The Plague

On 27 Nov 1575 Hull corporation took measures against the plague 

The Mayor is not in the town, we don’t know why, but John Thorneton one of the Aldermen has taken his place as Lieutenant. This is great for us, as Thorneton was very keen on record keeping. The accounts of his Mayoralties are half as long again as most of the others, and ten times as long as some. Without him there might have been mention of the plague, but not the careful copying out of the regulations. The Town Clerk, John Lewes, would write as little as he could get away with.

Here is the first entry in the record. I have modernised the spelling and very lightly edited it to make it easier to read, but the words and the thoughts are pure 1575. Their first need is to control the poor. The plague tended to spread fastest amongst the grubbier section of society, unlike the 1558/9 outbreak of “the new disease” a flu-type virus which had struck everybody, without a pattern. The “new disease” had killed perhaps four of the eleven Aldermen and the Town Clerk, and nothing had been written about it, as the town records were not kept at all for two years. But back to the plague, it is 1575. . . 

Mr John Thorneton, Lieutenant in the absence of the Mayor, with the full assent and consent of his brethren the aldermen of the town, minding by God his permission to foresee as much as in them is the great peril and damages that may happen to this commonwealth, by means of the inordinate going abroad of the poor people on the streets this time, in which it hath pleased God to to visit this town with the plague (a sickness greatly feared and to all men known to be infective) Have thought it meet and very convenient that the poor people should be relieved at home in their dwelling houses and be utterly restrained from this day, being the 27th day of November in the eighteenth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth the Queen’s Majesty, from going abroad in the streets or from door to door begging. 

And therefore do enact order conclude and agree that if there shall be any of the poor people taken going abroad in the streets or from door to door begging that then he or she shall be committed to prison and shall also loose the weekly aid that he or she hath allowed them of the collection for the poor. 

And because this order may be known to all it is agreed that it shall be openly published in both the churches 

And for that it is thought the money weekly collected towards the relief of the poor of this town by the collectors is not sufficient to maintain the poor in their houses and that charity willeth they should be sufficiently provided for, it is therefore also ordered and agreed that every person in habiting within this town which by the discretion of the Justices of Peace shall be thought able to pay any thing towards the relief of the poor people shall be by them forthwith assessed to pay weekly so much as the Justices shall think meet and convenient. This assessment to have continuance no longer than it shall please God to permit the infection to endure. 

And if any of the inhabitants shall not weekly pay as they shall be assessed by the said Justices that then he she or they refusing to pay as they are assessed shall be punished according in the statute made and ordained for the relief of the poor. 

That was Hull Bench Book Four (HHC C BRB/2) ff.138v.-139

So money is collected to pay the poor people to stay indoors, and those who do venture out are to be sanctioned.

Next we have a lockdown of all households containing infection. We know that the plague was spread by fleas, in 1575 they did not know this, but they had observed that, as well as person-to-person transmission, plague could be caught from cloth, especially clothes and bedding, (where the fleas lurked). People then did not have as much “stuff” as we do. If you and your family went to stay with someone, it was usual to bring your own bedding, they were unlikely to have guest blankets. This entry also identifies Blackfriargate as the main area of concern. Blackfriar gate runs today on the Humber side of, and practically underneath, Myton Bridge.  

The same day and year by Mr Lieutenant and his brethren the aldermen did with one full assent and consent enact order conclude and agree That no person inhabiting within this town shall at any time or times hereafter by day or night take or receive into their houses or possessions any bedding apparel or household stuff from any the houses or places infected or suspected to be infected with the plague or forth of the Blackfriar gate upon pain of imprisonment and fine at discretion of the said Mayor and Aldermen, besides the shutting up of their doors and shop windows of what estate so ever the same person or persons be so offending contrary the tenor and effect of this ordinance. 

And further by the assent and consent aforesaid it is enacted ordered and agreed that no person or persons inhabiting this said town shall at any time or times receive or take into their houses or any part thereof any person or persons whosoever forth of any house infected or suspected to be infected with the said sickness or forth of the said Blackfriar gate without the licence and consent of the said Mr Mayor and the most part of the said Aldermen. And that no person or persons shall at any time or times approach or go nigh to the doors or windows of any house infected or suspected to be infected with the said sickness there to talk with them that be within the same houses but to stand a far off from the same houses or in the mid of the street upon the pains and penalties aforesaid. ff.139-139v.

Blackfriargate was closed in with a wooden wall, and a keeper appointed to guard it and to be paid weekly. They don’t say how much, but it would be unlikely to be very much. The fees and bribes of those inside the wall to carry messages and allow illicit excursions would have been very tempting. 

Item the day and year abovesaid for the better safety and preservation of the body of this said town from the danger and peril of the said infective sickness it was fully ordered concluded and agreed that the said Blackfriar gate (at this time sore infected) should be impaled and enclosed at the east and west ends of the said street and at the south end of the lane going from thence southward And that at both the ends of the said street there shall be two doors made and one honest and discrete person appointed to have the charge and keeping of the said street and door and to have a weekly consideration for his travail and pain who shall see these acts and ordinances hereafter ensuing made touching the better safety of the said street from time to time duly executed and observed. f.139v.

And here are the rules for the gate keeper. He was only responsible for the daylight hours. It is likely that the regular Night Watch took on the overnight surveillance. I like that he was instructed to be polite to those he was imprisoning.

Articles to be observed by Richard Long keeper of the Blackfriar gate.

1. Inprimis that he shall keep both the gates of the said street shut and be attendant at the gate towards the west end thereof all the day from day light in the morning until five of the clock at the night there to be ready to open the gate when any of that street (not being of the houses infected) shall have necessary occasion to go forth or come in or to bring forth or take in such things as be needful for the reparations of their houses and that he behave himself towards them with courteous and gentle words and behaviour. Provided always that he do not suffer any bedding, apparel, or any household stuff to be carried forth at any time either any person or persons forth of any house or houses infected or suspected to be infected to come abroad forth of their houses with the special commandment of Mr Mayor or his Lieutenant in his absence. 

2. Item when any of the inhabitants within that street shall have any occasion to carry forth or to bring in any burdenous or heavy thing to or from the High street as hops beer or such like. That then he (upon request to him made) shall open the gate at the East end of the said street for those purposes only and that being done he forthwith to shut the same gate again. 

3. Item if there be any person or persons inhabiting that street or any other that be disobedient to these orders devised and set down for the safety of the whole town or that do in word or deed murmur grudge or repine that then the said keeper shall forthwith impart the same to the common officer and he to inform Mr Mayor or his Lieutenant in his absence that such persons may receive and have condign punishment. 

4. Item that the said keeper shall admonish all persons dwelling in any house in that street to forbear for a time the church market and other open and common assembly. 

5. Item that the inhabitants of that street shall weekly of Wednesdays and Saturdays betwixt six and seven of the clock in the evening bring all the filth offal and sweepings of their houses to a place in that street to be there unto appointed by the common officer and the said keeper From thence to be carried to the Southend on a sled and there cast over into Humber. ff.140-140v.

And here our detailed record ends and normal service is resumed, the Mayor, Robert Gayton, was back in town. The next plague related entry was nine days later. The Blackfriars lockdown was still in place, and someone reported to the authorities that there had been a breech. f.141

The sixth day of December complaint was made to Mr Mayor that Robert Wardell contrary to the tenor and effect of the order had received into his house in the Chapel [Chapel Lane] forth of Blackfriargate one Edward Prince with his wife, family and bedding. It was therefore by the Mr Mayor and his brethren the Aldermen agreed that the said Robert Wardell should have his door shut up and he imprisoned and that the said Prince and all others in that house should keep them close in the said house until further order were therein taken. 

The same day it was agreed that upon Saturday night it shall be lawful to Steven Prestwood, Birde, Henry Luter and Burton to open their doors and go abroad so as they do not come in the church, market or other open assembly until their estate for the sickness be better known. And that they shall be charged in the mean season to cleanse and smoke their houses. f.141

Four days later, one of the Blackfriargate residents is in trouble with the authorities, but  “lewd words” does not mean what you think it means. He was rude and contemptuous of the authority of the Mayor. The Wait’s collar was silver, so every time it was issued or recalled, it was weighed. On the10th December . . 

Henry Luter one of the town’s Waits for his disobedience in the time in which his house was infected with the plague and for his misdemeanour and lewd words uttered in the presence of Mr Mayor was displaced from his said office and in his place was appointed for that office one Henry Storey and the collar of silver belonging to that office was taken from the said Henry Luter and delivered to the said Storey to use during the time that he shall enjoy that office. Which collar doth weigh six ounces and three quarters. f.141

There is no record of the end of the lockdown, but the town was thought to be in need of more government. On the first of February the number of Aldermen is increased from the Mayor and ten Aldermen to the Mayor and twelve Aldermen, and the two new men are elected from a field of only three candidates, the losing candidate was already the Sheriff. No reason is given, but the next order is for two Aldermen to be appointed to manage each of the six wards of the town, and “to take charge rule and government of the wards within this said town and see within those wards all good laws and statutes of the realm and all ordinances made or to be made for the good and quiet government of the common wealth from time to time duly observed” f.143

And on the same day they issued “Orders for avoiding of infection” and each ward took turns in implementing them. 

