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Repository Cheshire Record Office
Level Collection (Fonds)
Reference ZCR 469
Title Aldersey Family Collection
Date 1554-1897
Description The collection comprises deeds and estate papers, family papers and correspondence and Bunbury parish papers, 1534-1938. The Alderseys held a moiety (half) of the Manor of Aldersey from the thirteenth century and purchased the other moiety, probably, in the later seventeenth century. In addition to Aldersey Hall, the family occupied Lower Spurstow Hall for many generations. Lower Spurstow had been vested in the Aldersey family in the mid fifteenth century. For a pedigree of the Aldersey of Aldersey family, see G. Ormerod The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, 2nd ed. by T. Helsby, 1882, vol. 2, pp. 739-41. In addition to family and estate papers, the collection includes Bunbury parish papers, from the middle of the sixteenth century to 1800. According to G. Ormerod, op. cit., pp. 258-259, the rectory of Bunbury was purchased by Thomas Aldersey, citizen and haberdasher of the City of London in 1575-76. He gave the Haberdashers' Company of London the right to nominate and dismiss the schoolmaster, usher, preacher and curate [or vicar]. Two Samuel Alderseys were preachers of Bunbury, in 1708-15 and 1760-1802. The collection also includes a manuscript history of the mayors of Chester by William Aldersey (d. 1625), compiled c. 1594, with a list of mayors from 1241-42 annotated to 1637 (CR469/542). William Aldersey suggested that 1237 was a significant date for the emergence of the office of mayor in Chester, being the year of the death of Earl John 'le Scot' and of the annexation of the county by the crown. However, recent research has shown that the office of mayor was probably established by 'popular creation' and that the first mayor was William the Clerk, before c. 1229. For further information, see A.M. Kennett, The origin and early history of the mayors of Chester, 1986.
Location Please note that parts of this collection are held offsite. Please contact Cheshire Archives and Local Studies in advance of your visit if you wish to view these records.
Administrative History WILLIAM ALDERSEY'S "HISTORY OF THE MAYORS OF CHESTER"¹ In his REED: Chester volume, L.M. Clopper describes twenty-seven Mayors' Lists, of which seventeen contain entries relevant to drama in Chester². These lists belong to one of two traditions, an older one which identifies Sir John Arneway as Chester's first mayor, and a later one, based on a widely disseminated revision of the mayoral lists published in 1594 by William Aldersey in which Arneway is displaced from his position by Sir Walter Lynet and the dates of his mayorality are set ack. This revision had important consequences for the sixteenth century tradition that the city's Whitsun Plays were first performed in the mayorality of Arneway, in 1327 or 1328. The original of this revision is not noted by Clopper, although its existence was recorded in a series of notes in The Cheshire Sheaf for 1939, published in 1941, when it was in the possession of Captain Ralph Aldersey³. It is now an item in the Aldersey Family Collection in the City Record Office in Chester, catalogued as CR 469/542. The catalogue states that the collection "was deposited in Chester City record Office on 13 May 1985 by Mrs.B.M. Aldersey". The purpose of this article is to give some account of MS CR 469/542, and to transcribe the sections of the Mayors' List relevant to Chester's dramatic activities as a supplement to the material in REED: Chester. I am grateful to Mrs. Aldersey an to the Chester City Record Office for permission to do so. It may, however, be helpful first to give some biographical information about the author of the manuscript4. William Aldersey, a merchant of Chester, was the son of a former Sheriff (1539) and Mayor of Chester (1560), William Aldersey senior. In his Mayors' List, William Aldersey junior records his own birth: "This yeare I william Aldersey borne, and cristened the 15 december 1543 appearinge by the churche booke in St oswaldes" (f.28v). A different hand records his death and offers an encomium under 1616: "William Aldersey [Alderman] the Collector of this booke departed this life the 26th day of October hauinge bine twise ma[or in different ink above cancelled gistrate] of the Citty. A man whome all the dayes of his life trulie feared god./ a true louer of all good preachers, a wise sage and graue Cettecene beinge at his death 73. yeares olde" (f.39v). He was buried in St. Oswald's Church, Chester. Aldersey was mayor of Chester in 1594-5 and in 1613-4. He married Mary Brereton of Wettenhall, but his only son Richard predeceased him; the name on f.1r may be that of Richard's