Sunday, June 21, 2015

The towne took on fire

William Whiteway died all of 380 years ago today. He played a significant role in the historic English market town of Dorchester during a period when it was undergoing remarkable civic improvement. He is particularly remembered, however, because of his diary, which records much of that development as well as giving, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), ‘a valuable impression of the mental world of a well-educated, moderately puritan, seventeenth-century provincial townsman’.

Whiteway was born in 1599, the son of a wealthy Dorchester merchant. He was educated at the Dorchester Free School, but did not go to university. He married Elinor in 1620, and although they had several children only two survived childhood. According to the ODNB (log-in required) Whiteway held most of the civic offices in Dorchester, capital burgess in 1624, governor of the Freemen’s Company, and an MP from 1626 parliament (after the death of Dorchester’s previous MP, Michael Humphreys). He was steward of the hospital in 1626, overseer of the Poor for Holy Trinity parish from 1628, and bailiff in 1629 and 1633. He died on 21 June 1635, having suffered some kind of trauma earlier in year when running up a steep hill.

Whiteway kept a meticulous diary, from 1618 until his death, in a leather-bound volume containing 121 parchment folios (with 222 pages of diary entries). Selections from this were first published by the Revd W. Miles Barnes in 1892 in Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club (available at Internet Archive). It was not until 1991, however, that a fuller text was published - William Whiteway of Dorchester: his diary 1618 to 1635 - by Dorset Records Society. The book’s introduction states: ‘His diary provides a window into the mental world of a prosperous and well educated provincial townsman. Far from being merely localist, it illustrates the interaction between the various circles of its author’s existence: circles of family and kin; of town and region; of country and kingdom; and of the wider world beyond its shores.’

According to the ODNB biography, Whiteway grew up in Dorchester during a period of remarkable civic improvement, and his diary records the various projects which transformed Dorchester into one of the most puritan towns in England. (See this page for many citations from the diary detailing Members of the Dorchester Company 1624-1626.) Entries about his own life are brief, usually matter-of-fact, and otherwise buried among his reporting of the news, whether local or national. Here are several extracts, taken from the 1991 edition of the diary (which reproduces the original spelling, unlike the 1892 edition for which the spelling was modernised!).

14 June 1620
‘I William Whiteway was married to Elinor Parkins by mr John White in the Church of the holy Trinity in Dorchester, in the presence of the greatest part of the Towne.’

30 January 1623
‘This day about one a clocke in the afternoone this towne tooke on fire in the house of mr John Adin in the higher parish, burnt 27 houses in that parish thereabouts, to the value of £3500 sterling. One man was burnt in William Shepherds house, to wit Edmond Benvenue, who running home, all blacke and deformed by the fire, and being followed by some friends, they Laboured to stay him to have him drest, was met by mr Cokers man Jaspar Arnold. He thinking him to be some felon, had a pole in his hand, and beate him with it greivously, and stroke him downe. He died within two daies. The Kings Majestie granted for it a Collection over all England.’

15 November 1623
‘This day about 10 a clocke at night Squire Williams stabd the Tapster of the George to the heart and killd him. Whereupon he fled into Holland, and from thence to France, where he lived at Caen. Some 8 moneths after he returned, have a pardon for £1500.’

4 October 1624
‘This night there was an extraordinary storme of wynd and rayne, which blew downe many houses, overthrew many great trees, cast away many ships in all ports, amongst the rest 4 at Melcombe in the hole, of which one was mr Pits, one mr Royes and 2 french men. There were 11 french men drowned in the same.’

5 June 1625
‘This day at 11 a clocke at night, god took unto his mercy, my eldest daughter Mary, being fower yeares old within 6 or 7 diaes.’

26 October 1625
‘The weekely fast on Wednesdays begun on the 20th July, ended in Dorchester this day with a contribution to the releife of Excester, which was in great distress, many dying for want and many weeke 100 and 150 of the sickenes. The collection that day was £23 16s to which was added £16 4s to mak up to £40 and sent to Mr Ignatius Jordan who was left alone in Exon, of all the Magistrats, all the rest having forsaken them.’

2 February 1626
‘This day king Charles was crowned at Westminster, with great solemnity. The Queen refused to be Crowned by any Protestant Bishop, without dispensation from the Pope. There were now Created 8 Earles and 80 knights of the Bath. The solemnity of the kings riding through London in State is put of to the 1st May next coming.’

15 August 1626
‘The sickenes began to breake out in Blandford, very dangerously, and within 10 daies after at Bridport, and spread into many parishes thereabouts. At Blandford there died in all some 20 person. In Bridport 70. It was suspected also againe to be in Weymouth.’

12 March 1627
‘This day my Unkle John Pit of Bridport died, being 80 yeares old. He died of age, and of the Stone. This day my Cousin James Gould and I did ride to London, to Joine with the merchants of Exeter, in petitioning the king and the Counsell, that we might have as much french goods delivered us as we had arrested in france.’

17 August 1634
‘Two men being at bowles near to Bridport on a Sunday, one beat out his fellowes braines with a bowle.’

13 October 1634
‘This day I rode towards London with Mr Onecipherous Bond, Roger Cole, and my brother Sam Whiteway. We took in Oxford in our way, and viewed all the Colleges, as also Windsore Castle and Eaton Colledge, and from thence went to Hampton Court, where wee saw the King and Queene dine. At lambeth wee saw the rarityes of Tredescant. And in Morefields I saw a woman delivered of a child. I returned home 31 October.’

The Diary Junction

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