January 2014

Dr. Cheryl Butler ‘Tudor Southampton- the People Project’
January 2014

The Speaker at the January Meeting of the Society was Dr. Cheryl Butler who gave a most interesting and enlightening talk featuring ‘Tudor Southampton – The People Project’.

The speaker introduced her talk by saying that this project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and many other heritage and amenity groups keen to promote the history of Southampton people and foster a wider interest in its heritage. Southampton has an amazing collection of original documents stored in its archives. The Tudor period was selected for several reasons: the amount of surviving original material: the fact that the majority of this material was written in English instead of the more normal Latin which obviated the need for translation: the current general interest in the Tudor period and the lack of knowledge regarding the part played by Southampton during this turbulent period.

The project although not yet completed, has been well served for most part by enthusiastic volunteer researchers under professional guidance. A key element in its success has been the design and construction of a comprehensive and easy to use database adopting the latest modern technology. The challenges in the compilation of the data have been varied and many. For instance, often in a short space of time the changes in the spelling of names: marriage(s) of women resulting in the change of name: birth of children: changes of address: arrival of immigrants (during the Tudor period the population of Southampton increased significantly).

Very many primary sources were used and included such items as Documents of Incorporation of various Guilds (e.g. Tailors: Bakers: Beerbrewers: Butchers), Stewards’ Account Books, Book of Debts, the Book of Fines, Muster Books, Port and Brokage Books and so on.

The information that has been revealed during this project is quite remarkable. Southampton was an important port during the Tudor period and particularly had a large trade with Venice. But sailors from Portugal, Spain, Holland and other countries were usually in evidence in the town. It is thought that the population effectively doubled when the Venetian galleys were in port. During the three months that it took in the unloading and reloading, it gave the sailors an opportunity to trade on their own behalf with items that they had personally ‘imported’. Or, indeed, there was the opportunity to utilize any skills that they may have acquired – perhaps tailoring or carpentry.

The speaker in giving examples by means of mini-biographies, brought to life the something of the character of the individuals and the conditions in which they lived. For example, Peter Breme, probably a native of Holland, settled in Southampton. His main occupation was that of town glazier but also possessed skills in other directions and became a town gunner; Southampton, at the time, possessed something like 80 or 90 cannon. He was also a drummer during the periods of drill which was required of all males between 16 and 60 years of age.

Another, Cristoforo Ambruogi, arrived in Southampton from Florence in 1462, to work for a fellow Florentine factor. Within four years Cristoforo took over the business and by 1472 applied for naturalisation and assumed the name Christopher Andrews. He became active in local affairs and was elected Town Mayor in 1485. Christopher employed an apprentice, James Harrison, and they traded in a whole range of desirable goods throughout Southern England.

To confirm the part played by women during this period, the career of Alice Brown was given as an example. Alice, a young girl, had married John Brown, a baker, but was widowed in 1508. She chose not to remarry but to continue in business and further develop the bakery. She was the lead signature on the ‘Incorporation of the Bakers Guild’ document in 1517. Alice was therefore one of the leading eleven bakers in the town and she served approximately 200 customers a day.

The speaker emphasized that from the multitude of records that are now available, the social history of Southampton for the Tudor period, and particularly that of the ordinary person has been identified and our knowledge and understanding enhanced. This information is now available to assist both researchers and others, seeking to know more of these records and consult them directly.

This illuminating and well researched talk was much appreciated by members and visitors. The next meeting of the Society is Friday, 28 February when the speaker will be Geraldine Beech whose subject will be ‘Secrets of Pennington – Its fluctuating fortunes’.