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Title: Lowestoft in olden times
Author: Longe, Francis D.
Language: English
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Transcribed from the [1899] edition by David Price, email

                        Lowestoft In Olden Times.

     [Picture: Decorative graphic of Dotesio & Todd, 36 High Street,


THE following pages contain lectures read before the members of St.
Margaret’s Institute, at Lowestoft, with additions introduced to render
the story somewhat more complete.

Lowestoft of the present day, with its harbour, its magnificent fishing
fleet, and its fine marine terraces, is the product of the nineteenth
century.  But the Present is linked with the Past by the retention of the
old Town on the Cliff as the nucleus of the greatly enlarged modern town.

The rise of Lowestoft was so much connected with the fortunes of Yarmouth
that it would be impossible to tell the story of old Lowestoft without
introducing a good deal that belongs to the history of old Yarmouth.
Indeed, were it not for the records which have been preserved of the
contests between the two towns about the Herring Trade, the materials for
a history of Lowestoft would be almost nil.  The history of Yarmouth is
only introduced into this sketch so far as it is incidental to that of
Lowestoft.  But I feel that apologies are due to the larger and more
ancient town for the partial manner in which its history is dealt with.

The materials from which these lectures have been compiled are furnished
by Domesday Book, the Lay Subsidy Rolls, the Parish Register, and the
ancient documents contained in Swinden’s History of Yarmouth, and
Gillingwater’s History of Lowestoft.  Other historical details of
interest have been taken from those valuable old works, and from Nall’s
History of Yarmouth and Suckling’s History of Suffolk.


                              LECTURE I.
PART I.        Introductory.  Geological.  The Waveney.           1–11
               Burgh Castle.
PART II.       Domesday Book.  The Parishes of                   11–26
               Lothingland.  Lowestoft in Domesday.
               Herring Rents.  Condition of People in
               Saxon Times.  Serfdom.  Craftsmen.  The
               Merchant.  Etymology of Lowestoft
                             LECTURE II.
                    LOWESTOFT IN THE 14TH CENTURY.
PART I.        Rise and Fall of Yarmouth.  The Free Fair         27–37
               on Yarmouth Quay.  Naval power of
               Yarmouth.  The Black Plague.  The Statute
               of Herrings.
PART II.       Rise of Lowestoft.  Parliamentary War with        37–46
               Yarmouth.  Edward Ill’s Charter.  The
               “Commons” support Lowestoft against the
               Crown.  Charter revoked.  Charter
               re-granted by Richard II.  Riot at
               Lowestoft.  Richard II. visits Yarmouth.
               Charter revoked and re-granted.
               “Composition” between the two towns.
PART III.      The Lay Subsidies.  Lowestoft in 1327 and    46–54
               1525.  Grant of Market.  The Parish
               Church.  Old Chapels.  Vaulted Cellars in
               High Street.
                             LECTURE III.
                    LOWESTOFT IN ELIZABETH’S TIME.
PART I.        The Parish Register.  The Trades of the           55–75
               Town.  The Vicars.  “Mr. Annott his
               Schoolmaster.”  Resident Gentry.  The Fish
               Trade.  Piracy at Lowestoft.  Cecil’s
               Fast.  Lowestoft a Shopping Town.
               Population.  Dutch Refugees.  Holinshed on
               the Luxury of Elizabeth’s time.  “The
               South Flint House.”
PART II.       Lowestoft and Yarmouth at the end of the          75–80
               16th century.  Gorleston Harbour.  Second
               contest about Kirkley Road.  The Star
               Chamber and the Judges.  Opinion of Mr.
               Counsellor Bacon.  First Boundary Pole
               fixed on Gunton Denes.
                             LECTURE IV.
PART I.        Dutch and French Fishermen in the “British        81–92
               Seas.”  Pamphlets of Sir Walter Raleigh
               and “Tobias Gentleman.”  Ship-money.
               Fleet sent against the Dutch Busses.  The
               Civil War.  Cromwell’s visit to Lowestoft.
               The Bell in the Town Hall.  The Great Fire
               of 1644.  Value of Houses, 1642 and 1898.
PART II.       Third and last Contest with Yarmouth about       93–103
               Kirkley Road.  The Yarmouth Bailiffs and
               their “Man of War.”  Lowestoft appeals to
               the King.  Sympathetic Letter of Charles
               II. to Lowestoft.  Decision of the House
               of Lords.  Proceedings at Yarmouth about
               the measurement of the seven miles.
               Boundary Posts again fixed on Gunton
               Denes.  Imprisonment and Penance of Mr.
               Roger Smith.  Corton Pole.  Effect of
               successful termination of the suit.  Our
               townspeople take measures to increase
               their trade.  Conclusion.  Lowestoft
               Heroes of the XVII Century.





YOU will think that I am going unnecessarily far back in commencing my
sketch with a reference to that very remote period

    “When Britain first at Heaven’s command
    Arose from out the azure main.”

But if a thousand years or so would take in the origin of both Lowestoft
and Yarmouth, questions have arisen affecting the relations of these
towns which involve a much more extended retrospect.

It has long been a tenet of Lowestoft people that Lowestoft is a more
ancient town than Yarmouth.  In some of the numerous petitions presented
to Parliament in connection with the disputes between the two towns about
the Herring Trade, her greater antiquity was put forward by Lowestoft as
giving her a prior claim to the herrings which visit the seas off this

There is a story that the learned Potter, the translator of Æschylus,
when vicar of the parish (about 1780) received a letter from the
Archbishop of Canterbury addressed to him at “Lowestoft near Yarmouth.”
The vicar was indignant at what he regarded as a slight on his town, and
when replying to the Archbishop, added this postscript “My Lord, when you
direct to me again be pleased to write simply Lowestoft—Lowestoft does
not want Yarmouth for a direction post, for Lowestoft was ere Yarmouth
rose out of the azure main.”

Again, the question whether the Waveney ever flowed out at Lowestoft was
a matter of warm discussion some 60 or 70 years ago, when the project of
making a connection between that river and the sea, and providing
Lowestoft with a harbour (an undertaking since so successfully carried
out) was first mooted.  The belief that the Waveney did once run out
here, was supposed to give much sanction to a project which would only
restore to the town an advantage which nature had originally given her.

These questions have been touched upon by writers on the antiquities of
our neighbourhood, but not in a very satisfactory way.  The tradition
that the Waveney, or a branch of it, used to enter the sea at Lowestoft,
has been reproduced by several writers as part of a picture which
represents Norwich and Beccles, and other places on the borders of our
marshlands, as ports and fishing towns on the shore of a large inland sea
or estuary over which ships sailed freely, and to which herrings
innumerable used to pay their autumnal visit which they now confine to
the sea outside.  That the sea at some time flowed over at least a great
part of this area is probably quite true.  No tradition would be required
to satisfy the most ordinary observer that such a condition of things
might have once existed, nor would anything more be needed to give rise
to such a tradition.  The question is when did this condition of the
surface exist, and when did it cease to exist.

We will take as our guide to the solution of this problem a very
interesting pamphlet by the late Mr. Edwards, the engineer employed in
cutting out the channel for our harbour in 1829, entitled “The River
Waveney—did it ever reach the sea via Lowestoft?”

He thus commences his account of the physical history of the Waveney

    “First and in order of date, what can be gleaned from Geological
    evidence?  It is universally admitted that the last great change of
    the surface of the earth, by whatever cause brought about, left the
    surface of the uplands very much in the same form in which we now
    find them.” p. 6.

Mr. Edwards refrains from expressing any view as to the causes which
brought about this last great change.  He was probably not familiar with
the explanation with which recent geological science has furnished us.
If you refer to any of the more recent treatises on the geology of Great
Britain, you will find somewhere in the later chapters an account of the
subsidence and elevation of these islands during what is called the
Glacial Period—movements due to what may be generally described as the
settlement of the earth’s crust. {3}

In no part of England is there more striking evidence of this movement
than in the coast district of Norfolk and Suffolk.  The old land surface
which went down and was re-elevated nearly to its former level, is well
known in these parts as the Forest Bed, which now forms the bottom of the
sea at a short distance from the shore from Cromer to Kessingland.  It
appears as the lowest stratum of the cliff at Kessingland, and at other
places on our coast.  It is also disclosed in inland pits from which some
of its most marvellous relics have been extracted.  That the surface of
this bed was once above water and covered with terrestrial vegetation,
like that on which we now have our being, is proved by the stumps of
trees which have been found fixed upright in it, as they were when alive
and growing.  A specimen of these old tree stumps is to be seen in the
Norwich Museum.  It is on this old land surface and more or less embedded
in it, that the relics of an older world are buried, which so frequently
make their appearance in the trawl nets of our fishermen,—the teeth and
bones of Elephants, the Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, and other animals,
which now belong to the fauna of countries far away to the south.  This
old land surface has been covered with some hundred or more feet of sand,
clay, and gravel deposited upon it during the process of subsidence, and
which after the re-elevation of the Island formed the surface soil of a
great part of Suffolk and Norfolk.

The process of subsidence and re-elevation was probably extremely slow,
producing an alteration of about two feet in a hundred years.  An
elevatory movement of this kind has been known to have taken place in
recent times in the northern regions, and is said to be still going on in

How many thousands of years ago this movement took place is a matter for
geologists to discuss, the important point that we have to bear in mind
is that from the time this movement ceased all the alterations which have
taken place are due to causes still in operation and acting in the same
manner now as then.

What was done by the sea in carving out the surface into hill and valley
during the process of elevation we know not, but Mr. Edwards is probably
right in holding that when the upward movement ceased the contour of the
surface, as regards highlands and lowlands, hills and valleys, was very
much what it is now.

In considering the effect of the natural forces still in operation during
the many thousands of years during which they have been at work, it is
necessary to bear in mind that the level of the sea has all along
remained the same, except so far as it is varied by the rise and fall of
the tide, and by the exceptional exaggerations of tidal movement caused
by the wind.

The operations of nature which have brought about the filling up of the
hollows in the glacial land have been (1) the flow of water from wide
drainage areas in Norfolk and Suffolk carrying silt into the lower parts
and depositing it there,—(2) the incessant action of the sea in building
up a shore boundary against itself, and blocking up the gaps in the
glacial highlands through which its waters would flow inland.  This
action of the sea on our eastern coast is due to the inexhaustible supply
of sand and shingle which is being constantly pushed along the shore
southwards by the tidal wave.  How persistent is the action of the sea in
blocking up every outlet, whether river or harbour mouth, which man would
wish kept open, has been a matter of costly experience to Yarmouth for
some 800 years, as it has been to the Great Eastern Railway Company
during the short time that they have undertaken the task of keeping open
the mouth of Lowestoft Harbour.


The ground formed by the deposit of alluvial soil from the interior, and
the drifting inwards of sand and shingle from the sea is in some places
not easily distinguishable from the old glacial ground on which it has
been imposed.  As regards land well above high water mark, no doubt can
arise however similar the sand of which it is composed may be to the sand
on our shores.  Such deposits must have been formed before the land had
risen to its present level.  But as regards deposits which are beneath or
nearly on a level with high water mark, on the edge of what is now water
or marsh-land, the difference in their origin may be difficult to
ascertain and easily overlooked.  The sand in our cliffs and on the shore
is indeed the same:—the sea using the material which it has robbed from
some projecting cliff, to fill up some bay or make an addition to the
land to the southward.  That the supposed ancient outlet between Lake
Lothing and the sea was blocked up by sand and shingle in the same way as
other outlets along the coast, was a very reasonable supposition, until
the cutting of the channel for the new harbour disclosed a ridge of old
glacial soil between the head of the lake and the sea, extending across
the dip between Lowestoft and Kirkley, which proved that no deep river
had ever flowed out there.  This ridge was excavated to a depth of 30
feet below high water mark.  “It consisted” Mr. Edwards tells us “not of
horizontal stratified sand and shingle, as was found on the beach, but of
precisely such strata of sand, as that of the rising ground on either
side of the valley, the like of which may now be seen on Pope’s Farm.”

Although this ridge was too high to admit of a deep river running into
the sea from Lake Lothing, it was not so high as to prevent a shallow
overflow from the lake on to the beach, producing a small channel,
between the lake and the sea.  Evidence of the existence of such a
channel in remote times has been preserved by its having been adopted as
a boundary between the parishes of Lowestoft and Kirkley.  It appears
from an old enclosure map, that the boundary at this part had varied, as
the channel shifted from north to south, until it reached the rising
ground of Kirkley Cliff, where it formed the line of the existing

Tradition assigns to this part the name of Kirkley “Haven;” and the fact
that the Roads along the coast from Pakefield to Yarmouth had in very
remote times acquired the name of “Kirklee Road” is proof that Kirkley
must have been known to sailors more than the other villages on the
cliffs.  It is probable that the low coast, and its proximity to the
Roads, to which ships resorted for anchorage in remote times as in recent
years, led to it being used by sailors as a convenient place for
communication with the shore; which would be quite sufficient to give it
the name of “Kirkley Haven,” whether any use was or was not made of the
little channel in question as a waterway for boats or other light craft.

After the fens had been reclaimed, and converted into pasture lands, it
became necessary to protect them from the inundation of the extraordinary
high tides which occurred occasionally in ancient times, as now, under
the influence of a prolonged spell of north west wind.  An embankment or
“fortification” was erected along this ridge with the object of
preventing any irruption of the sea though Lake Lothing into the
interior.  We have a full account of the measures taken in 1660 for the
reparation of a former embankment in the same place.  In Queen
Elizabeth’s time Lake Lothing was purely a freshwater lake, and it was
called “The Freshwater” by Lowestoft people.  The ordinary outlet for the
water was not towards the sea, but through Oulton “Fen” into the Waveney.
Camden writing at this time describes Lake Lothing as—

    “That long and spacious Lake Lothing, which beginning at the seaside
    empties itself into the river Yare.”

A similar ridge of glacial deposit extending between Oulton Broad and
Lake Lothing, formed the foundation of the ancient and existing roadway
which connects Lothingland with the mainland.  This ridge placed another
effectual bar to the outflow of the waters of the Waveney Valley in this
direction, though here again there seems always to have been a small
shallow dip, the old “Mud-ford,” through which the water on either side
was connected.  No such ridges blocked the wide mouth of the estuary at
Yarmouth, which was open for the flow of water out and in until the sea
had blocked it up with an accumulation of sand and shingle to the
depth—Mr. Edwards says—of some hundred feet.


The natural process by which the valley of the Waveney became gradually
filled up with silt, and covered with aquatic vegetation is carefully
explained by Mr. Edwards.  How many thousands of years the process was
going on before nature had converted the wide and apparently deep estuary
into an expanse of fen and bog, with the Waveney, the Yare, and the Bure,
flowing through it in well defined channels we know not; but Mr. Edwards
mentions an interesting fact showing that nature’s process of
substituting land for water is still in progress.  We know that some
hundreds of years ago man took advantage of the work already done by
nature, and converted these fens and morasses into dry marshlands by
raising banks along the river sides to keep out the flood and tidal
waters.  Between these banks and the river there are margins several
yards in breadth called “rands” or “ronds.”  These rands have been left
open to the overflow of the river, and they are found to be raised from
one to two feet above the level of the inclosed lands on the other side
of the banks.  Another process by which nature has been and is still
slowly substituting land for water is the advance of the reedy margins of
the broads and the gradual diminution of the water area.


The first evidence we have of the stage which the silting up process had
reached during the time of man’s occupation of these parts are the
records and vestiges of the presence of the Romans on the banks of the
Yare and the Waveney during the first four centuries of the present era.

In his account of Burgh Castle Mr. Suckling gives us a map shewing the
different positions occupied by the Romans in these parts in connection
with their system of coast defences against the Saxons, or other tribes
on the opposite shores of the North Sea, whose piratical visitations were
as much a cause of fear to the British inhabitants of our island as they
were several hundred years later to its “Saxon” inhabitants themselves.

According to this map we have the strong fortress of Burgh Castle placed
in the northern extremity of Lothingland, in such a position as to
command a view of the entrance of the Yare and the Waveney from the
estuary, the diminished area of which is still represented by Breydon
water.  A short way up the Yare we find another Roman Station at Reedham
where the river approaches close to the glacial highlands, and where an
invading force sailing up this river would find a convenient landing
place at the river side, not separated from the river channel by a wide
space of impassable morass, or shallows only navigable at high water.  A
few miles up the Waveney we have another Roman Station at Burgh St. Peter
(or Wheatacre Burgh) at the extremity of a tongue of glacial highland,
which is again closely approached by the present channel of the river.
The extraordinary position of the church, at the lowest and extreme edge
of a parish which contains a large area of high ground proves that this
spot had some mysterious importance in remote times, and the existence of
Roman bricks in its walls, which may have been used in several successive
buildings since they were made, points to the existence of some Roman
fortress nearby to which they originally belonged; while the remains of
human skeletons which have been found near the bank of the river buried
in a promiscuous manner, as if the result of a battle on the river’s
edge, add support to the view that Burgh Staithe, being a convenient
landing place for the invader, was a place of considerable importance in
ancient times.

If the low marshland through which the Yare and the Waveney now wind
their way to the sea was at the time when the Romans established their
system of fortifications, a wilderness of bog and fen, impassable either
by ship or on foot, we can understand the importance of these spots on
the river-sides where the enemy could get from their boats on to the
highlands of Norfolk and Suffolk.  The conflict of opinion among
antiquarians as to the true site of the Roman Garianonum has made the
conditions of the area immediately beneath Burgh Castle in the Roman
period, a familiar subject of discussion.  Whether Burgh Castle or
Caister was the Roman Garianonum, the disputants took it for granted that
it was some place near the entrance of the river from which it took its
name; but they appear to have overlooked the point that if there were any
river channel near either Burgh or Caister which could be attributed to
the Yare, the estuarine condition of the interior must have already
passed away.  When this inland area was an arm of the sea, as it has been
so often described, the rivers which meet at Yarmouth must have lost
their channels and their names several miles further west.  The Yare
would have terminated at Norwich or Reedham, the Waveney at Beccles, and
the Bure somewhere about Wroxham.  The Yare could have had no claim to
give its name to any place near the present coast, either Burgh or
Caister.  The Orwell is still an arm of the sea and it is not called
after either the Gipping or the Stour.  The Romans probably named their
fortress at Burgh from the Yare, rather than the Waveney because the
river Yare was the common waterway from the Roman camp at Caister on the
Taes to the sea.

The massive fortress of Burgh Castle could be safely held by a small
force for a long time against any enemy who might succeed in effecting a
landing on Lothingland itself, and if cavalry were kept there, as we are
told they were, mounted messengers could be sent off as soon as a hostile
fleet appeared, who would be able to carry the intelligence to head
quarters at Caister, via Oulton and Beccles or Bungay, before the enemy
could get very far up either river.

The peculiar arrangement of the walls of Burgh Castle, which while they
presented an impregnable defence on the North, East and South sides, left
the west side with an easy slope down to the level of the river,
unprotected, can only be explained by supposing with Camden and Spelman
that the area between the river and the cliff, which is now marsh, was
then an impassable morass, which offered an insuperable obstacle to the
approach of a hostile force either by ship or on foot. {10}

The existence of Burgh Castle at the northern extremity of Lothingland is
also strong evidence that the detached portion of the mainland was no
more an island then than it is now.  Such a fortress would be absurdly
out of place to protect the country from an invader, if there was another
open water-way at Lowestoft through which he could enter.

From these and the other considerations to which I have called your
attention we may feel certain that the estuarine condition of the
interior had ceased to exist as long ago as the Roman period, and that
our marshland area was already in a condition of fen and bog, through
which the Yare, and the Waveney, and the Bure flowed in their present
channels to their joint outfall between Burgh and Caister, some thousand
years before any historic Norwich or Beccles existed.  The hill on which
Lowestoft was destined to rise in after ages, was probably often visited
by the Roman soldiers as they passed to and fro between their fortress at
Burgh and their camp in the interior, but no relics have as yet been
discovered bearing testimony to either Roman or British occupation of the
site of our town, though Roman coins have been found at Kirkley, and
Carlton and other places in our neighbourhood.


The most ancient record in which we find any mention of Lowestoft is
Domesday Book.  As this is the case with nearly every other town and
parish in England, Lowestoft is not behind other places in evidence of

But Lowestoft not only appears in Domesday as a parish and a village, but
it appears as a Royal manor—or at least as one of the numerous estates or
demesnes held by William the Conqueror, as his private property—as the
successor of Edward the Confessor and Canute.  On the strength of this
archæological distinction, the town in the time of Elizabeth and Charles
I., claimed the privileges of lands in ‘ancient demesne.’  These
privileges were that the town was excused from contributing to the
expenses of the members of Parliament for the county, and its inhabitants
were not to be called upon to go to Beccles or Bury as jurymen, but only
to their own Manor Courts at Corton.  The exercise of these privileges
has, I understand, been abandoned for some time, and we have condescended
to take part in the judicial and political system of the country like
other places.  What this ancient “demesne of the Crown” was we shall see
presently.  You have all, I doubt not, heard of Domesday Book, but you
will be able to appreciate better the value and meaning of the
information it gives us if I remind you shortly of its history.