For the better safety of this town from further infection of the plague it is by the said Mayor and Aldermen with one full assent and consent ordered and agreed that there shall be forthwith a nightly watch kept to the number of twelve men every night. Who, by the Aldermen of that ward that shall watch, shall be appointed to attend at the places following to foresee that none go abroad forth of any place infected or suspected to be infected with the plague or carry from thence any apparel bedding or household stuff viz. two at the Southend two at either of the ends of Blackfriargate, two in Mytongate, two in the Church yard and two in Whitefriargate. And also that there shall be certain men of every ward appointed who shall be from time to time attending upon the Alderman of their ward when they be sent for and with the constables shall for see that the poor go not abroad neither any of the persons infected go abroad in the day time nor any clothes bedding or other thing carried or conveyed forth of any house or place infected or or suspected to be infected. f.143v.

The threat was now external as well as internal, and there seems to have been a group of infected people outside the town in the manor of Myton, which was then an agricultural area to the west starting just outside the town walls, not far from the new foot bridge. I am not sure how far it stretched, but probably at least as far as the present Infirmary on Anlaby Road. We are not told who these infected people were, but there is no suggestion that they were townspeople. It is most likely that they were refugees, who had not been allowed into the town, and they had set up camp in agricultural outbuildings outside it. 

The same day it was also by the said Mr Mayor and his brethren the Aldermen concluded ordered and agreed that the common officer shall hire one man daily to watch Myton Carr from day light till night and not to come forth of the Carr until night. And he to see that none of the infected persons there talk with any nor go abroad in the said Carr neither to come into the town at any time. And when the said man at night shall return forth of the said Carr to this town he shall give knowledge of his home coming to the keeper of the town’s gates who shall immediately cause all the gates to be shut. ff.143v.-144

On 18th of May 1576 the plague was still thought to be a threat when it was invoked to cancel the annual midsummer “Cakes and Ale” when the Mayor traditionally dispensed hospitality at his house. Those trying to turn Hull into a Godly Commonwealth may also have been at work here. 

The Mayor and Aldermen considering that this town is partly infected with the plague and that the assembly of the people together in great companies is very perilous for danger of further infection. Have with one full assent and consent concluded and agreed that the Mayor of this said town shall be dispensed with for keeping of Midsummer even this year according to the ancient customs heretofore used without incurring any danger or forfeit. And yet to the end the poor people who at that time had some relief be not hindered, it is agreed that the said Mayor shall content and pay the sum of £5 to be indifferently bestowed amongst the poor people dwelling in Kingston upon Hull, whereunto the said now Mayor did willingly consent and the same £5 did disburse to the use aforesaid. f.147v.

By the 6th June 1577 the plague had passed, but there was still a stray claim for compensation to be settled.

The Mayor and Aldermen did with one full assent and consent order condescend conclude and agree that Mr Goslinge of Kingston upon Hull, mariner, towards the re-edifying of the cote within the Lordship of Myton which was burnt in cleansing of it after such persons as were infected with the plague were gone from it shall have payed unto him by the common officer the sum of 40s  f.168

And in late November 1577 the economic harm done to the town by the plague was still felt. The “late suits” mentioned were for a government subsidy to repair the castle. Hull were responsible for keeping the castle in good repair, but chunks of it had fallen down and they wanted help. They were successful, but it cost a lot in travel and bribery, not only of great men but also of their servants. It was accounted for as “making friends”.

For as much as the highways to this town are of late greatly decayed on every side and grown to be so foul and especially on Holderness side that hardly any laden horses can get to this town. By means whereof it is greatly to be doubted that corn will in this market grow to be very dear. It is therefore thought good to the said Mayor and Aldermen that some corn, especially wheat and rye, be bought to serve the market as need shall require, to the end that dearth may be avoided and the scarcity provided for as much as reasonably may be. And because the town is destitute of money at this present by reason of the great charges it hath been at as well by their late suits as by the relieving and providing for those that were infected with the plague, it is agreed that some of those Burgesses as are of ability shall be required to lend some money to make the provision of corn. f.178

This last entry is not really a part of the story of the 1575/6 plague, it happened six years later, but it shows how the plague was still an issue. 

11th Jan 1582 One Jane Smith widow did curse Mr Mayor the Justices his brethren and the preacher speaking false and slanderous words against them: videlicet That they went about to punish the town with water, and punished her son, and therefore she wished and trusted to see as great plague to come to the town as ever there was: And that Briskin (who was the preacher) was the cause of it, the devil brisk him out of the town as she doubted not but he would shortly: The said Mayor and Aldermen did for her offence therein the 11th of January anno predicto order and appoint That the said Jane Smith the day following should be set in the stocks in the market with a paper on her head And she was also discharged of the town’s house wherein she dwelled and warned to provide her of another against Whitsunday then next. f.226v.

The Charmer of Swine

Report on Barholmew Preston, the Charmer of Swyne (HHC C DMT 5/3)

This is a moderised version. A more accurate transcription can be found at the end of this post.

Firstly. Bartholmew Preston was born at Wyton and brought up there with Margery his sister who was a bone-setter and a midwife and also suspected to be a charmer. Her married name was Ganton, but she is now dead.

Secondly. He confesses that he deals with the Fairies (or some kind of Spirits) and he will admit it, and that he gets his spells from them. He confessed as much to someone of Sutton.

Thirdly. If a man has a bewitched animal and needs the spell lifted, Preston can tell him what colour the animal is, before he is told what it is. John Ruksby a miller of Tunstall has been a regular customer for this service.

Fourthly. He can tell what has become of any thing that is stolen if he is asked about it within nine days of the theft. John Thompson of Lanthrop is witness to this, and so are others.

Fiftly. Some people in Swine have had their goods and even themselves witched and charmed by him. They offer to affirm this on oath, including Henry Moore a wright.

Sixthly. A man of Hull, had a child that Preston is accused of witching to death. The man came to Preston with a warrant to arrest him, but he and Preston came to an agreement. Willim Cob of Swine was Constable or debuty at the time, and on Friday he will bring the man’s name to your worships. (John Wormsey Hull Gaol)

Seventhly. He was sent for to a young man of Paull who was strangely visited. Preston tied a handkerchief about the young man’s neck assuring the people there of the young man’s recovery. But after he had gone, the young man cried out that the rat which was on the handkerchief was like to kill him, and so he dyed. A boatman called Wintringham affirms this to be true.

Eighth he is infamous in Hull. A gentlewoman or aldermans wife has visited his house for cure for her son, and gaves him much [?money ?credit]. Barack Newton a butcher of Hull has dealt with him for years for charms for his wife, and Rowland Savage a mariner of Hull for his son. And there are many others. He is as popular as any cunning man can be.

— — — — — — — — — —— — — — —— — — — —— — — — —— — — — —

I was looking for the historian Abraham De La Pryme and a search of the Hull History Centre Pryme holdings included (for no apparent reason) “The Report on the Charmer of Swyne” This turned out to have little to do with Elizabethan Hull and less to do with Pryme. Nevertheless I was unable to resist sending for it. A colleage drew my attention to a brief interpretation of the report by T Tindall Wildridge, who has for a long time been one of my top ten worst historians of all time, and so, I decided to look into it.

The document is in the class DMT. It was therefore one of the documents stolen by Wildridge during his tenure as city archivist and generously returned to the archive by bequest in his will. Or so I believed. There is apparently an alternative view, that Wildridge rescued them, having been instructed by the corporation to destroy them. I am not sure where the discredit should properly fall, both versions are equally likely.

The document is a single leaf of paper, It is fairly standard paper for Hull documents up to 1590 or after 1600. (The paper between those dates was a lot worse.) It is written on one side only, in two hands. A third hand (probably Pryme in 1699) has numbered it “615”. This is likely to have been a page or folio number, and the left hand edge shows signs that the document was at one time part of a bound volume. The main hand is not a highly educated or clerkly hand, and is corrected by a more educated hand. The corrections are however likely to be almost contemporaneous. If it was just the first hand I would date the document at 1600 plus or minus 30 years, but the second hand is slightly more seventeenth century. On the document is written “COMMONWEALTH?” in pencil. possibly by the Hull archivist Stanewell, who is usually to be trusted.
The date in the Hull History Centre catalogue was 1650-1700, which in my view is far too late. The catalogue may well have been changed by now, as I did share my opinion with the archive staff. If I had to put money on it, I would say 1620.

