Letter of Bishop Hildesley, 1755 (2023)

This letter, found in the Bishopscourt library, was published inManx Church Magazine vol 1 nos 9-12, 1891

Bishop Hildesley's Letter


My full purpose and intentions in writing to my dear friend and worthy brother H—have from time to time been obstructed by variety of hurries and fatigues, both to mind and body, which I need not prove to him, I have undergone from the 2nd of’ April, the day I was called up to London and paid my first fruits on the road, to this very day and date above written ; on which my last. cargo of cases and boxes to the number of 60 (including my post-chaise for one) most of them thro’ treble land passages and double sea, without five shillings damage to the whole, as far as can yet be perceived ; and, tho’ I wish I could say I was quite settled in my Manks mansion, yet I have surely great reason to be thankful to God, who has hitherto supported me under and carried me through all, both by sea and land ; in that I have not only survived them all, but am set down safe in my appointed station, and in as good health as I have enjoyed for some time past. I thank you, dear sir, for your hint about my wheels : but I ventured to trust to the tenderness and forbearance of the Honourable Commissioners for alleviation of the penalty, in case information should have been made, for travelling in very bad English roads, but a few days before the time limited by the Act expired : and for which small transgression I hoped they ‘ would have been modest and merciful’ as to have taken no more than the £4 from a little Manks Bishop whose pockets had been draining every day for near four months preceding. I shall not trouble you with a particular account of our tedious passage and five days wait at Beaumaris Bay, off the Isle of Anglesey, which I shall remember not only for the excellence of the harbour, which to be sure is a very safe and a very good one for ships to ride in, but also for the excellent bills they have the art of making in that ancient corporation for very indifferent provisions. But such occasional visitors I apprehend (with now and then an Election and an Assize time) is the main support of the place, which appears to have no sort of trade business besides. I left with my landlady at the Bull’s Head at Beaumaris and others about the bay near £4 of English Currency, so you’ll imagine we must eat and drink plentyfully after our sea sickness and fasting ; and I must moreover observe that I was likely dealt the more friendly with, for being a late member of Dr Osborn’s, ‘ whose present or late cook and housekeeper (I forget which) was it seems my landlady’s sister. But to proceed from the Welsh to the Manks Isle. This country consists of hills and vales, mountains and glens, not unlike Lellyboo and Peroubarns , and the roads being chiefly gravel, would be passable, even over any of ‘em for carriages ( as I have rode down some of the steepest of them without alighting) were it not that I don’t care to strain and tear my wheels with frequent dragging, having had enough of that in Derbyshire. N.B.— Mr Butt and I parted just where the bad roads commenced : from Derby to Ashborne, the best and pleasantest I ever travelled, and from thence to Disley just on the border of Cheshire, the worst ; from Buxton to Disley is called six miles, which I thought I might easily reach that evening from six o’clock, especially as necessity and four horses were my motive (no beds being to be had at any of the Buxton Inns) and behold ! with the most expedition I could use, reached not Disley till half-past ten at night‘! But I don’t yet give up my favourite county of Derby notwithstanding I suffered great perils in the last day’s journey thro’ it, on the Cheshire side, where the hills are so numerous and steep as to try the utmost strength of my wheels. I have a flat even road here for about ten miles, which serves all my purposes for moving in it : as for the rest my fat mare must do her best to carry me over, when occasion requires : but I think few or none of our hills are steeper than some parts of your two. Our villages are made up of scattered parcels of stone built farm houses— with certain portions of arable and pasture land about them, occupied chiefly by the owners : and scarce a cottage but has a field or two of oats and potatoes, and some pasture for a horse, a cow, four or five geese and a pig : one can’t ride two miles in any part of the Isle without seeing one or more of these Manses. The Bishop’s house is a castle-like Gothic stone building, with walls some two yards thick —a slated roof (the barns the same) rather convenient than pompous ; and though within half a mile of the sea, nowise incommoded by the winds : our situation being below the hill or sea bank, and well guarded with high elms and sycamines quite round, which form pleasant shady walks, and make amends for the loss of the trimm’d hedges I left at Hitchen. In the midst of these is a large kitchen-garden that provides our table with plenty of everything but wall fruit, which latter we could not boast much of in my Hertfordshire garden. The sort of gravel we have here, I think, is much of the kind you have at L—, which does not well suit a garden—so we are content with grass walks. There is a decent commodious chapel adjoining, where the Bishop performs service when weather or indisposition, don’t admit of going to the Parish Church.

