The Cobays Part 2 – Ontario and Hythe

Margaret Cobay, the eldest child and only surviving daughter of George and Hannah Cobay, married Charles Donatus Bailey on 15 November 1871 in Hythe.  He described himself on the marriage certificate as a gentleman, though he had told the census enumerator a few months earlier that he was an innkeeper, and, in fact, he was landlord of the White Hart in Hythe High Street. He was the son of a plumber and had been born in Hythe. The couple had three children in the next five years, although two died as infants and then Charles died, aged only thirty-eight, in 1876. Early the following year, Margaret gave birth to their fourth child, a daughter. She moved back to live with her father at 40 (now 86) High Street, Hythe with her two daughters and lived there for the rest of her life. Her daughters, Frances and Ellen, both married and her brother Henry moved in after her father’s death. She died aged seventy-seven on 6 August 1916.

86 High Street, Hythe, the former Cobay home.

George, the firstborn son of George and Hannah Cobay, was born in Cephalonia on 4 July 1843. In 1865, he applied to join the Inland Revenue, but needed to prove evidence that he was in good heath. A Hythe physician, Charles Fagge, wrote to the Revenue to say that he had examined George and that he was free from any defects or diseases.

He was duly appointed as an excise officer, and worked in Maidstone. However, he had perhaps inherited his father’s wanderlust, as he is next heard of in Ontario, Canada, where, on his thirtieth birthday, he got married. He took a couple of years off his age, perhaps to disguise the discrepancy between his age and that of his bride. Esther Geraldine Hoyt was only seventeen when they married on 4 July 1873.  She was the daughter of Samuel and Emmeline Hoyt. George said he was a ‘baggage master’.  The couple married in Brantford, a tiny settlement with a population in 1869 of  700. It did, however, have a railway station, which is perhaps where George worked.

Brantford Ontario in 1875, when George Cobay junior lived there (www.

They had two children, Mildred Edina Margaret in 1875 and George Robert in 1877, but sometime in the next three years George died.  By 1880 Esther has moved back into her father’s home, a widow. Only little George Robert is with her, so probably her daughter also had died.  She married again in 1882 and had other children.

George Robert grew up and married, moved to Toronto and had children of his own.

John Cobay, the fourth child of George and Hannah, first tried his hand at farming, at Palm Tree Farm, Lyminge, a village not far from Hythe. He was there when he married Julia Burch, a miller’s daughter, at Newington parish church on 27 November 1872, and his daughter Louisa Julia was born there in 1873. Another daughter, Lizzie Ethel was born the following year. By 1881, however, John had taken on the licence of the White Hart inn, vacated when his brother-in-law Charles Bailey died. Here he remained until his death.

The White Hart in Hythe

A frequent customer was the author Joseph Conrad, who lived at nearby Postling in the early years of the twentieth century. He was sometimes visited there by Ford Madox Ford who accompanied him on his weekly trips into Hythe in a pony and trap. Ford in his memoir describes how at the White Hart

the benign, dark, statuesque and really beautiful Miss Cobay presided in the dimmer recess of that very old tavern.

He says that Louisa was

…invariably silent. The writer at least never heard her utter one word, except that, years after, motoring through that ancient Cinque Port, the writer, for old time’s sake, took a drink at the bar of the White Hart, and Miss Cobay with her enigmatic gaze asked after Mr. Conrad.


Image result for joseph conrad

Joseph Conrad

Ford Madox Ford


After refreshments, the pair would often continue to Sandgate, to visit their friend H G Wells who had a house there.

John died in 1907, of influenza. Julia, with Louisa’s help, continued to run the White Hart after his death for at least four years. Her brothers regularly held their auctions there.

Lizzie had married, in 1894, Stephen Katinakis at St Leonard’s church in Hythe and moved to Devon. By 1939, she was widowed and she and Louisa, who never married, lived together with Ethel’s only daughter, Betty, in Wiltie Gardens, Folkestone.


