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This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009. It was based on a talk given by Norman Hidden to the Hungerford Historical Association in September 1985.


Tonight I’d like to take you back to Tudor England; to Hungerford in the turbulent times of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth the first.

We know that people living then in Hungerford lived in different material circumstances and in different physical conditions from us today. We are wealthier, we have more food, more variety, and a better supply of it, we have more warmth and light (artificial) and we have better, and a wider range of clothing and so on and so on.

Does that make us better people? Do we behave better, both in ourselves and towards each other? In short what are our morals like, compared to those who lived in the High Street four hundred and fifty years ago? Was their attitude to sex more permissive or more controlled than ours? Do we have deeper religious feeling, more attachment to the Christian faith than those who attended the Parish Church of St. Lawrence between the years 1520 and 1580?

To answer these questions I have turned not to the civil records in the Berkshire Record Office, but to the original and hardly ever consulted ecclesiastical manuscripts, many of them on paper flaking away with age, often in Latin, and rarely easy to read, even for an experienced palaeographer. The ecclesiastical manuscripts I intend to use tonight form part of the records of the diocese of Salisbury, and in one case the diocese of Lincoln.

There are four cases I have in mind to tell you of.

- The first concerns a man who lived at Great Hidden Farm in the year 1521,

- the second concerns a drunken weaver in the High Street,

- the third concerns a vicar’s daughter who lived (of course) at the old Vicarage in the year 1570 and

- the fourth concerns the town barber who in the year 1575 hung out his business sign, a red striped pole, outside what is now Messrs Spackman’s in the High Street. (25 High Street).

A farmer at Great Hidden, 1521:

First, the farmer of Great Hidden. His name was originally John Clydesdale, but when he was assigned by the Crown a 99 year lease of the manor of Hidden, he changed his name to John Hidden and was sometimes known by the one name and sometimes by the other; but in legal documents and other formal writings he became John Hidden alias Clydesdale. The manor of Hidden, included the whole area north of the river Kennet, the Chilton Foliat parish boundary on the east and running almost as far as the present day M4 motorway on the north. He also owned or held on a long lease up to half a dozen properties in the town of Hungerford itself. These included a house on the site of Aldridge’s (now Inklings) shop in the High Street (No. 122), another which is now either Wilton House or its next door neighbour; a third house, on the west side, was demolished when the railway bridge was built; but there were also three tenement houses in a row which were located somewhere about the site of Martins the newsagents (now W.H. Smith), and finally one in Bridge Street which is now Styles Silver. He also owned a valuable property in the centre of Oxford called now, as then, the Crown Inn.

John Hidden was clearly a well-to-do gentleman farmer and property owner. How then did this man come to stand trial for his life before the ecclesiastical authorities?

We all know that on our coins even today the Sovereign has the letters F.D. following his or her name and that stands for Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith. And that this title was bestowed upon King Henry VIII by the Pope in 1521 for his learned thesis defending the Catholic religion against its critics. Henry was delighted with the Pope’s compliment to his scholarship – these were the days before he had met Ann Boleyn – and set about launching a drive against so-called heretics in his own Kingdom.

In 1521 John Longland, who had been Henry VIII’s tutor, was Bishop of Lincoln, and being a vigorous and ambitious man, he set in motion a vast ‘heretic hunt’. In Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire which were then parts of the diocese of Lincoln, he discovered a sizeable network of heresy, an organised group of latter day Lollards.

These so-called heretics were men and women who opposed pilgrimages to the tombs of saints, in church the adoration of the effigies of the saints; and they insisted on their right to read, or have read to them, the scriptures in their own tongue which they could understand instead of Latin which they could not, and above all they denouncecd the doctrine of transubstantiation, that is the doctrine of Christ’s body being physically present in the sacrament.

Bishop Longland commenced a new drive against the men and women who believed these comparatively simple things. Setting off from Lincoln and swooping down on some old offenders in Amersham, Longland terrified these sufficiently to cause them to inform on the whole cell or group which had spread along the Chilterns from Buckinghamshire into South Oxfordshire and West Berkshire.

One of the group in West Hendred, a man named – rather ironically – Robert Pope, incriminated no less than 87 persons, including his own father, his wife and his brother. Among others he named three from Hungerford – John Hidden (who was also known as John Clydesdale), Thomas Hall and John Ludlow. John Hidden farmed the manor of Hidden, part in Wiltshire and part in Berkshire.

