The Restoration Period 1660-1714
Essex, through its prosperity and its proximity to London and to Parliament, had been an important key to the success of Parliament over kingly dictatorship and subsequently over an unruly army.
It was now more united and independent as a county. Increasingly it became a place of residence for people important in national government and in commerce. At the same time the fertile soils, well watered by more than 22 rivers, became the market garden of London as it grew out into the Essex countryside. From now on the Essex farmer was in the forefront of agricultural innovation. Drovers herded their beasts from as far away as Wales to fatten on the Essex marshes before their arrival at the London markets.
Harwich was a key port at this time. Christopher Jones, who later became the famous master of the ‘Mayflower, served on a jury in this town in 1605 when his stepfather appeared before the court for not keeping Lambard Stairs in good repair. The town’s defences in general seemed to be in a similar state of disrepair in 1625 when it was reported by Sir Edward Coke that. ‘. . , all the ordnance is dismounted and the platforms decayed and the forts abandonned, so as a few Dunkirkers may without interruption enter that harbour … and then, landing a few men, may burn that rich town.’
In the same year the Duke of Buckingham went to Harwich for a ship to Holland. He was shown the defences and, improvements were very quickly put in hand, with the rebuilding of Landguard fort a priority. Leonard Weaver, in The Har-wich Slorc says, ‘In Harwich and on the sea there was little of importance during the Civil War.’ One reason may have been the edict issued by the Captains of’ six pro-Parliament Navy frigates in a meeting on board the Providence ‘. . . We write to the Mayor and defend against the common enemy, viz. the King’s party, that then we will stand and act with them with all diligence, but if they comply or give way to the enemy to enter and possess the town we will use our uttermost endeavours to beat the enemies forth of’ the town again, though in doing so we beat down or fire the town.’ No wonder that the Mayor and Aldermen reassured the parliamentarians of their loyalty to the cause.
Harwich continued through the 17th century as the principal port, dockyard and shipyard where the Rupert was built, launched in February 1666, of which Pepys, Secretary of the Navy, and a constant visitor to Harwich wrote, ‘… the King, Duke and everybody saying it is the best ship that was ever built.’ After peace with the Dutch was concluded in December 1667 the Navy’s base was closed, though ship-building continued. Samuel Pepys was made a Freeman of the Borough of Harwich and became MP for the town in 1679.
The City of London already dominated the distribution of cloth manufactured in weaving towns of Essex, and many of those clothiers were ruined when the London merchants went bankrupt in 1637. Trading into the heart of the capital brought news and ideas back out into the county, including the weekly newsletters being distributed in manuscript among circles of friends. One man regularly readjust such a ‘newspaper’ out loud to an interested crowd in Colchester market.
At the Restoration in 1660 many of the clergy were reinstated in their former livings, and all members of government, from Parliament to borough officials and officers of the military, had to be proven communicants in the Anglican church. At this point the more puritanical members of that church, feeling they could no longer agree with its outlook, became ‘Nonconformists’. Subsequently there were schisms which bred Congregationalists and Baptists. At Burnham-on-Crouch the Baptist records exist from 1673.
The Civil Wars had affected the lives of many an Essex man. One of them was William Harvey, of the well-known Hempstead family who, as Royal Physician to James I and Charles I, wrote his remarkable treatise Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis which set out his epoch-making discovery of the circulation of the blood through the heart. It was not published until 1628, twelve years after he had confirmed his findings. During the Commonwealth he moved discreetly between his brothers’ homes. One of them, Sir Eliab Harvey, had recently put in hand the building of a family vault in the parish church at Hempstead, so, on William’s death in June 1657, aged 79, the corpse was carried in a great procession to that vault. When the church tower fell in 1882 the College of Physicians was so concerned about the safety of the remains of one of their most famous members that they paid for the re-interment of his lead-wrapped corpse in a sarcophagus of marble above the vault in the Harvey Chapel, crowned by a marble bust sculpted by Edward Marshall, which is claimed to be very true to life.
Essex was the scene of another contribution to the world of medicine. Woodham Mortimer is a Village most motorists speed through on their way to Maldon from the west. Few people know that one of the world’s most useful medical invention was conceived here and kept secret for 100 years. That invention was the forceps used to assist in cases of difficult childbirth. The inventor was Peter Chamberlen, born in 1601, a ‘man-midwife’, and a Fellow of the College of Physicians. He followed his uncle as Physician Extraordinary to Charles I and II. He stayed out of the turmoil of the Civil War at Woodham Mortimer Hall, out in the country but still within a day’s ride of his Practice in London. Here he brought up a family of 18 children by two wives.
His great success as obstetrician to royalty and Society was entirely due to the use of his forceps He delivered babies safely where, before lingering labour often led to the death of baby and mother. His secret was the passport to his continued patronage by the wealthy. No-one was allowed to remain in the room when he had to use his forceps, so they could not divine how he so often saved baby and mother in forlorn cases. For 100 years, generations of Chamberlen doctors achieved fame and fortune from the secret forceps until at last an impecunious doctor sold the secret to a Dutch surgeon, who put the forceps into what we might term mass production. In 1813, the owner of Woodham Mortimer Hall discovered a hiding place under a floorboard, and there, in a wooden box, lay Peter Chamberlen’s original forceps!
