Bristol History (5)

1650 - 1700

The Civil War

October 1642 saw the first hostilities of the Civil War, with the Battle of Edgehill. Bristol still hoped for a settlement but in early December opened it's gates to Colonel Essex and the Parliamentarian forces. He realised that the city was vulnerable to canon fire from the north and ordered the erection of earthworks around the city. The old wall from Redliffe Hill to Temple Meads was strengthened. A wall and trench from Temple Meads to Lawfords Gate, in Old Market, was built. This was then extended to Stokes Croft, Kingsdown, St Michaels Hill, Brandon Hill and back down to the Water Fort on the Avon. The wall and ditch was now three miles in length. Bastioned forts were now built at Prior's Hill, Windmill Hill and Brandon Hill. The Windmill Hill fort was enlarged and renamed Royal Fort. The name still remains in the name of the University buildings that now cover the site.

Bristol's defences during the Civil War (1642 - 45)

Bristol's defences during the Civil War (1642 - 45)

The section of trench dug between Brandon Hill and Prior's Hill proved to be very hard work as it had to be dug out of rock. This section was never to be properly dug, with disastrous results in 1643.

These defences must have been expensive in both terms of money and manpower. Parliament did help with grants but most of the cost was borne by the people of Bristol themselves.

Essex proved to be a bad governor, spending most of his time feasting, drinking and gambling. When a soldier complained to him that they hadn't been paid, Essex shot him dead. Essex was arrested for this and the far better tactician, Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes replaced him.

Although occupied by Parliamentarian forces there were still plenty of Royalist sympathisers in the city. A merchant, Robert Yeamans, bribed a Captain and three lieutenants of the city guard and gathered a band of around thirty co-conspirators, who were sworn to secrecy by George Boucher, a friend of Yeamans. King Charles, at Oxford, was informed that a plan to hand the city over to him was afoot and Prince Rupert was dispatched with an army to take advantage of this. On March 7th, the armed conspirators assembled at Yeamans house, which was opposite the Guard House in Wine Street. One of the bribed officers was to surrender his men at midnight, at the same time one of the others was to take his men to Bouchers house near Frome Gate. When the Gate was seized it was to be opened, another band of men, gathered at Thomas Milward's house on St. Michaels Hill, would enter the city. Other bands of men would attack the other gates. When the gates were captured, the bells of St Michael's and St John's would be rung, Prince Rupert, waiting at Cotham, would enter the city through Frome Gate and occupy it.

The plan was a success, right up to the moment they assembled at various points around the city, when Fiennes had them all arrested. The chances are that the bribed officers had informed him of the plot as soon as they found out the details. Around 60 people were arrested, mostly poor men, and of those only four were put on trial, even two of these were reprieved. Yeamans and Boucher were hanged, instead of being released the others had to ransom themselves. Fiennes himself did not expect to make much out of the poor men, in a letter to his father he wrote he didn't expect to get more than £3,000 from all of them. Yeamans and Boucher were hanged in front of Yeamans house in Wine Street and between them they left 16 children. I've also written a page about the Yeamans family with an enlarged version of the Yeamans and Boucher plot.

King Charles wanted a triple attack on London during 1643. The problem was that the army to the north would leave Hull in Parliaments hands. The Cornish army would leave Plymouth in a similar position and the army in Wales when advancing to London would likewise leave Bristol and Gloucester under Parliamentarian control. To ensure the successful seizure of London these important cities must be taken.

After severely defeating the Parliamentarian army at Roundway, Wiltshire on 13th July 1643, Prince Rupert left Oxford on the 18th July to join forces with the Western Army and attack Bristol. On Monday 23rd uly 1643 the campaign against Bristol started. Prince Rupert with 20,000 soldiers, Colonel Fiennes had 2,300 soldiers and 15,000 - 20,000 men, women and children to defend. The towns defences seem strong and Rupert lacked canon, but he obtained some by the capture (or surrender) of eight ships off of Avonmouth. The canon were bought ashore and bought to Bristol.

The attacks on Monday and Tuesday were easily repulsed and so an attack at six points was planned for Wednesday. At Temple Gate, Redcliffe Gate, Stokes Croft and St Michael's Hill the attacks were unsuccessful. Better was done at Prior's Hill Fort but Blake, who went on to fame as an Admiral, managed to beat back the attackers. The sixth point of attack was at the rampart between Brandon Hill and Royal forts. This is the place where the ditch was not properly constructed due to the rocky undersoil. Captain Washington whose descendant, George, went on to great things in America, was detailed to lead between 200 and 300 soldiers against this area. Armed with fire-pikes his men scattered the defending cavalry and soon leveled off the ditch. Calling for reinforcements, his men occupied the Cathedral and had forced their way to Frome Gate.

