Restoration – Part One

The Long Parliament finally dissolved itself after nineteen years and another general election was called. The Lord Warden, Admiral Edward Montagu, endeavoured to exercise his customary right to nominate a candidate, but Hythe corporation ignored him. They politely assured him of their utmost endeavours on his behalf, ‘could they prevail with the freemen’. The freemen preferred to return Viscount Strangford of nearby Westenhanger and Phineas Andrews, the squire of Denton Court.

At this election, correctly sensing the prevailing wind, Hythe elected two Royalists sympathisers. Strangford was the grandson of John Smythe who had sat in parliament for Hythe in 1604. He had spent the interregnum quietly plotting the king’s return until his arrest in Canterbury in 1659. He was subsequently released on £5000 bail.  Andrews was a wealthy financier, who had sometimes bankrolled the king’s favourite the Duke of Buckingham and allegedly had supported Charles II in exile. He only occasionally lived at Denton, having acquired it from a ruined Royalist during the Commonwealth. He was a friend of Henry Oxinden of Barham (the cousin, confusingly, of Henry Oxinden of Denton) who supported his election.

This new parliament, the so-called Convention Parliament assembled on 25 April 1660, and soon afterwards accepted the Declaration of Breda in which Charles II agreed, amongst other things, to pardon many of his father’s enemies. Charles was declared king, and the proclamation of his sovereignty was read out in Hythe on 12 May, in no fewer than four places to make sure that no-one could be in any doubt: at the market place, the west and east bridges and at Mr Beane’s conduit in the High Street.  The corporation decided they deserved a celebration at the ‘White Hart’, where the landlord Ferdinando Bassett sold them wine to the value of £4. 4. 0. Beer was provided for lesser mortals by Mr Fordred.

Charles arrived in Dover on 25 May 1660, to be met by the mayor and a huge crowd of citizens and noblemen. He was presented with a Bible, which he took and said it was the thing that he loved above all things in the world and then rode off in a coach towards Canterbury. According to Pepys ‘the shouting and joy expressed by all is past imagination.’

Charles soon sacked the Lord Warden, Edward Montagu, who had been a Colonel in the New Model Army,  and appointed his own brother, James, Duke of York, instead.  James’s chief claim to fame at this time was that he was reputed to be ‘the most unguarded ogler of his time.’

James, Duke of York, brother of Charles II and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

The Duke passed on to Hythe corporation the king’s 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 a purge of the corporation.  The Lord Warden’s enforcer was Francis Vincent. A royalist of impeccable credentials, he was rewarded at the restoration with the governorship of Dover Castle, and judged that at Hythe, seven men were of ‘dangerous principles’: William Meadow, William Adcock, John Lambe, John Cheeseman, Peter Johnson, Richard Kimber and Edward Brande. The corporation agreed with his assessment and 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 the former Mayor, 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 also dismissed.  He did not take this lying down. He wrote to Hythe’s M.P. Phineas Andrews who obtained a mandamus – a court order- telling the mayor, William Knight, to reinstate Lushington. Knight was furious and threw a spectacular tantrum, but had to comply, for the time being, at any rate.

Jurats and freemen were not the only ones to be removed from office. In 1660 William Wallace was ejected as Minister of Hythe because of his dissenting views.  He went to Brighton, where, without a church, he continued preaching in private houses. These prayer meetings, or conventicles, were prohibited by Act of Parliament in 1664, but when the authorities came to arrest him, his little congregation gathered round him to protect him. Since several were pregnant women, the constable would risk no violence and Wallace escaped.  Later, when the law permitted, he was licensed to preach in Hove and East Deane and continued to do so until his death in 1678.

Commonwealth – Part Three

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died and his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector. Richard found himself needing money and decided to call a new parliament with the old franchise, not the nominated assembly his father had used. Hythe would now once again be represented. Competition was quite fierce, with four contenders. Sir Robert Hales was a Bekesbourne lawyer; Colonel William Kenricke, a member of the County Committee, Mr Naylor, who remains a mystery, and Henry Oxinden, a member of the minor gentry, of Denton, on the road from Folkestone to Canterbury.

