A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Population and Topography
The population of Beverley was said to be at least 5,000 in 1552, when the town petitioned for a grant of lands after the suppression of the college. (fn. 1) That figure is supported by the numbers of 'houseling people' given in the chantry certificates four years earlier: 1,800 in St. Mary's parish, 800 in the minster parish, and 360 in St. Nicholas's, a total of nearly 3,000 to which an addition must be made for children. (fn. 2) The numbers of baptisms and burials in St. Mary's parish suggest that the population was increasing in the later 16th century. In the 1570s they were more than 20 per cent higher than in the 1560s and in the 1580s about 12 per cent higher than in the 1570s. The numbers do not, however, show a natural increase. Baptisms were comfortably ahead of burials in the 1560s but the excess of burials over baptisms averaged 3.2 a year in the 1570s, 15.1 in the 1580s, and 9.7 in the 1590s. (fn. 3)
The subsidy returns of 1544 (fn. 4) give some impression of the distribution of wealth among the townspeople (see Tables 1 and 2). Only 18 people were assessed in the two highest categories, at £40 and over, the wealthiest being Richard Brown, John Garbrey, and Robert Grey; the group included many other members of families prominent in the economic and administrative life of the town. Another 27 substantial taxpayers were assessed at £20 and more, among them several men who served as governors. Townspeople of more modest means, assessed at £10 and more, accounted for 12 per cent of the taxpayers. Below that level over a fifth of the taxpayers were assessed at £5 and over, and more than half were assessed at less than £5, representing a considerable body of townsmen of humble means. The poorest sort, of unknown number, were exempted from the tax.
Corn, later Saturday, Market was evidently the wealthiest ward in the town (see Table 3): it paid by far the biggest share of the town's assessment and it had the largest number of wealthy taxpayers, including Richard Brown; it also had nearly the smallest proportion assessed at only £1, but as a populous ward, with the greatest number of taxable inhabitants in the town, it nevertheless had a high proportion of taxpayers of humble means. There was considerable wealth also in Barleyholme, Toll Gavel, and Within North Bar; John Garbrey and Robert Grey both lived in Barleyholme. In contrast there were few wealthy taxpayers and a high proportion assessed at £4 and under in Flemingate, Hengate and Walkergate, North Beckside provost's fee, and the presumably scattered chapter fee. Other wards with a small taxpaying population were the suburban districts of Norwood and Without North Bar.
Those tentative conclusions about the distribution of population and wealth are supported by Leland, who said of the town that 'the fairest part of it is by north', (fn. 5) and by the muster returns of 1539 and 1584. (fn. 6) The highest numbers of men mustered were from Corn Market, Toll Gavel, Wednesday Market, and Within North Bar wards. Members of some of the leading families were also to be found in those wards. As in 1544, however, some of the well-to-do lived outside the core of the town. The mayor in 1584, Stephen Smales, lived in Without North Bar and Mr. (presumably Richard) Garbrey and John and Lancelot Alford in Barleyholme and Southside Beck. The contributions made by the wards to a fifteenth and tenth in 1572-3 and again in 1595-6 also suggest the pre-eminence of Saturday Market and Within North Bar. (fn. 7)
Many of the wealthier inhabitants owned property in the town. William Dent (d. 1550), baker, devised 5 houses, including 2 with mills, besides 2 cottages, 2 closes, and leases of 3 more closes. Robert Grey (d. 1557), merchant, one of the wealthiest men in the town in 1544, evidently owned the former St. Giles's hospital, for he left a house and ground lately called St. Giles's, as well as a gatehouse, orchard, 4 closes, and 5 houses. Besides houses and closes, Richard Bell (d. 1563), draper, and Peter Harpham (d. 1598), merchant, left land in Keldgate leys, Matthew Garbrey (d. 1565), tanner, all his shops in Barleyholme, and John Bullock (d. 1586), tanner, his vats, tanning equipment, bark, hides, and leather. (fn. 8) Some townsmen also acquired rural estates. Robert Crayke (d. c. 1538) had a lease of two pastures on the wolds at Greenwick, in Bishop Wilton. (fn. 9) The Coppandale family, which had been prominent in the town in the Middle Ages, apparently left Beverley; in 1555 Francis and John Coppandale were both described as of Barnby by Bossall (Yorks. N.R.). (fn. 10)
In view of the declining economic fortunes of the town, immigrants are likely to have been of the poorer sort and to have increased the burden of poor relief which fell upon the corporation. Money collected in the parishes, (fn. 11) together with town funds, was regularly used for poor relief. Doles, clothing, fuel, and payments to relieve sickness were frequently given, (fn. 12) sometimes to a long list of recipients. (fn. 13) The needs of the poor were increased in times of disease. The sweating sickness was said to have killed two men in Beverley in 1528, (fn. 14) payments to the poor were made during the plague in 1575-6, and the town paid for the burial of the dead after another outbreak in 1590-1. (fn. 15) Few special measures to relieve the poor appear to have been taken, though 30 badges for beggars were provided in 1558-9 and there was a keeper or beadle for beggars. (fn. 16) Some effort was made to reduce the burden of pauperism on the town, for example by setting the poor to work. The town stock, which stood at £30-£40 in the 1560s and 1570s, (fn. 17) was inadequate for that purpose in 1592-3 and trees on Westwood were ordered to be sold to provide funds. (fn. 18) Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, claimed to have offered money to the town for a stock and that it was refused. (fn. 19) The poor were also helped by their guilds and by the testamentary bequests of the more wealthy townsmen, and for some there were places in the maisons dieu maintained by the corporation.