The ornate but now nearly illegible grave of Charles Donatus Bailey & his family. The inscription reads:

In memory of/Charles Donatus Bailey/who died illegible June 1876/aged 38 years
Also Charles illegible/son of the above/who died 5th April 1875 aged illegible months
Also Ellen Elizabeth illegible/who died 8th June 1876/aged 10 months
Remainder illegible


And next to it the grave of John and Julia Cobay. Their inscrptions says:

In loving memory/of/John Cobay/died 21st January 1907/in his 62nd year
Also Julia his wife/born Dec 20th 1846/died Jan 19th 1927


To be continued…


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 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 Heath – Part Four

The ever-present spectre of the Grim Reaper did not mean that people were any less willing to enjoy themselves than people in the twenty-first century. The six-day working week, together with long working days of around fourteen hours (and longer for apprentices) meant that holidays were to be made the most of.  Shrove Tuesday was the traditional holiday for young people and apprentices, perhaps with games and races in the town. Mothering Sunday was the day young servants and apprentices could visit their homes, if they were near enough. Easter and Whitsuntide were also celebrated, but it was May Day that was the most important spring holiday. There was dancing, especially round the maypole and gathering branches and flowers to make May garlands; there might be hobbyhorses, Morris dancers, baiting, and wrestling.  It was second only to Christmas as a time of festivities.

Lest a picture of bucolic innocence be conjured up by this description, it must be added that the authorities, secular and religious, were generally uneasy about holiday merrymaking, which invariably also involved alcohol, foul language, fighting and sex. The Puritan government of the Commonwealth years was particularly disapproving of these excesses.

The Puritans latched onto the maypole as the paramount symbol of wickedness and depravity. It was, they said, a ‘heathenish vanity’ and should be removed wherever it was found. Hythe corporation was ahead of the game here, and had removed their maypole in 1615. Removing the maypole did not however remove all ungodly jollifications. In 1655 Thomas Kelsey, then the Major-General in charge of Kent issued an edict to all local magistrates, telling them to ban the traditional Whitsun celebrations which ‘produced no other fruits but drunkenness, swearing and all other kinds of lowness and debauchery’. Christmas was targeted, too, as it was ‘superstitious’ and ‘unbiblical’. Predictably this was unpopular. There were riots in Canterbury in 1647, when the mayor tried to enforce the ban.

There had been a time, under James I and his son Charles I when having some good, clean, fun after church on Sunday had been positively encouraged. The Book of Sports, first issued in 1617 and re-promulgated in 1634 set out what sports were acceptable and included Morris-dancing, archery, dancing and ‘leaping and vaulting’. Bowling, for reasons unknown, was excluded. By the time of the 1634 declaration, the Puritans were in the ascendant, and there was widespread antipathy towards the book, culminating in an order in 1643 that it should be publicly burned. By 1650, the attitude had hardened into a ban on having any sort of fun at all on Sundays: ’No person or persons shall without reasonable cause for the same, travel, carry burthens, or do any worldly labours or work whatsoever on that Day’ and there was ‘a prohibition against wrestling, shooting, bowling, ringing of bells for pleasure or pastime, masque, wake, otherwise called feasts, Church ale, dancing, games, sport, or pastime whatsover’.

Local magistrates had no option but to follow these laws. In 1655 Hythe corporation fined two people for travelling on the Lord’s Day and put one of them in the stocks for six hours. The stocks were probably not often used, as they had to obtain a new lock to secure the miscreant in place.

Bowling might have been banned on Sundays, but it continued to flourish in Hythe on other days of the week. The bowling green was a true civic amenity, owned by the corporation and maintained by a keeper appointed and paid by them. It was situated off the modern day Stade Street, in approximately the position where ‘Oaklands’ now stands, and was conveniently placed next to a horse pond, where players could rest their mounts during the game.  Its demise started in 1687, when the corporation, strapped for cash, agreed to sell part of it off.

Feasting was also banned on Sundays but could be enjoyed on other days. St John’s and St Bartholomew’s hospitals both had feasts to celebrate the small occasions of institutional life. Ordinary people of all stations in life had feasts to celebrate baptisms and marriages. Feasts were held after musters of the Trained Bands. The Bailiffs to Yarmouth were expected both to attend and to host feasts. The corporation had a big annual feast after the election of the mayor and smaller ones after each quarter sessions, usually held in the ‘White Hart’ inn. This was conveniently owned from 1648 by Ferdinando Bassett, a jurat, although the corporation also had an account at the ‘George’ (now the ‘King’s Head’) which was owned by the other Bassett brother, Elias, another jurat.