Oxinden had in middle age been widowed, and had fallen in love with an unsuitable young woman less than half his age, Katherine Cullen.  She was the daughter of a yeoman, and not Henry’s equal in either rank or fortune, but he wooed her with expensive gifts and execrable poetry and won her hand. One of her cousins was James Pashley, a brewer and jurat of Hythe. When Oxinden decided he wanted to stand for Hythe in 1659, Pashley found himself in demand as the cousin, albeit rather tenuously, of the candidate.  Thanks to their letters, we know how the voting went.

Oxinden was supported by people as disparate as Michael Lushington, the mayor, who had ordered the attack on the Quaker George Rofe, and Captain Laurence Knott, himself a Quaker, who agreed with Oxinden’s position against ‘ tithing, self-seeking ministers’. The correspondence reveals a split in the town between those who, like Oxinden and Knott, wanted to reform religion and those who wanted to preserve the Church of England. In the event, Hales and Kenricke won the election. It was the perfect compromise. Hales was a Royalist who earned a baronetcy at the Restoration.; Kenricke had been the first signatory on the 1649 petition calling for the king’s execution.

The split in the vote is typical of the mixed pattern of political and religious allegiance in Hythe during the civil war and interregnum.  Take as an example Ferdinando Bassett, jurat, mayor and businessman. He was not accused of supporting the king in the 1649 purge, but in 1655 tacitly admitted that he had by quitting the corporation. In contrast, he supported the radical Puritan minister William Wallace, and after the Restoration, refused to swear allegiance to Charles II. Or the gentleman Michael Lushington,, also a jurat and mayor, who persecuted Quakers but agreed with them  on abolishing tithes. Did these men frequently change their minds? Were they opportunists? Did they run with the hare and hunt with the hounds? We will never know, but there must have been many like them during those exciting but dangerous years.

The parliament in which Hales and Kenticke sat comprised a bunch of men as diverse in opinion as these two were to each other. The army did not like it, and it did not like the army, but the latter had the benefit of having guns, and when troops assembled at St James’s Palace in April 1659, Cromwell eventually gave in to their demands and dissolved Parliament. The Rump parliament, which had not sat since 1653 was now recalled, but Hythe had no representative on this, John Harvey and Thomas Westrow, who had been elected to it both being dead.

Richard Cromwell had lost control of parliament, the army and the country. He resigned as Lord Protector and faded quietly into the background (he lived, mostly abroad, until 1712).

Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector 1658-59
Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector 1658-59

For the next few months, the country teetered on the brink of another civil war, as the military struggled and failed to maintain control. On 4 April 1660, Charles II wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons from Holland, offering, humbly, his assistance.

The experiment with republicanism was over.

Commonwealth – Part Two

The name ‘Quaker’ was originally an insult. They called themselves (and still do) the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers emphasise direct experience of God and believe that priests and rituals are an obstacle between the believer and God, who can be found in the midst of everyday life, not just in church services. They called churches ‘steeplehouses’, and refused to take off their hats when entering.  In the 1650s, many Quaker converts were made in the Army, where they were purged in 1657 because they had a reputation for insubordination.

What made them feared was their challenge to authority. They challenged the notion 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. They started at Dover but were ordered to leave by the Mayor and Corporation. They were then thrown out of the parish church at Folkestone but undeterred and guided by the light of 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, Michael Lushington, took this amiss, and apparently said ‘take away this fellow’.  Whereupon ‘a great multitude’ 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.

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.

Worshippers in Hythe who wanted something different from Anglicanism had not far: to travel during the Interregnum, when a variety of sects flourished, some surviving into the twenty-first century, others not surviving the Commonwealth which allowed them to come into being.

At Canterbury and Sandwich there were Fifth Monarchists, a very short-lived group which was founded in 1649, and believed that the Kingdom of God was imminent. In 1661, about fifty of them tried to take London in the name of ‘King Jesus’.  Most of them were killed; the survivors were hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason.

In Ashford, the searcher after truth could find Muggletonians, whose two founders claimed to be the two witnesses referred to in the book of Revelations, and that they had power to pronounce damnation or salvation for eternity. Although it did not evangelise, on principal, the sect survived into the twentieth century.