Thomas Hall may have been a brother-in-law to John Hidden; at any rate he farmed the neighbouring manor of Leverton and Heywood which at one time had belonged to John Hidden. And like him, he had other holdings in the Hungerford area. John Ludlow came from the well-known family of Ludlow’s of Hampstead Norris, but an ancient deed shows that in 1476 he was living in Hidden and again one suspects that there may have been some marital relationship.

These three men therefore were all well-to-do minor gentry. Historians often suggest that Lollards, etc., were ‘simple artificers’ or craftsmen; but this is not so, it is rather that the lower social class followers of Lollardry were the ones who received the most extreme punishment. The land-owning classes were usually too important to the Crown – as J.P’s, sheriffs and local administrators generally – to be unduly provoked, by being hauled before the court.

John Hidden was one of the 87 persons informed against by Robert Pope; he was also implicated by the confessions of Robert Collins of Asthall, by John Edmunds of Burford in Oxfordshire, and by Roger Dods also of Burford. It was Dods who provided the one piece of substantial evidence used against him. I quote ‘John Clydesdale of Hungerford (was detected) for reading the Bible in Robert Bruges’ house at Burford upon Holyrood day’. With him was Thomas Hall, the Leverton farmer and others.

What happened to John Hidden? By 1525 – only four years later – Henry VIII had fallen for Ann Boleyn, had quarrelled with Rome, had begun to close down a first batch of monasteries – a trial run for the more complete dissolution to come.

Among the monasteries which received the axe wielded by Thomas Cromwell was that at Poughley, just north of what is now the M4. Cromwell needed a local man to remove the goods and to administer the estate until it could be sold off. And who did he choose as an officer ideally fitted to carry out the King’s new policy? None other than John Clydesdale alias Hidden! When Henry VIII turned, the wheel of fortune turned too, and John Clydesdale was able to become the King’s man again, and yet retain his Protestant principles in full. One thing only was different. His punishment had included the mark of H (for heretic) branded onto his right cheek – this he might hide but would never be able to remove.

Our 16th century ancestors saw much merit in ritual that was both traditional and symbolic. Thus, John Hidden and the other ‘heretics’ had had to process in traditional ritual to the highest step of the market cross where they could be publicly seen, each one carrying a faggot of wood on his shoulder – symbolising the burning at the stake they had so narrowly avoided but which would await them upon a second offence. The branding with a hot iron on their cheek of the letter H was also a traditional ritual which all, the sufferers and the viewers, could understand.

The drunken weaver in the High Street, 1564:

In the same mode of public ritual the church dramatised the public penance of moral offences. These offences were based on the 7 deadly sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice and Sloth.

All aspects of human behaviour fell into – and I think still fall into – these subdivisions. Of these, lust and gluttony are perhaps the most obvious, because the most physical. In 1564 Thomas Brooke of Hungerford was presented to the Dean’s court for drunkenness (the most common form of gluttony). He was found guilty by the testimony of his neighbours and it was deemed that ‘When the priest doth begin the first morning prayer, that then the said Brooke, covered with a white sheet and having a white rod of an ell long’ (that is about a yard), ‘he there shall kneel until the homily of gluttony shall be read and all other service be ended’.

Such a ritual must have made morning service more exciting, and perhaps better attended than usual! Of course, it was not always possible to make a person appear in such an act of public penance, but if he did not he would almost certainly be sentenced, at the next court, to excommunication.

In the court’s records, I came across one notable defiance: William Wayte of Hungerford, a cooper by trade – a hot and thirsty occupation – was several times presented as a ‘common drunkard’. His reply, reported by the shocked parish elders, was to abuse the minister ‘saying that our said minister in the pulpit telleth a tale of a cocke and a bull’. Resort to the Oxford Dictionary revealed that this is the oldest written use in English of the phrase ‘a cock and bull story’. 

The vicar's daughter, 1574-75:

In addition the church court, not the Assizes, heard cases of defamation or slander and cases of breach of promise. For these too, were moral issues and so fittingly dealt with by the church and not by the state.

Illustrating a breach of promise case is the story of the Vicar’s daughter, Thomasin or Tamsin Brouker in 1575.

In those days the Vicar of Hungerford, who lived in the old Vicarage, was the well respected but not very wealthy Edward Brouker who was the incumbent of the parish church from 1562. He was a late ordinant and Hungerford was his first incumbency, where he remained until he died just thirty years later.