This is not to suggest that Hythe corporation was particularly greedy or profligate with rate-payers’ money.  Feasting and food gifts were a legitimate form of expenditure for corporations as well as individuals. Wine, sugar and marzipan were often given to notables on their visits to towns, and food changed hands in the form of gifts, bribes and fines at all levels. The Lord Warden, on his brief visit to Hythe in 1615 was served with sugared wine and in 1650 Hythe corporation sent fish to the M.P. Henry Heyman. He reciprocated with a side of venison. Thomas Browning in 1620 wooed the freemen and jurats of the town with dinners in his mayoral election campaign, and towards the end of the century William Honeywood did the same for the electors of Canterbury.

Feasts always included two essentials: a lot of meat and a lot of alcohol. A typical bill from the ’White Hart’ for a corporation supper in 1677 included roast beef, a leg of mutton, three chickens and some bread. No vegetables were served, and dessert was a dish of damsons. Beer and wine together cost nearly as much as the food, and by this time it had become the norm for tobacco to be provided as well. The final item on the bill was hay and oats for the gentlemen’s horses.

Given the quantities of wine and beer consumed, some high spirits were inevitable. In 1626, the corporation, noting the disorder at muster feasts directed the Chamberlain to take note of the wine and beer brought into the rooms, and to allow no ‘superfluyitie’. The boot was on the other foot in 1678 when they were themselves penalised: after a feast at the ‘White Hart, the landlady charged them two shillings and sixpence extra for ‘glasses broke’.

The excessive consumption of alcohol concerned the government and local authorities in the seventeenth century every bit as much as it does in the twenty-first. Alehouses, where beer was cheap, and, until it was banned in 1637, home-brewed, were anathema to the respectable classes, and there were repeated attempts by parliament in early years of the seventeenth century to limit them. In 1608 the king issued orders that licences should be more judiciously issued and strictly monitored.  Old licences were to be repealed and new ones issued, with stringent conditions as to illegal gaming and good order attached. To solemnise this undertaking, each licence was to be ‘sealed with a common seal, ingraven in brass with a rose, and the inscription of the county, city or town-corporate’.

The sting in the tail was that these impressive seals were only to be had from one man, the king’s engraver, who had premises near Goldsmith’s Hall in London. He charged twenty shillings for each seal, and as he said himself, he had been ‘promised the 20s for every county, city, and town’ in England.  James I loved to give money to his favourites, and if that money belonged to other people, so much the better.


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.

A Walk through Hythe in 1600 – Part Four

Leaving the market behind, you see the new curate, Isaac Plume, turning uphill towards his church.  He was only installed six weeks ago, and will not stay long: he is one of a series of curates for whom St Leonard’s church is a stepping-stone to greater and more lucrative things.  He will not be much missed by the congregation as he has only a Bachelor of Arts degree, and not the Master’s degree entitling him to preach.  A good sermon, in an age with few diversions, is much appreciated. His predecessor had an MA, but only stayed four months before he secured something better and became Vicar of Bapchild.

Why not follow Mr Plume?

He walks slowly up the hill. It is a very steep slope, known helpfully as ‘the Clymb’. You have seen the church in the distance on your journey here, but at close quarters it is breathtaking – and much too big. The original Norman church was enlarged and enhanced during the glory days of the Cinque Ports, when Hythe was a town and port to be taken seriously. Now it looks as though it could accommodate the entire population, and probably could, at a pinch.

You climb the steps of the impressive porch on the south side. Two men are there before you. They shake hands and money is passed between them.  This is no clandestine deal, but a perfectly normal way to seal a contract in Hythe. Indeed, it is written into some contracts that they will be renewed in this way and in this place each year.

Passing into the church, you are struck anew by its sheer scale.  The chancel has been raised to a higher level than the nave, and accommodates underneath a vaulted passageway. Both the chancel and the nave are high-vaulted and there is an imposing tower to the west.  To the north is the chapel of St Edmund where, on the second of February each year, the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady, the jurats choose a mayor, an election sermon is preached, the bells in the tower are rung and then the corporation retires to the ‘White Hart’ to celebrate.

