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The John Rylie Bequest

from The Barwicker No. 4 December 1986

Below is an abridged and modernised transcript composed by local artist Bart Hammond of the Will of an Elizabethan benefactor of Barwick-in-Elmet.

That John Rylie was a native of this village there can be little doubt, but as births were not then registered it cannot be established, but there is a record of a William Rilie in the Manor of Berwick, who it is believed was John's father. John must have left the village as a young man, to make his way over the years to become a prosperous Haberdasher and property owner in the City of London.

His will reveals the character of the man; devout and caring for the plight of others, in an age of widespread poverty. Apparently a bachelor, he was not without members of the Rylie family around him, several cousins were beneficiaries in his will, notably Johan, his kinswoman, who was probably the housekeeper and was very well provided for.

Among his bequests he remembered friends in Ireland. Did he travel there, perhaps to buy the fine Belfast linen for sale at the Signe of the Cradle?

From the time of his death in 1577, the terms of the will were rigorously adhered to. The property was sold to the Corporation of the City of London, for the widening of London Bridge, in 1765 for £334.6.6. which after legal charges was invested in land at Barwick to bring in an annual income of £13.3.0. For another century the original terms of the bequest were carried out, then in 1865 the distribution of bread was abandoned, and two pence per week given instead, the balance going to the Dole distribution. (See the parish report of 1862)

Today, the John Rylie charity is still in operation, it still owns land in Barwick. Administered by 4 trustees, The Rector and three others representing the local council, help is given to those in need in Barwick and Scholes parish.

THE Church of St. Magnus the Martyr

Situated in Lower Thames Street is the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr where John Rylie worshipped, and where he was buried in accordance with his will. Even in his day, it was old, the first church to be built here was of Saxon or Danish origin. This is the Church of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers due to its proximity to the river and Billingsgate, London's landing port and market for fish since at least Saxon times.

Over the years the Church became wealthy through many bequests, which included tenements on London Bridge. In 1234 it was enlarged, and in 1598, John Stow in his survey of London, described it as "a fair parish church in which have been buried many men of good worship whose monuments are for the mos t part effaced". Miles Coverdale who made an English translation of the Bible in 1532 was Rector for a short time, and is buried there.

The church was repaired between 1623 and 1629 but consumed by the Great Fire of 1666. In fact being close to the source of the fire it was one of the first destroyed. It was then rebuilt by Wren in a very different style, this took place between 1671 and 1687 at a cost of £9,879.

In 1886 the population of the parish was only 837. In the century that followed the numbers continued to decrease, until today the church mainly caters for city workers and visitors. It is beautifully maintained and well worth a visit.

The Life and Times of John Rylie

London Bridge

Until 1738 old London Bridge was the only bridge linking London and the south; it was tile crossing for pilgrims on the way to Canterbury and the countless travellers to and from Dover. The value of the bridge for commerce and defence can be imagined. The premises of John Rylie were surely in a busy situation!

It was built between 1176 and 1209, and described as being "926 feet long, 60 feet high, and 40 feet broad". It stood about 2OO feet east of the present bridge, just by the Church of St.Magnus the Martyr, and consisted of twenty arches with a drawbridge in the centre for the passage of larger vessels.

Considered in early times to be one of the wonders of the world, it was in reality a crowded and undesirable structure. having on it many buildings, including "a Chapel and Crypt; Nonsuch House, a wooden building imported from Holland, with towers and spires; and (interestingly) some shops where pins were displayed". These shops on the bridge were considered good for bargains, and also sold needles, gloves, prints, hats, and house- hold wares.

In fact it was covered with houses on both sides like a continuous street, with gaps at intervals, and "chairposts" for foot passengers to retreat to. By one of the archways 'of the bridge stood the cage and stocks. The cage, in use from early in the 16th. century, was considered great fun, as was the custom of decorating the Southern gate with human heads stuck on pikes. Sir Thomas More, Sir William Wallace and Jack Cade were among the victims. A foreigner who visited England in 1598 counted more than thirty heads.

The Northern gate had been removed earlier, probably before John Rylie's time. It was at this end that the Great Fire raged, destroying the Signe of the Cradle, but it was checked on the bridge at one of the gaps and a large part of it was saved. By its own weight of stone and great age it was constantly in need of repair, giving rise to the proverbial expression, and song "London Bridge is falling down". The old bridge, did, in fact, survive until 1841 when a new bridge was opened.

The Great Fire of London

The burning of the Sign of the Cradle

During the century that followed the death of' John Rylie in 1577, London was subjected to two terrible disasters. First the Plague epidemic of 1665, then the following year saw the Great Fire which lasted four days, destroyed 87 churches including St. Pauls Cathedral and many public buildings. The ruins involved 13,200 houses and 400 streets, five-sixths of the city was razed to the ground.

It commenced on September lst. 1666, reputedly at a baker's shop in Pudding Lane near to St. Magnus Church. Samuel Pepys records in his diary at 3 a.m. on the 2nd. September, his servant, Jane, awoke him to tell him that a great fire was blazing. Thinking little of the maid's story, he went to sleep again, but in the morning he found that 300 houses had been burned.

Both Pepys and John Evelyn have recorded the sad story in their diaries and both helped, as well as the King and the Duke of York to stay the conflagration. Outside the city walls an oblong space one and a half miles by half a mile was cleared. Evelyn tells of seeing "200,000 people of all ranks and degrees lying along by their heaps of what could be saved from the fire". He describes the destruction of the City, the fall of St. Paul's, churches, halls, hospitals and monuments, the flames leaping from street to street.

The Great Fire showed the stern resolution of the people of London. Scarcely were the ashes cold before they were building again. The house left to Barwick by John Rylie was destroyed, but rebuilt by the year 1670.

The John Rylie Centre

...which was built in 1974 was provided by Tadcaster R.D.C. for the benefit of the elderly of the parish. There is a copy of John Rylie's will framed on the wall , presented to the Centre by the late Mrs Ives, parish councillor, who traced the original will to the Public Records Office in London and had it copied. When a name was required for the building, Mrs Ives was instrumental in suggesting that John Rylie should be remembered in this way.

Pins of a kind were used from ancient days but hand-made brass plns were introduced from France about 1540 and made in this country three years later. Pin-making was a local industry in Aberford at an early date, but from 1824 they were manufactured by machinery.

Bart Hammond

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