion of Ancient Towns and Limbs, so that by the seventeenth century there were thirty eight towns involved in the Confederation, which was headed by the Lord Warden, and his deputy the Constable of Dover Castle. As one of the five original ports, Hythe could send two ’barons’ to parliament, but New Romney was considered to be the central port and it was here that the annual meetings of the ports, the Brotherhood and Guestling, took place. These had originally been separate meetings, but by the seventeenth century were amalgamated. The Court of Shepway, another ancient court, was apparently held near Hythe, and there is a modern cross there marking the supposed spot.

The Shepway Cross near Hythe

The towns became rich on the spoils of war, but by the time of Elizabeth I, the Cinque Ports were no longer of any real significance. New Romney had long since silted up; Hythe and Sandwich were going the same way, as was Dover, so it seemed then. Hastings had been washed away by the sea, invaded by the French and battered by storms. Other ports such as Bristol and Liverpool were in the ascendant.

Whatever the reality of the situation, the Cinque Ports clung to their privileges and rights, and took considerable pride in them. These included the right to carry the canopy over the monarch at the coronation and authority over Yarmouth fare, with the right to try criminal and commercial cases in the town during the time of the fare, when the court sat daily.

The Yarmouth men generally resented the Cinque Ports bailiffs, and their reluctant toleration sometimes erupted into quarrelsome, if not violent, outbursts. In the late thirteenth century, the Yarmouth and Cinque Ports contingents of a royal fleet set to fighting each other, with the loss of at least twenty five Yarmouth ships resulting.

As late as 1657, a farcical stand-off between the Yarmouth and Cinque Ports men resulted in a special Brotherhood and Guestling being held in Hythe. John Finch, a Hythe jurat and Alexander Bennett had been elected as bailiffs. They went to Yarmouth, and as usual presented the papers of their written commission to the Yarmouth magistrates. They had taken off their hats while doing so, and then replaced them. The Yarmouth men took immediate offence, and insisted they take their hats off again while the commission was read out loud. Finch and Bennett refused.  The Yarmouth men then left the hall en masse and refused to recognise them as Bailiffs.

After kicking their heels for three days but making no progress in the impasse, Finch and Bennett went home and complained that they had been insulted.  The meeting agreed, but said they should have stuck it out and fined them ten pounds each.

It is small wonder, given the potential pitfalls that the honour of being the Cinque Ports Bailiff to Yarmouth was not eagerly sought after.  In 1619, the Brotherhood and Guestling, which appointed the Bailiff, searched in vain for their nominees. Mr Beadle, of New Romney had lived outside the town for a month before to make himself ineligible. The second choice, Mr Brett was simply ‘gone from home’.

Three years later, when Hythe should have provided a Bailiff, no-one wanted to go, so the corporation asked a former mayor, living in Canterbury. He said he was ill. John Benbricke of Rye was chosen instead, but said he had resigned as a jurat so was not eligible. His colleagues said they had refused his resignation and he must go. Reluctantly, he set off on the long journey.

Quite from the chilly reception, the length of the trip must have been a I’mdeterrent. The Bailiff was expected to stay in Yarmouth from towards the end of September until early November. That was a long time away from earning ones livelihood, and probably time that most of the jurats could ill-afford. By the end of the century the tradition had been allowed to fall into abeyance.


For the Love of God – Part Two

Puritans were not the only critics of the Church. Charles I believed that far from being attracted to the Puritans’ endless preaching, self-examination and warnings of damnation, people were being alienated from the Church. He and Buckingham, whom he had inherited from his father as royal favourite, supported and promoted the career of William Laud, an Arminian priest. He, like many English clergy, was a follower of Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian, who taught that salvation was not absolutely predestined and that God might be convinced by the penitent works of a sinner to allow them into Heaven. Therefore, the distinctions between the saved and the damned were not so hard and fast after all.

William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury

Laud and Charles saw the restoration of Catholic spectacle and mystery as a way of bringing people back to a proper engagement with the Church and with God.  Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 and set about restoring ceremonial and ritual and what he described as ‘the beauty of holiness’ in the Church.  Charles thought he was broadening the church. The godly Puritans thought Laud and his clergy were disguised papists whose real aim was to take England back to Rome.

