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Summary researched and compiled by John Meads

A Brief History of Burton Latimer - V

17th Century Personalities

The influence of the rector within the ‘towne’ was very great and sometimes led to clashes with the other person of influence, the lord of the manor, especially if they were both strong-willed and felt that they had right on their side.

Two such characters were Robert Sybthorpe (rector from 1629 to 1644 and 1660 to 1662) and Thomas Bacon, whose family had become Lords of the Latimer manor a few years prior to the arrival of Robert Sybthorpe. In 1630, the two clashed over the right of the inhabitants of the town to gather furze (gorse) and thorns (hawthorn) from an ancient enclosure known as the Penn Hedge situated on common ground at Burton Wold. In this dispute the rector was supported by his clerk and schoolmaster, Thomas Baxter, whose family had lived here for many years. Following a court case, Thomas Bacon had to back down and the relationship between the two parties and their supporters must have been strained thereafter.

Another clash occurred in 1630 when, Thomas Bacon was one of several ‘gentlemen’ who refused to pay Ship Money, a tax originally levied on coastal counties during wartime for the upkeep of the navy but later extended to inland counties during peacetime, thereby creating much ill feeling from landowners who felt that they should not be expected to pay it. Robert Sybthorpe, being such a fervent supporter of the monarchy naturally sided with the authorities in their action against Bacon, which once again must have had an effect on the life of Bacon’s tenants who relied on him for their livelihood but also were expected to go to church every Sunday and listen to Sybthorpe’s sermons.

In 1639, during the Bishops’ War, there was more ill feeling between Sybthorpe and Bacon when George Plowright, one of the Constables, was pressed to serve in the King’s army in Scotland. He paid a man by the name of James Basford to serve in his place and went to Yorkshire with him to make sure that he reported and to get himself signed off. He then returned home, only to be accused of desertion and ordered to appear before the Star Chamber. In the ensuing court case, during which he had the sympathy of Sybthorpe, he accused Bacon of engineering his predicament because he wanted his land. Bacon may have succeeded because after 1639 George Plowright is not mentioned again in the parish records.

During the Civil Wars (1642-51), Bacon sided with the Parliamentarians and continued to live at his home, while Sybthorpe was ejected from his rectory in 1644 - it is said - by Parliamentarian troops, and had to flee to London where he lived in great poverty. He returned to Burton Latimer in 1660 after the Commonwealth, but died in 1662.

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