A Radical Blacksmith?

Beneath a yew tree in St Leonard’s churchyard, lies a rather battered table tomb, long buried under landslip. Rediscovered in October 2013, part of the inscription, protected from the elements for generations, could still be seen: ‘liam Ga…who was Bay… and Mayor for the Yeare 1650 … Ancie … he… Yeare is….. departed this mortall life on the LORDS day the 23 of February 165…being of the age of 52 yeares’.

This is the tomb of William Gately

William Gately was born in late 1599 or early 1600, the son of John Gately and Phillice, nee Possingham. His father had a house and smithy backing onto Hythe Green, which he leased from St Bartholomew’s Hosptial. His mother died when he was six, and his father married three times more, having two more sons, before dying himself at Rye in 1624, making his fourth wife, Alice, a widow. She went to live in New Romney, leaving the business and domestic premises to William, who had also become a blacksmith.

A seventeenth century smithy

Now in charge of his own business, and with his stepmother living elsewhere, William was in need of a wife to run his house, which included a hall, with two chambers over, an entry room, garret, kitchen, buttery, stables and outside storage.  He married Ann Dryland on 2 October 1627 in Wye. Their first child, John, was baptised in Hythe on 31 August 1628, but is not mentioned in his father’s will, so presumably died young. Their second and third sons, both called William, and the fourth, Samuel born in 1642 also had short lives. Their only daughter, Elizabeth, to whom William eventually left most of his estate, was baptised in Hythe on 11 Jul 1630.

Unlike his father, who had carefully avoided any form of civic duty,  William embraced civic life with some enthusiasm. In February 1633, the Corporation charged him with collecting contributions towards cutting out the haven, one of several, ultimately futile, attempts the town made to save its harbour. He evidently performed this task satisfactorily, and in August was made freeman and jurat. He still had to pay £1.3.0d for the privilege. Tax collecting seems to have been his forte, as he was appointed on several occasions to this task, including the collection of the generally unpopular Ship Money  imposed on the country by Charles I in1634.

He also served as churchwarden at St Leonard’s in 1639 and 1641. This post was not necessarily eagerly sought after. It involved attending the bishop’s visitation to present the parish registers; keeping records of those who did not attend church, as required by law; collecting the subsequent non-attendance fines; maintaining charitable bequest; keeping church accounts and keeping the church in good repair. The vicar of Hythe, William Kingsley, was unlikely to have been often in the town to offer advice. He was also Rector of Saltwood, Rector of Ickham and Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral. Parliament removed him from all his livings in 1644 for pluralism.

From 1640, William often attended the Brotherhood and Guestling, the annual meeting of the Cinque Ports, with the Mayor and in 1649 he was appointed one of their Bailiffs to Yarmouth. This was an ancient post which had in the past produced confrontation, and even violence between the people of Yarmouth and the Bailiffs. The role of the latter was to be present in the town during the herring fair, to attend court sessions daily and pass judgement. There were also visits to church and a certain amount of feasting. It was another post which some avoided if at all possible. It entailed a long journey and several weeks spent away from home and from one’s trade or business.  William Gately was selected because a Mr Bachellor from another of the Cinque Ports had refused to go – and was fined the huge sum of £50 by the Brotherhood for his transgression.

See the source image

The Brotherhood and Guestling still meets in the 21st Century

William’s experience as Bailiff seems to have been an unfortunate one. On his return, the Corporation gave him £25 in recognition of the dangers and ‘travail’ he had endured during his journey. This was quite unprecedented. The trip may have had a salutary effect: the next month he made his will, unlike many at the time who waited until death was imminent.

In 1650 he was chosen to be Mayor. It was a difficult time – the Corporation was nearly bankrupt and started the year with a deficit. They were unable to pay for the timber bought to repair the haven and were being threatened with legal action, while further expenses were incurred placing guns on the Mount and re-glazing the Town Hall. William may have been relieved when his term of office ended, as all Mayoralities did, at Candlemas, 2 February the next year. Eighteen days later, on Sunday 20 February 1651 ‘at four of the clock in the afternoon’, he died.

