Thorne lies east of the River Don, on the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, and is located on the Yorkshire side of the border with Lincolnshire. The civil parish of Thorne includes the village of Moorends to the north. Prior to the early 1600s, the whole area across the levels from the Don to the Trent was waterlogged, with the extent of open water varying through the seasons, and depending on the rainfall, state of the rivers and probably the tides. The winter months brought wide spread flooding, while in summer much of the ground still remained so treacherous that the only safe means of transport was by small boats along the lodes – narrow watercourses through tall reedbeds.
The whole area, especially to the east, was swamped land and marshes, totally unsuitable for a stable community to live on. This land was like this as far as the Ouse and the Trent. This fact probably contributed to the abnormal farming system in Thorne. At this time it seems that most places used a three field agricultural system, whereas the farmers in Thorne used a two field system; the North field and the South field.
In the early 17th century, a Dutchman, Vermuyden was engaged to drain and recover this 'waste' and to make it agriculturally productive. Massive floodbanks were thrown up along the riversides.
The Dutchman's financial backers abroad encouraged the settlement on the reclaimed lands, and hundreds came over from Holland, Belgium and some from France to live there.
The River Don was well stocked with fish, eels and wildfowl, but shallow stretches from Thorne and bridges downstream made it difficult to negotiate by sailing boats and so unsuitable for commercial shipping.
In the reign of Richard II the Poll Tax gives an idea of the population. There were 172 people above the age of 16, of whom one mercer and one chapman both paid twelve pence, one taylor six pence and all the rest, both men and women at four pence. This figure would put the total at about 200 people which is not small when considering the extreme isolation of the place at that time.
This isolation was to serve Thorne well during the time of the Black Death and numerous periods of famine which struck the kingdom, for no severe check to a steady growth of population is observable during the later period of the middle ages.
The fact that Thorne was part of the royal hunting Chace of Hatfield must have influenced the lives of the inhabitants quite a lot. There were Keepers situated all around the village, of which one station was occupied by a Chief Regarder of the Chace. Quite a number of local men would be employed by the officers of the royal hunting ground, and the families of these employees were to emerge in the later part of the seventeenth century as important and influential members of the community.
During the sixteenth century the castle at Thorne was used as a prison for offenders of the law against poaching the royal game. Prisoners were then taken to York for trial. The area must have contained quite vast numbers of deer, for as late 1609 several hundred were rounded up near Tudworth for the pleasure of Prince Henry, eldest son of James I; who had been urged to see the game by Sir Robin Portington, Chief Regarder of Thorne who lived at Tudworth Hall.
Fishing in the River Don and employment on the Royal Hunting ground would have been major sources of employment. The Pole Tax figures point to a small and isolated community with little opportunity for employment. It does seem however that the Plague which devastated Cumberland, Westmoreland and the Borders in 1597 and 1598 passed them by.
Life for these Robleys must have been hard and it is really no surprise to find that some time in the mid 1500s Hewe and Eline together with their son Hughe, and his wife, Elen moved south to London and settled in Garlickhythe.
The name of the locality is derived from the word 'hythe', a Saxon word for a landing place or jetty. The stretch of river close by St James' was London's most important hythe since Saxon, or possibly Roman, times. Garlic, a vital preservative and medicine in the Middle Ages, was unloaded here and probably traded on Garlick Hill, where the church of St. James now stands.
Disaster was to overcome this Yorkshire family when both daughters died and were buried on the same day, the 5th. January 1575, at St. James, Garlickhythe.
The adults followed the children, a year later. Hughe was buried on the 12th March 1576 and his father, Hewe, the following day, on the 13th of March. Their wives, Elen and Eline, had predeceased them and were buried in February of the same year, 1576. All were buried at St. James, Garlickhythe.
It seems that the London riverside was a very unhealthy place to live in those days!
In the period from 1575-1625, life expectancy was relatively low due to high rates of extremely infectious diseases, such as cholera and typhus. What medicine was available was highly influenced by religion and Hippocratic and Galenic principles and focused mainly on keeping the four humors in balance. Thankfully, the period surrounding 1575-1625 was also a time of major medical innovation that would eventually change the way that medicine was looked at and practiced, leading to several improvements and eventually increased lifespan and decreased child mortality rates.
Written by John Robley. Researched by John Robley & Marian Foster.