The Man of Ross
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John Kyrle the "Man of Ross"
The following is taken from the "Parish Magazine" of November 1893 :
THE KING OF GOOD NEIGHBOURS BY JENNETT HUMPHREYS.
The 22nd of May, 1637 was the birthday of John Kyrle. His birthplace was the White House at Whitefield, Dymock, on the edge of Dymock Wood, this being in that corner of Gloucestershire which abuts on Herefordshire, lying beautifully between those two fair rivers-the Severn and the Wye. The Kyrles were 'gentlefolk'. The little John lay in his cradle in that year,1637. Civil War was terribly close at hand. As he grew up into strength and manhood, the influences of his gentle blood were all about him. His ancestors, stretching back to the thirteenth century, numbered soldiers, baronets, and knights of note.
Kyrle was to go to college, of course. Balliol College, Oxford, was the
one chosen, and he was entered of it as a gentleman-commoner on April
21st, 1654. The custom on entering was to give 'caution money,' to be
expended on plate. A silver tankard was bought with John Kyrle's money,
weighing somewhat over eighteen ounces. Lad of seventeen as he was, he
declared that if this weight were ever exceeded, he would exceed it again;
and, true to his word, as well as foreshowing the generous man he was
to become, he generously kept his promise in 1670, when he substituted
a tankard that weighed sixty-one ounces, and a little more.
By kind information afforded by the Master of Balliol, it can be reported that this tankard is still in constant use, increased somewhat in weight by repairs. 'The Man' is the familiar name at Balliol of John Kyrle. The following stands in the College books :-' April 21st, 1654, Johannes Kyrle admissus est Socio-commensalis.'
When he built his Jacobean house in Ross Marketplace, with its fifty feet of sightly frontage, its projecting stories, its carved timbers, its many long, low, small-paned windows, he had a great C carved on the corner of the Jacobean Market Hall, that he could see as he sat ; he had a great F carved behind the C; he had a great heart carved at the bottom of the C; the whole to mean, as it faced him perpetually 'Faithful to Charles in heart.'
He was genial, and easy of access. The very man to sit handsomely at the head of his table on Ross market-days (Miss Jude at the foot), welcoming all to dinner who were brought to town for market occasions, who would take plain fare as he plainly gave it, who would respond to the toast he never failed to give (in Herefordshire cider or home-brewed) of 'The Church and King.' Of the dishes he would provide, there was boiled beef in his kitchen every Sunday for such poor as liked to come; there was roast beef at Christmas-tide only; there was, whenever there could be, roast goose. If a guest, in the table courtesy of the time, offered to take the labour of carving the favourite bird, John Kyrle would cry, 'Hold your hand, man! If I am fit for anything, I am fit for this !' And heartily he would help it out himself. When his guests were served, he sent what was left to the almshouse at his garden door. If the poor were ill, there was the store of drugs; there was Miss Judith Babb to bid the maids make broth, and John Kyrle gave of it. If the Bluecoat boys, growing up in the Ross Bluecoat School, were in due course to be apprenticed, there was advice and help needed, and John Kyrle gave of that. If a child was born, and no man was willing to be godfather to it, John Kyrle was told and John Kyrle 'stood.' If a townsperson died, John Kyrle attended the funeral, and walked in the sorrowful procession with the rest! If the inhabitants had disputes-of rights of way, of leasings,of measurements, of misconstruction, or what else- all agreed to abide by John Kyrle's settling; and he would cool the quarrel down. There was a great case that he was called upon to decide in 1674. A ' lord' in the olden time had agreed that, of all his corn brought into Ross Market, he would give so much for the use of the poor. John Kyrle would see that this corn was made into bread (because in that way it would do the poor most service). Week after week John Kyrle would set his Miss Jude and her maids to making this bread and baking it in his own oven; after which, Saturday by Saturday, he would stand on the Market Hall steps, himself distributing the loaves, that justice (and graciousness) might be done. But the descendant of the' lord' said that the gift had been only for a time, that the time had long since gone by, and that the corn should be handed out no more. It was the very thing that John Kyrle would deeply regret, that he would warmly battle for, if battling could be done; and the towns- folk petitioned him to do it. Alas! when he looked into the matter, it was to his grief, for the 'lord' was right; the poor had been having the corn unjustly for years, and John Kyrle had to declare, against the inmost heart of him, that no more injustice must be done. It was in this unofficial manner that he liked to administer the law. He was on the Commission of the Peace; he was chosen High Sheriff in 1683, but if he acted publicly at all, it was only when there was no evading it, and he was still bent far more on little homely adjudication's and kindnesses to be done with his own hand. Out about the town at all times was John Kyrle. His fields (naturally) were not in the marketplace- he had to walk to them; and there and back to them he would go two or three times a day, carrying his spade, carrying his cider-bottle, carrying even a watering can, if he had been planting, and he knew his young plants would wither without a sprinkling. Yet when the church bell rang, on every day, weekday as well as Sunday, he laid all occupation aside, he washed hands for seemliness, and he walked up to the church to pray. Dr. Whiting, his dear friend, was the clergyman; and as he helped him in all good parish work, sanitary, embellishing, philanthropic, so with all the might there was in him he helped him in the daily service, too. He had not been born the Earl of Ross, the Baron of Ross, the Knight of Ross, but he had made himself the Man of Ross. The poet Pope has made the title immortal by his eulogy, some couplets of which may be quoted :-
Behold the Marketplace with poor o'erspread !