In 1066 William won the Battle of Hastings, and on the strength of this
victory claimed England as its conqueror, and not merely as the chosen
successor of Edward.  As conqueror of the country the whole of England
was at his disposal, and he gave the lands of the Saxon (or according to
Mr. Freeman and Mr. Green, ‘English’) proprietors to his French
followers.  They made full use of the King’s grant, and in a few years
almost every Saxon landlord had disappeared, or if any remained, they
remained as tenants of small portions of their estates to the ownership
of which a Norman landlord had—as they called it—“succeeded.”  We are
told of one Norman Knight, who having fought for William at Hastings,
refused to take any share in this wholesale robbery.  He had done his
duty as a vassal in fighting for William, and he preferred to return to
Normandy and be contented with his own property there; not so though the

You must understand that the great change brought about by the conquest
was at first only a change of landlords, and involved no alteration in
the laws and customs by which property was held.  The parishes, the
manors, the farms, the occupying tenants, and the labourers on the
estates were not disturbed.  Even the live and dead stock on the farms
were all claimed by the new owners, and to a large extent actually got
possession of by them.

After this process of ousting the Saxon landlords had been going on for
some years—not, as you may suppose without a good deal of fighting and
cruelty—the country was becoming settled, and the King thought it time to
learn in whose possession its lands were, and what their estates were
worth.  So he appointed a commission of enquiry, to go through the whole
country and report to him the names of all the possessors of estates, and
what amount of land producing corn their estates contained, and what live
and dead stock, including the tenants belonging to each estate, were on
the land, and what each manor and estate was valued at.  The results of
this enquiry, which took some six years to complete, were put together by
clerks, and written out in as concise a manner as possible on
parchment—and so Domesday Book was formed.

As the commissioners had to ascertain so far as they could, what
differences had taken place in the ownership and occupation of land, and
in its condition and value, since the Conquest, Domesday Book, although
made some 20 years after England was under the Normans, gives us a
picture of the country as it was in later Saxon times, and it is from
this book that most of our knowledge of the condition of England in the
Saxon period is derived.


The map {13} represents the Hundred of Mutford and Lothingland (then
called the two half hundreds of Mutford and Lothingland) as it is now
divided into parishes.  Nearly all these parishes are mentioned in
Domesday under their present names (though of course not spelt precisely
in the same way).  Many, if not all, of them had probably existed under
the same name, and with much the same boundaries some 300 years before,
under the Saxon and Danish kings of East Anglia.  They appear in Domesday
as the known areas in which the estates reported upon were situated, but
the parishes themselves were not the subject of the survey, nor does the
term “parish” appear either in English or Latin.  The word “Villa” is
frequently used to denote these areas, just as “Town” was commonly used
as an equivalent for “parish” in much later times.  The book is written
in a sort of Latinised English, but the names of places retain the
vernacular form.  As they are spelt very differently in different
entries, Domesday is no authority for the correct spelling of any of our
parish names.  But the form they bear in Domesday throws much light on
their etymological origin.  To what extent the estates mentioned in
Domesday were contained in the parishes to which they are allocated is
doubtful.  In a few cases the several manors returned as being situated
in a particular parish would appear to require a larger area than the
parish now contains, but in nearly all cases the amount of land reported
upon as being under tillage in a parish is very much less than the land
now under cultivation.

In his history of the Norman Conquest Mr. Freeman says of
Domesday:—“Domesday teaches better than any other witness of those times
can teach us, that the England of the 11th century and the England of the
19th are one and the same thing.”  We will now see what it teaches us
about Lowestoft.


In the return of the King’s estates in the Half-hundred of Lothingland
(Ludingland as it was written) we have a rather long account of the
King’s Manor of Gorleston, which appears to have been the headquarters
from which the royal estates in Lothingland were administered for several
hundred years.  It states that “Gurth (Earl Gurth, the brother of Harold,
killed at the battle of Hastings) held Gorleston in King Edward’s time,
and after giving the details of his property in Gorleston,

    “There are 24 fishermen belonging to this manor at Gernemutha
    (Yarmouth) and a beruita (or subordinate manor) in Lothu Wistoft
    (Lowestoft). {14}  It contains four carucates.  In King Edward’s time
    there were five villani (bond tenants of the upper class)—now only
    three.  Both then and now there are ten cottage tenants.  Then there
    were five servi (slaves), now only three.  Then and now there are two
    ploughs employed on the demesne (the Kings own land).  In Edward’s
    time the tenants employed five ploughs on their land, now only three.
    There is woodland for eight pigs, and five acres of pasture.  In King
    Edward’s time there were thirteen geese, now only eight.  There were
    then and now ten pigs, and 150 sheep.”

We have here the account of a small estate, comprising some 400 or 500
acres of cultivated land, of which part was in demesne, and cultivated
for the King, and the rest was comprised in one or two large open fields,
which were divided into allotments, and cultivated by the tenants for
themselves, all of whom could have their little homesteads, and their
shares in the plough-oxen, and other live stock kept on the land.

This estate had not passed from the hands of the Saxon Earl Gurth to
those of William without disturbance.  Three of the villani and two
slaves had disappeared.  They had, perhaps, been in Earl Gurth’s army,
and had fallen with him at Hastings. Several acres of land had fallen out
of cultivation, and though the pigs and sheep had remained at the same
number, the geese were reduced from thirteen to eight.

Besides the King’s berwick there was a small manor in the parish called
Aketorp, belonging to a freeman named Aylmar, a priest, probably the
priest of the parish.  His name tells us that he was an Englishman, and
not one of the Conqueror’s Frenchmen.  His little property consisted of
80 acres, on which there were three cottage tenants.  One plough was used
on the demesne.  There were seven other tenants who had land requiring
half a plough.  (They must have had other means of supporting
themselves.)  There was wood for five pigs, and one acre of pasture.

Priest Aylmar had not been disturbed by the Conquest, and his little
property was in the same condition in 1085 as it was in 1066.  The rest
of the land in the parish would be common or waste land, over which the
cattle, sheep, and pigs of the lords and their tenants could roam and

So far as Domesday furnishes us with express authority, the population of
the parish in Edward’s time consisted of 31 different families.  But I
think that there may have been a few others—poor freemen—not belonging to
these estates, and not coming within the scope of the survey, who gained
a living partly by assisting the tenants in their agricultural work, and
partly as fishermen, having their boats on the shore or at Kirkley Haven,
which was quite alive at this time.  These men would be the earliest
representatives of the free population of the parish which was destined
in after times, when trade had sprung up, to form the main population of
the town of Lowestoft.

The church is not mentioned, but, as there was a resident priest, there
can be no reason to doubt that there was a parish church—probably a small
wooden building on the site of the present church.  Churches were more
numerous in Suffolk and Norfolk in Saxon times than in any other part of
England.  Several churches are mentioned in other parishes near,
apparently because they had some substantial amount of glebe land
belonging to them.


We shall understand somewhat better the picture which Domesday gives us
of Lowestoft if we take a glance at the accounts which it gives of some
other parishes in the immediate neighbourhood.

The parishes in Lothingland, in which the greatest number of estates are
returned are Somerleyton, Lound, and Belton.  I believe that these
parishes contain the best agricultural land in the district.  The church
in Somerleyton is mentioned as having 20 acres of glebe belonging to it,
but the parish priest—or parson as he was afterwards called—appears to
have possessed a small manor of 40 acres in addition.

Gunton is not mentioned in Domesday.  Corton appears as containing an
estate belonging to the Crown, of which no details are given, except that
it was valued at 20s.

The lost Newton is mentioned as a small estate of 30 acres, owned by a
freeman, and valued at 3s.  Newton existed for several hundred years as a
small hamlet to the north of Corton, but has been long since carried away
by the sea, except parts of one or two fields still left on the top of
the cliff.

In the Half-Hundred of Mutford, the parishes of Kessingland, Carlton, and
Mutford, appear as containing large villages, and several estates which
had passed from Saxon Thanes to Norman Barons.

In Mutford there were two churches, with lands belonging to them in
Rushmere, Kirkley, Pakefield, and Gisleham.  In the account of Pakefield
we hear that Earl Gurth possessed one mediety of the living, which was
divided between two Rectors up to the 17th century.  It is probable that
the prototype of the present double church was in existence then.


Domesday contains evidence of much interest in connection with the
history of our herring fishery, in the returns of herring rents from
farms in this neighbourhood.

One of the largest Norman landowners in these parts was Hugo de Montfort.
He appears to have been connected with the sea when in Normandy, for it
is said that he supplied William with 60 ships to carry his men over to
England.  Whether Hugo was very fond of herrings, or because he wished to
encourage the herring fishery we know not, but it appears that when he
had turned out the English landowner Burchard, and taken possession of
his farms, he not only raised the money rents, but he required many of
the tenants to supply him with herrings in addition.

In Kessingland he became the landlord of a small estate held by four
freeman, which had been valued at 10s., but from which Hugo demanded a
rent of 22,000 herrings. {17}

In Rushmere he had a farm which paid him as rent 700 herrings.

In Gisleham he had two small farms, from one of which he got 2s. 6d. and
200 herrings, and from the other 5s. and 300 herrings.

In Carlton he had one farm from which he got 3s. as rent and 400
herrings, and from another 5s. and 300 herrings.

In Kirkley he had a farm from which he got 3s. and 200 herrings.

He also got herring rents from farms in Worlingham, Weston, Wangford, and
some other places which I cannot identify.

This Norman Baron doubtless desired to encourage the herring fishery, and
so imposed these herring rents on his tenants who occupied farms near the
coast, where herrings could easily be obtained.  Had he possessed any
land in Lowestoft I have no doubt that we should read in Domesday of
herring rents being paid from this parish.  The large number demanded
from the four freemen in Kessingland is good evidence, I think, of the
herring fishery being carried on there at this time to a considerable
extent.  Kessingland was a large village at this time, with a haven in
the little river which now separates it from Benacre.  Although Domesday
makes no mention of any fishermen, or fishing trade, in the returns for
these parishes, the herring rents are conclusive evidence that herrings
were caught off this coast it large quantities at this time.  Sea-fishing
was probably carried on also by the inhabitants of Pakefield and Kirkley
at this time.

Kirkley does not appear to have ever been more than a small village,
although it gave its name to the Roads off this coast.

Carlton was a large and populous village at this time, and appears to
have been so from early Saxon times.  It is supposed that the name is
taken from the large number of “Ceorls,” or “Karls,”—as we should now say
“Working-class people”—who lived there.  Lake Lothing would furnish them
with an easy passage to and from the sea, and when landed at Carlton the
fish would be on the old Roman road leading to Beccles, Norwich, and
Bury.  Doubtless the herrings which Hugh de Montfort got from his farms
in this parish were caught by fishermen living there.  Fishing in small
boats, by what we should now call “longshore-men,” had probably been
carried on from these sea-side villages for hundreds of years before

But at this time the herring fishery had become established at Yarmouth,
and the celebrated Free Fair was already held there during the autumn
season.  In the account of Gorleston we have noticed that 24 men
belonging to that manor were said to be fishermen living away at
Yarmouth.  As there were as many as 70 burgesses in Yarmouth in the time
of King Edward, and the town paid a large rent to the king, we may be
quite safe in regarding Yarmouth as doing a large business in the herring
trade even in late Saxon times.


Although the returns from the different estates in our neighbourhood are
compiled on the same system in Domesday Book, they vary very much in
respect of the details given, particularly in respect of the live stock
on the manors and farms reported.  This is no more than what we should

The returns of the live stock which they possessed would give the
Conqueror very useful information as to the amount of taxation his
subjects could bear, and he could hardly expect to get many trust-worthy
returns on this head.  In the accounts of many of the manors they are
omitted entirely.  In the accounts of others the return of live stock is
very small in proportion to the size of the estate.  It is probable that
the stock owned by the tenants is omitted altogether.  Pigs must have
been the animals on which the lower class of tenants principally relied
for their meat, but the pigs in most of the returns are very few, only
eight on the King’s estate in Lowestoft.

In the account of a large manor at Mutford—to which 40 tenants
belonged—the return of live stock mentions 7 geese, 30 pigs, 30 goats,
and two hives of bees.

Some of the estates appear to have been very well stocked.  On the farm
of 40 acres belonging to the parish priest of Somerleyton, there was 1
horse, 4 cows, 5 pigs, and 33 sheep—besides the plough cattle.  On the
King’s farm in Lound, which was not half the size of his Lowestoft
estate, there were 50 pigs.

On a farm of 40 acres in Belton there was 1 horse, 2 geese, 7 pigs, 30
sheep, and 3 goats.

In addition to these animals the owners of these estates had draught oxen
for ploughing.

It would appear that the produce of the arable land was nearly all
required for feeding its human occupants, and that the geese and the pigs
and other animals would be limited to such numbers as could find food for
themselves in the woods and wild land which was common to the lords and
tenants of each manor.

These returns of live stock, although they would have been very valuable
to the Conqueror and ourselves, if they were complete and trustworthy,
are so manifestly defective and irregularly made in most cases, that they
furnish very unsatisfactory materials for forming an idea of the general
condition of the peasantry.  But as we know that all the tenants of a
manor—even the lowest class of bondmen—occupied some land for the
maintenance of themselves and their families, with rights of pasturage on
the common lands, probably most had some cattle and pigs of their own,
and were well provided with the necessaries of life.

The country must have been in a stationary condition for hundreds of
years in the Saxon period owing to the entire absence of trade, and the
almost entire absence of money.  The silver penny was the only coin in
circulation, and indeed for some two centuries after.

With little or no opportunities for selling the produce of their estates,
the landowners had little reason to improve them, nor could they increase
their land under tillage without interfering with the rights of their
tenants on the waste land.  The system of serfdom, moreover, whilst it
secured a living to a large number of people, bound them and their
children to the estates on which they held their land, and must have
tended to deprive a large part of the population of the country of any
stimulus to enterprise or self improvement.


It appears from Mr. Turner’s computation of the different classes forming
the population of Suffolk, as shown in Domesday, that some 10,000 out of
the 22,000 were in the condition of serfs, bound to some manor, either as
small tenant farmers paying rent as well as services for their land, or
as cottage tenants working on the demesne, or as mere slaves or thralls,
the absolute property of the lords. {21}  I will not take you further
into this obscure and complicated question than to say that the bondage
of the greater part of the Anglo-Saxon peasantry implied little more than
that they were bound to remain on the estate to perform the services for
which they held their land.  These services were fixed as strictly as a
money rent would be, and left them plenty of time for working on their
own land, while the law provided various means by which they could obtain
freedom for themselves and their children.  The Church—at all events the
parish clergy—always used their influence to obtain the freedom of the
lowest and most servile class.  We read of a case where an hereditary
serf was holding the high position of bailiff of a large manor.  Turner

    “It is mentioned in the laws as an incentive to proper actions that
    through God’s gift a servile thrall may become a thane, and a cœorl
    an Earl, just as a singer may become a priest and a writer a bishop.”
    In the time of Ethelstane it is expressly declared that “if a cœorl
    have a full proprietorship of five hides of land, a church, and a
    kitchen, a bell house and a burghate seat, and an appropriate office
    in the King’s hall, he shall thenceforth be a thane by right”

The opportunities, however, which the condition of society in Saxon times
offered for a serf to rise from the lowest to the highest ranks must have
been very few.  In these days trade and the professions furnish such a
ladder, but in Saxon times there was no profession but the church, whose
members sometimes found remunerative employment as clerks, or by devoting
themselves to religious duties rose to the highest offices.  The only
trades in Saxon times were those of the handicraftsmen, and, except in
London and a few other towns, these would be confined to the blacksmith
and a few such craftsmen as were indispensable to the smallest
agricultural community.


Among the few literary productions of the Anglo Saxons which have been
preserved, we find descriptions of the more common trades given in the
form of dialogues.  I take the following from Mr. Turner’s work.  The
shoemaker (sceowerhta) thus describes his trade:—

    “My craft is very necessary to you.  I buy hides and skins and
    prepare them by art, and make of them shoes of various kinds, and
    none of you can winter without my craft.  I make ankle leathers,
    shoes, and leather hose; bridle thongs, trappings, neck pieces, and
    halters; bottles, flasks, boiling vessels, wallets and pouches.”

So the Saxon shoemaker was a much more accomplished man than the
shoemaker of the present day, for he combined the arts of the tanner, the
currier, and the harness maker with that of shoemaking.  The smith says:—

    “Whence the share of the ploughman or the goad? but from my art.

    “Whence to the fisherman his angle? or to the shoe maker his awl? or
    to the sempstress her needle but from my art?”

In Hereford there are six smiths mentioned in Domesday.

They paid a penny a year rent for their forges, and had to make up 120
pieces of iron for the king from the metal supplied them.  He must have
been a very skilful blacksmith who could turn out such different ironwork
as ploughshares and needles and fishhooks.  A very important tradesman
was the miller.  Mills were a much valued property, and are always
mentioned in the Domesday returns.


What foreign trade was in Saxon time appears from the account which the
merchant gives of his business—

    “I say that I am useful to the king, and to ealdermen, and to the
    rich, and to the people.  I ascend my ship with my merchandise, and
    sail over the sealike places, and sell my things, and buy dear things
    which are not produced in this land, and I bring them to you here
    with the great danger of the sea, and sometimes I suffer shipwreck,
    with the loss of all my things, scarcely escaping myself.  What do
    you bring to us?—Skins, silks, costly gums and gold, various
    garments, pigment, wine, oil, ivory, orichalcus, copper, tin, silver,
    glass, and such like.  Will you sell your things here as you brought
    them there?—I will not, because what would my labour benefit me?  I
    will sell them here dearer than I bought them there that I may have
    some profit to feed me and my wife and children.”

So you see the Saxon merchant was an enterprising skipper, who owned his
ship, and having filled it with a cargo of English produce, took it over
to some foreign port and exchanged it for a cargo of foreign goods, of
all sorts and kinds, which he brought back and sold at a high price in


We have a sketch of a fisherman of the Saxon period, drawn by no less a
personage than Alfric, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was living in the
11th century and was the wisest man of his time, according to the Saxon
chronicle.  He wrote some colloquies for his pupils to turn into Latin.
One of them treats of the fisherman:—

    “What gettest thou by thy art?—Big loaves, clothing, and money.  How
    do you take fish?—I ascend my ship, and cast my net into the river; I
    also take a hook, a bait, and a rod.  Suppose the fishes are
    unclean?—I throw the unclean out, and take the clean for food.  Where
    do you sell your fish?—In the city.  Who buys them?—The citizens; I
    cannot take so many as I can sell.  What fishes do you take?—Eels,
    haddocks, minnows, eel-pouts, skate, and lampreys, and whatever swims
    in the river.  (The Archbishop rather mixed his fresh-water and
    saltwater fish).  Why do you not fish in the sea?—Sometimes I do, but
    rarely because a great ship is necessary there.  What do you take in
    the sea?—Herrings, salmon, porpoises, sturgeons, oysters, crabs,
    muscles, winkles, cockles, flounder, plaices, lobsters, and such
    like.  Can you take a whale?—No, it is dangerous to take a whale; it
    is safer for me to go to the river with my ship than to go with many
    ships to hunt whales.  Why?—Because it is more pleasant to me to take
    fish which I can kill with one blow.  Yet many take whales without
    danger, and then they get a great price, but I dare not for the
    fearfulness of my mind.”

These whale catchers were Norwegians and Danes, who, when they were not
raiding in England, employed themselves in whale fishing off the
Norwegian Coast.


But these Anglo-Danes of East Anglia were our ancestors.  They lived in
the same villages, and tilled the same land as the peasantry of the
present day, and many of our country parishes must have been in Saxon
times very much what they are now, in which the squire and the parson
fill the places of the thane and the parish priest and a few farmers
holding land under the squire, and agricultural labourers, enough and no
more, than are required to cultivate the land, with perhaps a village
blacksmith and shoemaker, complete the roll of the resident population.
The intellectual condition of our ancestors must have been very low.  Mr.
Turner describes it as the “twilight of mind,” and he says there is a
great similarity in their poetry to that of the natives of New Zealand.
Even the thanes and magnates of the land were, with a very few
exceptions, entirely uneducated, and if they had learnt to read there
would have been few books from which they could have got any knowledge.
King Alfred was one of the few who could read in his time.  With the
upper classes in such a barbarous condition no wonder we are told that
gross excess in eating and drinking was their characteristic failing.
Even the great and good Alfred is said to have destroyed his constitution
by having to take part in banqueting for several days and nights in
celebration of his wedding.  The prevalence of this low vice may be to a
great extent attributed to the want of any means by which the produce of
their farms could be made a better use of.  It was not until trade sprung
up that they could sell their surplus produce and spend the proceeds in
the purchase of things which would lead to a higher and more civilised
standard of living.  But during the whole of the Saxon period the
monotonous routine of their agricultural occupations was only varied by
war, which was frequent enough; and as war in those days was always
accompanied by devastation and slaughter, the slow progress of our Saxon
fore-fathers in wealth and civilisation is easily accounted for, and we
can well understand how it was that this fertile country was only
partially cultivated when the Normans came over, and how it was that the
Conqueror found his property in “Lothuwistoft” in such a backward state.

Such was Lowestoft in its infancy—a small agricultural village of less
importance than Carlton or Mutford or Kessingland.  We shall now lose
sight of her for some 300 years.  When she again appears in the records
of the past she will appear as a town of some importance to the country,
and as a rival of Yarmouth in the herring trade.


