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.

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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 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)
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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.