The Man of Ross divides the daily bread ;
He feeds yon almshouse- neat but void of state-
Where age and want sit smiling at the gate;
His portioned maids, apprenticed orphans, blest
The young who labour and the poor who rest.
Is any sick ? The Man of Ross relieves,
Prescribes, attends, the medicine makes and gives.
Is there a variance !, Enter but his door,
Balked are the courts, and contest is no more.
Kyrle had been dead for years when the poet visited the neighbourhood; nevertheless there could be seen the spire which he had obtained an assessment to raise, and had overlooked daily that it might be raised well; there could be seen the clusters of shading trees, growing more and more shady, that he had planted; there could be seen the Cleavefield Wood which he had lightened out with walks and made restful with comfortable seats; and Pope, stirred as a poet should be, could not but recognise that John Kyrle's life bad been a noble life, and he strove to stir others to the same noble doing. In 1691, John,Kyrle was at Gloucester at a foundry, eager over the casting of Ross Church bell. It was to ring out to a score of villages more loudly than ever Ross bell had rung before. It was to be called by his name, and, standing by the molten metal with his silver tankard in his hand, he drank from it ' To Church and King !' and then flung it in, as worthy christening. Later still, in 1714, his name is in borough records. He went to Berkeley, Gloucestershire, to vote for the two members, Moreton and Stephens; and then, ten years further on, there came the end. On November 7th, 1724, all Ross mourned. This man, eighty-seven years old, with his kind face, his kind words, his kind heart, would be seen no more, and when he was carried to his grave, his workmen were his bearers; his body was laid at the feet of the body of his friend, Dr. Whiting, as had been his special desire. "And what ? No monument, inscription, stone?" asks Pope. Yes, the parish clerk, he being the Master of the Bluecoat School as well, went reverently to the church wall that overlooked the good man's grave, and chiselled 'J. K.' upon it with the best power he had. The great bell that had been his gift fell off it's wheel soon after his funeral, seeming to the grieving people to speak of him still. Twenty years after, in 1744, when the church was being repewed, the people with one accord would not have his pew so much as touched.
Two elm-trees, about twenty feet high, grow within the
church in front of the north-east window, as may be seen in the engraving.
The tradition in the parish is that these sprang up in John Kyrle's pew,
and so they are carefully preserved. Besides, there is not wanting now
a monument to John Kyrle of the ordinary sort. In after time a relative,
Vandervort Kyrle, for some time renovated his walks and seats; after
that another relative, WaIter Kyrle, in 1750, put him up a stone; in
1776 the then Lady Kinnoul left 300l. for a monument to him. Her heir,
Colonel Money, faithfully attended to her request, and there, in Ross
Church, a bust being part of it, the monument stands.
It was good for this noble stranger-lady to raise her voice, as if from the grave, and bid the long-deferred testimony take form. But John Kyrle has the far nobler, the far higher, the far more excelling monument. Marble was in no way enough for him. He deserved imitation; and the Kyrle Society, simply because it admires Kyrle is trying to continue his work. If it can make roads, and paths, and seats, and comely gateways, it will make them. If it can cheer the sick with pleasant reading and pleasant singing, and pictures upon the walls, and kind words, and even with simply kind smiles, it will do it straight. If it hears of wrongs it will try hard to redress them; if it knows of sin, it will try to take the sin away; if it knows that lives are lived that are all toil and painful penury, that are all coarseness and debasement, it win try to put beauty for ashes, to bring close down into the midst of it the first breathing of a higher life. By providing for unemployed hours some wholesome recreation; in personal talk, in periodical assemblings in loans of pieces of art, in lucid explanations of them, in the opportunity for music, and drawing, and innocent games; by giving advice and warning, and the simple support of knowing there are friends to be gratified or grieved; the Kyrle Society hopes, through each one of its members, to leave the world the better for the life that has come to it, just as John Kyrle left the world the better for his. The Kyrle motto is, ' Nil moror ictus.' If we read this freely as a hint never to loiter in any good task, that will give us a glimpse of the spirit of John Kyrle's life work. ' The Man,' as he is still called within the walls of his ancient College, was at once a fine type of the old English country gentleman, and, above all, a practical Christian of the rarest and most admirable sort. He was, indeed, ' The King of Good Neighbours,' as this bird's-eye view of his doings is meant to show. He was never weary of well-doing, and never too fine for any honest, useful piece of labour- he was truly 'of the salt of the earth.' His beautiful example teaches and encourages us all to do something, be it little or much, within our sphere, to better our neighbours as well as ourselves. And by so doing, we join the' multitude of the heavenly host,' praising God and saying, ' Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men
John Harker added (December 2010) "... am in possession of a pair of Devon Pottery vases
aprx. 6 high. The vases were made by the AllerVale Pottery in Torquay 1900
1924 Vases inscribed to the memory of John Kyrle. Desirable pair to a collector
of Devon Pottery in their own right may appeal to those interested in John
More informatikon John Harker 01934 623585"
Clive Betts added (June 2012): "...John Kyrle gets starring place in Pitkin guide on Octavia Hill. A society is said to exist The Kyrle Society with 13 provincial imitators. Unfortunately I am unable to find a website so perhaps it is purely historic?".