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.


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 Five

The middling sort was often able to give their sons, and occasionally their daughters, some sort of formal education.  A degree of prosperity was required to release a child from the necessity of working to put bread on the table as soon as he could and to send him to school instead.   Nationally, there had been a huge expansion of education after the 1550s. Religious and more secular concerns had both played a role in this. Protestantism encouraged the devout to read and learn from their bibles.  The concurrent expansion of internal trade meant that by the seventeenth century tradesmen needed basic literacy, the ability to read a bill and sign a contract, in order to benefit from the growth in trade in foodstuffs and other goods.  There was also an increase in job opportunities open to the literate, in the church, in medicine and particularly in the law – there had been a big expansion in litigation towards the end of the sixteenth century.

Schoolmasters in Kent were licensed by the Diocese of Canterbury and Hythe had a licensed schoolmaster throughout the period. Often it was the curate, who usually had a university degree. Sometimes a man who was judged to be literate enough was given the post, as were Edward Grawnte in 1602, John Crumpe in 1620, and Matthew Mantell in 1640. All were also jurats, and Mantell described himself as a gentleman, although that was wishful thinking on his part as his family’s fortunes had collapsed when his great-grandfather was executed for his part in Wyatt’s rebellion.

It is likely that teaching was carried out in the church, as it was in other towns, and St Leonard’s church had the perfect schoolroom in the Parvise, a commodious chamber over the south porch. Reading and writing were taught separately, reading first, and then, at about the age of seven or eight, writing. By that age, children were becoming useful in the workplace, and many would not have learnt to write beyond a signature or just an initial. Many of Hythe’s tradesmen could sign, however, more or less legibly, and produce written bills.

The signature of William Gately, Blacksmith (Canterbury Cathedral Archives)
The signature of William Gately, blacksmith (Canterbury Cathedral Archives)
The bill of John Banbury, carpenter, for work done at the alms house barn (John Osbourne)

For the well-off there were grammar schools after elementary education. One of Hythe’s M.P.s, Norton Knatchbull, endowed a ‘free’ grammar school in Ashford, and there was another one in Canterbury. This latter cost twelve pounds a year, to which a parent would have to add the cost of the loss of a son’s labour. It was a big investment, and beyond the means of most.

Only very occasionally does anything more complex than bills and accounts survive as evidence of literacy, although James Pashley’s letters of 1658 are one example. This was because they were written to Henry Oxinden of Denton, a member of the minor gentry, to whom Pashley, a yeoman and Hythe jurat,  had become related through marriage, and who was a man who kept all his correspondence.  A grammar school education was a possibility for a yeoman’s son, and Pashley’s turn of phrase suggests an education beyond the elementary schoolroom:

‘Cousin, I hope there will be no doubt but you shall effect your desire, for I find Mr Lushington and Mr Arthur and all their party very constant for you, and my friends stand fast and do promise me to their utmost power; therefore I think you need not make any doubt’

Oxinden was standing for election as one of Hythe’s representatives in Parliament and his ‘cousin’ Pashley was canvassing for him. Oxinden lost, and the relationship rather fizzled out after that.