A Radical Blacksmith?

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

William Gately was born in late 1599 or early 1600, the son of John Gately and Phillice, nee Possingham. His father had a house and smithy backing onto Hythe Green, which he leased from St Bartholomew’s Hosptial. His mother died when he was six, and his father married three times more, having two more sons, before dying himself at Rye in 1624, making his fourth wife, Alice, a widow. She went to live in New Romney, leaving the business and domestic premises to William, who had also become a blacksmith.

A seventeenth century smithy

Now in charge of his own business, and with his stepmother living elsewhere, William was in need of a wife to run his house, which included a hall, with two chambers over, an entry room, garret, kitchen, buttery, stables and outside storage.  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 eventually left most of his estate, was baptised in Hythe on 11 Jul 1630.

Unlike his father, who had carefully avoided any form of civic duty,  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, ultimately futile, 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 in1634.

He also served as churchwarden at St Leonard’s in 1639 and 1641. This post 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; collecting the subsequent non-attendance fines; maintaining charitable bequest; 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 Saltwood, Rector of Ickham and Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral. Parliament removed him from all his livings in 1644 for pluralism.

From 1640, William 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 fair, 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. It entailed a long journey and several weeks spent away from home and from one’s trade or business.  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.

See the source image

The Brotherhood and Guestling still meets in the 21st Century

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 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 the next year. Eighteen days later, on Sunday 20 February 1651 ‘at four of the clock in the afternoon’, he died.

William had been quite acquisitive during his lifetime and left his family well provided for. He had bought land in Bilsington in 1640 and in Saltwood in 1648, and owned silver plate and a ‘feather bedd, well furnish’d’ (a feather bed was a mattress, but rather superior to a lumpy 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 half-brothers John and David, an aged aunt, his god-daughter and the new minister of Hythe, William Wallace, who received forty shillings.

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.

William Gately’s signature (produced by permission of Canterbury Cathedral Archives)

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.  Susan, the daughter of William’s brother John and only known surviving grandchild of John Gately senior, married in 1675, and had children.

The minster, William Wallace, was ejected from his Hythe living at the Restoration and went to preach (illegally,now that the Church of England and its bishops were also restored) ) to dissenting communities in Hove.