Sixteenth Century Bristol

By John Latimer

(Originally published under the title of

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2013

Chapter V.


Thorne family and Bristol Grammar School; St. Bartholomew's Hospital acquired; scandalous behaviour of the Corporation - Establishment of separate custom house at Gloucester, to the dismay of Bristolians - Payment to Members of Parliament - Visit to the city of Duke of Norfolk - Reformation of Bristol measures - Dispute between Corporation and Admiralty - Crest bestowed upon city by Clarencieux, King-of-Arms; copy of charter granting this crest - Earl of Leicester appointed Lord High Steward; his indifference to Bristol interests; his visits to the city.

A DEED of conveyance made to the Corporation in July, 1561, by a citizen named Nicholas Thorne, for the alleged benefit of the Bristol Grammar School, is worthy of some attention, especially as all the statements hitherto published respecting the foundation of that institution are more or less defective and inaccurate. Robert Thorne, the grandfather of the above Nicholas, was a prosperous local merchant in the reign of Henry VII., and is asserted to have been one of the chief promoters of the memorable enterprise in which John Cabot discovered Newfoundland and the American mainland in 1497. He, or his son Robert, served as Mayor of Bristol in 1514-5, but he eventually removed to London, where he died in 1519. There is no bequest towards founding a school in his will, but from a circumstance to be noted presently, he probably left some private directions to his family and executors. His eldest son, Robert, who was M.P. for Bristol in 1523,


had spent his early life in Spain, where he acquired great wealth, and in 1532, in conjunction with his brother Nicholas and his father's surviving executor, John Goderich, he determined to found a grammar school.

There was at that date a hospital, almshouse and church dedicated of St. Bartholomew, to which the beautiful Early English gateway near the bottom of Christmas Steps is now the only existing relic. The charity was founded by one of the Barons De la Warre, and the living representative of that family was then the patron; but the yearly value of the endowment hardly maintained the master and brethren, the buildings were falling into decay, and De la Warre's embarrassed resources rendered him desirous of being relieved of the institution. So on January 31st, 1532, an important legal document was executed by his lordship, with the assent and co-operation of the master of the hospital. It recited that agreements had been entered into between them and Robert Thorne, by which the latter had undertaken, provided the hospital and its estates were conveyed in fee to himself, his brother, and the above executor, to convert the buildings within six years into a convenient house for a grammar school, to provide a schoolmaster and usher, and to found a yearly obit service in the hospital church, at which ten priests and six clerks should pray for the welfare of De la Warre and the souls of all his ancestors. It had been further stipulated that the existing almspeople should remain in the hospital for their lives, receiving fourpence each per week for food, and that a priest should be maintained to pray daily for his lordship until the school was opened. In consideration of which covenants, De la Warre and the master renounced all rights and titles to the building and its estates for ever.


No mention is made of any pecuniary payment, but it is certain that the peer owed money to Thorne. The above transaction was illegal until it had obtained the assent of the Crown, but a licence in mortmain was granted by Henry VIII. in the following March, with permission to convey the property to the Corporation, in trust for Thorne's “laudable purpose”. Robert Thorne died a few months afterwards, but had previously appointed the first schoolmaster (the school being temporarily held in a large room over Froom Gate), and he bequeathed by will £300, and a debt due from De la Warre, towards the “making up” of the new institution, besides devising several hundred pounds for various charitable purposes in Bristol. By his death, followed soon after by the demise of Goderich, Nicholas Thorne, the brother (Mayor in 1544-5), became seized in fee of the Bartholomew estate, but although he survived for many years, he took no steps to convey the property to the Corporation. In his last will, however, dated in August, 1546, a few days before his death, he directed the transfer to be made by his executors at the cost of his estate, and bequeathed a legacy, with his books, maps, &c., to the school. His eldest son, a little boy, thus became legal owner of the hospital, and nothing could be done by the executors. On the death of the youth, still under age, in 1557, the property devolved upon his next brother, Nicholas.