He was blessed with 4 daughters – Mary, Thomasin, Margaret and Rebecca – and one son, William. It was very much a clerical family: the son William was destined to succeed his father as Vicar of Hungerford, the eldest daughter Mary was married to a young minister from the diocese of Exeter, and the next eldest Thomasin a teenager was being courted by Richard Bayley, a young and unbeneficed cleric from Great Bedwyn. The affair between these two young people was going strong, but somehow Richard didn’t seem able to get around to the question of marriage.

The problem is recounted by Thomasin’s brother-in-law, John Wills, the young clergyman from Exeter who had married her sister, Mary. He deposes that one day after a visit to the Vicarage by Richard Bayley, the two of them set off from the old Vicarage and after various talk between them John Wills said to Richard Bayley these words, ‘I understand there is some affection and goodwill between my sister-in-law and you’. Whereunto Bayley answered, ‘I confess that the maid beareth me goodwill; and although we do not yet marry, for my father had rather see me hanged than to marry. Yet notwithstanding when I have been with my father and have gotten what I can, I will leave word with my schoolmaster to break unto him the whole matter of marriage’.

Bayley’s father was a substantial landowner in Bedwyn and clearly he employed a tutor or companion, as was customary in the houses of gentry, to instruct his son. No doubt his father considered the young man much too young to marry and just as the poorly paid Vicar (he couldn’t afford to repair his house, we are told in another document) might regard Bayley as a financially suitable suitor for Thomasin’s hand, so no doubt Mr Bayley senior thought Thomasin not good enough for his son.

John Wills, the brother-in-law, doesn’t seem to have been satisfied with the rather vague promise Richard Bayley had made to him, for a week later he visited Bayley and pressed him again to declare more firmly his intentions with regard to Thomasin, and Bayley said yes, he would perform all his promises concerning marriage with her.

Wills then presented Bayley with some love-tokens which Thomasin had sent by him, one being a piece of silver ‘which token the said Bayley did thankfully receive and keep the same’, and Bayley also fixed a date on which he would go to the old Vicarage in Hungerford ‘and there conclude all matters depending between him and the said Thomasin’.

An important point here is the proferring and the acceptance of the love-token. The exchange of gifts between lovers in this formal fashion was the equivalent of the modern engagement ring. And if Bayley had not wished to be formally bound, he should have returned the silver piece token by the messenger who brought it; but he didn’t, he kept it.

The story is now taken up by Mrs Brouker, the Vicar’s wife, who relates what occurred in the hall – or main room – of the Vicarage house on New Year’s Eve 1574. Here in the presence of her husband, herself and her daughter Thomasin, Richard Bayley took Thomasin by the hand and spoke to her these words. We have to imagine in the flickering candlelight and the log fire flame of the large, dark and probably rather draughty hall and an atmosphere suddenly grown solemn. And in what the young man is about to say you will notice the formal, ritualistic language and the age-old traditional elements involved in plighting one ’s troth – ‘Thomasin’, he said, ‘can you find in your heart to love me and if you can then give me your faith and your troth, and I do give you here my faith and my troth’.

The question ‘can you find it in your heart to love me?’ was of course, a rhetorical question, for if one thing was certain, and the young man must have been well aware of it, it was that the girl was dotty about him. However, custom, and therefore honour, demanded that the man should make the approach. But it was enough for the anxious parents (who may have had some reason for their anxiety, as I hope to show later)! For at this point the Vicar produced a Bible and laying his hand upon it Bayley added and (Mrs Brouker doesn’t say whether with or without prompting), ‘By this book, I will never marry with other but only you’. And after so saying the couple kissed.

Since that New Year’s Eve, Bayley began to call Mr Brouker ‘father’ and Mrs Brouker ‘mother’, and her son William ‘brother’ and the two younger girls ‘sister’ and he had even sent her daughter letters addressed to Thomasin Bayley.

The next witness was the Vicar himself. He confirmed events of New Year’s Eve and added that in Lent last, Richard Bayley’s servant came to deliver a token for Thomasin, this time a Spanish coin, a gold doubloon, and she in return sent back with the servant a handkerchief which she had embroidered. He also reported that she had previously, unknown to him, sent her lover a much prized silver whistle.

By the end of the Easter holidays, Brouker had got Bayley around to asking the Vicar to obtain a licence from the Dean of Salisbury to enable him to marry on Sunday fortnight. The marriage was to be in Hungerford church and the licence would be necessary to avoid publishing the banns and so alerting the young man’s father.

Finally Brouker identifies as being in Richard Bayley’s handwriting various love letters which the poor girl had had to submit to the court in evidence. Among them was ‘a little scroll wherein are written these words, viz, Richard Bayley – Thomasin Bayley, which scroll the said Bayley left upon the Vicarage table board’ at the time of the New Year’s Eve betrothal. Whether the marriage licence from the Dean of Salisbury was obtained or not, we do not know, but certain it is that the marriage ‘on Sunday fortnight’ did not take place.

