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

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