Sixteenth Century Bristol

By John Latimer

(Originally published under the title of

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2013

Chapter IX.

Perambulation of city boundaries - Great dearth of 1585; relief measures of the Corporation - Military enthusiasm; inspection of Bristol trained bands by Earl of Pembroke; his disregard of mayoral precedence - Death of John Carr, founder of Queen Elizabeth's Hospital - News received in Bristol of death of Queen of Scots - Richard Fletcher appointed Bishop of Bristol - Extraordinary feudal claim made by Lord Stafford against Richard Cole; indifference of the Corporation - Alice Cole - Increase in stipend of Town Clerk - Fines for relief from office of Mayor Present to Lord Leicester - Fatal conflict in Kingroad, due to attempted infringement of Bristol's monopoly of hides and skins trade.

A PERAMBULATION of the city boundaries took place in September, 1584. A breakfast for the Mayor and Sheriffs, consisting of seven quarts of wine and two pennyworth of cakes, was the first feature of the proceedings. After the “Shire stones” had been all duly visited, an afternoon “drinking” disposed of a gallon of “Mathera” - mentioned for the first time, and costing fourpence per pint. The only other charge was 1s.4d., “paid to labourers to make the ways open”.

The audit book for 1585 has not been preserved, and we are consequently deprived of precise information respecting the distress caused by the remarkable dearth of that year, during which wheat rose to the famine price of 110s. per quarter. The Corporation adopted vigorous


measures for the relief of the poor, importing 4,000 bushels of rye from Dantzic, and more than 1,000 bushels of English grain, all of which was retailed at about cost price. Country bakers were also encouraged to bring in supplies of bread, and although there appears to have been some rioting, order was generally maintained. An attempt to ship off a quantity of butter, consigned to France, was promptly defeated by the Mayor, who proceeded with a body of officers to Hungroad, boarded the vessel, and brought away the cargo, which was sold in the market at 2½d. per pound, whilst the sailors who had attempted to resist the seizure were fined for the offence, and lodged in prison until they paid the money. The dearth continued in 1586, but the Government rejected the Corporation's appeal for permission to import foreign grain.

The strained relations of the Government with King Philip of Spain, and the unquestionable design of that monarch to attempt the conquest of England, led to an outburst of military enthusiasm throughout the country in the closing months of 1585. In November the Common Council ordered a new “ancient”, or banner, for the trained bands, which were mustered in College Green, and in the following month all the able-bodied inhabitants were summoned by drums and fifes (which the Chamberlain sometimes called phifes, and sometimes fifties) to attend a general muster at Addercliff, now Redcliff Parade, “to choose their corporals.” These gatherings were preliminary to a grand inspection in March, 1586, by the Earl of Pembroke, who had been appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Bristol and Somerset. The Earl, who arrived with a guard of thirty-two horsemen, was received with many demonstrations of respect. A


large body of citizens in arms were in waiting, and thirty-two cannon fired a salute, whilst he was welcomed by the authorities. The mansion of Alderman Kitchin, in Small Street, had been prepared for his reception, and every available delicacy was provided for his entertainment. A pavilion was also erected in the Marsh for his use during the inspection. Finally, before his departure on the following day, he was feasted at a magnificent breakfast, and an immense present of sugar and sweetmeats, including two costly boxes of “marmalette” - one decorated with the arms of the Queen, and the other with his own - was offered for his acceptance. His visit cost the Corporation nearly £100, but in despite of their hospitality and tokens of respect the Earl's pique at being refused the office of Lord High Steward appears to have been still unallayed, and his arrogance in ignoring the Mayor's right of precedence in the city, by taking the “upper hand” of his chief host, gave so much offence that it was represented to the Queen, who, according to a local annalist, rebuked him for his presumption, and “committed him to the Tower until he paid a fine for the offence”. The trained bands were mustered again in July, when a “picture of a man” was set up in the Marsh for gun practice, and a third muster took place in September. The Corporation did not bear any grudge against Lord Pembroke for his discourtesy, as in the following year, when there were pirates in the Severn, they equipped an armed pinnace to convey a barge laden with his goods from Bristol to his residence at Cardiff. But about the same time, on an appeal from the civic body, the Government appointed the Mayor Deputy-Lieutenant for the city, thus avoiding future collisions.