Richard Bayley gave evidence to the court in his own defence: he admits receiving the silver piece, the silver whistle, and the handkerchief ‘not as any tokens in the way of marriage, but as one friend might receive from another’. He admits that ‘he hath divers times kissed the said Thomasin, but not in any intent of marriage’ and ‘he vows that in a little parcel of paper in saying of a poem he did write Richard Bayley – Thomasin Bayley (but) not holding or taking the said Thomasin as his wife’ and he only called Mr and Mrs Brouker ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in respect of the anger of Thomasin’s father.

It is tantalising that we don’t know the court’s verdict or sentence. After all that heartbreak and humiliation one would have expected Thomasin to marry her weak young lover. But after all the linen had been washed in court would anyone else in the town want to marry her?

In the end she was certainly lucky not to have married Bayley, for he seems to have been a vain and foolish fellow, whom the Great Bedwyn parishioners reported to the court, a year later, ‘About Frosttide last Sir’ (that is, the Reverend) Richard Bayley and Thomas Southern, with this deponent and one other playing at cards in this deponent’s house, being an ale house for a pot of ale for the winner, Southern and Bayley fell out and there ensued a violent fight’.

Another deponent reveals Bayley as absurdly dress-conscious, wearing great ruffs around his neck and sporting himself in gallygaskins or wide slop breeches, the very latest in Elizabethan male fashions.

Yes, Thomasin was lucky to be shot of him. No doubt she wept many tears of shame and rage and some no doubt of self-pity as she saw herself marked down to give -away in the marriage market. Into her life, however, comes a local man. I can tell you nothing of him or of his history; he left no other footprints in the sands of time, except that on 21st November 1580, that is some five years later, the Reverend Edward Brouker writes happily and proudly in the parish register ‘on this day were married Walter Haykyns and Thomasin Brouker, my daughter’. They had 4 daughters and 1 son and as far as we know lived contentedly together in Hungerford and were buried there in the parish churchyard.

Whenever I think of Thomasin I think how contemporary she seems – the teenager from a sheltered home, her loving parents alternately anxious and angry, and a bit muddled, her weak and fashionconscious young sprig of a no-good lover – I find the pain in the situation very real. I also think of Thomasin sending her little silver whistle, perhaps her most precious personal object, as a love-token – and perhaps as a gentle snare – to bind her lover to her, in the ritualistic traditions of her age.

The barber, 1575:

Not all young girls in Hungerford were quite so innocent nor quite so vulnerable as Thomasin, the Vicar’s daughter, may have been. Let me tell you the story of Martha, daughter of the town barber, George Bradford, also in the year 1575. I wouldn’t say that a barber was quite as central to the life of Hungerford – or any other small community – as a Vicar. Nevertheless, he was central, as central say as an inn or a tavern.

Particularly in those days when there was no television, no radio, no newspapers and no entertainments except those which people provided for themselves. Talk and gossip in places where women might meet, and talk and gossip in places where men might meet - such as an alehouse, or a barber’s shop.

Here in a barber’s shop you might sit and wait while the barber worked up his soap into a lather, and stropped his fierce cut throat razor. It was a place to chat in a specially ‘male’ kind of atmosphere, to make bawdy jokes, to hear the latest scandals, and if you were from out of town to find out about the place, where to go for good lodgings, who might like to make a bit on the side, and above all where the local female talent might be found.

George Bradford’s barber’s shop was in a building which he rented in the High Street, the site possibly of present day No. 25 High Street – Spackman’s (now Kitchenmonger) to you. The older ones of you here tonight will remember the days when barber’s shops looked more like their Elizabethan counterparts than do the unisex hairdressing establishments of today. Until quite recently these shops, with their barber-surgeon’s sign of a bloodily striped pole projecting into the street, were even more a male preserve than alehouses.

In a small town in Elizabethan days the barber’s shop was a kind of male gossip house. Male strangers coming into town might drop in to find out what entertainment there was to be had in town and where they could pick up whatever local girls who might be available. Barbers had a reputation somewhat similar to that of today of a massage parlour proprietor. If you wanted a shave o.k., if you also wanted a girl, he could probably put you onto one. Not all barbers, of course, but enough of them to give the trade a reputation.

