A Yorkshire Quarrel

The Court Rolls of Wakefield, Yorkshire are one of the most extensive sets of judicial records, running from the 13th to the 19th centuries. They are full of gems. Cayleys feature quite often in the medieval period, usually with just a record of their having given excuses for non-attendance (a landlord could command all tenants to attend and fine them if they did not have an acceptable excuse for not doing so), a pledge that someone would attend at a future hearing or a guarantee of someone’s good behaviour. But some entries tell rather more of a story.

In the 1290s there was clearly some ill-feeling between members of the Cayley family and one Richard del Bothem. On 16 November 1296 Richard made a formal complaint that Nicholas de Caylli had assaulted him: Nicholas countered with a suit for trespass against Richard. A few weeks later, on 6 December, Richard del Bothem sued Nicholas de Caylli for “assaulting him and wounding him on the head with his sword in his own house, also for carrying off one of his horses which Richard had impounded in his corn, after cutting the tether with his sword”, and sought damages of 100 shillings. The defendant denies it, saying that when he came to redeem his horse, impounded in the common pasture, Richard beat him with a stick, and used insulting words, etc.; he claims damages 100s., and says that he had only acted in self-defence. They both crave an inquisition [a formal court hearing].”

On 1 January 1297 a day is set for the hearing. By then Richard del Bothem is also accusing John de Cailly of trespass as well.

But – as such quarrels must frequently have been – a settlement was reached. On 15 February 1297 “Richard del Bothem and Nicholas de Caylly have a love-day” – a splendid term, highly appropriate for the morrow of St Valentine’s! A ‘love day’ was a day set by a court for arbitration between parties to a legal dispute: it was not always successful, and sometimes one of the parties would even attack the other on the way to arbitration (on one notorious occasion in 1411 a litigant with some 500 men ambushed his opponent on his way to a love day). The arbitration clearly worked in this instance: in the first week of Lent, 1297 Nicholas is recorded as giving 12 pence “for license of concord with Richard del Bothem” and another 12 pence for withdrawing his suit against Richard.

Richard del Bothem must have been quite a difficult character. The Wakefield Court Rolls record other quarrels in which he was engaged, other allegations of assault and insult, theft of timber and nuts from woodlands, a case in which he denied having been paid for a feather-bed, accusations of trespass, and a fine on his guarantor because he was not “faithful” to his earl. I don’t set too much store by the thefts of forest produce – forest laws were strict and such fines were a welcome source of income for feudal landlords. But Richard clearly tended to get caught up in fractious disputes.

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Hung, drawn and quartered – Nicholas Postgate

Sir William Cayley, the first baronet, was a Justice of the Peace in Yorkshire during the reign of Charles II. In the area for which he was responsible there was a Roman Catholic priest called Nicholas Postgate. Nicholas Postgate had come to England in the 1630s to work in secret as a priest, and by the 1660s had responsibility for an area which included Pickering and Scarborough in Yorkshire – the area where Sir William exercised his role as JP.

In 1678 Titus Oates gave false evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and replace him with a Roman Catholic monarch. His claims became wilder in the weeks and months that followed, and among those he accused were various senior ecclesiastics, peers, the royal physician, and Samuel Pepys. Charles II himself, to his credit, never believed the accusations, but it led to a period of anti-Catholic hysteria and some executions before reason and sense prevailed.

In this period of panic, on 9 December 1678, Nicholas Postgate was brought before Sir William Cayley and his son William (also a magistrate) at Brompton-by-Sawdon. He had been discovered hiding, under the name of Watson, in the house of a suspected Roman Catholic which was being searched for weaponry. John Reeves, an exciseman of Whitby who made the search, said that there were “alsoe, Popish bookes, relicks, wafers, and severall other things, all which the said Postgate owned to be his. The said Postgate said that he was called Watson, but afterwards being called by others by the name of Postgate, he owned that to be his right name.”

