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.