The report is in a bog-standard secretary hand in a bog-standard brown ink. The penmanship is perfectly reasonable but the language and the brain behind it are far from sophisticated, and someone has amended and enarged the text, also in secretary hand, but in a black ink with a thinner nib. At a guess, the town clerk sent out a man to collect evidence, but the report was poorly written, so the clerk enlarged and corrected it by questioning the man. To be wildly speculative, I can then see him making a fair copy of the result to give to the magistrates, and keeping this corrected draft as a minute (his record).

It calls itself a report. It was probably made for the Justices of Peace of Hull (The Mayor and Aldermen) with a view to charging the Charmer under the Witchcraft Act of 1604 (1 James Cap. 12). If I am wrong about the date, and it was much earlier, it would fall under the Witchcraft Act of 1563 (5 Elizabeth Cap. 16). Actually it doesn’t make much difference as the law, as it would affect the conduct reported, didn’t change.

There are two sorts of witchcraft here, ill-intentioned and well-intentioned. Both were criminal. The penalty for causing death by witchcraft was death (by hanging), the penalty for using witchcraft for good intent was imprisonment and pillory, but if the charge included the invocation or conjuration of evil spirits the punishment was death. Obtaining charms from the faries is probably borderline. Faries were certainly spirits, and could be inimical, causing disease in people, animals and crops and spoiling food and handiwork. They were not however usually considered as inspired or directed by the Devil. They belonged to a completely different set of beliefs. The use of charms to cure or prevent the harm that faries had caused was common, and probably no-one lived far from a competent charmer. Charmers were also known as cunning men and cunning women or collectively as cunning folk. They tended to be called witches by those who disapproved of them.

As far as I can tell in the Elizabethan East Riding there was no officially recognised physician closer than York. Medical care was in the hands of apothocaries, surgeons, midwives, bonesetters and charmers, with self-help books for the literate. and household remedies. Manuscript recipe collections for the seventeenth century include recipes for medicines, both preventative and curative, and often the occassional useful spell.

I looked for the people:
Bartholmew Preston the Charmer of Swine born at Wyton and brought up there with his late sister Margery Ganton a midwife and bone-setter. Wyton is a part of the parish of Swyne and the parish registers before 1706 are lost. This also covers Moore a Wright of Swine.
The early parish registers for Paull are also lost and therefore the unfortunate young man of Paull has not been traced nor has Wintringham the boatman who may also have been of Paull.
[Jo]hn Thompson ?of lanthroop. I haven’t identified Lanthroop.
John Raksby a miller at Tunstall looked possible at first, but the early register for Tunstall is so decayed and fragile that it is no longer produced. I was allowed to look at it under supervision but the best that I could do, on an admittedly superficial examination of a very difficult document, was:
1625 Christopher the sonne of John Rowksbie was buried the 19 Day of November (ERALS PE/42 p.33). Now this John may be the son, father, or other relation of John Raksby the miller, the man himself or no relation at all. On the page there was recorded 19 burials in 2 years including a still born child, which gives an idea of the size of the parish.
We now turn to Hull. I had previously transcribed the parish registers for the reign of Elizabeth, which had been very neatly copied into a new register up to 1598 (with who knows what loss and innaccuracy) but the chaos that followed has yet to be transcribed. I read through the burials. I have always found the burials to be the most useful when looking for a man. From burials one gets not only the man’s own death but also the death of any wives and infant children. I did not find a Wormsey, (or Wormley) or Rowland Savage, but there were at least two families of Newtons in the town; one family were of ketchmen and the other were indeed butchers.
1611 John Newton butcher buried the first of June [ERALS PE158/1 p423] and on a page shortly after there was buried Henrie Hubert potticarie (apothocary) [ERALS PE158/1 p429].
I can find no record of Preston being hanged, and the court records for Hull are lost.

— — — — — — — — — —— — — — —— — — — —— — — — —— — — — —

Hand one is in normal type, hand two is in bold type.

Reports of the Charmer of Swyne
Barh[o]lmew Preston

Imp’ that he was born at wyton and brought up
ther with his sister a bone settor & suspected Charmer
which is now dead hir name was margere Ganton
a midwyfe

Confessed to [blank] of Sutton [that] he delt with the [fa]yries and had his [spe]ll from them
Secondly he doth Confesse he deals with the Fares
or thes kynde of Spirits and he will avouch it.

Thirdly he Can tell any man what Coollor
his forspoken or witched beasts ar before they
name them to him John Ruksby a miller hath
had much triall of him this way he dwelle at Tunstall he hath
bene often with him.

[Joh]n Thompson
Fourthly he Can tell of any thing that is stoln if they
Com to him within Compass of nyne dayes one
of lanthroop and divers will affirm it from him

Fiftly Som in Swyne have had ther goods witched
and Charmed by him as they say and themselves
also and this they offer to affirm upon oath one
Henry moore a wright with others more.

[Jo]hn wormsey [ ] Hull gaole
Sixtly he is Challenged to witch a Child to dead
of a mans in Hull and the man Cam to him with
a warrant to apprehend him but he did agre with him
Willim Cob of swyne was Coonstable or debuty at the tyme
and will upon fryday bryng the mans name before
your worships

Seaventhly he was sent for to a young man of pall
which was straungly visseted and he tyded a handkyrchif
about his neck assuring them of his recovery but when
he was gone From him the young man Cryed out that
the Ratt which was on [?in] the handkerchieff was lyk to kill him
and so he dyed one wintringham a boatman did
affirm this for truethe

Eyghth he is infamous in hull a gentlewoman or aldermans
wife hath ben at his house for hir son and gaves him much[ ]
and barack newton a butcher of Hull for his wyfe Certay[ne]
yeares to gether hath had to deal with him
and Rowland savag of Hull marriner for his soon with others mo
and he is as much frequented as any Can be that do
posess yt are

1604 Witches

“In this monthe [September 1604] vz the 4 Daie was kept heare a generall Gaole
Delivery Baron Savile being Judge & Mr John Paler Clarke of
the assise at which time weare arreayned for witchcraft divers both
men and women and 5 onely founde Guyltie who had Judgement
and weare executed on Satturdaie after vz Roger Beadneye
John Willerby Marie Holland Jennet Wressell alias Beamo[n]t
and Jennet Butler the afforenamed Willerby confessing many
thing and at his deathe accusing divers for witchcraft at the
same time one Henri Oliver was condemned for horstealing
but had no Judgment but was reprived and was ordered
by the Judg to be topman which he was accordingly.”
[KHRO Bench Book Four f.359 (this week called HHC C BRB/2)]

This seems to have been quite an event.

It was not in Elizabeth’s reign and was under the new witchcraft statute of that year.

None of the names Beadney, Willerby, Holland, Wressell, or Butler are Hull names so it seems likely that they were from Hullshire (south Haltemprice).

Topman or hangman in Hull was hardly a full time job and would have gone to anybody competent who was sufficiently in need of the extra cash. It seems that there were no volunteers this time, perhaps no-one wanted to hang these particular felons. This pardoning of a felon in order to hang other felons is not unique. I have heard that in Lancashire once no man could be found and a woman was given the job, and proved competent, although I expect that she was not paid as much as a man would have been.

The gallows in Hull were probably on what is now Adelaide street, in the royal manor of Myton, where a field was once called Gallows close.

Hull Fair 1600

From the earliest days Hull had a fair. This was a free fair, where merchants and traders could bring their wares to sell or buy, free of the trading restrictions that normally prevailed. Most town of any size had a fair; Beverley for example had four short ones, the most important being the Cross Fair, held on the day before Ascension Day. Although the purpose of Hull Fair was trade, there must always have been some frivolity.

In 1598 Hull applied for and secured a new charter from Queen Elizabeth which made some changes in the way the town ran itself, and amongst them was a change in the date of the annual fair. For the first time it was to be held not in Spring but in Autumn. Change takes time, and it was on 16th September 1600 that Hull Fair was first opened on its new date.

“Tempore Anthonij Burnsall maioris This present 16 day of September it was agreed by the Maior and his bretheren that open proclamacion should be maid for a free fair.”

“The fare for the selling buyeng or exchanging of horses mares geldinges coolts fillies or fooles shalbe kept without the North gate of the said towne and all alongst the walls from the said Northgate Westwarde and thear shalbe 3 principall daies during the said fare for the selling buyeng and exchanging and shoo of horses &c: the 16 dai of September the 22 day of the same month and on the feast of St Mychaell which shalbe the last showe.”

So horses were traded outside the walls, from North Walls which today is alongside Hull College and then towards Beverley Gate, today on the Guildhall side of Queen’s Gardens. During the fair there were three days for showing all animals: September the 16th, 22nd and 29th (Michaelmas). On Google Maps North Walls is called “N Walls”.

“The fare for the selling buyeng or exchanging of beastes and all other Cattell shalbe kept all alongst the Manner walles frome the sewer side alongst Denton laine and so to the Posterne northward and the first day to be the xvj of September the second the 22 and the principall fare daie the feast of St Mychaell.”

