The seventeenth century: Population and Topography

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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A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'The seventeenth century: Population and Topography', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) pp. 107-111. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "The seventeenth century: Population and Topography", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 107-111. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "The seventeenth century: Population and Topography", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 107-111. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,

Population and Topography

Wayfarers and those attending the markets and fairs brought business to the town but their presence increased the risk of plague, a danger perhaps made worse by proximity to the busy town and port of Hull. Beverley experienced a severe outbreak in 1604 and 1605. Visitors from infected places were excluded and a regular watch was kept, but about 130 people died of the plague in the parish of St. Martin alone. (fn. 1) Plague recurred during the summer and autumn of 1610: strict orders were issued against the concealment of infected persons and booths were erected in the Trinities for their isolation, but many hurried burials were recorded at St. Mary's. Measures were taken to relieve the families of the sick poor, and the East Riding magistrates helped the corporation with funds. (fn. 2) For 25 years there were apparently no further alarms, but in 1637 an outbreak in Hull gave rise to stringent precautions in Beverley: townspeople were forbidden to go to Hull without the mayor's licence; goods and visitors from Hull were excluded; public gatherings were banned; and no more than 10 persons were to attend childbearings or christenings. Those measures were successful, for Beverley was not affected. (fn. 3) Precautions, again apparently successful, were also required in 1645-6. (fn. 4) In the early 1660s, however, plague raged in England and by June 1665 strict precautions were again enforced in the town. They had some effect, and in August it was even rumoured that the plague had been confined to the family first infected. Although the number of recorded burials during the year makes that unlikely, the corporation decided in October to relax several of the precautions. In the summer of 1666, however, continued nervousness lay behind an order to exclude from the town students returning from Cambridge. (fn. 5)

No further outbreaks of plague were recorded, but after 1650 mortality was higher than it had been earlier in the century and the town, like Hull, may not have escaped outbreaks of fever and typhus. Between 1651 and 1670, the years of the greatest mortality, some 2,750 burials were recorded at St. Mary's and the minster. At St. Mary's burials exceeded baptisms in the second half of the century by almost 600, and a similar excess is observable in the minster registers (see Table 4). Those figures indicate a natural decrease in population, but it is not known to what extent that was offset by migration. Assuming that the average household comprised 4-5 people, the hearth-tax return for 1672 suggests a total population of between 2,480 and 3,100. (fn. 6) The Compton census of 1676 did not separate the town from the liberties, and a calculation based on the number of adults suggests a total population of only 2,250; (fn. 7) the numbers given in the census were evidently underestimates. An average of the figures derived from the hearth-tax return indicates a population of about 2,800, compared with a possible 5,000 or more in the 16th century. (fn. 8)

Table 4: Baptism and burials in St. Martin's and St. Mary's Parishes, 1600-1700
St. Martin's St. Mary's
Baptisms Burials Baptisms Burials
1601-10 427 593 474 528
1611-20 471 387 481 438
1621-30 290 301 366 394
1631-40 375 346 498 476
1641-50 468 419 615 606
1651-60 408 669 564 767
1661-70 447 586 614 737
1671-80 401 551 596 732
1681-90 443 448 641 669
1691-1700 - - 540 644
No figures are available for St. Martin's for 1695-1700.
Source: H.R.O., PE 1/1; PE 129/1 (figures kindly supplied by Miss S. A. Richardson).

The hearth-tax return of 1672 also illuminates the social structure of Beverley and the wealth of the inhabitants (see Tables 5-6). In all 1,543 hearths were enumerated in 620 households, giving a low average of 2.5 hearths to a household. As many as 295 households, or 47.5 per cent of the total, had only one hearth and must be described as poor; they included 187 households, or 30.2 per cent of the total, which were exempt on the grounds of poverty. The 183 households with 2 or 3 hearths, about 29.5 per cent of the total, were those of the middling sort of craftsmen and tradesmen. Above them, 142 households, or 22.9 per cent of the total, with 4 hearths or more included members of the more prosperous traditional occupations, professional men, and urban gentry. Only 50 households had between 6 and 9 hearths each, and only 6 had 10 hearths or more. (fn. 9)

Measured by the average number of hearths to a household the two poorest districts were Flemingate ward and Keldgate and Minster ward, each with almost 47 per cent of households exempt from tax. At the other end of the scale Saturday Market and Within North Bar wards appear as the wealthiest parts of Beverley, with the highest average number of hearths to a household. Together with Norwood, Hengate, and Walkergate ward and Wednesday Market, they also had the largest number of households with 4 hearths or more; in Saturday Market and Within North Bar about one third of the households were in that category. Some of the larger establishments may, however, have been inns rather than private households. The largest concentrations of households were to be found in the wards of the two market places and in Keldgate and Minster ward.

