A Tale of Two Mayors

The first Mayor of Hythe was elected in 1575, when Elizabeth 1 granted the town a royal charter. The Bailiff would be replaced by a mayor and would be supported by a town corporation with the right to own land and hold a fair. The scarcity of early records means that we know little of the early post-holders. It is not until the 17th century that they start to surface. One pair were Thomas Browning and David Gorham, who were both mayor several times in the 1620s.

The mayor was elected from among the jurats (town councillors). Browning and Gorham were of very different backgrounds.  The Brownings were gentlemen; Thomas’s uncles had been mayors and his sister had married into the influential Tournay family of Saltwood. In 1620 Thomas started his own campaign to become mayor by wining and dining his colleagues, an unsubtle tactic which did not go unnoticed by his opponents. Nevertheless, it proved successful, and he became mayor in 1621, and again in 1625.

In the meantime, David Gorham, not a gentleman but a fisherman, had been made mayor in 1623. He was also the Cinque Ports Bailiff to Yarmouth in the year of Browning’s second term of office. This was the execution of an ancient Cinque Ports right, which gave the portsmen authority over the Yarmouth fishermen during their herring ‘fare’ or fishing season, once a year.  The Bailiff, elected by the Cinque Ports’ Brotherhood and Guestling,  had the right to try criminal and commercial cases in the town during the time of the fare. During this time, court sessions were held daily rather than weekly. 

Not unnaturally, the Yarmouth men generally resented the Cinque Ports Bailiffs, and their reluctant toleration sometimes erupted into quarrelsome, if not violent, outbursts. The position was not eagerly sought after.  Quite from the chilly reception, the length of the trip must have been a deterrent. The Bailiff was expected to stay in Yarmouth from towards the end of September until early November. That was a long journey and a long time away from earning one’s livelihood, and probably time that most of the jurats could ill-afford.

In 1610, the nominee removed himself from Rye so that he no longer lived in a Cinque Port and was therefore ineligible; in 1613 another man pleaded that he was ‘too weak’; and another resigned the freedom of a Cinque port. But David Gorham, a fisherman who understood the fishing business, did his duty. 

An early view of Yarmouth….

… and a little later

He was elected mayor again himself in 1626. However, that year Browning trumped him by being selected to be one of the Cinque Ports ‘barons’ to carry the canopy at the coronation of Charles 1 in March. This was another ancient Cinque Ports right and those attending expected to sit at the Chief Table for dinner afterwards in the Great Hall at the right hand of the King. The canopy and its silver staves and bells which were provided by the Lord High Steward or Treasurer were ‘retained by the Barons as their fee’.

So there was a financial reward, but it was a right that only a well-off man could exercise. For the previous coronation in 1603, the Brotherhood and Guestling had decreed that every canopy-bearer should wear

’one scarlett gowne downe to the ancle, citizens fashion, faced with crimson satin, gascaine hose [a sort of loose breeches], crimson silk stockings and crimson silk shoes and black velvet caps.

These they had to buy for themselves and provide their own food and horse hire for the trip. The gentleman Browning could afford this; the fisherman Gorham probably could not. 

The coronation of Charles I took place on 2 February 1626.  His Roman Catholic Queen refused to participate in a Protestant ceremony. The coronation was marred by an unseemly tussle recorded by Samuel Pepys:

but only the King’s Footmen had got hold of the Canopy and would keep it from the barons of the Cinque ports; which they endeavoured to force from them again but could not do it till my Lord Duke of Albermarle caused it to be put into Sir R Pye’s hand till tomorrow to be decided’.

The portsmen got their silver the next day, but in the melee, they had lost their places at the banqueting table. The king had the footmen imprisoned and dismissed.

 The beginning of 1627 saw Browning’s downfall. He was dismissed as jurat ‘for divers misdemeanours and for telling the secrets especially about the election and choosing our burgesses to Parliament and telling lies about them many times in a gross and ill manner’. This was uncompromising language, and Browning had no intention of letting it pass.  He petitioned anyone and everyone he knew, starting with the Lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir John Hippisley, who passed the matter up to the Duke of Buckingham, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The corporation were required to explain themselves. While awaiting a decision, Browning sought the opinion of the Cinque Ports’ Brotherhood and Guestling – who found in his favour. They judged that the case against him was ‘weak and feeble’ and ordered that the corporation and Browning ‘reconcile themselves’ and reinstate him.  However, in 1628, Buckingham  concluded that the real reason for Browning’s dismissal was ‘his contemptuous behaviour towards Mr Gorham’.(1) That has the ring of truth.

The Duke of Buckingham in about 1625

The names of Browning and Gorham do not appear again on the list of Hythe mayors.  Browning was fined in 1629 for, with others, ‘a riot in the town’, but then disappears from the public record. David Gorham was buried in St Leonard’s churchyard in 1629. 

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and favourite of James I , was assassinated in August 1628. 

1 Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1628-29 (1859), pp. 431-438.

Other references from Hythe corporation records held at Kent History and Library Centre and from the White and Black Books of the Cinque Ports