Hythe is in the Diocese of Canterbury, so was fully exposed to Archbishop Laud’s reforming zeal, particularly as the Rector of Saltwood, William Kingsley, was one of Laud’s acolytes.  Hythe was not then a separate parish, and the magnificent church of St Leonard’s was designated as a ‘chapel’ under the control of Saltwood.  Kingsley was not only Rector of Saltwood, to which he was appointed in 1614; he added Great Chart (1615), Ickham (1617) and the Archdeaconry of Canterbury Cathedral (1619) to his portfolio of posts.  Kingsley was as ardent as his master in his desire to reform the Church.  As Archdeacon, he attempted to banish Puritan preachers from Canterbury and began to enforce kneeling at communion, a practice which had not been used since Catholic Queen Mary’s time. Communion tables were removed from the naves of churches, where they had been since the Reformation, and were railed about in the chancel, like an altar, which only the minister could approach.  Even though Kingsley’s presence in Hythe could only have been intermittent, given his commitments elsewhere, his curate Thomas Kingsmill no doubt followed orders. There was not much the Puritans of Hythe could do about the situation, but there was a noticeable increase in defaults on tithe payments after his appointment. Perhaps that was one way of showing disapproval.

By the early 1640s, Kingsley had been removed from office by Parliament, and Kingsmill was dead, replaced by the radical Puritan Scot, William Wallace. By that time, the world had been turned upside down.

For the Love of God – Part One

It is impossible to describe any of the momentous events of the English civil wars without discussing the religious struggles that underpinned them. Religion was central to the social order then in a way perhaps inconceivable to us today.  It played a crucial part in the way people were governed and the way in which they behaved. At the beginning of the seventeenth century Sunday attendance at an Anglican church was obligatory; all marriages took place in an Anglican church; all funerals and baptisms took place in an Anglican church. If you slandered your neighbour, you were tried in a Anglican church court and made your public penance in your local Anglican church.  Later in the century you could not hold any public office unless you had a certificate from your minister to confirm that you had received communion in an Anglican church within the last year. At most times during these years being openly Roman Catholic was dangerous, and non-conformity was regarded as subversive.

The Church of England at the beginning of the seventeenth century was the church of the Elizabethan settlement of over forty years before.  A triumph of compromise on Elizabeth’s part, the Act of Uniformity of 1559 had been designed to make the church acceptable to as many people, Catholic and Protestant, as possible, and to end the persecution and bonfires of the reign of Bloody Mary.  Processions associated with Catholic Church were banned, as were monuments to ‘fake’ miracles, including the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Presumably the miraculous crucifix associated with St Leonard’s Church in Hythe in the middle ages disappeared at this time.  Only clergymen with an MA could preach, with a licence from the diocese. These were not numerous, so ordinary clergy were restricted to reading from books of pastoral advice, which must have been deadly dull for the parishioners.

The theology of the Church was largely Calvinist, including the doctrines of election and predestination, that is, that the Almighty had predestined for salvation only a tiny handful, the elect, leaving the degenerate majority to everlasting damnation.  No amount of good works or praying to saints could get a soul to heaven if it was not on the list of the elect. This approach appeased the Puritans, but they disliked the remnants of Catholicism which remained in the church. As with any compromise, the settlement did not please everyone.

John Calvin who taught that all souls are predestined for either salvation or damnation

John Calvin who taught that all souls are predestined for either salvation or damnation

Who were the Puritans? They are often regarded as killjoys and pedants, and it is true that they believed that life was not for frivolity or pleasure but for the fulfilment of God’s commands.  They were strongly Calvinist and equally strongly anti-Catholic and abhorred everything in the church that had the taint of popery, such as the surplices worn by the clergy, or bowing at the name of Jesus. Preaching the word of God and the study of scripture always mattered more to them than sacramental rituals. They set themselves high standards, with an emphasis on self-examination to reassure themselves they were among the elect and that they were doing the Lord’s work. Their beliefs required a constant striving after salvation and a refusal to compromise with sin.

This suggests a joyless existence, but the knowledge of salvation, that he or she was among the elect, brought an inner satisfaction and a consciousness of communion with God.  It gave an individual the self-confidence to carry out God’s work, and Puritans were likely to gravitate naturally towards positions of authority in the local community. They sought to manage the behaviour of their weak and sinful brethren for the greater glory of God. It was their duty to stamp out the ungodly depravity that surrounded them: they were particularly exercised by violations of the sanctity of the Sabbath, and by pastimes such as drinking, dancing round the maypole or attending the theatre. Even bell-ringing could be regarded as sinful.

