What happened in Havering

Conrad Russell

  • Community Transformed: The Manor and Liberty of Havering 1500-1620 by Marjorie Keniston McIntosh
    Cambridge, 489 pp, £50.00, September 1991, ISBN 0 521 38142 8

This is perhaps the fullest and most vital study of a single community in Tudor and Stuart England that we yet possess. The Liberty of Havering, moreover, is large enough, and varied enough, to escape many of the typical criticisms of the significance of the local study. It stretched from the Thames, at Hornchurch Marsh, through the village of Hornchurch, to the main road to Chelmsford and Colchester, straddled by the busy market town of Romford, to the village of Havering-atte-Bower, well off the beaten track to the north. One of Dr McIntosh’s greatest successes is in contrasting the development of the very different areas which made up the Liberty of Havering.

The work that has gone into this study began, 28 years ago, as a PhD thesis on Havering’s most famous resident, Burghley’s father-in-law Sir Anthony Cooke. One could summarise most of a generation’s historiography by summarising the chain of thought which led from the study of Sir Anthony Cooke to a desire to understand the community in which he tried to exercise authority. In studying the community, Dr McIntosh has enjoyed two immense advantages. One is a truly exceptional collection of records. The two principal landlords, the Crown and New College, Oxford, still occupy the same premises, and their records are undisturbed. To supplement these, we have full church court records, and the resources of the Essex County Record Office. The book’s other great advantage is entirely the result of Dr McIntosh’s own exertions. She decided she could not understand Tudor Havering until she knew more about the Medieval baseline, and this is therefore her second book on Havering. One wishes more historians would follow this example.

Yet, typically, the same things which make it so rewarding to study Havering make it hard to know what conclusions to draw from the results. Dr McIntosh has said bluntly that it was ‘at no time’ a ‘typical English community’. Until James I started to listen to those who preached retrenchment, the Crown was an exceptionally undemanding landlord. The Crown’s inertia as a landlord is familiar, but Havering had the further peculiarity of being ancient demesne, which meant, among other things, that rents and entry fines were frozen at the levels of 1251. Havering’s other peculiarity is its nearness to London: when Dr McIntosh looks for another place comparable to Romford, she picks on Watford. Both the dependence of the local economy on the London food market and the recruitment of the local gentry from prosperous Londoners are greater than can be regarded as normal. Romford was the butt of the sort of jokes now aimed at ‘Essex man’. There is no reason to think the jokes fair in either century, but they are a warning against generalisations based on local evidence.

This makes it hard to know what to do with Dr McIntosh’s first finding, which is that many of the developments associated with the so-called Early Modern period were established in Havering well before the end of the 15th century. The peak of activity in the local land market appears to have been in the 1460s, and Londoners arriving in the Liberty were less important in 1520 than they were in 1470. We also find an urban economy growing less, not more, booming as the 16th century progressed. Clothworking had largely died out by 1560, and the number of tanners began to drop by 1590. Power in Havering during the 16th and 17th centuries was shifting, not from land to trade, but from trade to land.

In spite of all Dr McIntosh’s disclaimers about the untypicality of Havering, one must note that all this fits the paradigm of Alan Macfarlane’s Origins of English Individualism rather better than it does that of some more traditional interpretations. We have here a body of questions which badly need testing in other places. Some, at least, of Dr McIntosh’s findings fit firmly enough with an established body of national evidence to be accepted as having national significance. It is now clear that the two biggest engines of social change between 1500 and 1640 were the long upward trends in population and prices. The inflation which tended to be the immediate engine of social change was first and foremost an inflation of food prices, not of manufactured goods. One would therefore expect that its beneficiaries would tend to be, not urban bourgeoisie, but the producers of food. All these trends are visible in Havering, though not always in a typical form. The population increase is rather slower than in some other places, and population did not clear its pre-Black Death peak until about 1619. This seems to be the result of mortality in Romford, whose population pattern is closer to that of London than of most rural parishes. Mortality was much more severe in Romford than in Hornchurch, and the contrast seems to confirm Dr Slack’s picture of plague spreading along main roads. Only immigration sees to have kept the population increase in Romford going.

There is one very visible shift of power among the Liberty officers: from the urban to the rural. Urban tradesmen and craftsmen supplied between 64 and 78 per cent of officeholders between 1489 and 1535, and only 34 per cent to 45 per cent between 1540 and 1599. Yet, though there is still a solid economic base to this change, Dr McIntosh suggests that it is larger than economic change in Havering alone will serve to explain. It seems to be part of an increasingly non-urban definition of the ‘better sort’, to which national, as well as local, economic change may have contributed. Yet in Havering, as in the country, the clearest change seems to be, not a rise or fall in any class, but an increase in the numbers of gentry. Here Havering seems to caricature the national trend. In 1570 to 1590, there were 24 to 25 gentlemen in the parish, In 1590-1610, 43 to 45, after 1610, 79. Some of this is a matter of ‘inflation of honours’. Some of it is local yeomen families growing rich: William Ayloffe and Thomas Leggatt, protagonists in the bitterest local feud, both came into this category and both brandished family pews in the face of the parish. Yet, though these families represent economic change within Havering, more represent economic change outside it. James Quarles, for example, was Clerk of the Green-cloth and purveyor to the Navy, and bought his Havering estate in the suggestive year of 1588. The big local feud of 1607, about the position of JP for the Liberty, suggests that there were not enough political perks to go round the increased number of gentry.

