Good will hunting

by Nick

I have spent the past few weeks digging through wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Happily these are now all online, and although the quality of scans does vary, they are a treasure trove if you are looking to find out details about individuals who had sufficient wealth to be dealt with by that court.

One of the reasons for searching was to figure out the social background of a man called John Giffard who lived in Gloucestershire in the mid-seventeenth century. Giffard was a significant figure in an incident that took place on 15 August 1642, just before the outbreak of civil war. Lord Chandos had set out on the morning of that day to Cirencester, to attempt to raise troops for Charles I. He was intercepted just outside the town and escorted in. The townspeople had fortified the town when they learned about Chandos’s plan, and together with clothworkers from the surrounding villages and some of the volunteers massed under Parliament’s Militia Ordinance, demanded that Chandos surrendered the king’s Commission of Array to them. Eventually Chandos was forced by their threats of physical force to swear an oath based on Parliament’s Protestation. Very sensibly he then decided to escape overnight rather than face the crowd in the morning, and was smuggled out of the town by a supporter. Waking up the next morning, the crowd were enraged and dragged his coach into the marketplace and smashed it to pieces.

Giffard wrote the only surviving contemporary account of the incident. I’ve got an article about it coming out in the March edition of Midland History, and so Giffard’s account was a significant source.  One of the comments the referees made was to ask me to find out more about Giffard’s social status. I have blogged about him before – I think he is the person of the same name who held the saltpetre contracts for much of the south-west. However I wasn’t clear whether he was gentry or middling sort.

His will appears to be that of John Giffard of Wiveton, Norfolk, from 1658. This seems a long way from Gloucestershire, but it seems that in 1650 Giffard was censured by Parliament for destroying timber in the Forest of Dean that was earmarked for the navy. Instead he used it to fuel a number of iron works he owned. Giffard managed to fall out with a number of former allies over this incident and seems to have moved away rather than deal with the social humiliation.  In 1651, the estate at Wiveton was bought from Edward Britiffe by a John Giffard the younger of Gloucestershire. The will records lands bought from men of both Gloucestershire and Norfolk, which suggests that it’s probably the same man. Giffard built a new house at Wiveton, made of flint and brick in the Artisan Mannerist style. His grave at Wiveton describes him as a gentleman, and while it shows a coat of arms for a branch of the family I can’t connect him to, just the fact he described himself as gentry and acted as if he was is good enough evidence to treat him as such.

Another reason for ploughing through wills was to find out more about my old friend Henry Walker (previously: 1, 2, 3, 4), an ironmonger who was given the opportunity by the turbulent events of the 1640s to become a pamphleteer and preacher. The Dictionary of National Biography doesn’t contain his date of birth, and loses track of what happened to him after about 1660. I think I may have found out more about both of these.

A hostile critic of Walker’s described him in 1642 as hailing from the Walkers of Breadsall just outside Derby. Bearing that in mind, I dug through the wills for all Henry Walkers in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centur and found that of a Henry Walker of 1685. He left twenty pounds to the “poor people living within the town of Derby”. This seemed like a lead, so I did some more digging about whether it might be him. I discovered a record in the Court of Chancery of a dispute over his will that had the following:

Ferdinando Low and Jane his wife, Francis Ward, Anne Ward, John Dakin and Hannah his wife and others v Charles Pellison and Anne his wife, John Dod and Christian his wife and John Deacon and Elizabeth his wife: personal estate of Henry Walker, deceased, Derbyshire.

So if it was him, does this fit with details of any Henry Walkers born in Derbyshire at the right time? It’s known that Walker was made free from his apprenticeship as an ironmonger in 1634. If he served a full apprenticeship, this would put his date of birth around 1610, give or take a few years.

It turns out there is indeed a Henry Walker born in All Saints, Derby (possibly the actual All Saints in Derby, or perhaps the All Saints in Breadsall). He was christened on 1 March 1611/12, son of Henry Walker and Anne Walker, née Beckes. He had a number of siblings:

  • Thomas – christened 8 November 1609.
  • Thomas – christened 16 May 1614. (Whether the first Thomas died young is not clear).
  • Anne – christened 25 August 1616.
  • Francis – christened 15 June 1619.

The Henry Walker of 1685 included this instruction in his will:

I give and bequeath unto my sister Anne Marshall of Derby the sum of two hundred pounds of lawful money of England.

So it seems that the Henry Walker born in 1612 may be the same one who wrote his will in 1685. Of course that doesn’t necessarily prove that he was the same person as the pamphleteering Henry Walker. But given that the will names his profession as “cleric”, and that we know in the 1650s Walker began to take responsibility for various parishes, incuding Knightsbridge and St Martin’s Vintry, it seems like it may be him. There are traces of Henry Walkers being vicar or rector in a number of parishes between the 1660s and 1680s:

  • 1664: Royal Chapel in Hounslow
  • 1667: Petersham Chapel in Kingston upon Thames
  • 1677: St Mary’s, Kennington
  • 1681: Willesborough

There is also a record in the archives of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers of a Henry Walker donating a copy of Andrew Willet’s Synopsis Papismi, or a General View of Papistrie to the company in 1681. This almost certainly is the same Henry Walker who was an apprentice ironmonger, so it seems likely he was still alive in 1681. Given all that, I’m pretty sure the will I’ve tracked down is his.

The next step is to do some more digging about all the various properties he seemed to have owned. It’s clear that he had amassed quite a substantial estate by the time of his death. He also seems to have made his peace with Charles II. Given that this was the same Henry Walker who in 1642 was imprisoned for throwing a scandalous pamphlet he’d written into Charles I’s coach, he obviously went on quite an ideological journey between his youth to his old age.

Finally, something else I found was the will of Walker’s master while he was serving his apprenticeship, the ironmonger Robert Holland. I was tickled by the following request he made:

First I give and bequeath thereof unto youngest brother Richard Holland of [Wakefield?] thirty shillings of lawfull money of England to buy him a golde ringe with a deathes head engraven thereon and a pare of gloves with black fringe to wear both for my sake.

I just have visions of Holland heading up some early modern proto-heavy metal band. An Iron Maiden avant la lettre, perhaps…