The 1650s were one of the most divisive and dangerous (but possibly exciting) times to be in local government in England and Michael Lushington of Hythe was in the thick of it. Born in River, near Dover, in 1624 he had already been widowed when he moved to Hythe. In 1652, he married again and in 1653 a daughter, Alice, was born. This was the year he was first chosen as a jurat (town councillor) for Hythe. Charles I had been dead for four years and the new government was still finding its feet. In 1655, Lushington was elected as Mayor and by then Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Early in his mayoralty, the town was visited by Quakers. The name ‘Quaker’ was originally an insult. They called themselves the Religious Society of Friends. They emphasised direct experience of God and believed that priests and rituals were an obstacle between the believer and God, who can be found in the midst of everyday life. They called churches ‘steeplehouses’, and refused to take off their hats when entering.
What made them feared was their challenge to authority, particularly that one man might have authority over another. They refused to pay tithes, they interrupted sermons, they intervened in the activities of ministers. They refused to acknowledge their elders and social superiors by removing their hats, addressed everyone as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and acknowledged no distinctions of class. They attracted violent antipathy.
In 1655 some London Quakers undertook a missionary visit to Kent. At Dover they were ordered to leave and at Folkestone they were thrown out of the parish church. Undeterred and guided by God they made their way to Hythe. One of them, George Rofe, visited St Leonard’s church there during the Sunday service. According to his later complaint to the Cinque Ports Brotherhood and Guestling, he went in just as the final blessing had been delivered by the minster, William Wallace and stood before the pulpit. He was then moved by the Spirit to speak a few words to Mr Wallace. The mayor, Lushington, took this amiss, and allegedly said ‘take away this fellow’. ‘ A great multitude’ then dragged Rofe from the church and threw him down the steps of the south porch, kicking and beating him as they went. His blood, he said, ran down into his shoes, but the Mayor refused to call a parish constable to help him.
Deciding that Hythe was not ready yet for conversion, the evangelists went on to Lydd, Ashford and Tenterden, where they were welcomed. Their mission ended in being put in the stocks and whipped as vagrants in Maidstone.
Later the same year, Cromwell issued a 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 1656, 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 to parliament to make peace with the king. They were therefore delinquents and should give up their places on the corporation. He refused to leave the building until they had done so. Four jurats did, along with the Town Sergeant. There was a very hasty election of replacements.
A 1735 view of Sandgate Castle. Not much of it now remains
Four years later, matters had changed. On12 May 1660 the Proclamation of Charles II was read at the market place, the west and east bridges and at Mr Beane’s conduit in Hythe. The new King’s Cavalier parliament passed a Corporation Act, with the aim of purging their enemies from borough governments. The responsibility for purging Hythe lay with the new Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the Duke of York. He passed on instructions that any Royalists who had formerly been excluded from office were to be readmitted, and any who had been ‘eminently active against the King, and especially such as expressed themselves in opposition to his late happy restoration’ were to be removed.
The winter of 1660 to 1661 saw another shake-up of the corporation. The Lord Warden’s enforcer was Francis Vincent. A royalist of impeccable credentials, he judged that at Hythe, seven men were of ‘dangerous principles’. In early January 1661 they were ordered to be dismissed from the assembly and banned from holding all offices of trust in the corporation.
Vincent had not finished with Hythe, however, and later that month wrote again about Michael Lushington, who ‘seven or eight years ago had spoken much to the prejudice of His Majesty and his royal father.’ Apparently, Vincent had an informer in Hythe. Lushington was now also dismissed. He would not take this lying down. He wrote to Hythe’s M.P. Phineas Andrews who obtained a mandamus – a court order- telling the current mayor, William Knight, to reinstate Lushington. Knight was furious and quite illegally imprisoned the unfortunate messenger who brought the legal documents, but in the end had to comply.
Then on 26 August 1662, six Commissioners for the Well Governing and Regulating of Corporations, a sort of mini-Inquisition, visited Hythe. Parliament’s Corporation Act also sought to exclude religious dissenters (such as Quakers) from the governing bodies of towns. It demanded the taking of the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and office holders had to receive the sacrament of communion according to the rites of the Church of England. They were also required to abjure the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant, drawn up by parliament to enable a civil and religious unification of Scotland Ireland and England. Twenty-six members of Hythe’s corporation signed. Lushington refused.
This appears to have been the end of his involvement in Hythe local politics and he moved to Folkestone, where by 1665 he had also become a jurat. Although he was reluctant to accept that the aspirations of parliament had failed, it seems that he must ultimately have accepted the rule of a monarchy.
We know that he had two sons named John, both of whom died young. The daughter Alice born in 1653 simply disappears, but another daughter, Mary, born in 1661 survived to marry Peter Bassett in 1684. Lushington’s wife died in 1674. Of the man himself, there is no further trace, neither burial record nor will.
Details of Lushington’s career taken from the Calendar of State Papers; records of Hythe Corporation and records of the Cinque Ports Brotherhood and Guestling held at Kent Library and History Centre.