The Corporation now thought it time to intervene, and in 1558 Nicholas covenanted with the two Members of Parliament for the city that he would, on “coming of age”, convey the property to the Corporation, on condition of being granted for a term of years or for life such portions of the estate as he might select. Accordingly, in July, 1561 - as stated at the beginning


of this chapter - he granted the estate to the civic body in fee simple, for the alleged purpose of carrying out his father's and uncle's intentions. Although some Corporate money was spent on taking possession of the charity lands, the whole affair was a delusive farce, and the conduct of the Corporation, clearly due to a secret arrangement, was almost incredibly scandalous. Nicholas Thorne having influential friends at the Council House, where he afterwards became Chamberlain, the Common Council, in the following September, demised to him and to his “heirs for ever” the entire hospital estate (the school buildings excepted), reserving a ground rent of £30. In consequence of this conveyance, the property at his death devolved upon one of his daughters, Ann Pykes, as absolute owner, and she speedily raised a large sum by granting leases for considerable periods. Some public-spirited citizens, indignant at the malversation, at length sued the Lord Chancellor for an inquiry, with the result that the grant of the Corporation was adjudged to be fraudulent. Much litigation followed, and Mrs. Pykes, who stuck tenaciously to the property, was in 1610 allowed to retain it, on covenanting to pay £41 6s. 8d. per annum. The Common Council had by that time become ashamed of the misdoings of their predecessors, and in 1617 the charity lands were recovered for the benefit of the Grammar School by a payment of £650 to the illegitimate possessors. The estate now produces about £700 per annum.

In 1565 the Common Council learnt with consternation that an effort was being made by the inhabitants of Gloucester, then a “creek” of Bristol, to procure an independent Custom House for that port. Petitions against a proposal regarded as highly injurious to local commerce were hurriedly despatched to London, the Lord


Treasurer's aid was besought with a “gratification”, and the rejection of the project was temporarily secured. In 1576 the Members of Parhament for Gloucester introduced a Bill to carry out the desire of their constituents, but it was stoutly opposed by their Bristol colleagues, Serjeant Walsh, Recorder, and Philip Langley, and was ultimately thrown out. But in 1580, to local dismay, Queen Elizabeth, by letters patent, established a Custom House at Gloucester, and attached to it the other upper creeks of the Severn. Earnest protests against this arrangement were addressed by the Corporation to the Privy Council, who, in 1582, directed a Commission to sit at Berkeley to inquire into the merits of the case. To meet the outlay incurred on this and other matters, the Common Council took the unusual course of levying a rate upon the citizens, which produced £80. A great effort was thereupon made to induce the Government to change its policy, the Recorder of London and other counsel being employed to set forth the ancient privileges of Bristol. In a petition to the Privy Council - the arguments of which do not hang very well together - the Corporation maintained that the up-country creeks of the Severn from Berkeley to Worcester had belonged to this port for time out of mind, that the chiefest vent of the city, as well as its chiefest source of grain and victuals, was the course of the Severn as far as Shrewsbury, and that the shutting up of this vent and supply by granting a Custom House to Gloucester threatened the imminent ruin of Bristolians, Gloucester, it was contended, was a place of no merchandise or trade, and what was adventured there to sea was only corn and prohibited exports, laden in small barks belonging to farmers and the like, to the defrauding of the Queen's Customs. Moreover, these barks were forced to lade and


discharge at Gatcombe, fifteen miles below Gloucester, and the depth of water there would not accommodate even 50-ton ships, except at high tides. Yet “Irish barks had found a direct trade to Gloucester, and all to ship away corn, and so we lose the benefit of their commodities and the uttering of our own”. “The trade and shipping of Bristol is already so decayed by reason of the premises that they have done away, and must do away, with their great shipping, and have offered them to be sold to their great loss”. It is finally prayed that, in regard to this urgent distress, the port of Bristol be restored to its ancient status. The appeal met with no response.

The reference to the Irish demand for corn made in this petition confirms much other evidence in the Corporate books, to the effect that the sister island was frequently unable to grow sufficient grain to provide food for its population.

