Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Yarranton, Andrew

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YARRANTON, ANDREW (1616–1684?), engineer and agriculturist, was born at Larford in the parish of Astley, Worcestershire, in 1616. About 1632 he was apprenticed to a linendraper of Worcester, but ran away (England's Improvement by Sea and Land, p. 193). He then ‘lived a countrey life for some years,’ but at the outbreak of the civil war he joined the parliamentary army. No details are known as to his military career, except that he held a captain's commission. In 1648 he was instrumental in discovering a royalist conspiracy to seize Doyley House in Herefordshire (Cal. State Papers, 21 July 1648). Before 1652 he appears to have retired from the army, although he was still styled Captain Yarranton in 1656, when he was engaged in disputes in regard to estates in his possession.

In 1652 Yarranton ‘entered upon ironworks’ (England's Improvement, 1677, p. 193), and also busied himself in schemes for cutting canals and rendering rivers navigable, similar to those which were at the same time being carried out in Surrey by Sir Richard Weston [q. v.] Most of Yarranton's projects seem to have been frustrated by lack of money. He attempted to connect Droitwich with Worcester by rendering the river Salwarp navigable, thus obviating the heavy expense of the carriage of salt to Worcester by land. ‘In 1655 Captain Yarranton and Captain Wall undertook for the sum of 750l. to make the river Salwarp navigable, and to procure letters patent for doing it from the Protector [cf. art. Windsor, Thomas, seventh Baron Windsor and first Earl of Plymouth]. The burgesses agreed to give them eight phats at Upwich valued at 80l. per annum, and three-fourths of a phat at Netherwich, where the value of phats was double that at Upwich, for 21 years, as an equivalent to their demands. But the times being unsettled, and Yarranton and Wall not rich, the scheme, whose authors were more disinterested than projectors generally are, was never carried into execution’ (Nash, Worcestershire, 1782, i. 306). It had also been a favourite scheme of Yarranton's to render the river Stour navigable, and some small progress was made in the matter, but the attempt was soon allowed to drop. Thereupon, says Yarranton, ‘being a brat of my own, I was not willing it should be abortive; therefore I made offers to perfect it, having a third part of the inheritance to me and my heirs for ever, and we came to an agreement, upon which I fell on and made it completely navigable from Sturbridge to Kederminster, and carried down many hundred tuns of coales, and laid out near one thousand pounds; and there it was obstructed for want of money’ (England's Improvement, pp. 65–6).

Yarranton was (after Sir Richard Weston) one of the first to appreciate the agricultural value of clover. He wrote two small pamphlets recommending its use, and acted as an agent for the supply of seed, ‘and I hope, and partly know, that great part of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Staffordshire have doubled the value of the land by the husbandry discovered to them’ (ib. p. 194).

At the Restoration Yarranton was thrown into prison by the lord lieutenant of Worcestershire ‘for refusing his lordship's authority.’ He was free in November 1661, when he was compromised by the discovery of some letters relating to an intended presbyterian rising. On 16 Nov. a message was sent from London ordering his arrest, and in May 1662 ‘the escape of Andrew Yarranton, a person dangerous to the government, from the custody of the provost marshal,’ was reported from Worcester [cf. art. Pakington, Sir John, (1620–1680)]. After ‘meetings with several disaffected persons,’ he went up to London, where a warrant was issued for his re-apprehension. He is subsequently described as being ‘as violent a villain against the king as any in those parts.’

In a full account of the affair published by Yarranton in 1681, he declares that the compromising letters were forged; that after he had been imprisoned some five months an account of the fraud was made known to his wife, and by her communicated to himself; that he then publicly denounced the imposture and was released, went up to London ‘to acquaint the king with the great wrong he had received,’ was arrested, but immediately released; returned to Worcester, and within six months was a third time arrested on a new charge of ‘having spoken treasonable words against the king.’ ‘The witnesses were one Dainty (a mountebank, formerly an apothecary of Derby), who afterwards acknowledged that he had 5l. for his pains; the other witness lived in Wales, and went by two names. This was done at the assizes of Worcester; the bill being found by the grand jury, Mr. Yarranton put himself upon his trial, and tho' he did not except against any one of his jury, yet upon a full hearing of his case they presently acquitted him’ (Yarranton, Full Discovery of the First Presbyterian Sham Plot, 1681).