wife, Elizabeth (see below). The manuscript is protected by a modern binder, leather on board, bearing in gold on its cover the title: "Original M.S.S. Being a History of the Mayors of Chester drawn up by Mr William Aldersey circa 1595." This folder protects a manuscript bound in parchment binding which was originally a copy of a land lease of the time of Elizabeth to William Aldersey, although the specific date is obscured. This cover measures 17.5 x 23.5 cms. There are three stitch-holes where it is attached to the manuscript. On what is now the front of the cover is written: "Sealled signed and deliuered in ye presence of John Goodman Tho Langtaon [...] Goodm[...] William Goodman". On the verso of the front cover, at the end of the deed, is the name "Alice Aldersey", written twice, and "Alice A". The manuscript consists of 51 paper pages measuring 16.5 cms x 22.5 cms, in two gatherings -- 1³5, 2¹6. There are eight stitch-holes in the first gathering, without couterpart in the second. It seems probable that the first gathering represents the original manuscript and that the second gathering was added to permit the continuation of the Mayors' List from 14 October 1603, both at that point being bound within the parchment cover. The paper bears no watermark. The pages are unnumbered, but on f.6r a "6" appears in pencil in the top left corner. Similar numbering resumes on f.12r to f.20, though with "17" and "18" erroneously reversed, "19" additionally numbered "18" and "20" numbered "19". All the pages are crumbling at the edges and especially at the corners, at times removing the final letters of words. ff. 1,4 and 5 are cut at the bottom, and ff. 4 and 5 are additionally cut at the outer edge. ff. 12, 50 and 51 are torn, but without loss or obscurity5. Since the contents are fully described in the catalogue of the City Record Office, the following account is cast in general terms and is designed to suggest the overall character of the manuscript: f.1r -- originally blank, now covered in mathematical calculations; f1v-5v -- notes, including, on f.2v further calculations, and on f.4v "1602 Legacies by mr gryne his will"; ff.6r -- introduction, headed "A collection of the maiors who haue gouerned this Cittie of Chester and the tyme when the gouerned the same by William Aldersey a Citizin theirof 1594"; f.6v -- blank; ff.7r-12r -- antiquarian notes headed "The antiquitie of this Cittie"; ff.12r-13r -- a list of the justices of Chester; f.13v -- continuation of antiquarian notes; ff.14r-43r -- list of the mayors of Chester, with a pedigree of the Aldersey family on f.35v ff.44r-45r -- blank f.45v -- a description of "diverse thingis of "Naples by George Sondis f.46r -- dues given to the King of China ff.46v-47r -- a table of London bakers' prices ff.47v-51v -- assorted notes and calculations. The pages are unruled. Entries to f.32v are in brown ink, and from f.33r mostly in black ink (see below). The book was evidently a working document, shaped in a series of stages. The material up to f.32v was in the main part f a deliberate design to emend the existing Mayors' Lists, though it seems that the writer continued subsequently to incorporate material as he discovered it since the wording of certain passages has been changed by cancellations and insertions, and further material has been added in the margins and round existing entries. Beyond that point, the manuscript becomes a kind of chronicle with longer entries under each mayorality. The note of William Aldersey's death (quoted above) describes him as the "collector" (i.e. compiler) of the book, and the entry on f.38v under 14 October 1614 reads "William Aldersey the Elder, maior The continewer of this booke", perhaps a reference to the added second gathering. The Lists continue to 1637-8 in various hands on ff. 39v-42v (to October, 1631) and conclude in a single hand for 1632-1637 on f.42v-43r. The manuscript bears on f.1r the name "Elizabeth Aldersey", presumably the daughter-in-law of William Aldersey and widow of his sole heir, Richard Aldersey, who predeceased his father, f.1v bears the name "J.Price Jes.Coll. Oxford", in a later hand an different ink; I have not yet identified this person. In view of the circumstances of its deposition in the City Record Office, the manuscript seems to have been in the possession of the Aldersey family throughout its existence. Three other names in a single hand appear on f.1r, viz: "1320 Roger [word cropped]"; "1471 [Richard cancelled] Harper"; "1507 Jo: Harper". The lists show Richard Harper, butcher, as sheriff in the mayorality of Robert Rogerson (1471) and John Harper, mercer, as sheriff in the mayorality of Richard Wyrrall (1507). The lists were perhaps consulted by Cestrians. Alongside the 1507 entry, beside "John Harper" and in a different hand from Aldersey's, is written "father to Justice Harper". Other notes on f.1r include "I doe most Hartely co[...] me vnto youe", "Thou art a scurvy queane", "fforasmuch as informaco is geven". William Aldersey explains the intention behind the creation of the manuscript in the preface to his Mayors' List: It maye be thoughte more than fryvolus and vayne for me in these late yeares and dayes (as some maye thinck [...] to make a collection of the maiors of this Cittie which hathe so longe agoe beyn donne, as the manifolde bookes theirof nowe extant dothe witnes and declar <.