Before I come to the Nightingale Lecture, I just thought I would pass on several news items, and perhaps from the Centre’s perspective the most exciting is that the Tudors and Stuarts 2019 History Weekend webpages are now live thanks to Matthew Crockatt and Ruth Duckworth at the box office. Tickets can be booked from Monday 1 October and the short web address is https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/tudors-stuarts there is also a link on the Centre’s home page under ‘History Weekends’ and if you have any problems, please do contact Ruth at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01227 782994 (office hours Monday to Thursday). I hope that you like what you see in terms of choice as you build your pick-and-mix package.
This week has been more a matter of meetings and looking forward to future events rather than events themselves. Included in the latter is most definitely the last of the ‘Young Medievalists’ Corner’ activity days on Saturday 21 July at 12 Market Place, Faversham. If you are in the area, please do drop in between 10am and 4pm, it is free to explore the ‘Medieval Faversham’ exhibition and to take part in the activities organised by Dr Diane Heath and Harriet Kersey.
This week has brought the start of the academic year, I hope the final touches to the Medieval Canterbury Weekend 2018 webpages so that they can go live next week and the Nightingale Lecture. This year was the sixth and the third to be held jointly by the Centre and the Agricultural Museum, Brook at Canterbury Christ Church.
Before I get to what I have been doing this week, I thought I would mention that Dr Martin Watts has been continuing to work on Richborough’s role in the Great War and has been in contact with a potential speaker for a one-day conference that he is planning in 2016. To that end there will be a meeting with his colleagues in Christ Church this coming Tuesday, so hopefully I will have more to report on this venture next week. Secondly, as you may remember Dr John Bulaitis gave the Nightingale Memorial Lecture at the beginning of this month and today he and Professor Jackie Eales visited the Agricultural Museum, Brook, the other partner in the lecture at Christ Church and the founder of the lecture series. I shall be interested to hear about their visit and their impressions of the Museum’s medieval great barn, its collection of agricultural machinery and the early round-shaped oast house.
For those who were at the Centre’s first event of the new academic year, a joint occasion where the Centre was in partnership with the Agricultural Museum, Brook, they experienced a great treat when Dr John Bulaitis give the Nightingale Memorial Lecture. As those who have read earlier blogposts will know, John was due to talk about ‘the battle of the ducks’, and these 56 Indian Runners, not your average farmyard fowl, were very much in evidence, but so were a bull, a sow and sundry other agricultural items, including a hayrick, as well as the inventor of bar billiards.
What is particularly striking about the ‘Tithe War’ of the 1930s is that this is still within living memory for some; indeed tithe itself was not fully abolished until 1977, so this is not some archaic practice lost in the mists of time, but still resonates today. In fact among the audience on Friday were men whose fathers and grandfathers had been on opposite sides of the proverbial barricades during the ‘tithe war’.
Professor John Nightingale of Magdalen College, Oxford, introducing Dr John Bulaitis (hidden behind John Nightingale)
at the start of Fourth Nightingale Memorial Lecture
Those directly involved in the ‘liberation’ of the ducks and the returning of them to their ‘rightful’ pond at Beechbrook Farm in Westwell had begun their campaign when between 70 and a 100 people, mostly young men and some with trucks, had congregated at the ‘Half-Way House’ on the Dover Road. This was not far from Shepherdswell where the ducks had been taken on the orders of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to their farm called West Court Farm, run by their tenant. The ducks and other livestock had been seized because the farmer at Westwell, the Rev. Roderick Kedward, had refused as a matter of principle to pay the tithes demanded of him. Reports about this night-time raid in September 1934 were reported in the national press the following day, making the Church authorities even more furious. They thus sent their agents, General Dealers, to retake the ducks, and the other items that had not been collected during the first sequestration, and also persuaded the Police to provide a substantial guard at West Court Farm for the whole of the following week.