Fiennes was now in dire straits, his outer defences had been breached and he still had men in the outlying forts. He sent messengers to the forts, recalling the men to within the city walls. Blake at Prior's Hill didn't receive the message but managed to hold on to the fort for another 24 hours before being forced to abandon it.

The situation had become hopeless and Fiennes entered into negotiations. It was agreed with Prince Rupert that the Parliamentarians should be able to leave the city under arms. Rupert agreed that there should be no pillaging of the city when his army entered it.

As soon as the Royalist army entered the city there was, as might be expected, much pillaging and looting. Some inhabitants lost everything, houses were broken into and ransacked, shops were looted and to add insult to injury the soldiers were billeted into the very houses they had just wrecked and the occupants turned out into the streets.

Prince Rupert and Sir Ralph Hopton, who had led the Southern Army argued about who should become Governor of the newly won city. King Charles arrived and settled the matter by making Rupert Governor and Hopton Lieutenant-Governor.

Fiennes was later put on trial for abandoning the city and several people stated that he had played no creditable role in the whole affair and could have still won the day. Military officers, including Fairfax and Cromwell himself, said that Fiennes had done all he could. His defences were broken and he was heavily out-numbered.

The city was now fined for it's support of Parliament, and a gift of £20,000 demanded from its inhabitants, this was in addition to the £300 demanded as payment to the troops that had occupied it and various other taxes imposed. In 1644 the plague returned and carried off 3,000 people. The coming of Winter eased the problems, 81 people died in one week in September, but a month later the number was reduced to 32.

In June 1645, Cromwell and his New Model Army heavily defeated the Royalists at Naseby, and it was clear that if Bristol could be regained then the support of the Royalists in the west of England would dwindle.

At the end of August, Parliamentary warships blockaded the Avon and Fairfax surrounded the city. The King moved westwards hoping to relieve Bristol, mindfull of the advancing army, Fairfax now demanded the surrender of the city. Rupert tried to string out the negotiations, but Fairfax realising he was playing for time, attacked at 2am on 10th September. Although Cromwell had stationed himself on Ashley Hill he appears to have played no part in the battle.

Lawford's Gate and Old Market was soon captured opening the way to the Great Gate of the castle. Prior's Hill fort was taken just before sunrise and it's defenders massacred. As Fiennes did before him once the outer defences were broken, Rupert now started negotiations for surrender. By now there were several fires in the city and the surrender was accepted on condition that the fires were extinguished. As Cromwell wrote in a letter "fearing to see so famous a city burnt to ashes before our faces". Rupert and his followers were allowed to leave under arms. Charles I, who was Prince Rupert's uncle, never forgave him for capitulating so easily and from then on the word "Bristol" could not be mentioned between the two men.

When the Parliamentarians entered the city they found "it looked more like a prison than a city, and the people more like prisoners than citizens; being brought so low with taxations, so poor in habits, and so dejected in countenance; the streets so noisome, and the houses so nasty as they were unfit to receive friends till they were cleansed".

The writer of the above obviously hadn't been to East Street, Bedminster any Saturday night, - it always looks like this!

On 17th September the House of Commons agreed that the following Sunday should be set aside as a day of thanksgiving and that collections should be made on Sunday, 5th October for the maimed soldiers and "for the relief of many distressed and plundered people of Bristol and places adjacent".

On 14th March 1646 the King's army surrendered to Fairfax in Cornwall and on 5th May he surrendered himself at Southwell. King Charles I was defeated, but the Civil War was far from over. Charles was executed in 1649.

In 1654, Parliament decided to destroy many of the castles, Bristol's were amongst these, and work began on the demolition on 4th January 1655, it was still in progress in October. The magistrates ordered that each citizen should pay a labourer a day's wages each week until the Castle was gone. It is said that after this order was given the castle was totally demolished in a fortnight. Whatever the truth of this, there is now no trace of the castle left apart from the foundations.

In 1659 the Bristol apprentices revolted, demanding a free Parliament and the restoration of the monarchy. The rioting was only stopped after great difficulty.

While I reading the story of Bristol's part in the Civil War and writing this I was struck by the attitudes of the combatants. Colonel Fiennes released the 60 people without punishment (even though they were held to ransom) that plotted the downfall of the city, the defenders of Prior's Hill Fort were massacred but both Fiennes and Prince Rupert were allowed to leave the city with their followers, unmolested and under arms. On other pages I've stated that there was almost constant strife throughout England for hundreds of years and yet, during all the bloodshed and hardships people still found the time, money and wherewithal to build many of our finest buildings, carry out great feats of navigation, carry on trade and generally get on with their lives. Whatever we think of the way they lived their lives we can't help but also admire them for it.

Charles II and Bristol

Charles II first visited Bristol when he was the fifteen year old Prince of Wales in 1645. He returned under very different circumstances in 1651.

Charles II's army was defeated by Cromwell at Worcester on 3rd September 1651. Charles wandered around England for six weeks after the battle. He had a £1,000 price on his head but no one would betray him. He stained his face and hands brown to pass himself off as a woodcutter and it was during this time that he, famously, hid in an oak tree with Captain Careless while soldiers searched for him.

He decided to make his way south and to escape to France. Miss Jane Lane obtained a pass to travel to Bristol to the house of a relative of hers, Mr Norton, who lived at Leigh Court at Abbot's Leigh. Just before dawn on 10th September 1951, Mr Lane gave Charles a suit of clothes and gave him his instructions. Charles was to play the part William Jackson, bodyguard to Mistress Jane. He rode 50 miles the first day as pillion rider to Miss Lane and escorted by her cousin Henry Lassels. That evening they stopped for the night at the house of John Tomes, another cousin of the Lanes at Long Marston, which is about 5 miles north of Stratford-on-Avon. The next evening they spent at an inn at Cirencester. On Friday they reached Bristol, and after circling the walls crossed the Avon at Rownham Ferry.

Approaching the house, they saw a group of men playing bowls, amongst them, Charles recognised his old chaplain, Dr. George. Not wishing to be recognised Charles made his way to the stables, and Jane told the butler that her man-servant was sick and should be provided with a room of his own. Dr. George however insisted on seeing the sick man, but luckily didn't recognise him for who he really was.

Dr. George left in the morning, but, making his way to the buttery he found the butler, who was an old Royalist soldier and a couple of other men there before him. One of these others was also a soldier who had been a trooper of the King's Own Guards who had also fought at Worcester. Charles asked this man what the King looked like the other said he was similar to looks to the manservant but was at least three inches taller. Charles afterwards related that "I made as much haste I could out of the buttery for fear that he should indeed know me".

Pope, the butler, had indeed recognised the King as soon as he had seen him, and set about aiding in his escape. First of all he tried to find a ship on which the King might escape, but this was impossible. A while later it was decided that it was becoming unsafe for the King to stay at Abbot's Leigh and it was Pope to brought a letter to Jane one evening purporting to come from her sick father. This provided the excuse they needed to get the King out of the house without arousing suspicion.

When the King did manage to escape from Brighton in October he never forgot the safety that was afforded to him and on his restoration to the throne in 1660 showered Miss Lane with presents of snuff boxes, miniatures, watches and a pension.

By 1660 most of the people of England were tired of the Puritan ways and having King Charles back on the throne was the signal for many celebrations. On 5th March 1660, the bellman of Bristol made the usual Puritan proclamation banning cock-throwing and dog tossing. The rowdy apprentices attacked him and the next day, which was Shrove Tuesday, squailed a goose and tossed cats and dogs into the air outside the Mayors Mansion House. To squail a goose was to throw sticks, weighted with lead at one end, at it. The object was to maim the bird as much as possible without killing it. The disorder of the apprentices was soon quelled and the authorities set about their own celebrations. Salutes were fired and fireworks worth £76 19s 9d were let off. A Ducking Stool was erected at Broad Weir and the old custom of 'ducking' was revived.

The King visited Bath in 1663, and an invitation was sent from Bristol for him to visit the city. He arrived with the Duke of York, who was later to become James II, The Duke of Monmouth, Prince Rupert and others of the Court. After a very lavish banquet at the Great House, he and his retinue departed for Bath the same evening.

The Growing City

During the last half of the 17th Century Bristol's population was around 20,000, nearly all of which lived within the old city walls built nearly 400 years before in the 13th Century, when the population was around 5,000. The castle was completely demolished by the start of 1656 but by 1670 the site was completely covered in houses. The open area to the west of St Philips church was also built over by 1676. It's obvious that people still didn't want to live outside the protection of the city walls but by now the effects of overcrowding must have been taking effect, and probably explains why the plague took so many victims. Using a modern map, I reckon that, the total area enclosed by the walls was around 2.5 square miles. Before the walls were extended to cover Temple Meads, Redcliffe and the area to the north of the city, around 1247, they enclosed an area of about 1 square mile.

The Marsh, now Queen Square, was outside the city walls and was used up to the beginning of the 17th Century as a rubbish dump. This was now remodeled as a place to play bowls and to walk along a tree lined Promenade. Grazing land around the square was let out to butchers. Another green was laid out at the Pithay.

Before we get carried away and think that the Bristol was a clean and pleasant place to live, remember that the Pest House, just outside the city, in a field near Newfoundland Lane was full to overflowing.

Fish were caught in the rivers Avon and Frome and people used the banks for recreation. It was only around 20 years ago that people were once again able to use either river for these purposes. I have never seen anyone willing to swim in either. Now and again some drunken youth would try to swim across the old city docks, but as far as I know, they always ended up in hospital to be inoculated and cleaned up. In the 1960's, when I was at school, we used to wonder what would happen if you fell into the docks, whether you'd drown or if you'd dissolve from all the chemicals dumped there before you were rescued. It wasn't until the late 1970's that the Council cleaned up the rivers and fish were reintroduced.

Bristol has always had a diversity of industry, which has, to some extent, protected its citizens from the worst of the countries financial misfortunes and in 1655 a new trade was bought to it. Cannon founding may already have been carried on in the city, but it was in 1655 that John Packer moved here and opened his factory.

St. Peter's Hospital

Standing until it was bombed in 1940, St Peter's Hospital was built as a grand house in 1402 between St Peter's churchyard and the River Avon by prominent merchant Thomas Norton. Robert Aldworth, another prominent merchant and several times mayor, rebuilt it in 1612 in grand style also adding less ornate additions to the house; in 1666 at least part of it was being used as a sugar refinery when it became known as "The Sugar House" and in 1695 was used as a Mint, but only for two years. In 1697 the building became nationally famous. Mr John Cary, another merchant, had already printed some economic texts but now he printed his "Proposals for the Better Maintaining and Imploying the Poor of the City of Bristol". Until this time the Poor Rates of the various parishes were paid into individual parish funds which were inefficiently used, Mr Cary proposed the building of a common workhouse.

In 1696, the workhouse, Whitehall, next to the Bridewell was selected and an additional £260 allocated to it. Soon after 100 girls were being trained here as wool carders and spinners. In 1697 the Mint was purchased for £800. The building became know as "The Mint Workhouse but the name was soon changed to "St. Peter's Hospital". 100 boys were soon being trained here as weavers. By 1700, Mr Cary had 300 young people under the care of the Guardians. This was the first Poor Law Union, which was soon to be copied all over the country.

In the 17th century, the Poor Law Guardians also acted as magistrates. The members were chosen not only for how generous they were in giving money to the city, but also "the honestest and discreetest." "Strangers and disorderly persons" were brought before them and the Guardians had the power to imprison people in the Bridewell. The city corporation installed a whipping post and chains in part of St. Peter's Hospital and this area became known as Purgatory.

The level of care did not last and soon St. Peter's Hospitial became a workhouse for the destitute and a lunatic asylum. After a cholera epidemic in 1832 it was found that the buildings accommodated 600 paupers. Most of whom had to share beds, often 4 or 5 to a bed. A Royal commission report said that "Prostitutes wear a yellow dress and single pregnant women wear a red dress; they are kept separate from the rest and not allowed to associate with the children. The children are taught to read, to knit, and to sew and when of sufficient age are sent to service." Able bodied men worked from 6am to 6pm breaking stones at Hotwells, for which they received 3s 4d - roughly half what a poorly paid agricultural labourer could expect to earn. Around this time most of the paupers were scattered to various other accommodations, principally the converted Admiralty Prison at Fishponds. The lunatics remained in the old Hospital. In 1855, the Government insisted that newer, better premises be found for them. In 1861, Bristol Lunatic Asylum next to Fishponds workhouse, then in the parish of Stapleton, opened and the inmates moved. After 1865 St. Peter's Hospital was used mostly for administrative purposes.

During the 1920s and 1930s it was a central base for the Bristol branch of the Labour Party where they handed out alms and aid to the poor of Bristol during the depression. This fine old building, which had seen some of the best and worst of Bristol's history, was destroyed during the Blitz on Sunday 24th November, 1940.

There are many buildings in Bristol that have survived from the 17th Century. Amongst these are the Llandoger Trow in King Street and the following buildings :-

The Hatchet, Frogmore Street - 1606 Ye Shakespeare, Victoria Street - 1636

The Hatchet, Frogmore Street ~ 1606 and Ye Shakespeare, Victoria Street ~ 1636

Victoria Street - 1660

Victoria Street ~ 1660

The Diaryists

In the 17th century, Bristol was visited by two famous diaryists. John Evelyn visited in 1654 and compared Bristol with London, not in size but for the manor of the buildings and the extent of the trade that was carried on here. He also wrote "...but the most stupendous to me was the rock of St Vincent, the precipice whereof is equal to anything I have seen in the Alps."

Samuel Pepys visited on 13th June 1668 with his wife and her maid, Deb Willet, who was born in Bristol. He writes : "...walked with my wife and people through the city, which is in every respect another London, that one can hardly know it stands in the country. No carts, it generally standing on vaults, only dog-carts." Debs' father was a merchant, and with Pepys and his wife walked "round the Key, and he showed me the Custom House, and made me understand many things of the place, and led me through Marsh Street where our girl (Deb) was born." After this short walk "and so brought us back by surprise to his house, where a substantial good house, and well furnished; and did give us good entertainment of strawberries, a whole venison pasty, and plenty of brave wine, and above all Bristol Milk."

Bristol Milk and Bristol Cream are types of sherry, which are as famous and well liked now as it was then.


Little is known about the origins of this infamous pirate. The accepted view is that he was born in Bristol around 1675 or 1680 as Edward Drummond. He later changed his name to Thatch then to Teach to protect the Drummond family name. Other stories attribute his birthplace as London, Jamaica or Philadelphia. Edward Teach served aboard privateers operating out of Jamaica during Queen Anne's War between 1701 and 1713. He later joined the crew of pirate Benjamin Hornigold operating from New Providence in the Bahamas. Although he gained the reputation of being a hard drinker he was never known to pass out. Due to his strength, courage and attitude he was given command of a captured 6 cannoned sloop 1716. In 1717 Hornigold and Teach captured the French merchantman Concorde. Teach took command of her, refitted and renamed her the Queen Anne's Revenge.

Being 6' 4", strong and broad shouldered he was an impressive man anyway, but now he cultivated his image as Blackbeard the pirate. He grew a long coarse, black beard that covered most of his face and plaited it into tiny braids tied with multi-colored ribbons. Dressed in a black hat, frock coat and boots with a sling across the shoulders containing two or three pistols, as well an enormous cutlass and an assortment of pistols and daggers stuck in the broad belt he wore at his waist, his appearance as well as his reputation meant that many ships gave up without a fight. For added effect he would tuck slow burning fuses under the brim of his hat so that wisps of smoke encircled his head. He was unmerciful to people that opposed him, for example if someone refused to give up a ring he chopped their finger off and took it anyway. He once shot his first mate, Israel Hands, in the knee while seated at the same table with him.

He plundered around 40 ships ships and sailed throughout the West Indies (including the Cayman Islands) and the Atlantic coast of North America, before he was finally killed in a battle at Ocracoke Inlet, off the coast of what is now North Carolina, on Friday, November 22, 1718, by the crew of a pair of sloops under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy acting under the orders of Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia. Lieutenant Maynard's shipwas The Ranger. Although he could have evaded the vastly superior force in the shoals and inlets of the Outer Banks, Blackbeard chose to carry on a running battle. He was badly outgunned and outmanned, however, and finally fell victim to the five pistol shots and at least twenty serious knife and sword wounds. Maynard had Blackbeard decapitated, threw the body overboard and hung the head from his bowsprit. Legend has it that Blackbeard's headless body swam around the ship before finally sinking.

A depiction of Blackbeard Blackbeard's Flag

Blackbeard and his flag

Religious Quarrels

On the page about the Civil War I describe how, in 1640, five Puritans determined they would no longer submit to the form of worship set out in the Book of Common Prayer. On the outbreak of the Civil War these people were joined by several Welsh people fleeing conscription into the King's army. The Welsh Pastor, Mr Craddock, held services St Ewen's church until 1643 when the city fell to Royalists. Most of them journeyed to London and most of these returned when the Royalists lost the city in 1645.

Pastor Ewins now held the Sunday services, at All Saints church in the morning and at a brewer's house in Lewins Mead in the afternoon. Official recognition of this congregation came in 1651 when Pastor Ewins was appointed "lecturer for the city" by the Mayor. This meant he could preach at St Nicholas church every third day of the week and at Christchurch and St Mary-le-Port on Sundays.

New doctrines were introduced and caused friction within this group. After a while the teachings of the Baptists gained popularity. When Dennis Hollister accepted the Quaker preachings there was a lot of misgivings. Hollister had been very impressed by the teachings of George Fox in London, and had returned to Bristol to spread the Word.

In 1654, he entertained two Quaker missionaries and introduced them to some of the Dissenters. They made such an impression that when they returned a year later several thousand people attended their meetings. The Quakers were very insulting to the current Ministries within the city and several riots ensued. Hollister, himself referred to the "Independent Baptised people who call themselves a church of Christ, but are a synagogue of Satan". It's no wonder people began to despise the Quakers.

George Fox came to Bristol in 1656. The Quakers needed a meeting house of their own and in 1667, built one on land owned by Dennis Hollister, that was the garden of the old Dominican Friary. The building was known as Quakers' Friars and is now the city Registry.

Quakers Friars

Quakers Friars - now the City Registry

When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, none of the members of the new Convention Parliament had any sympathy with the Independants and other sects that had grown during the Commonwealth Parliament. In 1661, a new government, the Cavalier Parliament, was formed and a series of laws were passed known as the Clarendon Code, these were designed to suppress the new sects.

The Corporation Act of 1661 decreed that only Communicants of the Church of England could hold a Municipal office. This was followed by the 1662 Act of Uniformity, that ensured that all clergy and schoolmasters accepted the doctrines in the Book of Common Prayer. This was met with widespread dissent and around 2,000 clergymen left the Church rather than accept this law.

Charles II, was opposed to these laws issued by Parliament and at the end of 1662 asked that Parliament dispense with the harsher penalties of these laws. This was refused, and in 1664 the Conventicle Act was passed. This made unlawful the gathering for religious purposes other than that laid down by the Book of Common Prayer, of more than 4 people, not including the household. The penalty for continued offense of this law was transportation for seven years.

In 1665, the Five Mile Act appeared. This made it illegal for the clergy who had left the Church under the Act of Uniformity, to come within five miles of any borough or town unless he swore not to oppose either the Government or Church.

These then, were the laws passed by Government, now we shall see how they affected the lives of those living in Bristol. When reading these reports it should be bourne in mind that around this time the entire population of Bristol was still less than 25,000.

In 1660, the government wanted to know how many of these Independents were in the country. The officer in Bristol reported that "these monsters are more numerous in Bristol than in all the West of England, and hold meetings of 1,000 or 1,200 to the great alarm of the city".

The Quakers came in for immediate persecution because of their refusal to take oaths. A gathering of 65 people in Hollister's house were arrested and imprisoned in Newgate (our local prison, not the very well known one in London), here they were soon joined by another 125 people from around the city. They were all liberated on the orders of King Charles.

In 1669, one imprisoned Quaker was caught preaching to large crowds through the gratings of the prison. George Fox was married at the Quaker Meeting House in October of the same year. People who were not Quakers or Independents were aroused by the means that were used to quiet them, in 1670, this caused the Mayor of Bristol to write to Lord Arlington "that the factious party are more numerous than the loyal, and unite, though of different persuasions, and seem so discontented that little less than rebellion is in their faces".

The people responsible for enforcing the laws, usually the parish constables, often didn't, or only half-heartedly, and besides, many preachers disappeared through trap doors and back outlets when they did try to enforce them.

This behaviour led the persecutors, under Bishop Ironside, to adopt other measures. Informers started to attend any conventicles that they heard about, this led to people being arrested under the Conventicle Act of 1664. In March 1670, for four consecutive Sundays the Quakers meetings were broken into, people were arrested and convicted. This couldn't stop them and they still continued to meet, for months they would gather in the lanes and highways, their usual meeting places having been nailed up.

The city officials were, on the whole, sympathetic to the Dissenters and in 1670, even elected John Knight, a man known to be particularly sympathetic to them, as Mayor. The Government ordered a re-election, but the Council refused to give way. Parliament summoned Knight to London, where he and his accuser were to put their arguments to King Charles. The King allowed Knight to depart for Bristol unhindered, where he was welcomed home with open arms.

Events turned bitter again, Bishop Ironside was succeeded by Bishop Carleton, who was even more violent in his persecutions than his predecessor. In 1674, Ralph Ollive was elected as Mayor. Ollive was landlord of the Three Tuns Tavern and hated the Dissenters. Two Sheriffs, who were also known to be against the Dissenters were also elected and the persecution began in earnest.

The Dissenters had recently secured licences from the king to worship without interference. Bishop Carleton managed to get these licences cancelled. He returned to Bristol, and on 10th December 1674, gathered together some of his clergy, the Aldermen and some army officers and broke up the meeting of a Mr Thompson in the castle. Thompson was bought before the Mayor who interrogated him until around 9pm. He was then imprisoned in Newgate for 6 months.

Mr Thompson was ill before he went to prison and several leading citizens pleaded on his behalf, but to no avail. He died, in prison, on 4th March 1675 and 5,000 people attended his funeral at St Philips church. For a while afterwards talk of rebellion was heard. The preachers once again took to using trap doors and back alleys to make good their escapes.

Several ruses were tried by the Dissenters, on having their sermons broken into they would burst into song, the Conventicle Act only stopped religious meetings, not meetings for singing, and so as the Mayor could only rage the singing would get louder and louder. The Quakers on the other hand would remain perfectly silent.

The Mayors term came to an end and some of the worst excesses were diminished, in 1681 it reawoke with renewed vigour. In November, all non-conformist ministers and around one hundred others were arrested and detained in Newgate prison. The Presbyterian Chapel, Quaker's Friars and the Broadmead Chapel were broken into and wrecked. Within a few weeks all the non-conformists meeting places suffered the same way. Whilst their parents were put into Newgate, their children were put into Bridewell. Sometimes the younger children of the imprisoned would continue the meetings and being too young to be imprisoned were beaten with whalebone rods. Meetings would be held outside of the city but these were broken up by gangs of ruffians employed by the city officials. Soon Newgate was full to over-flowing. In 1683 alone, the Quakers had fines of £16,440 made against them.

King James II ascended the throne in 1685, and some of the persecution stopped, but this was only because that both conformists and non-conformists felt that Protestantism itself was under attack due to James' sympathy with the Roman Catholic faith.

After the Monmouth Rebellion, James felt strong enough to risk giving Roman Catholics offices in both State and Church. The resulting protests made him include the Dissenters in a scheme for general religious tolerance that was called the Declaration of Indulgence issued in 1687.

Peace came to the various religious groups at last and the ruined Chapels were rebuilt, but it was marred by the fact that James' still supported the Roman Catholics. A Papal Nuncio came to Bristol to secure support of Roman Catholicism but was largely rebuffed.

James issued the second Declaration of Indulgence in 1688. Seven Bishops, including the Bishop Trelawney of Bristol refused to read out the Indulgence in their churches and petitioned the King for the withdrawal of the order. The Bishops were arrested but were later acquitted.

On the birth of his son, an invitation was sent to his daughter, Mary, to accept the crown in place of her father. She and her husband, William of Orange, accepted and landed at Torbay in 1688. James fled to France and England had a new king. The Mayor and corporation, supported by Bishop Trelawney, sent messages of support to William, who was pleased to receive such letters from such an important city. Bishop Trelawney was rewarded by being made the Bishop of Exeter.

In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed giving the Dissenters the right to worship publicly. Only Unitarians and Roman Catholics were excluded from this Act. The persecution of the Dissenters was finally over.

Monmouth's Rebellion

Charles II died in 1685 and his successor was the Roman Catholic James II. At this time the persecution of the Dissenters was very severe and although he had promised to preserve the established church people were suspicious of him.

The Duke of Monmouth had designs on the throne and thought he could count on the support of both the Dissenters and members of the Church of England. He landed on the south coast, at Lyme Regis, on 11th June 1685. Amongst the people he landed with was Nathaniel Wade, a Bristolian who held a position of importance in his army.

After a week Monmouth was at Taunton with an army of 5,000. Although this sounds impressive, it was made up mostly of peasants and townsmen armed only with scythes and pitchforks. The gentry were waiting to see which way the wind was blowing before taking sides.