Hythe Puritans were fortunate in getting several curates in the first twenty years of the seventeenth century who had MAs, and could preach. Most of these only stayed a year or two, before moving on to parishes of their own, but in 1621 Thomas Kinsgsmill was appointed and stayed until his death in 1640. How often he managed to preach in Hythe, or even to lead services is open to question, as he was also, at various times during his curacy Vicar of Lympne and Rector of Stodmarsh.

There was very little Hythe Puritans could do about the quality of the men appointed to church offices, but there was plenty they could do in local government. In Hythe we can see their influence starting during the Elizabethan period. In 1582, Simon White was dismissed as a jurat because of adultery with ‘the maiden Alice Dell’. Undeterred, he moved to New Romney, became a freeman there, seduced another young woman and was once more ejected from the corporation. It was tough being a reprobate when Puritans ran the town.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Hythe jurats were condemning the ‘horrible sin of drinking and swearing which is greatly used within this town to the great offence of almighty God’.  Ten years later they had a veritable purge of ungodly pursuits. To coincide with the beginning of Lent, the maypole was dug up and the jurats insisted that the hole where it had stood be filled in, to erase all memory of the abomination.  The same year, they put in place strict limitations on performances by travelling players. Anyone caught allowing the players to use a private house for such entertainment would be fined.

Puritans can be identified in death as well as in life. Their Calvinism taught them Jesus had died to save them, and that this alone and no amount of prayer or penance or good works would change the will of the Almighty and gain a place in heaven for a soul not predestined for salvation. They expressed this faith in their wills. It was normal in the seventeenth century to start a will with the bequest of one’s soul to God. A non-Puritan might leave his soul to ‘Almighty God my creator’. The Puritan would leave it to ‘Almighty God and to His Son my Redeemer by whose death and passion I hope and expect to be saved and by none other means’.  Most Hythe wills of the seventeenth century use this format, or a variation of it.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Four

Smugglers were not necessarily all from the normal criminal classes. In 1601 a Star Chamber case against Ambrose Warde, gentleman and later mayor of Hythe, revealed some details he would rather have kept private. The suit against him was brought by his brother-in-law, Lawrence Baker of New Romney who had married Hester, Warde’s sister. Baker, a man of small fortune and seemingly less sense, got his business and financial affairs inextricably muddled with those of Warde.  He borrowed three hundred pounds which he could not afford to repay, and when his creditors became unpleasant about it, insisted that the debt was his brother-in-law’s. Warde said it was not and Baker was thrown into gaol.  His wife and children apparently starving, Baker had to sell the silver buttons from his doublet to get them food. Warde (and this was his own family he was talking about) said that Baker could stay there ‘until the lice and mice ate him’ before he would pay a penny.

Baker then apparently mislaid whatever brains God had given him. He was persuaded to make over all his property, which should have gone to his son, John, to Warde, who said he would give him an allowance of twenty shillings a week. Warde immediately reneged on this. Baker wanted some recompense and in bringing his case to court he brought with him a host of character witnesses ready to dish the dirt on Warde.

In the first place, it was revealed that Warde was a murderer. He had stabbed to death a man called Philpott, but had acquired a royal pardon for ‘a great sum of money’. Furthermore, it was alleged that he was using his father’s position as Captain of nearby Sandgate Castle to facilitate an extensive smuggling operation. He used the barn at the castle to store ‘great quantities’ of wool, leather, tallow, corn, and most seriously munitions, which were shipped illegally overseas. He had beaten and severely injured one of the officers at the castle who threatened to betray him and threatened a fisherman, who became suspicious of his night-time activity, with the press gang.

Warde naturally denied this detailed allegation, and the fisherman who reported his activity and threats later unaccountably withdrew his statement. He had been mistaken, he said. No charges were brought.

The customs men were not above suspicion, either. In 1622 John Browning, the cousin of the Thomas Browning (gentleman, let it not be forgotten) whom we met earlier, was accused of offering to smuggle some wool to France for Simon Head of Alkham. He told Head that he could get him six shillings a quarter, which is what he had got when he smuggled and sold his own wool. Browning was, at the time, the Customs Searcher for Hythe. The matter came to light when a Biddenden man offered Head four shillings and tenpence a quarter, and Mrs Head told him that they had received a better offer from Browning.  When the matter was investigated, the usual wall of silence descended.  Mrs Head denied saying anything of the sort, and her husband backed her up.  Three witnesses to the conversation heard only the discussion about prices and nothing about Browning. The case was dropped.