The cultural life of the town may briefly have benefited from the presence of a printer, for Hugh Goes (fl. 1509) is said to have had a press in Highgate. (fn. 20) The guild plays on Corpus Christi Day were discontinued, (fn. 21) but especially in the second half of the century rewards were given by the town to many groups of travelling players. (fn. 22) Performances were also given by the grammar school players, (fn. 23) and the town's waits were often rewarded for their services. Entertainment was evidently provided on Shrove Tuesday by the watermen: the craft was fined in 1574-5 for not jousting ('justinge') in the beck as was customary. (fn. 24) Rewards were also frequently given by the town to the bearwards of various noblemen, and in 1571-2 recompense was made to the bearward of Hull when his charge was worried in Hall Garth. (fn. 25) Bull-baiting may account for the gift of a bull to the town by Thomas Normanville in 1570-1, (fn. 26) and the corporation provided entertainment for gentlemen at a cockpit in 1585-6. (fn. 27) It was ordered in 1592 that no more than 40 alehouses should be allowed in the town. (fn. 28) Several are known by name, like the Bull outside North bar, the Swan within the bar, the Hart in Wednesday Market, and the Tabard in Eastgate. (fn. 29)
The political and religious changes of the earlier 16th century resulted in many alterations to the face of the town, most obviously in respect of the ecclesiastical buildings. There were few noteworthy additions, though a new tower was promptly built at St. Mary's church after the old one collapsed in 1520. The minster lost its collegiate appendages, including the chapter house, and most of the buildings of the college and the other religious houses were probably demolished comparatively soon after the Dissolution. Some of the prebendal houses, however, evidently remained, together with parts of the Dominican friary and St. Giles's hospital, and four small hospitals survived as maisons dieu, one of which was converted to the town's prison in 1573. Of other public buildings the guildhall was moved in 1501, but only to a townsman's house acquired by the governors that year. (fn. 30)
There is ample evidence that the town was decayed, a result of economic decline and of neglect by the Crown and lay owners of the former possessions of the religious houses. Vacant houses and plots were repeatedly mentioned in the 1530s, (fn. 31) and Beverley was included in the Act of 1540 for the rebuilding of towns. (fn. 32) The governors, mindful of appearances, ordered in 1566 that houses adjoining the street were not to be pulled down, (fn. 33) and in 1577 a man promised to rebuild a house that he had taken down in Keldgate. (fn. 34) Fires also took their toll in a town described by Leland as well built of wood (fn. 35) and with inadequate means of fighting them: (fn. 36) houses in Newbegin, for example, were burned down in 1566-7. (fn. 37) Conditions in the streets were probably little changed from those of the Middle Ages. Beyond the built-up area the town continued its efforts to keep the beck navigable and, with help from the parishes, to repair the main roads. (fn. 38) The river was the home of the town's swans, which were recorded from the 1550s (fn. 39) and were presumably kept for the tables of the governors and those whom they favoured with gifts. On one occasion swans were fetched from London and on another the villagers of Weel were paid for marking them. (fn. 40) One of the most notable changes to take place during the century was on Westwood, where tree-felling to bolster the town's finances gathered momentum in the second half of the century, and after the disparking of ground south of the town, following the transfer of the manor to the Crown, the trees of Langley Hagg were also felled. (fn. 41)