Biddenden had Brownists, early Congregationalists, believing each church should run its own affairs.   In Lydd, Ashford and Tenterden there were small Independent gatherings. it was alleged that Northbourne was full of Anabaptists and Quakers. Anabaptists are Christians who believe in delaying baptism until the believer confesses his or her faith, but during the Interregnum the term was often used to describe any separatist sect. Hythe had its ‘Anabaptists’ but we do not know which, if any of the radical sects they belonged to, only that they included the freemen of the town. In 1659, writing to his kinsman about the Hythe electorate, James Pashley, himself a jurat, said ‘the Anabaptists are in general for you.’

Hythe’s Anglican minister, William Wallace was himself moving towards non-conformism. After the Restoration, when he was removed from his position, he continued for many years as an independent preacher in conventicles, though was never associated with any particular sect. The corporation liked Wallace. In 1649, when parliament had failed to put in place any reliable  means of maintaining him, they voted him ten pounds a year at the town’s expense, as he was ‘a well deserving man’. Some of the jurats made additional personal donations, and the mayor, William Gately, left him money in his will.  The donations and bequests continued throughout the 1650s.

Wallace had less work to do than his predecessors, because although there was still a state church, no-one was obliged to attend it. People could worship where, and how, and how often they wished.   Religious services at burials had already been abolished, and in 1653, marriage also became a civil union, to be witnessed by a J.P. rather than a minister. It no longer had to take place in church, but could be solemnised in the market place, if the couple so wished. The form of words was pared down to the minimum:

 I …. do here in the presence of God the searcher of all hearts, take thee ….. for my wedded Wife; and do also in the presence of God, and before these witnesses, promise to be unto thee a loving and faithful Husband

I …..do here in the presence of God the searcher of all hearts, take thee ….. for my wedded Husband; and do also in the presence of God, and before these witnesses, promise to be unto thee a loving, faithful and obedient Wife

So on 13 October 1657, the church registers for St Leonard’s include the following:

Ferdinando Bassett jurat and Mary Smyth maiden were married before John Finch jurat and bailiff elect to Yarmouth; Julius Deedes and William Jenkin gentlemen witnesses.

Similarly, baptisms were no longer recorded, but only births.  Wallace may have continued to baptise children whose parent’s wished it, or they may have gone to other parishes, or belonged to sects which practised adult baptism or no baptism at all. We do not know.

Commonwealth – Part One

In Hythe, the aftermath of the 1648 Kent rebellion was suspicion and mistrust.  The rebellion had flared into violence when the County Committee had tried to suppress a petition, signed by many, calling for the dismantling of the New Model Army and the reinstatement of the king. Now parliament was out to get anyone who had put their name to the petition, particularly if they were in any sort of public office. The Hythe jurats William Deedes, Laurence Weller and Austen Greenland and the town clerk, Thomas Curtis were all hauled before the Committee, suspected of involvement in insurrection, but were cleared and the Committee found the whole town to be blameless in the affair.

To add insult to injury, soldiers had been billeted in the town to fight the rebels under the command of Sir Michael Livesey, a ruthless parliamentarian soldier. Months later the victuallers who had put them up and fed them had still received no recompense and saw little hope of ever receiving it.

Sir Michael Livesey, Parliamentarian soldier and administrator
Sir Michael Livesey, Parliamentarian soldier and administrator

In 1653, the charges against the four jurats were revived. They appealed to their M.P., Tom Westrow, who put the Committee straight on the men’s allegiance to parliament.  This was more or less his last act for his constituents, as that year the Rump Parliament was dissolved. A new nominated assembly of one hundred and forty-four members took its place, named the Barebones parliament after a godly London leather seller, Praise-God Barebone, one of its members. Hythe was not represented on this assembly, but it did not last long, resigning its powers to Cromwell at the end of the year.

Cromwell was now Lord Protector. Despite the best efforts of the Rump to impose strict Puritan codes of behaviour on the country, Cromwell, believed that it was still in need of moral reform. He divided the country into twelve regions, each under the command of a Major-General. Their first duty of the Major-Generals was to maintain security by suppressing unlawful assemblies and disarming Royalist ‘malignants’.