When they did try to enforce the law, things could get nasty for the customs men. William Sneath was the Collector for Customs for Hythe in 1657, and one night, seeing a sloop approaching the shore at Shornecliffe (just along the coast eastward from Hythe), he suspected smuggling. It was not a usual landing place. He tried to seize the goods ‘for the Commonwealth’ but was set upon by the recipients, about twelve men armed with staves. They had come ready for trouble.  His assistant, Josias Swaffer was also injured, as was another assistant, Edward Carter, who tried to fire the small gun he used for fowling, the only weapon he had, but who was knocked down and beaten.  The mayor of Hythe, James Arthur, who was also a physician, was called out at midnight to patch them up.

The problem did not go away. In 1662, the son of the mayor of Hythe was arrested at Sandwich  for ‘extraordinary insolence and violence used against the Customs Officers’  James Basset was the gamekeeper at the country house of  Viscount Strangford, Hythe’s M.P. He was accompanied by the estate’s gardener and three known smugglers. Perhaps it was a youthful prank – he was only twenty three, and the case against him was circumstantial. At any rate, he survived the escapade, perhaps with some influential intervention.

Thirteen years later, it was the mayor himself who was implicated in criminality. When a smuggler was killed by a customs official early in 1685, Julius Deedes, Hythe mayor, falsified evidence against the officer at the inquest. Knowing that he was liable to be arrested, he took advantage of a providential parliamentary election in Hythe and secured a seat. He secured with it parliamentary privilege against charges. The electorate was made up of the mayor and corporation of Hythe, and Deedes not only voted for himself in the election, but as mayor was also the returning officer. His plan backfired when his election was declared invalid, he was forced to resign as mayor, and most humiliatingly of all, the lord high steward of England vetoed his nomination as one of the canopy bearers at the coronation of James II.

Deedes bounced back and was re-elected to parliament in 1689 and allowed to take part in the coronation of William and Mary, but his new-found respectability was short-lived. In May1692, fourteen of his employees were arrested for a serious assault with staves on Customs officers who had seized sixteen bags of wool from a barn belonging to Deedes, which they said were destined to be smuggled. The Customs Board said that it had been a legal seizure, based on ‘reasonable suspicion’. Deedes said the Customs men were acting illegally, as they had no constable with them as the law required, which was a little disingenuous of him as the said constable, Birch, was one of the men assaulting the customs officers and was in his pay. Deedes himself, at the time of the attack, was conveniently at home, twelve miles away, but Birch had incriminated him by showing his written order to some men at Lydd.

The situation looked bleak for Deedes, but he was saved once again from prosecution, this time by dying, in September 1692. He was something of a blot on the escutcheon of an otherwise unimpeachably respectable family.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Three

It was not only fishermen who used the haven. It had been an important site for export and import of goods and for cross-channel travel until it started to silt up.  This undoubtedly affected the wealth of the town, as it did in all the Cinque Ports. In 1618, they joined together to write to the Lord warden, pleading poverty and claiming that between them only one small ship now belonged to a Cinque Ports owner  and

‘all the residue of the ships of the Ports are of small burthen and only trade to Newcastle and the west of England with malt; some few are “passage boates,” and employed for France, Holland, and Flanders’

All the owners of larger ships had gone off to London, where the merchants had an unfair advantage, the Cinque Ports said, because they were incorporated into the Company of Merchant Adventurers. As the Company held a monopoly at the time on the exportation of cloth, the Cinque Ports men had a good point, but no chance of winning the argument.

Exactly what and how much was imported and exported through the haven in the seventeenth century is unknown. The Customs papers for the period, which recorded all this information are held at the National Archive, but are now too fragile to be viewed. Some information, however, can be pieced together from other sources.

We know that horses were exported through the haven. In the seventeenth century, the reputation of the British horse was so good that dealers could make three times more by selling abroad rather than in the domestic market. Cromwell had banned the export of horses during the civil war (they were needed for the cavalry) but the ban was lifted in 1656, and the corporation of Hythe evidently saw an opportunity to replenish the town chest, and slapped a fee on horse traders using the haven.

At the same time they voted to charge for other goods transported from the port  -wheat, beans, barley, malt, rye,  and pease.  Coal from Newcastle was a regular import. It was still being brought  into the haven in 1618, but by 1640 Elias Bassett, a local merchant, was bringing the stuff to the town in carts from the stade, suggesting his boats were drawn up there rather than anchoring in the haven.