The beasts and other cattle are cows and they are being sold within the town walls. The Manor walls were the walls of the King’s Manor, more or less the site of Lowgate Post Office up to Bowlally lane. Denton lane is now Bowlalley Lane, but where the sewer ran, I don’t know. The “Postern northward” is not Posterngate which was on the west wall, and so this may indicate that there was another postern somewhere on the North Wall.

If so then the cattle were shown down Denton lane to its junction with what is now the Land of Green Ginger and then turned right into what is now Manor Street (the western end of King’s Manor) crossing the modern Alfred Gelder Street and the present Guildhall and ending at a postern in the wall just before Queen’s gardens.

Alternatively the “Postern northward” might be Lowgate Bar, which stood at the northern end of Lowgate, where it now meets Guildhall road. If the “Postern northward” is Lowgate, then the cattle market would been on Lowgate, from Bowlally lane northwards to the end of Lowgate.

“The Sheepe fare shalbe kept during all the said fare in Myton gate and the laines and landes thearaboutes.”

This is clear enough, although Mytongate and its lanes have now disappeared under Clive Sullivan Way.

“All Londoners and other persons whatsoever (as well Burgesses as strangers) resorting to the said fare with mercer or grocerie, all gouldsmithes, haberdashers, silkwomen, and such like during the said fare shall stand in the Highe streete from the Northgate to the Chappall laine end and no further towardes the Sowth.”

Once again this is perfectly clear. Chapel lane and High street are still where they were. The difference is that Alfred Gelder street has cut through High street, and so its northern end is now disconnected from the rest of the old town.

“All founderers, pewterers, shoemakers, pedlers, linen drapers, sellers of wodden ware, glovers, hardware men and other such like trades men shall have and make their standing during the said fare in the Salthouse laine.”

Salthouse Lane still exists, but because it is on the north or wrong side of Alfred Gelder street, it is largely neglected. If you navigate Hull by pub, it is behind the New White Hart.

“Theare shalbe also houlden during all the time of the said fare every daie from daie to day and from howre to howre A Court of Pipowders according to the custome and manner of the said Court and Thomas Richardson the Towne Clerke to be steward thearof.”

When attracting outsiders to a fair, it was important to offer the speediest settlement of any dispute, and a Piepowders Court was how this was usually done. The name is from early French meaning dusty feet, as it was a court for travellers.

Thomas Richardson was newly appointed as Town Clerk, with a stipend of £10 and a gown every year and his food at the mayor’s table. This would be in addition to “taking and receiving all maner of fees dewes Costomes and rightes to the said offices belonging or appertaining wether the sayme accrew to the said place by the Lawes and statutes of this Realme wether by auncient Custome or former prescription” which would include fees as steward of the piepoudres. Justice was to be swift, but it wouldn’t have been free. Richardson was originally from “Gowle.” This is surprising, as Goole is thought at this time to have been a collection of mud huts, but apparently it produced a lawyer.

J. R. Boyle, Transcribed and Translated, Charters and Letters Patent granted to Kingston upon Hull, Hull, 1905. Charter of 40 Eliz, 21 August 1598
KHRO Bench Book 4 (alias Hull History Centre C BRB/2) f.331 for Richardson and f.333 for the fair.
Google Maps and Hollar’s plan of Hull of c.1640

Cakes and Ale


The facts in brief: There was a custom in Hull, the origins of which are lost, that on the eve of St John the Baptiser, on Midsummer’s eve, the people of Hull would go to the house of the Mayor for that year and each be given a dole of Cakes and Ale. In 1572 the then mayor Alderman John Smith failed to follow this custom. It was re-instated by popular demand in the next year, with penalties imposed on any future Mayor who did not hand out Cakes and Ale, and so it continued until 1576 when it was supended for a year due to the plague. In the following year 1577 the custom was finally abolished, and in its place future Mayors were to give to the poor the notional cost, which was set at £5.

The Record

Our only source for this is the Hull Bench Book, and the entries in their entirety are at the end of this piece. Working out what happened and why in Hull is sometimes difficult. There are very few letters about internal matters and the townspeople didn’t rush their disputes into print. The Bench Book was kept either well or badly according to whether or not the mayor of that year was interested in the record; the clerk wrote as little as he could get away with. The Bench Book also shows an unnaturally united government, matters are decided “by one assent and consent.”

The Godly and less Godly

Elizabethan Hull had a government of the Godly, but the less godly were still around. There is a constant stream of orders against drunkenness, blaspheming the most holy name of God, whoring and other lewd behaviour. The aldermen also found that they needed what they called “sworn men of the church”, two to each ward, to form the sermon patrol. During sermon time the patrol ensured that the inns and tippling houses remained shut and that the population was in church. This patrol was later extended to the fields outside the town walls where some of the less godly had taken to lurking. The less godly can also be seen when they were punished for words spoken against the preacher, or the godly policies of the mayor and aldermen. Brief imprisonment and the threat of a swinging fine usually resulted in an abject and public apology and promise of future good behaviour.

How the Godly got power

There were thirteen aldermen and no common council. There had been a common council under Queen Mary but it was somehow lost in the flu pandemic of 1558-9 when there is also a two year break in the records due to the deaths of the town clerk and a number of aldermen. The pandemic also did a lot of damage to the pool of potential aldermen. Plague tended to carry off people from the poorer and grubbier parts of town but with influenza what kills you is not the flu bug but your own immune system, so the stronger, will-making classes fell victim to the flu. The remaining aldermen brought in some aldermanic candidates from outside the existing freemen, but whether native or in-comers the new aldermen were all Godly, some excessively so. John Smith, the mayor who first failed to serve Cakes and Ale was amongst this new intake. Apart from the extraordiary appointments of 1560-61, the normal method of election of a new alderman was for the existing aldermen to nominate two candidates and for the burgesses to choose between them. The burgesses were those “free” of the town, by apprenticeship, inheritance or purchase. The potential electorate was perhaps 500, but I believe that the turnout was very low. and it was quite usual for the loosing candidate to be successful at the next vacancy. With total control of candidates, it did not take long for the solid group of Godly Aldermen to become an unassailable majority.

Who were the Godly

In the absence of letters and publications, how does one tell a Godly Alderman from the other sort. Obviously by their deeds, but I am also using another method. I am looking at whose sister they married, into which households they apprenticed their sons, and what they called their children. I have made certain assumptions about those aldermen who called their sons Abdias or Joash.

There were three types of names, the most common were the the old fashioned Thomas, Richard and Henry, second were the newer fashionable Arthurian names especially Lancelot, Tristram and Percival and thirdly, but increasingly frequently, the old testament names Abraham, Tobias, Gideon and Joshua.

John Smith

So amongst the Godly was Alderman John Smith and because he was virtuous he said that in his year there should be no more cakes and ale. His cancellation of Cakes and Ale is not recorded in the Bench Book, so it was not a corporate decision, and it seems to have been his own. We do not have his reasoning for this, but he had his son christened Ezechias, and left money in his will for a sermon by Melchior Smith, and for me that puts him firmly amongst the Godly. Melchior Smith was a Calvanist and you can read my blog on his problems with the town authorities in the 1560s. John Smith’s will was made in the late 1590s when the usual Hull preacher was Thomas Wincopp.

Soul Cakes

The cakes in Cakes And Ale were soul cakes, more commonly associated with Halloween. They are a precursor of the sweets extorted on mischief night (for American readers, that is the treat of trick or treat). Soul cakes were expensive, being full of sugar and spice and all things nice, and they had, well within living memory of the 1570s, formed the valuable consideration of a very real contract. The soul cake was given in return for prayers for the souls of the donor and his family. The cakes were also traditionally marked with a cross. They were not cakes in the modern sense, more like a round shortbread biscuit. (There is a recipe below.)

Anything inherited from Catholic practises was obviously unacceptable to the Godly, and if it included drinking in the streets it was doubly unacceptable. Their most common complaint of the bench was against drunkenness. Those who favoured Cakes and Ale said that “Not only the poor had relief, but also mutual society and good neighbourhood amongst the rest nourished and maintained.” It appears that whilst the commonalty consumed their cakes and ale in the street, the better sort were entertained within, with such victualls as at was thought convenient. All in all it was an expensive night for the mayor.

The Protest

The protest against the ban, is far more extraordinary than at first appears. It is the very first recorded decision of the next mayoralty immediately after John Smith, which was the second mayoralty of William Gee. What may not immediately strike you is the authority given for the decision, but it is unique. In the forty-plus years of Elizabeth’s reign all the decsions recorded in the Bench Book were made by the mayor and the aldermen his brethren. In the absense of a common council, when they had to take a decision that was unprecedented or risky, they very occassionally consulted an ad hoc group that they called “the most ancient discrete and substantial burgesses,” but all the decisions were always taken by the mayor and aldermen. This one, and only this one, is not.

This is an ordinance said to be made by the town and burgesses assembled together in the guild hall. This is not a clerical error, It is in the same hand as the rest of the year and undoubltedly copied by the town clerk into the book at the same time as the rest of the year. Something quite extraordinary happened. This was a popular uprising. The Godly had gone too far and the aldermen were forced to bow to the burgesses and reinstate the custom. And the mayor, William Gee, allowed this decision, in this form to become a part of the record. It may be relevant that Mayor Gee, a very rich merchant and a great philanthropist in his lifetime, had just had a new granddaughter who was christened Mary, which was not very common in Elizabethan Hull. He may have had some personal sympathy with the less Godly.


When the final abolition of the custom came in 1577 it was officially ‘for divers causes and considerations them moving’ which could be the clerk’s code for ‘lets not go there’ or possibly it was code for ‘I really can’t be bothered to record all this.’ For the Bench Book, all that actually mattered was the decision; there was no legal need to record the reasons behind the decision. The aldermen avoided any criticism that the mayor was only interested his pocket. Cakes and Ale was now viewed officially as a benefit for the poor, which could be much more effectively delivered than by holding a street party. £5 a year was to be given at Midsummer by this and all succeeding mayors, but no value at all was put on goodfellowship and neighbourliness.

Why did the Godly win?

Why did they succeed? The previous year Cakes and Ale had been cancelled quite reasonably, due to plague in the town, and this final end to the custom was not an arbitary act by the mayor, but an official ordinance. The £5 dole which replaced it meant that the mayor was seen not to be profiting by the ban. I think that there are reasons why it succeeded in 1577, when it had failed in 1573.

In 1577 the mayor was John Fawether a friend of the Godly, but possibly not amongst the ultra Godly, his sons being christened John, James and John. He and the aldermen had however confronted and defeated the leaders of an opposition. According to the Bench Book, Robert Armyn had of long time been and daily was a common repiner against the auctoritie of the magistrates & their doings and a privy whisperer amongest such of the burgesses as he could perceive were anything inclined to stubborness, factions & contentions to move them in like case to repine against the magistrates and to mislike of them and of their doings. . Armyn and Anthony Burnsall had attended conventicles assemblies & common metinges whiche they and others had late in the evenings in winter time at the churche. which meetings they term and call by the name of a court & there Sift and Rip up the magistrates and their doings to the uttermost. For accusing the mayor of malice over selection of men for Hackbutt training both were imprisoned until they should give bonds for their future behaviour. (The revolt of Armyn and Burnsell is fully described in an earlier blog “Stubborn and evil-doers.”) They made their submission to the authority of the mayor on the 23rd May. Cakes and Ale was abolished for ever on 6th June. The Bench Book does not make any connection, but I do.

Source Documents

4 Nov 1573 Hull Bench Book Four [HHC C BRB/2] f.109-109v

[In the margin ] an acte for midsommer even to be kept as in tymes past.

Whereas as an auncient order used within this tow[ne] From tyme owt of memory of man that Mr Maiour for th[e] tyme being had yearely upon the even of St John the bapt[iser] comonly called midsomer comminge to his howse all thinhabitantes of the sayme towne boithe poore a[nd] riche and then their bestowed upon the poor So[wle]caikes and drinke and upon the Riche sorte su[che] victualles as to his discrecion was thought conven[ient] whereby not only the poore had releife but also mutual society and good neighbourhoode emong[est] the Rest noorisshed and mainteaned / whiche order was by Mr John Smithe Laite Maiour left of not kept nor observed by whose example others that shall succede him may doe the like yf it be not otherwise forseen. Be it therefore inacted ordered concluded and agreed by the saime towne and the Burgesses assembled together in the guylde hawle the fourthe day of november in the yeare afforesaid [1573] that the said order upon midsomer even shall yearely for ever hereafter by the Mayour for the tyme beinge be observed and kept upon payne that every mayour that shall infringe and breike the said order and not kepe the sayme as in tymes past as haieth been accustomed shall forfitt to the use of the Maiour and Burgesses of Kingeston upon Hull afforesaid the summe of tenne powndes to be deducted of his fee at the next awdytte to be holden for the sayme towne by the awditors and thone halfe of the said forfytour shalbe imploied and bestowed emongst the poor of the said towne. [interlined in a different early-modern hand] tempora mutantur et leges mutantur in illis &c.

17 May 1576 Hull Bench Book Four [HHC C BRB/2] f.147v.

[In the margin] The maiour dispensed with for kepinge of midsomer even

Item the saime day and yere the said maiour and aldermen consideringe that this towne ys partly infected with the plaige and that ye assembly of the people together in great compannies ys very perilous for dainger of fourther infeccion have with one full assent and consent concluded and agreed yat the said nowe maiour of this said towne shalbe dispensed with for kepinge of midsomer even this yeare accordinge to ye auncyent customs heretofore vsed without incurringe any dainger or forfeit by virtue of the acte or ordinance heretofore maide in the seconde tyme of mr Gee his maioraltie the saime acte or ordinance or any other acte vsaige or custome to the contrary in any caise notwithstandinge And yet to thende the poore people who at that tyme had some Releife be not hindered. it is agreed yat the said maiour shall content & pay the Some of vli to be indeferently bestowed emongest the poore people dwellinge in Kingeston vppon Hull / wherevnto the said nowe maiour did willingely consent and the saime vli did disburse to the vse afforesaid /

6 June 1577 Hull Bench Book Four [HHC C BRB/2] ff.166v.-167

[In the margin] Mr Maiour dischairged of midsomer even

Item the day & yeare abovesaid [6 June 1577] the said maiour and aldermen with one full assent and consent for diuers causes and consideracions then movinge did with one full assent and consent order conclude and agree yat the said nowe maiour shalbe dispensed with for kepinge of midsomer even this yeare as in tymes past haithe been vsed withowt incurringe any dainger or forfeitour by force of the acte or ordinance maide in the seconde tyme of Mr gee his maioraltie the saime acte or ordinance or any other acte vsaige or custome to the contrary in any wise notwithstandinge. And yett to thende the poore people who at that tyme had thereby some releife be not hindered it is agreed yat the said nowe maiour shall content and pay the somme of vli to be indeferently bestowed emongest the poore people dwellinge in Kingeston vpon Hull wherevnto the said nowe maiour did willingly consent and the saime vli did disburse to the vse afforesaid.

To Make Soul Cakes

I took this from a number of sources on the web, but I think they all come from the same original recipe:

Note 1 This recipe comes from ‘Country Dishes’ edited by Barbara Hargreaves. From the introduction: “… traditional Farmhouse Recipes from counties of Great Britain compiled by Suzanne Beedell from a host of recipes collected from farmers’ wives … also contributions from County Federation of Women’s Institutes and Farmers Weekly … recipes handed down to them, and which they have proven. Thanks to all those who have preserved them.”

Note 2 These recipes were first published in 1962, with local and regional recipes handed down in families and dating from the 1800s.


340g plain flour – 170g sugar – 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon – 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg – 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice – 170g butter – 1 egg – 2 tsp of white wine vinegar

Mix all the dry ingredients (sifted flour, spices, and sugar). Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add in the beaten egg and white wine vinegar and mix into a firm dough. Then cover it and chill for 20 minutes. Roll out the dough to 7mm thick, cut into rounds and draw a cross shape in the top of each round. Place these rounds on the greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 200C until slightly coloured.

I have tried this recipe. The cakes were very hard, but they tasted good. I passed them round during my paper on Cakes and Ale at a conference at York University on Godly Government, and some people ate them. They didn’t add to my academic credibility. I was told by one man that they tasted exactly like a biscuit that was cooked by men in the Netherlands as part of a courting ritual.

The Stubborn & Evil-doers

The Elizabethan settlemant in religion included the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which are still to be found in the Book of Common Prayer. The thirty-seventh article called “Of the Civil Magistrates” maintains

“that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.”

The article goes on to authorise such actions by the Christian Prince as capital punishment and making war. I sometime wonder if Christianity has ever really recovered from the conversion of the Emperor Constantine.

Now, this power to restrain the stubborn and evildoers was delegated by the Prince who was the chief magistrate to his or her officers, by statute, commission, warrant, charter, or appointment, and these officers and lesser magistrates acting ‘in the name of the Queen’ maintained the Queen’s laws and the Queen’s peace. And however lacking in status they were themselves, they represented, in their person, the majesty of the Prince. A dog is obeyed in office.