It has been already stated that the Members of Parliament for Bristol were paid “wages” of two shillings a day each during their attendance at Westminster. The amount of their stipend had remained unaltered for over two centuries, and was originally fixed by statute. The reduced value of money having been recognised in 1567, when the travelling expenses of the Chamberlain, with his servant and two horses, had risen from 2s. 7d. per day, the sum paid twenty years earlier, to 6s., the Common Council raised the Members' stipend to 3s. 4d. per day each, and a further grant of £12 was made for the hire and keep of their horses. The Session had lasted ninety-eight days. In the next Parliament, in 1571 - which sat for sixty-three days - the “wages” were increased to 4s. per day, and as the Members had been obliged to make two journeys up and down, the allowance for horses was £18 12s. No


further change was made for many years. In the following century the “wages” were increased to 6s. 8d. per day, but the grant for horses was abolished after the introduction of coach travelling.

In April, 1568, while the Duke of Norfolk was sojourning at Bath in company with the Earl of Worcester, Lord Berkeley, and other noblemen, six hogsheads of wine were bought for presentation to him by the Corporation of Bristol, and four of them were sent on to him with an invitation to visit the city, which his Grace accepted. The preparations for his reception were so extensive that rumours of his ambitious desire to marry the unhappy Queen of Scots, widely regarded as presumptive heir to the English Throne, must have reached the civic body. The shooting butts in the Marsh underwent extensive repairs, the exterior of the Guildhall was renovated, workmen were employed day and night in decorating it within with gold and colours, and a large sum was spent upon the stained-glass windows of St. George's Chapel and the Tolzey. A small outlay on the latter building “Paid for burnishing the beasts upon the Tolzey” - is now inexplicable. Strangely enough, the expense of the Duke's reception and entertainment does not appear in the accounts, and was probably defrayed by subscription or a small rate. According to the chroniclers, his Grace, during his brief stay, attended service at St. Mary Redcliff, and proceeded then to Temple Church to watch the swaying motion of the tower whilst a peal was rung upon the bells, then a local marvel. His visit seems to have given umbrage at Court, and some annalists allege that he departed abruptly for London by command of the Queen. He was executed for alleged treason in 1572.

In the Middle Ages almost every corporate town


followed its own caprices in regard to the size of measures. Even to the present day, I believe, the so-called hogshead of cider at Taunton is of vastly dissimilar size from the hogshead at Gloucester, and the “gill” of beer at Newcastle is actually half a pint. Some reformation of Bristol measures was begun by the Common Council in 1569. In the accounts for March appears: “Paid for making the gallon of brass greater, which was done by John Coleman, tinker, 3s. 4d.” The Mayor's kalendar states that four years later “the Mayor caused a good reformation to be made for measures of barrels and kilderkins, which were made larger and of a bigger assize than they were before. And the old vessels repelled”.

The Corporation was much excited in 1569 by the wreck of a vessel, stated in one entry to have occurred at Portishead Point, while in a later, and doubtless more correct, statement the disaster is said to have taken place on “the rocks called Plotneys in Kingroad”. In either case, Lord Berkeley, as lord of the manor of Portbury, claimed the ship and cargo, and ordered two of his officers to sell them, which appears to have been done. The Corporation, on the other hand, maintained that the derelict vessel and its contents belonged to the city by virtue of the Admiralty privileges granted by Royal charter. The dispute resulted in a law suit, brought to a hearing at Somerset Assizes, held at Chard in 1572, when a verdict was given for the Corporation, who recovered £16 damages and costs from one of Lord Berkeley's agents, whilst the other was consigned to a debtor's prison in default of doing likewise. The civic outlay had much exceeded the receipts. Some of the items are curious. The leading counsel for the plaintiffs received a fee of 20s., and two juniors 10s. each. The Clerk of the Crown, “for his favour