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ policy of seizing goods in lieu of tithe payments required them or their agents to turn the goods into cash, and initially the means used for the latter was to auction them off. Yet following several very public debacles (Ruckinge and Stelling Minnis in September 1931) where those sympathetic to those refusing to pay tithes put up ridiculously high bids and otherwise disrupted the auction process, the authorities turned to alternative methods – public tender using the services of possession men, and hence the ducks’ episode.
Just from the names of the places mentioned so far it is clear that these anti-tithe farmers came from different parts of Kent, and there were certain ‘hot spots’ in the county, namely the areas around Sandwich and north of Dover, the Weald and the Romney Marshes. Such areas were not that far from earlier centres of discontent, as at Barham Downs in May 1834 when about 3000 people met to denounce the evils inflicted by tithe, or again in the early 1880s when the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in 1883 that support for tithe protestors was especially strong in the Weald. Indeed, Mr Cooper is still known as the Smarden martyr having been sentenced to a month’s hard labour at Maidstone jail for his actions again the Church authorities.
Furthermore, Dr Paula Simpson found evidence of such resistance in the 16th century, and even before the Reformation during the later Middle Ages. Equally, it is also roughly the same foci where these earlier tithe disputes were at their greatest, and such a geographical pattern similarly has something in common with first areas of Lollardy and later non-conformity. Not that Kent was the only place in the British Isles where tithe was bitterly contested and in the modern period, as John said, other places included Wessex, Sussex, East Anglia, and interestingly Wales. Again, as he suggested, we need to think about issues surrounding non-conformity and also nationalism (and/or an anti-London feeling in the form of seeing the capital as remote and urban, unable to understand rural society).
Thus, John provided a perceptive analysis of the place of tithe disputes as part of the social and cultural contexts of resistance and rebellion in the English countryside, before turning to the immediate conditions that were important in the problems of the inter-war years. He discussed these under 4 themes: the major changes in land ownership after the Great War when tenant farmers bought farms, paying ‘over the odds’ which necessitated large mortgages; the post Great War legacy of tithe payment levels that were pegged at what had become unrealistically high levels, which was coupled by a move to centralised collection of tithe through offices at Westminster Abbey; the new agricultural depression of the late 1920s and into the 1930s; and finally the activities of an increasingly militant group known as the National Tithepayers Association.
Towards the end of his lecture John spent some time discussing the important leaders of this Association. In particular he considered the strategic contribution of Frank R. Allen, who, having worked for the Dean and Chapter at Canterbury Cathedral in the collection of tithes, knew many of the farmers personally, the difficulties they were experiencing, and, for his later role, had an insider’s knowledge of exactly how the system worked. He seemingly changed sides as a consequence of a particularly nasty dispute with the Dean in 1924, which amongst other things cost him his pension. Other important individuals were the Rev. Kedwood we met earlier as the owner of the ducks, Kinglsley Dykes, a father and son: George and David Gill, Ebenezer Haffenden and Alderman Solley of Sandwich. While not going into details here, the important issue is that such men advocated a wide range of political views – from fascist to communist – but were bound together in their common hatred of what they saw as an out-dated system that exploited the rural community mercilessly. Yet, as John reported, sadly so far modern historians have failed to appreciate the significance of this political movement in the countryside. In part this is a consequence of an almost total focus on urban society, and even where such matters as the Tolpuddle Martyrs or the Swing Riots have been discussed, tithe has either been ignored or seen as ‘curious’ or ‘amusing’, rather than giving it due weight as an important political and social phenomenon – something John is in the process of correcting.