William had been quite acquisitive during his lifetime and left his family well provided for. He had bought land in Bilsington in 1640 and in Saltwood in 1648, and owned silver plate and a ‘feather bedd, well furnish’d’ (a feather bed was a mattress, but rather superior to a lumpy flock one; the furnishings were the bedstead, posts, drapes and linen). His acquisitiveness, however, had led to court cases, including with his own mother’s family, where he was shown to have appropriated goods to which he was not entitled, and in 1649, when Bailiff to Yarmouth, and despite the generous gratuity he received, he overlooked paying his clerk his allowance. The man had to beg the Brotherhood for it after William’s death. For all that, William was generous in his bequests, remembering his apprentices past and present, his half-brothers John and David, an aged aunt, his god-daughter and the new minister of Hythe, William Wallace, who received forty shillings.

This last bequest is interesting. Wallace, who hailed from Aberdeen, was a Calvinist Presbyterian of particularly radical views.  His clerical duties were confined to baptisms and communion: marriage for him was not a sacrament and he said no prayers at burials. That William Gately thought highly enough of him to leave him money tends to suggest that the blacksmith shared his radicalism in religious matters. He was, now that the Church of England was effectively dis-established, able to express his views without fear and worship as he wished. And since he supported a radical minister, did he also support the parliamentary forces that had enabled him to preach freely? Probably.

William Gately’s signature (produced by permission of Canterbury Cathedral Archives)

It seems he was not long survived by his daughter or wife. The land in Saltwood was to pass to his niece Susan Gately, if they both died. It was sold by Susan in 1660, so Ann’s and Elizabeth’s deaths must be assumed.  Susan, the daughter of William’s brother John and only known surviving grandchild of John Gately senior, married in 1675, and had children.

The minster, William Wallace, was ejected from his Hythe living at the Restoration and went to preach (illegally,now that the Church of England and its bishops were also restored) ) to dissenting communities in Hove.

 

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Five

The government had set up the national Customs Board in 1671 to try to combat smuggling more effectively. Two sloops patrolled the south coast in search of the smugglers, but then fell foul of some seventeenth century austerity measures and were replaced by eight locally-employed riding officers, thus saving a thousand pounds a year. The result was that smuggling increased.

The lot of Customs officers in Hythe seems not to have been a happy one. In 1676 John Johnson, the Collector at Hythe, asked rather plaintively ‘to be removed to some better place in another port’, or to have his salary increased.  He did not get his wish until four years later, when in April 1680, John Brewer was appointed in his place. In July that year Brewer was assaulted by a gang of smugglers and was paid compensation by the Board. Two years after that, he got permission to go and live in New Romney, and the Board psupplied him with a horse so that he could commute.

By the end of the century, the smuggling situation in Hythe was worse, not better, than it had been a hundred years earlier. Troops of dragoons were deployed to the town, and in desperation the government passed the Wool Act in 1698, forbidding anyone living within fifteen miles of the coast from selling wool without a certificate from the Customs House. This desperate piece of legislation was as ineffective as all the other efforts had been, and the smuggling problem was to persist into the next century and beyond.

There is some suggestion that the privileges of membership of the Cinque Ports federation were an encouragement for smuggling.

The organisation had its origins in a royal charter of 1155 which established the five ports which would maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of need – Hythe, New Romney, Dover, Sandwich and Hastings. The chief obligation laid upon the ports was to provide fifty seven ships for fifteen days’ service to the crown annually, each port fulfilling a proportion of the whole duty.

In return, they received significant privileges, including exemption from tax and tolls; self-government; permission to levy tolls; and the power punish offences and detain and execute criminals both inside and outside the port’s jurisdiction, and punish breaches of the peace; and possession of lost goods that remain unclaimed after a year, goods thrown overboard, and floating wreckage.

The arms of the Cinque Ports

The freedom for a port to apprehend and punish its own offenders probably meant that a blind eye was often turned to what was regarded as a legitimate means of supplementing a meagre income when times were hard (which they often were).  If the choice for the authorities was to be between ignoring the fact that a man was a smuggler, and having him and his family as a charge on the parish, then pragmatism would surely win the day.