Being eight or ten miles distant from a market, it is necessary tohave all within ourselves. Do but think of your friend Mark havingturned farmer, with eight or ten horses and as many cows, besidesheifers, &c., for killing, a small flock of small sheep, andacres, I yet can’t tell how many, of pasture and arable land,all near and about me. Three large stacks of good hay, upward of 40feet length, well inn’d since I came : mind that my brotherfarmer. But from an unusual wet season (the worst that has been knownhere for thirty years) the harvest is like to be late. How has itfared with the farmers cleric and laic in Hertfordshire ? I need nottell you, I don’t much relish this unavoidable attendant on mylate promotion—to be a tiller of land and a breeder of oxen,having never been used to anything of the sort —but this must besubmitted to, or else must be content to live upon tithe herrings andpotatoes, which two things are in truth the main food, and indeed theformer the staple commodity of this Isle. Our herrings, when fresh,as they are now, and in high season, are really excellent, and asmuch superior to what are eat of the kind in England (at least inHertfordshire and London) as a turbot exceeds a plaice. What are notused when caught are salted up for winter use ; one of the gentlemenfarmers here yesterday told me he spends in his family every winterno less than 5 maizes, each maize containing 500 fish. I believe theBishop will be content with 8 maize in his. They are at , this timesold at ten-pence per hundred (six score and three to the hundred)‘ just out of the sea, and are very large and so fat as to needlittle or no sauce, If you’d eat herrings. in perfection anddrink claret at 12d per bottle ; you must come to the Isle of Man. Wehave also cod, mackerell, flounders, lobsters, and rarely soles orsalmon, but scarce as the last is I bought a whole one yesterday for7d. Our wild dove house pigeons are large and fatter than common atthis time, owing I believe to their uninterrupted rooting in thefield, which they have no notion here of frightening them from. Ourpoultry as well as our beef and mutton are generally small, but whenfat, I think superior to English, though not so cheap as is commonlysupposed. Prices, as near as I can learn are as follows:—Chickens 3d each, a stubble goose 1s, pigeons is 6d per dozen; beef, mutton, and veal, of the middling sort 2d per lb., but thevery best will seldom be bought at less than in England. Marketprices indeed cannot well be known, as almost all people of anysubstance keep and kill their own. But the meat that is generallybought at market, my friend, would not well suit the taste of adelicate southern English-man for I must declare that, the north ofEngland, at least what you and I have seen, hardly exceeds us poorManx Islanders in the common run of provisions ; witness the beef andbread exhibited in some of the markets of Yorkshire. Our Hitchinworkhouse would disdain to touch it. The table bread we use hereourselves is a light brown wheaten loaf : but the commonpeoples’ is a sort of pancake, like what we saw in our Northerntowns. They have a bird here called a Puffin, which is so fat andstrong as seldom to be eat, but seasoned up with spices and vinegar,the most like collar’d pig in taste of anything I can compare itto ; but they scarce quit cost, the manner of preserving raises thevalue they say to 12s per dozen. The Anglesey people pretend to excelours, who rate ‘em at 4s. So much for our eatables, common orrare. Beer, much about as good as I had at Hitchin, and near thevalue, malt being at about 3s 6d per bushel. Wines most in use hereare claret, Frontignac, and Lisbon ; the two former at 12s and 14sper hogshead : the last at 10s or 12s. Port, be it ever so good, thegentry here don’t much care for, from having been usedaltogether to a lighter wine, and consequently can drink more of it.I brought some in bottles hither thinking it would be a variety, andas ‘twas extremely good of the sort ; but it does not go downwith my neighbours ; so I must e’en keep it till some of myEnglish friends, who won’t like their claret, shall honour mewith a visit. The small breed of horses are chiefly with the lowerpeople, who bring in their hay and grain on their backs; but thebetter farmers and gentlemen have a larger sort, both for draught andsaddle, which they have mostly from Ireland. Wheat is valued here atthis time at 4s, and barley 2s 6d per bushel to those that buy ; butalmost all excepting some of the inhabitants of the Port towns, grindand malt within themselves and have mills and kilns for the purpose.Were we to buy everything by the penny, I’m persuaded we shouldnot, upon the whole, find this so cheap a country as represented. Andyet, I intend to hold as little land as can possibly serve thepurpose of my family, unless I understood it as well as some GlebeRectors in England. Fuel indeed is pretty reasonable ; we have a turfwhich comes from the mountains that makes an excellent fire, withoutsmell, but as it burns so fast and requires so frequent supply, Iprefer sea coal, which we have very good from Whitehaven, deliveredto our teams at 8 miles from us, at about 14s per English chaldron."It is high time to pass from our domestic and agricultural state tothat of more public concern, viz., our civil and ecclesiastical. Theformer consists of our Lord’s Deputy, called His Honor theGovernor, two Deemsters or Judges, whose office is somewhat of thenature of a Justice of Peace, but rather higher, as they decidematters of property : the chief of which are in relation to trespassand boundaries, about which, as law is cheap and judgment quick,there are frequent suits. Besides the Judges, there are 24 Keys orMembers of Parliament, whose business it is to meet and make laws, asoccasion requires, which after being sent to the Lord of the Isle forhis approbation, are annually proclaimed on a commodious plain at thetop of a hill, called Tinwald Court, on midsummer day, where a greatfair is held ; and from that time are binding to all the inhabitantsof the Isle, as much as any of our statute laws in England are to theKing’s subjects there. There are also Somners or Constables toexecute commitments for refusal to give bonds for submitting tojudgments in law, civil or ecclesiastical. The Ecclesiastical Stateconsists of the Bishop, two Vicar Generals, an official, Archdeacon,Register, and 20 Clergy. Each parish has four Churchwardens orQuestioners : and this Isle has for many years observed and kept upstrictly ancient discipline, in making presentments, and requiringpenance and solemn readmission of penitents. The public service isduly performed in each Parish Church and town chapels- on Sundays andholidays, part in Manks and part in English, and the sermon generallyin Manks, excepting in the post towns, where the whole is always inEnglish ; and never did I see more justice done to our excellentLiturgy in any place than in the congregations of this Isle, where beit in Manks or English, the responses are duly made, and thedirections of the Rubric punctually and regularly attended to, inkneeling and rising in proper time and place : and however mean andindifferent soever the common people appear in their dress onweek-days, they fail not on Sundays to make a decent figure (swordsand hoops excepted), and vouchsafe in come in- shoes and. stockings,which the lower people, maid servants especially, cannot be prevailedon (tho’ you’d find ‘em in them for nothing) to wearat other times. Every parish has a petty school master or mistress toteach the Bible and Church Catechism and private prayers in English,supported chiefly by pious persons, amongst others Lady BettyHastings ; and no master or mistress , is allowed to teach withoutthe Bishop’s licence or appointment, or receive their salarywithout a certificate from the minister of the respective parishes,who are obliged to visit the school for that purpose, to see whetherthey do their duty.

