Wardens of the School and Hospital of Jesus in Guisborough, 1574 - 1674
Evidence from the account book and from Hospital leases suggests that those who served as wardens of the corporation were usually men of gentry or yeoman rank, with the occasional merchant such as Peter Dent. A few have to sign the accounts with a mark, though this does not imply they were unintelligent or unable to read. Several schoolmasters - Nicholas Marriss, James Massom, Maurice Long and George Lawson also served periods as wardens, the latter two apparently while also serving as Master of the school. In the early years, they were clearly drawn from the circle of Robert Pursglove, the founder, and so were probably usually Catholic in sympathy, but by the end of the 16th century, Elizabeth’s efforts to impose Protestantism on the country had had some effect, so there was a bigger pool of convinced Protestants to draw from.
According to the Statutes, no warden could stay in office for more than a year unless they were re-elected each year at Michaelmas (Z52). This might have the advantage of ensuring accountability, but also presented a potential risk that the Hospital would be run at times by men who never had a chance to build up experience in running this particular type of organisation. From 1573 - 1593, the wardenship was held by a total of only six men. Robert Pursglove of Picton, the founder’s nephew [O'Sullivan, pp. 67-69], was the longest serving warden as recorded in the account book with a continuous run from 1573 until 1593, shortly before his death. However, from 1593 to 1606, fifteen different men were elected to the role, many of them holding office for only a year, sometimes working with another novice at the role, during a period when the Hospital was in serious financial difficulties. Subsequently, wardens hold office for longer periods, but except for 1651 - 1660, there are no unbroken runs of more than 5 years, thus perhaps achieving a happy compromise between stability and accountability.
During this time, being a Warden of the Hospital was not necessarily an easy job. These were, after all, men with lands and/or businesses of their own to supervise and run, and wardens were not paid. Some of the accounts report extensive travel on horseback by the wardens and other officials, not only to the Hospital properties, but also increasingly in connection with litigation against uncooperative tenants, suspect Masters, and predecessors in the role of warden who might have been slapdash, incompetent or perhaps just plain dishonest in their management of funds. The more serious cases might take them to Quarter Sessions in Northallerton or Thirsk, or to the Council of the North in York. At least they were paid travel and accommodation expenses for these trips - even tips for a maid and an ostler were recouped on one occasion. Rather more challenging for all but the really wealthy was the fact that there was also a need at times for the wardens to dip into their own pockets to cover the costs of running the Hospital.
This may explain the very short periods in office of so many wardens during the years after Robert Pursglove’s two decades of service. The statutes are very clear that the wardens must pay over all the revenues every year and place the surplus into the common chest in the presence of the two new wardens, the schoolmaster and two other ‘honest men’ of the parish of Guisborough. The accounts must be drawn up within 20 days of Michaelmas and then written up in a register book provided for the purpose. So it is surprising that Robert Pursglove was able to get away with re-election so many times, because in the end his estate seems to have got away with £29 0s 9d of the foundation’s money. If this is compared to the £31. 4s due to the elderly poor every year and the £10 schoolmaster’s salary, it would be fair to compare the loss to c.£60,000 in today’s money. It is not as if no-one had noticed what he was doing - the accounts record at the end of 1584, his first year as lead warden, that he has possession of all ‘such sums of money as have remained at all the accounts made since the beginning of this Register Book, that is £14 17s 8d’. This should have gone straight into the chest in the schoolmaster’s possession. Every year, he followed the rules and handed over the £7 provided for in the statutes, intended to cover weekly payments to the 12 poor people between the election and the payment of autumn rents. Perhaps the other members of the corporation were lulled into a false sense of security by this and by the fact that the annual accounts were very well laid out under Pursglove’s direction. However, by 1589 they were clearly worried because they got him to promise to repay the money in two installments within the year. This didn’t happen. After Pursglove died in 1594, the corporation spent several years trying to get the money from his executors, but the account book gives no evidence that it was ever returned. The mid 1590s were wet years with poor harvests in many parts of the country, and lacking a ‘cushion’ for hard times, the finances of the Hospital were a hand to mouth business for several years to come.
This may explain why there are so few wardens who serve for long terms in the next few years, in the period from 1584 and 1606. With a greater likelihood of needing to help the Hospital out with cash between rent days, who except the very wealthiest would want to find themselves having to dig into their own pockets? In difficult times later on, in this respect, Sir Richard Wynne Esq.’s generosity stands out. He was lead warden for 11 years between 1630 and 1642, in partnership with William Long, with a gap in service in the year 1636 - 1637. During their second period in office, in 1640, they made substantial contributions to the costs of litigation against tenants in Bolam , so that by Michaelmas 1641, the corporation owed Wynne £10 3s 2d, £6 18s 6d of which he wrote off in 1647, because of the costs inflicted on the Hospital tenants during the Civil War campaigns in Yorkshire. The £3 4s 8d remaining was repaid in 1651 after his death to his widow.
By Megan Smith
- D. O’Sullivan, Robert Pursglove and his Hospital (Redcar 1990).
- Z52, The Statutes of Guisborough Hospital, can be read in full here.