While this ragtag army was being trained, James sent the Rev. Sir John Trelawney to Cornwall to prepare that county for the coming conflict. He did so well at this that he was later made Bishop of Bristol.

Both sides realised that being an important city, if Bristol could be taken then support for the rebellion would grow. James sent the Duke the Beaufort to prepare the defence of the city. A part of the preparations was to demolish the bridge across the Avon at Keynsham. The homes of the dissenters were searched and the occupants were sent to Gloucester gaol. Less suspicious people were put into the local prisons, which soon became crowded.

The rebel army now marched north to Bristol. The south side of the city's defences were always very strong and so the plan was to repair the bridge at Keynsham, cross to the north and attack from there. A party was sent forward to effect the repairs whilst the bulk of the army camped at Pensford.

On the evening 24th June 1685, a ship tied up between Bristol Bridge and Redcliffe Gate burst into flames. It is thought that Monmouth's supporters within the city hoped that the fire would aid the attackers whilst the defenders were distracted. This plan failed as Beaufort refused to let the troops leave their posts saying that he would "burn the city about their ears".

The rebels now moved to Keynsham where they waited until the evening to cross the river. This delay cost them dear as a troop of horse guards attacked and scattered them. After this setback the retreat began, it ended at the Battle of Sedgemoor on July 6th.

The royalist army was camped on the marshlands and led by a guide the rebels hoped to catch them unawares during the night. The guide either lost his way or deliberately betrayed them and they were discovered. During the ensuing battle the rebels were defeated. Monmouth fled but was captured and executed in London as a traitor.

The Bloody Assize

After Sedgemoor, the Kings army searched out the remnants of the rebel army and their supporters. Colonel Kirke, whose soldiers were called "Kirke's Lambs" because of their savagery, was sent to Somerset where they hanged or otherwise slaughtered a number of the rebels.

Kirke was recalled and Chief Justice Jeffreys arrived to preside over what came to be known as the Bloody Assize. His task was to try the people that filled the west country's overflowing prisons. He would listen to no defence and abused those brought before him. Altogether 233 people were hung, drawn and quartered, the bodies being left until they decomposed. For those who don't know what this meant . . . dragged (drawn) to the execution site, hung and disemboweled while still alive, then beheaded and cut into pieces, or quartered. As well as these executions 850 were transported to the West Indies. This was hardly less cruel as the life expectancy of slaves was very short and hard.

The Bristolian, Nathaniel Wade now turned traitor to the rebels. He later amassed considerable wealth but was known as "Traitor Wade". His name is preserved in Wade Street near the city centre.

Jeffreys arrived in Bristol on 21st September, he began the assize by saying "Rebellion was like the sin of witchcraft, and Bristol had too many rebels who had added to the ship's lading". According to a chronicle of the time (Latimer's Annals) "He had brought a brush in his ocket, and he would sweep every man's door, whether great or small, wherever the dirt was sticking".

The Duke of Beaufort had ensured that Bristolians didn't have the chance to voice any support for the rebels so Jeffreys only managed to condemn six people to death here, three of these were later reprieved and the other three were hanged on Redcliffe Hill.

The local Magistrates had long managed to line their pockets by transmuting the death sentence for some prisoners to transportation as slaves to America. They would be paid twice, once by the prisoners for allowing themselves to be saved from the noose and again by the slavers who shared the profit made on them. When Jeffreys heard of this practice he gave turned on the officials. In one sitting he turned to the Mayor who was sat next to him and cried . . .

Sir! Mister Mayor! You, I mean you, Kidnapper! and that old Justice of the Bench, an old knave, he goes to the tavern, and for a pint of sack he will bind people servants to the Indies. A kidnapping knave! I will have his ears off before I go forth of the town" he went on to say "Kidnapper! do you see the keeper of Newgate? If it were not in respect for the sword which is over your head, I would send you to Newgate, you kidnapping rogue. You are worse than the pickpocket who stands before the Bar. I hope you are a man of worth. I will make you pay sufficiently for it!

Doubtless he did make them pay. The Mayor was arrested and had to stand in his own Dock. The other magistrates were also charged. The Mayor was released on bail and no doubt the others paid to keep themselves out of prison.

It must have been a relief to everyone when he left the city. James II later made him Lord Chancellor, but he didn't enjoy this position for long. In 1688 he was sent to the Tower of London where he died the following year.

This page created March 22, 2000, last modified June 19, 2022