Civic Life and the Gatelys

Beneath a yew tree in St Leonard’s churchyard, lies a rather battered table tomb, long buried under landslip.  Rediscovered in October 2013, part of the inscription, protected from the elements for generations, could still be seen:  ‘liam Ga…who was Bay… and Mayor for the Yeare 1650 … Ancie … he… Yeare is….. departed  this mortall life on the LORDS day  the 23 of February 165…being of the age of 52 yeares’. This is the tomb of William Gately, and his story, and that of his father John, follow. Their lives left only a few traces, but what is known casts a little more light on the history of our town of Hythe.


John Gately was a blacksmith. His origins remain obscure, and he first appears in the Hythe records in 1599 with his marriage to Phillice Possingham. The couple’s son William was born later the same year or in early 1600.  A family man with a trade only lacked premises, and by the following year, John had built himself a workshop on the highway backing onto the Green (now the Dymchurch Road). He presented this as a fait accompli to Hythe Corporation, who agreed to lease him the land at a cost of 2s 8d a year.  The arrangement was mutually beneficial:  the town needed a blacksmith and John needed the business.

Phillice died when little William was only six, and the next year John married Elizabeth Steedman, who lived just five more years. His third wife was Mary, the mother of his son John, born in 1614, but she too died in 1615. Finally, in 1620, he married Alice Wagers.  She was the mother of his youngest son, David, born in November 1621.  Phillice, Elizabeth and Mary are all buried in St Leonard’s churchyard, but the memorials to their short lives, if any, have not survived.

John served as churchwarden for St Leonard’s in 1612, but evidently decided that he did not want to take any further part in civic or church duties.  He never became a freeman or jurat as was the norm of a man of his status.  The office of jurat was, in fact, not universally sought after. In the first place it was expensive. The man in question had to pay to become a freeman – the Corporation usually charged 20 shillings. Then he had to pay again to become a jurat. Once in post, he was expected to devote time to meetings, tax gathering, overseeing works and acting as a J.P., all to the detriment of earning his livelihood, and was often required to undertake work such as mending the sea wall or to lend money to the often-impecunious Corporation. Some who were rich enough paid not to be freemen:  William Deedes paid £10 in 1633 but was later persuaded to accept the honour.

John Gately found another way. In May 1614 the Corporation appointed him guardian of Alice Hempsted, a six-year-old orphan who had inherited lands and money. He would have the profits of renting out the land and the interest on the money until she was of age and would be exempt from payment of local taxes to the Corporation and the Church, and from serving as an officer of the town. Of course, he paid for this an undisclosed sum, but it would seem that for him it was a fair bargain.

 One civic duty he could not avoid was membership of the Trained Band, a local militia. This was obligatory for every able-bodied adult male. John kept his muskets and bandolier, together with a rapier, in his outhouse with his pigs; the Corporation provided powder and match.   The Corporation also provided hospitality at general musters, which were rowdy affairs. In 1626, noting the disorder at such meetings, they directed the Chamberlain to take note of the wine and beer brought into the rooms, and to allow no ‘superfluyitie’.

By 1618, he had left the premises on the Green, but was leasing another house nearby from St Bartholomew’s Hospital of Saltwood. The house included a hall, with two chambers over, an entry room, garret, kitchen, buttery, stables and outside storage.

 In 1625, on a trip to Rye, John was taken ill. A Hythe surgeon, William Stace, attended him, but to no avail, unsurprisingly, given the state of medical knowledge at the time.  Although John’s will has not survived, the probate inventory of his goods has. He was comfortably off, and the furnishings and effects in his house were worth over £68.  He was literate, owning ‘a bible, two smalle bibles (probably the New Testament or the Psalms), a service book and three other smalle books’.   As a comparison, at the same time, John Cocke, a labourer in Saltwood, had in his two rooms goods to the value of £6. 6s  6d.

John’s comparative wealth is not surprising. Blacksmiths served farmers’ needs and could also produce  pots, kettles, chimney backs and weights for use in the home, and as well as his personal possessions, he had wealth in his ‘shop’.  A smith’s tools, his anvil, bellows and vice,  were worth several pounds, but the value of his stocks of coal, iron and finished products such as horseshoes might be much greater.

A 17th century smithy

After John’s death his widow, Alice, went to live in New Romney, where some years later she died in mysterious circumstances, either from falling down a couple of steps or being struck by a stone. Meanwhile, in Hythe, her stepson William took on his father’s house and trade. 

Now in charge of his own business, and with his stepmother living elsewhere, William was in need of a wife to run his house. He married Ann Dryland on 2 October 1627 in Wye. Their first child, John, was baptised in Hythe on 31 August 1628, but is not mentioned in his father’s will, so presumably died young. Their second and third sons, both called William, and the fourth, Samuel born in 1642 also had short lives. Their only daughter, Elizabeth, to whom William left most of his estate, was baptised in Hythe on 11 July 1630.

