Hythe, like the rest of Kent, was under parliamentary control throughout the first Civil War. The king’s lands were mostly in the west and north of the country. None of the major battles were fought in Kent and it was spared the horrors of Englishmen slaughtering each other and the inevitable looting and that retaliation that followed each confrontation. Most of Kent, although moderately parliamentarian until the war broke out, was thereafter moderately royalist but never effectively challenged the status quo. Some towns, particularly the Cinque ports, were notably parliamentarian. Dover and Sandwich were two, Hythe was another. In its choice of representatives for parliament, its welcome of a radical Puritan minister, in its support of the execution of the king, it was as firm a supporter of parliament as any town in Kent.
However, there was a mixture of loyalties in Hythe, as in most places. There were those who were firecely for parliament, or for the king, and those who were moderate in their opinions either way, and those who just wanted to get on with making a living or raising a family and wished things would get back to normal and stop changing so often.
There was a lot of change to assimilate. In 1642, parliament set up county committees, composed of local gentry, to run each county. Their authority was based not just on their commissions from parliament but also on their powers as deputy lieutenants and JPs. The Cinque Ports argued that their special rights and privileges meant that they should not be governed by the county committee of Kent. Sandwich acted as their mouthpiece, strongly arguing that any attempts by the committee to interfere were contrary to their ‘liberties, customs and freedoms’. But by 1643 some of the ports were beginning to cave in. Lydd, Folkestone and Hythe were the first. The King’s army was at this time advancing through Sussex and it must have seemed that these ports might be overrun. They chose the protection of parliament instead.
A Royalist plot had been hatched at Beachborough, the seat of Sir William Brockman, a mile or so north of Hythe. The king sent him a Commission of Array, entitling him to muster local forces and the Earl of Thanet was sent to assist him, marching eastward from Sussex. Unfortunately, a letter about the plot fell into parliament’s hands, Brockman was arrested and the earl surrendered, ignominiously requesting ‘an accommodation’, which was refused. His estate became forfeit to parliament.
The county committee was concerned with the raising of taxation and the provision of armed forces. Another committee was set up to in 1643 to seize the estates of royalists and Catholics. Then an accounts committee was set up with separate membership to audit the accounts of the first two committees. The sheer size of Kent necessitated ‘a numerous offspring’ of sub-committees and there were separate committees to run Canterbury and Rochester. By the mid-1640s there were twenty or so committees or sub-committees operating in the county at a number of sites, including Hythe.
Sir William Brockman of Beachborough
By 1640, Charles I was finding that his non-parliamentary attempts to raise money were failing to fund his plans, especially his military struggle with Scotland. After twelve years of personal rule, he called a parliament in April 1640. It was not a success. Parliament only wanted to continue where it had left off and talk about their own privileges and the king’s abuses of power. Exasperated, Charles dissolved it after only three weeks, and it became known, appropriately, as the Short Parliament.
Inevitably, he had to call another parliament in November. This one lasted rather longer and became known as the Long Parliament, because technically it sat until it dissolved itself in 1660. Charles still wanted it to vote him money, but it had other priorities, and one of its first acts was to impeach William Laud, the reforming Archbishop of Canterbury and protégé of the king, for high treason. This was really a way of getting at Charles by the mostly Puritan parliament, who disliked Laud’s reforms and his sometimes draconian methods of enforcing them – by having his opponents branded, for example. Given his age (he was sixty-seven), Laud was imprisoned in the Tower of London rather than being put on trial. Parliament next impeached Charles’s close advisor, the Earl of Strafford, alleging that he had attempted to raise an army in Catholic Ireland to subdue England. Charles was obliged to sign his friend’s death warrant and he was dead within six months of the Long Parliament’s first meeting.
When rumours reached Charles that parliament was also planning to impeach his queen, Henrietta Maria, for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to go on the offensive and arrest five of its leaders for treason. It was not a wise move. No king had ever entered the House of Commons, but on Tuesday, 4 January 1642, in gross violation of Parliamentary privilege, the King entered the House with armed men to arrest the Five Members. They had been warned and fled, but Charles had openly shown his contempt for parliament. He left London on 10 January 1642 and set up his court in Oxford, where he began raising an army, having declared that parliament was in rebellion. The Civil War had started.
