In Hythe, the aftermath of the 1648 Kent rebellion was suspicion and mistrust. The rebellion had flared into violence when the County Committee had tried to suppress a petition, signed by many, calling for the dismantling of the New Model Army and the reinstatement of the king. Now parliament was out to get anyone who had put their name to the petition, particularly if they were in any sort of public office. The Hythe jurats William Deedes, Laurence Weller and Austen Greenland and the town clerk, Thomas Curtis were all hauled before the Committee, suspected of involvement in insurrection, but were cleared and the Committee found the whole town to be blameless in the affair.
To add insult to injury, soldiers had been billeted in the town to fight the rebels under the command of Sir Michael Livesey, a ruthless parliamentarian soldier. Months later the victuallers who had put them up and fed them had still received no recompense and saw little hope of ever receiving it.
In 1653, the charges against the four jurats were revived. They appealed to their M.P., Tom Westrow, who put the Committee straight on the men’s allegiance to parliament. This was more or less his last act for his constituents, as that year the Rump Parliament was dissolved. A new nominated assembly of one hundred and forty-four members took its place, named the Barebones parliament after a godly London leather seller, Praise-God Barebone, one of its members. Hythe was not represented on this assembly, but it did not last long, resigning its powers to Cromwell at the end of the year.
Cromwell was now Lord Protector. Despite the best efforts of the Rump to impose strict Puritan codes of behaviour on the country, Cromwell, believed that it was still in need of moral reform. He divided the country into twelve regions, each under the command of a Major-General. Their first duty of the Major-Generals was to maintain security by suppressing unlawful assemblies and disarming Royalist ‘malignants’.
Kent’s Major-General was Thomas Kelsey. Originally a London button-maker, he had risen to power through the New Model Army and had been Lieutenant of Dover Castle. The Major-Generals became the enforcers of righteousness and godliness. At the beginning of the civil war the Book of Sports had been burned and edicts were published to ensure that pleasure of any sort never again happened on a Sunday. The edicts were re-issued with more vigour. ‘No persons shall hereafter exercise or keep maintain or be present at any wrestling, shooting, bowling, ringing of bells, masque, wake, feast, church-ale, dancing games, cock-fights, cock-running, horse races, bear baiting.’ Children under twelve heard cursing were to be publicly whipped. Convicted fornicators were to be sentenced to three months and adulterers were to be hanged.
Kent’s proximity to the continent and the exiled Charles II made it of particular interest to parliament and the Major-Generals. Time and again Hythe and the other Cinque ports were warned to look out for the comings and goings of ‘dangerous persons’ and to apprehend them. Kelsey also oversaw the administration of parliament’s Decimation Tax, designed to punish Royalist. One of these was Robert Spice of Old Romney, who also leased a house in Hythe. No longer able to afford live in Old Romney, he moved his family to Hythe to the appropriately named Romney House, where they settled down. The house belonged to the corporation, but Spice, presumably broke, was not paying the rent. Learning of this, the corporation dispatched the Chamberlain to take possession and to persuade Spice to pay up. Even if they felt sorry for him, his was not a time when showing open compassion to Royalists was a sensible option.
In 1655, the same year that he appointed the Major-Generals, Cromwell, issued another proclamation prohibiting ‘Delinquents,’ that is anyone who had actively supported the king in any way, from holding office or having a vote in any election. In February of the following year, during one of Hythe corporation’s quarterly meetings, they were unexpectedly visited by Captain Laurence Knott of Sandgate Castle who, with several of his soldiers burst into the Common Hall, flourished this proclamation and proceeded to read it aloud. He then insisted that despite having been cleared of any offence by the County Committee, most of the corporation were, in fact, Royalists who had signed the 1648 petition. They were therefore delinquents and should give up their places on the corporation. He refused to leave the building until they had done so. John Grey, John Mercer, Laurence Weller and Ferdinando Bassett, the landlord of the ‘White Hart’ finally left, together with the town sergeant, John Browning.
Captain Knott was a Dover man, but did not let his local connections and sympathies get in the way of performing his duty to the Protector. At the Restoration it was he who was imprisoned, in Dover Castle, not for his activities during the Commonwealth, but because of his dissenting religious views. Laurence Knott had become a Quaker.