Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Chris Collins.


Martin Headley burial entry "ye benefactor"

A crudely drawn hand with the inscription, “ye benefactor” spotted alongside an entry in the 1687 burial records of the Priory Church of St Laurence, Snaith, was my first introduction to the world of Martin Headley … a man who, it seems, was loved by some but despised by many.

Martin Headley was born in Snaith in 1622, the son of Charles (a mercer and vintner) and Anne (nee Beverlay). In 1650, Martin married his first wife, Sarah Smythson and, four years later, he appears as steward of the Manor Court of Snaith. Sadly, Sarah died in 1658 and the following year Martin married his second wife, Rosomond Bland, daughter of Sir Thomas Bland, Knight of Kippax. This marriage was only to last for fourteen months, as Rosomond died in June 1660. Martin must have married again as, at the time of his death in 1687, his widow is named as Mary – I have yet to find any record of this third marriage.

Headley was undoubtedly a good friend to Snaith, leaving a number of bequests to the Church in his will of 1686. He bequeathed to Mr Robert Todd, Minister of Snaith, and to every succeeding Minister, 20/- a year to preach a sermon every Martinmas Day, and 5/- to the Clerk for attending. In addition, every member of the poor of Snaith and Cowick who attended this service was to receive a share of 20/-, to be distributed amongst them by the Minister and Churchwardens.

He also provided the Church with communion plate comprising two silver chalices with covers, two silver patens and a large silver flagon – sadly these were stolen when burglars broke into the Church in 1821.

So he seems to have earned his title of “ye benefactor” – well, to the people of Snaith, at least!

Martin Headley charity plaque in Snaith Yorkshire
Martin Headley's charity's plaque in Snaith Yorkshire

In 1675, Headley became Mayor of Leeds and this is where the more contentious side of his character revealed itself. Much of the story may have been lost, if it had not have been for the fact that he had a well-documented altercation with Ralph Thoresby, the well-known Leeds antiquarian and diarist.

Thoresby was a staunch nonconformist. Headley most definitely was not! Leeds at the time hosted substantial numbers of nonconformists, from all walks of society. The assault on protestant dissent began with the Quakers, whose meetings were broken up and worshippers were arrested. Headley often joined in with these attacks. Quakers were particularly vulnerable as they refused to meet in secret. By contrast, Presbyterians were careful to keep well out of sight. But this did not stop Headley.

In 1683, a prosecution for nonconformity was brought against Thoresby … the instigator was Martin Headley who, the court case records, referred to Thoresby and his like as “damnable rich fanatics”. The case broke down and Thoresby was acquitted.

According to Thoresby, Headley went on to petition the King for “the extirpation of Fanaticism”. He produced ‘alphabetical lists of the names of dissenters in the parish of Leedes’, recording their convictions and fines. Thoresby confided to his diary, “That cruel persecutor seems to be under divine infatuation”.

Later described as “the most enthusiastic persecutor of protestant dissent in Leeds”, Headley was undoubtedly a man of two sides - “cruel persecutor” of Leeds and “ye benefactor” of Snaith.

So … 17th century friend or foe? I guess it depends where you were standing at the time!

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