Over the years the original five ports gained an accretion of Ancient Towns and Limbs, so that by the seventeenth century there were thirty eight towns involved in the Confederation, which was headed by the Lord Warden, and his deputy the Constable of Dover Castle. As one of the five original ports, Hythe could send two ’barons’ to parliament, but New Romney was considered to be the central port and it was here that the annual meetings of the ports, the Brotherhood and Guestling, took place. These had originally been separate meetings, but by the seventeenth century were amalgamated. The Court of Shepway, another ancient court, was apparently held near Hythe, and there is a modern cross there marking the supposed spot.

The Shepway Cross near Hythe

The towns became rich on the spoils of war, but by the time of Elizabeth I, the Cinque Ports were no longer of any real significance. New Romney had long since silted up; Hythe and Sandwich were going the same way, as was Dover, so it seemed then. Hastings had been washed away by the sea, invaded by the French and battered by storms. Other ports such as Bristol and Liverpool were in the ascendant.

Whatever the reality of the situation, the Cinque Ports clung to their privileges and rights, and took considerable pride in them. These included the right to carry the canopy over the monarch at the coronation and authority over Yarmouth fare, with the right to try criminal and commercial cases in the town during the time of the fare, when the court sat daily.

The Yarmouth men generally resented the Cinque Ports bailiffs, and their reluctant toleration sometimes erupted into quarrelsome, if not violent, outbursts. In the late thirteenth century, the Yarmouth and Cinque Ports contingents of a royal fleet set to fighting each other, with the loss of at least twenty five Yarmouth ships resulting.

As late as 1657, a farcical stand-off between the Yarmouth and Cinque Ports men resulted in a special Brotherhood and Guestling being held in Hythe. John Finch, a Hythe jurat and Alexander Bennett had been elected as bailiffs. They went to Yarmouth, and as usual presented the papers of their written commission to the Yarmouth magistrates. They had taken off their hats while doing so, and then replaced them. The Yarmouth men took immediate offence, and insisted they take their hats off again while the commission was read out loud. Finch and Bennett refused.  The Yarmouth men then left the hall en masse and refused to recognise them as Bailiffs.

After kicking their heels for three days but making no progress in the impasse, Finch and Bennett went home and complained that they had been insulted.  The meeting agreed, but said they should have stuck it out and fined them ten pounds each.

It is small wonder, given the potential pitfalls that the honour of being the Cinque Ports Bailiff to Yarmouth was not eagerly sought after.  In 1619, the Brotherhood and Guestling, which appointed the Bailiff, searched in vain for their nominees. Mr Beadle, of New Romney had lived outside the town for a month before to make himself ineligible. The second choice, Mr Brett was simply ‘gone from home’.

Three years later, when Hythe should have provided a Bailiff, no-one wanted to go, so the corporation asked a former mayor, living in Canterbury. He said he was ill. John Benbricke of Rye was chosen instead, but said he had resigned as a jurat so was not eligible. His colleagues said they had refused his resignation and he must go. Reluctantly, he set off on the long journey.

Quite from the chilly reception, the length of the trip must have been a I’mdeterrent. The Bailiff was expected to stay in Yarmouth from towards the end of September until early November. That was a long time away from earning ones livelihood, and probably time that most of the jurats could ill-afford. By the end of the century the tradition had been allowed to fall into abeyance.

 

A Tide in the Affairs of Men – Part Two

Fishing was the mainstay occupation of the town and an Elizabethan survey of 1566 estimated that there were thirty three boats in the town worked by a hundred and sixty men. The survey was more guesswork than an accurate count, but it can be deduced that there were a lot of boats and a lot of fishermen.

Fish were a valuable and limited resource. Any industry exploiting such a resource is highly regulated, and fishing was no exception.  If, during your imaginary walk through Hythe you had turned up on the beach with your boat and nets, you would have been regarded with considerable suspicion, even hostility. The fishing season was tightly regulated in terms of who could fish, and when, with what and with whom.

These regulations were taken seriously. In 1616, Richard Hutson filed a complaint against Nicholas Salisbury, another fisherman. Salisbury had taken to sea a man whom Hutson had already signed on for the winter fishing. The magistrates, many of them fishermen themselves,  took a very dim view of the crime and Nicholas Salisbury was fined and forfeited the freedom of the town.