John Carr, a Bristolian, whose name is ever held to be


in honour as the founder of Queen EUzabeth's Hospital, died in June, 1596, aged about 52 years. Mr. Carr was the elder son of Alderman William Carr, a prosperous merchant and Member of Parliament for the city from 1559 to 1567, who was himself a local benefactor. The alderman purchased in 1562, for £3,500, the reversion in fee of the manor of Congresbury and Wick St. Lawrence, comprising about 5,000 acres of land, subject to the life interest of a lady who survived him; but £2,000 of the consideration remained unpaid at his death, when the net yearly value of the estate was estimated by an audacious jury at only £54. (Although somewhat less than half the manor now belongs to the hospital, the annual receipts exceed £4,500.) John Carr, on coming into possession, paid off the remainder of the purchase money. He was already an extensive soapmaker, having works not only in Bristol, but at Bow, near London, and made a discovery in his business which brought him large returns. He refers to this subject in his will, executed in April, 1586, as follows: “Whereas I have committed in trust to my servant John Dinnye, the trade of white soapmaking, a thing by me found out, and put in use here in England”, and goes on to specify the manner in which the secret was to be confided, first to his widow, who was to have the profits for ten years, and afterwards to his relative, Simon Aldworth. Carr, though living in Baldwin Street, probably spent much of his time at his factory near London, for he had evidently paid much attention to Christ's Hospital, then a new institution, and resolved on founding a school of a similar character. His will accordingly directed that, after the payment of a number of legacies, and the liquidation of certain mortgages and other debts, which


he anticipated would occupy five years, his executors should transfer his estate in Somerset, and most of his house property in Bristol, to the Corporation, in trust to found “a hospital or place for bringing up poor children and orphans, being men children”, born of indigent or decayed parents in Bristol or on his estates, the system of governing which was to be modelled upon that in operation at Christ's Hospital. The testator trusted that the Corporation would erect a suitable building for this hospital, of which he made them “patrons, guiders, and governors for ever”. The validity of Mr. Carr's will was disputed by his younger brother, the owner of the Woodspring Priory estate, but he withdrew his opposition on payment of £1,000, and on being released of a debt of £666 due to his brother's estate.

The Corporation displayed great earnestness in carrying out Mr. Carr's intentions, and hurried forward the period he had fixed for establishing the school by the payment of legacies, &c. Having effected their purpose within four years of his death, they obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth, which, after reciting that they had “bestowed some thousands of pounds for more quickly hastening” Carr's pious object, constituted the Mayor and Common Council a distinct incorporation for the perpetual government of the charity, and relieved them from the restrictions of the statutes of mortmain, under which Carr's bequest was invalid. The applicants had doubtless flattered the Queen by beseeching her to become the patron of the intended institution, for the charter further directs that it shall be for ever styled the Hospital of Queen Elizabeth. The Corporation next resolved on granting to the school, in perpetuity, the mansion of the suppressed Monastery of the Gaunts and the adjoining


orchard. The school was opened in the summer of 1590, when twelve boys were admitted. In 1597, in consequence of a bequest by one Anthony Standbanck, of several houses in the city in trust for the hospital, the Corporation obtained an Act of Parliament confirming the Queen's charter, and legalising the acceptance of Standbanck's estate. The subsequent history of the Corporate dealings with the school have been published in the Annals of Bristol in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

The Christmas week of 1586 is marked by two sadly significant entries in the Chamberlain's accounts. The first reads:-

“Paid a pursuivant for bringing down the proclamation concerning the treason done by the Queen of Scots, which proclamation was proclaimed on St. Stephen's Day, 13s. 4d.”

As no one in those days escaped death when charged with treason by the Government, the next item is still more significant:-

“Paid for wood for and making a bonfire at the High Cross, when the proclamation was made, 3s. 4d.”

The unfortunate Queen was executed on February 8th, after being much tormented by adjurations to forswear her faith on the part of Richard Fletcher, the servile and stony-hearted Dean of Peterborough. This man was appointed Bishop of Bristol in 1590 for his services in this tragedy and on condition of his granting the estates of the see to courtiers, which he did so extensively that he left little to his successors. He is said to have died from an immoderate indulgence in tobacco.