The most substantial households identifiable in the return were in three wards: in Wednesday Market were the houses of Christopher Chappelow, a past and future mayor, Sir Francis Cobb, and Sir Robert Hildyard, Bt.; Sir Edward Barnard, a future recorder, and John Dymoke, another future mayor, lived in Saturday Market; and among the inhabitants of Within North Bar were James Moyser, a lawyer, the Warton family, and Sir William Wise, the recorder. The Warton household was assessed on 20 hearths, as befitted the wealthiest family in Beverley. Michael Warton also owned two other houses in the town, a lodge in Beverley Parks, and land elsewhere in the East Riding and in Lincolnshire, London, and Middlesex. The Wartons were involved in large-scale farming, including the rearing and fattening of cattle, and Michael Warton made large benefactions to the town. (fn. 10)

Table 5: Hearth tax, 1672, ANALYSIS OF HOUSEHOLDS
Wards Households paying Households exempt Total of households % of total exempt
Beckside and Barleyholme 31 14 45 31.1
Flemingate 25 22 47 46.8
Keldgate and Minster 51 45 96 46.9
Newbegin and Lairgate 30 20 50 40.0
Norwood, Hengate, and Walkergate 46 20 66 30.3
Saturday Market 65 14 79 17.7
Toll Gavel 36 10 46 21.7
Wednesday Market 76 20 96 20.8
Within North Bar 46 13 59 22.0
Without North Bar 27 9 36 25.0
TOTAL 433 187 620 30.2
Source: P.R.O., E 179/205/504.
Wards Hearths: paying exempt Households with: 1 hearth 2 or 3 hearth 4 or more hearth Totals of: hearths households Average number of hearths to a household
Beckside and Barleyholme 89 14 21 18 6 103 45 2.3
Flemingate 80 22 26 13 8 102 47 2.2
Keldgate and Minster 113 45 67 19 10 162 96 1.7
Newbegin and Lairgate 111 20 26 11 13 131 50 2.6
Norwood, Hengate, and Walkergate 146 20 33 16 17 166 66 2.5
Saturday Market 221 14 22 30 27 235 79 3.0
Toll Gavel 103 10 19 18 9 113 46 2.5
Wednesday Market 235 20 40 32 24 255 96 2.7
Within North Bar 179 13 23 19 17 192 59 3.3
Without North Bar 79 9 18 7 11 88 36 2.5
TOTAL 1,356 187 295 183 42 1,543 620 2.5
Source: P.R.O., E 179/205/504; a few numbers, illegible in that return, have been supplied from E 179/205/525.

The poor were evidently to be found in all parts of Beverley, often as near neighbours of the more affluent townsmen. Surviving evidence for the treatment of the poor shows that the authorities mixed repression with relief. During the earlier 17th century the corporation attempted to discourage incomers likely to become chargeable, and ordered the constables to search regularly for strangers. At the same time it continued to make small grants to poor travellers, to maintain the maisons dieu and nominate the inmates, and to use certain of the corporation revenues for a Christmas dole to the poor. Limited funds from individual donors and the corporation were available to provide materials for setting the unemployed poor to work, and there was more relief of that kind from 1631, when the mayor and governors made themselves responsible for the administration of the book of orders. (fn. 11) To meet the more unsettled conditions caused by civil war and pestilence the corporation augmented the parochial rates from town funds, and paid, for example, for the whipping of vagrants, for the purchase of fuel for the maisons dieu, for grants to freemen accepting pauper apprentices, for pensions to lame soldiers and soldiers' widows, for clothing the indigent, and for grants to individuals. As J.P.s the governors held monthly meetings to supervise the overseers of the poor. (fn. 12) After 1660 there were renewed attempts to discourage incomers, but shelter and medical help were occasionally provided for the deserving poor, and the Christmas dole was drawn from more sources, including Robert Metcalfe's charity. During the 1670s between £40 and £50 was distributed annually, but by the later 1680s only about £30. (fn. 13) The corporation obtained additional funds for poor relief in 1687, when £200 was raised by mortgaging St. Giles's crofts. (fn. 14)

