So the century drew on. Plague came and went, Sir William built his wall, and the haven finally silted up for good and was obliterated by the tides. The town surrendered its charter and one of the last vestiges of the influence of the Cinque Ports, the annual trip to Yarmouth to sit in judgement on lesser mortals, was abandoned.
There were brief moments of excitement. In the summer of 1672, eight French smugglers boarded a boat belonging to a Mr Williams and took a hostage to France. Three years later a French man-of-war chased a Dutch merchant ship onto the beach at Hythe and fired volleys of bullets at it, a good many of which fell in the town, though no deaths were reported.
In 1685 Charles II died, having been received into the Catholic church on his deathbed. The erstwhile Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, his brother James, became king and provided Hythe an opportunity for canopy-carrying. The mayor, Robison Beane, who lived in a fine house in the High Street opposite the George inn attended and so did Hythe’s sitting M.P. Heneage Finch. Also carrying the canopy that day was Samuel Pepys, who served very briefly as M.P. for Sandwich.
The reign of James II was also brief. He was openly Catholic, but as he was not young and in poor health, his people expected that he would soon be succeeded by his Protestant daughters. A late second marriage, however, produced a Catholic son, who took precedence. This was unacceptable to parliament and the country, and one of the Protestant daughters, Mary, and her husband William of Orange, were invited to take the throne. James, after dithering for a while, let the county in 1688.
Not everyone agreed that William and Mary had a right to the throne. Jacobites held (and still do) that James and his successors were the rightful monarchs. Among these was Hythe’s former M.P., Heneage Finch.
Finch was elected to Parliament in 1685, at the same time that Julius Deedes tried to get himself a seat. The Lord Warden’s nomination, he was a Guards officer, a courtier and a younger son of the Lord Lieutenant of Kent. On the accession of William and Mary, he refused to take the oath of allegiance and in April 1689 was arrested on charges of Jacobitism. He escaped custody and with five others assembled at Hythe, hoping to sail to France to join James II, who had set up a Stuart court in exile at St Germain near Paris. Perhaps he thought he would find the people of Hythe loyal to him, as he had so recently represented them.
He was wrong. As he and his friends were preparing to join a small vessel, they were recognised by several Hythe men. They tried to flee on horseback but Finch’s horse threw him, he was arrested and taken to London. He was bailed and eventually discharged for lack of evidence. The men who made the arrest and escorted Finch to London, Thomas Mount, (a sadler), Nicholas Ingham (alehouse keeper), Ralph Hatton, Thomas Tournay (the town clerk), and James Fordred, were recommended to the Treasury for a gratuity.
The arrest sparked a little rush of similar detentions. The next year, Hythe men apprehended Godfrey Cross, who had treasonably been supplying intelligence to the French. This time their prisoner was tried and executed. In 1692, they detained two ‘suspicious persons’ who were believed to be in correspondence with the king’s enemies.
In 1691, the boot was on the other foot when the Constable of West Hythe was arrested for concealing two Frenchmen suspected of spying. He himself was suspected of using the inn he owned at Botolph’s Bridge for smuggling goods both into and out of the country. However, the day after his arrest he was found in an ale house in Hythe with his ‘consorts.’ Charges were mysteriously dropped.
At the end of the seventeenth century, Hythe was not the town it had been a hundred years earlier. The population had shrunk by about 50%. Baptisms and burials were half what they had been in 1600, and very few marriages are recorded. Those marriages that did take place were often the second unions of widowed men and women.
This may, in part, have been due to plague. We don’t know how badly Hythe was affected in the last outbreak in 1665/6, but if the town was badly hit, then it took it much longer to recover than other comparable places. What seems to have been happening is that the young people were leaving. They were going, perhaps, to larger towns, but almost certainly many were going to London, the great sump, where there were job opportunities for skilled and unskilled men and women alike. Once gone from the town, they did not return.
The Ancient Town and Port was in the doldrums, and difficult years were to follow, but the sea, which had treacherously taken away the town’s haven and livelihoods became eventually its saviour. The rise of the fashionable seaside resort brought new people and new hope to Hythe, and the coming of the military to protect the coast from Napoleon brought new trading opportunities. By the mid- nineteenth century, the town was thriving again.
But that is another story.