The minutes of the Privy Council acquaint us with an


incident which must have occasioned an extraordinary sensation in Bristol, yet which the local chroniclers, whilst carefully noting many trivialities, chose to utterly ignore. It appears that in the spring of 1586, when the office of Mayor was held by Richard Cole, a wealthy and widely-esteemed merchant, allied by marriage with two notable city families, the Smyths and the Carrs, the lord of the manor of Thornbury, Lord Stafford, claimed a right to seize the person and property of the chief magistrate and of his brother Thomas, also a merchant, alleging that they were both “villeins appurtenant” to his manor, and that he was as free to deal with them as with his cattle. His lordship having threatened to use personal violence for attaining his ends, the brothers appealed for protection to the Government, and on June 19th the Privy Council addressed a letter to Stafford, ordering him to forbear from arresting or molesting them and from disturbing them in their trade, seeing that they were prepared to answer his claim in the law courts. It was added that the principal officer of such a place, and his brother, having been, both themselves and their ancestors, always reputed freemen, should not be so hardly dealt with upon any supposition, and Lord Stafford was commanded to proceed no further until he had acquainted the Privy Council with the grounds of his pretensions.

His lordship does not appear to have paid much regard to these instructions, for another letter was sent down to him in July, when the Goverment had been informed that he had used violence and threats towards two countrymen, contending that they were his bondsmen, and he was again forbidden to resort to force until he had legally proved his alleged rights. The mandate seems to have been dealt with as contemptuously as was its forerunner.


Nearly a year later, May 7th, 1587, the Privy Council addressed him again, pointing out that although he had raised no action at law against the Coles, and had refused to answer their suit against him, yet he had again violently attempted to seize them, and that they had been consequently forced to forebear from following their business. Such conduct was a breach of the Queen's peace, and he was summoned to appear before the Council to justify his conduct. It seems clear that he was still refractory, for on November 15th the Council ordered that the continued complaints of the Coles and the claim of their persecutors should be heard and determined on December 5th by the Lord Chancellor and two other judges. As there is no further reference to the case, the arrogant peer was doubtless defeated. The most amazing fact in reference to the subject is that the Corporation apparently made no effort to defend the privileges of the city.

Alderman Richard Cole died in 1599. In his will, which disposed of very extensive property in Bristol and Somerset, he bequeathed £30 to repair the road to Gloucester, near Newport, “where I was born”. His widow, Alice, sister of John Carr, founder of Queen Elizabeth's Hospital, was a large benefactor to local charities, and the funds bequeathed by her are still administered by trustees.

The Corporation, in December, 1586, increased the stipend of the Town Clerk from £4 to £10 per annum. This amount, however, inadequately indicates the real official income, which was largely derived from fees.

For some unexplained reason, the civic body at this period experienced considerable difficulty in finding a well-to-do member disposed to take the office of Mayor. In the audit book for 1585-6 are the following entries:-


“Received of Alderman Browne, together with 11 pieces of ordnance, in consideration of being exempted for ever from the office of Mayoralty, £20”.

“Received of Thomas Colston for the same consideration, £20”.

It is somewhat remarkable that by much the largest fine paid for similar redemption does not appear in the accounts. Two years later, when the Common Council made one of its numerous but always unsuccessful attempts to reap a profit out of the House of Correction by setting the inmates to work - proposing on this occasion that the prisoners should dye and dress cloth - a “stock” of £50 was advanced to the keeper, which the Chamberlain notes was “part of the money given by William Young, merchant, in Mr. Cole's year (1585-6), to be discharged for ever of the office of Mayor”. Nothing more is recorded respecting the dyeing industry, and in 1597 the Chamberlain paid £4 “for an iron mill for the House of Correction”, the purpose of which is not explained.

About the date of the execution of the Queen of Scots the city authorities were thrown into a panic. The Chamberlain records:-

“1587, February. - Paid to sundry persons who carried precepts of hue and cry to sundry places when the report was given that London was fired, and that armour should be in readiness, 3s, 6d.”