In conclusion, I will say a few words about the name.  In the facsimile
copy of Domesday it is Lothu Wistoft.  In the grant of the privileges of
“Ancient Demesne” by Elizabeth, which recites a certificate from Chancery
that the parish was in demesne of the Crown in the time of William the
Conqueror the name is spelt “Lothn-wistoft.”  Either spelling affords
good evidence of the origin of the word, and leaves little room for
doubting its etymology.  Lothu-wistoft or Lothn-wistoft was the “toft” by
Loth-wis or Lothen-wis, or Lothing-wis, “wis” being the same word as
“ouse,” a word used in Saxon times as an equivalent for “lake,” as in
Wisbech, stagnant or slow moving water, as distinguished from a quick
running river.  The place was probably at first only called “toft,” a
very common word in Saxon times, denoting a small homestead, and not
uncommonly found in existing names—as “Toft Monks,” “Stowlangtoft,” &c.
“Loth-wis” or “Lothn-wis” was equivalent to “Lothing Lake,” the piece of
water which played the important part of separating Lothing, or
Lothingland, from the rest of the county of Suffolk.  The abbreviation of
this long word into a shorter form was inevitable, and as early as 1327
we find it appearing in the Subsidy Rolls as “Lowystofth.”  The forms it
took after this time are multitudinous, but the later abbreviations and
corruptions, due to vulgar pronunciations and bad spelling, are no guide
whatever to its original etymology Lothing or Lothingland, Lothingaland,
Loddingland, Luddingland—was the “ing” or property of Loth, Lod, or Lud,
probably a Danish captain, to whom this district was given by the Danish
conquerors of East Anglia after it had been settled in townships by the
Angles (compare Kessingland, &c.)






Lowestoft lies hid in oblivion for some 300 years after her appearance in
Domesday.  During this time great changes had taken place in the country
at large as well as in Lowestoft.  A new regime had been established,
under which Saxon and Angle, Dane and Norman, had been welded into one
nation, and laws and institutions were in force, which are familiar
features in our present legal and political system.  Although still 500
years from the present time, England, in Edward III.’s reign, was much
more like the England of to-day than the country described in Domesday.
Foreign trade had sprung up.  Wheat and wool were grown in large
quantities and exported from Yarmouth and other ports.  The penny was no
longer the only silver coin, and gold coins of several different sizes
and values were in circulation.  Last, and not least, the herring fishery
was being carried on to a very large extent on this coast, and was an
object of national and international importance.

It is in the middle of Edward III.’s reign that Lowestoft appears for the
second time in our national records.  But she is no longer the
insignificant agricultural village of Domesday.  She is evidently a
rising little town, in the modern sense of the word, carrying on a sea
trade of some importance in fish and other light merchandise.  She had
ceased for some years to be “Royal demesne,” and was now the property of
the King’s cousin—John, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond—to whom the
manor of Gorleston and the rest of the Royal estates in this
neighbourhood had been given by the King’s grandfather, Edward I.

It was at this time that she was brought into prominence by a long
Parliamentary contest with Yarmouth about the right to buy and land
herrings at Lowestoft from foreign and west country fishermen anchored in
the roads opposite her shore, then called Kirkley Road.

That you may understand the full import of the circumstances which
brought about this contest with Yarmouth we must take a glance at the
history of that town up to that period.


The origin of Yarmouth is unique; the bar of a wide Estuary, a sandbank
in the sea, seized upon for human habitation before even nature herself
had trusted it with any vegetation beyond a few patches of marram grass
to bind the sand together.

Who the bold fishermen were—whether Angles or Danes (probably Danes) who
first dared to build cottages on such a site we know not, nor when the
occupation of this sandbank first began.  The name of the “Cerdick Sands”
which the Saxons had given it, implies that it was well above water in
the earliest part of the Saxon period, whether Cerdick did or not pay his
traditionary visit to this spot.  It must have been in that condition
several years before the time of Edward the Confessor, when, as we have
already learnt from Domesday, Yarmouth was a town of some wealth and
importance.  The following well approved tradition of the origin of
Yarmouth is given by an old writer (Jeakes) in his History of the Cinque

    “Beside the staple trade of these towns (the Cinque Ports) consisting
    much in fishing, not only of fresh fish at home, but of herring every
    year in the season thereof at Yarmouth, where bringing them ashore in
    the sale and delivery among the multitude, divers differences and
    stirs arose for want of a settled order in that town, or as tradition
    still reports, before there was any town or any show of a town than
    some huts and cabins set up near the waterside like the booths and
    huts in a fair; and that during the time of the herring fair there
    the Ports were forced to agree and join together yearly to elect and
    send thither their Bailiffs to abide there during the herring season
    allowing them a certain sum for their expenses.”

The rapid growth of Yarmouth from a few fishermen’s “huts and cabins” to
one of the most important and populous sea ports in the country was
evidently due to her great natural advantages.  She possessed a large and
deep harbour, with a long natural quay, the inside face of the sandbank.
Her position commanded the entrance to four rivers which were navigable
by light craft for many miles into Norfolk and Suffolk.  Last but not
least the town was most conveniently situated as a rendezvous for
fishermen coming from the Cinque ports, and other places in the South of
England, as well as from France and Holland to take part in the autumnal
herring harvest.

From William the Conqueror downwards our Kings were well aware of the
importance of Yarmouth, for the defence of the East Coast, and of the
value of the herring fishery.  Charters and ordinances were issued to
regulate the autumnal Herring Fair, and to insure its being conducted on
strictly free-trade principles, while the Yarmouth merchants made good
use of their position as the seat of the trade, and produced in a few
years a fleet of ships and sailors, which in Edward the III.’s time was
able to take a leading part in our naval history.

We first hear of Yarmouth’s naval exploits in her quarrels with the
Cinque Ports.  After Yarmouth had obtained “Home Rule” under the charter
of King John, she resented being any longer nursed by the Barons of the
Cinque Ports, in the management of the autumnal Herring Fair, and she
grudged the rights given to the western fishermen to use her harbour and
her denes during the season for their own advantage.

In times when it was a common practice for Parliament and the Crown to
give special privileges to towns or other bodies, without providing any
adequate means for securing their enjoyment, the practice of taking the
law into your own hands, which is proverbially a mistake in these days,
was the only means by which the possessors of privileges could maintain
them, and accordingly we find Yarmouth and the Cinque ports repeatedly
engaged in what can only be described as naval wars, arising from some
conflict in the provisions of their respective charters.

In 1281 Yarmouth was fined £1,000 for doing divers trespasses and damages
to the Cinque Ports upon the south coast as far as Shoreham, Portsmouth
and other places.

In 1303 we find Yarmouth sending ships to join the Royal fleet which was
to escort Edward I. to Flanders.  Having put the King ashore the Yarmouth
and the Cinque Ports men, being well equipped for fight take the
opportunity of paying off old scores by engaging in a furious battle in
which 25 Yarmouth ships were burnt.  According to another account 37
Yarmouth ships were greatly damaged and £15,000 worth of loss inflicted.

We have other evidence of Yarmouth’s naval power in the reign of Edward
III.  In 1337 Yarmouth supplies Edward III. with 20 “men of war” (as they
were called) to carry the King’s ambassadors to Hainault.  On their
return they did a little privateering business on their own account and
took two Flemish ships laden with provisions for Scotland, and killed the
Bishop of Glasgow who was unfortunately on board one of them.

In 1340 Yarmouth contributed 52 ships to the Fleet with which Edward won
the battle of the Swin against France off Sluys in Holland.  The admiral
of this fleet was John Perebrown, a Yarmouth man, whose name appears some
15 times in the lists of Bailiffs.  Edward was particularly proud of this
victory.  He had a new gold coinage issued to commemorate it, the first
nobles struck, bearing an effigy of himself sitting in the middle of a
ship, with a shield on his left arm bearing the arms of England and

In 1342 Edward came himself to Yarmouth and sailed with a fleet of 20
Yarmouth ships to the coast of Brittany, where he was engaged in laying
siege to the town of Vannes.  Having landed the king the Yarmouth ships
are attacked by the French fleet, and being worsted (doubtless by a
superior force) they take to flight leaving the king in the lurch.  The
king having managed, with the assistance of the Pope, to make a truce
with France, comes home and at once summons all the owners as well as the
captains and the crews of the Yarmouth ships to “answer for their
contemptibly deserting him, leaving other our faithful subjects there
with us in danger of our lives.”

The names of the ships and of all their owners and captains, are entered
in the Kings’ writ of summons {31} and they are required to attend with
all the sailors at Westminster.  We do not hear of their being punished.
They probably were able to satisfy the King that on this occasion
discretion was the better part of valour, and we find them fighting for
the King again 5 years afterwards.  This was in 1347 when he was engaged
in the celebrated siege of Calais.

On this occasion Yarmouth contributed no less than 43 ships to the Royal
fleet and 1075 mariners, a larger number of ships and men than even
London supplied.

The importance of Yarmouth at this time and the magnitude of it’s fleet
relative to that of other towns is shown by the fact that the total
number of ships which the Cinque Ports themselves were required to supply
was 57.

According to a statement in the petition of the town to Henry VII.,
Yarmouth had at this time 80 ships with forestages and 170 ships without.
The larger ships were apparently about the size of a 100 ton ship of the
present day.

These records are interesting in themselves, and are important episodes
in our national history.  I have quoted them for the purpose of showing
the magnitude and importance of Yarmouth at this time.  A town which
could fit out 43 ships for the King’s Navy and man them with 1075 sailors
at their own cost, (for the King only paid for the maintenance of the
sailors while in his service), must have been both wealthy and populous.
She had acquired her wealth and naval power almost entirely from the
herring fishery, and from the large extent to which her own population
was engaged in it.  But the trade carried on by her merchants during the
autumn season with the fish catchers and fish buyers from other towns at
home and abroad contributed largely to the wealth of the town.  It
appears from a return which has been preserved of the amount taken for
the murage tax, (a small charge on ships and merchandise added to the
harbour dues towards the expense of building the town wall) that the
amount received in the year 1343 during the weeks comprising the herring
season was £54 6s. out of a total sum of £66 7s. 11d. collected during
the twelve months.  The entries show the large number of foreign vessels
coming to the Autumn Fair.  In five days in September in this year, 60
foreign ships entered the harbour, of which 10 were from Lombardy. {32}


It was when Yarmouth was in the height of her prosperity, and the herring
trade becoming more and more valuable owing to the superstitious
importance attached to the rules as to fasting, that she was destined to
suffer a ruinous collapse from which she did not recover for several
centuries, and which deprived her for ever of the position of eminence as
a naval town which she had held during the first half of the 14th
century.  The main cause of her fall was the loss within the space of a
few months of more than half her population from the terrible epidemic
known as the Black Plague.  Great as was the destruction of life from
this fell disease in other towns and parishes in the country, there could
have been no town where the destruction of life was greater and the
consequent impoverishment more felt.  Probably no town in England was
more favourably conditioned for the work of the destroyer.  A large
population of poor fishermen and sailors were crowded together in small
hovels, closely packed within the walls, in double rows, separated by
narrow alleys of six feet or less in breadth.  This arrangement had
evidently been adopted by the first occupants of the storm-swept sandbank
for convenience and warmth.  But it was an arrangement terribly conducive
to the rapid spread of any infectious disease which had once gained a
footing in the town.

In that year (1349), according to the account given a hundred and fifty
years afterwards by the town’s people themselves in a petition to Henry
VII., more than half the population, including many of its leading
merchants fell victims to the disease.

    “In the 31st (sic) year of the reign of King Edward the 3rd by a
    great visitation of Almighty God there was so great death of people
    within the same towne that there was buried in the parish church and
    church yard of the said towne in one year 7052 men, by reason whereof
    the most part of the dwelling places and the inhabitations of the
    said towne stode desolate, and fell into utter ruin and decay, which
    at this day are gardens and void grounds as evidently appeareth.”

Whatever may have been the exact population of Yarmouth at the time of
this terrible visitation (it could not have been more than 10 or 12,000)
it must have been a very different town after 1350 to what it was in the
first half of the century, and although the merchants might retain their
hold upon the herring trade, the loss of so large a part of the fishing
population must have made them much more dependant upon their visitors
for the supply of fish in the autumn season than before.


But the loss of fishermen was not the only affliction from which Yarmouth
was to suffer.  The continuance of her trade and even of her very
existence was in peril from the blocking up of her harbour.  During the
whole period during which the town was itself growing, from the time of
the Conquest to that of which we are now treating, the sandbank on which
it was built was being gradually extended southwards, enclosing the
river, and carrying its mouth further and further South, until at the
beginning of the 14th century the mouth of the Yarmouth Harbour was
opposite the Gunton Denes and within a mile of Lowestoft.  In a few more
years the mouth of the Yare would have been at Lowestoft, and Lowestoft
would have occupied a more favourable position for the trade of the Yare
than Yarmouth itself.  Lowestoft had already taken advantage of the
opportunities which the nearness of the Harbour mouth gave her of getting
a share in the herring trade.  The sea opposite her shore then called
“Kirkley Road” offered the same resting place for wind-bound ships as it
does now, and as the mouth of the Haven was always in the condition of
being more or less blocked with sand, it only needed a little enterprise
on the part of Lowestoft people to get fishing boats bound for Yarmouth
to discharge their herrings on the Gunton denes, rather than incur the
certain loss of time in waiting for the tide to carry them up to Yarmouth
quay, and the danger of being wrecked at the harbour mouth.

In the early part of the century, when Yarmouth was in her most
flourishing condition, she had both men and money, and she had undertaken
the first of her numerous efforts to remedy this chronic trouble by
cutting out a new mouth for her harbour.  This mouth, which was on the
north side of Corton, was kept open for some 26 years.

Although during this time the herring trade carried on by Yarmouth, with
its harbour and Free Fair, was out of all proportion to that of the
seaside villages in its neighbourhood, it is evident that Lowestoft and
Winterton, and perhaps some of the other villages, had taken part in the
international trade of the autumn season, besides catching herrings in
their own boats.

The rules as to fasting during Lent, as well as on Fridays and Saturdays
in every week during the year, which were strictly enforced at this time
by a powerful Church, had rendered the east coast herring trade a matter
of national importance.  The ability to purchase red herrings for lenten
fare was a necessity for the salvation, not only of the lives, but of the
souls of the people.  Even our soldiers when engaged in war had to
observe the rules as to fasting.  In 1358 we hear of 50 lasts of herring
being shipped at Portsmouth for the use of the army in France.  In 1429
Sir John Fastolf was serving in the Duke of Bedford’s army at the siege
of Orleans.  Sir John was himself of an old Yarmouth family.  Several
members of his family were on the lists of bailiffs for the previous
century, and he is said to have had a house in Yarmouth as well as his
Castle at Caister near by.  His connection with Yarmouth probably enabled
him to procure a supply of herrings for the army not altogether without
profit to himself.  At all events on Ash-Wednesday, 1429, he had charge
of a train of 500 wagons of herrings on its way from Paris to Orleans.
He was attacked by a large force of French at a village near Orleans.  He
had recourse to the tactics we have so often heard of lately in our wars
in South Africa.  He formed his wagons into laager, and from behind these
defences the English Archers shot their arrows with such deadly effect,
that they drove the enemy off with great slaughter, and Sir John got his
herrings safely into camp.  This was the Battle of Herrings, one of the
most celebrated victories in the French wars.

In order to secure an abundant provision of herrings at a cheap price,
the Parliament of 1357 passed the well known Statute of Herrings, which
was aimed particularly at securing the conduct of the Free Fair, and of
the Yarmouth herring trade, in the interests of the country at large.  It
is evident from the preamble to this statute that it was aimed directly
against the practice of the Yarmouth merchants “forestalling” the Fair by
buying their herrings from the ships which anchored in the roads outside
the harbour mouth.

In order to prevent the Yarmouth merchants supplying themselves by this
means to the disadvantage of the general purchaser at the Fair, the
statute enacts that the fishers after having supplied the “London Pykers”
(a special exception in favour of London)—

    “Shall bring all the remnant of their herring to the said fair to
    sell there, so that none shall sell herring in any place about the
    haven of Great Yarmouth by seven “Leues” (Leucæ or Leagues) unless it
    be herring of their own catching.”

This prohibition against “forestalling” the Fair, although aimed directly
against the Yarmouth merchants themselves, evidently applied equally to
all persons coming from Lowestoft, or any other place, to buy herrings
from ships in Kirkley Road.  It was not, however, the intention of
Parliament at this time to give any monopoly to Yarmouth; and within two
years after the passing of this statute, we find that an ordinance was
issued expressly exempting Lowestoft and Winterton from this prohibition.

This ordinance enacted that—

    “If the fishers be in free will to sell their herrings in the said
    road after they be anchored there, it shall be lawful for the
    merchants of Lowestoft and Winterton to buy herrings of the fishers,
    as free as the London pycards, to serve their carts and horses that
    come thither from other countries, and to hang there.”

This would appear to be the earliest record in which Lowestoft appears,
since Domesday, which furnishes any evidence of her having risen from the
humble status she occupied at that time.

Although this notice of Lowestoft does not imply that Lowestoft in 1359
was a larger place than Winterton then was, it shows very clearly that a
trade in herrings, at all events during the Autumnal season, had been
established here, and that it was considered of sufficient importance to
deserve a special ordinance permitting its continuance, notwithstanding
the statute of Herrings.  It also tells us what the system of trade at
Lowestoft was at this time.  Lowestoft men went out to the foreign and
other fishing boats when anchored in the roads, and bought and landed
herrings on the Denes.  Here they were sold to the “peddlers” or
travelling fish merchants, who, having loaded their pack horses and their
carts, started off homewards, to sell their fish as fresh as possible in
distant inland towns.

The last words of the proviso “and to hang there” clearly authorised the
Lowestoft merchants not only to buy fish for resale, but to supply
themselves with herrings for hanging in their own fish houses.


The free trade policy of the Statute of Herrings had not the desired
effect of reducing the price of herrings, and the condition of Yarmouth
was getting worst.  Her haven was again becoming unnavigable, and
merchants were leaving the town.  On the cliff, a mile south of the mouth
of the harbour, the little town of Lowestoft was growing up, and
beginning to take an important share in the trade on which Yarmouth
depended for her existence.  It was under these circumstances that
Yarmouth petitioned the King to giant her a charter which could protect
her trade against the competition of Lowestoft, and mitigate the evil
caused by the blocking up of the mouth of her harbour.

Edward III. had every reason to befriend Yarmouth, and to prevent the
ruin of an important naval town.  So in 1371 he issued a Commission to
enquire how far the charter demanded by Yarmouth would be advantageous or
disadvantageous to the country.  The Commission reported in favour of the
grant, and in 1373 the charter was granted which was to put the towns of
Yarmouth and Lowestoft at loggerheads for some 300 years, and involve
them in bouts of costly litigation.

The effect of the charter was to give Yarmouth two strings to her bow
against Lowestoft.

(1)  It annexed to Yarmouth the “place in the high seas called Kirkley
Road” _i.e._ the whole of the roads along the coast from Pakefield to the
mouth of Yarmouth harbour, wherever that might happen to be, and gave the
Yarmouth Bailiffs the right of taking the same tolls from ships
discharging cargo in any part of these roads, which they were empowered
to take from ships inside the harbour.

(2)  It prohibited the buying and selling of herrings during the time of
the Autumnal fair at any place on sea or land, within “7 leucæ” of the
town of Great Yarmouth, except at the town itself, and gave the Bailiffs
authority to seize any ship &c. from which any herrings were sold in
contravention of the charter.

As it was stated in the report of the Commission, on which this charter
was granted, that Lowestoft was 5 “leucæ” from Yarmouth, it is clear that
it was intended to include Lowestoft in the prohibition.  It is also
clear than the word “leuca” was used to denote a distance of nearly two
miles.  There was no legally established measure of distance at this
time.  Our statute mile was not established until 200 years afterwards,
in Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

That the Yarmouth merchants had some reason to desire the protection of
their trade against the competition of Lowestoft, is shown by a statement
in a letter of complaint written from Yarmouth to the Barons of the
Cinque Ports some years afterwards, in which they are blamed for not
enforcing the observance of the charter by their own fishermen, and
requiring them to take their fish to Yarmouth, “for if they can deliver
at Lowestoft, they will bring very few or none to us.” {39}

Such being the intention of the Charter you will not be surprised to
learn that it met with strenuous opposition from Lowestoft.


When the foreign and west country fishing boats appeared in the Roads in
the autumn, and the Lowestoft men went out, as usual, with their boats to
buy herring from the ships at anchor off the denes, officers appeared
from Yarmouth armed with authority from the Bailiffs, to enforce the new
law, and to seize any ships selling or discharging herrings in
contravention of their charter.  They found a large number of Lowestoft
men purchasing herrings from ships within the prohibited area, but
instead of attempting to seize the ships, which was their proper remedy
under the charter, they took the more prudent course of prosecuting the
buyers, and some 25 Lowestoft men were summoned before the Yarmouth
Bailiffs.  They met the indictment brought against them by an appeal, and
it was removed by writ of certiorari to the King’s court in Westminster
Hall.  The indictment states, after reciting the charter,—

    “That on Friday next after the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist (18th
    October) John Botild of Lowestoft bought of John Trampt of Ostend, an
    alien, in the said place called Kirkley Road, which is within the 7
    leuks, twenty-five lasts of new herring (value 50 pounds.) and the
    said alien took his boat, (value 20 shilling) out of the ship, and in
    the night elongated himself (i.e. ran away) to his own proper house,
    and hauled the boat ashore, so that the said bailiffs could not touch
    the said herring, nor the boat, nor the ship, to arrest them, because
    the aforesaid alien had by the advice of the said John Botild
    elongated himself, nor could they thence by any means answer it as a
    forteiture to the Lord the King.”

The defence of the Lowestoft men was that the prohibited area only
extended as far as a place called “Stampard” (the Stanford channel?)
construing the term “leuca”, as equivalent to “mile,” (which was the
construction afterwards put upon it); and that the ships from which they
bought herrings were lying beyond this distance.  The trial of the appeal
came on before the King at Westminster Hall in the Spring term of 1374,
but was adjourned for further hearing; a proceeding caused probably by
the congested state of business in the Law Courts, an inconvenience to
suitors not unknown even at the present time.  What the end of the case
was we are not informed, but it evidently went against Lowestoft.
Meanwhile the Lowestoft people had appealed to another power.  In 1376
they presented a petition to Parliament for the repeal of the obnoxious


Their petition was supported by another from the Commons of the counties
of Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, Northampton, Bedford,
Bucks, Leicester and other counties.  Such was the importance to the
country of our growing town at the end of 14th century!!

