A payre of breaches of russet cloth and my worst hatt

by Nick

Thomas Walker was born in 1562 in the parish of All Saints, Derby. He was the eldest son of Thomas Walker Sr., a wealthy butcher who would go on to be elected as one of the town’s two bailiffs at least three times in 1578, 1587 and 1593. A contemporary chronicle of Derby noted the funeral of the elder Thomas’s wife, Agnes Walker (née Wandell), in 1616 as a major event for the town:

In this year died old Mrs Walker and was carried to the church by her four sons all Brethren of the Company of twenty-four for the borough.

As oldest sons of wealthy people tend to, the younger Thomas did well. In 1587 he married Mary Turner in the neighbouring parish church of St Alkmund. Mary was the daughter of Edward Turner, another member of the town’s governing class who served as bailiff in 1575. Turner’s occupation is unclear, but he rented a number of acres of arable land in the possession of All Saints church, so it’s possible he may have been a yeoman farmer. It seems likely, though, that Thomas and Mary’s marriage was in part about cementing ties between two notable local families.

Mary and Thomas went on to have three children: Thomas, William, and Anne. The family seems to have prospered. In 1607, the elder Thomas was confident enough of his oldest son’s future that he did not include him in a gift of properties in Full Street, Friargate and the Cornmarket that he made to some his younger sons (Robert, Edward and Henry). A year or so later, however, tragedy struck the family. Thomas became sick. Although it is not clear what his illness was, he seems to have been sure enough that it was terminal that he made his will.

His will survives in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and I have put a transcript onto Your Archives. It is an organised and business-like last testament, one written by a man setting his affairs in order. He made sure his wife and children were well-provided for, leaving one hundred pounds in silver to Mary and one hundred marks each to his children. After that, his biggest priority was that his children complete their education:

I committ the education and tuition of my sonne Thomas Walker to my father Mr Thomas Walker with his portion, so that he be put in good surety to pay him his sayd childes parte when he shall come to the age of One and Twenty yeares. I commytt the education and tuition of my sonne William Walker to my […] William Botham. And my will is that my […] William Botham have the half of his portion. And my father in law Mr Edward Turner the other half of his portion so that they put in suretie to pay it when he shall come to the age of One and Twentie yeares. I commytt the education and tuition of Anne Walker my daughter to my wife her mother and her portion payeing it at the age of eighteen yeares if it please god she live so longe.

Thomas also made sure that other family and friends were recognised. His father was left forty shillings to make a ring to remember him by. His mother received ten shillings, and his grandmother Mrs Wandell five shillings. Edward Bennet, the vicar of All Saints and one of the witnesses of the will, received ten shillings.

After that, Thomas disposed of his other valuables: his clothes. His best cloak he left to his brother Edward. His best hat was willed to his brother William. To Richard Pearson/Fearson he left his worst hat, a doublet made of fustian, and a pair of breaches made of russet cloth. These were the clothes typical of a member of the middling sort and, along with the financial value of the will – approximately £315 – underline the fact that Thomas was relatively well-off.

Reconstructing the social world of the Walker family is made difficult by the lack of surviving evidence. It seems certain they played a significant role in the governance of Derby. The elder Thomas and a number of his sons served as bailiffs to the town’s Corporation. However, the loss of the Corporation records to a fire in 1841 makes it difficult to tell much more than that. The family also make appearances in the parish register of All Saints. Thomas seems to have been friends with Edward Bennet, the parish’s minister until 1609. His brothers Henry and Edward served as churchwardens.

And Thomas was not the only one who seems to have married the daughter of another of Derby’s well-to-do families. Henry’s marriage to Anne Becke, for example, cemented a connection with another prominent local family. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Becke, with whom the elder Thomas Walker had shared the position of bailiff in 1603. Anne’s father, like her father-in-law, seems to have been in a victualling trade, perhaps also a butcher. The account books from All Saints record that in 1620, Thomas Becke and Thomas Walker were paid six shillings for providing dinner at the house of William Collier for twelve men, to celebrate the perambulation of the parish’s boundaries on Rogation Day. Collier was yet another of the town’s butchers, who like some of his friend’s sons was churchwarden of All Saints in 1615 and 1616.

What is frustrating is trying to find out any more about the family’s faith and politics. After Edward Bennet’s death, Richard Kilby became minister of All Saints. I have blogged about Kilby before: he had a somewhat tempestuous career that flirted with Catholicism, but by the early seventeenth century he had developed a puritan sense of his own and his congregation’s innate sinfulness. In other respects he was more middle-of-the-road – there was a revolt by some of his parishioners when he made the sign of the cross at a baptism, but as Kilby pointed out this was specified by the Book of Common Prayer and he would not leave it out until he was told to. Were the Walkers part of that revolt against Kilby? At the moment I cannot tell, but it is tempting to speculate that they might have been. Their middling sort status would make them likely candidates for membership of the kind of puritan elite that countless other seventeenth-century towns saw assume power during the 1610s and 1620s.

A puritan faction within the parish elite certainly existed. Henry Fisher, member of another of Derby’s ruling families, would later lead another puritan revolt within the parish. In1641 this entry appears in the parish records for All Saints:

It is this daie ordered that Henry Fisher shall for his takeinge awaie two serplisses from the pishe church of All Sts in Derby yt the minister of the said pishe of All Sts in Derby be hereafter enjoyned to weere a serples whereby the pishe shalbe enjoyned to buy a serplis that then he the said Henry Fisher is to buy one good fit & Competent serplis for the use of the said pishe. And if the said pishe shall not be compelled to buy a serplis before Easter next that then he the said Henry Fisher shall paie to the then Churchwardens to the use of the pishe soe much for the bindinge some poor pson of the said pishe as apprentice as the pishioners at the nexte pishe meetinge after Easter sundaie next will sett downe and that if he the said Henry will not assent to this order then the Churchwardens shall take such legal course according to the former order as Mr Recorder shall direct.

However, at the moment the only clue I have to Thomas’s faith is this line from his will:

First I trusteth my soule unto God by the death and passion of Jesus Christe by whose blood shedding only I believe to be saved.

In itself it does not tell us much, and he left no money to the poor of the town, or to any other church-related purpose. Although I’m trying to dig out wills from other members of the family, unless I strike it lucky a lot of of the Walker family’s history remains conjecture at best.

The research underpinning all of the above is part of my ongoing efforts to uncover more about the life of the civil war pamphleteer Henry Walker. Henry was born in All Saints in 1612, and was the son of the elder Henry – Thomas Walker’s brother, and one of the sons of the elder Thomas. No historian has previously uncovered much of Henry’s life before 1641, and while there are still lots of unanswered questions about his early life it is reassuring that I have been able to fill in quite a lot of the blanks. I know a lot more now about his childhood, education and apprenticeship in London than has previously been uncovered. I’ll aim to post highlights here as I write them up.