Special relief was also provided in emergencies: collections were made for sufferers from fires at Beckside in 1674 and in Burdat Midding Lane in 1681, when the county J.P.s also contributed, and £5 was given to poor people after a storm in 1684. (fn. 15) Public relief was complemented by the private charity of such prosperous townspeople as John Dymoke, Margaret Ferrer, and Thwaites Fox. Charities provided doles, training as apprentices, help for craftsmen, or, like those of Thwaites Fox and Michael Warton, shelter. The Wartons also tried to encourage habits of industry by supporting a school set up to teach bone-lace making and by a bequest for a stocking manufactory. (fn. 16)

For a few poor boys educational charities provided free schooling and enabled attendance at a university. Foremost among the benefactions was Robert Metcalfe's bequest of 1653 which augmented the stipend of the grammar school master and provided scholarships at Cambridge. (fn. 17) At the grammar school, where the corporation appointed the master, the roll had reached about 50 by 1670. In 1674 Joseph Lambert began his notable mastership, during which the school prospered and attracted sons of such county families as the Boyntons, the Constables, the Gees, and the Hildyards, as well as the sons of clergy, yeomen, and townsmen. The school's pupils took up the scholarships at Cambridge, benefited from additional grants made by the corporation, and returned to hold church livings or to teach in other schools. Besides the grammar school there was a petty school at St. Mary's and a charity school was set up in the 1690s. (fn. 18)

How far literate habits were inculcated in the urban community by the schools is not revealed, but there was a collection of books at the grammar school, books could be bought at the Cross fair, and in the later 17th century there was a resident bookseller in the town. (fn. 19) Otherwise cultural activities were absent, unless the music provided by the town's waits be counted. For the townspeople at large there were the pleasures of inns and alehouses, the excitement of bull-baiting, celebrations at royal proclamations and similar occasions of national rejoicing, and the brute appeal of a public whipping or pillorying. The inns included the George and the Talbot in Highgate, the White Horse, and the Bell, perhaps the later Blue Bell in North Bar Within; (fn. 20) in 1686 it was reported that there were 182 guest beds in Beverley and stabling for 460 horses. (fn. 21) Other amenities were slow in corning. Nevertheless, encouraged by resident and neighbouring gentry, the corporation allowed a man turf from Swine Moor in 1667 for a bowling green behind his house in North Bar Within, perhaps the Bell inn, helped to raise funds to buy plate for Kiplingcotes races the same year, and in 1690 authorized a racecourse on Westwood. (fn. 22)

The importance of the beck and the roads leading to the town was generally recognized by the corporation, although it tried unsuccessfully to evade responsibility for the upkeep of certain roads in the liberties. Repeated attempts were made to cleanse the beck but its condition had worsened by the end of the century. (fn. 23) On the beck were the boats in which burgesses carried their own goods and one or two market boats, which were let by the corporation. (fn. 24) Communication between Beverley and other parts of the country was facilitated by the appointment of a postmaster, mentioned in 1682. Within the town the repair and cleansing of the streets was a matter of regular concern to the corporation, and steps were taken, as in earlier times, to prevent damage by iron-shod carts. (fn. 25) A more sustained effort to repair the streets was evidently made in the 1640s and 1650s, perhaps a reflection of wartime neglect. (fn. 26) As a measure against the spread of disease the corporation tried to clear the streets of wandering pigs and 'jolly' bitches. (fn. 27) There were still few precautions against fire. It was ordered in 1607 that fires were not to be kept without chimneys. The corporation arranged for the provision of fire-fighting equipment in 1666, spurred no doubt by the Great Fire of London, and in 1674 and 1681, after the fires at Beckside and in Burdat Midding Lane. In the 1690s the constables were under orders to keep the public wells and pumps in repair as a further precaution. (fn. 28)