The alarming incident is not mentioned by the local chroniclers.

An illustration of the Earl of Leicester's cool methods of procedure occurred in the same month. The Corporation paid £42 for three butts of sack, which were ordered to be sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Treasurer


Burghley and Leicester, “in hope of the continuance of their goodwill and favour to the city”. As Lord Leicester was about to visit Bath, the butt intended for him seems to have been retained until his arrival. The two others were forwarded to London by a wainsman at a cost of £4; but on their reaching the capital a servant of Leicester, by his direction, tapped one of the huge pieces and abstracted between three and four gallons of wine, which the troubled Chamberlain had to supply by purchase before making the presentation. In addition to the above gifts, the Corporation shortly afterwards sent a piece of plate to Sir James Croft, a member of the Privy Council, who had presumably taken umbrage at being unrewarded; and it was also deemed prudent to forward a rug coverlet, costing £2 10s., to the Lord Treasurer's private secretary, to keep him also in a good humour.

An account by a contemporary annalist of a fatal conflict at Kingroad in July, 1587, incidentally throws some light upon a profitable traffic of Bristol merchants, which developed largely in the following century. The exportation oversea of hides and skins was then forbidden by statute. Nevertheless, some prominent local merchants had, by a judicious offer of ready money and by undertaking to surrender a share of their yearly profits, induced the avaricious Queen to override the law of the land by granting them a licence to export calf skins, a material in much demand on the Continent for conversion into slim shoe leather. Agents were accordingly employed in South Wales and the adjoining counties to buy up the skins, but it may be presumed that the prices given were considered inadequate, and that the exclusive privilege of the Bristolians was regarded as unjust. At all events, one Edward Whitson, a tanner in the Forest of Dean, in


concert with his neighbours, loaded a large boat in the Wye, near Tintern, with calf skins, in the hope of smuggling the cargo on board a French ship lying in Kingroad. It is probable that this is by no means the first effort made to evade the licensees, and that they had employed spies to give information, for knowledge of Whitson's design had reached the city before the departure of his boat. Mr. Thomas James (afterwards M.P.) and some other merchants interested in the business thereupon resolved on capturing the cargo by main force, and having armed themselves for the purpose, went down in a pinnace to await the smugglers. The latter, clearly foreseeing a collision, were provided with pikes, bows and arrows, targets, and leather coats. According to the local chronicler, the Forest men were the first to commence hostilities, and having wounded one of the Bristol crew with an arrow, someone, believed to be Mr. James, retaliated by firing a musket, by which one Gitton, the owner of the other boat, was killed.

Nothing is said respecting the fate of the smuggled skins, and the subsequent proceedings are involved in some obscurity. A local annalist says that Mr. James was tried for manslaughter in the Admiralty Court in London, and as the Forest men (for conceivable reasons) did not attend to give evidence, he was acquitted. James must afterwards have appealed to the Government, for the Privy Council in the first place commanded his co-partners in the calf skin licence to pay a proportionate share of his expenses, which they had previously refused to do, and then (April, 1588) ordered the Mayor and Aldermen to summon the Sheriffs of Bristol of the previous year to make restitution of the money and goods that they had taken from James as a “composition” for


Gitton's death. The justices were further directed to require Christopher Whitson, a mercer, to give a bond in £1,000 for his appearance in the following term to answer charges that would be brought against him by the Crown, (James had probably alleged that Whitson had acted in collusion with his namesake in the Forest.) Notwithstanding this mandate, the Sheriffs refused to surrender the confiscated property, and the Privy Council had to content themselves with directing the Mayor to settle the dispute as he thought fit. But Whitson was arrested in November, 1588, and lodged in the Fleet Prison on no specified charge, and there he remained for upwards of two years. In December, 1590, he appealed for release to the Privy Council, who by that time had totally forgotten why he was apprehended. They now admitted that his case was “grievous”, and asked the Lord Chief Baron for an explanation. His lordship replied that he knew nothing about the case, but that Whitson had been detained upon the “often and earnest motion” of Attorney-General Popham, doubtless a friend of James. Whitson afterwards became prosperous, and served the office of Mayor.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in October 2013.

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