Parliament made very short work of the business, and the King was
compelled to withdraw his charter.  This he did in the following somewhat
ungracious terms—

    “Edward by the grace of God, King of England &c.  Know ye that we,
    the liberties and privileges of the Burgesses and good men of the
    town of Great Yarmouth lately so by us given and granted, _at the
    suit and voluntary clamour of certain people_ alleging that those
    privileges and liberties have been and are contrary to the profit of
    the republic, and to us and our people prejudicial and hurtful, in
    our Parliament holden at Westminister, &c. have revoked and totally
    made void.”

It is a curious coincidence which adds much to the interest of our story,
that this petition from our old townspeople was one of the several
hundred introduced in this Parliament, which is known in history as the
“Good Parliament” owing to the number of popular measures which were
passed by it.  The popular Prince of Wales, Edward the Black Prince, was
still living, and the Commons had his support against the Crown party led
by his uncle, John of Gaunt.

In the following year (1377) the old King dies, and Richard II., then a
boy of 11, becomes our ruler.  Yarmouth lost no time in taking advantage
of the opportunity which the succession of a new government offered for
re-opening the question.  She succeeded in getting another Commission of
enquiry which apparently confined its labours to hearing the Yarmouth
case.  Without hearing Lowestoft, they reported that Yarmouth was a
“walled town capable of resisting the King’s enemies,” but that Lowestoft
was, “not inclosed and was incapable of defence.”  They accordingly
advised that Edward’s charter should be regranted.

The following Parliament (1378) was not held at Westminster as usual.
The popular Prince of Wales was dead; and John of Gaunt and the Crown
party were having their own way.  It appears that he had got into bad
relations with the citizens of London owing to the killing of a knight at
Westminster by his retainers, and he thought it safer under the
circumstances that the Commons should not be invited to meet there; so he
got the King to summon his Parliament to meet at Gloucester.  At such a
distance the Commons of the Eastern Counties were not likely to attend in
their full numbers; nor were those who did sit in this Parliament allowed
to take the influential part in its proceedings which they had taken in
the previous parliament.  From these or other causes the Crown party had
their own way, and Yarmouth got its charter regranted and confirmed.


The task was then imposed upon the under sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk
of proclaiming the obnoxious law at Lowestoft.  How it was received
appears from the sheriffs account of the riot which took place on the
occasion, for which May day seems to have been selected, on account
doubtless of it’s being a holiday, when his majesty’s liege subjects of
Lowestoft would be able all to attend and listen to the royal

    “On which day the aforesaid under sheriff at Lowestoft attended to
    proclaim the aforesaid liberties and he openly shewed the letters
    patent of the Lord the King on that account, when there came Martin
    Terry, Stephen Shelford.  Henry Freeborn, and Emma his wife, John
    Spencer, and Alice his wife, &c. &c. with a great company of men and
    women of the town aforesaid of whose names they are ignorant by the
    abetment and procurement of William Hannell, John Blower, Thomas de
    Wade, Richard Skinner, William Large &c., and violently resisted and
    hindered him, some saying to the sheriff they would not suffer him to
    depart, others forcing his letters from him and saying (among other
    language used on the occasion which is unfortunately or perhaps
    fortunately obliterated)—that if he dared any more to come for any
    execution of the Lord the King he should not escape.  So that for
    fear of death he durst not execute the writ aforesaid, and they drove
    him then and there with a multitude of rioters, with hue and cry out
    of the town, casting stones at the head of his men and servants to
    the pernicious example and contempt of the Lord the King and against
    his peace.”

What does loyal Lowestoft think of this behaviour of their old town’s
people, in almost the first scene in which they appear in the stage of
history!!  It is evident from this story that there were two classes
represented in this riot, a large number of people men and women, who
took an active part in it, and several leading persons, the merchants
probably of the period, who “procured and abetted” them.

The treatment which the king’s proclamation and the under-sheriff met
with at Lowestoft, was duly inquired into by the sheriff, but we are not
informed of the punishment enforced upon the rioters.  The Lowestoft
people, however, lost no time in making another appeal for the assistance
of the Commons.  On this occasion they were supported by the Commons of
the county of Norfolk, as well as by those of Suffolk.


Another commission of enquiry was appointed in 1380 under the presidency
of the Chief Justice Tresilian, who sat with his colleagues, representing
Lowestoft and Yarmouth, one day at Norwich and on the second at
Lowestoft, and heard evidence on behalf of each town.  This Commission
reported in favour of Lowestoft, and in the following year the
Parliament, sitting at Westminster, repealed the grant, and the young
king was compelled to follow the course taken by his grandfather, and
declared his charter to be “revoked and utterly made void” (1381).

Yarmouth however had too much confidence in her claim on the Crown to
give up the struggle, and the next year she again petitions the King to
restore her charter.


The young King now 17 years old, was so anxious to learn the merits of
the important contest, that he himself paid a visit to Yarmouth in 1382.
We do not hear that he came to Lowestoft, or that he ascertained the
precise position of “the place called Kirkley Road.”  He was probably
shown the town walls, and the devastation caused by the plague, (which
the Yarmouth people seem to have attributed to the repeal of their
charter).  He and his courtiers were feasted by the Bailiffs and
Burgesses, with the same judicious munificence, with which 200 years
afterwards they treated Leicester and the other noblemen of Elizabeth’s
court, when she was staying at Norwich, and was invited to visit
Yarmouth, under very similar circumstances.  Richard was much impressed
with what he saw and was told at Yarmouth, particularly that “a great
part of the people had left the town on account of their charter having
been repealed,” and in 1384 he took upon himself to issue an ordinance
re-granting the charter until the next sitting of Parliament.


In 1385 the Parliament met at Westminster.  The Commons were still
staunch in their support of Lowestoft, and the King was again compelled
to revoke his ordinance, and to declare that all the charters given to
Yarmouth by his grandfather and himself were utterly void.


The next year, however, from causes of which we are not informed, we find
that a great change took place in the conditions of the contest.  In the
Parliament of 1386 we find the Commons themselves supporting the cause of
Yarmouth, and petitioning the crown to regrant their charter,
notwithstanding the persistency with which they had opposed it in
previous years.  The King of course acceded at once to this petition, and
a new charter was granted to Yarmouth, embracing all the provisions of
the charter of Edward, and welding more tightly the fetters which were
intended to crush the trade of Lowestoft.

This charter has never been revoked and in 1826 it was cited by the Town
Clerk of Yarmouth before the committee of the House of Commons, when the
Bill for making a harbour at Lowestoft was under consideration.

This game of see-saw between Crown and Parliament with reference to the
Yarmouth Charter, was an episode in the struggle which was going on
between these Powers during the whole of the 14th century and which forms
an important chapter in our constitutional history.  The result of the
contest as regards the fortunes of the two towns would seem to have been
a complete triumph for Yarmouth; involving restrictions on the trade of
Lowestoft, which were intended to deprive it of any share in the herring
trade, beyond the produce of their own fishing boats.  This however was
by no means the actual result.  The obnoxious charter proved to be
perfectly harmless to Lowestoft, if not entirely useless to Yarmouth.  It
was beyond the power of Yarmouth to enforce it effectually.  The statue
of Herrings, forbidding the “forestalling” of the Free Fair by buying
herrings from ships at sea, applied to the Yarmouth merchants as well as
to Lowestoft men.  The anomalous right given to the Yarmouth Bailiffs of
exacting harbour dues from ships anchored in the sea, at a distance of
several miles from their harbour mouth, must have been incapable of
enforcement, without a fleet of armed bailiffs.  It would appear that
Yarmouth made little or no attempt to enforce the provisions of the
charter against Lowestoft merchants buying herrings within the 7 leucæ,
and contented themselves with claiming harbour dues from the ships which
discharged their herrings there.  In this claim they had for some years
the assistance of the Lowestoft merchants themselves, who undertook to
farm the tolls of the town.  They paid as much as £26 a year for these
tolls in the years 1393–4–6.  This blackmail was, however, soon reduced,
and in a few years the task of collecting the tolls was left in the hands
of the Yarmouth Bailiffs themselves.

In 1400 we find Yarmouth giving up altogether the attempt to enforce
their charter, and entering into an agreement with Lowestoft, which gave
express sanction to their purchasing herrings from ships lying off their
shore.  This agreement was entitled “An accord or composition between
Yarmouth and Lowestoft that the latter might buy herrings in Kirkley Road
upon conditions therein specified.”  The Lowestoft merchants were allowed
to buy fish from all ships that were not “hosted” to Yarmouth merchants
i.e., from ships whose owners had not entered into engagements with
Yarmouth merchants to sell their fish to them, or through them, as their
agents (an arrangement, very necessary for foreigners in those days); and
the Lowestoft merchants might buy also from these ships herrings which
the Yarmouth “hosts” did not require for themselves, upon payment of half
a mark per last to the hosts, in addition to the price of the fish.  This
“Composition” was formally sanctioned by the King in Council, and was
issued by “Letters patent” in the 2nd. year of Henry IV.  As we do not
hear of any further litigation between Lowestoft and Yarmouth for 200
years, we may take it that the first contest between the two towns was
closed by this agreement, whether this long truce was due to it, or to
other causes.

Swinden in his history of Yarmouth ends here his story of “The Contest
about Kirkley Road.”  He promised another chapter in which he would have
had to deal with the renewal of the contest by Yarmouth in the 16th and
again in the 17th centuries.  This chapter was not written.  He probably
found a difficulty in treating the later episodes of the story, which
must have been a very sore subject between the two towns even when he was

Our interest in it is now purely archæological.  The story though
somewhat tedious cannot be dispensed with in a history of Lowestoft, any
more than the ghost’s story in Hamlet.  It is the story of the growth of
Lowestoft from a small village into a fishing town of some importance to
the country.  Her trade was probably growing rapidly during the whole
period that the contest lasted.  But from the beginning of the 15th
century her merchants were free to take their full share in the herring
trade, and in any other trade, which the position of the town would
enable them to develope; though without a harbour, her merchants, whether
as fishing adventurers, or as general merchants, must have had a very
limited range for their enterprises.


Unfortunately the records of the contest between Yarmouth and Lowestoft
furnish us with no information as to the actual wealth and population of
Lowestoft at this period, and we have no local records to help us in
forming an estimate of either.  But we are not altogether at a loss for
information on these important questions.  Among the decayed and
fragmentary relics of the old Lay Subsidy Rolls in the Record office, we
have a complete detailed return for the 1st of Edward III., and another
for the 15th of Henry VIII.  If these Rolls do not furnish direct
information as to the actual wealth and population of the town, a
comparison between them furnishes good evidence of its relative status at
these two periods.

Taking the Subsidy returns for 1327 from the same group of parishes,
whose condition at the time of Domesday we have already noticed, we find
that Yarmouth heads the list with a contribution of £18. 8. 1.  Beccles
follows, with a contribution of £12. 4. 9.  Gorleston, with Little
Yarmouth, comes next with a payment of £10. 0. 4.  Then Kessingland
follows with a payment of £4. 2.  No other parish in the Hundred pays as
much as £2. 10.  Mutford, Belton, Carlton, and Corton pay £2. and
upwards.  Gisleham and Rushmere together pay £2. 10., and Pakefield and
Kirkley are bracketed for £2. 1.  Blundeston pays £1. 18., Somerleyton
£1. 17., Bradwell £1. 14., and Oulton and Flixton together £1. 15.  _Then
comes Lowestoft_, _with the humble contribution of £1. 9._, _gathered
from 29 of its inhabitants_.  Lound, Fritton, Hopton, Gunton,
Herringfleet, Burgh, and Ashby complete the lists with sums rising from
16s. to £1. 8.  We can but infer from these returns that Lowestoft had
not yet made any substantial advance upon the position she occupied in
the Domesday survey.  The small contribution which she is called upon to
make, compared with Carlton Colville and Kessingland, proves conclusively
that at the beginning of Edward III.’s reign she had not developed any
trade in herrings or any other merchandise.  Thirty years after (as we
have already seen) the little town was of sufficient importance to be
honoured by the issue of a Royal ordinance authorising her people to buy
and land herrings in Kirkley Road.  We can thus fix the date of the
origin of Lowestoft as a town, in the modern sense of the word, within a
year or two.  If the Subsidy Rolls for the rest of this and the
succeeding reigns were not defective, we should probably find that the
assessment of Lowestoft rose rapidly during the latter half of the 14th
century, and continued to rise throughout the next century, and at least
the first half of the 16th century, so that at the time of the second
Roll she had reached nearly, if not quite her full growth as a town of
ancient times.

In the Roll for 1525 we find Lowestoft occupying an entirely different
position with respect to her agricultural neighbours.  Instead of
appearing as a poor village of less taxable capacity than Somerleyton and
Blundeston we find her contributing a larger amount to the subsidy for
this year than all the rest of the Lothingland parishes together, even
including Gorleston and Southtown.  _The contribution from Lowestoft is
£29_, _just 20 times what it was in 1327_.  This sum was collected from
140 of her inhabitants; but there is abundant evidence from other returns
that the number of persons entered as contributories in these rolls did
not represent the whole number of taxable people in the town and parish
upon which the subsidy was charged.  The sum claimed by the Sheriff had
to be collected and paid in by the parish constables, who were themselves
among the larger contributors, but it was left to them, with the
concurrence of the people themselves, to arrange by whom and in what
proportions each person should contribute to each subsidy.  Taken year by
year, the burden of these subsidies was probably fairly distributed.  The
richer inhabitants probably contributed to every subsidy, but the power
of excusal could be freely exercised by the constables in the case of the
poorer townspeople.  This subsidy roll not only gives us the names and
payments of each contributor, but the assessment of his property on which
he was charged.  The total assessment amounted to about £760, of which
£710 was on “movabyll goods,” and £50 on “wages and profits.”  Among the
higher assessments are:—John Hodden £100, Robert Bach £50, John Goddard
£48, J. Jettor, jun. £48, Thomas Woods £40, William French £40, Robert
Chevyr (one of the parish constables) £20.  The other assessment range
from £1 to £19.  Sir John Browne—the Vicar—was assessed at £7.  There is
no assessment under £1.  The number assessed at the lowest rate is 59:—23
are assessed at £2.

The name at the head of the list is John Jettor, jun.  He had evidently
been previously assessed at £100 or more.  _He was only assessed on £48
for this subsidy_, “_the consideration for his decay being that he had
lost a ship on the sea_, _pryce_ £50.”  As these assessments purported to
represent the value of the “movabyll goods” _i.e._ all the personal
property possessed by the contributors, and as the ship which John
Jettor, junior, lost was valued at £50, _a larger sum than the rest of
his_ “_movabyll goods_” _were valued at_, we can form some idea of the
amount of personal property possessed by the _richest merchants_ of the
town at this period.

We have another entry of a similar kind.  John Robinson is only assessed
at 40s. to this subsidy, because he had lost a ship valued at £28
“captured by the Scots.”  We can only infer from this that this ship
represented almost the whole of his property.  We know from another
record that at this time our merchants possessed 14 barks or doggers
which used to go to Iceland to catch cod fish and ling, besides smaller
boats employed in fishing near home.  John Jettor’s ship was probably one
of these barks, and John Robinson’s—a small fishing boat.

It is clear from these entries that at this time a ship represented a
large part of the “movabyll goods” of our richer townspeople.  The value
of two barks would equal the highest assessment on this roll.  When we
consider the dangers these ships incurred, not only from the sea, but
from the “Scots” and other occasional enemies, we can realise the
precarious condition of the property possessed by these “fishing
adventurers,” and of the town whose fortunes depended on the success of
their enterprises.  It may be inferred, however, from this and other
evidence that the assessments to the King’s subsidies were very much of a
conventional character.  They doubtless represented the taxable capacity
of the contributors relative to each other, but we may feel quite certain
that they did not represent the full value of any persons property.  The
assessments were practically made by the townspeople themselves, and they
would be each and all strongly interested in keeping the aggregate
assessment at as low a figure as possible.  At the same time, as the
returns were subject to the inspection of the Sheriff, as well as the
Exchequer Court in London, the range for imposition was limited.  The
contributions were assessed on the system of a “graduated income tax.”
Persons possessed of goods above £20 in value paid 1s. in the £.  Those
possessing “movabyll goods,” or taxed on “wages and profits” under that
amount, paid 6d. in the £.  But the working men and fishermen who were
assessed at only 20s. for “wages and profits” paid only 4d.  No one was
assessed at a lower sum than 20s.  But 20s. could not represent the
annual income of even the lowest paid labourer.  According to Mr. Thorold
Rogers the wages of the artizan at this time would be 3s. a week, or some
£7 a year, and the wages of the agricultural labourer 2s. a week or about
£5 a year.  Even this would be much more than double the lowest
assessment.  We can hardly believe that the richer men undertook a much
larger share of the burden than their property demanded, and we may
reasonably infer that their assessments did not represent the full value
of their property.  But anyhow our richest merchants of those days must
have been very poor men according to our modern ideas.

Lowestoft was of course still a very small town as compared with
Yarmouth.  As Yarmouth was exempted from all taxes during Henry VIII.’s
reign on account of the expenses of her harbour, the Subsidy Rolls do not
enable us to compare the wealth of the two towns.  It was stated in one
of their petitions about this time that a “whole Fifteenth” would amount
to £100.  Beccles was also at this time a much larger town than
Lowestoft.  In the Subsidy Roll for the previous year (1523) the town
paid £73 13s. 4d., an increased payment, it is stated, of £33 4s. on a
previous assessment.  Beccles was evidently a rising town at this time,
as well as Lowestoft.  It was about this time, that the detached tower of
Beccles church was begun: its building took 40 years.  On the other hand
Winterton, joined with Lowestoft in the ordinance of Edward III., was
already left far behind.  Her contribution to the subsidy for 1524 was
only £3 4s.


It was in the early part of the 15th Century that Lowestoft first
possessed a market.  William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, had succeeded
John of Brittany in the ownership of the old Royal demesnes in
Lothingland.  He obtained a grant from Henry IV. to hold a market and two
annual fairs in the town.  The market was doubtless held in the “Old
Market” Place, which still retains its title.


It was undoubtedly at some time during this period, that is to say,
during the 15th or the first half of the 16th century, that our present
parish church was built, but we have neither record or relic to fix the
precise date of any part of its structure.  To a certain extent the
church tells its own tale.  The style of architecture of the nave and
aisles prove them to have been built during the Perpendicular period;
during which period nearly all the most beautiful churches in Norfolk and
Suffolk were built.  The unfortunate arrangement by which this grand
specimen of a Perpendicular church was tacked on to the small tower of an
older church, shows very clearly that the reconstruction of the body of
the church was undertaken to meet the requirements of an increased
population.  From what we now know of the state of the town in the 14th
century, we can hardly suppose that the re-building and enlargement of
the older church took place so early; even supposing that its
Perpendicular style would admit of its having been built in the latter
part of that century.  From the tradition of the existence of an old
inscription in the church to “Robert Inglosse, _Esq._, _which_ died in
anno 1365” (an evident misreading), Gillingwater and the Guide Books
inform us that the church must have been built before that date—“probably
soon after 1230”—a hundred years and more before the Perpendicular style
was introduced.  The existence however of tombstones, with inscriptions
of the 14th century, in the new church, could easily be explained by
their having been kept or re-placed in the new building.  In order to
explain the marvel that such a spacious and beautiful church should have
been erected at such an early period, it has been customary to call in
aid a purely imaginary factor, and to attribute its building to the
munificence of St. Bartholomew’s Priory, to whom Henry I. had given the
great tithes of the parish.  In the 13th century these tithes were valued
at seven marks, or about £14 of our present money.  In the 14th, or even
in the 16th century, the value of these tithes could hardly have
increased to such an amount as would suggest to the most liberal-minded
monks that it was their duty to build a church for the parish in return
for the income they received from it.  Dr. Jessop, in a recent article in
the “Nineteenth Century,” has ridiculed the notion of monks building
parish churches; and certainly the connection between monasteries and
parish church property does not favour the view that they often felt it
their duty to apply these funds to the building of any other churches
than those attached to their own abbeys and priories.  Dr. Jessop’s view
is that our parish churches were built by the parishioners themselves.  I
assume that he would include in the “parishioners” the owners of property
in a parish, whether resident or not.  Where the founder’s name has not
been handed down to posterity this probably was the case, and from what
we know of the condition of our old town in the time of Henry VIII., we
can have no reason to doubt their ability to incur the expense at that
period (great as the expense must have been, even when labourers’ wages
where at 4d. or 5d. a day), particularly when we bear in mind the
powerful influence of the doctrine of good works in securing legacies for
such an object.  Nor was the new church built all at once.  The aisles do
not appear to have been built at the same time, and the chancel appears
to have been an after addition, as well as the south porch.


There appear to have been two chapels in the town at this time, which the
people could attend while the parish church was closed—a very little one,
the chapel of the “Good Cross” at the south end of the town, and a larger
one in the centre of the town, which was replaced after the Reformation
by a Protestant chapel.  This chapel, after having been restored and
enlarged in the 17th century, was in use until St. Peter’s Chapel was
built, when it was given over to secular uses, and has been since
appropriated by our Corporation as their Council Chamber.