Not least amongst these delegated officers were the mayor and aldermen of Hull, a tight little self-perpetuating merchant oligarchy of thirteen, with no common council. Their authority came from the town’s charter, which was regularly renewed and expanded. The town had been a County and had had Admiralty jurisdiction over the Humber estuary since the reign of Henry VI and in Elizabethan times there was no great local landowner to impose his patronage upon them. As a town that was also a county the Justices of the Peace were not chosen by the crown, but were the elected aldermen. The nearest superior jurisdiction, civil or ecclesiastical, was forty difficult miles away at York. This independence was allowed because the aldermen were good at keeping the lid on trouble and also because they were broadly in sympathy with the aims of the ecclesiastical and secular regimes. The Lord Presidents of the North and the Archbishops of York both also delegated their own authority to the Hull bench. (2)

Hull is a port and the aldermen were merchants. So, far from being isolated or provincial, they were well travelled. They visited London regularly on their own business and the town’s. I have heard a theory that a Mayor could not leave his town during his year of office, but this does not seem to have been enforced in Hull. From the extant records, current or future aldermen can be placed at some time in every major port from Cadiz to Murmansk and under the Guns of Elsinor into the Baltic and to the furthest reaches the gulf of Finland. Most were to be found in London at least once a year.

The Aldermanic bench could fine, imprison, disenfranchise (that is withdraw the right to trade) and expel. These powers were rarely or never tested in any superior jurisdiction and certainly they were never tested successfully. The killer power was the right to disenfranchise, which was absolute and kept the middle classes in order. Only a freeman, a burgess, was allowed to trade in Hull. The threat to remove that right to trade would subdue any merchant or craftsman. Additionally the town also had extensive powers of patronage, including the right to assign the leases of a fair part of the real estate of Hull, which belonged to the town, the crown or the religious foundations. It also had the power to make ex gratia payments and grant pensions for services to the town, and the right of appointment, during pleasure, to very many paid posts, from the dung cleanser of the river bank to the preacher of God’s word within the town.

The male population of Hull was about 2,000 and was divided into about 500 burgesses, the freemen or enfranchised, who were entitled to trade with strangers in the town and the other inhabitants who were children or servants and in trade or in commerce. Of the 2,000 about 500 were in sea-going occupations. There were also foreigners; strangers from Ireland, London or York, and aliens from Scotland or Danzig, and one from the slave coast of Africa. Some were transient, others were inhabitants and traded by permission of the bench, and for a fee. The aliens and strangers tended not to cause trouble except for the occasional anarchist like Rebbe Jacobson from a small town near Brussels who came to Hull and sold to whom he would at his own price, until, that is, they caught him. (1) Like the Emperor Constantine, Adam Smith has really made a difference to the world.

The mere inhabitants of Elizabethan Hull were usually well behaved, except of course for their propensity for

“the blasphemings of the most holy name of god, drunkenness, whoredom and infinity other abominable and detestable sins, enormities and offences which do abound in the town by reason of the great number of ale houses, the unreasonable and excessive strong ale by ale brewers there brewed, and the continual and disordinate repair of the people to those lewd houses.” (3)

No change there then.

And now to some cases.

A woman, Jane Smith, had been bad-mouthing the mayor and preacher, they put her in the stocks on market day and they also gave her notice of eviction from the house where she lived as the town’s tenant. Jane Smith’s case demonstrates the questionable legality of some of the actions of the bench. The maxim of natural law, nemo iudex in suam causam, was regularly breached in Hull. It was established as early as 1607 in Bonham’s case before Chief Justice Coke sitting in Common Bench that the College of Physicians could not act both as a party and a judge and had therefore illegally fined Bonham for practising medicine without their licence. In Jane Smith’s case the mayor of Hull sat as judge in a case of slander, where he was one of the two who had been slandered. Unlike Bonham, Jane Smith did not appeal to a court in London; a fine was not part of her punishment she was therefore almost certainly very poor. (4) Sometimes one’s authority is what one gets away with.

It is very possible that Jane Smith was not actually evicted from her house. If she accepted the verdict and ‘humbled herself’ she may have been permitted to stay. The pattern of punishment for most men was for a short prison sentence, between three and five days and a swinging fine. After the prison sentence had been served, the offender could usually, by public, humble admission of his fault and a promise not to re-offend, have the fine reduced to a far more reasonable amount. Stubbornness, a refusal to accept authority, was as much penalised as evildoing.

Of course some evildoing was beyond contrition. Isabel West of Hull offered to show a young London merchant a good time whilst her husband was away. No sooner had they got down to business than the husband leapt with a dagger from behind a painted cloth in the bedchamber and scared the young man out of all he had on him. Somehow this came out, and it was established that it wasn’t the first time the Wests had played this trick. The husband a taylor and a burgess, was disenfranchised and fined and the pair were imprisoned for two weeks and then formally expelled, on a cart. The poor young merchant of London was not seen as an innocent victim but was imprisoned and fined for “consentinge to so nowghty a fact.” These offenders could not have mitigated any part of that punishment by humbly submitting themselves to the mayor and his brethren. (5)

The more serious challenges, although they were few, came from responsible burgesses of the aldermanic class, those who were called as a group ‘ancient, discreet and substantial burgesses’. If these became so infuriated with a perceived injustice that they appealed to an outside authority in London or York the bench spared no effort to defend the action, and if possible bring it back into the town.

I am not talking about, for example, Alderman Robert Dalton who was convicted of sharp practice in one of his many ventures and tried to start an action for Perjury in Star Chamber against the jurors for finding him guilty. The rest of the Aldermen only had to stand firm against him, as by taking away his right to trade in Hull they could have ruined him. His act of contrition and reconciliation with his aldermanic brethren was a major public event. (6)

In 1577 the town was ordered to produce ten men for Hackbutt training.(7) Then as now going on a course took one away from the important business of making money, and becoming one of the town’s qualified hackbutters might lead one into all sorts of later inconveniences, one might even get shot at. Two of the ten men selected by the mayor for this training were Hugh, only son of Robert Armyn a burgess who had been sheriff, and one Anthony Burnsell who as well as having his own cloth business was a churchwarden. Both Burnsell and the elder Armyn protested furiously at the selection, accusing the mayor of malice against them. This is not unlikely as both had been a minor irritant for some years.

It is difficult to establish the reason for their opposition to the aldermen. Publicly the town authorities put it down to mere bloodymindedness, calling them factious and obstinate. A group of critics of the aldermen had been meeting and holding a mock court to ridicule the mayor and alderen and Armyn and Burnsell were the leaders.

It may have been confessional. Their main enemy was Alderman John Smith, a noted puritan.

Whatever drove them, on this occasion, their words and gestures were intemperate and insulting, and Burnsall even appeared threatening. So both were imprisoned until they should give bonds for their better behaviour. This they both reused to do, Armyn said that he refused because he would otherwise to be cursed by the other burgesses for setting a precedent that would turn freemen into slaves.

After six days in prison Armyn brought an action in the Court of Requests at York against the mayor for false imprisonment, claiming that even if the charges were true, he had already paid an over-severe penalty and that he was an old man and not well and the conditions in the prison could kill him. He also pointed out that in those six days his business had lost £40 through his absence. Now £40 was the annual stipend of the town preacher.

On receipt of Armyn’s petition, the court office at York sent out the usual letter to the mayor ordering him to release Armyn and appear and show cause. Fortunately one of the Hull aldermen was already in York and got wind of this. He went to see the Lord President of the North, at that time the Earl of Huntingdon, and had the letter withdrawn and in its place a commission made to three Hull aldermen to take depositions (that is, witness statements) in Hull. In a later conversation with the mayor, who rode over to York the next day, the Lord President commended the actions taken so far and advised him to delay the town’s reply and the commissioners’ report until the last possible day allowed. And until the case was settled he was advised to keep both men in prison, even if they changed their minds and ‘would willingly submit themselves’. If the problem that Armyn and Burnsell had with the town authorities was confessional, then Huntingdon’s choice of the three most precise aldermen in Hull as commissioners to take the depositions is yet another sign of his support for the mayor.

It should be noted that the order for the hackbutt training had originally come from Huntingdon so he had an interest in the matter. And if the root cause was confessional, Huntingdon has become known as the puritan earl.

Eventually the depositions were studied in York and the Lord President, as he had promised the mayor, ruled against Armyn and said that he should be entirely ordered in the matter by the mayor and aldermen. The spirit of the judgement was so partial that the clerk in one part described Armyn as the defendant and not the petitioner. Back in Hull the verdict was read to Armyn. He and Burnsell had been in prison for just a month, but it was another three days before they capitulated, and publicly recited the culpa that the mayor and aldermen dictated to them.

This is from Armyn’s

“Master mayor, I confess before you your Brethren and the company here assembled that I have very ill used my self against you and your brethren the aldermen both in reporting that to be done by you upon malice . . . which in deed was by you done upon good consideration and by good auctoritie, and also in serving a process of you master mayor contrary the dewetie of an obedient and dewetifull burgess that ought obediently to Live under your government. And therefore I desire you the said mayor and aldermen to remitt that which is past and I promise hereafter to become an obedient and dutiful burgess.”

They finally both agreed to be bound over to good behaviour for £5 each.

It is important to note that both Burnsell and Armyn’s son Hugh, presumably by that time both competent Hackbutters, became aldermen and mayors of Hull. Humble submission worked.

