Back to [John Collyns - Elizabethan Yeoman]
Here parish registers are still in focus, but attention is shifted away from statistics and trends to family life. Hungerford's registers have a great deal of potential for a range of analyses, but within the confines of this booklet it is possible to carry out only a few lines of enquiry. We are indebted to Norman and Joyce Hidden for their transcription and indexing of the registers - without their efforts it would have been much more time-consuming to carry out the study. It is also fortunate that most of the entries made in the registers contain references to relationships - i.e. son, daughter, wife of etc. – without which any attempts to study family life would be difficult. Even better, the two Vicars of Hungerford - Edward and William Brouker - were clearly interested in the town and its people. Both contribute additional information which transforms the register into a series of illuminating pictures of contemporary life.
Perhaps the most immediate question relates to the size of families. This is a difficult area, since families might move from parish to parish several times, so that only part of a family is visible from a particular parish register. However, by focusing on a particularly stable group in society - established tradesmen who were jurors in the 1591 survey -some impression can be gained.
For example, John Mondaie had married his wife, Jane Mathew of Hurstbourne Priors, in November 1572. Their first child was baptised at the beginning of March - about three months after this wedding (this was not unusual - see next page). Six more children followed between 1577 and 1590; as far as we can tell, all survived.
Family of John Mondaie:
John MONDAIE m. Joane MATHEW (20 Nov 1572)
- John (b 1 Mar 1573)
- Richard (b 22 Sep 1577)
- Margaret (b 14 Feb 1580)
- Elynour (b 21 Oct 1582)
- Edith (b 28 Feb 1585)
- Elizabeth (b 26 Mar 1588)
- Jane (b 23 Dec 1590)
Our second example was Edward Collens, a tailor. He married twice, both into well-to-do yeoman families, first Ursula Hidden and secondly Judith Yewell. The family tree shows a total of ten children, born at intervals of between 18 months and 4 years:
Family of Edward Collens:
Edward Collens m. (2 Dec 1568) Ursula Hidden
- Anthony (b 22 Sep 1569)
- Thomas (b 6 Dec 1570)
Edward Collens m. (21 Jun 1573) Judith Yewell
- Mary (b 27 May 1577)
- Judith (b 23 Jan 1579)
- Edward (b 16 Feb 1581)
- Charles (b 9.8 1582)
- Margaret (b 10 Aug 1586)
- Benjamin (b 30 Jun 1589)
- Sara (b 2 May 1591)
- Josephe (b 10 Mar 1593)
Family studies such as these two brief examples inevitably raise questions about two groups of whom we know surprisingly little - women and children. Elizabethan women married quite late - 24 was the average age of a sample of nineteen Hungerford brides. Like Jane Mathew, John Mondaie's wife, it was relatively common for the first child to be on the way, often well on the way! Richard and Joan Streche, who married on 5th November 1599, were parents before the end of the year. Thomas and Margerie Weston married on 21st January 1600 and their son was baptised about five weeks afterwards. Bridal pregnancy was not generally considered much of a scandal - a verbal contract to marry, or espousal, made prior to the wedding itself, was considered just as important and permanent as the ceremony itself
Rather surprisingly, childbirth itself may not have been such a major hazard. Perusing the burial registers throughout the whole Elizabethan period produced only a few definite examples, where death in childbirth was recorded after a burial entry. More research would really be necessary to establish just how dangerous childbirth was. However, even if the birth was relatively trouble free, the first years of life were certainly rather more precarious. Most parents could, unfortunately, expect to lose as least one child in infancy, and infant burials might not always be recorded.
Calculations based on studies elsewhere suggest that one fifth of all girls, and one quarter of all boys, died before the age of nine. Epidemics or illness of one kind or another accounted for most deaths, but life was generally more hazardous than today. Even the streets of Hungerford could be dangerous. Young John Sparks was killed with a ginne in the street (1569). Jane Elstone was fatally struck by a thrashing horse (1579). Children were not much safer at home, with the danger from open fires and boiling cauldrons. Henrie Parrie was scalded in a vessel of borne (brew) - according to Edward Brouker, this was by negligence (1593).
Assuming that children survived the dangerous years of infancy, most would have received little in the way of formal education but would have been expected to help around the house or place of work as soon as they were able. Probably the most common occupation was simply minding the younger brothers and sisters. Boys might be apprenticed, around the age of 16, either locally or further afield - several Hungerford boys were apprenticed in Bristol for example ". Girls were also very likely to leave home, but their horizons were, for the most part, limited Many became servants, perhaps at neighbouring farms. Here they might meet their future husband. At least five marriages arose this way from the Goddard household at Standen Hussey, and another two from the Hungerfords at North Standen. Young Elizabethans did not have so much choice regarding the timing of their weddings. Part of the winter months, that is from Advent to early January, were regarded as 'closed' for weddings, although Christmas Day was popular. Similarly, from the third Sunday before Lent to the first Sunday after Easter and from Rogation to Trinity were 'closed' as far as weddings were concerned.