We have a few other structural relics still surviving in very much their
original condition, which belong to this period—probably to the early
part of the 15th century.  These are the old vaulted cellars, which are
to be seen under houses near the Town Hall.  There is nothing in these
structures to fix precisely the time when they were built; but they have
all the character of the 14th and 15th centuries.  The bricks of which
the groins are made are small and roughly moulded, and would appear to
belong to an early date after the revival of brick-making—a trade which
seems to have been beyond the capabilities of our ancestors from the time
the Romans left the country to the beginning of the 14th century.  The
bricks in these cellars are similar to those which are to be seen in the
Yarmouth walls, which we know were placed there in 1336, and which we are
informed by old records cost 20s. a last—the cost of two bricks being
equal to that of one red herring at the time.  There are vaulted cellars
under old houses in Norwich very similar to those at Lowestoft.  A large
cellar of this kind is to be seen in good preservation under the house
known as “The Old Bridewell,” it having been used until comparatively
recent times as an underground prison.  This house was built by William
Applegard, the first Mayor of Norwich, in 1404.  The Lowestoft cellars
were evidently the basements of separate houses; although near each other
they are entirely disconnected.  They are much smaller, and the groins
less strongly constructed than those in the Mayor’s house at Norwich.
The houses above them would also have been much smaller.  The doorways
into these cellars are arched, and not very long ago an ancient house was
in existence above one of these cellars.  This house had an arched
doorway, which with the vaulted cellars underneath—so like the crypts of
old churches, induced the belief that these houses had a monastic or
ecclesiastic origin.  The doorways in the Mayors house at Norwich were of
the same form.  Such features were common in houses of this period, and
in no way imply any monastic origin.  We cannot infer from the three
specimens of these cellars that survive, that there were many houses of
this character in our old town, nor from what we know of the wealth of
our merchants at this time, can we suppose that there were many who could
indulge in expensively-constructed cellars, however convenient they might
be for storing their “movabyll goods.”

We know well that Lowestoft in these old days was not what we see now,
but it is as difficult to substitute any clear idea of what she was, as
for a grown up man to picture himself when running about in a short
frock.  In order to form a tolerably correct idea of what our old town
was at the beginning of the 15th century, we must dismiss altogether from
our mind’s eye the large populous town with which we are acquainted, and
picture to ourselves a village of small cottages with thatched roofs
being gradually improved by the erection of houses of a better class.  At
the early part of Henry VIII.’s reign Lowestoft appears to have been a
small town on the cliff, containing some 20 or 30 merchants—in a very
small way of business—the richer men among them owning one or two ships;
most of them having fish-houses at the bottom of the cliffs, and doing a
good deal of business during the autumn season in buying fish from the
foreign and west-country fishermen in the Roads, and selling it to fish
merchants coming from inland towns.  They would also be doing a little
business with their visitors in light merchandise, which could be brought
in the fishing boats, or taken away after the season was over.  Profit
would also be made during the season in victualling the visitors’ ships.
A few handicraft tradesmen and shopkeepers and a number of working men
and sailors would complete the adult population.  In fact the town would
be very much what it was some 60 years afterwards in Elizabeth’s time,
which will be the subject of our next lecture.





Much light has been thrown on the character of Lowestoft some 300 years
ago by the copies of the parish register, published in the “Parish
Magazine,” which, I doubt not, many of you have been in the habit of
studying.  The existing parish register dates back to 1561.  The first
volume of the book, so to speak, which would tell us who were living or
dying in Lowestoft in the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Mary,
was unfortunately burnt in the fire which destroyed the old vicarage
house in 1606.  The register was kept from 1561 to 1583 by Mr. Benjamin
Allen, the parish clerk.  From this year to the end of our period it was
kept by Mr. Stephen Philip, the first master of Mr. Annott’s school, of
whom we shall speak again soon.  Mr. Allen was probably one of the few
persons in Lowestoft at the time who could write—at least, well enough to
undertake such an important and responsible task.  I cannot say much for
his spelling, but variety rather than uniformity in spelling was as yet a
fashion of the day.  He belonged apparently to one of the upper, or as
they would have said, one of the “bettermost” families in the town, which
produced one of our naval heroes of the following century.

But Queen Elizabeth’s reign was long long ago.  We know from books the
principal events of her reign, as we do of some period in Roman or
Grecian History.  But we know little of the people, although we are of
the same flesh and blood, and indebted to them for much that we now
enjoy.  Elizabeth’s reign covered the first 42 years of our Parish
Registers; and the materials for this lecture will belong almost entirely
to this period.

As a stepping stone however and introduction to our subject, I propose to
read to you a few lines from an account of a tour in these parts taken by
a young lady about 200 years ago; a hundred years later than Elizabeth’s
time.  This lady was Miss Celia Fiennes, a daughter of Lord Saye and
Sele.  She appears to have been quite a “new woman” of the 17th century,
and, I think I may safely say, the first lady who ever travelled through
England as a tourist.  She rode on horseback.  She did not ride a bicycle
for two reasons—first, because they were not made then; and secondly,
because if they had been, there was no road on which they could have run
a yard.  This absence of roads is an important point to bear in mind, for
it had much to do with the difference in the habits and character of
these old people and of ourselves.  Miss Fiennes rode along the roads and
lanes, such as they were, accompanied by two male servants, and stayed at
inns and country houses.  In her tour through Suffolk and Norfolk she
came from Ipswich, through Saxmundham, to Beccles, and this is a little
of what she tells us about her journey:—

    “Thence to Saxmunday, eight miles more.  This is a pretty big market
    town.  The wayes are pretty deep, mostly lanes, very little commons.
    I passed by several gentlemen’s seats.  So to Bathford (she meant
    Blythburgh), eight miles, where is the remains of the walls of an
    abbey, and there is still a very fine church, &c.  Thence I paused by
    some woods and little villages of a few scattered houses, and
    generally the people here are able to give so bad a direction that
    passengers are at a loss what way to take.  They know scarce three
    miles from their home, and meete them where you will, and enquire how
    far to such a place, they tell you so farre, which is the distance
    from their own homes to that place.  To Beckle is eight miles more,
    which, in all, was 36 miles from Ipswich, but exceeding long miles.
    They do own they are 41 measured miles.  This is a little market
    town, but it is the third biggest town in Suffolk—Ipswich, Berrye,
    and this.  There are no good buildings in the town, being old timber
    and plaster work, except Sir R. Rich’s, and one or two more.  There
    is a bigg market Kross and a market kept.  At the town’s end one
    posses over the river Waveney, on a wooden bridge railed with timber,
    and so you enter into Norfolk.  Its a low, flat ground all here
    about, so that at the least rains they are overflowed by the river,
    and lie under water, as they did when I was there; so that the road
    lay under water, which is very unsafe for strangers to pass, by
    reason of the holes and quick-sands and loose bottom.”

If the houses in Beccles, and the roads across the marshes were as she
describes them in the reign of William and Mary, we may be quite sure
that they were no better in the time of her great grandmother.  We will
imagine a traveller of this still more ancient time arriving at Beccles
on his way to Norwich, and who finding the road across the marshes to
Gillingham quite impassable from the floods, determined to make a detour
and pay a visit to Lowestoft.

In travelling from Beccles to Lowestoft, our ancient visitor would have
no dangerous marsh roads to travel on.  He would ride along on the high
ground which skirted the fenlands on the north, on a road or trackway
which had been used for hundreds of years before, probably by Britons,
Romans, and Saxons, and which was the connecting link between Lothingland
and Suffolk; the road that still leads over the narrow ridge or neck
between Lake Lothing and Oulton Broad through Oulton to Burgh Castle and

When our ancient visitor arrived at this spot, he would find a narrow
raised “causey,” as he would call it, (or as we still more erroneously
call it “causeway”) and a bridge, {57} the first bridge built over the
little gap which used to be known as the “mud ford,” and from which the
bridge took its name.  Taking a survey from this point, he would see on
his left Oulton Fen, as it was then called, a watery wilderness of reeds
and bogs, much valued by the sportsman and poachers of the period for
fish and wildfowl, and undisturbed by wherries or any craft beyond the
fisherman’s punt.  On the right would be Lake Lothing—the “fresh water,”
as the Lowestoft people then called it, a long, river-like piece of
water, with deep margins of reeds and rushes, and as full of fish as
Oulton Fen, with which it was connected.  Turning off the main road, into
the road leading to Lowestoft, he would soon come to Normanston—very much
then, I expect, what it is now.  The gentleman living in it then was
apparently Mr. Mason, Churchwarden in 1575.  Several persons appear in
the register as servants of Mr. Mason buried during our period.  Further
on he would see the farm by the church, much the same as now, except in
the character of the buildings, and then the church—very much, indeed,
the same, except that it was then in very bad repair.  It probably had
not been restored since it was built some 100 years or more before.  In
1592, in the latter part of our period, the inhabitants undertook the
task of repairing it, at the expense of some £200.  The churchyard would
be much the same—quite full of graves—but with few headstones.  Close to
the churchyard our ancient visitor would see the old vicarage, which was
burned down in 1606.  It was occupied during the first part of our period
by Mr. Nayshe, the minister of the parish, and afterwards by Mr. Bentley,
the Vicar of whom I shall tell you more soon.  Close to the Vicarage our
visitor would see Annott’s School house, in which Mr. Philip—“Mr. Annott,
his schoolmaster,” as he was always to be called according to the deed of
endowment, was then living, of whom also more soon.  This house has also
long since disappeared.  He would then reach the town, passing from
Church Road into what was then Swan Lane (now Mariners’ Street).
Arriving at the High Street he would dismount at the Swan Inn, on the
opposite side, next Swan Score (now Mariners’ Score), and now represented
by two houses, Mr. Abel’s and Mr. Shipley’s.

The Swan Inn was a very interesting old house.  It had been built on the
foundations of a much older house, which had one of those cellars with
groined roofs already noticed, which still remains.  When this old house
was converted into an inn, an opening was made from the cellar into the
street for beer barrels to be let down, with brick steps, still


Having given his horse into the care of the ostler, our visitor would
enter the Swan and order dinner, unless he had dined at Beccles before
starting.  People dined at 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning in those
days.  After dining he would probably question his host about the town,
its size, character and principal residents—its trade, population, &c.
He would have liked much to be furnished with a guide to Lowestoft, but
there was no Mr. Arthur Stebbings or Mr. Huke in those days to supply him
with anything of the sort.  We, however, with the register before us, are
able to gather a great deal of the information which our ancient visitor
wanted.  If we cannot make out a complete Directory, we can make out a
fairly complete list of the trades and occupations of the inhabitants
during our period, and of the names of many of the persons belonging to

We find some 45 different trades or occupations mentioned as being
carried on in the town.  The number of different persons and families
mentioned as belonging to them would, generally speaking, vary in
proportion to the number actually engaged in each trade during the
period.  I would observe, however, that it was not the duty of Mr. Allen
and his successors to add the trade or occupation of persons whose names
he entered, but they seem to have made a common practice of doing so,
though in an imperfect and unsystematic manner.  In by far the larger
proportion of entries no description appears, and although many of these
entries refer to the families of persons previously described, a great
many names appear throughout our period without any occupation being
assigned to them.

I will first give you the number of different persons mentioned as
belonging to these different trades and occupations.  You will not be
surprised to learn that the most numerous class were the “mariners,” as
they were called in the earlier years; and afterwards “sailor,” and then
“seamen.”  Only one person appears as a “fisher.”  This class numbered
77.  The next largest class you will be surprised to hear were the
tailors, of whom there were thirty-nine.  Then came labourers 39,
butchers 20, smiths 13, carpenters, joiners, and sawyers 12, masons 12,
weavers 12, shoe makers, cordwainers, and cobblers 11, shipwrights 10,
coopers 10, millers 11, brewers 6, bakers 4, tanners 4, knackers 2,
ropemakers 4, drapers 2, chimney sweeper 1, glovers 3, tinkers 2, carters
2, husbandmen 2, gunners 1, neatherds 2, shearers 2, hokemaker 1, currier
1, glazier 1, dyer 1, hostler 1, fisher 1, fletcher 1, innkeeper 1,
hatter 1, ploughwright 1, wheelwright 1 and 2 towers.  There was a
pewterer and a goldsmith, and we have 12 persons entered as “gentleman”
or “gent,” and nine persons are described as “merchant.”  Four persons
are named as “minister” only two of whom were ministers of the parish.
One person only is described as schoolmaster—Mr. Stephen Phillip, of
Annott’s School, and one person as a “good school dame.”  One person is
described as a “surgeon,” and one as a “proctor.”  Lastly there are 30
names of “servants” who apparently died in their masters’ houses in the
town.  Many of these were females, apparently domestic servants.  The
male servants were probably employed in services connected with their
masters’ occupation.

Now, if we look a little closely into these lists, and combine the
information they furnish with what we can glean from other sources, we
can bring the old town very much to life again, and in some matters
should be able to tell them a good deal more about themselves than they


To commence with the Church; we find that the “minister” of the parish,
during the first 16 years of our period, was Mr. Nayshe.  He was not the
Vicar.  The Vicar was Mr. Thomas Downing, who was also the Rector of
Besthorpe, near Attleborough, in Norfolk.  He was allowed to hold the
Vicarage of Lowestoft (as stated in the register) to make up for the
small income of Besthorpe—a most scandalous arrangement surely—a populous
town deprived of its proper clergyman for the sake of improving the
income of the rector of a small country parish far away in another
county.  The arrangement, however, was made in the Roman Catholic days of
Queen Mary; three years before Queen Elisabeth had re-established the
Protestant religion in the country.  The Bishop of Norwich, who allowed
it (he did not nuke the appointment himself), was the notorious John
Hopton, described as a most sanguinary persecutor of the Protestants.
Witness the burning of three men at Beccles as recorded on the tablet on
the Meeting House in the road leading from the Station to the Market
Place; and of many others in the Norwich Diocese.  It was probably a
happy thing for Lowestoft that Bishop Hopton did not make this
appointment.  It was said that when Elizabeth came to the throne Bishop
Hopton died from terror of her taking vengeance on him for his cruelty to
her co-religionists.  What Mr. Nayshe’s views were, we know not, but he
appears to have been a good Protestant during the 13 years of his
ministry under Elizabeth.  He must have been the first minister of the
parish for many hundred years who was a married man.  He lost his first
wife soon after coming here, and then married, apparently, a Lowestoft
lady.  He was succeeded in 1574, by Mr. William Bentley, who was duly
appointed vicar by the new Bishop of Norwich, Dr. Parkhurst.  He also
married twice; his second wife being the widow of Mr. John Arnold.  He
held the living to the last day of our period, when he apparently fell a
victim to the terrible epidemic of that year.  The entry of his burial
appears in the register in large letters—“Mr. Willyam Bentlye, Pastor,”
one of the 55 of our old townspeople who were buried in the month of
August in this year.

There are two other persons described as “ministers.”  They could hardly
be Protestant Nonconformists in these early days.  The first dissenting
chapel in Lowestoft was not built till quite a hundred years after
(1695).  These “ministers” out of office were not improbably clergymen
who were too much attached to the old religion to accept appointments
under the new regime.

I think we may pay Mr. Philip, Mr. Allen’s successor as Registrar, the
compliment of mentioning him next.  He was not only Parish Clerk and
Registrar, but he was also “Mr. Annott his schoolmaster” for 18 years
during our period.  He was appointed by Mr. Annott himself, and held the
office under the deed of endowment after his death.  His salary was £16 a
year—not a high one for a man required to teach Latin and grammar to 40
boys, and to receive no other payment beyond twenty pence for each new
boy.  From the entry in the register of the burial of an old lady
described as a “good school dame,” we may infer that there was at least
one dame’s school in the town besides Mr. Philip’s high-class academy.

The number of persons entered in the register as merchants and gentlemen,
and the number keeping servants, both male and female, is evidence of
there being a good proportionate number of “bettermost folk” residing in
our town.  Although probably of a less importance to the town than the
merchants and tradesmen, the fact of its being frequented by a
considerable number of persons of independent means and of a social
position to justify their being entered with the title of “Mr.” or with
the description of “gentleman,” is very noticeable, and would seem to
imply that even in these ancient days Lowestoft had acquired some
reputation as a health resort, or as a pleasant retreat for gentlemen of
no occupation.  We find 14 or more names of persons of this class entered
in the register—Fenn, Ruston, Karwell, Bramton, Bright, Paine, Kene,
Rowse, Fooks (“gentleman soldier”) Brigge Beaching (“a gentleman from
Sussex”) Mason Scrasse (“a gentleman soldier from Sussex”) Bentlye,
Walker.  I am inclined to think that some of these were lodgers.  The
persons mentioned as merchants bore the names of Mighells, Green,
Grudgefield, French, Annot, Wilde, Cooke, Burgess, and Coldam.  We know,
however, that several other persons whose names appear without any
description were engaged in business as merchants, and occupied high
positions in the town at this period.


From other information it appears that several of these merchants, if not
all, were engaged in the fish trade and were owners of fish houses, at
the bottom of the cliff, still represented by buildings occupying the
same sites.

At a meeting of the inhabitants in the year 1596, called to consider a
proposal to take some of the rents of the Town Lands to defray the
expense incurred in litigation with Yarmouth about the herring fishery,
it was stated that out of 200 persons who reaped advantages from this
fishery, many were unable to contribute towards the above expense, and
that if the fishery was not supported, the town would inevitably be
ruined.  It appeared that before this meeting, the inhabitants (probably
the merchants referred to above), had already subscribed £120.  This
statement is at once evidence of the importance of the herring trade to
Lowestoft at this period, and at the same time limits the number of
merchants, fishermen, and other persons employed in it, to 200.  Assuming
this number mainly represented heads of families, we should have some 900
persons or about half the population of the town dependent on the herring
fishery.  Some of these merchants doubtless owned ships, but it appears
from other information that the number of fishing boats then belonging to
Lowestoft must have been very few, probably 20 at the outside.  We find
it stated, some 100 years after, in a petition to Charles II., that the
number of Lowestoft ships engaged in all the several voyages in the year
was 25.  Previous to Elizabeth’s reign, Lowestoft used to send several
ships to Iceland in the spring to catch ling and codfish.  You have
already heard that as many as 14 ships were employed in the time of Henry
VIII. in this fishery.  The dissolution of monasteries and the neglect of
the rules as to fasting, introduced by Protestantism, appears to have
affected the trade in salted codfish very seriously, and we find it
stated that in 1566 the number of Lowestoft Boats going to Iceland was
reduced from 14 to 1.


The decay in the fishing trade, as regards the employment of English
ships and sailors, was not confined to Lowestoft.  It was felt in every
English port in the West as well as on the East Coast.  Protestantism in
the main meant progress and commercial activity, but it did not mean this
with our fishermen.  If eating fish on Fridays and Saturdays was still
inculcated as a duty by Elizabeth’s Government and Elizabeth’s Church,
the mass of the people were too strongly Protestant to pay much respect
to a rule which was an essential feature in the old religion, if their
antipathy to Papism did not even cause an antipathy to fish eating at any
time, particularly salt cod.  At all events, there was such a diminution
in the demand for salt fish as to throw a large number of sailors
previously engaged in fishing voyages out of employment, and to leave
this occupation almost entirely in the hands of the French and Dutch.
The English sailors, at least a great many, found employment of a more
exciting and remunerative character, as privateers—in other words,
buccaneers, pirates, or sea robbers.  Our Protestant sailors in
Elizabeth’s time considered themselves as doing God’s work in robbing and
scuttling any merchant ship belonging either to France or Spain which
they could come across on the high seas; nor were they always very
particular as to either the nature or the religion of their victims.

You will not think that this reference to the piratical practises of our
seamen in the early part of Elizabeth’s reign is foreign to our
subject—when I tell you that Mr. Froude has given a story of piracy at
Lowestoft in 1561, as an illustration of its prevalence.  He thus tells
the story:

    “A Flemish trader has sailed from Antwerp to Cadiz.  Something
    happens to her on the way, and she never reaches her destination.  At
    midnight carts and horses run down to the sea over the sand at
    Lowestoft.  The black hull and spars of a vessel are seen outside the
    breakers, dimly riding in the gloom, and a boat shoots through the
    surf, loaded to the gunwale.  The bales and tubs are swiftly shot
    into the carts.  The horses drag back their loads, which before
    daybreak are safe in the cellars of some quiet manor-house.  The boat
    sweeps off, the sails drop from the mysterious vessel’s yards, and
    she glides away in the darkness to look for a fresh victim”—MSS.
    Elizth. Vol. XVI.

He gives his authority for this story, and there must have been some
foundation for it.  I am afraid that some of the mariners whose names
appear in our register must have been on board this black ship; but I
refrain from offering any conjecture as to which of the quiet
manor-houses in our neighbourhood was the depository of the spoil.

Piracy by British seamen was at this time sufficiently common to call for
the interference of Parliament.  It exercised much the mind of our then
Prime Minister Sir William Cecil—who held the same great office under
Queen Elizabeth that his descendant, our present Prime Minister, holds
under Queen Victoria.  From his private memoranda on this matter we may
notice the following as directly bearing on our subject.  He writes—

    “Instead of the Iceland fleet of Englishmen, which used to supply
    Normandy and Brittany, as well as England, 500 French vessels, with
    30 to 40 men in each of them, go annually to Newfoundland, and even
    the home fisheries have fallen equally into the hands of strangers.
    The Yarmouth waters (which certainly included the Lowestoft) were
    occupied by Flemish and Frenchmen.  As remedies for this evil he
    mentions—(1) Merchandise, (2) Fishing, (3) _The exercise of Piracy_,
    _which was detestable_, _and could not last_.”