Here then was George Bradford early one morning plying his trade in the shop that is now Spackman’s (Kitchenmonger), when two young fellows ride into town on the eve of St. Andrew, that is to say on 29th November. They are Francis Pountney and John George and they freshened up at the barber’s shop where Francis had his beard trimmed. After which the two young gentlemen were taken by George Bradford to breakfast at the house of Jane Sherwood, wife of a nearby self-employed trader, David Sherwood. Breakfast I should add was taken in those days nearer to midday – after, not before, a morning’s work.

From hereon the story is told in the words of Jane Sherwood, in her deposition on oath and under the suspicion of acting as a bawd: Jane swore that upon St. Andrews Eve, Francis Pountney and one John George came to her husband’s house and the same Francis having been trimmed by George Bradford, father to Martha Bradford, in his shop, Pountney and Bradford came to breakfast at Jane’s husband’s house. And after Pountney, George and Bradford had broken their fast together, Pountney asked Jane to send for a quart of sack, that is two pints of dry wine. Answering that she had nobody to fetch the sack Bradford said ‘then call my Martha hither, she shall go for it’. And so Jane taking a pot in her hand went to Martha who just happened to be standing at the door of her father’s house and ‘delivering to her the said pot and 8d desired her to fetch a quart of sack, who immediately went for the sack’. Eightpence was quite a lot of money in those days. Historians like Emmison dealing with similar offences in Essex reckon that 6d was an average charge for a common prostitute, and it should be compared with the £7 or £8 a year which was the salary of the Vicar of Hungerford which works out at about 36 pence a week.

To continue with Jane’s evidence. She said that after contacting Martha she went about some other business or task, in her garden, when Henry Cosgrave, a boy in her service came out to her saying ‘one of the gentlemen within is occupying of Martha Bradford in our stable’, whereupon Jane says ‘coming on with speed’ she found the said Martha and the forenamed Pountney, George and Bradford sitting together drinking in her hall. But she denieth that she was privy to the said filthy fact as a bawd or did call for the said Martha to any such intent. And further she denieth that she hath at any time been a bawd either to the said Martha or to any other person or persons’.

Jane having – as she says – given Martha the money and sent her for the sack then went about her domestic business and then was in her garden when her servant, a young boy, came running to her saying ‘one of the gentlemen within is occupying of Martha Bradford in our stable’. But by the time she got back ‘coming on with speed’, she says, all she found was Martha, the two men and Martha’s father, George Bradford, the barber, drinking in her hall – or as we should say today, her sitting room. She denied all accusations of bawdery.

Finally... sex in the stable:

We have one other deposition – or evidence – and this is the deposition of Martha Bradford. Martha Bradford confessed that the Sunday before St. Andrews Day last, Jane Sherwood, the wife of David Sherwood, came to her father’s house and desired her to fetch a quart of sack and she going for the same sack could not get it and that at her coming back to do her message she found Jane Sherwood’s husband standing at his door, of whom she asked where the said Jane was, who declared that she was in her backside (i.e. back garden), and this voudent going into the backside there were standing at the stable door two strange men and that then one of them took her by the arm and drew her into the stable and the other of them kept the door and that in the meantime he drew her into the stable and then carnally to do her with what time (as she saith) she cried out ‘-presumably for help -;’ and Martha continues that ‘she believeth the said Jane Sherwood came for her’ i.e. to her house, ‘to the intent that the said strangers or one of them should so carnally abuse her’. She denied that John George had at any time had carnal copulation with her.

The conflicting depositions of these two women is all the information which exists on this case. One scribbled entry later seems to suggest that Jane Sherwood was absolved. Her husband David died a few months later and we hear no more of the family; they probably moved out of town. We hear no more either of Martha; she appears neither in the marriage register nor in the burials register. So she too may have moved on, though her family remained, old George Bradford dying here in 1598, and the lease of his house being taken over by his son, John.


As you walk home tonight, I hope you will see the High Street or the old Vicarage or even Great Hidden Farm populated by some Tudor ghosts – Martha standing at Spackman’s (Wine Rack, now Kitchenmonger) doorstep. Jane Sherwood slipping out on her dubious errand, Thomas Brooke staggering home from the alehouse uphill to No. 35, Thomasin Brouker weeping her sad tears in the candlelight hall of the old Vicarage; and a stern old man striding along the dark road through Eddington to what is now called Newtown, but was then called Hidden, with a thick growth of beard beneath the hood drawn over his face so as to cover the H mark on his right cheek.

If you see them, wish them all goodnight and long rest from their pains they suffered here in this town over four centuries ago.

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford