Ipswich Borough Record Extracts

I have been looking at the Ipswich Lindfields, and how they have been intimately involved with the town’s affairs, for some time and have compiled notes from various publications of the Ipswich Borough Records where they mention a Lindfield or near relative.

The Ipswich Lindfields covered five generations, beginning with William & Elizabeth, married in 1559, through four generations of Gilbert (the last one dying in 1692 at Whatfield near Ipswich). The last surviving Ipswich Lindfield was the last Gilbert’s sister Bridget who married John Brownrigg of Willisham near Ipswich. Earlier articles in Longshot1 give more detail of the family tree and their wills and background. As an aside, the only physical evidence still visible seemed to be a gravestone at St. Mary Tower, Ipswich (the Town church) for Bridget, the wife of Gilbert III (the M.P.), whose epitaph had been recorded as: ‘Here Resteth the Body of BRIDGET LINFILD Daughter of JOHN SMYTHIER Gent late one of the Portmen of this Town who departed this life May 18. 1672’.

I had spent several lunchtimes cleaning off external, barely visible flat slabs in the graveyard of St. Mary Tower and failing to find her there. Subsequently earlier this year I had visited The British Library to look through the many hand-written notes of Davy, an early 19th century antiquarian to look up Lindfield and other associated Suffolk names. I came upon his transcription of Bridget’s epitaph as above within the church itself, and well-defined in its position near the south altar. Armed with this information I eagerly strode out the next available lunchtime to look for her, only to realise that he had recorded her before the Victorians had ‘improved’ the insides and cleared out all the floor slabs to retile the floor. Several slabs had been removed to the West wall – but not Bridget’s!

I have added footnotes to pages as necessary to explain circumstances and terms. I have used three main publications for the records, these being:

(i) ‘Extracts from Borough Records (Ipswich) (1272-1841)’ Volumes 1-25 by Vincent B. Redstone, comprising a series of hand-written exercise books, abbreviated to VBR in the records,
(ii) ‘East Anglian Notes & Queries’, Old & New Series, a series of regularly-issued magazines published from the 19th century up to the 1940s, abbreviated to EANQ/EANS in the records, and
(iii) ‘The Annalls of Ipswich’ by Nathaniel Bacon (1654), who was the Town Recorder from 1642-1660.

Before the records themselves, I think it is worth putting Ipswich in context with its history and its time. So below is a summary of Ipswich affairs in the 16th & 17th centuries, for which I am much indebted to ‘Economy, Government & Society in Ipswich, c.1500-1830’ by Frank Grace, a leading Ipswich historian in ‘Ipswich from the First to the Third Millenium’.

Ipswich underwent rapid change from the 16th to the early 19th centuries in economic and social structure, and a process first of growth then long-term decay in it’s government. Adaptation to change proved difficult, especially during the period 1630-1730, a period when the Ipswich Lindfields and their relatives were closely involved with the government and social activities of the town.

Today the population is approx. 120,000, but in the early 16th century was around 4,000, and by 1700 about 8,000. So the community then was minute compared to today. Despite it’s small size in terms of taxable wealth of the population, Ipswich was the 7th wealthiest town in England in the 1520s, a position held until the later 17th century. By the early 1800s it had sunk to what one critic called ‘nothing more than a large market town’.

It’s corporate institutions also suffered. From its Charter of 1200 and subsequent revisions Ipswich had evolved to become a borough with a sophisticated self-governing community of resident free burgesses with wide ranging political, financial and economic controls. However, from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 the institutions and governance of the town became corrupted and decayed until by the early 19th century it was in need of severe repair.

Ipswich Lindfield Etc : Posts Held

The foundations of Ipswich’s economic importance in Tudor and early Stuart times were trade, ship-building and cloth. By the 16th century the maritime trade was well established with ships travelling to the Low Countries, France, Spain and the Baltic plus fishing in the North Sea and Iceland and the coastal trade; but the European trade was the basis of the mercantile wealth of the town.

The mercantile trade centred around the four parishes around the dockside (of the twelve parishes inside the town boundary) supported by the associated trade of ship-building with all its specialists. The expansion of trade from the 1540s and the Spanish war from the 1580s meant an increase in demand for ships. London merchants also put work here and 60 ships were completed between 1625-1640. The coal trade from Newcastle produced colliers from Ipswich.

The basis of merchant wealth in Ipswich rested primarily on the cloth trade to London and the continent. In addition Ipswich was a thriving centre for cloth production, sustaining a large section of the population. The Lindfields were able to benefit from all this business when running the Greyhound in the town from the 1500s to the late 1600s.

Until the second quarter of the 17th century therefore, Ipswich’s economy prospered. After this a series of events and developments undermined this, resulting in decline. In the 1620s a crisis in the cloth trade left Suffolk exposed, resulting in major unemployment and surplus cloths. The 30 years war with the Dutch dislocated the export markets. The growing political crisis in the 1630s that led to the Civil War dislocated internal trade. The Suffolk cloth industry and Ipswich’s key role in it never recovered, so that by the 1660s little cloth was exported. This collapse preceded a serious decline in ship-building between the 1670s and early 1700s, due to surplus captured Dutch vessels being made available free to Yarmouth and London merchants who broke into the coal trade, undermining Ipswich. Around this time Harwich, at the mouth of Ipswich’s River Orwell, was building up its ship building industry. The attempt to persuade Huguenot refugees after 1685 to set up a linen manufacture in the town is noted in the minutes that follow – it did not persuade them to come.

The government of Ipswich paralleled its economic prosperity. It was certainly hierarchical and oligarchical, but was far more representative of the town’s population than today. With a population of 4000 in 1550, there were 12 Portmen elected for life (vacancies filled by descendants) and 24 Common Councilmen (similarly elected and commonly called ‘the 24’), all comprising the Assembly to run the town’s affairs. In addition there was the Great Court of Freemen (eligibility was over 21 and born in wedlock & either father a Freeman or Indentured to a Freeman for 7 years), which oversaw the annual elections of the town’s officers in September and where all orders regarding town’s business had to be approved. By the 1830s the same governing elite presided over 1000 Freemen in a population of 20,000, and of those Freemen 700 were non-resident political appointees who had little interest in the town other than party politics.

The merchants and wealthy tradesmen who dominated town government until the late 17th century took their roles seriously. The burdens and responsibilities of the Bailiffs (two elected annually by the Portmen equivalent to the Mayor) and the Assembly increased in the 16th century under the Elizabethan rulers. These were added to the established duties of maintaining the peace, overseeing expenditure, maintaining the town’s liberties, supervising the town’s market, fairs and quays, as well as managing migration into the town, and controlling poverty, disease, plague and public health. Additional duties fell on the governor’s shoulders of the Tooley Foundation for the welfare of the poor (Henry Tooley was a wealthy merchant who left all his estate for the poor), in particular Tooley’s almshouse, and Christ’s Hospital, an ex-Dominican Priory. This was as well as the administration of numerous monies and properties, including farms outside the town, left by wealthy benefactors, all of which needed governors or officers to administer the systems.

Until the 1660s the town’s government was strongly Protestant becoming Puritan. Henry VIII and the Reformation meant greater involvement of lay people in urban society, in the maintenance of moral and religious order in the town, and Ipswich became a model godly community. This affected the attitude of the Puritan leaders to Charles I’s attempts to impose central government policies. The rates included for the maintenance of Ministers and church repairs and from the late Tudors, magistrates attacked immorality and issued severe orders covering behaviour on the Sabbath, all aimed at ensuring attendance at church, e.g. 1644 Order: ‘sporting and playing in streets, idle and needless sitting at doors, walking at the quay, unnecessary rowing of boats’ were all profanations of the Lord’s Day and punishable by fines. This godly onslaught intensified from the 1590s on, but was not wholly effective as Orders had to be reissued periodically and the moral policing could not eliminate unlicensed ale-houses, dice, bowling, etc.

A Town Preacher was appointed in the 1560s to preach God’s Word under the authority of the Corporation, which lead to a collision with the high church of Charles I in the 1630s, after Archbishop Laud silenced the greatest of the Town Preachers, Samuel Ward (Preacher from 1604-1635). Riots in town forced the Bishop of Norwich, Matthew Wren, to flee for his life in 1636, and ensured that when war came, Ipswich would be staunchly Parliamentarian.

The Puritan elite held control of the town during the wars and Commonwealth afterwards until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Soon after, the town’s liberties were whittled away by Parliament, which was filled with the King’s supporters. In 1662 commissioners came to impose the Corporation Act, and half the Assembly was purged, who refused to renounce the Puritan Covenant as a requirement of all officers. Then in 1684, in a deliberate ploy to guarantee sympathetic supporters in Parliament, Charles II purged 15 of the Assembly and replaced them with country gentry, reduced the 24 to 18 and dissolved the Great Court. Soon afterwards the town was split by Whig and Tory party interests. There was obviously a clear distinction between the Puritan elite and the masses in Ipswich, which was diluted after 1660, when Puritans lost control of the town’s affairs. By the late 17th century commerce had altered to expand trade to the Indies and America, which led to wider wealth distribution to the middle classes, craftsmen, merchants and shopkeepers, and to a much more secular and material culture.

Part II of this article will appear in the next issue of ‘Longshot’, and contains the actual records which mention the Lin(d)fields and the other families closely linked to them through marriage. These include the Gosnolds, the Smythiers and the Brownriggs.

1“The Lin(d)fields of Suffolk”, by Malcolm Linfield in Longshot Vol 2 No 2, November 1993 and
The Lin(d)fields of Suffolk – An Update” by Ian and Valerie Anderson and Malcolm Linfield in Longshot Vol 4 No 2, December 1995.

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