Sufficient evidence this of the extent to which our seamen had taken to
piracy at this time.  However detestable our Prime Minister thought it,
he did not, or could not, stop it.  It went on more or less throughout
Elizabeth’s reign.  Our sea-warriors who defeated the Spanish Armada in
1588, were most of them the crews of these “pirate” ships, who for once
at least, indulged their fighting propensities in the best service of
their country.

The only remedy at the time that Cecil could think of was an Act of
Parliament to compel people to eat fish.  In 1562, Mr. Froude tells us,
he brought a bill into the House of Commons to make the eating of flesh
on Fridays and Saturdays a misdemeanour, punishable by a fine of £3, or
three months’ imprisonment, and, as if this was not enough, adding
Wednesday as a subsidiary or half-fish day, on which one dish of flesh
might be allowed, provided there were served at the same table and the
same meal three full competent usual dishes of sea fish of sundry kinds,
fresh and salt!  The House of Commons, Cecil admitted, was very much
against him.  He carried his measure only by arguing that, if the Bill
was passed, it would be almost inoperative:—labourers and poor
householders could not observe it, and the rest by license or without
license would do as they would; while to satisfy the Puritans he was
obliged to add the ludicrous provision that—

    “Because no person should misjudge the intent of the statute which
    was politicly meant only for the increase of fishermen and mariners,
    and not for any superstition in the choice of meats, whoever should
    preach or teach that eating of fish or forbearing of flesh was for
    the saving of the soul of man, or for the service of God, should be
    punished as the spreader of false news.”

The Act was passed, but it does not seem that it had more effect than was
expected in either improving the fishing trade or in stopping piracy.

That it was not, however, altogether a dead letter, and that “Cecil’s
Fast,” as it was called, was observed by many of the less strongly
protestant of the Queen’s subjects, appears from the following curious
old poem which was evidently written soon after the passing of the act.
It shews to what a large extent fish had entered into the dietary of a
Suffolk farmer in Catholic times, and which the writer recommends to be
continued in accordance with the Law.

It was written by Thomas Tusser, the “Suffolk Blomfield” of the 16th.
century.  After being a chorister in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and employed
in some office at Court, he retired into the country and took a farm at
Cattiwade on the Stour.  His occupation provided him with material for
his muse, but did not improve his fortune.

   A plot set down for farmer’s quiet,
   As time requires, to frame his diet:
   With sometimes fish, and sometimes fast,
   That household store may longer last.

   Let Lent, well kept, offend not thee,
   For March and April breeders be.
   Spend herring first, save salt fish last,
   For salt fish is good, when Lent is past.

   When Easter comes, who knows not than, {67a}
   That veal and bacon, is the man, {67b}
   And Martinmas beef doth bear good tack,
   When country folks do dainties lack.

   When macrell ceaseth from the seas,
   John Baptist brings grass-beef and pease,
   Frosh herring plenty, _Michell_ {67c} brings,
   With fatted crones, and such old things.

   All Saints do lay for Pork and souse, {67d}
   For sprats and spurlings for their house.
   At Christmas play and make good cheer,
   For Christmas comes but once a year.

   Though some then do as do they would,
   Let thrifty do, as do they should.
   For causes good so many ways,
   Keep emberings {67e} well, and fasting days

   _What law commands_ we ought t’obey,
   For Friday, Saturn, and Wednesday.
   The land doth will, the sea doth wish,
   Spare sometimes flesh and feed of fish.
   Where fish is scant, and fruit of trees,
   Supply that want by butter and cheese.


To return to our register, the 200 persons said to be dependent on the
herring fishery, in 1595, must have included a great many of the persons
entered in our list as mariners.  They would embrace all classes from the
skipper to the cook—sea captains like the Allens and Ashbys, and Utbers
of the next century, and fighting Jack Tars, who had helped to man the
ships under Howard and Drake, when they drove the Spaniards past
Lowestoft in their flight to the north.  Many of them would be
long-shoremen, gaining a livelihood by fishing near shore, as now, and
occasionally finding very profitable employment in connection with the
wrecks, which were far more frequent then than now.


Besides the merchants and mariners directly engaged in the fisheries,
there were several other trades supported more or less by the shipping
business.  There are as many as ten different names of shipwrights in the
register; showing that ship and boat building was carried on at this time
in the shipyards under the cliff, notwithstanding the proximity of
Yarmouth.  The six brewers probably depended largely for the sale of
their beer upon the fishing boats and other ships visiting our roads.  It
appears that there was an enormous quantity of beer taken on board of our
fishing boats in these times; so much that we cannot help suspecting that
it was used as an inducement to attract men on board.  Beer was of course
very cheap, not more than a farthing and halfpenny a quart.  From an
estimate given by some shipowners in 1670 of the quantity of beer
required for a fishing boat, it appears that each man was supposed to
drink a gallon of beer a day (putting the number of the men at 10).  The
coopers also were evidently very closely connected with the fishing
business.  On a later occasion, some hundred years after our period, when
Lowestoft had had another bout with Yarmouth about the herring fishery,
and the town had a heavy lawyers bill to pay, they decided to defray the
expense by a tax on herrings, and a supplementary tax on the brewers and
coopers of the town.  The butchers, of whom the large number of 20 names
appear in the register during our period, probably did a good deal of
business in supplying meat to ships.  Meat was also very cheap at this
time, and was probably eaten far more generally, and in greater
quantities, than now.  The number of bakers mentioned, 4, is very small,
but the 11 millers, though not implying that there were 11 windmills
(although probably there were nearly as many—they would be much smaller
than our present windmills) implied a large consumption of flour.
Lowestoft people doubtless baked at home.  The hokemaker, doubtless had a
good trade in supplying hooks for sea fishing, as well as for catching
fish in the “fresh water.”  The tower was a man skilled in “hanging”
herrings in the curing-house.


Besides these trades connected with our fishing and shipping business,
there are several others, which show that Lowestoft was much resorted to
as a shopping town by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.  In these
trades we must observe the enormous number of tailors—no less than 39.
Lowestoft tailors probably met the requirements of the inhabitants of all
the Lothingland parishes, and other parishes near.  Doubtless they had
got a reputation for a better cut than the tailors of either Yarmouth or
Beccles; or was a trade in ready-made clothes carried on here?  These
men, were of course, all journeymen tailors.  The materials were probably
supplied by some of the merchants mentioned, from Norwich or elsewhere.
The persons mentioned as shoemakers, cordwainers, and cobblers (11) are
comparatively few.  These names represented the same trade with different
pretensions.  The presence of a tanner and currier implies that their was
a sufficient demand for leather to maintain these two wholesale trades.
The tanners may have also found employment in tanning fishing nets—as at
the present day.  No less than 12 weavers are mentioned; they were
probably introduced from Norwich, which was at this time the principal
seat of the woollen and linen manufacture in the kingdom.  The clothes of
some at least of our townspeople were not only made up by Lowestoft
tailors, but of Lowestoft cloth and Lowestoft homespun.  Other trades are
mentioned connected with the supply of wearing apparel, viz.: drapers,
glovers, hatters, and dyers.

The building and mechanical trades are represented by the carpenters,
joiners, and sawyers, the masons (bricklayers were not distinguished from
masons as yet), the smiths, the plough-wrights, and the wheelwrights.
These tradesmen probably all found employment among the farmers and
squires in the neighbourhood as well as in the town—as also the
“knackers” (or harness makers)—the tinkers—and the thatchers (“thacsters”
as it was spelt).  The houses both in town and country and nearly all our
churches were thatched at this time, and reeds were abundant on the side
of Lake Lothing.

The presence in our town at this time of two such trades as the goldsmith
and the pewterer is very noticeable.  The goldsmith was at this time the
prince of tradesmen, soon to develop into the banker of after times.  His
presence certainly implied the existence of several persons in the town
or immediate neighbourhood of sufficient means to be the purchasers of
gold and silver ornaments, while the presence of the pewterer implied
that our town was up to date in the matter of table furniture, and that
pewter plates and goblets had been substituted in many of our houses for
the wooden trenchers and horn drinking cups of older times. {70}

The fletcher—or maker of bows and arrows—represented a trade soon to
become obsolete, except for supplying bows and arrows for the sport of
archery, which was very much in fashion at this time and took the place
of cricket and football matches of our day.  Pistols and arquebuses were
already in use as firearms for military purposes, and fowling-pieces were
beginning to be used by sportsmen, who could afford to buy them.  We have
evidence of their having already reached Lowestoft in the entry of a
burial of a person who “met his death with a gun.”  Bows and arrows,
were, however, not altogether discarded for military purposes.  In 1569.
Elizabeth sent an order to Yarmouth to provide 50 bows and 50 sheaves of
arrows, amongst other preparations to be made against the coming war with
Spain, or France, or both together, with which England was threatened all
through Elizabeth’s reign; and in the reports to the Government of the
piratical proceedings of our sea hawks (which we have spoken of before)
we hear of a case where they attacked their quarry, not only “by shooting
of cannon at them, but by firing at them flights of innumerable arrows.”
Bows and arrows were probably still to be found in the houses of farmers
and peasants in Lothingland, to be used for sporting as well as fighting
purposes.  The Queen herself was very fond of hunting, and often shot
small deer with the long bow, as well as with the arblast or crossbow.

The person described as a Proctor must have been a local lawyer,
affiliated to Doctors’ Commons, and endowed with some special authority
in the matter of wills.  Only one person’s name appears in our period
described as a surgeon.  He died in 1585, one of those terrible years
when Lowestoft was visited by the plague or some infectious disease, to
which he apparently fell a victim.  We only notice the name of one
chymney-sweeper.  There may have been more.  But as we shall see further
on, chimneys were only now coming into fashion and were as yet only to be
found in the newer or best houses.

This sketch, imperfect as it is, of the trades and occupations of the
inhabitants of our town, will, I think, leave no doubt in your minds that
Lowestoft was at this time a very respectable little town—well
represented by residents of every grade in the social scale—and
frequented by the inhabitants of Lothingland, and the adjoining parishes
in the south, for shopping and business purposes.  Indeed, that the
neighbourhood was more dependent on Lowestoft for shopping purposes than
now, we can understand, when we bear in mind the absence or extreme
badness of the roads, which rendered communication with any town beyond
Beccles difficult and expensive.  Yarmouth was not far off; but Yarmouth
although richer and more populous, could not afford counter attractions
to Lowestoft as a shopping town, at all events for the residents on the
Suffolk side of the water.


Lowestoft had been a market town for more than a hundred years, but it
does not appear that the market was ever much of a success.  There was no
large population like that of Yarmouth requiring a large supply of
provisions and vegetables in addition to the produce of the townspeople’s
own gardens and the neighbouring farms.  Nor could a place with only half
the environment of an ordinary inland town be a convenient centre for the
sale of general agricultural produce, particularly with another large
market at Beccles.


While furnishing information as to the character of the town, the
register supplies us with trustworthy evidence of its size and population
in Elizabeth’s time.  A comparison of the numbers of marriages,
christenings, and burials for the two periods of 21 years comprising our
period, shows no evidence of increase during Elizabeth’s reign, while a
comparison of the entries in this period with the corresponding entries
for the 21 years, 1754–1774, shows that there was no material increase in
the population after a lapse of some 200 years.

                  Marriages.        Christenings.     Burials.
1561–1581                      278             1,033           923
1582–1602 {72}                 295               973         1,052
1754–1774                      321             1,276         1,010

We know from actual survey that in 1775 the population was 2,235, and the
number houses 445.  This population, compared with the number of burials
shown above, gives a death-rate of 21 per 1,000.  The mortality in
Elizabeth’s time was probably much higher.  Putting it at 26 per 1,000,
the average number of burials stated above would represent a population
of about 1,800.  I think we may regard this number as a safe estimate of
the population of our town during Elizabeth’s time, and that the number
of houses would be about 360.  In 1801 the population was 2,332, and I am
inclined to think that there was very little difference in the size and
character of our town in the 16th century compared with what it was at
the beginning of the present century.


We cannot pass from this part of our subject without noticing an
interesting episode in the history of the town which belongs to this
period.  About the year 1571 the resident population of Lowestoft was
temporarily enlarged by the hospitable reception of a number of “Dutch
Folk,” as they are called in the register.  These were refugees from the
Low Countries, who sought shelter in this country, at the invitation of
Elizabeth, from the ruthless persecution of the Duke of Alva.  Thousands
of these Protestant refugees were admitted into English towns—some 4,000
into Norwich.  Swinden gives us a copy of a letter of Elizabeth written
in 1568 to Yarmouth, asking them to admit 30 Dutch families to the
privileges of their town.  Whether a similar letter was written to
Lowestoft we know not, but it is evident from the register that quite as
large a number as this must have found asylum here, and made it their
home for some three or four years.  Marriages, christenings, and burials
of “Dutch Folk” appear frequently in the register during these years, and
the fact that among the burials for one year (1573) no less than 10 Dutch
names appear, shews that there were a considerable number then living
here.  Among the names are some that seem to belong to families of rank.
They left about the year 1574, when Alva had been recalled; and when the
terror of his executions had been replaced by a patriotic eagerness to
take part in the war which was soon to result in the Freedom of the

The following account of the home comforts enjoyed by the less wealthy of
our ancestors in the early part of the 16th century, as compared with the
incipient luxury of the Elizabethan age, is given us by the author of the
“Chronicles of Holinshed,” who lived during this period.

    “Neither do I speak this in reproach of any man, God is my judge; but
    to show that I do rejoice rather to see how God has blessed us with
    His good gifts, and to behold how that in a time wherein all things
    _are grown to most excessive prices_ we do yet find the means to
    obtain and achieve such _furniture_ as has been heretofore
    impossible.  There are old men yet dwelling in the village where I
    remain which have noted three things to be marvellously altered in
    England within _their sound remembrance_.  One is the multitude of
    _chimnies lately_ erected; whereas in their young days there were not
    above two or three, if so many, in most _uplandish_ towns _of the
    realm_ (the religious houses and manor places of their lords always
    excepted and peradventure of some great personage), but each made his
    fire against a reredos in the hall where he dined and dressed his
    meat.  The second is, the great amendment of lodging, for, said they,
    our fathers and we ourselves have lain full oft upon straw pallets
    covered only with a sheet, under coverlets made of dogswaine or hop
    harlots (I use their own terms) and a good round log under their
    heads instead of a bolster.  If it were so, that the father or good
    man of the house, had a mattress or flock bed, and thereto a sack of
    chaff to rest his head upon, he thought himself to be as well lodged
    as the lord of the town, so well were they contented.  Pillows said
    they, were thought meet only for women in child bed.  As for
    servants, if they had any sheet above them it was well, for seldom
    had they any under their bodies to keep them from the pricking straws
    that ran oft through the canvass, and rased their hardened hides.
    The third thing they tell of, is the exchange of treene platters (so
    called I suppose from tree or wood) into pewter, and wooden spoons
    into silver or tin.  For so common were all sorts of treene vessels
    in old times, that a man should hardly find four pieces of pewter (of
    which one peradventure a salt) in a good farmer’s house.”

    Chapter XVI.  “In times past men were contented to dwell in houses
    built of sallow, willow &c., so that the use of the oak was in a
    manner dedicated wholly unto churches, religious houses, princes’
    palaces, navigation, &c., but now sallow &c., is rejected, and
    nothing but oak any where regarded and yet see the change, for when
    our houses were builded of willow then had we oaken men, but now that
    our houses are come to be made of oak, our men are not only become
    willow, but a great many altogether of straw, which is a great
    alteration.  Now have we many chimnies and yet our tenderlings
    complain of rheums, catarrhs and poses; then had we none but
    reredosses and our heads did never ache.  For as the smoke in those
    days was supposed to be a sufficient hardning of the timber of the
    house, so it was reputed a far better medicine to keep the good man
    and his family from the quack or pose, wherewith then very few were

    Chapter XVIII.  “Our pewterers in time past employed the use of
    pewter only upon dishes and pots, and a few other trifles for
    service, whereas now there are grown into such exquisite cunning that
    they can in manner imitate by infusion any form or fashion of cup
    made by the goldsmiths’ craft.  In some places beyond the sea a
    garnish of good flat pewter (I say flat, because dishes and platters
    in my time began to be made deep and like basins, and indeed were
    convenient both for sauce and keeping the meat warm) is almost
    esteemed so precious as the like number of vessels that are made of
    fine silver.”

The remains of ancient houses or other buildings which have survived the
process of rebuilding in our town are very few, but there is one house at
least, representing the houses of Elizabeth’s time which retains very
much of its original character.  This is the house known as the “South
Flint House,” at the top of Wilde’s score which bears the initials W. M.
and the date 1586 over the front door.  The front of this house is built
of square flints, much more expensive work than the alternate layers of
cobbles and bricks with which the other walls were made.  The ground
floor appears to have originally consisted of one large room, with a
fireplace and chimney in the centre, corresponding with that described by
Holinshed as the hall where the “good-man” dined and dressed his meat
(except that the fire was not against a “reredos” at the side wall).  The
two rooms above this are evidently much the same as they were at first,
having each a stone fireplace with W. M.  The house has been enlarged
since with the addition of a wing.


Two hundred years had passed since the termination of the Parliamentary
contest about the grant of Edward the III’s. Charter.  Lowestoft had not
only established her right to exist, but was becoming an old town, and
the events of the old contest had become matters of ancient history.

The Yarmouth bailiffs were still exercising their right to take tolls
from ships loading or unloading in “Kirkley Road;” but the amount
received from these tolls during a whole year, as entered in the Town
Ledger, was very small, varying from a few pounds in one year to a few
shillings in another.  It seems that this demand had been confined to
vessels trading in general merchandise, apart altogether from the claim
to take tolls from fishing boats anchored off Lowestoft.

During these two hundred years Yarmouth had retained and even increased
her trade, and had recovered her population, though her progress had been
much retarded by the persistent action of the sea in blocking up her

The very existence of Yarmouth depended on her harbour.  Her anomalous
privilege of taking tolls from ships anchored in the North Sea could be
no substitute for a harbour.  This she knew well, and within two years of
her obtaining her Charter, on the ground that her harbour was blocked up,
she commenced opening another mouth.

Between 1393 and 1565 she had five times strained her resources to meet
the expense of making new mouths, all of which had been blocked up; some
almost immediately; one had been kept open for several years, but not
without a constant expenditure of money and labour.  At length in 1565
she undertook for the seventh time the work of making a new mouth.  On
this occasion, the assistance of a Dutch engineer was obtained, who knew
how these things were done in Holland.  Under his advice and
superintendance a mouth was constructed, fortified by piles and
stonework, and involving a much larger outlay than any of the previous
works.  The relief from taxes, and the reduction of her fee farm rent,
which every King had granted from Richard II. to Elizabeth, was
supplemented by special grants to assist the town in this undertaking.
After some years of persevering effort, the work was completed and the
existing Gorleston harbour was made.  Ships could now freely enter her
harbour and bring their cargos to the “Crane Key.”  A revival of her
trade followed, and the wealth of her merchants rapidly increased.  It
was now that those houses were built along the Quay, the remains of many
of which still survive to shew the grandeur of their original structure.
One of the finest of these old houses is the venerable Star Hotel in
which the room, called Nelson’s room, retains its original character:—its
richly carved oak pannelling, embossed ceiling, and large stone
fireplace.  But while her trade in general merchandise and in fish curing
had increased, there had been no proportionate revival of her old fishing
fleet.  When Elizabeth was calling upon her subjects to supply ships to
fight against the Spanish Armada, Yarmouth was joined with Lowestoft in a
demand for one ship and one pinnace.  The ship supplied was the “_Grace_”
of Yarmouth, of 120 tons, and carrying 70 men.  The “pinnace” was
supplied by Lowestoft at the cost of £100.  Such a contribution from
Yarmouth was very different to that of the 43 ships and 1075 sailors,
with which she supplied Edward the III. at the siege of Calais.

Meanwhile with the assistance of the Dutch and French fishermen the Free
Fair at Yarmouth was going on as merrily as ever, and the Barons of the
Cinque Ports still paid their annual visit to take part in its
management.  Even in the Armada year their visit was not withheld, as
appears from the following amusing account of the termination of their
journey, when coming to Yarmouth in the autumn of that year.

    “The next day after we had dined at Layestoff, we took horse, and
    proceeded on the rest of our journey, and drawing towards Yarmouth
    Bridge, there attended our coming divers sorts of poor, lame and
    distressed people, who cried out for some relief, on whom we bestowed
    some pieces of money, and so riding over the Bridge about 2 o’clock
    in the afternoon we arrived sooner than our coming was expected.
    Notwithstanding there gathered and flocked together a great store of
    people, who very friendly bade us welcome; to whom we gave thanks and
    passed forward unto the town along the Quay, and there took our
    lodging, which had been provided for us at one Mr. Dameth’s house,
    where we were very courteously entertained.” {77}

At this time the Yarmouth bailiffs were possessed of an admiralty
jurisdiction, with special powers for taking cognizance of offences
committed in “Kirkley Road” or as it was now called “Lestoff Road” (as
spelt in the town ledger of the period).  At this time moreover (about
1595) the mouth of the harbour was in a better condition than it ever had
been, and the Yarmouth fish merchants had no longer any need to
transgress the Statute of Herrings themselves by unloading their fish
outside the harbour.  It was under these circumstances that the Bailiffs
determined to attempt a revival of the almost obsolete provisions of
their ancient charter which prohibited the buying of Herrings in Kirkley

It appears that for some years previously fish merchants from other towns
in the Eastern counties had been in the habit of visiting these roads in
the autumn season and filling their “Ketches” with herrings from the
foreign fishing boats.  It was against these men that the Yarmouth
bailiffs now directed their attacks.

