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Kentish Book Culture

Writers, Archives, Libraries and Sociability 1400-1660

Edited By Claire Bartram

This volume explores the writing practices and book collections of a range of individuals in early modern Kent including monks, a mariner and an apothecary as well as members of the gentry and clergy and urban administrators. In a county with ready access to metropolitan, courtly and continental influences, a vibrant provincial book culture flourished, in which literacy was prized and book ownership widespread. Reinforcing the important social role played by the literate and revealing something of their creative potential, the essays gathered here also uncover an appetite for debate, reflected in the books owned, lent, written and published by the Kentish in the period covered. Underpinning all of this is an enduring culture of sociability, centred around the book as an object to be shared.

Interdisciplinary in approach, this collection brings together specialists in the history of the book, literary scholars, social historians and librarians to explore the nature of authorship and the dynamics of the market for print and manuscript books outside London. It demonstrates the rich potential of regional archival study to extend our understanding of medieval and early modern literature.

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2 Writing the Town in Mid-Fifteenth-Century Sandwich: The Contribution of John Serle, Common Clerk



This chapter uses the writings of John Serle, Sandwich’s common clerk in the mid-fifteenth century, to assess the role and usage of civic and related book production in small, provincial towns. After outlining recent developments in the historiography and drawing attention to the peculiarities of the Cinque Ports, the chapter highlights the value of analytical approaches that focus on pragmatic literacy in terms of the relationship between orality and literacy. Following a contextual section on Sandwich in the period, the chapter analyses Serle’s known texts: the civic year-book and two hospital books. It considers how this clerk was able to ‘write the town’ and how his books stood as artefacts providing the civic authorities and others with a tangible statement of Sandwich’s status as a well-governed urban community.

On 20 October 1449, John Serle was rewarded by the mayor of Sandwich Richard Cok with a corrody at St Bartholomew’s hospital for ‘his good service and for his future labour’.1 This apparent recognition of his personal worth and his role as the town’s common clerk suggests that he was envisaged by the mayor and jurats as a man of substance and trust: of ‘good conversation’, whose writings similarly could be seen as demonstrating the moral standing of the town’s government and its governors. Even though Serle remains a shadowy figure in terms of his personal history, his work as common clerk provides opportunities to investigate textual production and consumption in late medieval urban ←49...

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