The dreaded plague struck again through 1665 and the following year. It was spread from London by traders and travellers along the highways through Essex. Colchester was hit particularly hard, with almost 5,000 people, a third of the population, dying from the infection. We have an on-the-spot account of the effect of the plague on an Essex village. Doctor Kidder was Rector of Rayne during a career which led him on to the Bishopric of Bath and Wells. ‘My neighbours durst not come near,’ he writes, ‘and the provisions which were procured for us were laid at a distance upon a green before my house. No tongue can express the dismal calamity which that part of Essex lay under at that time. As for myself, I was in perpetual danger… I conversed daily with those who came from infected houses, and it was unavoidable The provisions sent into the neighbouring infected town [Braintree] were left at the village where I was and near my house. Thither the Earl of Warwick sent his fat bullocks which he did every week give to the poor of Braintree. The servants were not willing to carry them any further. This occasioned frequent coming from that most infected place to my village, and indeed to my very door. My parish clerk had it when he put on my surplice, and went from me to his house and died. Another neighbour had three children, and they all died in three nights immediately succeeding each other and he was forced to carry them all to the churchyard and bury them. We were alarmed perpetually with the news of the death of our neighbours and acquaintances, and awakened to expect our own turns…’
The confused state of religious belief at this time is indicated by another comment from Bishop Kidder:
‘About the year 1664 I settled at Rain [i.e. Rayne] … I came to a people that were factious to the greatest degree; that endeavoured to defraud the minister of his dues, and that were very censorious and given to separation, and great inveighers against the innocent rites and ceremonies of the church. I do not say they were all such; but there was much, too much of this leaven, and it had infected a great part of this side of the country.’
Suffice to say that religious belief had separated into the established religion of the Anglican Church with a mass of nonconformist groups on the one hand and the continuing old Catholic belief on the other. One local man caught in this tangle was the fourth Lord Petre, arrested and sent to the Tower of London after the ‘Popish Plot’ of the notorious Titus Oates. His close imprisonment made him so ill that he died in 1684. Yet when the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was looming James II appointed that man’s brother and successor to the position of Lord Lieutenant of Essex. In William and Mary’s reign the pendulum swung again, Catholics were out of favour and the Toleration Act acknowledged the right to worship of those separate sects on the other side of the established church.
The problem of greatest concern to King and Parliament was the raising of money to fund the administration of the country as a whole. In 1662 an official advised the taxing of every hearth in every house, ranging from the humble hovel with its single hearth to the grand mansion of the famed General Monck, New Hall, which topped the list with 117 hearths. Since everybody had to have at least one fire for the daily cooking and to keep warm, the government should have gained considerable revenue, if everybody paid up; but they did not, and so they were taken to court. Take just one case:
Eustace Seymour, tax collector, and Richard King, the constable at Leigh, went to the Quarter Sessions at Chelmsford to show how, on August 18th, 1669, they called at the houses of those who had not paid their hearth tax. One of them was the widow Elizabeth Motley. She would not answer the door, but stood behind it, putting her shoulder against it to prevent them opening it. Eustace pitted his strength against hers, forced the door open and grabbed the spit, a long meat skewer, with which the poor widow had armed herself. She then grabbed a kitchen knife and warned him to come no further. By this time a crowd had gathered round the door, taking the widow’s side and threatening the two men. They escaped from the mob but they never did get the hearth tax from Mrs Motley, and that is why she ended up in court.
There is no doubt that money was desperately needed at this time. A military monument to this troubled period is Tilbury Fort. Planned first in Henry VIII’s time, it was completely remodelled and re-armed in 1672 in response to the humiliating experience in 1667 when the Dutch fleet penetrated the Thames estuary, landed at Canvey Island to steal provisions, and then sailed on to take potshots at East Tilbury church tower. The shipyard at Harwich was very busy building ships to challenge such affronts, but there is nothing left to show just how important the government naval yard there was, except for the remarkable two-wheel treadmill crane built in 1667, and even that has been moved from its original position.
These were difficult times, too, for Parliament’s management of the country. Charles II died in February 1685 and was succeeded by James II. Neither the Marquis of Argyll’s invasion of Scotland, nor the Duke of Monmouth’s landing at Lyme Regis, held much interest for the people of Essex. Nor did the landing of William and, later, the arrival of Mary, when they took over jointly from the discredited James II, from November 1688. William was wiser than James; he gained control through Acts which regularised meetings at Parliament, supported free worship for nonconformists and reduced the army in times of peace. He even deferred to Parliament in the matter of his own expenditure. Mary died in December 1694 from smallpox, aged only 33. William continued until 1702, finding it increasingly difficult to walk the line between the factions then emerging as the Tories and the Whigs. He died on 8th March 1702, Queen Anne ruled until 1714, then the House of Hanover made its mark in British and in Essex history.