Sunday, 10 June 2012

William Kennedy, Chapman of Lichfield


The religious persuasion of most Scots from the Kennedy lands of the South West of Scotland was overwhelmingly Presbyterian.  There were Presbyterians active in Lichfield in the period after the Restoration but none by the name of Kanady or Kennedy are noted in the Victoria County History of Staffordshire.  This,  along with the churchwarden reference supports the line that this ‘Kanady’ was of an episcopalian branch of the Kennedy family – a rare breed indeed in a fiercely covenanting area like Ayrshire.  The church in which Kanady served was presided over by a staunch Royalist who had held fast to his post through the worst privations of Cromwell.  However the Kanadies were devout people judging by the crop of wills that appear in the early to mid 1700s. 

William Kanady – probably the grandson of the Commonwealth-era Kanady - married Margory Hall at St Michael’s in 1698.  This Kanady describes himself as “Chapman” or travelling salesman in his will dated 173?.  His wife Margory describes herself as “Milliner” in her will.  A chapman generally travelled from town to town buying and selling portable wares – but could also remain in one place. During this period chapmen were travelling up and down the forerunner of the current M6 motorway (Watling Street , the old Roman Road) to places such as Macclesfield for example, where light goods such as fine silk buttons were manufactured,  items that Margory would have been able to sell in her Millinery shop.  Likewise he might have acquired buckles,  and other small but important accoutrements that the gentlepeople of Lichfield would need.  These he could get from men and women working in their homes in nearby Birmingham, which was already well-known for its light industry.  These goods were produced in the first stirrings of what would later be known as the industrial revolution.  Chapmen also traded small books known as ‘chap books’ which were the only source of printed information in the little villages along his route through the English countryside.  At night,  as part of his payment for bed and board in one of the houses along the way,  the chapman would read from his chapbooks or tell folk tales or stories from the road,  his hosts no doubt most impressed with their much-travelled,  worldly guest. 

During the period at the beginning of the 18th century,  in the absence of regular supplies being transported between towns and villages,  chapmen were a vital supply line for networks of local industries in villages and small towns because they supplied small items that local craftspeople would otherwise simply not have access to in their neighbourhood.  The roads were appalling,  rutted tracks in this time, which was before the Turnpike Laws established that they should be properly maintained.  Local farmers thought nothing of quarrying away part of the road to serve their own purposes – or even building on it.  Carts frequently keeled over into huge gaping potholes and killed pedestrians.  Robbers and highwaymen frequented the thickets,  waiting to spring upon the unwary.  Chapmen like William Kanady,  who would prefer legs or the use of a single pack animal to more cumbersome forms of transport, were flexible and resourceful businessmen who daily took their lives in their hands and whose contribution to the development of Britain is incalculable.  Without the unnecessary standing expense of a shop the chapman would be able to keep his costs down and most importantly be mobile.  His home would be used to store goods that he wasn’t taking to market.  Likewise Margory would have been probably trading in Lichfield Market though she might have had a shop.

Samuel Johnson’s father Michael had a centrally-based shop from which he sold books at this time,  but he regularly took to the roads and sold from market stalls as far as Ashbourne in Derbyshire.  Books may not have been as profitable as the varied stock that a chapman or milliner could ply.  Michael Johnson was not a successful businessman though he was well-respected by the people of the town.

The most desirable consumer goods of all were the imported luxuries- coffee,  tea and tobacco.  These were  heavily taxed by the State and smuggling of these was a fact of economic life. That small entrepeneurs like William and Margory would traffic in such substances is more than likely.  These goods were brought in by ships crews and smugglers to any one of the many ports and harbours around the English coast and peddled up and down the land. To be selling these highly profitable and portable goods would bring no disapproval from gentlefolk who appreciated the competitive prices,  and the labourer’s wife as much as the rector would equally gladly do business with William.  Even the Prime Minister Walpole had his own smugglers ferrying such goods up the Thames for him.

In those days working hours were more irregular than now.  There were many holidays with public celebrations involving as one might expect,  a lot of eating and drinking.  Generally people who worked only properly did so four days a week and in addition to the weekend, would have “St Monday” off too if they could get away with it.  One can imagine William Kanady,  idling on an autumnal monday late afternoon after having enjoyed a tankard of strong beer in the alehouse with his friends, catching the rough side of Margory’s tongue – as she angrily points out to him a large number of unsold wares that needed to be shifted. 

Lichfield still had a rural character at the end of the Stuart era.  The streets looked out onto fields grazed by sheep and cattle.  The roads were wide and the houses mostly timbered – later to be given Georgian facades, many of which still remain to this day.  A few of the timbered buildings remain,  for example on Dam Street downhill from the Cathedral, their bulging, uneven walls and slanting floors giving some idea of what the old City looked like hundreds of years ago.

The couple were comfortably off with their dual incomes.  Their wills indicate that even at the end of their lives,  presumably well after they were able to work regularly, they had a little money to pass on to their children.  Their contemporaries in trade were not always so fortunate – Michael Johnson the Lichfield bookseller,  father of the Dictionarian and writer Samuel Johnson, struggled to the extent that he had to ban his wife from socialising with the neighbours,  because of the expense of tea.  Johnson Senior himself however had undermined his prosperity by spending money too freely to impress his cronies in the Corporation of Lichfield.  He ended up in receipt of City charity money. 


The City of Lichfield was run by its Corporation, which consisted of twenty one ‘Brethren’. The bailiffs and sheriff were the other members of this body.  They would wear special gowns as they gathered every Sunday at the Guildhall and then proceed to the service in St Mary’s Church on Breadmarket St.  The senior bailiff chose new members.  Magistrates belonged to this body – and held their position for life.  The Brethren also tended to be the members of the Lichfield Conduit Trust.  This charitable body - set up during the reign of Henry VIII in order to place Church funds at the disposal of local causes -  funded public works in the City.  The trust had been set up by local gentry, who rightly suspected that the ecclesiastical wealth of Lichfield would otherwise be sequestrated by their greedy and unscrupulous monarch.  It might seem that this exclusive body was a desirable one to join,  but it could ruin a man of less than ample means.  At times election to the post of bailiff was imposed by the Brethren in order to extort fines from men whom they knew had no intention of serving.

At a lower level the constables and churchwardens of each parish enforced local by-laws,  fining citizens for dumping refuse (a contentious issue at a time when there was no sewage system or refuse disposal) and of extreme importance to each parish,  delivered relief to the poor (and thrashed then expelled any that were new arrivals).  Kennedys, as we have seen, had already featured in Lichfield at this level of local government since at least the 1660s.

William took the post of ‘dozener’ for St John Street in the year of 1710.  This meant he was responsible at a local level for ensuring that rubbish was cleared from the main thoroughfares,  low level disorder was discouraged and discouraging nuisance caused by free-roaming domestic animals such as pigs.  Each Spring, the town would hold the Bower Day when the bailiffs, Corporation and all dozeners would proceed through the City to Green Hill carrying emblems on sticks signifying the trades within the city.  Cakes were distributed and much revelry took place,  with people coming in from miles around to watch the parade.  However, beneath the surface of everyday life,  tensions seethed.

The national political scene during the lifetime of William and Margory was extremely turbulent.  When they were very young,  the country had been swept by the fear of Papist conspiracy.  Towards the close of Charles II’s reign,  dozens of Roman Catholic clergy and lay people had been rounded up around the country and executed. The catalyst of this terror was a  liar and (according to some writers) deviant named Titus Oates,  who in concert with other crooks, had made false allegations of the so-called Popish Plot before Parliament.  The atmosphere was one comparable to that during a Soviet purge in the 1930s though some communities protected Catholics among their number.  When Charles died he was succeeded by his Catholic brother James the Duke of York, who was the real target of the Papist Plot.  Within three years James II had fled to France, cast down from his throne in favour of protestant William of Orange, who was married to James’ daughter Mary.  William died of pneumonia and was succeeded in 1702 by Queen Anne,  another protestant daughter of James II.  The people of the loyal city of Lichfield remained largely pro-Stuart and Tory – as did Michael and Samuel Johnson, though the corporation at that point was Whig in its sympathies. 

The late period of Anne’s reign saw the fanning of sectarian flames by a clergyman named Sacheverell who toured the country proclaiming that the Church of England was in danger – not from Catholics but the Hanoverian protestant heir waiting in the wings and his dissenter backers.  The result of his preaching was that worshipping houses of dissenters were literally demolished by furious mobs in nearby Birmingham for example.

Discontent simmered on until 1715 when the succession of George I,  the Elector of Hanover,  preferred by the Whigs,  led to riots by Jacobite sympathisers in Lichfield as it did in many other towns and cities.  (Even in Hanoverian-supporting London, people were revolted by George’s inability to speak English and his dislike of his new subjects.)  The Lichfield rioters carried white cockades in their hats to show their loyalty to the ‘Chevalier De St George’, the French-based prince they regarded as James III,  rightful King of England.  Dissenting groups again suffered destruction of property at the hands of these crowds.  Abortive risings occurred in many regions but  especially in Scotland where a huge army assembled to support James.  The English Jacobites at this time were hampered by a total lack of leadership.  The Scottish Duke of Hamilton,  charismatic leader of the Jacobite movement during the years of Queen Anne,  had been killed in an absurd duel – caused by an argument over the tudor manor of Gawsworth in the vicinity of Macclesfield - with the despicable Baron Mohun in London not long before.  Due in part to this leadership vacuum, the risings of ‘15 were quelled and in England King James’ chance had passed for a generation.  Like most English people,  William and Margory were probably more intent on making a living than worrying about who was on the throne.  As for the mobs, it is known that the population of Lichfield and everywhere else in the country were drunken most nights.  (Dr. Johnson himself said that in his youth even the people of quality were drunk every night and nobody saw any shame in it.)  Coordination of such large inebriated assemblies would probably have been beyond even the most skilled Jacobite orators.

William’s Scottish heritage may be pointed to in one small clue.  His seal appended to his will bore a coat of arms that is of the Brodie family.  It is a chevron as with the Kennedy arms,  but instead of the Cross Crosslets it has stars.  The Brodie family were a strong covenanting family with their seat at Brodie Castle, Morayshire in the North East of Scotland. Perhaps it was his mother’s family,  or perhaps he had some other connection dating back to the period at the end of the Stuart era,  when the covenanters rose up against the forces of James II.

William had several sons and a daughter. One of his sons Thomas is covered in more detail here).

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