The Book of Daniel Lee
We focus on one of the objects in the Museum’s collection
This inconspicuous eighteenth century school exercise book was the gift of a Miss A Napper to ‘The Godalming Borough Museum’. According to an accompanying note it was found at Laker’s Lodge, Wisborough Green, Sussex, among many other papers in the deed boxes of Henry F Napper, who was something of an antiquarian, after his death in 1901.
It is of interest not so much because of the arithmetic exercises written in careful copperplate by Daniel Lee in his school days, but because of what he wrote in the unused part of the book at a later stage of his life.
To give the story in his own words (and spelling):
‘September ye 29th - 1754 Mr Henry Hart was Elected Warden of Godalming in ye County of Surry - Mr Henry Hart dying October ye 31st Following, Mr John Lee was Elected Warden of Godalming for the Remaining part of ye Year at ye Beginning of November - As by the Act of Parliament commonly called the Test Act made about 1673 all Persons Serving such Offices are to Conform and Receive the Sacrament according to ye Custom of ye Church of England - Mr John Lee Being a Presbyterian & could not Conform as aforesaid Mr Francis Eliot Attorney at Law, Mr William Chitty Maltster, Mr George Chitty Butcher, Mr Thomas Woods Clothier, Mr James Snelling Inholder, Mr Thomas Thatcher Innholder, Did on Saterday November ye 9th 1754 send William Wallis Late Bailiff to Mr Henry Hart aforesd Tho.s Wilkinson Constable, John Grenfield and William Flodder Tithingmen etc to ye Dwelling house of John Lee aforesaid did Enter and did take and carry away the Following Goods - One Wood flaskitt, Nine Pewter Dishes, Twenty Pewter Plates, Four Brass Candlesticks, One Brass Snuffer and Stand, One Copper Coffee-pot, One Copper Kettle, One pair of Iron Doggs, with Brass heads, One pair of Tongs, One fire shovell, One Looking Glass, One Sheet, One Feather Bed, one Mans-Saddle, one Bridle, two Girths Crupper & Strap, One Large Brass-kettle - N B The sd Tho.s Wilkinson Before twas carryed from ye house wrote this Inventory. Novr. 12th ‘Twas Cryed to be sold - - John Lee Brought an Action against the Persons that Carried away his Goods and at ye Sumer Assizes at or About Aug.st 13 1755 following at Croydon 1755 the Jury Gave Fifteen pound Damage to the Plaintiff Mr John Lee.’
‘The lawfulness of taking away ye said Goods was tryed at the Kings-Bench Westminster, Tuesday January 27th 1756 and Confirm’d to be Unlawfull By Sir Dudley Rider Cheif Justice, Sr Tho.s Dennison, Sir Michael Foster, Sr Eardsley Wilmot Justices.’
‘The Above justices s.d ‘twas taken away from ye s.d John Lee contrary to ye Charter Granted by Queen Elizabeth, Contrary to Magna Charta & Contrary to the Laws of England.’
‘Dan.l Lee present at Each place of Tryall.’
This story of the tribulations of someone who was presumably a relative, possibly the father, of Daniel Lee was of such importance to him that on the reverse of the page on which the above passage ends Daniel starts to write out the story all over again, only to break off after a few sentences with the note: ‘forgot I wrote this Acct in this book’.
The background to these events
Before writing up the story of John Lee, Daniel has written down a copy of the Charter granted to Godalming by James Ist in 1620, which fills in much of the background to these events. Under this charter the affairs of Godalming were in the hands of a Warden supported by ‘8 gravest men of the town’ as assistants. The assistants were to be elected by the inhabitants of the town from those who had born the office of baliff, constable or tythingman or were men of the town ‘accounted of Ability or Reputation’. The warden was to be elected from among the assistants and those who had born office. The franchise for this election was restricted to those who would be eligible for election to the Wardenship. A shortlist of three candidates was to be put forward from which one would be elected Warden. The two candidates who were nominated but did not get elected that year automatically went forward to the next shortlist unless there was good reason to the contrary, but the charter does not specify how the remaining name (or names) on the shortlist was to be selected.
The charter also specified that if any Warden so elected failed to be sworn in within three days of his election, or refused to take his oath without just cause, he was to be fined £10 and if he did not pay up the bailiff had power to seize his property and sell them to settle the debt.
Acts of the "Cavalier Parliament"
The Act of Parliament that Daniel Lee refers to in his account was one of a series of persecuting Acts passed by the ‘Cavalier Parliament’, the first to be summonsed by Charles II after his restoration to the throne. Packed with Royalists, this Parliament wreaked vengeance on the Puritans who had been in the ascendance during the Commonwealth period. They settled the religious affairs of the country to their own satisfaction by enforcing Anglicanism with a raft of oppressive laws culminating in the Test Act. Under the provisions of these laws no-one could hold office, civil or military, unless he received the sacraments according to the rites of the Church of England. The result was that ‘for many centuries Church people were the rulers of England and the Dissenters [or ‘Nonconformists’] sank in the social scale’. 1
How did it come about that John Lee was elected Warden?
With this as a background, how did it come about that John Lee was elected Warden of Godalming in the first place? The town was so small and the electorate so restricted that they must surely have known of his religious allegiance. Yet when the record is examined it becomes even more strange. When Henry Hart was elected on 29th September 1754, John Lee was one of the unsuccessful nominees. On the death of Henry Hart there is a minute in the town records dated 6th November to the effect that John Lee had been elected ‘who having had allowed him 3 days to take upon him the office (having due notice thereof) he neglected and refused to take upon him the said office therefore fined £10 which if not immediately paid is hereby ordered to be levied by distress of goods’. Only two days later, on 8th November, William Chitty is elected to the Wardenship. Yet even stranger, at the annual election a year later (1755) John Lee is again elected warden and ‘refuses says he was disqualified by law or expresses himself to the like effect’. Why were they so keen to elect John Lee as Warden?
As is so often the case, enough documents survive for us to formulate the question, but not enough to supply a clear answer. Two scenarios can easily be envisaged. Firstly, as Peter Stock shows in his study of Nonconformity in Godalming2, at the time of the restoration of Charles II to the throne Godalming was a staunchly Puritan town. It may therefore be supposed that the worthies of the town were seeking to elect Lee in defiance of the Test Act and the Anglican ascendancy. This seems unlikely on two counts. Firstly, there is the speed with which Lee was proceeded against, which does not suggest that Lee was being supported by his fellows. Secondly, as Stock also points out, the fierce persecution of Nonconformists in the late 17th century drove many back to the Church of England and acts of discrimination against Nonconformists in the Godalming area continued from that time (even down to the beginning of the twentieth century). As a consequence, as the eighteenth century progressed, local Nonconformist congregations dwindled in size and influence.
This brings us to the second possibility: that Lee was being deliberately targeted because of his Nonconformity. Some Nonconformists avoided the provisions of the Test Act by ‘Occasional Conformity’ - attending the Parish Church as little as would satisfy the law, but worshipping regularly elsewhere. Lee was clearly somebody who was not going to compromise his principles in this way and could have courted unpopularity among the town’s officials by his outspokenness.
Unless more documents surface we will never know the full story, but we would have known even less about this episode were it not for the book of Daniel Lee.
1. Carter, E. H. & Mears, R. A. F. A History of Britain 3rd ed. (Oxford : 1960) p.493
2. Stock, P. Hidden Nonconformity (Arrow Press : 1999) p.1-2