by Cyril Coffin © 2000


Summary

Three main groups of (largely Norman) immigrants into Dorset can be distinguished, on the evidence of the 1525 lay subsidy rolls. There were those who were seafarers, or were engaged in business concerned with the sea, and stayed in or close to the ports through which they had probably entered. Secondly, there were those who settled in the farming country that lay immediately behind the coastal hills, on a line roughly from Bridport in the West to Wareham in the East, and were employed in agriculture (for the most part, in dairying). Thirdly, there was a numerous group who penetrated to the inland towns and engaged in trade there, sometimes in the employ of their fellow-countrymen. Apart from these three groups, a surprisingly large number of individual immigrants were scattered widely throughout the county, as personal servants to the gentry. But in many sizeable places well inland, and even on the coast, aliens were scarcely to be found.


 

In granting a subsidy to King Henry VIII in 1523 to enable him to carry on war with France, Parliament required all those inhabitants over the age of 16 who were not born under the king’s obeisance - that is to say, who were aliens or denizens (foreigners who had acquired rights of residence in England) - to be taxed at double rates or, if the value of their goods, or their income from wages or land, fell below the assessment limits for native-born taxpayers, to pay a poll tax of 8d. With this subsidy the practice was reintroduced, for the first time since 1332, of returning to the Exchequer the names of the people who were chargeable, in what were known as lay subsidy rolls. In listing the names of aliens or denizens, the practice of the assessors, or of their clerks, varied. Usually they annotated the names with ‘alien’ in the margin, but sometimes the nationality of the persons concerned was specified (‘Norman’, Frensheman’, ‘Ducheman’, and rarely ‘Breton’ or ‘Flemyng’), while occasionally their status was left to be inferred from the fact that double tax was charged. Mr. T. L. Stoate transcribed and published in 1982 the 16th century Dorset lay subsidy rolls, and those for 1525 have been analysed to obtain a picture of the distribution, and where possible the occupations, of foreign-born residents in the county.

There are a number of problems in using the rolls for the analysis of social structure in this way. Some of these are touched on in Mr. Stoate's Introduction (which provides a general explanation of the basis of the Tudor subsidies). A more widely accessible reference may be pages 140-2 of W. G. Hoskins' handbook Local History in England (Longman, London, 3rd ed., 1984). For example:-

  • Since all aliens were liable to tax, those noted in the rolls make up, in theory, the whole of the male alien population (only one woman is noted as an alien: Julyan Hobbys, a widow in St. George hundred). But a substantial number - estimated at around one-third - of native-born inhabitants escaped assessment because they were too poor.

  • Native-born taxpayers would be likely to have more dependants living with them, on average, than their alien counterparts, making a comparison of numbers assessed for tax still more unreliable as a measure of the proportion of aliens in the population as a whole (which is therefore slightly overstated in the figures quoted below).

  • The rolls are mostly compiled by tithings, whose names cannot easily be related to the more familiar parochial system, and which appear in and disappear from the rolls in successive years without any evident reason.

  • For three hundreds whose geographical location is significant for the purpose (Cullingford Tree, St. George and Puddletown), no tithing headings are given in the rolls for 1525, and Mr. Stoate's tentative division into tithings (which depends on a comparison of surnames with those in subsidy rolls of other years, and in the muster rolls) is not entirely reliable.

  • For several tithings elsewhere, Mr. Stoate found the 1525 roll to be illegible, so in these instances the roll for 1524 has been used instead.

  • Worse still, the rolls of both the 1524 and 1525 subsidies for the important borough and port of Poole are missing altogether.

However, despite these and other limitations of the material, some interesting features merge clearly. Mr. Stoate calculated that in 1525, taking Dorset as a whole, there were 531 alien taxpayers (or 6.35%) out of a total tax-paying population of 8,369. Other calculations show slightly different figures: 550 (6.48%) out of a total of 8,493. In any case, the proportion of aliens is considerably higher than in the neighbouring county of Devon, where there were only 235 aliens in the rolls for 1525, out of a taxpaying population perhaps three times as large as Dorset's. (The percentage of aliens paying tax in Dorset declined later in the century, to 2.58% (207 out of 8,034) in 1543-5 and to less than 1% (30 out of 3,135) in 1594-8, although a poll tax was still then in force.)

Within the average of just over 6% in 1525, there were wide variations in different parts of the county. The map on the following page, based on that on page 229 of Mr. Stoate's book, shows the five divisions (Blandford, Bridport, Dorchester, Shaftesbury, and Sherborne) and the 35 hundreds which made up the structure of Tudor administration. This also included the liberties of Bindon, Dewlish, Fordington, Frampton, Gillingham, Halstock, Piddlehinton, Powerstock, Sutton Poyntz, and Wyke Regis, Elwell and Portland; the manor of Broadwindsor; and the boroughs of Blandford Forum, Bridport, Corfe Castle, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Melcombe Regis, Poole, Shaftesbury, Stoborough, Wareham and Weymouth. The complexity of this structure cannot have helped officials in their task of assessing and collecting the tax.

The following table shows the distribution of total and of alien taxpayers between the five divisions, and the amounts of tax collected in each

DISTRIBUTION OF TAXPAYERS AND TAX COLLECTED (BY DIVISIONS)

Division

Total Number
of Taxpayers

Total
Tax Paid

No of
Aliens

% of
Total

Tax Paid
by Aliens

% of
Total

£ s. d

£ s. d

Blandford

1,447

266.17.11

124

8.57

4.16.10

1.81

Bridport

1,276

273.06.11

48

3.76

1.12.00

0.59

Dorchester

1,645

382.16.07

226

13.74

8.02.04

2.12

Shaftesbury

1,872

331.13.02

78

4.17

5.05.10

1.60

Sherborne

2,253

398.18.07

74

3.28

5.16.00

1.45

Total

8,493

1,653.13.02

550

6.48

25.13.00

1.55

 

It will be seen that over three-fifths of alien-born taxpayers were in the Blandford and Dorchester divisions, which included the eastern coastal areas of the county. They also paid a higher proportion of total tax collected than aliens resident in the other three divisions; but the difference reflects the larger numbers of native wage-earners paying the minimum in tax in Dorchester, Blandford and other towns, rather than any relative affluence of their alien neighbours (given that most of these, wherever they were, paid only the poll tax of 8d.).

A breakdown of the figures of aliens by national origins is also interesting, though too much weight cannot be given to assessors' marginal notes about where the people concerned came from. In the Dorchester division, for example, they seem to have decided that the preponderance of Normans was so great that it was not worth recording the origins of the rest:-

ORIGINS OF ALIEN TAXPAYERS (BY DIVISIONS

Division

Norman

French

Fleming

Dutch

Breton

Other

Total

Blandford

100

6

1

0

0

17

124

Bridport

20

0

0

1

0

27

48

Dorchester

199

0

0

0

0

27

226

Shaftesbury

16

17

0

13

1

31

78

Sherborne

29

20

0

4

1

74

Total

364

43

1

18

2

122

550

 

Ref Hundred Division Ref Hundred Division
8 Badbury Shaftesbury 3 Pimperne Blandford
26 Beaminster Bridport 18 Puddletown Dorchester
24 Beaminster Forum Bridport 35 Redlane Sherborne
16 Bere Regis Blandford 12 Rowbarrow Blandford
33 Brownshall Sherborne 9 Rushmore Blandford
32 Buckland Newton Sherborne 30 Sherborne Sherborne
11 Cogdean Shaftesbury 1 Sixpenny Handley Shaftesbury
7 Combs Ditch Blandford 34 Sturminster Newton Sherborne
2 Cranborne Shaftesbury 27 Tollerford Dorchester
20 Culliford Tree Dorchester 31 Totcombe Sherborne
22 Eggardon Bridport 21 Uggescombe Dorchester
23 Godderthorn Bridport 4 Upwimborne Shaftesbury
19 St. George Dorchester 25 Whitchurch Bridport
13 Hasler Blandford 17 Whiteway Sherborne
15 Hundredsbarrow Blandford 6 Wimborne St. Giles Shaftesbury
5 Knowlton Shaftesbury 14 Winfrith Blandford
10 Loosebarrow Shaftesbury 29 Yetminster Sherborne
28 Modbury Sherborne

Map ref. A is the Liberty of Gillingham and B is the Liberty of Frampton

To examine the foreign residents more closely, and to try to guess at their occupations, it is necessary to look at their numbers in individual boroughs or parishes. This is not easy, for the reasons set out earlier. In some areas that are of interest, the hundred is the smallest sub-division that can be analysed. However, the places listed in the following table contained 53% of the alien residents of the county (though only 29% of all taxpayers):-

 

ALIENS AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL TAXPAYERS

Place

Total No of
Taxpayers

No. of
Aliens

% of
Total

Melcombe Regis

25

10

40.0

Owermoigne

42

13

31.0

Weymouth

40

10

25.0

Dorchester

172

38

21.3

Culliford Hundred

238

47

19.7

Winfrith Newburgh

61

9

14.8

Sherborne

176

24

13.6

Bere Regis

91

12

13.2

Puddletown Hundred

154

20

13.0

Blandford Forum

73

9

12.3

St. George Hundred

198

24

12.1

Shaftesbury

213

23

10.8

Moreton

37

4

10.8

Milton Abbas

140

14

10.0

Wareham

78

7

9.0

Bridport

130

10

7.7

Corfe Castle

59

4

6.8

Lyme Regis

36

2

5.6

Wimborne Minster

148

5

3.4

Sturminster Newton

70

2

2.9

Beaminster

75

2

2.7

Stalbridge

99

0

0.0

Marnhull

53

0

0.0

Swanage

43

0

0.0

Total

2,451

289

11.8

 

Most of the aliens listed would have entered England through Melcombe Regis or Weymouth. These twin ports, divided by the little river Wey, had traded regularly with France and the Low Countries for at least two centuries, and this accounts for their high place in the list. (Melcombe enjoyed a dubious fame as the port through which the Black Death had traveled from the Continent in the summer of 1348.) But the variations elsewhere in the proportion of aliens to taxpayers as a whole cannot simply be explained by the suggestion that most immigrants took up residence in or near the ports. Inland towns like Sherborne, Bere Regis, Blandford, Shaftesbury and Milton Abbas had substantial proportions of alien residents, while Lyme Regis and Swanage had few or none.

A closer look at the published rolls is needed to establish the reasons for these apparent anomalies, which almost certainly reflect a diversity of occupations among the alien residents. In Melcombe and Weymouth, where all were classified as Normans, it seems likely that they were employed as seamen, in business connected with the port, or as personal servants. The roll for Melcombe, for example, shows the native-born Gregory Potell, paying tax of 3s.6d. on goods worth £7, followed by John Jacobbe ('his servant') and three Normans, all paying the poll tax of 8d. - John Symondes, Lewis Norman and John Hoffe. Swanage was insignificant as a trading port, being cut off from the hinterland by the Purbeck hills, while Lyme, though it had some foreign trade, exporting woolen cloth from Frome and other Somerset towns, was too distant from France to attract many shipboard passengers at this time. It had declined since the 14th. century, and had been described in the 15th as wasted by the sea, by enemy attacks, and by pestilence. Bridport occupied, geographically and in respect of the proportion of its alien residents, an intermediate position between Melcombe and Lyme.

Another explanation has to be sought for the relatively large numbers of Normans in Owermoigne, Winfrith Newburgh, Moreton and several other villages in the valleys of the rivers Frome and Piddle. Since medieval times, these valleys have been highly productive dairying areas, where farmers have been able, by skilful control of the weirs and sluices, to irrigate the water-meadows and maintain rich pasture for their cattle. Thomas Hardy calls the Frome valley 'The Valley of the Great Dairies'; his Talbothays Farm, where Tess and Angel Clare fell in love while milking the cows of Farmer Crick, is traditionally supposed to be Lower Lewell Farm, West Stafford, at the Dorchester, or upper, end of the valley. The likeliest explanation of the Normans' presence hereabouts, as in the adjoining hundreds of Culliford Tree, St. George and Puddletown (which lay immediately behind the Wey ports), is that they were expert dairymen, makers of the cheeses and butter for which their native land was renowned, and were employed as such by the dairy farmers. However, here too some were living-in servants on the larger estates along the river valleys; the classification indicated that their masters were liable to pay their tax (though they could deduct it from their wages). Four are identified as such in each of two of the larger villages, Owermoigne and Winfrith.

There is some evidence of connections between recently arrived aliens and those who had immigrated long enough before to have acquired resident status and some property. Thus in Owermoigne John Coffen, his servant and three other Normans were listed after Robert Coffen (who was classed as native-born, and taxed at 1s.6d. on goods valued at £3). All these men seem to have been part of the establishment of one Andrew Rycke - a man of substance, paying tax of 7s.6d. on goods worth £15. Similarly, in Winfrith Newburgh tithing Richard Slade, taxed at 4s.6d. on goods worth £9, had among his followers his unnamed Norman servant, the native-born Thomas George (taxed on £2 worth of goods), and two other Normans, one of whom is a Peter George. Family connections may also have enabled later arrivals to find jobs in other villages nearby. There was a Thomas Coffyn in Warmwell in 1525, native-born and paying tax on £8 of goods; by 1543 he (or his son) had been appointed an assessor for the Winfrith hundred. Had he helped Robert Coffen to establish himself at Owermoigne less than two miles away, and did he encourage (another) John Coffen to find a place in East Holme, a little further down the Frome valley? It is surely significant for the origins of this family that in one small area there were in 1525 five men of the Coffin name, of whom at least one was Norman-born.

It was easier, no doubt, for someone newly-arrived from the Continent to conceal any valuables from the assessors than for native inhabitants, who could well have been personally known to them. It should not be assumed, therefore, that aliens shown in the rolls as having no goods, or as earning only a minimum figure of £1 a year, were actually penniless. Although in Wolsey's survey of 1522, which preceded the levying of the lay subsidy, assessors were required to take evidence of a man's wealth on oath, this appears rarely to have been the practice later on, and the requirement was eventually dropped altogether. Some immigrants who were skilled dairymen or other craftsmen could have saved enough after several years' stay in Dorset to establish themselves permanently, or to go back home richer than they came: thus Nicholas Oliver, a Norman who paid the minimum 8d. tax in Culliford Tree hundred in 1525, had become by 1545 a comparatively rich man, taxed on £10 of goods, and had acquired rights of residence (i.e. he was classed as a denizen, and no longer as an alien). But there is no trace in later years of the John Coffen who paid the poll tax in Owermoigne in 1525, and of the ten Normans at Melcombe Regis in 1525 only two were recorded there in 1545 (one of whom, Henry Michell, was - like Nicholas Oliver - no longer classed as an alien). However, too much weight should not be put on this slender evidence: a steady turnover of seamen and others is to be expected in ports, as among itinerant dairymen on the farms further inland.

The boroughs of Dorchester, Shaftesbury, Blandford Forum and Wareham present a markedly different picture from either Melcombe/Weymouth or the dairying valleys, from the point of view of their immigrant population. Dorchester was the richest, paying a total of £76.16s.8d. in taxation, and was the main centre of administration (as the county town) and of trade. Its taxpayers included two tanners, a glover, a draper and a weaver, and the names of several of its 38 Norman inhabitants listed in the rolls are as likely to have been descriptive of their trades as to have been inherited surnames. Among them are a Kerner, a couple of Masons, a Coper, a Carter, a Baker and a Cureyer; the total of the tax they paid was only £1.15s.4d.

Shaftesbury paid £59 11s.7d. taxation altogether in 1525, but of this the town's 23 resident aliens contributed £4.4s.4d. There were 12 'Duchemen' - perhaps Germans - heavily concentrated in one of the five parishes, that of St. Peter, where there were also two Normans and four Frenchmen. The remaining five Normans were distributed between the parishes of Trinity and St. Martin. A closer study of the local history would no doubt reveal what the 'Duchemen' were doing there. It might focus particularly on the role of three of them, who appear from the rolls to have employed most of the rest as well as some of the Frenchmen: Warner Attwode (taxed on £15 of goods), Thomas Helyer (£10) and Peter Harrys (£18). They were probably wool traders or cloth merchants, since Shaftesbury was a centre for both trades. Philip Farys (taxed on £10 of goods), a Norman living in St. Martin's parish who employed several workmen, may also have traded in wool or cloth, or was perhaps a tanner (there are none recorded in the town).

It is difficult even to guess at the occupations followed by the non-native inhabitants of Blandford (where they are simply denominated 'aliens') or Wareham (where there were four Normans, a 'Flemyng', 'a Frensheman servant to William Jolyffe', and an alien of unspecified origin). In earlier centuries Wareham had been a major port of entry for Normans on their way to Winchester or Westminster: the Victoria County History calls it 'the most frequented port on the south coast' at the time of the Conquest. It had declined in importance since then, though still a wealthy place for its size, paying £26.1ls.8d. in tax. Two of Its native residents, Nicholas Cheverell and John Gerarde were each taxed on £200 worth of goods, but there is nothing in the rolls to indicate the source of their wealth or the nature of their property. The name Gerarde, or Gerrard, reappears in later rolls, but that of Cheverell is not seen again.

Of the non-borough towns, Sherborne, Milton Abbas and Bere Regis were the most important. Sherborne and Bere Regis were centres of cloth manufacturing and export, and this may go some way to explain their high. proportion of alien residents. The 1524 roll for Sherborne lists 13 Frenchmen, six Normans, four 'Duchemen', and one Breton. In Eastbury tithing, five Normans seem to have worked for Richard and Thomas Adamps; the two Frenchmen in Westbury tithing were probably personal servants of a widow, Edith Betfield. The 140 taxpayers of Milton Abbas included few wealthy men, or perhaps were more successful than others in concealing their worth. They paid altogether only £15.12s.0d. in tax. The 14 alien residents were all assessed at nil, and paid the 8d. poll tax. There is no hint in the roll of their employer's identity or occupation. The monks of the abbey, here and at Sherborne, would have been assessed and taxed separately on their spiritual wealth, though like other clergy they would have been liable to pay the lay subsidy on any temporal lands.

Finally, Stalbridge, Sturminster Newton, Beaminster and Marnhull have been included in the table to illustrate the fact that over wide tracts of the county, on the borders with Somerset and Wiltshire to the north and on that with Devon to the west, few aliens are to be found in the rolls, even in large villages (like Stalbridge or Marnhull) or small towns. This is indeed what one would expect.

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