To sum up

The town’s authority depended on its charters, the solidarity of the bench of aldermen, the support of the Elizabethan regime and the absence of a local patron. Hull was also assisted in keeping its population in order by the great disparity in income between the aldermanic families and the rest. This bred a type of tyranny and it could be characterised as an authority of coercion and repression. However they never did get on top of the problem of the brewing of excessive strong ale.


HHC BRB/2 was KHRO Bench Book Four

(1) BRB/2 f.233 (2) e.g delegation from the Archbishop BRB/2 f.112v. (3) BRB/2 f.117v. (4) BRB/2 f.226v. (5) BRB/2 f.66 (6) BRB/2 f.288v.-290 (7) BRB/2 ff158v-164

Religion 1 Thomas Fugall

Religion under King Edward VI

There were only two churches in Hull for a population of between 3.500 and 4,000 and both churches were mere chapelries of neighbouring villages. Hull did not acquire its own parishes until after the restoration of Charles II. The larger church was Holy Trinity, which is one of the largest parish churches in England, and was the civic church, to which the mayor and aldermen processed every Sunday, the civic sword, a gift of King Henry VIII, carried before them. It was a daughter church of the parish of Hessle. The other church, St Mary Lowgate, was a chapelry of North Ferriby, and served a smaller and poorer quarter of the town. There were curates at both of the Hull churches and at Hessle, and there was a vicarage house at Hessle. It is sometime difficult to tell where a vicar is living, but it seems that the vicars had the 16th Century equivalent of a home in Hessle and a flat in Hull. The distance between them is about five miles. Hullshire which was created by a charter of King Henry VI included the township of Hessle.

Hull had had the benefit during the reign of Edward the Sixth of a protestant military governor in Hull Castle, the Duke of Somerset’s brother in law, Michael Stanhope, who the Aldermen of Hull disliked. According to John Foxe they also had a Scottish Protestant preacher as a curate, a friend of John Knox, one John Rough, who may well have been the apostle of protestantism in Hull. Even A G Dickens could not find evidence of his appointment, and was reduced to saying that the lists are very patchy, but I have turned up some corroboration. In the 1560s the then vicar of Hessle and Hull, Melchior Smith gave a sermon on the martyrdom of John Rough. He related that as part of his degradation Rough was made to wear a cap. ‘they put a knaves cap on his head, whether it was a Bishop’s cap or his Chaplain’s cap. For there is no difference betwixt them, not one of them being honest.’ This reference to Rough from Hull has previously been missed, because Cannon Purvis, who published it, gave the name as Bough, and in the manuscript it does look like Bough. It is however undoubtedly Rough and Foxe is once again is shown to be correct.

The Reign of Queen Mary

When Queen Mary became Queen, many Godly preachers, including John Rough, departed quickly for continental Europe, and Rough went to Emden in Germany, where, according to Foxe, he earned his living by knitting stockings. Although there were a number of Hull families, some of them prominent, who were already committed protestants, the rest of the population remained in Hull, with only one or two possible exceptions.

The Hull Aldermen seem, without exception, to have received communion in the Catholic rite and stayed within the law. Thus qualifying them with the vast majority of English protestants for inclusion in Foxe’s Book of Slackers. The Aldermen and potential Aldermen of Hull in this period were merchants and shipowners. It is not impossible that some of the Godly Elizabethan Aldermen of Hull had chosen to spend the Marian years improving their German trade links, but I can find no evidence for this. In fact the reverse; they all seem to have been present in Hull at some point between 1553 and 1558.

There was a strong connection between the officers and staff of the Customs House in Hull and the new religion. The Customer, Thomas Alrede was later described as ‘well travelled in the scriptures’ and had assisted a former religious in evading the authorities by shipping out as a mariner. His deputy Walter Crokehay made a protestant-leaning will in the last year of Queen Mary’s reign. ‘Also I will that my executor or executors within a convenient space after my departing shall and procure one discrete preacher at the appointment of Mr Alrede to declare and make one sermon within the Trinite church for the charitable edyfying of christes congregation, and he to have for his paynes 20s’. Not only was Crokehay tending towards the new religion but he was confident that Alrede, his boss, could procure a suitable preacher. The Elizabethan priest-catcher Anthony Atkinson was a customs searcher at Hull.

In 1554 the sacrement displayed for veneration was stolen from one of the Hull churches, Dickens says that it was from St Mary’s and he is probably correct as the St Mary’s curate was charged with the offence, clearing himself by compurgation. There were only two such offences in the Northern Province, the other being in Halifax. This may well be earliest occassion on which Hull, Hell and Halifax were associated.

Obviously anybody fossicking at the Borthwick starts with A G Dickens, who didn’t miss much, but it is probably worthwhile noting here that he does sometimes present probabilities as facts. The document says that the sacrament was taken from an unnamed church in Hull, and that Utley was accused. We know that Utley was a curate at St Mary’s. It is a fair assumption that the theft was from St Mary’s, but it might have been from Trinity Church.

Into this divided, but fairly quiet town came Thomas Fugall. David Lamburn insists on pronouncing it  Fuggall, but the clerks who took down the oral depositions at his trial obviously did not hear it that way. They wrote Fewgale.

We don’t know where he was born or educated, or when or from whom he received his ordination. According to Dickens his first appearance in the area was as a prosecutor of former religious who had married under Edward VI. As we know, the most innocent of those penalized under the Marian reaction were the wives and children of clergy both secular and religious who had been married quite legally or born quite legitimately under Edward VI. The majority of these women who were forcibly divorced under Queen Mary were married to beneficed clergy (vicars and curates). Only a minority of the former monks and friars who no longer had a job in the church were sought out and forcibly divorced. In the diocese of York, according to Dickens, only thirteen forcible divorces were ordered against unbeneficed former religious. Of these thirteen, eight, a remarkably high proportion, had been brought to the court by Thomas Fugall.

He first appears in the East Riding of Yorkshire when he presented a certificate of the penance-for-having-married performed by Richard Wager, vicar of Kirk Ella, to the court at York on June 13, 1554. His prominence in bringing to court the local married priests in 1554 and 1555 shows that he was active in the Hull area during those years, which makes it unlikely that he was the same Thomas Fugall who matriculated, King’s College Cambridge in Michaelmas 1554, although he was said by the vicar of Brantingham to have been a learned man. The vicar of Brantingham in 1560 was still saying the Latin mass, he said that he did so because Fugall had advised him to.

No one has found a record of  Fugall’s ordination, but before becoming vicar of Hull, he says that he served as a priest in Lambehithe. This raises the possibility that he was one of Cardinal Pole’s retinue, and educated and ordained abroad. He was certainly following Pole’s agenda in Hull, and may have been sent to Hull for that purpose. He does not appear in Pole’s correspondence, but the search for him at Lambeth is still incomplete.

There is no record in the Diocesan Act Book of his induction into the parish, but the general belief, which has also been accepted by Claire Cross, is that he became vicar in 1557, and he proceeded to root out the hidden heretics of Hull.

From the depositions against him, he was a poet, and although nothing of his has survived (except a Latin posy for a ring) he admitted to writing a ballad of a sailor saying farewell to his mistress. He was a bowler, the mayor once had to wait for him to finish a game. When he lodged for a time in an inn on first arriving in the area, he seems to have happily spent much of his free time there. This is all from evidence given against him later, you can feel the waves of puritan disapproval.

He also harried the protestants of Hull. He invaded a private house to reveal an English bible being read by a sailor from Yarmouth, and to show his contempt he cut the bible with a knife. He made enemies and upset a lot of people, partly by his actions and partly by his gloating over the failure of protestantism.

One of the taunts that Fugall was accused of making was that now Saint Nicholas would ride and Saint George would go afoot. Fugall said in his defence that he had only claimed that they would now both ride. If anyone can unravel the meaning of this for me, I would be most obliged. It is obviously part of the debate, but not much use if one can’t understand it.

One Richard Allen died who had ‘favoured the word of God, in his time’. On being applied to by the the women of his family for burial of the body, Fugall refused and advised them to bury the body themselves at low water mark, ‘for that’ he said ‘was a meete place for a beaste’ In the face of this refusal the women decided to open the debate to the whole town.

To open his debate Luther had nailed his theses to the church door, here the women carted Richard Allen’s mortal remains to Trinity Church and left the body outside the door and there it stayed, in the open, for a night and a day. This was indeed a debating proposition: on the entitlement to Christian burial, on who was a Christian, and the rights of a member of the parish. The body lying at the church door, will have been the only topic of conversation in the homes and workplaces, and in the streets and tippling houses of Hull. It was a small place, you can walk across the old town in minutes, and Trinity church is in the centre, with the market place at one end and the grammar school at one side. The bench of Aldermen certainly debated it, because they decided that it was the duty of the vicar to give Christian burial to Allan’s body, and they compelled him to do so. As we will see,  Fugall may have been a man of conviction, but he was not always strong enough in himself for the job he had taken on.

