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Rector Timothy Bright

Doctor, Author and Inventor of Shorthand.

from The Barwicker No.62
June 2001

Much of this article is taken from an account of the life, including his will, of Timothy Bright, rector of Barwick-in-Elmet (1594-1615). This was included in the 'Dictionary of National Biography' and was published in the 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' Vol XVII pp.50-54, with some corrections and explanatory notes added by Mr William Brown.
"Timothy Bright was born in or about 1551, probably in the neighbourhood of Sheffield. He matriculated as a sizar at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 21 May 1579 and graduated BA in 1567-8. In 1572 he was in Paris, probably pursuing his medical studies, when he narrowly escaped the St. Bartholemew massacre by taking refuge in the house of Sir Francis Walsingham. He graduated MB from Cambridge, in 1574, and was created MD in 1579. For some years he seems to have resided at Cambridge, but in 1584 he was living at Ipswich. He succeeded Dr Turner as physician to St Bartholemew's Hospital about 1586 (Brown suggests 1584) and must have resigned in 1590 when his suceessor was elected.
His first medical work (dated 1584) seems to have been written at Cambridge. It is in two parts, 'Hygienia on preserving health' and 'Therapeutica on restoring health", and was dedicated to Cecil, Lord Burghley. Bright afterwards abandoned the medical profession and took holy orders. His famous treatise entitled 'Characterie: An Arte of short, swifte and secret writing by character', he dedicated in 1588 to Queen Elizabeth, who, on 5 July 1591, presented him to the rectory of Methley, then void by the death of Otho Hunt and on 30 December 1594 to the rectory of Barwick-in Elmet."

Bright will be remembered as the inventor of modern shorthand writing. Only one copy of his 'Characterie' is known to be in existence, and is now preserved in the Bodleian Library. The shorthand signs are all written in ink. Bright also wrote 'Animadversiones in GA Scribonii Physicam', published in Cambridge in 1584. The title indicates that the book is a critical revue of the work of this physician. This was followed by 'Treatise on Melancholie' in 1586 and 'An Abridgment of John Foxe's Book of Acts and Monuments of the Church' in 1589.

Timothy Bright and his wife Margaret had four children: Timothy, a barrister; Titus, a doctor; Elizabeth and Mary, who died before her parents and was buried in Methley in November 1593.

There is an article in the Publications of the Thoresby Society Vol.XV p.30 by Rev.H Armstrong Hall called 'Dr. Timothy Bright Some Troubles of an Elizabethan Rector'. The author uses correspondence concerning Bright that paints him in a less than flattering light. He was given the rich living at Methley but very soon put himself under the influence of a local solicitor, John Savile of Bradley, esquire, Lord of the Manor of Methley, by promising to give him prior notice if ever he came to resign and to advance the cause of anyone Savile should care to nominate as his successor.

It is therefore surprising that two years later the two men were in dispute. In a petition placed before the Keeper of the Great Seal of England, Bright complained that Saville had refused payment in kind of certain tythes. In reply Saville denied the charge and said that this was an attempt to change local custom. He added that Bright was continuing his previous profession of physician, and his medical activities took him away and so that he neglected his work in the church even on holy days.

Some months earlier, some of the Methley parishioners had complained to the Archbishop of York that Bright was seeking to innovate new tythes to put a greater burden on them and that he was neglecting his duties with regard to instruction of the catechism, church services, baptisms, etc.

This was the person who was made Rector of Barwick-in-Elmet in 1594. He moved to Barwick but no replacement was provided for Methley and he contrived to accept the money from both rich livings for the rest of his life. His will shows that he had extravagent tastes but it is suggested that he was heavily in debt when he came to Yorkshire.
Three years after his installation at Barwick, a church representative found that Methley had neither parson nor curate depite the fact that the living was worth 100 plus the tythes, more properous than any other parish in the deanery. At this time. the parishioners of Methley were still complaining about Bright's neglect of them, including the non-payment of one fortieth part of the benefice to the poor of the parish. The Archbishop investigated and the money was promised.
We have no knowledge of how conscientious a rector Timothy Bright was in Barwick or what his parishioners thought about him but, if his treatment of Methley has any bearing, it seems likely that he neglected Barwick too. He did however contribute to Yorkshire life, as the following extract from the Harrogate town website shows.

