William Dickinson (1604-1677): Literacy

William Dickinson (1604-1677) of Streetgate: Literacy




William had an advantage. He was born at just the right time and in the right place. Literacy was becoming the sine qua non for advancement at the local level, much as it had been at a national level for a long time.

A Free Grammar Schoool for poor children existed in the parish of Dean. John Fox, a London goldsmith had set aside money in his 1597 will for a 'learned and godlie' schoolmaster to be appointed there 'from time to time'. Streetgate was only a short distance away, and even if William (and his brothers) didn't attend the school as such, it's quite likely that the schoolmaster improved his income by private tuition to the richer yeomen families.

from the PCC will of John Fox, 1597

Early scribes often used a mark above certain letters (an acute accent or circumflex), for whatever reason; but this practice was to die out in the seventeenth century.

The first learned school master in Dean probably taught this mannerism with some emphasis, because so many writers in the area kept the mannersim alive right up to the end of the century. The odd thing is that they accented different letters in different ways.

William always put an acute accent above the letter 'c'.

William's signature in the probate bond of Isabel Pearson in 1646. A confident, educated hand with no up or down tilt.


Probate Bondsmen signatures for Janet Pearson of Fangs in 1649. Unusually there are five bondsmen, and unusually again, at least three of them could sign.

At some point in his life he became incapable of signing. He marked on his 1677 will.


His mark and seal on his 1677 will

Marks above letters


I've wondered whether the marks above letters weren't from schooling as such, but were adopted as administrative devices to identify the clerk making the copy.

For instance, the probate of Janet Pearson of Fangs in 1664 has three such usages. There's William himself, who signs the bond as above.

Then there's the writer of the will (clearly not William) who does curled marks over the letter 'c'.

'90£ according' with the curled marks

And there's the writer of the inventory, who does acute accents over the letter 'a'.

Well, it was an idea. It hasn't met with much support!