> But doe they well consyder with me the Errors which the sayd bookes conteyne as they maye doe by thexami=nacion of the same with this collection; they shall fynd [...] I haue good occassion beinge a Citizin theirof and tenderinge the truthe to take some paynes to bringe the same to some [better] perfection, althoughe not as I wold (In respecte the longe tyme paste since they beganne to gouerne the Cittie by that name of maior) yett as neare as I culde by searche of Recordes and other olde and Aunti[...] evidences which had eny of the said maiors atestie their v[...] I haue soughte to haue atteyned the truthe. The mixture of civic pride and the desire for the truth are the impelling forces of the project, and the method is one of documentary evidence. Aldersey seems scrupulous in his approach, which had its origins in his dissatisfaction with the "Arneway" lists then circulating and his desire to establish "truth" by historical documentation. In this venture, he had access to some documents now lost. He refers on f.14r to an order for the burial of Walter Linet in 1260, which was in the possession of the Dean of the Cathedral, and he knows of grants of land to St. Werburgh's Abbey made by Sir John Arneway who died in 1279 (f.11v). That he continued to ponder the problems as he researched is reflected in a margin-note added on f.25v beside the 1514 entry: "This yeare Inquire the truthe hereof because I fynde some cause of dubte." His scholarly impatience with the lack of evidence is seen in his comment that "I cannot haue suche accesse as I wishe to those thinges" [i.e. which would provide him with further evidence] and he modestly offers his work as something that others may build upon. His preface sets the end of the listing as the mayorality of ffoulke Aldersey (1594-5), which immediately preceded William Aldersey's mayorality. Evidently this represented the limit of the original project, for the next mayorality is headed 10 October 1595, in the same brown ink and hand as the preceding entries, but the name "William Aldersey" is in black ink, marking the start of a continuation. As Clopper indicates, Aldersey's achievement was to correct the lists of mayors to show that Lynet, and not Arneway, was the first mayor. Accordingly, Aldersey is emphatic in his note on "Lynet" (f.14r) This walter lynett as I haue bynne informed by some who haue knoledge in heraldrye was knighte and by all coniecture gouerned vntill Richerd clarke came to be maior which was vntill the 34. or 35 yeare of kinge henrye the theirde and I take hime [the said Walter] onlie to be the fyrste who carryed the name of maior Aldersey's first reference to Lynet's mayorality is "26.h.3", i.e. 28 October 1241-27 October 1242. He seems subsequently to have discovered the reference to Lynet's burial in 1260. He subsequently found a further name in that period preceding Arneway, "walter coventriae", which he squeezes into the text in paler ink, adding: "This walter coventry I take to be lynett and that he was or came frome coventry". The views of Aldersey have been largely vindicated by recent research by A.M. Kennett into the establishment of the office of mayor and the sequence of holders in Chester. Her report, The Origins and Early History of the Mayors of Chester:A report on historical research conducted between August 1984 and February 1986, in the Chester City Record Office (Ref. 942 714 352 008 KEN), merits wider circulation. It includes among its conclusions (p.5) (3) The first known mayor of Chester was William the Clerk (4) He could have been mayor on two occasions, once before c.1229 and the second time in the 1240s, before November 1246 (5)The second known mayor of Chester was Walter of Coventry. His mayorality can be dated to the period c.1241-45. (7) Walter de Livet is named as mayor in a royal record dated May 1246. Aldersey did not find the earliest record to William the Clerk. Miss Kennett finds no documentary support for Aldersey's dates of Lynet's mayorality, the earliest reference now extant being a close roll of May 1246; but Aldersey, with characteristic scrupulousness, does admit his dates to the "coniecture". Some support is given by Miss Kennett to the identification of "Coventry" with "Lynet". Finally, it should be noted that Miss Kennett prefers the form of the name in the records, "Livet", rather than "Lynet". Since Aldersey's main intention in publishing the List was to correct the names and chronology of the earliest mayors, he is strongly dismissive of Arneway's claims (f.18v) "Nowe because all our vther bookes that be extant and which I haue seine take their begyninge at Edward the thridde [in margin to left his tyme] And make Sir John Arnewaye then to be maior insertinge hime with some others that were maiors in former (above cancelled these> times [as] by me hearetofore in this booke [is] set downe, and havinge vnte suche as then gouerned in deade [cancelled As also all these who haue gouerned in these three kinges tyme before] verey absurdlie and without all considerayon [] vntill Richard the Secundes tyme from whense most of/ you shall heare haue the trueth vnlesse by the deathe of some maiors or sheriffes their be some escape....." Aldersey was, in fact, working against a list which had official sanction, being in the prefatory material to the first Assembly Book of the city that had apparently been compiled on the instructions of Mayor Henry Gee in his second mayorality of 1539-40. Evidently this list was copied in the papers of Archdeacon Robert Rogers (ob.1595), since it was used by his son David in the first (1609) compilation from his father's antiquarian notes, A Breviary of Chester History6. That list, however, already shows some insecurity, originally attributing Arneway's first mayorality to 1329 and subsequently altering it to 1328. David's headnote to the list may suggest that he knew by 1609 of another version of the series, and even that there was some on-going debate among antiquarians (Chester City Archives MS) "Aboute the 7th yeare of the raigne of Edward the 3 by moste or=dinarie coppies we finde the firste maior of Chester, to which I doe assente by computation of historyes..." In his final compilation, in 1637, David replaces this list with a copy of the Aldersey list, carefully attributing its authorship (Liverpool University MS) "And now A Colection of Succession, of the Mayores of Chester by William Aldersey twise Mayor of Chester viz. in Anno 1595: et 1614 * these be his wordes followinge * 1594 A number of the entries in the list of mayors relating to drama are transcribed below; but, because the List was used by the compilers of later lists, their content has been available previously from other documents. It should be noted that Aldersey gives the date at which each mayor began his mayorality and that a date such as 1574 therefore covers a mayorality extending between 1574 and 1575. f.26v 1498 Richard Goodman In this yeare it appeareth the watche vpon mydsomer dawn begane, also the north syde of the pentize buylded, prince Arthure came to Chester aboute the fourth of august, the assumption of our ladie played before the prince at the <.>bbaye gate, the xxvth august the prince made mr. goodman esquier [...] the xix daye of September he departed from chester. f.27v 1511 Thomas Smythe maior {Hugh Clarke} {Charles Caton} This yeare greate debate betwixt the Cittie and thabbott And also this yeare the shotinge vpon blage mndaye was fyrst begune by these sheriffes for a breakfast. Note. This entry is squeezed in.] f.29v 1560 William Aldersey [merchant] maior This yeare the playes called Witson playes weare played Also in this yeare powles steaple in London was bronnte by leighteninge or [a] leighteboulte. f.30r 1566 Sir William Snede maior 11 October This yeare Whitson playes weare played. And the [greate] oneyle slayne in Ireland Sir henry sidney knighte then lord deputie. f.30v 1571 John Hankye maior 12 October This yeare the playes weare played but an inhibition came from the archebusshoppe of yorke to staye theime but came not in tyme f.30v 1574 Sir John Savage maior 15 October His yeare the plage beganne, but god of his mercie stayed that his Rodde with the deathe of a fewe poore in the croftes The playes lykewise this yeare played at mydsomer and then but some of theime leavinge others vnplayed which was thought mighte not be Iustified for the superstitons in theime althoughe the maior was inioyed not to proceade theirwith at all [by tharsbushope of york in different ink] f.31r 1583 Robert brerewood [glouer in different ink] maior 11 October ... lykewise this yeare came to chester Robert Earle of lecester chamblen of this countie palatyne the 3. Iune accompanye=ed with the honorale the Earle of darbie and the yonge Earle of Essixe and the lord northe And also mette and attended vpon by moste of the gent[...] of this shire In ther whole trayne as was thought 15 of horse receyved by