Kent’s Major-General was Thomas Kelsey. Originally a London button-maker, he had risen to power through the New Model Army and had been Lieutenant of Dover Castle. The Major-Generals became the enforcers of righteousness and godliness. At the beginning of the civil war the Book of Sports had been burned and edicts were published to ensure that pleasure of any sort never again happened on a Sunday.  The edicts were re-issued with more vigour. ‘No persons shall hereafter exercise or keep maintain or be present at any wrestling, shooting, bowling, ringing of bells, masque, wake, feast, church-ale, dancing games, cock-fights, cock-running, horse races, bear baiting.’ Children under twelve heard cursing were to be publicly whipped. Convicted fornicators were to be sentenced to three months and adulterers were to be hanged.

Kent’s proximity to the continent and the exiled Charles II made it of particular interest to parliament and the Major-Generals. Time and again Hythe and the other Cinque ports were warned to look out for the comings and goings of ‘dangerous persons’ and to apprehend them. Kelsey also oversaw the administration of parliament’s Decimation Tax, designed to punish Royalist. One of these was Robert Spice of Old Romney, who also leased a house in Hythe.   No longer able to afford  live in Old Romney, he moved his family to Hythe to the appropriately named  Romney House, where they settled down. The house belonged to the corporation, but Spice, presumably broke, was not paying the rent.  Learning of this, the corporation dispatched the Chamberlain to take possession and to persuade Spice to pay up.  Even if they felt sorry for him, his was not a time when showing open compassion to Royalists was a sensible option.

In 1655, the same year that he appointed the Major-Generals, Cromwell, issued another 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 of the following year, 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. They were therefore delinquents and should give up their places on the corporation. He refused to leave the building until they had done so.  John Grey, John Mercer, Laurence Weller and Ferdinando Bassett, the landlord of the ‘White Hart’ finally left, together with the town sergeant, John Browning.

Captain Knott was a Dover man, but did not let his local connections and sympathies get in the way of performing his duty to the Protector.  At the Restoration it was he who was imprisoned, in Dover Castle, not for his activities during the Commonwealth, but because of his dissenting religious views. Laurence Knott had become a Quaker.

In Sickness and in Health – Part Three

Death was at the centre of life just as the church was at the centre of the town. It was a normal occurrence in people of all ages, not just the old. The most at risk of death were new born infants. Life expectancy at birth was about forty years, and there were not many over-sixties – possibly only about  4-7% of the population, whereas the percentage of children under sixteen was probably about 35%. The whole country was much younger than it is today.

The exact population of Hythe in the seventeenth century cannot be established. A census was carried out, but not for the purpose of counting total population. The religious Compton Census, of 1676 asked ministers how many Anglicans lived in the town, and how many of other denominations. It showed that Hythe had 274 conformists, 2 Roman Catholics, and 25 Nonconformists. This gives a total population of 301. However, the census did not come with instructions on how it was to be completed. Some ministers counted the whole population, some only those over sixteen, some only those over twenty-one, some only men, some only heads of households. The only thing that can definitely be gathered from the information recorded for Hythe is that it had more Anglicans than others.

It is possible to make a very broad guess at the population. Experts in the field say that the crude birth rate in England was about 32 per 1000 at the beginning of the seventeenth century and about 28 per thousand at the end. ‘Crude birth rate’ means the number of live births in the population as a whole over a year. By counting up the number of baptisms recorded in Hythe and working backwards, it looks like Hythe’s population in the early seventeenth century was about 1100, and by the end of the century only about 650. Of course, this is a very rough estimate and does not take account of the fact that by the end of the century there were Nonconformist baptisms of which we have no record.   However, it is significant that the numbers of marriages and burials were also falling by the end of the century.

If a child survived birth and the first five years of life, he or she had a reasonable prospect of reaching adulthood, although there were many dangers along the way. Quite apart from disease, health and safety concerns seem not to have been at the top of parental worries. The diaries of William Coe (quoted in Ralph Houlbrookes’ English Family Life 1576 – 1716) record that between 1693 and 1703, two of his eight children came close to being choked by pins in their food, two more were bitten by a dog on separate occasions, while  others suffered by having a hat set on fire by a candle, falling into a creek, falling off a horse, being struck in the eye with an oak rail, having boiling fat spilled on his clothes, being accidentally stabbed with an awl, managing to hang himself (not fatally) by the neck from a hall window, falling into scalding water, having his cheek pierced  by a cow’s horn, having his thumb broken by a horse, being thrown from an open coach and narrowly missing death in an overturned wagon.

