Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Brian Twyne A Student’s Correspondence 1609

“Dr. Kinge deane of Christchurch, turned away one morninge fiue bakers and so many brewers of townesmen belongings to yt colledge, and hath priuiledged others and tuke them in their place, which if euery colledge should doe as I thinke we must, we should quickly bringe them to beggars bush.”


The correspondence between Brian Twyne while the latter was at Corpus Christi, Oxford from 1601 to 1612 and his father, Dr Thomas Twyne, a prosperous physician living in Lewes, Sussex, echoes the dialogue between students and parents through the ages. Much of it concerns Brian Twyne’s lack of funds and advancement, and his father’s unwillingness or inability to assist him.


In Brian Twyne’s letter dated 22 October 1609 he gives a lively account of the conflict between the University and the townsmen of Oxford. He mentions that Merton College has employed only workers from the “north country” to build their new quadrangle. He then goes on to describe what has happened at Christ Church.

The phrase is used in the standard literary sense of bringing people to ruin, with the implication that their own conduct has contributed.

This was only the beginning of a lifelong interest in which Twyne, an archivist and antiquary, actively supported the university in disputes with the town, and through which he came to be viewed by the town fathers as their greatest enemy.


As well as showing the currency of the phrase in Oxford at this date (see also James Mabbe) there are further intriguing connections. Thomas Twyne was resident in Lewes from 1582, close to several early Beggars Bush place names, and had previously been resident in Southwark, the home of the theatres.  Brian Twyne could have taken the phrase to Oxford, or it could have already been current there.

In the final letter in the correspondence an intriguing relationship is possibly identified.  In January 1612/3 Brian Twyne wrote about Mr. Couchman, who seems to have been a carrier who brought goods from London to Oxford:

“I have told Mr. Couchman, of ye marriage of his sister at which, he is much displeased and chaffeth, for he heard not of it before; but I comfort him and tell him, that nowe when we meete at London, we will nowe crosse ye Thames for nothinge ; and that phaps he hath gotten that waterman, to his brother in lawe, who wrote a book against Tom Coryate.”

“That waterman” was John Taylor, the Water Poet, who indulged his wit in mocking Thomas Coryate, a young gentleman, in a series of pamphlets. At the date of the letter only the first of these, The Sculler, had been published. The old DNB  entry for Taylor said, “both court and city seemed to have been highly diverted by the boisterous insolence with which Taylor persistently assailed Coryate”. This row overshadows Coryate’s travels and his lasting contribution to English society – the introduction of the fork. Brian Twyne assumes that both his father in Lewes and Couchman would know of Taylor, which shows the wide distribution and interest in Taylor’s first publication.

Taylor had connections with carriers, being the author in 1628 of The Carriers Cosmographie, the first list of carriers trading from London, the public houses they used, and the dates they came and went. However, in The Sculler Taylor refers to his wife in terms that suggest they were not newly married, and there were several thousand watermen, so Twyne’s speculation is probably only that.

Further Speculations

The earliest Beggars Bush place name record is at Annington, Sussex (1528) which refers to “The Furlonge called Quochman otherwyse Beggers busch”. It is possible that Couchman could be recorded as Quochman and that the place name was from a personal name. There is  nothing to connect this Mr Couchman with Sussex.

At Warminster the Beggars Bush is sourced by EPNS Wiltshire gives to papers of Corpus Christi College in 1581. Whether the name travelled from Oxford to Warminster, or the other way, or was known in both places then can’t be proved now.

Further Reading
Walter H Godfrey, Thomas and Brian Twyne, Sussex Notes and Queries, Vol.II, pp.229-233, Vol.III, pp.40-42, & pp.82-84

DNB Thomas Twyne Brian Twyne John Taylor

Bernard Capp, The World of John Taylor the Water Poet 1578-1653, Oxford, 1994.


Posted: March 16th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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