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Love thy neighbour

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October 2007

Where did our neighbours come from?

So who were the Bristolians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Where did they come from and, more importantly, how did they get on with each other? Members of The Thornbury Society for Local History and Archaeology were recently given the answers to these questions by Peter Flemming, lecturer in History at UWE.

Mr Pepwell, originally of Thornbury, no longer had need of his house in Wine Street, Bristol as his successful trading business necessitated him spending long periods in Spain. So, in 1530, he sold the house to Mr Adrianson from Holland who was one of very few foreign nationals living in sixteenth century Bristol. No doubt many were deterred from settling in Britain by Tudor taxes which were doubled for non-English speaking residents. It would probably be fair to say therefore, that those who remained had good economic reasons for doing so. Strong trading links with France meant that Mr Adrianson's neighbourhood had ten or so French residents as well as a distinguished Italian, Francesco Borso, whose local property empire was probably the reason for his considerable annual tax bill of £30.

Also living in the Wine Street area was Philip Scapulis, a Protestant, originally from Trier in Germany. At the time Trier had a particularly hard-line Catholic Bishop who was actively persecuting Protestants and it seems likely that this would have influenced Mr Scapulis' decision to resettle in Bristol. Like many others, Mr Scapulis integrated well into Bristol society where he plied his trade as a stationer. When he died in the 1590s he acknowledged those he had come to know in his life in Bristol by leaving money to his gardener, his business to his former apprentice as well as 6d each to fifty poor men and women who 'had shown themselves to be true Protestants'.

Bristol also had a small community of Jews, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese origin. Like Mr Scapulis, they were fleeing the religious purification of Spain to all but Catholics. Bristol had been virtually barren of Jews since 1298 when they had been expelled, but Tudor and Stuart England saw their numbers start to grow once more.

In contrast, the largest migrant group was from Wales. Welsh fathers saw an English apprenticeship as desirable for their sons who were dispatched from those Welsh counties closest to Bristol in considerable numbers. The apprentice registers for 1552 show that 14% of the apprentices were of Welsh origin. Although some eventually returned home, many remained in Bristol with some going on to assume prominent community roles such as sheriff and mayor. Some even became major city benefactors.

The Irish, however, had an altogether different experience. Tudor Bristol had been a major trading port with Ireland for many years so, at a time of Irish civil unrest and rebellion around 1594, Irish Catholics and Protestants boarded the merchant ships in large numbers and sailed into Bristol. Contemporary reports suggest that from the start Bristolians saw them as 'strange' and 'brutal' people and there are some reports of Irish beggars causing trouble in the city.

Parish records show that many of them arrived in a poor state of health and many were buried anonymously. However, the Protestant Irish, who were viewed as being more respectable as they were considered to be of English heritage, were much more acceptable to the people of Bristol. Relief was available to the poorest of these, but Catholics were excluded and many were left in no doubt that they were not wanted when they were forcibly repatriated.

We also know from Parish records, that the last national element of Bristol's multiculturalism came from its black African population. In the 1750's this grew with the practice of wealthy families employing black servants brought here as part of the slave trade, but in Tudor Bristol they were very few in number. The first recorded black African was gardener to Bristol merchant Sir John Young whose home stood on land occupied by the Colston Hall today.


The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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