Tonbridge Education and Sir Andrew Judde 1500-2019 – and the Leigh Connection

Tonbridge Education and Sir Andrew Judde – 1500 – 2019 – and the Leigh Connection
By James Cook

The following is about Leigh and a London connection, but I would warn you in advance that it’s going to be a circuitous journey, albeit, I hope, an interesting one.

First of all I am going to take you back some 1600 years to A.D. 410 when the Roman Empire collapsed and they ceased to govern London. Of course, their influence didn’t stop overnight and is thought to have continued off and on for at least another 50 years. As a complete aside there was a Roman pocket of power in northern France near Soissons, until nearly 500AD, i.e. nearly 100 years after Rome’s downfall. I start with the Romans because following Claudius’s invasion in A.D.43 they basically founded London as a trading centre, importing and exporting goods all over Europe.  Within 20 years a thriving town had been established with some substantial buildings.  Trade means money and it is money which has been the central theme of the City of London ever since.

After the departure of the Romans, little is known about the state of London for some 300 years, although it must have remained an important trading town as Mellitus was appointed its first Bishop in A.D 604 in the reconstituted Diocese of London. There had been an earlier bishopric as Restitutus is known to have attended the Council of Arles in France in AD 314. As successive waves of Angles, Saxons and Vikings descended on London, they rebuilt and enlarged the remaining dilapidated trading wharves, although they mainly settled just to the west of the old city along present day Fleet Street, as evidenced by the church of St Clement Danes. London was now called Lundenvic, the suffix ‘vic’ denoting it to be a trading town.  When the old Roman town was reoccupied in the 9th century, the ‘old’ vic or trading town on Fleet St was renamed Aldwych. It seems that those incomers came not to destroy but to ‘get some of the action’ – to make money.

These newcomers from the European mainland, to be more precise the Saxons from North West Germany, inevitably brought with them their own customs of trade, one of which was the establishment of ‘guilds’. The very word is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘geld’ meaning money or payment. Indeed ‘Geld’ is the German word for money today and also in Yiddish. These guilds were closed shops. Members paid their dues, probably on an annual basis, in return for security of occupation and a guaranteed income.  In many ways they resembled friendly societies with each member being a brother or sister to be supported when needy or sick.  When any ‘good’ girl wanted to be married, the guild would arrange a dowry and if a brother or sister died, then the guild would pay for the funeral expenses. There was also a strong religious element and help would be provided for a member to go on pilgrimage – perhaps to Canterbury – or funds would be given for the upkeep of parish churches.  One of their group benefits was that they could levy taxes on both the import and export of goods.  So, in the years before the Norman Conquest, the City of London grew strong and rich as the various guilds consolidated their mercantile power.

Following the Norman Conquest, it is significant that King William I set up his palace at Westminster where it still lies. Today the City of London and Westminster are all part of a huge metropolis but in those days Westminster was a completely separate village from London. The wealth lay in the City while the monarchy resided in Westminster and that division was to lead to various times of tension over the coming centuries.

It was in the 1300s that Edward III and Richard II needed to raise money to wage war against the Scots and French. How could they do so?  Quite simply through selling Charters to the guilds in the City.  The money provided to the King was soon recouped as those Charters greatly extended the guilds’ powers of control over internal and external trade.  Although the Black Death killed off some 40% of people in the 1340s, those who survived were even wealthier, many having inherited substantial estates.

By the mid 1300s there were a great number of these guilds, soon to metamorphose into Livery Companies with their own charters and coats of arms. There were the Great Companies and the minor ones. The 12 Great companies were the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers.   These were the richest and most powerful and their names have survived to the present and, with careful husbandry, their wealth has also survived and grown.  There were 62 minor ones, such as Apothecaries, Barbers, Butchers, Carpenters, Clockmakers, Shipwrights, Stationers and many more. Some of these withered on the vine as their trades disappeared.  Often some of the minor companies would be exclusively affiliated to a Great one.

But our interest here is with the Skinners Company. As its name suggests, it dealt in furs which were much in demand – the regal ermine of kings and princes, the robes of judges and peers. Many exotic skins were imported but the humble rabbit also provided a simpler coat.  The Skinners Company’s first charter was granted by Edward III in 1327 and was addressed to ‘Our beloved men of our City of London, called Skinners’, with a further Charter granted by Henry VI in 1437.  Among other powers bestowed was the ability to expose delinquent Skinners and to make trade searches at various fairs held throughout the country, for example at St Ives and Bury St Edmunds. A wide variety of fines could be levied and so yet more income was generated for the company.  The second charter was granted by Richard II and was more of a religious nature, allowing them to maintain two chaplains, to wear a livery, to go on procession on Corpus Christi day and to hold a regular feast or entertainment in the City.  A further Charter was granted by Henry VI in 1437.