Unlike his father, William embraced civic life with some enthusiasm. In February 1633, the Corporation charged him with collecting contributions towards cutting out the haven, one of several attempts the town made to save its harbour. He evidently performed this task satisfactorily, and in August was made freeman and jurat. He still had to pay £1.3.0d for the privilege.  Tax collecting seems to have been his forte, as he was appointed on several occasions to this task, including the collection of the generally unpopular Ship Money imposed on the country by Charles I.

He also served as churchwarden at St Leonard’s in 1639 and 1641. This, like the office of jurat, was not necessarily eagerly sought after. It involved attending the bishop’s visitation to present the parish registers, keeping records of those who did not attend church, as required by law, and collecting non-attendance fines, maintaining charitable bequests, keeping church accounts and keeping the church in good repair. The vicar of Hythe, William Kingsley, was unlikely to have been often in the town to offer advice. He was also Rector of Hythe, Rector of Ickham and Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral.  Parliament removed him from all his livings in 1644 for pluralism.

Since 1640, William had often attended the Brotherhood and Guestling, the annual meeting of the Cinque Ports, with the Mayor, and in 1649 he was appointed one of their Bailiffs to Yarmouth. This was an ancient post which had in the past produced confrontation, and even violence between the people of Yarmouth and the Bailiffs. The role of the latter was to be present in the town during the herring ‘fare’ or fishing season held between Michaelmas, 29th September and Martinmas, the 10th November to attend court sessions daily and pass judgement.  There were also visits to church and a certain amount of feasting.  It was another post which some avoided if at all possible. William Gately was selected because a Mr Bachellor from another of the Cinque Ports had refused to go – and was fined the huge sum of £50 by the Brotherhood for his transgression. 

William’s experience as Bailiff seems to have been an unfortunate one. On his return, the Corporation gave him £25 in recognition of the dangers and ‘travail’ he had endured during his journey. This was quite unprecedented. The trip may have had a salutary effect: the next month, while in good health, he made his will, unlike many at the time who waited until death was imminent.

In 1650 he was chosen to be Mayor. It was a difficult time –  the Corporation was nearly bankrupt and started the year with a deficit. They were unable to pay for the timber bought to repair the haven and were being threatened with legal action, while further expenses were incurred placing guns on the Mount and re-glazing the Town Hall.  William may have been relieved when his term of office ended, as all Mayoralities did, at Candlemas, 2 February.  Eighteen days later, on Sunday 20 February 1651 ‘at four of the clock in the afternoon’, he died. No prayers were said at his funeral.  Burial services had been abolished by the new puritan authorities in the Church of England.  the church. The burial was not even recorded in the parish registers. There is a gap beteeen March 1645 and October 1653. 

William’s rather elegant signature

William had been quite acquisitive during his lifetime and left his family well provided for. Although his house and workshop and two acres of land were leased from the Hospital, he had bought land in Bilsington in 1640 and in Saltwood in 1648. He also  owned silver plate and a ‘feather bedd, well furnish’d’ (a feather bed was a mattress, but rather superior to a flock one; the furnishings were the bedstead, posts, drapes and linen).   His acquisitiveness, however, had led to court cases, including with his own mother’s family, where he was shown to have appropriated goods to which he was not entitled, and in 1649, when Bailiff to Yarmouth, and despite the generous gratuity he received, he overlooked paying his clerk his allowance. The man had to beg the Brotherhood for it after William’s death. For all that, William was generous in his bequests, remembering his apprentices past and present, his brothers John and David, an aged aunt and the new minister of Hythe, William Wallace.

This last bequest is interesting. Wallace, who hailed from Aberdeen, was a Calvinist Presbyterian of particularly radical views.  His clerical duties were confined to baptisms and communion: marriage for him was not a sacrament and he said no prayers at burials. That William Gately thought highly enough of him to leave him money tends to suggest that the blacksmith shared his radicalism in religious matters. He was, now that the Church of England was effectively dis-established, able to express his views without fear and worship as he wished. And since he supported a radical minister, did he also support the parliamentary forces that had enabled him to preach freely? Probably.

It seems he was not long survived by his daughter or wife. The land in Saltwood was to pass to his niece Susan Gately, if they both died. It was sold by Susan in 1660, so Ann’s and Elizabeth’s deaths must be assumed. It later became part of Weller’s Gift, a local charity for the poor of Hythe. Susan, the daughter of William’s brother John and only known surviving grandchild of John Gately senior, married in 1675, and had children, so perhaps, somewhere, there are still descendants of John Gately. 

The information for this post was taken from the records at the National Archives,  Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone and at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives;  the Calendar of the White and Black Books of the Cinque Ports and the Parish Records of St Leonard’s Church.

William Gately’s signature is reproduced by permission of  Canterbury Cathedral Archives