Hythe’s woes were increased by a particularly nasty outbreak of in-fighting in the middle of the decade. By this time some of those disenfranchised from the corporation in 1662 had been allowed to return to the assembly. The origin of the dispute seems to have been in personal animosity, which spilled over into revolt.
George Thurbane, a jurat, and James Minage, a poor citizen of Hythe had some sort of disagreement. Minage took it seriously and started to slander Thurbane, even accusing him of murder. Minage’s cause was taken up by John Handfield and John Finch, former jurats who had been disenfranchised. They encouraged Minage to take his grievances against Thurbane to the Hythe court. Again and again his complaints were judged to be ‘frivolous’ that is, of no legal merit, but Handfield, who seems to have had a hold over Minage, kept forcing him back into court. According to Thurbane, this was because Handfield was plotting to ruin him.
In 1667, when John Gray was mayor, Handfield and Finch walked into the corporation meeting and claimed that, though disenfranchised, they should now be allowed to sit. Gray agreed, but the rest of the jurats did not, and walked out. Nothing daunted, Gray swore the two men in as jurats. The town was apparently to be run by a triumvirate. They immediately sacked the town’s counsel (legal advisor) and replaced him with their own man, without any vote being taken. This was presumably to help Minage’s case against Thurbane being taken seriously.
The aggrieved jurats who had opposed Handfield and Finch appealed to the Brotherhood and Guestling, who found in their favour. Gray, Handfield and Finch were fined, and when they refused to pay, imprisoned until they did. The legal costs of the jurats’ action against them had been high, and the Brotherhood ordered that everyone of Hythe’s citizens should pay twenty shillings to reimburse them. The Brotherhood would send a collector to Hythe, and he would have the power to seize good in lieu of payment.
It was not the corporation’s finest hour.
The jurats struggled on through the next few years, always broke, and dealing with crisis after crisis, from Sir William Honywood’s wall to the botched election of Julius Deedes to parliament. In 1683, however, they made a controversial choice of town clerk by appointing a non-conformist, Thomas Tournay, who had been removed from office in Rye because of his radical views. It seems that old habits die hard. The mayor of Rye referred to him as one of ‘those bloody-minded people’ and carefully searched his house for hidden arms before he went, but found none.
The departure of William Wallace from Hythe had not meant that all its inhabitants decided to conform to the Church of England. The restored bishops in the Church believed that Puritanism had been responsible for disaffection from the King, and were determined to wipe it out. A whole culture of teaching, praying, preaching and singing was made to go away. The result, which should have been obvious, was that people deserted the church for non-conformists’ gatherings.
Even before Wallace’s departure there were Baptists in Hythe, and they had their own preacher, Richard Hatton. Whilst Baptists were not singled out for persecution like the Quakers, the government did not make it easy for them to worship and their gatherings were made illegal under the Conventicle Act of 1664, although two in Hythe were reported to the authorities in 1669. Dissenting ministers were also required to live at least five miles outside towns. However, by 1672 it was possible to apply for a licence to hold religious meetings, and one of the fifty granted in Kent was in Hythe. There was, as yet, no permanent chapel, and worshippers gathered together in private houses to pray and listen to the Word of God.
A religious census in 1676 showed that Hythe had 274 conformists to the Church of England, two Catholics, two Quakers and twenty-three Baptists. The proportion of non-conformists was higher than most towns in Kent. The figures probably refer to heads of household. The population of Hythe had shrunk, but not to a mere three hundred souls.