Nicholas Postgate, when questioned, stated that “of late he hath had noe certaine residence, but hath travailed about among his friends. Being demanded whether he be a Popish priest or noe, he saith, “Let them prove it,” and would give noe other direct answer. Being demanded how he came by, and what use he made of the bookes, wafers, and other things which were found with him, and which hee owned, he saith that some of them were given him by Mr. Goodricke, a Roman Catholicke, and other some by one Mr. Jowsie, a supposed Romish priest, both which are dead; and that hee made use of them by disposeing them to severall persons who desired them for helping their infirmities. Being demanded why he named himself, att the first, Watson, he saith that he hath sometimes been soe called, his grandmother on his father-side being soe called, and he being like that kindred.”

Sir William and his son had no choice but to commit the unfortunate Nicholas Postgate to trial at the York Assizes. There he was condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered. The sentence was carried out on 7 August 1679. He was over 80 at the time of his death. The segments of his body were distributed among friends and buried. Macabrely, one hand was sent to Douay College in France, where he had been trained as a priest.

Nicholas Postgate was beatified in November 1987. The portable altar stone he used can be seen at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pickering, where there is also a statue of him.

Sources: 

Another colliery explosion

A previous post was about the 1869 colliery explosion near Wigan in which James Cayley died. On 5 April 1880 there was a gas explosion at the New Pit at Middleton Colliery, between Wakefield and Leeds. Luckily most of the men had finished their shift and left the pit. But several were badly burnt, one was killed on the spot, and one died from injuries a few days later. The man killed outright was listed as Joseph Cayley.

Some 55 years earlier there had been a worse disaster at Middleton Colliery, on 12 January 1825. That time 26 people were killed in an explosion caused by firedamp, the youngest only 7 years old (young children toiled in the mines, drawing loads of coal through narrow passages), and 5 were injured. Only a Thomas Caley escaped unhurt. Some £1,000 was quickly raised to help the widows and orphans.

Surname spelling between Cayley and Caley could be quite fluid for families not descended from the Cayley baronets. The death index for England and Wales shows that Joseph was 42 and gives his surname as Caley (without the first ‘y’). He was almost certainly Joseph Caley recorded at Middleton in the 1861 census as coal miner, age 23, son of Thomas Caley, 62, coal miner and Sarah, 59. I would surmise that this is the Thomas Caley who escaped the 1825 explosion. One of Joseph’s brothers, William, age 30, was also a coal miner. The other recorded siblings were Thomas, 22, fitter, and Emma, 17, wool filler. By the 1871 census Joseph had his own household: wife Mary (33), children Ada (6), Alfred (4) and Florence (under 1). There is no record of him in the 1881 census.

Another Joseph Caley of Middleton, age 14 in 1861, when he was a coal miner, was closely related – he was staying with his wife Harriet in 1871 in the same household as the first Joseph: but by then he had left the mines and become a mechanic, and in the 1881 census he is recorded as living at Hunslet (now part of Leeds) with his wife Harriet and four children, and working as an engine fitter. My guess would be that the two Josephs were first cousins.

Cayleys and a Ghost

How were Cayleys connected with a ghost? I have just added a website page to explain all!

Imagine the scene. It is 21 November 1717. It is evening in the vicarage of Hackness near Scarborough in Yorkshire. Candles have been lit where the parson and his family are sitting, but there would be strong shadows in part of the room. A disembodied voice from nowhere calls out, “Amy, Amy!” Two evenings later there is a mysterious knocking three times on the inner door of the porch. The same again the next day…

So begins the tale of the Hackness Ghost, in which three Cayleys became caught up. It goes on to include mysterious happenings with keys and rings, a bare male bosom, allegations of serious fraud, toothmarks on a finger, a spectre leading a young woman on a long flight through the air, and what must have been very unusual business for a government Cayley lawyer, which I am sure he relished. It is a fascinating story. To read all about it, go to Ghostly Goings-on at Hackness. Enjoy!