Remarriage was extremely common, since marriage was frequently brought to an end by the death of one partner. Overall, 14% of all marriages in Hungerford were those of widows, and we may assume a similar proportion of widowers remarried, although this is not explicitly stated. That widows, or widowers, remarried quite quickly after the death of their first spouse does not imply emotional coldness. It simply reflects economic necessity. The household was not only the site of family life, but also the place of work and the basic unit of production.
Elizabethan households were different in many ways from those of today. They might not necessarily be larger, nor would they include more than one generation, but they might include a much larger mix of age groups, as well as servants and apprentices. Not all children eventually married and left the home; many stayed and earned their keep, as it were, within the family. A case in point is the Fawler family. John Fawler, who was a woollen draper and Constable of the town in 1592, had at least seven children, six girls and a boy. Four of his daughters were still unmarried at the time of his death in 1607, by which time they were aged between 18 and 30 - their mother had died in 1598 and then-father remarried the next year. Perhaps they were well occupied running the household, although we can only speculate whether willingly or unwillingly.
The Elizabethan Home:
The picture of everyday life in Elizabethan Hungerford continues to come directly from local records. Let us return briefly to the Fawler family and imagine we are in their house. What kind of furniture would they have had?
The particularly detailed will of John Fawler itemises many of the everyday things around the house, as bequests are made to his various children. Anthony, the only son, is to have:
my great cupbord in the hall, the table board there with the frame and forme, and benches and the joyned work nawe being about the hall, the iron barre in the chimney with the iron rings to the same belonging - apaire of pothangles, a paire of potte hooks, the great pott, the great chest in the little chamber over the cellar, my bedstead standing in my little chamber over the shopp, one coverlid of the best, a fether bedd and bolster, one brasse pone, a brasse pan and a brasse bason.
Anthony thus has the basic household goods - some furniture, a bed and bedding, and cooking equipment. The daughters are similarly provided for, with some very personal touches. Margaret is to have a coverlid black and yellow, Ellen is to have a coverlid blewe and yellow, Frances is to have ten shillings towards the buying of a coverlid for her and Alice is to have a yellow coverlid.
Another example of how wills can help to add to our knowledge of everyday life is that of Thomas Dolman, who kept the inn called 'The Crown' (demolished when the Railway Bridge was built). This shows a slightly wealthier lifestyle than that of John Fawler. The glasse in the windows is subject to a special bequest to his son John Dolman; and the hangings in the parlours, and wainscot, are also mentioned. Judging from the relatively early date, 1569, this suggests considerable wealth and comfort.
Lower down the social scale, we can compare the will of William Yonge, a shepherd who died in 1570. No furniture or personal effects are mentioned, but a note of despair for wages still unpaid to Roger Cannon for his costs and paynes taken with me in my sickness all my wages that Henry Edes oweth me that is for fyve yeres wages at 24s a yere whereof I received 16s of him and no more.
Finally, what sort of food was available in Elizabethan Hungerford? Many people would have produced many of the basic foodstuffs in and around the home. Beer would have been brewed, bread baked, pigs turned into bacon, milk into cheese. Vegetables were grown in the gardens behind the houses, especially onions, leeks and cabbages, although it should be remembered that potatoes, carrots and tomatoes were not yet available. Herbs were grown for medicinal and culinary purposes, and used as an essential addition to the diet rather than simply as flavouring.
An unusual and little known source, from the Darrell papers in the Public Record Office, provides some interesting evidence of local diets (H Hall, Society in the Elizabethan Age. This includes extracts from the Darrell papers including household accounts). Admittedly, the diet is that of a gentry family and the menus were those consumed at their London house, not Littlecote. Nevertheless, the information is worth including, because we can assume that these were fairly typical menus for local gentry families. Much meat was consumed and a variety of fish, herbs and bread. Two typical menus are as follows:
Dinner (taken late in the morning):
- 2 pieces of beef
- A legg of mutton
- 3 chickens
- Parsley, cloves and sawse for ye legg of mutton
- Butter & eggs
Total Cost: 7s 6d (includes fuel)
Supper (late afternoon/early evening):
- A shoulder of mutton
- 2 chickens
- Salte fishe buttered & playse
- Sorrell soppes for ye chickens
Total Cost: 7s 4d (includes fuel)
Ordinary people might not have seen as much meat in a whole year as was consumed in a single day in the Darrell household. Note that there is no mention of vegetables, but some kind of 'green sauce' was usually served with the meat. Today, we still follow this culinary custom, but would expect to eat some vegetables along with our lamb and mint sauce!
(From Elizabethan Hungerford, Julie Shuttleworth et al, 1995)
On to [Illegitimacy, Poverty & Disease]