We hear of their proceedings from “The Complaint of the Ketchmen against
Yarmouth” submitted to the Privy Council in 1595, signed by the bailiffs
and inhabitants of Ipswich, Southwold, Manningtree, Dunwich, Colchester,
and Aldborough.

It appears that the Yarmouth Bailiffs had not only sent their officers
into the roads off Lowestoft to require the foreign fishermen to carry
their fish into Yarmouth, but that they had taken active measures against
the buyers, and had carried off “seven men’s goods which they have
brought thither to be sold and have committed the owners thereof to
prison and constrained them to buy their goods again.”

Lowestoft merchants were also warned to discontinue the illegal practice
of buying fish in Kirkley Road.  They at once joined in the petition of
the Ketchman to the Privy Council, and a suit against Yarmouth was
commenced in the Court of the Star chamber.  The managers of the
Lowestoft case retained the services of Mr. Counsellor Bacon, then a
rising barrister, afterwards the great Lord Bacon.  In conjunction with
two senior counsel he gave the following very decided opinion in favour
of Lowestoft;—

    “That by the statutes and charters aforesaid any man may sell or buy
    herrings in the road called Kirkley Road, without the lawful let or
    hindrance of the town of Yarmouth; and if any proclamation be made by
    the said men of Yarmouth, or any other of the subjects of this realm
    to the contrary, the same, in our opinion, is unlawful, whether it be
    within or without this time of the Fair.”

                                      Chas. Drew; Ja. Bargrave; Fr. Bacon.

The case was referred by the Star Chamber to the judges for their opinion
on the questions of law involved.  They at once cut the knot by deciding
that the old statutes and charters were still in force, but that the “7
leuks” mentioned in them, could only mean 7 miles; the measure recently
established by statute, and the only legal measure which the word “leuca”
could then mean.  Such a decision would at once settle the appeal in
favour of Lowestoft.  The Star Chamber however refused to accept this
interpretation, and sent the case back to the Judges.  The Judges adhered
to their construction of the word “leuca,” but advised that question
should be referred to Parliament for settlement.  The decision of the
Judges was convenient, but in holding that the word “leuca” in the old
charters meant a “mile” as determined by the recent statute, they clearly
ignored the whole purport and intention of the enactment against which
Lowestoft had fought in the Parliaments of Edward and Richard.  A Bill
appears to have been prepared to be introduced into the following Session
(1597) for giving Parliamentary sanction to this construction, and
ordering that the distance of 7 miles should be measured along the shore
from Yarmouth towards Lowestoft, and that a mark should be set up at the
end of that distance.  This Bill, although set out by Gillingwater, does
not appear to have been passed.  The result however, of these proceedings
was that in pursuance of the advice of the judges, the distance was
measured, and a pole set up at the end of the 7 miles on Gunton Denes.
Although recognised by Lowestoft men as marking the boundary beyond which
they might not land herrings, it was ignored altogether by Yarmouth; as
it had not been placed in pursuance of any legal order.  The Yarmouth
bailiffs however abstained from any further assertion of their claims at
this time, and the Lowestoft merchants and the Suffolk Ketchmen continued
to carry on their dealings with the fishing boats in the Roads as before.

Why the Act of Parliament, advised by the judges, was not introduced, or,
if introduced, was not passed, we are not told.  Probably the influence
of Yarmouth in the House of Commons was very different at this time from
what it was when the “Commons” supported Lowestoft against the Crown in
the times of Edward and Richard.

The death of Elizabeth, and the succession of James I., gave Yarmouth an
opportunity to procure a new charter from the Crown, which contained
provisions for removing the doubts that had been raised as to the
whereabouts and extent of Kirkley Road.

It contained a new grant of Kirkley Road, and actually revived the
obsolete “leuca,” as a measure of 2 miles, so as to make the new grant
include “Lestoff” Road, and the whole stretch of Roads, “from Winterton
Ness to Easton Ness, containing in length 14 leuks or thereabouts, and in
breadth into the sea 7 leuks from every part of the shore within those

For this charter they undertook to pay the Crown an additional rent of £5
per annum. {80}  Having thus repaired their armour they waited for a
convenient occasion to renew the contest.  But some 50 years or more were
to pass, and another war was to be waged, before Yarmouth’s opportunity
arrived for testing the strength of her new weapon.



At the beginning of the 17th century the decay of our fisheries, and the
consequent loss of sailors, on whose services the country depended for
the protection of our shores, coupled with the warning which the
Spaniards had given us, had caused a sense of national danger, which was
realised by many besides ministers of the Crown.  During his imprisonment
of 13 years in the Tower of London, poor Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a
pamphlet, which he presented to James I., in which he complained bitterly
of our shame in allowing the Dutch and the French to get the command of
our home fisheries.  He says that

    “While the English were sending their ships into the North Seas to
    catch whales, the Dutch were catching the herrings and codfish in our
    own seas; that in 1603 the Dutch fishermen sold £1,759,000 worth of
    herrings, and employed 2,000 busses and 50,000 men.”

Among other pamphlets written to rouse the nation and the government to
take active measures for curing this evil, a powerful appeal appeared
from an anonymous writer, entitled “England’s way to win wealth and to
employ ships and manners.  By Tobias, Gentleman, Fisherman and Mariner,”
dated 1614.  Speaking of the Dutch fishermen, he says—

    “Also to Yarmouth do they daily (i.e. during the season), come into
    the haven up to the Key, all the most part of the great fleet of
    Hollanders, that go in sword-pinks, Holland toads, crab skuits,
    walnut shells, and great and small yeurs, 100 and 200 sail at a time
    together, and all the herrings they do bring they sell for ready
    money to Yarmouth men; and also the Frenchmen of Picardy and Normandy
    some hundred sail of them at a time, do come hither, and all the
    herrings they catch they do sell to the Yarmouth herring-mongers for
    ready gold.”

The writer gives the following account of the fisheries carried on by the
Yarmouth merchants in their own boats.

    “To this town belong some 20 Iceland Barks, which they do send for
    cod and ling, and some 150 sail of North Sea boats.  They make a
    shift to live; but if they had the use of busses and also barrel fish
    they would excel all England and Holland; for they be the only
    fishermen for the North Seas, and also the best for the handling of
    fish that are in this land.”

He also gives an account of the trade as carried on at Lowestoft at this
time, which you will be surprised to hear spoken of as a “decayed town.”

    “To the north of Swold Haven (Southwold), three leagues are Kirkley
    and Layestof, decayed towns.  They have 6 or 7 North Sea boats; but
    they of Layestof make benefit yearly of buying herrings of the
    Hollanders; for likewise these Hollanders are hosted with the
    Layestof men, as they are with the Yarmouthians.”

The government of Elizabeth had adopted various measures (with one of
which you are already well acquainted) for encouraging the employment of
English ships and sailors in the fishing trade, and the general commerce
of the country.  But the English could not successfully compete with the
Dutch fishermen even off our own shores.  Charles took stronger measures
to get these fisheries into the hands of Englishmen.  He determined to
issue a prohibition against the subjects of foreign countries fishing in
what he claimed to be British seas, without a license from the English
government.  In order to be able to enforce such an offensive measure he
took steps for providing a more powerful navy than the country had ever
before possessed.  Unfortunately he had already quarreled with his
Parliament, and he had to obtain the money required by demands authorised
only by his Royal Prerogative.  However popular the measure would have
been, if it had been carried out by constitutional means, the imposition
upon the whole country, without the consent of Parliament, of the tax
called “ship money,” was the fatal proceeding which brought on the Civil
War.  He succeeded however at first, and at once issued his prohibition
which the Dutch refused to submit to, and in 1536, Hume tells us—

    “A formidable fleet of 60 sail, the greatest that England had ever
    known, was equipped under the Earl of Northumberland who had orders
    to attack the Herring busses of the Dutch which fished in what was
    called the British seas.”

The effect of this attack upon the Dutch and French fishing in what was
called the British seas was felt by Yarmouth and Lowestoft immediately.
No more could their merchants rely upon their foreign visitors for their
supply of herrings.  If they were to retain their trade in herrings they
must now catch them themselves or have their supplies limited to the
produce of the English fishermen from southern ports.


Both towns had submitted, with the other maritime towns of Norfolk and
Suffolk to the demands for ship money with which this fleet had been
provided, but when the demand for more ships and more money was made in
the following years, the loyalty of both towns must have been sorely

The events which followed upon the King’s renewal of his demand for
ship-money throughout the kingdom, form the saddest chapters in the
history of our country.  We have only to notice those in which our two
towns were concerned.

The Long Parliament met in 1640, and in 1642 Yarmouth declared herself
for “the King and Parliament,” which meant that she was prepared to side
with the Parliament against the King.  Lowestoft took a different course.
Although probably, like most other towns, and even families, at this
terrible and critical period, our old townspeople were divided on the
grave questions at issue, it appears that several of the leading persons
in the town were so much inclined to the King’s side, that instead of at
once joining the East Anglian Association with the rest of the towns and
parishes, and most of the landed gentry in the county, they entered into
communication with some of the Cavalier party and offered Lowestoft as a
rendezvous for the King’s friends.  Such a course was perhaps only a
natural sequel to the steps taken a few years before in applying to the
King to exempt the town from contributing to the expenses of the county
members, on the ground of being Ancient Demesne of the Crown.  In the
return of Sir Nathaniel Barnardiston and Sir Philip Parker, the Roundhead
members for Suffolk, in the Long Parliament, Lowestoft had no part.

We have unfortunately no local records of the measures taken by our old
townspeople, or by their cavalier visitors for converting the little town
into a royalist stronghold; but it appears that in the early part of the
year 1643, while Cromwell was at Cambridge, busy in establishing there
the Head quarters of the East Anglian Association, he received
information of “a great confederacy among the malignants of a town called
Lowestoft, being a place of great consequence.”  It is said that the
information was given him by a man who brought fish to Cambridge;
doubtless a Yarmouth man.  Cromwell, with his usual energy, started off
at once to nip this “malignant” movement in the bud.

We have a full account of what took place from a letter written at the
time by Mr. J. Cory, a Norwich man.  Cromwell started with 5 troops of
horse, which he increased at Norwich, with 80 volunteer dragoons, under
Captain Fountain and Captain Rich, and arranged with the Yarmouth people
to meet him at Lowestoft with an additional force of foot volunteers and
5 pieces of ordnance.  With this formidable force he appeared at
Lowestoft on the March.  He found

    “That the town had blocked themselves up, all except where they had
    placed their ordnance, which were three pieces, before which a chain
    was drawn to keep off the horse.  The Colonel surrounded the town and
    demanded that they should give up the strangers, the town, and their
    army, promising them their favour, if so; if not, none.  They yielded
    to deliver their strangers, but not the rest.  Where upon our Norwich
    dragoons crept under the chain before mentioned, and came within
    pistol shot of the ordnance, preparing to fire upon their cannoneer,
    who fled.  So they gained the two pieces of ordnance and broke the
    chain, and they and the horses entered the town without resistance;
    when presently eighteen strangers yielded themselves—Sir T. Barker,
    Sir John Pettus, of Norfolk, Mr. Knivett, of Ashwell Thorpe, Mr.
    Richard Catelyn’s son, some say his father too was there in the
    morning.  Sir F. Cory, my unfortunate cousin, who I wish could have
    been better persuaded, Mr. Brooke, the sometime minister of Yarmouth,
    and some others escaped over the river.  There was good stores of
    pistols and other arms; I bear above 50 cases of pistols.  The
    Colonel stayed there Tuesday and Wednesday night.  On Friday night
    the Colonel brought in hither (Norwich), his prisoners taken at
    Lowestoft and Mr. Trott of Beccles.  On Saturday night, with one
    troop, he sent all the prisoners to Cambridge.  Sir John Wentworth
    (of Somerleyton), has come off with the payment of £1000.” {85}

We have a short account of these proceedings from the other side, from no
less a personage than the Vicar himself, Mr. Jacob Rous, who had
evidently taken an active part in the movement.  He has left in the
Parish Register, this note, dated 1646.

    “Reader, whoever thou art, that shall have occasion to use this
    booke, know that by this means for these two following years it comes
    to be soe imperfect as thou find’st it.  On the 14th March, 1643,
    Colonel Cromwell, with a brigade of horse and certain foote, which he
    had from Yarmouth, came to this towne and from thence carried away
    prisoners.  Sir Thomas Barker and his brother, Sir John Pettis, Mr.
    Knivett, of Ashwell Thorpe, Mr. Catlin, Captain Hammond, Mr. Thomas
    Cory, with others to Cambridge, and with them, myself, Mr. Thomas
    Allen, Mr. Simon Canham and Thomas Canham, of this towne, so that for
    some time following, there was in this town neither minister nor
    clerke, but the inhabitants weare enforced to procure now one and
    then another to baptize their children, by which means there was no
    register kept, only those few hearafter mentioned wear by myselfe
    baptised in those intervalls when I enjoied my freedom.”

We have in these extracts, I believe, the only original records of this
exciting episode in the history of our old town.  What became of the
“army,” which Cromwell had been led to suppose he would find at Lowestoft
we are not informed.  The accounts give the impression that the
inhabitants of Lowestoft had taken very little part in the movement, and
that the preparations were the work of the influential “strangers,” with
the concurrence of the Vicar, the Parish Clerk, and a few other leading
men.  Mr. Mighells, one of the leading merchants of the time, had the
credit of saving the little town from the fate in which the gallant
cavaliers would have involved it, by appearing on the scene and
dissuading resistance to Cromwell’s entrance.  After a stay of two nights
at the Swan, and the capture of the “strangers” and the few “malignants”
among the townspeople, Cromwell returned to Cambridge with his troop and
left the little town in peace, without considering it necessary to leave
any force to insure its future allegiance to the Parliamentary cause.

The story of this incident has naturally been considerably improved.  In
a petition to the judges, drawn up some 20 years afterwards, the
proceedings of Cromwell and his soldiers were represented as “taking and
plundering the town, imprisoning many of their principal inhabitants, and
causing others to fly beyond the sea.”  The plundering seems to have been
confined to the quartering of the soldiers for two nights without
payment.  Tradition only tells of one case, illustrative of any other
plundering, viz.: that of the blacksmith, Frarey, who Mr. Suckling tells
us—“was completely stripped of all his goods and obliged to keep his
horse in the parlour of his house to prevent it being carried off by the
soldiers.”  The “stripping of all his goods by the soldiers” consisted
probably in their using his iron and tools to shoe their horses, without
payment.  Why, if bent on further plunder they did not take the trouble
of looking into his parlour, the story does not explain.  The “many of
the principal inhabitants taken prisoners” were the four persons
mentioned by Mr. Rouse.  The others who “had to fly beyond the sea” were
apparently a few of our sea warriors who had served in the King’s navy,
and who took advantage of the civil war to start a career of privateering
from a Dutch port.  We shall hear of their proceedings shortly.


In 1642 the Yarmouth men had the luck to capture a ship sent over by the
Queen with arms and ammunition for the King’s army.  After confiscating
this ship in their Admiralty Court, with the approval of the Parliament,
they fitted it out as a man of war, and in 1644 sent it out as a
privateer on the side of the Parliament.  They commenced hostilities by
capturing a “pink” lying in the harbour, of which ‘Captain Allen’ was
part owner.  This was Mr. Thomas Allen of Lowestoft, who was then one of
Cromwell’s prisoners at Cambridge, afterwards Admiral Allen and Sir
Thomas Allen of Somerleyton.  He had gone over to Yarmouth the day before
Cromwell’s visit to change dollars, and it appears that he was captured
by some Yarmouth men and handed over to Cromwell.  He was released after
about two years detention, and in 1645 we find him engaged in active
warfare for the King against Yarmouth.  The Yarmouth men confined their
claim against the pink to Captain Allen’s share, which they sold to Mr.
James Wylde, another Lowestoft man, but not a ‘malignant,’ for £35.  We
are told by Mr. Swinden that

    “The Inhabitants of Yarmouth had already suffered very much by losses
    at sea, their ships, vessels, and goods being frequently taken and
    carried away by “rovers and pirates” at sea, and others in hostility
    against the Parliament, whereby the town was greatly impoverished.”

Out of the 23 Yarmouth ships sent to catch cod in Iceland in 1644, 20
were sunk by the “pirates.”  To protect their fishermen, Yarmouth, in
1645, obtained three men of war from the Parliament.  These ships
captured several of the pirate ships, among the crew of which they found
several Lowestoft men.  These captures brought a letter from Ostend
signed by Captain Allen and 11 other Englishmen, including two or three
more Lowestoft names, threatening Yarmouth with reprisals if these men
were not liberated.  The hostilities carried on by these “Ostend pirates”
against the Yarmouth fishing boats could not have much advanced the cause
of the King.  We do not, however, hear of any lives being taken in the
encounters, but the loss inflicted upon the Yarmouth and other fishermen
must have been very severe, if the following statement in Captain Allen’s
letter was anything more than bluster.

    “Have we given you thousands of prisoners which we might have
    indungeoned, nay hanged, but that rebellious ignorance impleaded
    their escape.  Now we can if you compel us make a hundred suffer for


In 1644 our church suffered some illusage from the Protestant fervour of
the Parliament.  The story, as told by the Vicar, Mr. Jacob Rouse, is as

    “In the same year after, on the 22nd of June, there came one Jessope
    with a commission from the Earl of Manchester to take away from
    gravestones all inscriptions on which he found “orate pro anima;”  A
    wretched commissioner not able to read or find out that which his
    commission informed him to remove, hee took up in our church so much
    brasses as he sould to Mr. Josiah Wild for five shillings, which was
    afterwards contrary to my knowledge, run into the litle bell that
    hangs in the town house.  Thear wearr taken up in the middle ally,
    twelve peeces, belonging to the twelve severall generations of the
    Jettors; in the chancell, one belonging to Bishop Scroope; the words
    were “Richardus Scroope Episcopus Dromorocensis et hujus ecclesiæ
    vicarius, hic jacet, qui obiit 10 may anno 1364.”  There was also by
    this Jessop taken up in the vicar’s chancell, one the north side of
    the church, a fair peece of brasse with this inscription “Hic jacet
    Johannes Goodknapp hujus ecclesiæ vicarius qui obiit 4 Decembris anno
    dni 1442.”

The vicar’s spelling is bad for this time, and his account is curiously
inaccurate.  Bishop Scroope’s Christian name was Thomas, not Richard, and
he died in 1491, not 1364.  The Jettors were an old Lowestoft family, and
we have seen their names in the Subsidy Rolls for 1524, in which John
Jettor, senr., of that date, appears as possessed of £10 worth of
“movabyll goods.”  The existence of brasses in the Parish Church
commemorating 12 generations of this family before 1644 was very
improbable.  No such name as John Goodknapp appears in the list of vicars
in the Diocesan Register.

It appears that the “litle bell,” which was cast from the brasses taken
from the church, was in use as the chapel bell in Gillingwater’s time at
the end of the last century.  It was re-cast when the chapel was
converted into the Town Hall; in the tower of which it still hangs, and
sounds the hours for the Town Clock.

Although both Yarmouth and Lowestoft must have suffered with the rest of
the country from the restrictions on social and commercial intercourse
during these sad times, the fishing business seems to have improved
rather than otherwise, owing to a diminution in the number of foreign
competitors, and an increase in the exportation of fish.

There appears to have been a considerable increase in the number of ships
sent from both towns to the cod fishery off Iceland, and to the herring
fishery in the North Sea.  During the years 1641 and 1649, the Yarmouth
cod fishing reached its greatest height.  The ships destroyed by the
“pirates” in 1644 were soon replaced, and the accounts shew that no less
than 33 barks were sent to the Iceland fishery in 1648, besides 182 boats
employed in the herring fishery.  According to Gillingwater, as many as
30 ships were employed by Lowestoft in the same fisheries at this one.
If this was the case, the Lowestoft fishermen must have made a great
advance since the days of Elizabeth, when we were told by Mr. Mighells
that their ships going to Iceland had been reduced to one.

Gillingwater gives a full account of the cod fishery, as carried on by
the Lowestoft fishermen, and tells us that in his time—

    “There was a trench still visible upon the Denes, a little to the
    north of Lowestoft, in which stood the blubber coppers where they
    used to boil the livers of the fish when they returned home from the


It was in 1644, the year after Cromwell’s visit, that Lowestoft suffered
the greatest calamity with which the town was ever afflicted, before or
since.  On the 10th March in that year, we are told, by Mr. Rous,—

    “There happened in this towne a most violent and dreadful fire which
    consumed and burnt down soe many houses above and beneath the cliffe,
    as could not be rebuilt according to the judgement of knowing
    artificers who viewed it for above ten thousand pounds.”

It appears from the account of a survey of the losses incurred by the
different owners, that the totals comprised £4,145 10. on dwelling
houses, on fish-houses £3,085 0. 0. and on goods £3,066 12. 4. {90a}

The number of houses burnt was stated afterwards to have been 140. {90b}
According to a survey made in 1642 the yearly value of the houses and
tenements in the Parish was put at £412 6. 8., and the value of land at
£447 11. 8., making a total of £859 18. 4.  As the valuation of the
houses and fish-houses burnt was £7,000, a sum which at as low a rate as
5 per cent would represent an annual value of £350, the property burnt
would appear to have been much the larger part in value of all the houses
and tenements in the town.

Considering how simple the construction of even the better class of
houses was at this time, the value put upon the dwelling houses burnt,
would seem to imply that they included many of the best houses on the
cliff, where the owners of the fish-houses at the bottom resided: though
the fire does not seem to have reached the house, which still exists at
the top of Wilde’s Score.