the sayed maior and his bretheren sheriffes peares and fortie at the crosse, lodged [...] the busshope at his pallace, and dyned with mr. maior the 4 I[une written over cancelled august] and pre [...] by the Cittie with a gylt coppe and 40 angelles in the same and departed the 6 [...] [J... visible below this line] f.38r 12 October 1610 Thomas Harvie [glover] maior This yeare mydsomer Even beinge vpon the Saboth daye the Wache was Rydden vpon the saturdaye soe the for the Eave [and the fayre vpon mondaye and no shopp or bothe opened one the sunday written in different ink in the following line] And wych daye beinge the Sabothe daye, the fayre was kepte vpon the mondaye Clopper notes that Aldersey's list contained fewer references to dramatic activities than earlier lists and speculates that that may be because he stringently insisted on documentary evidence for all material7. Hence the List, in displacing Arneway from "pole position", also removes the traditional ascription of the first performance of the Whitsun Plays to his mayorality and does not attempt to substitute any alternative. But it also seems to be the case that Aldersey did not regard such activities as historically notable. Sixteenth century productions were documented, and took place within his lifetime. It is particularly strange that he does not note the last performance of a mystery play, in 1577 for a private visit of the Earl of Derby, unless he regarded such matters as usually undeserving of attention except when linked to more "political" ivic events. Personal interest may have motivated his reference in 1560. It is characteristic of Aldersey's scholarly caution that he is not prepared unequivocally to endorse the claim that the Midsummer Show began in Goodman's mayorality, merely stating that "it appeareth" that it began then. The reference forms part of a series of significant local events associated with Richard Goodman's mayorality, although there is some problem in reconciling the various records and dates. William Aldersey was cousin to Christopher Goodman, minister of St. Bridget's, Chester, and was witness and executor to his will of 1603, being charged with the responsibility for his library. Again, therefore, there may be some further personal interest in the reference. Only two entries in the "post-Aldersey" continuation relate to dramatic activity: f.40r 12 October 1616 The Kinges maiesty Came the 23rd day of august to the Lea hall to Sir George Calueley and there had a banquet, and from thence the same day to the Citty of Chester, where he was banqueted in the pentice, and presented with a Cupp of gold by the Citty. and from thence went to Vale riall [word cancelled] the same night beinge Saturday where he rested till mondey, and then came to the nante wiche that night and so away. f.41r October 1623 John Brereton gent maior This yeare the Race vppon the Roode dee wos made to be be rune from behinde the new towre about the Rood dee and a fier Cupp worth 7 or 8 li prouided [yearly cancelled] by the Citty to be Rune for yearly. The re-discovery of Aldersey's Mayors' List adds little to our existing knowledge of drama in Chester. It is, however, a record of the continuing process of research and revision by which Aldersey's list was shaped and must increase our respect for his scholarship. It further evidences the new concern with historical accuracy which challenged the earlier traditions about the origins of the plays. The extent to which Aldersey's list was subsequently preferred to the "Arneway" list would provide a revealing indication how far individual antiquarians were prepared to allow historically documented fact to supersede accepted myths of civic antiquity. MS CR 469/542 offers an important point of reference for such a project. David Mills University of Liverpool Notes 1. I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the staff of the City Record Office in my work on this manuscript. All errors are my responsibility. 2. L.M. Clopper, REED: Chester (Toronto, 1979), pp. xxvi-xliv. 3. Cheshire Sheaf 34 (January-December, 1939), items 7543, 7549, 7554, 7561, 7565, 7568 by "W.F.I." 4. See further, C.G.O. Bridgeman, A Genealogical Account of the Family of Aldersey of Aldersey and Spurstow, Co. Chester (London, 1899). 5. In her communication, Mrs. Aldersey notes that the manuscript was rescued by her husband's father "from a garden bonfire"! Damage to the page-edges is not, however, consistent with fire damage. The worn and grimy condition of the edges rather suggests frequency of use and natural degeneration. 6. Clopper, op.cit., pp. xxvii-xxxv, describes the manuscripts of the Breviary. 7. Clopper, op.cit., p.xlii.
Related Material See also DAL and ZCR 69
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