The seasons were divided into ‘fares’, some for local inshore fishing and some in deeper waters.  From April to June, Shotnett fare, the Hythe men fished for sole and mackerel in all sizes of boat. Then in summer came Harbour fare, the smaller boats catching conger with ‘harbour hooks’ in home waters, while larger vessels headed north to Scarborough fare for cod and ling.  From September to November, the bigger boats with crews of a dozen or so sailed to Yarmouth, the most profitable fare of all, for herring.  When it was over, the boats returned to Hythe and continued to fish for herring in home waters until the end of the year.

In home waters, there was also a short sprat season, which was not very lucrative, but trammelling for plaice from March to October was.  Trammels were nets consisting of a triple wall of mesh, of up to 18 furlongs in length which rested on the sea bed.  Trawls were more economical, but the Hythe men were conservative, and hung onto their trammels.  The trammel boats were small and only carried a crew of six or seven. These smaller boats were sometimes referred to as ‘stade boats’, the stade being the open beach where they were hauled up by means of horse-turned ‘vernes’ or capstans. There is still a Stade Street in Hythe today, leading from the sea to the town centre.

Stade Street in 2015......
Stade Street, Hythe  in 2015……

 

...and the view from Stade Street - no fishing boats, no capstans, no horses, no haven
…and the view from Stade Street – no fishing boats, no capstans, no horses, no haven

The dates of fares were strictly controlled by the Crown, but Shotnett fare, particularly, was sometimes brought forward. February often saw the Hythe men petitioning to set sail early, either because the French had already started fishing or because Lent , when meat could not be eaten and fish was in demand, was early. In 1622 they skilfully managed to combine two gripes in one petition as they asked

for licence to go to sea forthwith to catch soles, being unable, if we wait the limited day, to supply the increased demand for fish occasioned by the Proclamation for strict keeping of fish days, as the soles which are now in season will meanwhile be swept up by trawlers

Trawlers were a big bugbear for the Hythe fishermen who believed that they were over-fishing. Their 1622 complaint was against men from Rochester and Strood, which they rather spoiled by overstating their case: ‘the town is ruined by such proceedings’, which was not strictly true, but as they had been shot at by trawlers in 1617, they felt they had an axe to grind. Two of the fishermen, Richard Hutson and Thomas Wallop even went to London in 1621, taking with them a purloined trawl net to show to a parliamentary committee. In 1631, the culprits were ‘the Barking men’, using huge beam trawls, which were subsequently banned. On this occasion,   one of the Essex men was apprehended and sent to the Lord Warden, but it turned out he had a perfectly good licence from none other than the king’s fishmonger, William Angel.

Apparently the fishermen of the Cinque Ports decided that if they couldn’t beat the interlopers, they would join them, as thirty years later the Duke of York, then Lord Warden, wrote to the Ports that he was

very sensible of the great and many abuses that have of late years been committed in the fishing on the English coast’ 

and ordered Ports fishermen to stop using unlawful nets

whereby the brood or fry of fish may be any ways prejudiced or destroyed, or to take or catch any fish at unseasonable times contrary to the law or the ancient custom in fishing affairs’

It is hard to blame the fishermen, as they had been operating under difficult conditions for years. Every time there was a war, against Spain, France or the Netherlands, which was more often than not in the seventeenth century, the fishing industry suffered. Sometimes they were confined to port, as in 1627, when Buckingham believed they might be passing intelligence to the French. The next year some Sandwich fishermen were actually taken by a French man-of-war. In 1656 the Ports joined together to ask for the protection of a navy convoy against the enemy of the day, the Dutch, and in  1672 Hythe was virtually besieged by four Dutch privateers ‘so that no fishing or other boat dare peep out’.

By then, French ships from Dieppe dominated the herring and mackerel fisheries in the Channel. This, the lack of a proper harbour, the obstacles faced, the effects of impressments for the navy on a dwindling population, and the decline of the Yarmouth fisheries all helped ensure that Hythe’s future was not to be as a fishing town. By the end of the eighteenth century, not a single boat remained in the town.