Among the matters of presentment are the parents refusing orneglecting to send their children, at proper age, to the minister, tobe instructed and qualified, the Bishop is certified of their numberand fitness, and when confirmed it is held scandalous to neglect thecommunion. These, my good brother, are the laws and customs of thispart of Christ’s Church, planted in this Isle (the most ancientof all the Episcopal churches established, if I mistake not, StDavid’s perhaps excepted) which have been immemorially observed,and not a little improved and enforced by my most worthy andexcellent predecessor ; and which I pray God enable the presentBishop to maintain and preserve. The clergy have all been to visit me(excepting one) and are really decent, sensible well ~ behaved men, asample of which you have seen. What is very remarkable, . there is nogrammar, or spelling, or other book in the Manx tongue, excepting theGospel of St Matthew and some few translations of the catechism. Allare taught to read English and scarce any write other, and yet bothclergy and laity are extremely tenacious of their own language. Ifyou ask how they perform the service and preach in Manx. I believechiefly by translating it from the English before them, which . by.habit and pains they have acquired a readiness in. . A relation ofour Academic School, which I intended to give, must be defined,having, I’m sure, sufficiently tired you with a mostinsufferably long letter, or rather packet. This, my dear sir, is asnear as I can collect it from my early and imperfect acquaintancewith each particular ( without study of order or accuracy ofexpression) a summary account of the place and country in which theDivine Providence has seen fit to translate your poor brother, thelate Vicar of Hitchin, to preside in things pertaining to our commonChristianity. That I may answer the end of my appointment to so highand important a trust, I earnestly intreat your prayers and the restof my brethren who retain the least affectionate remembrance of theirlate neighbour, who is now and ever, with the sincerest regard, yoursand their faithful friend and affectionate brother,


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000

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