George Plaxton Back to the Main Historical Society page
Back to the Barwicker Contents page

George Plaxton

Barwicker No. 19
September 1990

A genial picture emerges from a perusal of the letters of George Plaxton, Rector of Barwick-in-Elmet 1703-20, whose wide correspondence has survived in various places, but most particularly for our purposes amongst the papers of Ralph Thoresby now held by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. His gossipy, allusive style, with its frequent classical allusions and coining of nicknames, makes his letters a somewhat intractable source at first, but highly entertaining once one has became familiar with them.

His wide circle of friends includes some of the leading citizens of Leeds, including the Vicar, John Killingbeck, who is constantly teased about his taste for tobacco, Richard Thornton the Recorder, Henry Lodge, the curate of St John's, and Thoresby himself. He was the first resident rector at Barwick for many years and his letters therefore present us with a lively picture of an incumbent's daily round. He was improving the rectory house: 'I have been over the head and eares in morter, and stunn'd with the din of axes and wheelbarrows'; wondering whether he should church the mother of an illegitimate child, speculating over the origin of the churchwarden's office, gathering the harvest and his tithes, curiously observing that even at such a busy season the local papists keep the feast of St Lawrence holy and will not work, disputing with the magistrates about his liability for highway rates, helping the widow of Dr Talbot of Spofforth to arrange her affairs and vacate the parsonage house (then, as now, a matter of some difficulty and urgency), interceding on behalf of the master of a runaway apprentice, complaining to the Chancellor of the York Diocese about old, blind Kr Wilson of Scotton who is performing clandestine marriages:

'Every whore and Rogue run thither. How can you punish these unlawfull, & scandalous Cooplings? He is a very villain, and Fills us with Beggars . He is one of the Churches Banditti'.

In 1707 he is discussing the merits of different varieties of teazle for use by the clothiers and offering to try cultivating them on his glebe:

'This Carduus Fullonum is sown upon good land, and flourisheth in June and July; the heads are ripe and hardened in August, gatherd and sold upon Cloathing Towns. I do not question but we may raise them in this Country, provided we can get the true and genuine Seeds; and I shall be willing to try the Experiment'.

Early in 1708 he was interceding on behalf of a parishioner who had been brought before the ecclesiastical court at York accused of fornication:

'guilty on an Ante-Nuptual Roguery, a Crime to which most young Fellows here plead an unpunishable pr'scription. Confession with God is the way to pardon, but with men it is confess and be hang'd'.

He was clearly a man of both charm and compassion. His circle was wide enough to take in Daniel Defoe, whose withering satire has survived in manuscript in the Henry E Huntington Library in California:

'The Churches scandall and ye towns disgrace, A pampered Priest both infamous and base, A lazy Glutton, sunk in downy ease, 'Who studies but his appetite to please.'

And so on in the same vein. We can see that such a lampoon was hardly justified and fortunately Plaxton's own satirical rejoinder has also survived in which Defoe is castigated as:

'ye busiest Scoundrell of the times'.

BILL CONNOR This article by the Archivist of the Leeds District Archives is based on a talk given to the Thoresby Society and was printed in "For the Record", December 1988, the '\lest Yorkshire Archive Service History Newsletter. It is reproduced here by permission of the author and of the 'West Yorkshire Archivist, Robert Frost.

Plaxton was an accomplished poet. Below is an extract from a poem about Lady Elizabeth Hastings, a well-known local benefactor whose hospitality he clearly bad enjoyed.

By your Example Charity revives,
Neglected Hospitality now thrives;
The Sick and Poor (a like) your Bounty share,
And starving Virtue by your gen'rous Care,
Puts on plump Looks, assumes its wonted State,
And gains Admittance at your liberal Gate.
With Loaves and Prayers the Hungry you relieve,
And prove, to give, is better than receive;
Your Alms and Care supply the Orphan's need,
Their Souls instruct, their Bodies Cloath and feed.
In Funds above, you place your Happy Store,
And God observes your bankers are the Poor.

Back to the top
Back to the Main Historical Society page
Back to the Barwicker Contents page