Dr McIntosh’s picture of the religious life of Havering is as full and as vivid as her picture of social change, but no simple link between the two emerges, and her material may be quoted in support of a multiplicity of different theses. Her findings on pre-Reformation fraternities are similar to Dr Barron’s for London, and Romford, in particular, seems to be a place to which Professor Scarisbrick’s claim that there was often a wider lay control of the Church before the Reformation than after can well be applied. One consequence of the attack on chantries and on parish stocks seems to be the creation of what Dr McIntosh calls ‘an educational vacuum’, and literacy among male testators dropped from 72 per cent in 1560-79 to 28 per cent in 1580-99. This is not a result of an increase in the number of wills. The pattern of university entry, which seems to have been commoner under Edward IV than it became again until late in Elizabeth’s reign, seems to fit Elizabeth Russell’s picture better than it fits Lawrence Stone’s. It was not until after 1600 that it became normal practice for Havering gentlemen to send their sons to university.

One of her most striking findings is a clear negative correlation between Puritanism and literacy: neutral wills were more likely to be literate than Protestant ones, and the fall in literacy among those who were children in the 1550s is faster among hot Protestants than among others. Dr McIntosh’s explanation raises more questions than it answers. She links this with waning support for Puritanism among the gentry. Puritanism in Havering thus becomes a religion of the middling sort, not by spreading among the middling sort, but by declining among the ‘better sort’. It would be fascinating to know whether this is because those who abandoned Puritanism advanced into the gentry, or because those who had advanced into the gentry abandoned Puritanism. It is of the nature of evidence which, as here, is largely drawn from wills that it cannot answer this question, and Dr McIntosh prudently does not try to answer it. Yet the historiographical consequences of the two explanations would be very sharply divergent, and it would be nice to know which, if either, is true.

On the debate on Puritanism and social control, Dr McIntosh sides with Margaret Spulford, rather than with Keith Wrightson. She has found a rapid growth in concern with sexual misbehaviour, drinking and gaming in the later 15th century, when Puritanism cannot be held responsible. She relates this to the arrival of large numbers of immigrants to the manor, and is inclined to connect later variations in the enforcement of morals to the same cause, and to local jurisdictional disputes. The enforcement of the reformation of morals was in any case far weaker than in Terling (Essex) or even than in Keevil (Wiltshire). The practice of spousals seems to have survived, and the prosecution of bridal pregnancy is no more than sporadic. Romford, in particular, seems to have been the sort of mobile community in which the enforcement of morals is particularly difficult.

This is not because of an absence of religious enthusiasm. Havering, or at least much of it, seems to have enjoyed a remarkably early conversion. This is not the work of the parish clergy: the advowson of Hornchurch was in the hands of New College, Oxford, and they do not appear to have patronised reformers. Richard White, vicar in 1561, was called to the church courts for the erroneous belief ‘that men had free will to do good and bad,’ and William Lambert, vicar from 1574 to 1592, used holy water in baptism freely, and preached rarely. Much of the work of conversion seems to have been done by a schoolmaster, John Leeche, who conducted house hold worship with larger audiences than the vicar. After courting martyrdom for six years, Leeche was just about to be condemned by the Assizes for teaching without licence when the Privy Council sent him a recusant boy caught on the way to school in France, and committed him to Leeche because he was ‘a very discreet and learned schoolmaster’. After this and the arrival of a new vicar, Leeche was pulled into the official Church, and became parish lecturer at Hornchurch, It is a wonderful example of the difficulty in any dispute in the Elizabethan Church of deciding which side is orthodox.

Yet the picture of Protestant success is tempered by an enduring pocket of Catholicism in New College’s manor of Hornchurch, and by the solid traditionalism of the village of Havering-atte-Bower. They continued to beat the bounds until 1604, and in 1604-5 a Havering-atte-Bower witness boasted that his parish had continued carrying holy bread and holy water to every house ‘until the laws did forbid it’. Havering-atte-Bower was the source of most of the few witchcraft cases, including that of a man prosecuted for going to a cunning man, who replied that he was ‘allowed for a good witch’, Havering-atte-Bower is a remarkable example of how much difference a few miles off the main road can make. We will not understand the growth of Protestantism in England until we can get away from broad categories like ‘the North’, and rely on the sort of micro-study which can tell three different stories for Romford, Hornchurch and Havering-atte-Bower.

The use of evidence throughout the book is of the highest quality. Pitfalls in the sources are spotted, considered and discussed, and though no two people reading the same sources will ever reach all the same conclusions, the use of evidence here is manifestly safe. She has, for example, given considerable thought to the debate about wills, and whether they represent views of the scribe or of the testator. Her exceptionally rich sources have enabled her to compare several wills written by the same scribe, and to conclude that a scribe may use several different formulae for different testators. It thus seems safe to conclude that the will probably does represent the genuine views of the testator. Not all readers will accept her definition of a ‘Protestant will’, but at least she has drawn the reader’s attention to ‘serious problems of definition’. If it is the mark of a good scholar to have thought of alternative explanations before the reader can do it, this is a work of the highest scholarship.

As a picture of a single community, this work is all we can ask. As a contribution to the history of England, it sets an agenda. The paradigm into which it fits most closely is that of Alan Macfarlane, but there are many pieces to be added before that picture can be made complete enough for full testing. We here have some vital pieces added from a community which appears prima facie to be highly untypical. It is not until we have more local work straddling the alleged divide between ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ history that we can know fully which Havering evidence is untypical, and which is not.