Dealing in coal was not without its pitfalls. In 1644, Robert Curtis took his barque ‘Porpoise’ up to Sunderland to fetch coal, but on his way back home he and the vessel were seized by the navy, acting under the authority of Parliament, who believed he was  going to supply the enemy. The enemy in this case was the King, Charles I.  Curtis was held for a month before persuading the Admiralty of his ‘affection for Parliament’.

The Hythe Customs books do reveal one thing, even though they cannot be viewed. Their catalogue descriptions show that from 1685 onwards they are blank. No entries were made, and  it must be assumed that from then on, Hythe haven was closed for business.

Alongside legitimate trade existed the murkier world of smuggling. On the Kent coast in the seventeenth century, the focus of the smugglers was getting wool out of the country, rather than importing goods, although that could be an attractive sideline. For centuries England’s chief raw material was wool. It was exported, after payment of duty, particularly to Flanders where it fetched a good price, and was prized for its texture and length of staple. It was used in the manufacture of the very best quality cloth. Then, in 1614, James I issued a proclamation restraining the export of wool. This was repeated in 1617, and again by the Commonwealth and was finally enshrined in law in 1660. The measures were intended to halt the growth of the Flemish textile industries and promote the growth of domestic, especially Irish, enterprises.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, sheep farming on the Romney Marsh had developed until huge tracts of the area were converted to grazing land. Everyone kept sheep, from husbandmen and yeomen, to small and great landowners who employed ‘lookers’ to keep an eye on the beasts and never visited their holdings.  The ban on export was a disaster. The loss of revenue could not be made up by sales to the domestic market. In 1703, it was reckoned that wool in its raw state was worth fourpence a pound in Ireland, and combed wool, tenpence. In France a seller could get two shillings and sixpence for raw wool and up to six shillings a pound for combed wool.  Apart from the inconvenient fact that it was against the law, the argument for smuggling was very persuasive.

Even before the ban, wool smuggling, known as ‘owling’ had taken place to avoid paying the export duty. The word owling is variously explained as coming from the hooting noise the smugglers used to warn of danger (which sounds, frankly, unlikely) or as being a corruption of ‘wooling’.  Or perhaps it was because the smugglers worked at night.

The owlers’ enemies were the customs men. Until 1671, the normal method of customs duty collecting was ‘farming’. An individual, the farmer, would pay a fixed sum to the Crown, and then collect customs duties in a given area and keep them. Farmers appointed their own officials at ports.  Alas, neither the farmers nor the officials were always honest men.

Arranging a ship, and men, to smuggle wool overseas involved a large financial outlay, with the possibility of great returns, and the men who bankrolled this were not averse to using violence if their plans were threatened. Punishment for smuggling was death if the culprit resisted; if not, he could expect to be transported or sent for navy service, none of which was a desirable outcome.  Threats were an effective way of ensuring silence. Smugglers were not dashing rogues with Robin Hood tendencies, whatever the romantic novelists might have you believe.

Not a picture of a Hythe smuggler


A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Two

Fishing was the mainstay occupation of the town and an Elizabethan survey of 1566 estimated that there were thirty three boats in the town worked by a hundred and sixty men. The survey was more guesswork than an accurate count, but it can be deduced that there were a lot of boats and a lot of fishermen.

Fish were a valuable and limited resource. Any industry exploiting such a resource is highly regulated, and fishing was no exception.  If, during your imaginary walk through Hythe you had turned up on the beach with your boat and nets, you would have been regarded with considerable suspicion, even hostility. The fishing season was tightly regulated in terms of who could fish, and when, with what and with whom.

These regulations were taken seriously. In 1616, Richard Hutson filed a complaint against Nicholas Salisbury, another fisherman. Salisbury had taken to sea a man whom Hutson had already signed on for the winter fishing. The magistrates, many of them fishermen themselves,  took a very dim view of the crime and Nicholas Salisbury was fined and forfeited the freedom of the town.

The seasons were divided into ‘fares’, some for local inshore fishing and some in deeper waters.  From April to June, Shotnett fare, the Hythe men fished for sole and mackerel in all sizes of boat. Then in summer came Harbour fare, the smaller boats catching conger with ‘harbour hooks’ in home waters, while larger vessels headed north to Scarborough fare for cod and ling.  From September to November, the bigger boats with crews of a dozen or so sailed to Yarmouth, the most profitable fare of all, for herring.  When it was over, the boats returned to Hythe and continued to fish for herring in home waters until the end of the year.