If a man or woman survived the dangers of childhood, they could expect to marry at about twenty-three to twenty-eight years old (only the daughters of noble families married in their teens). This was relatively late in a short life span, but young people needed to assemble the resources and skills required. Marriage was an assertion of independence from parental ties. It involved setting up a new household with a new household head. There was initial cost of domestic paraphernalia as well as the ability to pay the rent. If a man was setting up a workshop at the home he needed equipment and tools. Skills were needed to be able to run a household. As an apprentice and journeyman, a young man would become master of a set of skills so as to be able to operate on his own with a fair chance of success. His bride needed to know how to bake bread, prepare and cook food, make and mend clothes. In Hythe we see the Bassett brothers, Ferdinando and Elias marrying first at the ages of thirty-four and twenty-six respectively. Thomas Browning, son of the gentleman of the same name married Margaret Huffam of Ash when he was twenty-four. William Gately, the blacksmith, married Ann Dryland of Wye when he was twenty-seven.

If a spouse died, which was often, the incidence of remarriage was high, out of economic necessity for women, and domestic necessity for men.  In England as a whole, about half of widower remarriages took place within a year, but about 15% of widows married within six months.  Ferdinando Bassett, widowed twice, remarried on both occasions within less than a year. His brother Elias, also widowed twice, found new brides again within five months both times.

Death had its own rituals. The body was laid out by local women and might be viewed at home for a couple of days. It was then wrapped in a single linen sheet knotted at top and bottom and carried to the grave either on a pall or in the parish coffin, usually a plank box, which was dispensed with at the graveside. Being buried in your own coffin had great cachet, even if you weren’t there to enjoy it. There was rarely a service in the church: the funeral party went straight to the graveside. Of course, if the deceased was important enough, and rich enough, they may have been buried in the church itself. Thomas Sprott, a jurat  was buried there, as much later were Robinson Beane, a mayor of Hythe, together with his wife and daughter.

 

The memorial to Ann and Elizabeth Beane (St Leonard's Church, Hythe)
The memorial to Ann and Elizabeth Beane (St Leonard’s Church, Hythe)

William Gately, though, another jurat and mayor, was laid to rest in the churchyard, but with rather a splendid tomb as a consolation prize.

The use of linen as a shroud ended in 1678 with the passing of the Buried in Wool Act, which dictated that all bodies should be shrouded in wool, and that a certificate be obtained from a J.P. that this was the case. It was an extraordinary piece of revenue-raising legislation, trading on the one certainty of life – death.

 

The Middling Sort – Part Six

Increased literacy should have meant, for those who could afford it, increased book ownership, and we do see in the probate inventories more books making an appearance. John Gately, the blacksmith had a bible and ‘four small books’ when he died in 1625. John Barnes, a carpenter, and Richard Beane, a yeoman had two bibles apiece when they died in 1668, and Beane had other books besides. Almost at the end of the century, Peter Johnson, a baker, also had a bible and some small books.  Book ownership, on the evidence of probate inventories, was not yet common. Rather worryingly, the physician brothers, Richard and James Arthur, did not own one book between them. Nor did the successful businessmen siblings Elias and Ferdinando Bassett.

The bible is the most frequently mentioned book in inventories, and Protestants made a point of publishing cheap editions so that the scriptures could be available to as many as possible. Before 1640, monopolies kept prices high, but when they collapsed a small bible which would fit in a pocket could be bought for two shillings and fourpence. Despite the exhortations of the church, owning a bible was not the same as reading it, and for some at least it must have had a purely talismanic or display purpose. However, there were some good stories in the bible, and it has been suggested that the painted cloths used to cover walls in the houses of the middling sort and in inns would have had biblical scenes depicted. Since none of them survive, we don’t know for sure, but Shakespeare describes Falstaff’s room in the ‘Garter’ as ‘painted about with a story of the prodigal’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor).

Other books are mentioned in Hythe inventories, but never named. The most widely available to the public were chapbooks, bought from travelling chapmen, or at fairs. These could be the broadly humorous merry-books, instruction manuals on family life or running a household, or Godly books, which tended to be terrifying tracts about the imminent arrival of the Grim Reaper and eternal damnation for the sinner.  No wonder the youthful John Bunyan, preferred the merry-books:

‘ give me a Ballad, a News-book, George  on Horseback or Bevis of Southampton,  give me some book that teaches curious Arts, that tells of old Fables; but for the Holy Scriptures I cared not’.