The losses of the owners on fish-houses ranged from £25 to £450.  Mr.
Josiah Wilde’s loss was £400 on fish-houses.  Doubtless this included the
large fish-house at the bottom of Wilde’s Score.  Many of these
fish-houses had probably been built in the early times of the Edwards and
the Henrys.  In a statement made some 20 years afterwards these
fish-houses, then restored, are referred to as “monuments” proving the
antiquity of the trades of the town.

In 1649 another valuation was made, in pursuance of an order of the
Parliament.  According to this valuation the value of property in the
parish had been much reduced since 1641.  The yearly value of all the
lands and tenements in the parish was put then at £655.  Doubtless this
reduction was mainly due to the loss of property caused by the fire.  But
assuming that the value of the house property at this period was very
small; and the annual value of land still less, it is impossible to
reconcile these statements of the yearly value of the whole parish, with
the valuation of the property destroyed by the fire.  The explanation of
the discrepancy would seem to be that the valuation of their property by
our old townspeople to furnish a basis for taxation, was on a very
different principle to that on which it was valued for the purpose of
supporting a claim for exemption.  Probably houses had no marketable or
ascertainable value either for sale or letting at this time, and the
estimate of either their capital or annual value would be of a very
speculative character.


The value of the “goods” lost by the fire is put at £3,066.  This amount
of property was owned by some 60 out of the three or four hundred
householders which the town contained.  The loss of Mr. Josiah Wilde was
put at £280; the loss of Mr. Robert Bits at £370.  As the small sum of £2
is given as the value of the goods lost by some of the smaller sufferers,
we must regard the valuation of goods destroyed as sufficiently
trustworthy to give an idea of the value of the stock in trade and
furniture possessed by the merchants and tradesmen of the town at this
period.  A comparison of this valuation with the £790 returned as the
value of the “movabyll goods” possessed by our townspeople in 1524, shews
how largely the wealth of our merchants had increased since that time,
notwithstanding the decay of their fisheries, and the other adverse
circumstances against which they had been struggling, and how great had
been the increase in the furniture and other commodities of life, which
was noticed by Holinshed as commencing in Elizabeth’s time.

But even so the inhabitants generally must have been very poor and badly
housed compared with the present day.

Putting 1,500 acres (nearly the whole acreage of the Parish) as the
quantity of land valued in 1642 at £447. 11. 8. we have an annual value
at that time of about 6 shillings an acre.  The quantity of land in the
Parish now rated as agricultural land is about 760 acres, and the
rateable value £994 or about 28 shillings per acre; not 5 times its value
in 1642.

Putting 400 as the number of houses having an aggregate value in 1642 of
£412 we should have an average annual value of about £1 per house.  The
number of houses now in the parish (of course apart from Kirkley), is
4,867 and the rateable value £77,680, giving an average value of about
£16 per house, or 16 times that of 1642.  This very great increase of
value represents in the main the difference in the character of the
dwellings in which our ancestors lived, and of those required by an
advanced civilization.  Writing in 1790 Gillingwater gives the following
description of the town at that time:—

    “Lowestoft is about a mile in length, and consists chiefly of one
    principal street, running in a gradual descent from north to south,
    which is intersected by several smaller streets or lanes from the
    west.  It is well paved, particularly High street, and consists of
    about 445 houses, exclusive of fish-houses, which are chiefly built
    of brick.  Several of the houses have been lately rebuilt in the
    modern style, and make a handsome appearance.  _It is probable that
    the town consists of much the same number of houses now as it had
    many years ago_; _there being very few houses erected upon new
    foundations_, _but only rebuilt upon the old ones_.  _Lowestoft
    contains about 2,231 inhabitants_.” {92}



It was while our merchants were suffering from their losses caused by the
great fire, that the Yarmouth people made a third effort to enforce the
privileges of their ancient charters now confirmed and strengthened by
the charter of James I.  It appears that for some years before 1659, they
had sent boats into the roads off Lowestoft to exact harbour dues from
fishing boats, but in this year they took a much stronger measure.  They
had in their harbour a large ship, probably the Queen’s ship which we
have before heard of as used for war-like purposes.  They fitted out this
ship as a “man of war” and sent her to ride in the roads off Lowestoft.
The ship was formally “commissioned” by the Yarmouth bailiffs under the
command of Thomas Allen, a namesake of the Lowestoft champion, to prevent
the Western fishermen and other strangers selling their fish to the
Lowestoft merchants in the roads; with power to seize their ships, etc.
The “man of war” was sufficiently formidable to terrorise the strangers,
but not the Lowestoft men, who having well armed themselves for the
encounter, went out in their boats to attack it.  According to the
statement of the Yarmouth bailiffs—

    “The chief men of the said town came upon the said Thomas Allen and
    his company in the road of the said town, violently and riotously in
    boats, and with force of arms, etc., drave him and them out of the
    road, threatening them otherwise to fire their vessel.  Whereby the
    said Thomas Allen with his vessel and company was forced to come away
    without doing anything.” {93}

In consequence of this vigorous action on the part of the Lowestoft men
the ship was sent again sufficiently armed to resist any second attack,

    “With a flag on the maintop-roast head, having 25 men on board, armed
    with swords, half-pikes, muskets, and a great store of stones, the
    ship sails into the roads of Corton, Lowestoft and Kirkley, during
    the chiefest part of the season, daily chasing the fishermen so that
    none durst deliver any herrings.” {94a}

According to a statement in a petition of the inhabitants of Lowestoft to
the House of Lords, {94b} the effect of these very high-handed
proceedings on the part of the Yarmouth bailiffs was that the Lowestoft
merchants were deprived of “at least a thousand lasts of herrings,” which
they would otherwise have purchased from their visitors during the
season.  This was probably an exaggeration, but it was evident that
unless this assertion of their privileges by the Yarmouth bailiffs was at
once resisted, the herring-trade of Lowestoft would be annihilated at a
time when its merchants had been rebuilding and enlarging their
fish-houses with a view to an increase of their fish-curing trade.  It
was stated that at this time they had capacity in their fish-houses for
“hanging” 700 lasts of herrings.  This number of lasts were “hung” in the
Lowestoft curing houses in 1674, {94c} a larger number than could be hung
at one time in our present curing houses.  But the number of herrings
cured in the town would only be part of the quantity passing through the
merchant’s hands—then and now.


Impoverished as the merchants were by their losses from the fire, and the
expense of rebuilding their houses and fish-houses, they bravely
determined to resist the pretensions of Yarmouth by another appeal to the
governing powers of the country, and at once took steps to gain the
support and co-operation of other towns interested in the herring trade.

Meanwhile events had been taking place of much more importance to the
country than the quarrel between Lowestoft and Yarmouth.  The Cromwellian
rule had come to an end, and a King again sat on the throne of England.
Yarmouth had lost the claim to the favour of the crown which her
ancestors had enjoyed in the days of the Edwards.  She must secure the
favour of the new King by other means.  Before his landing, the Burgesses
had met and determined that it was “a convenient season” to send an
address to their King with the offer of a little pecuniary assistance.
In August, 1660, they submitted a most loyal address to their “dread
sovereign” congratulating him upon his being restored to his rights and
possessions, etc., and acknowledging in all humility their obligation to
pay the old fee-farm rent (which they had already paid to Cromwell by
composition), and tendering him £266 13. 4. in cash for arrears.  In the
following December they sent him a further present of £500. {95}

The Lowestoft people had no reason to doubt the good will of Charles, and
they commenced their suit by a petition to the King himself complaining
of the conduct of the Yarmouth bailiffs, and supporting it by numerous
petitions to the House of Lords, the Judges, the Fishmonger’s Company,
and many great men of the day.  This Petition to the King was very
favourably received, as appears from the following reply from His
Majesty, dated 17th October, 1660, at the court of Whitehall,

    “The situation of the town of Lowestoft being very well known unto
    His Majesty, who is much dissatisfied with the proceedings of the
    town of Yarmouth, mentioned in the petition of the said town of
    Lowestoft, he is graciously pleased to refer the consideration of the
    said petition to the Right Honourable the Lords of His Majesty’s most
    Honourable the Privy Council, to give such orders for the relief and
    satisfaction of the said petitioners as they in their great wisdom
    shall think meet.”

                                                    _Signed_ ROBERT MASON.

The Lowestoft people were so pleased with the King’s expression of
sympathy with their cause, that they submitted a second petition to him
asking him to preside in person at the hearing of the case, and “to put
an end to all differences according to the rights and justice of their

The King did attend the hearing of the case, but he did not gratify the
expectations of our old townspeople by deciding it in their favour at

The case was heard by the Privy Council on several days before the King,
the Duke of York, and many great officers of state and noblemen.  As when
the case was brought before the Star Chamber in Elizabeth’s time, the
Privy Council attempted to get the matter settled by referring it to the
law authorities.  But these learned persons found themselves equally
unable to settle the dispute on legal grounds, and it was accordingly
referred to the House of Lords.  After the suit had been for upwards of
two years under discussion by these various authorities, the House of
Lords gave their decision, which was simply a repetition of the decision
of the judges in Elizabeth’s time, but it was supplemented by an order to
the Sheriffs of Norfolk and Suffolk, to measure the distance of seven
miles from the “Crane Key” at Yarmouth, along the shore towards
Lowestoft, and to place there a new post to mark the limits, “within
which the Bailiffs and Corporation of Yarmouth are to enjoy their full
privileges and immunities, as the said statute of the 31st, Edward III.,
and their charter do afford them, and no further.”


The 27th of May 1662, was agreed upon by the Sheriffs for making the
measurement in pursuance of the order of the House of Lords, and at 9
o’clock in the morning of the appointed day, a number of Suffolk
gentlemen, including seven Justices of the Peace, living near Lowestoft,
and accompanied by the Under Sheriff of Suffolk, appeared at Yarmouth.
Neither the Sheriff of Norfolk, Sir Richard Bacon, nor the Under Sheriff,
Mr. Roger Smith, of Norwich, had arrived; but at 11 o’clock Mr. Roger
Smith put in an appearance, and excused the absence of the High Sheriff
on the ground that he was at his house about 30 miles away, and not in

A long altercation then took place between the Suffolk gentlemen and the
Under Sheriff of Norfolk.  Mr. Roger Smith took the bold course of
denying that the House of Lords had “the power to take away another man’s
rights,” and professed to be quite unable to satisfy himself at what
point the measurement should commence, etc.  At length having firmly
maintained his position till dinner, he left the Suffolk gentlemen and
dined with the Bailiffs.

Having waited till Mr. Smith had finished his dinner, the Suffolk
gentlemen again requested him to join in the measurement, but now he was
not only obdurate but returned “unhandsome answers.”  Accordingly at the
request of the Lowestoft men, the Suffolk Justices and the Under Sheriff
engaged two surveyors and undertook to make the measurement without him.
They commenced at the “Crane Key” about 4 o’clock in the afternoon
“pursued by multitudes with much insolence and disturbance.”  They rode
along the shore under the cliff watching the surveyors laying their chain
and completed their task about half an hour before sunset.  Having marked
the place for the new post, a few yards nearer Yarmouth than that of the
“ancient” post, (that put up in Elizabeth’s time) they went on to
Lowestoft and stayed there for the night.

The following day was spent in great rejoicing at Lowestoft.  The High
Sheriff of Suffolk had now joined the party, and they were entertained by
the town at the Swan Hotel.

A post was soon afterwards set up at the spot fixed upon, but the
Yarmouth men acting on the advice of Mr. Roger Smith, refused to
recognise it, and the Lowestoft men had again to appeal to the Lords to
enforce their order.  In the following April the House of Lords issued
their warrant to their Sergeant-at-Arms to take into custody Roger Smith,
the Under Sheriff of Norfolk and ordered that the measurement should be
executed again by the two sheriffs.  This was done, without further
interruption, on the 10th June following, and another post fixed.

Mr. Roger Smith having been detained in custody for about a fortnight
petitioned to be released on the ground that as long as he was in prison
the King’s taxes could not be collected.  He was brought to the Bar of
the House of Lords and ordered to make instant submission upon his knees
at the bar of that house, before their lordships, in the words

    “I do humbly beg your Lordships’ pardon, and express very hearty
    sorrow for not executing your Lordships’ order, and for any unadvised
    words uttered by me, which might have any reflection on your
    Lordships’ judgement and order concerning the matter in difference
    between the towns of Lowestoft and Yarmouth.”

It was further ordered that he should make the same humble submission
before the people on the “Crane Key” at Yarmouth.  On these conditions he
was released.  Doubtless both acts of penance were duly performed.

Although the ghost of the old charter was not finally laid by the result
of the contest, it was the last time that the expensive process of an
appeal to the Crown, or to Parliament, was resorted to for settling the
disputes which it gave rise to between the two towns.  The expenses of
this protracted suit, defrayed by Lowestoft, amounted to £600, not a very
large sum compared with modern experiences.

In order to prevent the question being again raised by Yarmouth as to the
distance to which their privileges extended, when Charles II. gave the
town a new charter in 1684, a special proviso was inserted in it—

    “That the word leuca mentioned in divers former charters signifies an
    English mile and no more, as declared by the House of Lords in the
    15th year of our reign.” {99}

Thus the town was compelled to accept a construction of the provisions of
their old charter which excluded Lowestoft from the area of their


The spot where the 7 miles, measured from the Crane Quay at Yarmouth, was
found to terminate, was in Gunton Denes about 150 yards this side of the
Corton boundary.  The post set up in 1663 was washed down a few years
afterwards.  It had been placed too near the sea, which at that period
was advancing on the land at this part of the coast; and in 1676 another
post was fixed, a few yards further inland, in the presence of a number
of leading men representing the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.  This
post has been also replaced more than once since, but it is still
represented by the post known as the “Corton Pole.”  The present post,
and one or two of its predecessors, have been used by the Corton Coast
Guard for practising their life saving apparatus, and its interesting
connection with the history of our old town is not generally known.  Old
men however still remember this post being known as a boundary mark
beyond which Lowestoft people might not land fish.  As Gillingwater does
not mention any further replacing of the post before he wrote his
history, it may be inferred that the post set up in 1676 was standing in
his time.  From what I have learnt as to the replacing of the posts in
later years by the Coast Guard, it would appear that the present post is
nearly in the same position as the posts of 1676, and 1596.


The success of our old townspeople in their contest with Yarmouth appears
to have had the effect of reviving their energies, and encouraged them to
take active measures for improving their hold on the herring trade, and
increasing the number of ships employed by themselves in the fishery.

But at this time the trade appears to have been again in a depressed
state owing to the Dutch war.  According to a statement in their petition
to Parliament in 1670, one half of the fishing adventurers of the town
had given up the business and their fishermen were lamentably

Our old town was however now in good favour with the government.  Several
of its seamen were doing good service in the Kings’ navy against the
Dutch, and they had a good friend in Parliament in the old royalist Sir
John Pettus, who had been one of the “strangers” captured by Cromwell in
Lowestoft some 30 years before.  They employed him to present petitions
to Parliament on behalf of their own and the fishermen of other Suffolk

One of these proposals was that “fishing beer” should be exempted from
the excise duty.  In connection with this proposal a return was made of
the number of fishing boats employed by Lowestoft and the neighbouring
Suffolk fishing villages.  From this return it appears that at this time
Lowestoft sent out 25 boats, Pakefield and Kirkley 14, Southwold 11,
Aldborough 5, Corton 2, and Dunwich 1.

The consumption of beer by the crews of these 58 boats was estimated at 9
tuns per boat, amounting altogether to 522 tuns.  It is probable that in
these days a liberal supply of beer, which was very cheap, compensated
for a deficiency in good food.  Since the invention of tea, coffee and
cocoa, beer is happily no longer necessary on board a fishing boat and
has long since ceased to form part of the provisions carried by Lowestoft

In 1679 we find our old townspeople taking steps for advancing the
general mercantile trade of town, by petitioning the Treasury to allow
their merchants to export corn, and import coal. {101}  This was not
granted, nor can we see how, without a harbour, the ambitious project of
engaging in such trades could be entertained.  Leave was however given
for the exportation of butter, cheese, and fish and for the importation
of all materials requisite for building and furnishing ships.

It was stated in this Petition that the town had then increased its
shipping to the number of 60 vessels—a rapid advance on the 25 ships
possessed 9 years before.  As we are told by Gillingwater that the number
of boats employed at Lowestoft in the herring fishery during the years
1722–1781, averaged about 33, there could have been no further advance in
the fishing business until quite recent years.  It is evident that our
old townspeople had been bestirring themselves, and were making good use
of the opportunity which the absence of Dutch busses from this side of
the North Sea now offered.

With such evidence of a revival of life and energy in our old Town, and
the promise of further growth and commercial development in the future,
(a promise since so happily realised), we may close our sketch of
Lowestoft in olden times.

It has given us glimpses of our old townspeople during four centuries of
a chequered career during which they established and maintained their
position with very little help from natural advantages or local
circumstances.  Without a harbour they were unable to make any material
advance in either wealth or population.  But small as the old town was it
was able to contribute largely to the manning of the fleets which fought
for England against the Dutch and other powers during the latter part of
the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, and to claim as her own
sons many of the brave seamen who added to the glory of the national flag
during those wars.  A short notice of these Lowestoft heroes will be a
fitting conclusion to our sketch.  A full account of their exploits is to
be found in Gillingwater.

You are already acquainted with Mr. Thomas Allen, one of Cromwell’s
prisoners in 1643.  He belonged to an old Lowestoft family.  In the navy
of Charles II. he held many high commands, and as an Admiral, took a
prominent part in some of the fierce conflicts of the First Dutch War.
In 1669 he retired from active service and was created a Baronet.  Having
acquired a handsome fortune, by opportunities not given to our sea
warriors of the present day, he bought the Somerleyton Estate and resided
in the old Hall for several years.

Admiral Utber and his son, Captain Utber, were also Lowestoft men who
served with Admiral Allen in the Dutch Wars, and performed many
distinguished services.

Sir John Ashby was another gallant seaman belonging to an old Lowestoft
family.  He was much distinguished for his services both as Captain and
Admiral in the wars against France, in the time of William III.  He was
in command as Admiral of the Blue at the celebrated battle of La Hogue.

Another Lowestoft man, Sir Andrew Leake, was distinguished for his
services in the war against France and Spain, in the early part of the
reign of Queen Ann.  He took part in the Capture of Gibraltar in 1704,
and afterwards in the great battle off Malaga in the same year, in which
he lost his life.  (He must not be confused with his namesake, Sir John
Leake, the hero of the siege.)

Another distinguished seaman was Admiral Mighells.  He belonged to a
well-known Lowestoft family, which had held a leading position in the
town for more than a hundred years.  The name has been mentioned more
than once in these lectures.  He was distinguished for his services in
the war against Spain in 1719.

The last of our naval heroes, whose early career associated him with
those already mentioned, was Captain Thomas Arnold.  He earned great
distinction in an action against the Spanish Fleet when serving under
Admiral George Byng in 1718.  He belonged to a family which had held a
high position in the town for more than century, and which still holds
the same position amongst us.  The prestige of this family has been since
enhanced by the celebrity of others of its members—the great educational
Reformer, Dr. Arnold, Head Master of Rugby School, and his son, Matthew
Arnold, one of the most distinguished of the poets and essayists of the
Victorian Era.


{3}  “Ramsay’s Physical Geology and Geography of Great Britain,” and
“Woodward’s Geology of England and Wales.”

{10}  Camden’s Britannia, p. 381.  “For it is possible that the steepness
of the hill, and a morass below next the river might be thought a
sufficent security on that side.”  Sir H. Spelman in his Icenia, speaks
of Burgh “as a place surrounded with morass and narrow passes.”

{13}  Exhibited at this Lecture.

{14}  This is a corrected _Erratum_.—Was “at Lothu Wistoft (Lowestoft)
and a beruita (or subordinate manor) in Gernemutha (Yarmouth)” and
corrected to: read “at Gernemutha (Yarmouth) and a beruita (or
subordinate manor) in Lothu Wistoft (Lowestoft).”

{17}  Two lasts and two barrels.  The value of salt herrings at this time
was probably about 30s. a last, or £4 10s. of our present money.  In 1295
fresh herrings sold at Yarmouth for 37s. a last.  Swinden p. 922.
Several salt works, (salinæ) are mentioned in Domesday at Caister and
other places.  The art of curing herrings by hanging and smoking them was
apparently not practised until some two centuries after the conquest.

{21}  Turner’s History of the Anglo Saxons.

{31}  See Swinden p. 924.

{32}  Swinden p. 94.

{33}  Swinden, p. 300.  Palmer, p. 43.

{39}  Swinden p. 221.

{57}  Built before 1553 by one “Katharine Mayde” Suckling’s Suffolk, Vol.
II. pt. 5. p. 37.

{66}  Froude, Vol. 8, p. 434.

{67a}  Then.

{67b}  The right thing.

{67c}  Michaelmas.

{67d}  Pigs ears, &c.

{67e}  Ember-days.

{70}  See below, p. 74.

{72}  Not including the plague year, 1603, when the enormous number of
deaths would give very misleading evidence of population.

{77}  Palmer’s Perlustration of Great Yarmouth vol. III. 252.

{80}  Swinden, p. 708.

{85}  Carlyle’s Letters of Oliver Cromwell 109.

{90a}  Gillingwater p. 31.

{90b}  p. 78.

{92}  Gill. p. 27

{93}  Gill. 87.

{94a}  Gill p. 86.

{94b}  Gill. p. 100.

{94c}  Gill. 1st Edition, p. 243

{95}  Swinden, p. 475.

{99}  Swinden, p. 334.

{101}  Gill., p. 50.

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