About 1667 Yarranton was despatched by a number of English gentlemen to Saxony, so that, as an expert in the iron manufacture, he might investigate and, if possible, learn the secret of the tinplate industry. ‘Coming to the works,’ he says, ‘we were very civilly treated; and, contrary to our expectation, we had much liberty to view and see the works go, with the way and manner of their working, and extending the plates; as also the perfect view of such materials as they used in clearing the plates to make them fit to take tinn, with the way they use in tinning them over, when clear'd from their rust and blackness; and having (as we judged) sufficiently obtained the whole art of making and tinning the plates, we then came for England, where the several persons concerned in the affair thought fit to make some trial in making some small quantities of plates, and tinning them, which was done … all workmen that wrought upon them agreeing that the plates and the mettal they were made of was much better than those plates which were made in Germany; and would work more pliable, and serve for many more profitable uses, than the German plates would do.’ The secret of the manufacture, however, leaked out, and a rival, being ‘countenanced by some persons of quality,’ succeeded in procuring a ‘trumpt up’ patent. ‘What with the patent being in our way,’ says Yarranton, ‘and the richest of our partners being not willing, or at least afraid, to offend great men then in power, who had their eye upon it, caused the thing to cool, and neither the making thereof proceeded by us, nor possibly could be done by him that had the patent, with such as countenanced it … because neither he that hath the patent, nor those that have countenanced him, can make one plate fit for use’ (England's Improvement, 2nd pt. 1681, pp. 151, 152).

On his return home Yarranton seems to have settled down as a kind of consulting engineer, and to have visited the whole country, giving advice as to ironworks, canals, and improvements of all sorts. In July 1674 he was ‘prevailed with by a person of honour to survey the river Dee, running by the city of Chester into the Irish Sea, and finding the river choked with the sands that a vessel of twenty tons could not come to that noble city,’ he drew ‘a map of the new river to be made to bring up the ships to the city side.’ In November of the same year he crossed over to Ireland ‘to survey some ironworks, woods, and lands.’ Immediately after returning from Ireland he ‘was taken down by the Lord Clarendon to Salisbury to survey the river of Avon, to find whether that river might be made navigable, as also whether a safe harbour could be made at Christ Church for ships to come in and out and lye safe’ (ib. i. 39, 41, 151, 191). It was probably about this time that Lord Windsor employed him to survey several rivers, especially the Avon, ‘in the counties of Worcester, Gloucester, and Warwick’ (i. 189). In addition to these schemes ‘I made it my business,’ he says, ‘to survey the three great rivers of England (i.e. the Thames, Humber, and Severn) and some small ones; and made two navigable and a third almost compleated’ (ib. i. 194).

Yarranton is believed to have died about 1684. He was married, and the Mrs. Yarranton whose house was, according to the state papers, licensed in 1672 as a presbyterian place of worship, was possibly his wife. His son Robert was, like himself, a surveyor, and is known to have planned under his father's directions the improvement of the Thames navigation between Oxford and London (ib. i. 188–9).

Yarranton wrote:

  1. ‘The Improvement improved by a second edition of the Great Improvement of Lands by Clover,’ 1663; a pamphlet of sixty-two pages of considerable importance from the point of view of the history of agriculture.
  2. ‘England's Improvement by Sea and Land to outdo the Dutch without fighting,’ 1677; second part, 1681; in which he gave an account of his numerous schemes for making rivers navigable, for improving the iron industry and the linen manufacture, for the establishment of a land bank, and the establishment of a system for preventing and checking fires in London and other large towns—ideas for the most part drawn from his observations abroad, especially in Holland and Flanders.
  3. ‘A full Discovery of the first Presbyterian sham Plot, or a letter from one in London to a Person of Quality in the Country,’ 1681. The publication of this pamphlet provoked considerable controversy, and Yarranton was attacked in a pamphlet entitled ‘A Coffee House Dialogue, or a Discourse between Captain Y. and a young Barrister of the Middle Temple.’ Yarranton in this tract is discovered discoursing on how to beat the Dutch without fighting by making all the streets of London navigable rivers; from this the dialogue drifts into a technical discussion of the exclusion bill, in which Yarranton is of course worsted.

In two subsequent pamphlets, ‘The Coffee House Dialogue examined and refuted by some neighbours in the Country’ and ‘England's Improvements Justified, and the author thereof, Captain Y., vindicated from the scandals in a paper called a Coffee House Dialogue,’ Yarranton is defended by his friends from the ‘sulphureous fiery stink pots of calumnies and slander’ directed against him; while these charges are again reinforced in ‘A Continuation of the Coffee House Dialogue, between Captain Y. and a young Baronet [sic] of the Middle Temple, wherein the first dialogue is vindicated and in it one of the Improvers of England is proved to be a man of no deeper understanding than his master, Captain Y.’

[Most of the above facts are given on the authority of Yarranton himself, whose writings are full of autobiographical details; this information is supplemented from the Domestic State Papers. These facts have been collected together into biographical form by P. E. Dove in his Elements of Political Science, 1854, and in more detail by Samuel Smiles in his Industrial Biography, 1863, pp. 60–76. See also J. Chambers's Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire, 1820, and Yeowell's Biogr. Collections in Brit. Mus. Library.]

E. C.-e.