For many boys of the middling sort, an apprenticeship followed classroom education.  This generally started when a boy was fourteen, and lasted for seven years, although tradesmen in a craft requiring manual labour, such as tanners, bakers, blacksmiths or bricklayers might prefer a lad of fifteen or sixteen. It was usual to send one’s son away to be trained in a trade or profession, even when he was following in his father’s footsteps. John Gately apprenticed his son William to a blacksmith outside Hythe, possibly in Wye, about sixteen miles away, since William eventually married a Wye girl. William himself later took on an  apprentice from Lyminge, about six miles distant..

Some occupations were determined by family tradition, notably medicine and fishing.  James Arthur and his brother Richard both practiced as surgeons and physicians in Hythe in mid-century and James’s sons, also Richard and James, followed suit.  The Hutson and Wallop families produced generations of Hythe fishermen.

The choice of trade or profession was not always that of the father, but could depend on the boy’s aptitude and on the family’s resources. It cost money to set up in a trade. Blacksmiths and tanners needed large premises. Mercers, selling cloth wholesale and retail, needed a large stock to start out. Shoemakers, on the other hand, could work at home, and, though poorly paid, would always be in work. Sometimes a boy was just not cut out for his father’s work and followed another trade entirely.

Some men never stuck to a single trade at all, but seemed to live, and thrive, on their wits. Ferdinando Bassett was one such. Arriving in the town from Sandwich in the 1620s, when his sister Michele married into the Hutson family, Ferdinando turned his hand to anything which would make him a living, and started by making himself useful to the corporation by doing odd jobs.  He then worked consecutively, but not exclusively, as town drummer, town gunner, town sergeant, haberdasher, yeoman and innkeeper. This seemingly erratic career was a success. By 1648 he could afford to buy the ‘White Hart’, the inn favoured by the corporation for post-sessions feasting, would later be able to lend considerable sums to the corporation and eventually became mayor himself.  His probate inventory of 1663 described him as ‘gentleman’. Not bad for the man who had started out by mending a drum for the corporation.

The White Hart in Hythe
The White Hart in Hythe

His younger brother Elias took a more conventional, but equally successful route to wealth. He became a fisherman, got his own boat, then later bought collier ships and ran coal down the coast to Hythe. By 1649, he was landlord of the White Hart’s main rival, the ‘George’, and he, too became mayor and a significant landowner.

Ferdinando and Elias were both married three times.  Elias’s third wife was Joan, the widow of Richard Pashley, which made Elias the step-father of James Pashley, the cousin by marriage of Henry Oxinden of Denton. Both Bassett and Pashley were jurats. James Pashley’s daughter married Edward Rucke, another jurat. He also wrote to Oxinden and addressed him as ‘cousin’. Historians have noted that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the rise in towns of the oligarchy, government by the few, in which members of the ruling group were interconnected and often interrelated. This was certainly the case in Hythe.

To give just one more example:

Alice March, the daughter of  William March, three times  mayor of Hythe,  married  in 1619 John Knight, by whom she had three daughters and two sons.  John died in 1634 and six years later, Alice married Edmund Bedingfield a widower and the brother of Thomas Bedingfield, twice mayor of Hythe. Edmund’s son by his first marriage, Thomas, became Hythe’s town clerk who on his death was succeeded by his son, another Edmund. Meanwhile, Alice’s daughter by her first husband, Alice Knight, married Michael Lushington, who was, inevitably, also twice mayor of Hythe.

‘Cousin’ was a very useful word to describe such complicated relationships, and indeed the town was run by a cousinship. They married each other, witnessed each others wills, acted as overseers and executors of wills, sold each other land and property and, until the conflict-ridden years of the civil war, generally acted as a united body to run the town as co-operatively as possible.