In 1640, Hythe had elected John Wandesford and Henry Heyman as M.P.s for the Short Parliament . The two men could not have been more different. Wandesford was a Royalist, who later went with the king to Oxford and managed the king’s artillery train there during the Civil War. His attraction for Hythe corporation seems to have been that he tried to get the Crown to take an interest in building a proper harbour for the town. He was as good as his word, and sent papers to the Secretary of State, who undertook to pass them to His Majesty, but by then Charles’s mind was on other things and the project never got any serious attention. Henry Heyman , on the other hand, was the parliamentarian son of Peter Heyman, the towns’ former M.P. The Heyman’s family seat was Somerfield at Sellinge about four miles from Hythe, and they were well-known to the corporation.
In the election for the Long Parliament the same year, Hythe plumped for two parliamentarians. Henry Heyman was chosen again, and wrote frequently to the corporation, his ‘brethren and loving friends’, keeping them up to date with national developments, especially of the Five Members charged with treason. The town ditched Wandesford, who had failed to deliver the promised harbour, and chose instead John Harvey, brother of the physician William Harvey. He also had local connections, having inherited from his father land at Arpinge and Folkestone. He had broken with the family’s Royalist loyalties (his brother was physician to James I), and sided with parliament until his death in 1645.
The choice of two staunch parliamentarians attracted the attention of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the Duke of Lennox, who was a Stuart cousin of the king. He was incensed by Hythe’s decision and wrote a threatening letter to the corporation demanding to know the name and standing of every man who had voted for Harvey and Heyman. Votes were not then secret and were given verbally. The list had to be provided to Dover Castle. Refusal would be ‘at your peril’.Unintimidated, the corporation referred the letter to their M.P.s., who passed it on to other interested parties. It formed part of the evidence against Lennox when, in 1643, the House of Commons decided that he was ‘one of the malignant Party, and an evil Counsellor to His Majesty’ and that he should be removed from all his offices. He fled into exile before joining the king at Oxford.
Travelling about the country was time-consuming, but there were occasions when a personal interview could achieve more than a letter, and others when it was simply necessary, as in the annual trip to Yarmouth. This was made by land and by sea, and was not always an easy trip in autumn. William Gately had such a hard time of it in 1649 that the corporation awarded him compensation of twenty-five pounds.
New M.P.s had to be sworn in by the mayor, and in the majority of cases refused to come to Hythe for the purpose. Edward Zouche in 1621 asked that he ‘may not have the trouble to go to your town to receive it’. Some, like Lionel Cranfield in 1614 simply ignored the request to visit their new constituency and waited for the mayor to make the trip. Sometimes special pleading had to be made in London, as when Essex trawlermen were ravaging the Channel fishing, or Ship Money seemed extortionate, or billeting of soldiers an intolerable burden. On other occasions, London was a good central point to meet with other interested parties: in 1621 a group of jurats met their counterparts from Chichester at the ‘Queens Head’ in Southwark, a large coaching inn on what is now Borough High Street.
The jurats who visited London hired horses for the journey. There were a number of stables in Hythe, and inns and other tradesmen often kept a few horses for hire, too. Their visits must have been frequent enough to make them familiar faces at the seats of government. In 1616 the king’s messenger, when told that the corporation would not subsidise James I’s extravagant household expenses anymore, told them that he would arrest ‘the next man of this town which he shall find in London and carry him before the clerks of His Majesty’s Green Cloth to answer’. The Board of Green Cloth was the main instrument of organisation and accounting for the administration of the royal household.
If a visit was not necessary, a letter could be sent by messenger or post. The Cinque Ports had a very efficient ‘round robin’ communications system. If a port had an issue it wanted to raise outside the Brotherhood and Guestling, it wrote an open letter seeking responses. This then went with a messenger to each of the other ports in turn until it was quite speedily returned to the originator. Each town was responsible for paying the messenger who delivered the note.
There was a postal system in existence in the seventeenth century, and in fact earlier: post was being delivered from London to Dover in the sixteenth century. In 1635 a royal proclamation empowered Thomas Withering to set up a new Letter Office, with authority to carry letters for up to 80 miles for tuppence a mile and threepence a mile after that. It was hoped he would provide a letter carrier to every shire and a foot post to every market town and he had some success. In 1656 the London register, Thomas Dunn, expected to receive letters from his deputies in the Kent ports in not much more than twenty-four hours, by express post.
In 1660 an Act of Parliament established a general post office and later in the decade by-posts were established to towns off the six main post roads, including the Dover road. News and gossip could now travel very quickly indeed. The news, however, was not always welcome. In 1661 William Knight, the mayor of Hythe received a letter by post from the King’s Bench in London. it told him to reinstate two jurats who had been disenfranchised for their parliamentary sympathies during the interregnum. He was so enraged that he imprisoned the unfortunate bearer of the news, the Hythe postman Peter Johnson, in the town hall, released him, thought better of it and locked him up again for several hours. It made no difference. Even the mayor was not above the law.
All this activity, political and otherwise, required communications, which in the seventeenth century meant letters carried by foot, by horse, by wagon or by coach along roads of uncertain quality. There were three major thoroughfares running from London through Kent: to Dover on Watling Street via Canterbury; to Rye through Bromley & Tonbridge and to Hythe via New Cross, Maidstone, Ashford, and Tonbridge. The Hythe road was reported to be ‘a reasonable road to Farningham, but less commendable to Hythe, being generally rough, hard and narrow and not much frequented’. A seventeenth century map of Kent also shows side roads, which suggests that these were passable, in dry weather at least, but it some circumstances, especially in winter, it may have been easier to travel to London by sea and heavy goods – grain, coal, bricks, sand, timber or iron wares – were always transported by water when possible.
It was the responsibility of landowners to maintain any section of road which ran through their property, and as with all such responsibilities, it was not always fulfilled to the letter. In the case of minor roads, they were likely to be thought of merely as a piece of land where no-one had the right to sow peas or stack manure, though some ignored even this requirement. But if roads were blocked, people could and did, ride across fields full of crops, which provided some incentive for their upkeep.
Repairs were effected by ploughing up the two edges of the track, throwing the earth inward and then levelling the surface. The ruts were filled with stones or brushwood. Sometimes the whole surface would be covered with stones or gravel. Drainage ditches on either side of the road had to be cleared out regularly, to keep them effective. Clement Beale of Saltwood fell out with Hythe corporation in the early years of the seventeenth century because he failed to repair the highway between Hythe and Newington and then for three months did not clear out the ditches either, so that the whole road became impassable.
It was not until the late seventeenth century that parliament started to take responsibility for repairing and maintaining roads. The Turnpike Acts authorised a trust to levy tolls on those using the road and to use that income to repair and improve the road. They could also purchase property to widen or divert existing roads. The ‘turnpike’ was the gate which blocked the road until the toll was paid. The first such Act, of 1663, turnpiked the Great North Road between Wadesmill in Hertfordshire and Stilton in Huntingdonshire. The next was not until 1695 (Shenfield to Harwich), but after that there were several a year, and by 1750 most of the main roads from London were turnpiked.
But until that happened the people of Hythe coped with rough roads as best they could. If you could afford nothing else, you walked. You might be able to hitch a lift on a passing wagon or cart. If you had a horse, or could afford horsehire, you rode – women usually rode pillion behind a man, and most horse owners owned a pillion saddle. If you were very rich, you might own your own coach, but this was beyond the means of most.
From the early seventeenth century, public conveyances for the fare paying public began to be introduced: the long or stage wagon, hooded with cloth, drawn by seven or eight horses in single file, could carry twenty to thirty people. It only did about ten to fifteen miles a day, but was especially convenient for women with children.
By the 1630s public coaches were working from London to several provincial towns. A network grew up during the 1650s, and passengers could expect to cover thirty to forty miles a day. Regular coach services left from London inns at advertised times and stopped at others on the way. Those who could afford it sat inside, those who could not on top. Inns became the passenger and goods stations of their day, where passengers could be met, goods collected and both transferred to feeder services. Kent had ten services a week in 1637, and twenty-two a week in 1681. There was no direct service from Hythe to London, but there was a weekly service from Dover to the White Hart in Southwark, leaving on Thursdays, and a weekly boat service as well.
For most of the century, people moving relatively small amounts of goods, such as chapmen, used pack horses. The smaller horses were better than wagons in bad weather, were faster and ate less than wagon horses. Recognising this, in 1615, Hythe corporation ordered the west bridge to be made six feet wide with stone and timber specifically for pack horses to use.
If you had more goods to shift, a wagon could be used, and the temptation was often to cart as many goods as possible on one vehicle. Unfortunately, heavy wagons broke down the roads quickly and made them impassable to packhorses. Various attempts made throughout the seventeenth century to limit the size of carriers’ wagons and the number of horses used to pull them. A royal proclamation of 1621 forbade the use of four- wheeled wagons altogether, but it was ignored. In 1662 it was decreed that wheels should be at least four inches wide inches wide to stop them rutting the road. Another of 1670 forbade the use of more than five horses. All of this was an attempt to fit the traffic to the road. Matters did not improve until the problems were addressed the other way round.