Politics, Politicians and People – Part Six

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.

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