In the next few posts I will look at how the sea affected the lives of the people of Hythe

The Middling Sort – Part One

The majority of people who lived in English towns in the seventeenth century were neither particularly poor nor especially rich, and the term ‘the middling sort’ to describe them first came into use in this century. It meant those with adequate wealth, but at the time had connotations of mediocrity and meanness as well as being neither one thing nor the other. People of the middling sort worked for their income, and traded using the products of their labours or knowledge. They were a town’s main consumers, and it was they who filled the civic and church offices which kept the town running: jurats, mayors, churchwardens, overseers of the poor, constables, market searchers, town sergeants, and criers.

Their lives were tied, in one way or another, to commerce, and the whole family was involved in making the business pay to ensure their survival. Failure could be a disaster. If a man had borrowed and subsequently became ill, unable to work, and could not repay his debt, there were no bankruptcy laws to mitigate the blow: his bones would be picked bare and he would probably thrown into prison, and friends and kin who had co-signed on loans would suffer the same fate.  If he had extended too much credit and died and his creditors could not repay his widow, she would be pitched into poverty. It was a precarious existence.

Hythe supported all the trades essential to maintain life in a small town. Provisions for the kitchen could be bought from the butchers, the poulterer, the bakers, the vintners, and the rippiers (fish-sellers); other household wants were supplied by the tailors, drapers, mercers, tallow-chandlers, cutlers, haberdashers, grocers, glovers and shoemakers. Then there were the manufacturers: blacksmiths, coopers, brewers, joiners, ropemakers,  gunsmiths, saddlers, wheelwrights; and those who supplied the manufacturers: tanners, fellmongers, malsters, millers, woolcombers, weavers, physick gardeners, and malsters.

Other men and women provided services. There were barber-surgeons, physicians and midwives; painters, carpenters, glaziers, and pavers; thatchers and chimney-sweeps; schoolmasters and scriveners and innkeepers and licensed victuallers.

Finally, there were those who made their living from the land or the sea: yeomen and husbandmen (as a very rough rule of thumb, the former owned the land they worked, the latter leased it) and the fishermen.

Not all these occupations were present at one time in Hythe, but there was a profitable hinterland in the towns of the Romney Marsh with whom trade was possible. In 1623, Robert Smith, a weaver and woollen draper got his fleeces from a fellmonger in New Romney. James Pashley and John Oldfield, both brewers, supplied inns in New Romney as did George Thurbane later in the century.

Very often, a family had more than one source of income.  A man called Bridgman was both a thatcher and a chimney-sweep, presumably because he had the longest ladders.  Richard Clarke, a saddler, opened an alehouse in 1615, but overlooked getting a licence and was fined. Elizabeth Turner, wife of Richard, supplemented the family income by working as a midwife. In 1622, Phillip Van De Walle, a woolcomber, also kept ‘a shop of small wares’ and grazed a few sheep. Towards the end of the century, Vicesimus Gibson augmented his takings as a grocer by writing letters and legal documents for townspeople who could not write themselves.

At the beginning of the century, at least, fishermen did not generally need to diversify in this way, as there were opportunities for employment and trade all year round.  It was the single most populous occupation in the town.

As a buffer against financial ruin, some members of the middling sort used their savings to invest in land or property, becoming as rich, if not richer than the ‘gentlemen’ of the town who did not engage in trade.  Men in relatively humble occupations, such as William Gatley, a Hythe blacksmith or John Lambe, a carpenter bought land.  Gately bought land in Saltwood and Bilsington. The Saltwood holding passed to his niece Susan on his death in 1652. She almost immediately sold it and it eventually became part of Weller’s Gift. Susan meanwhile lived off the profits until they were spent and then applied for parish relief in her home town of Ashford. Instead she was prosecuted for not following a lawful occupation. Not all of the middling sort espoused the protestant work ethic. Lambe bought an acre of pasture land to the west of the town in 1657. The next year he bought an adjoining cottage and sold both as one lot to John Bassett, a grocer, who then rented it out.

Very often, property in Hythe was bought from, or sold to, outsiders. George Thurbane, the brewer, bought his premises from a man in Canterbury and Ferdinando Bassett, inn keeper of the White Hart, paid £360 to a vicar in Norfolk for seven acres of fresh marsh.  William Deedes, a mercer, bought two houses and stables from Thomas White of Wapping for £100. The middling sort were not only enterprising, they were mobile and had a wide network of acquaintance outside of the immediate environs of the town.