Now that the ‘A’ level results are out and many prospective students know which university they will be heading to in just over a month, I thought I would return to Dr John Bulaitis’ lecture that will take place at the beginning of the new term at Canterbury Christ Church. As those who follow the blog may recall this is a joint event organised by this Research Centre and the Agricultural Museum Brook, and is the Fourth Nightingale Memorial Lecture. Previous speakers included Professor Christopher Dyer, an eminent medieval social historian from the University of Leicester, and it great that this time it will be one of the History lecturers at Christ Church. Dr Bulaitis will be speaking on his current research topic, ‘the tithe wars’ of the early 1930s and his lecture has the intriguing title ‘The Battle of the Ducks’ and other episodes from the ‘Kentish Tithe Wars’, 1930–36’. As I have noted previously, this was a very difficult time for small farmers, and, as today with the problems for dairy farmers that have been much in the news of late, when costs outweigh returns the situation quickly becomes difficult and ultimately unsustainable, cash flow being the killer in many business failures. However farmers today do not have the added burden of having to pay tithes, but this was not the case a century ago and tithe demands in the early 1930s were what broke the proverbial camel’s back. So if you want to come to Dr Bulaitis’ lecture on Friday 2 October, beginning with a wine reception at 19.00, the lecture commencing at 19.30, you are most welcome. It will take place in the main lecture theatre in Old Sessions House. Do come along and bring your friends to this celebration of Kentish history, the new term and what is a fantastic Agricultural Museum at Brook, sited in a magnificent medieval barn and next to a stunning Norman church.
Interestingly the history of tithe disputes in the county is a long one, as Dr Paula Simpson has discovered. Initially she conducted her research on the sixteenth century, not least because the Dissolution of the Monasteries brought a considerable change to the identities of those who held the tithes. The idea behind tithes was to provide a living for the incumbent and to recompense the holder of the advowson for providing the said incumbent, sometimes this was the same person/institution, and to help the parish poor. Across Kent during the Middle Ages a very high proportion of those holding these parish advowsons were churchmen: the archbishop, the bishop of Rochester and the many religious houses, although concentrated primarily in the great, ancient houses at Canterbury, Rochester and Dover. Hence Dr Simpson’s interest because once these monasteries were gone, the advowsons came into lay hands and she wanted to discover what impact this had on the tithe payers, as well as to see how these new tithe farmers operated.
Study day at Brook Barn in 2013 – exploring timber-framing led by Andy Mills
Joint day organised by the Agricultural Museum Brook, Kent Archaeological Society and Canterbury Archaeological Trust
Her doctoral thesis is fascinating, and one of the themes she discusses is the idea of collective memory. She highlights the value placed on the elderly people of the parish, not just the men, and that what they said had been done and said in the past was seen as ‘true’. Consequently they were the custodians of custom, whether it was the way the corn was harvested, the wood was cut or the route taken when the parishioners gathered together with the minister and churchwardens to ‘walk the bounds’. Such an inter-play of past and present, and the importance of tradition was, of course, open to manipulation to a degree, but had to be acceptable and accepted by those involved, something that was sometimes problematic in the changing and often difficult times of the late sixteenth century.
I thought I would end with one of two cases involving the people of Brook in the Tudor period which is taken from Dr Simpson’s thesis. It involves a ditch, which may not sound very exciting but when people dig up the road to create a ditch, it does. The ditch-digger in question was Philip Dence and the case came before the court in 1598. The jury heard that Dence had recently dug a pit across the lane thus disrupting the perambulation route because it was ‘so brod and soe full of water they the said Minister & parishioners could goe no further but returned backe againe’. The main witness was Robert White who had a vested interest in the matter because he had some property title to that part of the lane lying in Brook parish and had sued Dence for trespass before. The court found in favour of White who was awarded costs and damages against Dence.
However the problem of the lane as a boundary continued to exercise the minds of those in Wye, as well as Brook, and in 1691 the Wye churchwardens ordered that a perambulation of the bounds of Wye should be compiled from a copy dated 1674. It has the intriguing section that those walking the bounds should ‘cross the field to a marked stump in the corner of the hedge leading to a pond at the entrance to a lane called Greenfield lane so on the west of the ash on the ditch-side to a gate (the east corner of the field is in controversie between Brook and Wye and therefore not bounded by us)’; quoted by Dr Simpson from N. Morris, The History and Topography of Wye (Canterbury, 1842). Such boundary texts are extremely interesting and can tell us a great deal about contemporary society. As a final point they don’t only exist for parishes but also for town liberties, and, as some of you may remember, several weeks ago the actions of those walking the boundaries featured in the dispute at St Lawrence’s hospital in 1436.