touching expedition”, had a tip of 10s., and “a dinner to the jury after the verdict” cost 12s. 11d. The Corporation at this period held an Admiralty Court yearly, sometimes at Clevedon, but more often at Portishead. The court was not held in a house, but in an arbour constructed of tree branches, and a good deal of gunpowder was spent in firing salutes. The outlay did not usually exceed £3 or £4, but in 1570, when the above dispute was pending, the civic body flouted Lord Berkeley by holding a court at Clevedon, before the Mayor, some of the aldermen, and many burgesses, to the number of 100 horses, besides footmen and sailors, when the outlay was upwards of £27. In 1574, when the contest was over, the authorities contented themselves with giving a “drinking” to the jury, at the economical outlay of 13s. 6d.

When the Corporation resolved on flaunting a gay ensign at the muster of the trained bands, as already related, annoyance seems to have been felt that the city arms were destitute of an heraldic crest and supporters, in the fashion of London. Application was consequently made to the Herald's College, and in 1569 Clarencieux, King-of-Arms, granted by his letters patent the required decorations for the modest consideration of £7. All Bristolians are acquainted with the extraordinary crest which this grotesque official bestowed upon the city. Perhaps they may be glad to have his explanation of the emblem. The Chamberlain records that a new Common Seal was at once engraven by Giles Unyt, goldsmith, the outer sides of which displayed the two unicorns as supporters, and at the top was the crest, “the signification[4] of which is as followeth: Forasmuch as to the good government of a city pertaineth wisdom and justice,


therefore the arms issuing out of the clouds signifieth that all good gifts come from above; the balance signifieth right judgment; the serpent signifieth wisdom; the nature of the unicorn is that unto those that be virtuous they will do homage. The wreath about the helm is gold and gules, which is the colour that was devised by the King of Heralds. The lower part of the seal hath no addition, save the subscription”. The new seal cost £4.

The charter granting the crest runs as follows:-

TO ALL AND SINGULAR AS WELL NOBLES AND GENTLEMEN as others to whom these presents shall come ROBERT COOKE esquire alias CLARENCIEUX, Principall Heraulte and king of armes of the southe easte and weste partes of this realme of England from the river of trent southwardes sendi the humble comendacons and greeting FORASMOCHAS aunciently from the begining the vaiiaunt and vertuous actes of worthi persons have ben comended to the worlde with sondry monumets and remembrances of their good deserts, emongst the which the chiefest and most usuall hathe ben the bearing of signes in shildes caled armes which are evident demonstracons of prowes diversly distributed accordinge to the qualities and deserts of the persons meretinge the same to the end that suche as have done comendable service to their prince or contry eyther in warre or peace may both receave due honor in their lives and also derive the same successively to their posteretie after them and WHEREAS THIS CITIE OF BRISTOLL hath of long time ben incorporate by the name of mayor and comonalty as by the moste noble prince


of famouse memory KING EDWARD the third and lately confirmed by the QUENES MAJESTIE that now is by the name and names as is aforesaid by virtue of which corporation and sithens the first grant thereof there hathe ben auncient armes incident unto the said mayor and comonaltie that is to saye gules on a mount vert issuant out of a castle silver uppon wave a ship golde YET NOTWITHSTANDING UPPON divers considerations they have required me the said Clarencieux king of armes to grant to their auncient armes a creste withe supportars due and lawfuU to be borne WHEREUPON CONSIDERING their worthines and knowenge their request to be reasonable I have by vertue of my office of Clarencieux kinge of armes confirmed given and granted unto John Stone now Mayor John Hipsley recorder, David Harris Willm Pepwell Robert Sayer Roger Jones and Willm Lawe, Aldermen, Thomas Crickland and Richard Yonge sherives Robert Halton chamberlayn and Richard Willimot towneclarke and to their successors in life office this Creaste and supportars hereafter followenge that is to say uppon the heaulme on a wreathe golde and gules issuant out of the clowdes two armes in saltour chamew in the one hand a serpent vert in the other a pair of balance gold supported with two unicornes seant gold mayned homed clayed sables mantled gules doubled silver as more playnely aperth depicted in the margent TO HAVE and HOLD THE SAID armes creaste and supportars to the said mayor and comonalty and to their successors and they it to use beare and shew for ever more without impediment let or interuption of any person or persons. In


Witness whereof I have subscribed my hande and set hereunto the seale of my ofhce the fower and twentithe day of August in the yere of our Lorde God A thousand fiv hondrethe thre score and nyne and in the eleventh yere of the reigne of our sovereigne lady Elizabethe by the grace of God Queue of England France and Irelande Defendor of the Faithe et cet.