A storm in 1676 caused much damage to St. Mary's and the minster; maintenance of the fabric of both churches remained a constant drain on funds, and there were signs of serious decay at the minster by the end of the century. (fn. 29) The two churches apart, no fine public buildings graced the streets of Beverley. A new building for the grammar school, with a dignified porch, was erected in the minster churchyard in the first decade of the century, (fn. 30) but other public buildings, such as the guildhall, the shambles, the maisons dieu, and the gaol, were simply kept in repair by the corporation. There were still many timber-framed houses in the town, but during the 17th century new houses were generally built of brick, though with few embellishments. (fn. 31) By the later part of the century, however, the more affluent townsmen were improving their houses with pantiled roofs, decorative brickwork, and porches, and by building out below the jetties. (fn. 32) By the end of the century topographical writers, who always remarked on the two impressive churches, were agreed that Beverley was a fine well-built town, 'of late much improved in its buildings', a comment made before the era of style and fashion had begun. (fn. 33)


  • 1. H.R.O., PE/129/1; ibid. BC/II/6/45; BC/II/7/4/1, f. 16.
  • 2. Ibid. BC/II/6/50; BC/II/7/4/1, f. 27; Poulson, Beverlac, 346.
  • 3. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 63, 65.
  • 4. Ibid. ff. 82, 84v.
  • 5. Boro. Rec. 136-40; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1664-5, 517; J. F. D. Shrewsbury, Hist. of Bubonic Plague in Brit. Isles, 533.
  • 6. P.R.O., E 179/205/504.
  • 7. Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 373.
  • 8. Above, Beverley in 16th Cent.
  • 9. Cf. J. D. Purdy, 'Hearth Tax Returns for Yorks.' (Leeds Univ. M.Phil. thesis, 1975), 101, 328.
  • 10. J. T. Cliffe, Yorks. Gentry from Reformation to Civil War, 96; Mic. Warton of Beverley: Inventory of his Possessions, ed. E. Hall, passim; below, Charities; Outlying Townships (Beverley Parks).
  • 11. H.R.O., BC/II/6/44; BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 2, 33-4, 50, 58v.; Boro. Rec. 45, 47; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1631-3, 17.
  • 12. H.R.O., BC/II/6/57 sqq.; BC/II/7/4/i, ff. 94, 96, 98v.
  • 13. Boro. Rec. 50, 127-72.
  • 14. Ibid. 177.
  • 15. Ibid. 158, 167, 169, 171.
  • 16. 'Below, Charities; Education (Charity Sch.).
  • 17. Below, Charities.
  • 18. J. R. Witty, Hist. Beverley Grammar Sch. 102, 114, 136-7; below, Education.
  • 19. H.R.0., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 96v.; Lawson, Town Grammar Sch. 49; above (Economy).
  • 20. P.R.O., E 134/2 Chas. I Mich./18; H.R.O., BC/II/7/5, ff. 80, 170v.; Poulson, Beverlac, 384.
  • 21. P.R.O., WO 30/48, f. 204.
  • 22. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, f. 101v.; Boro. Rec. 142-4; below, Beverley, 1700-1835 (Economy); Social Inst. (Racecourse).
  • 23. Below, Communications.
  • 24. H.R.O., BC/II/6, passim; BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 13, 74; Boro. Rec. 179.
  • 25. Below, Public Services.
  • 26. H.R.O., BC/II/7/4/1, ff. 89, 90 and v., 93-4.
  • 27. Ibid. BC/II/7/4/1, f. 27v.; BC/II/7/5, f. 112v.; Boro. Rec. 146, 168.
  • 28. Boro. Rec. 44-5, 112; below, Public Services.
  • 29. Below, Churches.
  • 30. Below, Education.
  • 31. Below, Secular Bldgs.
  • 32. H.R.O., BC/II/7/5, ff. 205, 212, 229, 233v., 244; Boro. Rec. 89-90, 180; below, Secular Bldgs.
  • 33. Descriptions of E. Yorks.: Leland to Defoe, ed. D. [M.] Woodward (E. Yorks. Loc. Hist. Ser. xxxix), 30, 34, 40-1, 48.