Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Dynasty of Medieval Bell founders in Worcester

This blog summarizes a recent research project that traced a family of medieval bell-founders, the Seynters/Belyeters, in Worcester. It's important to begin with  a brief explanation of the surnames that will occur. In the middle ages many people derived their surnames from their occupation or profession, and this was the case with the Worcester family of bell-founders that this blog discusses. The Norman-French name for a bell-founder was 'Saintier', leading to the English version of Seinter, Ceinter or Seynter. The other name used for bell-founders was Belleyeter, Belyeter, Belezeter – 'bell' is self-explanatory and 'yeter' is from 'geotan', the Anglo-Saxon term for founding or making with molten metal.

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014)
It is in the muniments of Worcester Cathedral Library and with the name Seynter that references to the first bell-founder in thirteenth century Worcester are to be found.  In a document dated from c.1230, Simon le Seynter was recorded as holding land outside Sidbury Gate[ii]. In  a second document he is recorded as holding another piece of land inside the gate of Sidbury.  Confirming this is another rental in the accounts of the Almoner[iii] , which mentions that Simon le Seynter had a furnace on his land in Sidbury.
To put some flesh on the bones of the Seynters we need to look at a group of documents held at the National Archives called  the Justices in Eyre, of Assize, of Oyer and Terminer, and of the Peace[iv][v].    It is from these Eyres dating to around 1275[vi] that most information can be garnered.   The first thing that becomes clear is that Simon le Seynter has died by 1275.  These documents therefore record the name of Simon's widow, Agnes and her parents: Gilbert the Archer and his wife was Mabel.  Other cases show us Simon and Agnes had two daughters, Lucy and Isabel as well as four sons, Henry, Thomas, Robert and Simon.
Although Simon le Seynter Senior was dead by the time of these cases, the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1280 shows that the business was carried on by Simon's widow Agnes and Henry, his eldest son.  Henry appears to have 'retired' from the bell-founding business as he purchases a corrody[vii] from the Priory in 1327, recorded in the Liber Albus[viii], which is pictured below. 

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014)

Henry has a son, Richard.  This son, Richard le Seynter, also known as Richard le Belyeter, was a prominent bell-founder in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Between fifteen and twentuy bells are presently attributed to him across the two counties.  Richard held the office of Bailiff in Worcester at least four times and probably more, so like his grand-father Simon, he was prosperous and a man of standing within the community.  One of these documents has an exquisite specimen of his seal, a wide-mouthed bell, with the legend "Sigillum Ricardi le Belyeter".  It is one of only a handful of bell-founder seals surviving in the country and is the most complete.

Richard le Belyeter most likely died around 1345 as that is the last date he is found witnessing or is cited in any documents. At this date, John le Belyeter is found witnessing documents.  The first impression of John le Belyeter is that he was not only following in his father's footsteps but was moving even higher up the social scale, as in 1334 he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Worcester[ix].  However, this may not have been the case as only two years later in 1336 there is a warrant sent out to arrest him, and others 'notoriously suspected' and have them brought to the Tower of London[x].  He must have been released though, so perhaps he was just mixing with the wrong crowd, as he continues to appear in the documents.  For instance in 1354 the Abbott of Evesham claims that John Belyeter along with others 'arrested his animals' in Worcester. John was most likely acting as a bailiff to do this, so was still in a position of authority. The final document to name John le Belyeter is a lease, which although dated 1464 quotes a grant[xi] from 1358/9 in which a messuage in Sidbury was 'formerly' held by John le Beleyeter, suggesting perhaps that the land has lain waste since that time.

No other record of the name Seynter or Belyeter is found after this and so a family of bell-founders that lasted for nearly 150 years faded from history only to be discovered again 500 years later by researchers at Worcester Cathedral. If you want to know more about this family's history, the full research paper will be printed in the Annual Symposium Report of Worcester Cathedral, which will be published later this year (2014).
by Vanda Bartoszuk 

     George Redmonds, Turi King, David Hey.  Surnames, DNA, and Family History, Oxford University Press, 2011, Oxford
[ii]    WCM B1539 [33]…..... also land outside the gate [of Sidbury] in the suburbs of Worcester, with messuages and other appurtenances lying between the land of Thomas Piment, the chaplain, and that of Simon le Seynter.
[iii]   WCM A9
[iv]   This is a group of justices who were sent from the central courts at Westminster to the counties of England to hear cases - the courts themselves, were known as Eyres.
[v]    NA/Just/1
[vi]   NA/JUST1/1023, 1024, 1025, 1026, 1027, 1028, 1222, 1230A, 1230B, 1232
[vii]   A corrody was a stipend granted to an individual (a corrodian) that was fulfilled by a religious institution. A full corrody included food, drink, and lodging and could in some cases also include a regular allowance in cash. Lesser corrodies provided only food and drink
[viii]  WCM A5
[ix]   Williams, William Retlaw. The parliamentary history of the county of Worcester. Bibliolife, 1897. Priv. print. for the author by Jakeman and Carver, Hereford. p.81 the MP for Worcester in 1334 is John le 'Belleyetere'.
[x]    Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office: Edward III: A.D. 1364-1367, Volume 13 Great Britain. Public Record Office, England. Membrane 29d
[xi]   WCM A6v1 fol. 38

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Rediscovering Runes

From the mysterious to the mundane, runes have a long and fascinating history of use…

Another exciting discovery which has come from research on George Hickes’ book (see last week's blog post) is a wealth of material dealing with Runes. These were used throughout the Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and were best suited to short messages carved on stone, wood and metal.
Hickes includes a copperplate image of the Old English ‘Rune Poem’. This text is critical to our knowledge of early England, as it preserves the memory of a time before Christianisation and subsequent adoption of Latin letters. Written down in around the 10th century but probably composed in the 8th or 9th century, it lists and names the 29 characters of the English runic script, along with a short poem in Old English to help the reader remember the name. For example:

“Þ Þorn (Thorn) is very sharp · for every thane

Who grabs it, it is evil · and immeasurably cruel

For every man · that with it rests”

The original manuscript containing the Rune Poem was destroyed by fire in 1731, but thankfully a copy had been made by the scholar Humfrey Wanley and reproduced by Hickes, making this the most original and accurate source in existence.

Runes were used more commonly and for a longer time in Scandinavia. One of the most common places runes are found are on monumental stones, often erected at land boundaries or beside roads and bridges. This was to ensure they were read by many people. The earliest rune stones may bear only the name of the man who carved them, but over time this was elaborated into memorial messages with artistic decoration. These later stones were generally commissioned by a wealthy individual to commemorate his family and achievements. Hickes includes this example from Iceland:

Picture of rune stones from Hickes' From Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014.)
“Thorstein had these words made in memory of Svein his father and in memory of Thor his brother. They are away in Greece. And in memory of Ingithu his mother. Carved by Ubir”

It is very helpful of Hickes to have reproduced this image, as rune stones are often in exposed places, meaning that their inscriptions become worn away and less legible over time.

One of Hickes’ most ambitious ideas was to chart the development of runic characters.

Photo of rune family trees from Hickes' Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014.)

 In their earliest forms they often appear similar to Latin letters, which Western European troops may have seen whilst serving as mercenaries in the Roman army (perhaps this is what Thorstein’s brother and father are doing?), but some later became very complex, as Hickes shows. In the British Isles, the alphabet was expanded into 29 characters as seen in the poem above. In Scandinavia however this was reduced to 16, with some characters representing more than one sound, which must have been very confusing!

Joanna Perks

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Lost Anglo-Saxon Charters of Worcester

How far back in time can the history of your town be traced? For some, the answer is the Anglo-Saxon period, over 1000 years ago…

Engraved portrait of Dean George Hickes of Worcester. From Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014.)
 A recent research project has been focused on the ‘Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus’ of George Hickes. Written in Latin and printed onto paper in 1705, this book deals with the study of Old English in the early medieval period, as well as the Icelandic dialect of Old Norse, and various Runes. In order to explore Old English, Hickes includes a number of Anglo-Saxon charters, two of which directly concern Worcester.

Charter S1363 was written by our very own St Oswald and witnessed by the brothers of Worcester, granting 2 hides of land for 3 lives (these are standard terms used in Medieval legal documents, and represent a modest estate) to be shared by two brothers:

“ic moste gebocian twa hida landes on Mortune on Þreora monna dæg minum twam getreowum mannum Beorhnæge 7 Byrhstane twæm gebroÞrum… 7 ic cy∂e Þæt ∂a gebroÞra twegen me gesealdon .iiii. pund licwyr∂es feos wi∂ fullan unnan”
"I must grant by charter two hides of land in Mortun for three men’s lives to two brothers Beornheah and Brihstan… and I make known that the two brothers surrendered to me four pounds thither for that which is given fully by charter”

A photograph of a printed transcription of S1363 in Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K (2014)

A note in the margin of the original manuscript (which is now lost – lucky that Hickes made a copy) names the estate as ‘Mortun’. We have record of this estate as Moreton or Mortune at various times until the fifteenth century, and it still exists as a farm near Tewkesbury, giving name to the B4080 ‘Moreton Lane’.

A photograph of a printed transcription of S1406 from Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral U.K., (2014)

Charter S1406 was written by Bishop Aldred of Worcester sometime between 1046 and 1053, leasing 2 hides of land for the duration of 3 lives. The land is in the manor “that men call Hill” – this is probably the modern area of Hill and Moor, near Pershore.

The recipient is one Aethelstan the Fat, a local nobleman, who signs other charters using this nickname. As ‘Aethelstan’ was a very popular Medieval name, he was presumably comfortable with being identified in this way!

This charter is witnessed by “the whole community of Worcester”
“7 Þisses is to gewitnysse eall se hired on Wigeraceastre”

Along with “all the thegns of Worcester, both Danish and English”
“7 ealle Þa Þegnas on Wigeraceastrescire . denisce 7 englisce”

This is interesting because it shows that after only thirty years or so of Danish rule, Danish noblemen had settled and gained power in areas of England which had traditionally possessed a very strong Anglo-Saxon identity: Worcester was at the heart of the old kingdom of Mercia.

by Joanna Perks