"Robert Cooke Alias Clarencieux,
"Roy D'armes.

The Earl of Pembroke, who was appointed Lord High Steward of the city on the fall from power of the Duke of Somerset in 1549, died in 1570. His lordship does not seem to have used much influence at Court on behalf of the city, though, of course, he was appealed to in emergencies, and civic presents to him rarely appear in the accounts. On his demise the vacant post was solicited by Lord Chandos, Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, and also by the late Lord Steward's son; but the Common Council, always solicitous to ingratiate themselves with a prominent courtier, bestowed the office on Elizabeth's “Sweet Robin”, the Earl of Leicester, of dubious fame. Lord Chandos was consoled with the gift of a butt of sack, whilst the Chamberlain, on going up to London to present the civic patent to Leicester, got the help of the Recorder in endeavouring to “pacify my Lord of Pembroke”.

The new Lord Steward proved to be a costly ornament. In 1571 eight hogsheads of wine were sent to “Killingworth” by way of a boat to Bewdley, at a cost of £30; two hogsheads of sack were bought for him in London in the following year, and four hogsheads were sent to Warwickshire in 1576. The Corporation were in the


meantime beseeching him to obtain a licence from the Crown to purchase the weekly wool and cattle market in St. Thomas's Street, then belonging to the parish, in which he succeeded; but its further suits for leave to farm the Customs of the port and for the appointment of a Bishop of Bristol (the See was then held in conjunction with that of Gloucester) were of no avail. The Chamberlain made many journeys to London in pursuit of these objects, and had, as usual, to give repeated bribes to secretaries and underlings to get an audience with the favourite, and “to keep his lordship in mind” of the city's desires. On Easter Eve, 1587, Leicester, accompanied by his brother the Earl of Warwick, paid a visit to Bristol, where elaborate preparations had been made to do them honour. For five days previously a band of drummers and fifers paraded streets, summoning the citizens to muster in arms to the receive them, and a grand “skirmish” took place on their arrival amidst salutes of cannon. Alderman Kitchin's house in Small Street, had been prepared for their lodgings, no less than £5 was given for the services of an imported cook, and the total cost of their entertainment, during a two nights' sojourn, exceeded £100, exclusive of over £23 for the horse meat of their retinue, which must have numbered several hundreds. After their departure on Monday morning, six horse-loads of sugar, marmalade, figs, and raisons followed them to Bath as a further compliment, but failed to render Lord Leicester happy. His lordship's sleeping accommodation in the sister city seems to have presented a sorry contrast to the luxurious provision made in Bristol, and as an effectual remedy for the shortcoming, he coolly asked Alderman Kitchin, who had accompanied the presents, for a gift of the bed on which he had reposed. The civic audit book shows that


the obsequious Corporation more than responded to the request, despatching an entirely new bed, but apparently allowing Mr. Kitchin to provide the bedding -

“Paid to Mrs. Blande for a feather bed with a cannapayne and curtains of green sail belonging unto him [the bed] £4. To two labourers for fetching it to Mr. Kitchin's house 4d., which bedding with the appurtenances was sent to Bath to my Lord of Leicester to lye in, who desired to have one for his Bath bed. Paid to a foot post for bringing a letter from Mr, Kitchin to Mr. Mayor concerning the same 1s.”

As no expense was incurred for removing the bed to Bath, it may be presumed that Leicester made certain of his prize by sending some of his servants to take charge of it.

[4] Given presumably by the inventor.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in October 2013.

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