"In 1571 a man named William Slingsby drank from a spring near Knaresborough and noticed that the water tasted like that of spas he had visited on the continent. At the western end of the Stray is the Tewit Well, the spring discovered by Willam Slingsby and now covered by a pillared dome.
Several years later a physician, Timothy Bright, declared that the spring had healing properties. During the 18th. and 19th. centuries, more springs were discovered - they were rich mostly in iron and sulphur - and Harrogate was developed to become one of Britain's most celebrated spas, offering cures for everything from gout to nervous tension. But as medical science discovered and developed new drugs, so the demand for the "cure" declined."

Our investigations confirm that the Timothy Bright in question was our rector and that he was the first to introduce to England the term 'spa' or 'spaw'.

A copy of his will made shortly before his death is included in the YAJ article. In the sections copied below, the spelling and punctuation have been altered to make for easier understanding by today's reader. The will begins with the usual flamboyant appeal for God's mercy and then proceeds:

"And for the disposition of my goods and chattels, my will is, and I do hereby will and bequeath unto my much beloved brother, William Bright, Bachelor of Divinity, and public preacher of God's word in the town of Salop in the County of Salop, all those my books, called or known by the name or names of the Hebrew bible, the Syriac testament Josephus Zarlinus in Italian, in two volumes, and Plato in Greek and latin, translated by Marsilius ficinus, and those my Instruments of music called the Theorbo with its case, and the Irish harp, which I most usually played upon.
And I give and bequeeth to Titus Bright, my son, Doctor of Physic, the sum of 20 in money, and all my books of Physic and Philosophie, and the rest of my Instruments of music, not bequeathed to my said brother, for his full child's part and portion of all my goods, chattels and estate."

He left his eldest son Timothy a piece of gold valued at 5s.6d. clearly indicating that he had already made some provision for him. The rest of his estate he left to his wife, trusting her to make adequate provison for their daughter Elizabeth for her maintenance and in the event of her marriage. He appointed Sir Henry Goodrick of Ribston, Yorkshire, the son in law of Sir John Saville of Methley, to oversee his will, which was witnessed by his brother William (see above) and six other men and one woman, none of whom appears to have come from Barwick. The will was proved on 13 November 1615.

The National Biography article analyses the contents of the will and draws some interesting comparisons with contemporary documents.

"The rector of Barwick's will shows that he was very highly cultured. The number of books mentioned is greater than usual. In Notes and Queries (8th. series, xii, 302), the list of books bequeathed in the wills of nineteen clergymen of the Diocese of Durham, dated between 1559 and 1603, and printed by the Surtees Society in the proceedings of Bishop Barnes, App. x, is tabulated. They are very few in number.
In eight only, out of the nineteen, is there any mention of books, and where they are mentioned they seem in some cases to compare but poorly in value with other belongings of the testataor. In the lengthy will of Leonard Pilkington, prebendary of the seventh stall in Durham Cathedral, no mention is made of books, a remarkable fact, seeing that Pilkington was from 1561- 64, Master of St John's, Cambridge, and for a short time, 1561-2, Regius Professsor of Divinity in the same university.
Dr. Bright's library was much better furnished. Besides books on physic and philosophy he had a Hebrew Bible and a Syriac Testament, as well as works in Italian, Greek and Latin, which prove he was no mean linguist. He was fond of music and died possessed of a couple of Theorbos, a stringed instrument of the lute family, and an Irish harp. He studied music in theory as well as practically, and to aid him had bought the standard work on harmony by Joseph Zarlino."

It is clear that Timothy Bright was one of the quite remarkable collection of men who have been rectors here. The sad irony is that, of those who played no significant part in Barwick life, we know a great deal, especially of their activities in other posts (See 'The Barwicker Nos. 33, 34 and 58). Of those who lived here and carried out their clerical duties conscientiously, we usually know very little.

Timothy Bright was one of the former. He was a hugely talented man whose sole contribution to Barwick life seems to have been to take the money from the living to pay off his debts and to indulge his expensive tastes. In the words of Terry Munro, rector of Barwick(1985 - 1993) (see 'The Barwicker' No. 33), "He was a tragic man, who had once been great in the world, but Barwick saw him in the time of his decline and fall".

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