There was a bitter dispute with the Merchant Taylors in the 15th century over their respective places in the Livery Company pecking order and the Lord Mayor of London decided in 1484 that the Skinners and Merchant Taylors should occupy the 6th and 7th position in alternate years and entertain each other on a regular basis – a practice which still survives. The expression ‘at sixes and sevens’ is supposed to derive from this dispute, although some scholars point to a very similar phrase used by Chaucer a hundred years earlier.

With the Reformation in the first half of the 16th century, the old monasteries and priories were swept away by Henry VIII, including the Tonbridge Priory which used to be just east of the present railway station –  indeed Priory Road still remains there.  Following its destruction, the Master of the Skinners, Sir Andrew Judde, realized that there was an opportunity to provide education for everyone.  (Under the mediaeval Catholic Church most education was mainly limited to clerics and people of high standing).

Sir Andrew’s father lived at Barden House near Tonbridge and his four sons were probably all educated in the early 1500s at the Priory. Andrew was born in about 1492 and in 1509 was apprenticed to John Bucknell of the Skinners Company.  As a young man, he travelled widely on various expeditions to places such as Russia and Africa.  After a very successful career, he was elected Master of the Company six times between 1533 and 1555, as well as being Lord Mayor of London – a very powerful position.  In his capacity as Master he was also Mayor of the Staple of Calais and, in 1555, he received Philip of Spain there en route to Brussels.   Andrew became a very wealthy man who was conscious of the loss of education at Tonbridge following the dissolution of the Priory in 1527.  Consequently, he founded Tonbridge School in 1553, with Judd school also being founded by the Skinners Company many years later.  Both schools, but Tonbridge in particular, continue to have a very strong link with the Company which continues to provide funds for development. A recent ex-Headmaster, Christopher Everett, was made Master and many senior boys are invited to feasts in the Skinners Hall in Dowgate Street.

Sir Andrew had founded the school in his own name but, in his Will dated 2 September 1558, he left it to the Skinners Company which has been involved ever since. He died on 4 September 1558 – only two days later.

Apart from the school, Sir Andrew owned a considerable amount of property both in Kent and London. One particular holding was a farm called Sandhills in London, near Holborn, which he had purchased from a Mr Harris for £348, probably in the 1530s. Sandhills was about 20 acres, stretching approximately from the present British Museum to the north past St Pancras station. He also bequeathed this land to the Skinners Company. It produced £13–6–8d per annum, all of which went to Tonbridge School.

The Company flourished until the reign of Charles I, who, desperate for money, confiscated their possessions and securities. Following the Restoration, however, most if not all the Company’s former powers were restored. There is a detailed account of a grand pageant in 1671 when Sir George Waterman, a Skinner, became Lord Mayor of London: a wilderness was created with a variety of wild animals and birds with two black boys leading the way seated on panthers.

In 1689, on the accession of William and Mary, an even grander pageant was held with wolves, bears and panthers being paraded along with hundreds of dogs, cats, foxes and rabbits – the latter being tossed from one person to another. This was reported to be a ‘great diversion’.

Throughout the 18th century, the Company’s wealth slowly accumulated and it acquired many properties and much land both within the City and outside.

By 1790 the Sandhills land which the Company had acquired some 240 years earlier from Sir Andrew Judde’s estate was now on the very edge of London. At the south east of the farm lay the Foundling Hospital founded by Thomas Coram in 1739 to be endowed later on by the composer Frederic Handel. The whole area was known as Lambs Conduit Fields.  (There was a great cricket match held there on 7 July 1707 between London and Croydon!).  But with London expanding so quickly and potential development land was very valuable, by the 1790s, the Skinners Company decided to develop Sandhills, although, before they could do so, they has to resolve a dispute with the Foundling Hospital as to the precise land boundaries.  After the dispute was settled, wooden oak posts were erected to mark out the agreed boundary.  The Company may have wanted to develop the whole of the Sandhills estate, but were prevented from doing so by the Duke of Bedford who owned much of the adjoining property.  Earlier, in 1757, when a new road was constructed under an Act of Parliament on the site of the present Euston Road, the Duke of Bedford had successfully negotiated a restrictive covenant on development within 50 yards of it.  It is interesting to note that much later, in 1862, the Skinners sold part of the northern part of the area, including a street called Judd crescent, for the development of the present St Pancras station.  This land fetched the substantial sum of £32,000, all of which went for the benefit of Tonbridge School, partly to pay off the mortgage taken out to develop its property, Ferox Hall, opposite.

The main development of Sandhills was finally started in about 1805. The streets needed to be named and, in memory of Sir Andrew Judde, who had bequeathed the land to the Company the land all those years before, the Company decided to use the names of villages and towns near Tonbridge where its benefactor had lived. So today there is a pub called the Skinners Arms, a Tonbridge Street, a Bidborough Street and, of course, a Leigh Street, hopefully correctly pronounced by today’s residents.

James Cook  (October 2019)