The church you are seeing has changed fundamentally in the last sixty years or so. The rood loft with its great crucifix was torn down, the saints removed from their niches and the relics consigned to oblivion. The altar, although you must not call it that, now stands in the body of the church rather than in the chancel, and is called the communion table. The church cat is snoozing on it.

You see that Isaac Plume is waiting at the door. He is wearing his surplice, a leftover from earlier times which Puritans in the Anglican church think carries the taint of popery and should be abolished, along with a lot of other things. He greets a small party, arriving in their best clothes. It is Thomas Hutson, a fisherman like all his family, and his kinsfolk, come to baptise Thomas’s second child, Mary. The child’s mother is not among the group: she has not yet been ‘churched’ following the birth and must stay indoors, but she will be at the celebrations at the Hutsons’ house later.  The churchwarden Thomas Stroghill, taking a break from his alehouse, is there to record the event in the parish registers, which the bishop will want to see at the end of the year.

Little Mary Hutson, like so many, will not live to see her first birthday.

Leaving the church, you turn at first eastward to look at the vault under the chancel. It is dark inside, but in the gloom you can make out, to your alarm, that it is full of human bones, not entire skeletons, but skulls and long bones, piled one upon the other. You instinctively recoil from this unlikely sight in a quiet Kentish market town. You cannot make any sense at all of why the bones should be there. And so it is to this day.

The 'crypt' of St Leonard's Church in 1907
The ‘crypt’ of St Leonard’s Church in 1907

You retrace your steps rather more quickly out of the church. In the road in front of the church you notice the stocks, which today are empty, and see, not far away, the prison. It is a foul place, a single cell with a barred window. It is not used as a place of punishment, as the stocks are, but as a holding room while the law takes its course and until sentence has been pronounced, or until a debtor has found the means to pay what he owes. The corporation takes no responsibility for the welfare of the prisoner: that is the duty of his family and friends, although they are allowed to use water from the nearby well to quench the prisoner’s thirst and sluice out the cell, which lacks even basic sanitation.

You walk down to the bottom of the Clymb. On the main street, a woman is repeatedly slapping a small boy round the head while angrily berating him. No-one stops to intervene, or seems even to notice. You see that he is one of the little lads who killed the rat at John Oldfield’s; she is his mother and she is angry because he has ripped his breeches and hose while squirming around on the ground. She has enough to do without mending his clothes and he doesn’t have another pair of breeches apart from his Sunday best. What is more, he should not have been at the brewery with his friends but helping his father, a tallow chandler, by delivering some candles. He will, she tells him, go to hell and burn for all eternity for his sins. And go to bed with no supper.


A Walk through Hythe in 1600 – Part 3

Make your way now back into the close. The beercart has been freed and is now being loaded with barrels of beer for an inn at New Romney. The rat has mercifully died, although the boys are squirming around in the dust on their stomachs and shrieking, pretending to be dying rodents.  It is time to go back to the street and continue on your way westward along the main street.

Many of the sideways houses still function as shops as well as dwelling places.  Some are selling goods made on the premises; others sell finished goods, small wares or food. You can buy fabric from Michael Sprott (French kersey only three shillings and sixpence the yard) or James Fordred (tawny baize at two shillings and sixpence) and have it made into an outfit by Joseph Gibbons, the tailor. You can get shoes from John Martin for two shillings.  If you are very up-to-date, you can also buy new-fangled buttons to fasten your clothes from Mr Fordred.  If you still prefer to use points, in leather, thread or silk, you can get them from Alice Robyns, the enterprising widow of a miller who keeps a haberdashery shop with her daughters Margaret and Mary. She also has jersey stockings, in red and green mixed, for five shillings and green silk garters for two shillings and fourpence.

Just now, Widow Robyns is looking askance at the packhorse tethered a little way off. It belongs to a chapman, the door-to-door salesman of the seventeenth century, who also sells stockings and points and a great deal else besides. He is trying to sell his merry-books to a young matron who has bought from him before. Her little son, still in frocks, clings to her apron and you realise that what at first you took for a stiff doll under her arm is, in fact, her tightly swaddled baby. She cannot write, but she can read a little and would like something amusing to share with her gossips. The books she looks at are either quite crudely bawdy, or, to your twenty-first century sensibilities, distasteful. For the seventeenth century reader, Welshmen are funny per se, so are ‘simpletons’. Shit is particularly funny and emptying a chamber pot over a passer-by, uproarious. Wee is pretty hilarious too, especially if, say, a barmaid pisses in a difficult customer’s ale. You are reminded uncomfortably of the humour at your primary school, and move on.