The people of Hull never saw the faggots piled up in the market place and their fellow townsmen burnt. In other east coast ports well known in Hull, in Ipswich and Colchester there were burnings for heresy. Despite the obvious heretical activities and the persecuting zeal of the vicar there had been no burnings at Hull. The Marian burnings only happened where the Archbishop Pole and Bishop Bonner of London had power or strong influence. In the North, Archbishop Nicholas Heath of York was not a natural persecutor. Hull protestants did however have more than a passing interest in one martyr. John Rough, their former preacher, had returned to London from Emden and was caught and burned there in the last months of Queen Mary’s reign.

Then Queen Mary and Cardinal Pole died, both on the same day, and Fugall was on his own, isolated in Hull. His cause was no longer riding a-horseback. He had lost his patron and his leader and faced an uncertain and precarious future.

The Reign of Queen Elizabeth

We have no official record in Hull of the regime change of 1558. As a result of the ‘flu pandemic of 1558-9 Hull lost four aldermen and the Town Clerk, and the town records ceased completely for two years. I passed this, with evidence from other towns, to Professor John Oxford, who is a specialist in ‘flu epidemics and keeps saying on television that there has never been anything as bad as the pandemic of 1918-19. I received a very short reply from one of his graduate students to say that the Professor did not consider that there was any history before 1888. I had mistaken him for a historian, it appears he is a microbiologist.

The Lord President of the Council of the North, the Earl of Shrewsbury was a Catholic by conviction, he was the only temporal peer to vote against Eliabeth’s supremacy, but he was retained in post by Elizabeth until his death. According to Rachael Reid he never came further north than Sheffield anyway. Certainly when the corporation of Hull had any dealings with him it was in London.

In the northern province Nicholas Heath was deprived of his archbishopric in July 1559. and the sees of Durham and Chester were also vacant. The North was left without religious or secular leadership. It is wonderful how long life will go on apparently as normal in the complete absence of the great and the good. (Although in the North there was always Sir Thomas Gargrave, vice-president of the Council under both Queens. A man of whose life seems to have been dedicated to good government). I am told that the Privy Councillors were well aware of the problem in the north, but senior clergymen who were also acceptable to the Queen were in short supply and other matters were more immediately demanding.

The first royal proclamation ordering changes (moving the litany and some other parts of the mass into English from Latin) was brought to Hull, notably by Hull merchants returning from London, and not through government or church channels from York. The Mayor summoned Fugall and ordered him to read the service entirely in English.

Fugall refused on legal rather than confessional grounds. And he had right on his side, the Hull Bench were anticipating the legislation. The mayor then turned to the master of the Hull Charterhouse, a priest very recently appointed by the corporation, which was the patron of the foundation. On the Mayor’s instructions the master read from what was presumably the second prayer book of Edward VI. During this outrage Fugall sat in the choir stalls in Trinity Church with his hat on, ostentatiously turning his back on what was going on. Once again the issues were physically presented to every inhabitant in the town. and this mute contribution to the debate was no less effective for not being in words. Fugall had threatened to bring an action for sacrilege against anyone who read the English service in his church, but it turned out to be an empty threat. I sometimes wonder if he was perhaps a very young man.

After the English service became law at midsummer 1559, Fugall did technically comply, although his contempt for the new forms was always apparent. The Altar was removed, but Fugall was observed using the new Communion Table as a writing desk – for his secular love poetry. The situation was unfortunate but there seemed to be no immediate way out. The new religionists of Hull, were now in the ascendancy, but they could not call on support either from the church or the state in the North.

One would have expected the Royal Visitation of 1559 to have settled the matter, and the Visitors were generally believed in Hull to have admonished Fugall, but nothing was written of it in their report. In Hull the visitors found horoscopes being cast, by people who should have known better, and a couple of scolds. It is very strange that the records of the visitation make no mention at all of the problem of Fugall. C. J. Kitching, who published the Visitation Act Book notes the omission. In my judgement it is the Act Book that is in error. The testimony against Fugall is diverse and occasionally contradictory, as one would expect, but (unless the population of Hull and Hessle were in a well co-ordinated conspiracy to defame him) he was reprimanded by the Royal Visitors, and after the reprimand his behaviour changed and he conformed.

There is another strange thing about Fugall and this visitation. Fugall had another benefice; He once denied it, but he certainly was rector of Lowthorpe. He appears on the visitation list as absent from that parish but, unlike the all other names of absentees, there is no note made of the reason for his absence, either that he had another benefice of that he refused to attend when summoned. There is matter missing from both places and it is matter about Fugall. The conspiracy theorists are welcome to try their hand here. I don’t know what was happening.

Then Thomas Fugall, the apparently immovable obstruction to the creation of a Godly Commonwealth in Hull, made a critical error.

Fugall became the lover of Isabel Legard, wife of Christopher Legard a substantial merchant living in Anlaby who was also lay impropriator of Hessle. Christopher was the head of the Legard family, which had younger sons established as merchants in York, Hull and London. When Christopher himself was in London, the people living between Anlaby and the vicarage in Hessle got used to the sight of the lady trotting over to the vicarage and the vicar returning her call. From the inch thick pile of witness statements taken for the eventual trial it seems to have been one of those affairs that the couple think is a total secret, but which is as clear as day to everybody else. A couple of examples out of many.

One day when Christopher Legard was due to ride to Hull the vicar walked past, and seeing one of the Legard servants he asked casually if the master had yet set off, on being told ‘no’ he walked on. But the servant later saw him lurking behind a hedge watching the house and as soon as Legard left for Hull, the vicar knocked on the door.

A visitor to Hessle wanted a game of bowls and the vicar owed a good set. A local man offered to get them and went to the back door of the vicarage and asked for the vicar, on being told that he was out, he went through a gate into the garden, because he knew where the bowls were kept and was sure the vicar wouldn’t mind lending them. In the garden, to his surprise, he found the vicar, who offered to fetch the bowls for him, and attempted to lead him out of the garden. But he, knowing where the bowls were kept, dodged the vicar and went into a little summer house, where he found both the bowls and Mistress Legard.

The Legard servants gave the most telling evidence. Perhaps the most important was that of Margaret Bell a 24 year old servant of the Legards. She amongst others gave evidence of private meetings and messages and small gifts and kisses and embracings but the key was

‘She saieth that about All Hallowmas last past, Mr Ledgerd, then hir master, beinge at London, she did see when Thomas Fugyle came to the house of Mr Ledgerd. And afterwards being in a chamber, and seing all the servantes in the garden, mistrusted Fugell and her mistress together, and thereupon toke certeyn shetes in her armes and maid hir an errande furthe of the chamber. And comynge downe a payre of stares one of them began to crack whereupon she sodenly pushed open a dore opening into the hall and then and there did see the Mistress Ledgerd and Thomas Fugell together betwixt a cupborde and a board. And she saith that she saw hir mistress’s skirts fall sodenly done frome hir and Thomas Fugall sodenly turned him about . . . and casting his gowne over him [she] did see him there tye upp his coddpiece.’

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that installation of a new Godly Lord President of the North Parts, the Earl of Rutland, at the King’s Manor in York and the enthronement of an Protestant Archbishop of York, Thomas Young, coincided with the case against  Fugall in the church courts at York. Although the case was brought by Christopher Legard and the principal cause was the supposed adultery, as is the way with Elizabethan law suits anything that could possibly blacken Fugall’s name was brought into evidence, which is why we know about his perfectly legal but anti-protestant behaviour under Queen Mary. Fugall put up no defence to the adultery except for brief blanket denial. I have a certain sympathy with Fugall, history was against him. And as Gore Vidal said in defence of President Clinton: when accused of adultery he did what a gentleman should, he looked them straight in the eye, and lied. Fugall may have lied like a gentleman, but he was plainly not believed and was deprived of the living.

It was actually quite a difficult mental trick to look at all these evidences of unsuitable conduct for a clergyman, and then to reinterpret them positively, that he was a lover, a poet and a bowler. He and Shakespeare both.


The case against Fugall is published, in part, by J S Purvis in his 1948 book, Tudor Parish Documents in the Diocese of York. Cannon Purvis, who was the archivist at York Minster, is interesting in what he omits. He omits any parts which would make them unsuitable for decent people to read. I have assumed that today’s readers have sufficient moral strength to cope with them.

The full documents are at the Borthwick Institute at York. When I read them they were called CP G 909 and CP G 1041.

Post Script

I first gave this material an airing at a Historical Association meeting in Hull, which was chaired by Howell Lloyd. After I sat down Professor Lloyd addressed the meeting, very much ex-cathedra, and said that it might be unclear to the audience, (as I had not explicitly said it) that the liason with Mrs Legard had been entirely fabricated in order to get rid of the vicar. I was too startled to respond, but it soon became apparent that the audience knew he was wrong.