HENRY BRADRIGG was a town leader who stood up to the “pestis”, the plague, caring for its victims. He paid for his dedication through the deaths of his loved ones and the loss of much of his personal fortune and then, to add insult to injury, he was sued for his troubles.

But, towards the end of his life, Richmond recognised his bravery and service and granted him a unique award.

Henry Bradrigg was a well-to-do skinner, living in Finkle Street in the North Yorkshire town, and serving on the council, or corporation as it was then known. But in January 1645, as he became alderman – the equivalent of today’s mayor – the Black Death, the dreaded “pestis”, arrived in town.

It was probably brought in by Scottish troops, who were garrisoned in Richmond during the English Civil War. They were the hired hands of the Parliamentarians, making sure the Royalists of the north were kept under control.

In those days, the need for isolation to prevent person-to-person transmission of the pestilence was understood, so those that could fled town before they could catch it.

The Northern Echo:

Henry, though, as first citizen, stayed. He set up “pest houses” in abandoned properties on the edge of town for the infected to isolate in, and he paid for food to be delivered to them.

But at some cost. In July 1645, he buried his wife, Anne, his grandson Henry Wilson, and his maid, Anne Coltman, all victims of the plague.

And the cost of providing food for the pest houses brought him to the brink of bankruptcy.

To make matters worse, seven years later, one of the owners of the abandoned houses sued him for £240 compensation to cover damage to the properties, including the loss of trees which the plague sufferers had cut down for firewood.

Not even the most assiduous of Richmond historians have found the outcome of the case, but they do know that Henry remained on the corporation, serving a second term as alderman in 1662, and finally stepping down on November 12, 1672, when he was quite advanced in years.

Uniquely in Richmond’s history, the corporation then granted him “out of their affection and in recompense of his good service” an annual pension of £6 13s 4d – a comfortable sum. No other Richmondian has ever been granted a town pension.

Sadly, he didn’t live long to enjoy it. He died the following spring, and when all his affairs were totted up, his debts were found to outweigh his assets by £6.

He isn’t forgotten, though. His story was rediscovered 25 years ago by solicitor Ralph Waggett, and now Henry’s self-sacrifice is the subject of the sermon delivered at the annual service of the Fellmongers Company of Richmond.

The company dates back to the Middle Ages, and was a guild, or kind of trade union, for fellmongers – that’s anyone who works with fells, or sheepskins, including, of course, skinners. It seems likely that Henry was a member of the company.

The annual service is on St George’s Day – April 23. This year, therefore, the hero of the 1645 plague will go uncommemorated because of the 2020 pandemic.