In home waters, there was also a short sprat season, which was not very lucrative, but trammelling for plaice from March to October was.  Trammels were nets consisting of a triple wall of mesh, of up to 18 furlongs in length which rested on the sea bed.  Trawls were more economical, but the Hythe men were conservative, and hung onto their trammels.  The trammel boats were small and only carried a crew of six or seven. These smaller boats were sometimes referred to as ‘stade boats’, the stade being the open beach where they were hauled up by means of horse-turned ‘vernes’ or capstans. There is still a Stade Street in Hythe today, leading from the sea to the town centre.

Stade Street in 2015......
Stade Street, Hythe  in 2015……


...and the view from Stade Street - no fishing boats, no capstans, no horses, no haven
…and the view from Stade Street – no fishing boats, no capstans, no horses, no haven

The dates of fares were strictly controlled by the Crown, but Shotnett fare, particularly, was sometimes brought forward. February often saw the Hythe men petitioning to set sail early, either because the French had already started fishing or because Lent , when meat could not be eaten and fish was in demand, was early. In 1622 they skilfully managed to combine two gripes in one petition as they asked

for licence to go to sea forthwith to catch soles, being unable, if we wait the limited day, to supply the increased demand for fish occasioned by the Proclamation for strict keeping of fish days, as the soles which are now in season will meanwhile be swept up by trawlers

Trawlers were a big bugbear for the Hythe fishermen who believed that they were over-fishing. Their 1622 complaint was against men from Rochester and Strood, which they rather spoiled by overstating their case: ‘the town is ruined by such proceedings’, which was not strictly true, but as they had been shot at by trawlers in 1617, they felt they had an axe to grind. Two of the fishermen, Richard Hutson and Thomas Wallop even went to London in 1621, taking with them a purloined trawl net to show to a parliamentary committee. In 1631, the culprits were ‘the Barking men’, using huge beam trawls, which were subsequently banned. On this occasion,   one of the Essex men was apprehended and sent to the Lord Warden, but it turned out he had a perfectly good licence from none other than the king’s fishmonger, William Angel.

Apparently the fishermen of the Cinque Ports decided that if they couldn’t beat the interlopers, they would join them, as thirty years later the Duke of York, then Lord Warden, wrote to the Ports that he was

very sensible of the great and many abuses that have of late years been committed in the fishing on the English coast’ 

and ordered Ports fishermen to stop using unlawful nets

whereby the brood or fry of fish may be any ways prejudiced or destroyed, or to take or catch any fish at unseasonable times contrary to the law or the ancient custom in fishing affairs’

It is hard to blame the fishermen, as they had been operating under difficult conditions for years. Every time there was a war, against Spain, France or the Netherlands, which was more often than not in the seventeenth century, the fishing industry suffered. Sometimes they were confined to port, as in 1627, when Buckingham believed they might be passing intelligence to the French. The next year some Sandwich fishermen were actually taken by a French man-of-war. In 1656 the Ports joined together to ask for the protection of a navy convoy against the enemy of the day, the Dutch, and in  1672 Hythe was virtually besieged by four Dutch privateers ‘so that no fishing or other boat dare peep out’.

By then, French ships from Dieppe dominated the herring and mackerel fisheries in the Channel. This, the lack of a proper harbour, the obstacles faced, the effects of impressments for the navy on a dwindling population, and the decline of the Yarmouth fisheries all helped ensure that Hythe’s future was not to be as a fishing town. By the end of the eighteenth century, not a single boat remained in the town.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part One

The tide in the affairs of the men of Hythe in the seventeenth century was the real tide of the sea, to which their lives were inextricably bound. Its importance for the commercial life of the town, for fishing and trade, cannot be overstated, and the town’s status as one of the original Cinque Ports was a matter of great civic pride. But the sea was, conversely, the town’s enemy, threatening livelihoods by destroying the port, devastating the land and stealing lives.

Hythe haven had been silting up for at least the last hundred years. The English Channel acts as a funnel. As tides come in from the Atlantic, so they are ever-increasingly restricted as they reach the straits of Dover. Shingle and sand are carried eastwards, and attempts to build piers out into the sea to protect the harbour only create eddies in which the sea deposits its load, choking up the newly-built harbour yet again. The problem is compounded if at the same time there is a river bringing down silt, as was the case at Hythe.

By the end of the sixteenth century the haven was being cut out. Another attempt was made in 1615, and yet another in 1619, but by 1634 it was ‘stopped and swarmed up whereby no boat or other vessel can come in’.  Every man in the town was expected to contribute money or labour to another attempt to save it.

It was swarmed up again twenty years later. This time, a more businesslike approach was taken, and the corporation appointed a sub-committee set up to manage the process. The original haven may have been deemed beyond repair by this time and a new location chosen, as it is afterwards referred to as the ‘New Haven’.  A sluice was created, to pent up and then release the water from the freshwater streams draining into the sea. This surge would wash away the silt, in theory.  Sluice keepers were employed for ‘drawing up and letting down’ the gates.

This effort lasted twenty five years, until 1679, when a resolution was made by the corporation to cut it out again. Whether this actually happened is doubtful. Perhaps the time had come to accept the inevitable. A map of 1685 shows Hythe with a completely unbroken coastline and no sign of a haven at all.

By this time, the great dispute over Sir William’s wall was underway.

It started in 1683, when Sir William Honeywood, sometime jurat of Hythe had, against the corporation wishes, enclosed some land he owned near the stade.  This had the effect of diverting the tide, so that instead of flowing up the beach it ran into the town. Some houses were reported to have three feet of water in them. It also crossed a right of way from the town to the beach given to the town in 1629. It was still there in 1691, and the Cinque Ports confederation agreed to fund the town’s legal action against Sir William. This presumably failed, as aggrieved mention is made of it again six years later in a land transfer document, and it still stood for at least the first twenty years of the next century.

Sir William was a wealthy baronet, whose link to Hythe was that his family owned Sene farm, just up the hill from the town.  When a Hythe jurat, although then a very young man, he had insisted on always being given precedence over the mayor and other jurats, despite their seniority of age and service.  Their opinion of him may be gauged from the fact that they then twice rebuffed his efforts to become their representative in parliament. In the early 1680s he went to try his luck in Canterbury, where the corporation were swayed by his generous and frequent hospitality. Was the wall his revenge on Hythe? The evidence points that way.

Flooding, however, was nothing new, and seems to have been on the increase since the 1650s. The land between the town and the sea had, over the last few hundred years, been ‘inned’, or reclaimed from the sea which once covered it. After a few years, generally reckoned to be ten, it was considered fit to use as grazing land. However, it was completely flat and a good, sound sea wall was needed to keep the salt tides out. This proved problematic, as repairing the wall cost money that the corporation very often lacked. In 1660 two jurats did the work gratis and a couple of years later all the jurats were obliged to lend the corporation ten pounds each to pay for repairs. At this time the corporation owned much of the innings, and if they failed to keep out the floods would be liable to pay compensation to tenants, as they did when Thomas Little’s sheep were drowned in 1666. Ownership of the innings was proving too expensive, and in the 1650s and 1660s, the corporation started selling off large chunks of it, notably to Julius Deedes, one of their own jurats.

The Middling Sort – Part Six

Increased literacy should have meant, for those who could afford it, increased book ownership, and we do see in the probate inventories more books making an appearance. John Gately, the blacksmith had a bible and ‘four small books’ when he died in 1625. John Barnes, a carpenter, and Richard Beane, a yeoman had two bibles apiece when they died in 1668, and Beane had other books besides. Almost at the end of the century, Peter Johnson, a baker, also had a bible and some small books.  Book ownership, on the evidence of probate inventories, was not yet common. Rather worryingly, the physician brothers, Richard and James Arthur, did not own one book between them. Nor did the successful businessmen siblings Elias and Ferdinando Bassett.

The bible is the most frequently mentioned book in inventories, and Protestants made a point of publishing cheap editions so that the scriptures could be available to as many as possible. Before 1640, monopolies kept prices high, but when they collapsed a small bible which would fit in a pocket could be bought for two shillings and fourpence. Despite the exhortations of the church, owning a bible was not the same as reading it, and for some at least it must have had a purely talismanic or display purpose. However, there were some good stories in the bible, and it has been suggested that the painted cloths used to cover walls in the houses of the middling sort and in inns would have had biblical scenes depicted. Since none of them survive, we don’t know for sure, but Shakespeare describes Falstaff’s room in the ‘Garter’ as ‘painted about with a story of the prodigal’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor).

Other books are mentioned in Hythe inventories, but never named. The most widely available to the public were chapbooks, bought from travelling chapmen, or at fairs. These could be the broadly humorous merry-books, instruction manuals on family life or running a household, or Godly books, which tended to be terrifying tracts about the imminent arrival of the Grim Reaper and eternal damnation for the sinner.  No wonder the youthful John Bunyan, preferred the merry-books:

‘ give me a Ballad, a News-book, George  on Horseback or Bevis of Southampton,  give me some book that teaches curious Arts, that tells of old Fables; but for the Holy Scriptures I cared not’.

For many boys of the middling sort, an apprenticeship followed classroom education.  This generally started when a boy was fourteen, and lasted for seven years, although tradesmen in a craft requiring manual labour, such as tanners, bakers, blacksmiths or bricklayers might prefer a lad of fifteen or sixteen. It was usual to send one’s son away to be trained in a trade or profession, even when he was following in his father’s footsteps. John Gately apprenticed his son William to a blacksmith outside Hythe, possibly in Wye, about sixteen miles away, since William eventually married a Wye girl. William himself later took on an  apprentice from Lyminge, about six miles distant..

Some occupations were determined by family tradition, notably medicine and fishing.  James Arthur and his brother Richard both practiced as surgeons and physicians in Hythe in mid-century and James’s sons, also Richard and James, followed suit.  The Hutson and Wallop families produced generations of Hythe fishermen.

The choice of trade or profession was not always that of the father, but could depend on the boy’s aptitude and on the family’s resources. It cost money to set up in a trade. Blacksmiths and tanners needed large premises. Mercers, selling cloth wholesale and retail, needed a large stock to start out. Shoemakers, on the other hand, could work at home, and, though poorly paid, would always be in work. Sometimes a boy was just not cut out for his father’s work and followed another trade entirely.

Some men never stuck to a single trade at all, but seemed to live, and thrive, on their wits. Ferdinando Bassett was one such. Arriving in the town from Sandwich in the 1620s, when his sister Michele married into the Hutson family, Ferdinando turned his hand to anything which would make him a living, and started by making himself useful to the corporation by doing odd jobs.  He then worked consecutively, but not exclusively, as town drummer, town gunner, town sergeant, haberdasher, yeoman and innkeeper. This seemingly erratic career was a success. By 1648 he could afford to buy the ‘White Hart’, the inn favoured by the corporation for post-sessions feasting, would later be able to lend considerable sums to the corporation and eventually became mayor himself.  His probate inventory of 1663 described him as ‘gentleman’. Not bad for the man who had started out by mending a drum for the corporation.

The White Hart in Hythe
The White Hart in Hythe

His younger brother Elias took a more conventional, but equally successful route to wealth. He became a fisherman, got his own boat, then later bought collier ships and ran coal down the coast to Hythe. By 1649, he was landlord of the White Hart’s main rival, the ‘George’, and he, too became mayor and a significant landowner.

Ferdinando and Elias were both married three times.  Elias’s third wife was Joan, the widow of Richard Pashley, which made Elias the step-father of James Pashley, the cousin by marriage of Henry Oxinden of Denton. Both Bassett and Pashley were jurats. James Pashley’s daughter married Edward Rucke, another jurat. He also wrote to Oxinden and addressed him as ‘cousin’. Historians have noted that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the rise in towns of the oligarchy, government by the few, in which members of the ruling group were interconnected and often interrelated. This was certainly the case in Hythe.

To give just one more example:

Alice March, the daughter of  William March, three times  mayor of Hythe,  married  in 1619 John Knight, by whom she had three daughters and two sons.  John died in 1634 and six years later, Alice married Edmund Bedingfield a widower and the brother of Thomas Bedingfield, twice mayor of Hythe. Edmund’s son by his first marriage, Thomas, became Hythe’s town clerk who on his death was succeeded by his son, another Edmund. Meanwhile, Alice’s daughter by her first husband, Alice Knight, married Michael Lushington, who was, inevitably, also twice mayor of Hythe.

‘Cousin’ was a very useful word to describe such complicated relationships, and indeed the town was run by a cousinship. They married each other, witnessed each others wills, acted as overseers and executors of wills, sold each other land and property and, until the conflict-ridden years of the civil war, generally acted as a united body to run the town as co-operatively as possible.

In the next few posts I will look at how the sea affected the lives of the people of Hythe