The market is in full swing, having started earlier this morning when the market bell was rung after the court sessions. The town sergeant has finished crying the latest news from the corporation, which today was only a repetition of the order banning people from letting their pigs wander the streets. They will have to pay a fine of sixteen pence if convicted. This is, as it always has been, generally ignored.  Here you can buy what you cannot grow or produce yourself: eggs, poultry, cheese, milk, meat, maybe some early cherries, or small wares not sold locally or available here more cheaply.

The market is strictly controlled and local shopkeepers, alert to any opportunity to frustrate competition, are quick to bring to the attention of the corporation any contravention of the rules, such as staying beyond the closing time of four o’clock. The corporation employs market searchers, who will weigh the stallholders’ loaves to ensure that they are thirteen ounces or twenty-six ounces exactly and are sold at the regulation price.  Flesh searchers check that meat is exactly as it is claimed to be.

Visiting yeomen and husbandmen are arriving on horseback, their wives riding pillion behind them. They gather to drink beer, now more popular than ale, at the ‘White Hart’ or the ‘George’, while the women make their purchases.  Others who cannot afford the inns’ prices drink at one of the many alehouses, licensed and unlicensed, in the town. Some of those in the back lanes are no more than a couple of tables and some stools in a labourer’s cottage, where his wife serves homebrew of formidable strength and illegal gaming takes place, but the premises of Thomas Stroghill, the churchwarden, are as respectable as one would hope for from a pillar of the community.

Take a look at what is for sale at the market, apart from foodstuffs. You may purchase a pair of gloves, a comb, pins, needles and knitting needles, handkerchiefs and hatbands, thread of all sorts, capes, neckcloths and hoods, a looking-glass to check that they suit you, ink and inkhorns, necklaces, bracelets and brooches, napkins and tablecloths, soap and starch, tobacco pipes, spectacles, scissors, whistles, spurs, thimbles, shoe buckles and slippers. These things are not essentials. Money will always be spent first on feeding the family and secondly on decently clothing its members, but the market stall holders are there to provide for the wants of those with a little disposable income.

You spend some time considering this mass of people. The respectable women are wearing tight, rather low cut bodices over chemises, and skirts draped over bum rolls, padded rolls like ring doughnuts which fit round their waists and which are homely substitutes for wire farthingales.  At their necks are ruffs, carefully starched and pleated. From the market they can buy poking sticks to keep the ruffs in good shape. Their menfolk are in doublet and hose – a long-sleeved short jacket fitted at the waist, short wide breeches – padded if they can afford it – with knitted stockings underneath. They too wear ruffs, or wide falling collars, and large broad brimmed hats, even indoors. The etiquette of when to wear one’s hat and when to uncover is ignored at one’s peril. Poorer people don’t affect bum rolls or farthingales, or padded breeches or ruffs, but the general style is the same.

The very poorest don’t affect any style at all, but wear what they can lay hands on. The woman you have just noticed sitting on the kerb stone with a wooden bowl in front of her is one such. She appears to be wearing a bundle of rags tied together with tape. She has the milky eyes of the sightless. A small child has led her to this place by the market – perhaps a favourite ‘pitch’ – and now stands dumbly by her. The child is filthy, scabby and shoeless. It could be a boy or girl, but you really don’t want to get any closer to find out. The woman once had a name, when she was a girl, and when she married and had her children.  Her man and the children are dead now and she is left with a grandchild, and has no name. She is just Mother Casement. There is no room for her at the almshouse, though she gets ‘outdoor relief’ from the town, but it is not enough. So she begs here at the market, and citizens give her farthings and halfpennies, not enough to buy a whole loaf of bread, but enough to buy a bread roll for the child from the baker, who will fleece her because the weight and price of bread rolls is not regulated and he can charge what he likes.

The woman and child smell pretty bad, and people do not approach them more closely than is necessary. This is through more than fastidiousness. They believe that foul odours, or ‘miasma’, carry diseases. Wherever possible, people keep themselves and their surroundings as clean and fragrant as possible.