Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Richard and Jane Welbeke of Putney

One of last year's talks at the Wills Study day was by Peter Charnley and Carol Dougherty whose findings have been summarised by Heather Falvey

The wills of Richard Welbeke (1488) & Jane Welbeke (1489)

Having the wills of a man and his widow allows historians to link items in those wills and so have a better contextual understanding.  We can follow the story onwards, as it were. The second will might clarify ambiguities in the first but it might also omit beneficiaries who were well catered for in the earlier one.   The wills of Richard and Jane Welbeke provide good examples of these features.

Local historian Dorian Gerhold has identified the exact location for the Welbeke’s home in Putney.  Their very sizeable property can be identified in a written survey of 1497 which details the five ‘chief places’ of Putney and also suggests that the entire population of Putney in that year was almost 300.  (See Dorian Gerhold, Thomas Cromwell and his family in Putney and Wandsworth, published by Wandsworth Historical Society.)   

Richard Welbeke left his ‘Right of the Fery of Putnehith’ (Putney) to William Welbeke (probably his uncle) as payment for his labour in his role as executor of Richard’s will.  This referred to the right to profits from the ferry at Putney. It indicates that Richard would have received an income from those working the ferry but would not have been a ferryman himself. At this time the Thames was only passable by ferry or boat at this location (present Putney Bridge).  It was a well-known and convenient crossing so there was plenty of business to be had ferrying people across the river.
There were four shares in the ferry – two belonging to the manor of Wimbledon (which included Putney) and two to the manor of Fulham.

There is no firm evidence regarding Richard Welbeke’s status or occupation but he evidently received an income from his right of ferry and from the rents for his houses and tenements in London, Essex and Derbyshire.  The two wills each detail quite a spread of named properties and lands in and around Colchester, including a messuage (house and surrounding buildings) in ‘Est Strete’, Colchester and a messuage in Grenested (Greenstead) called Parsons, held (rented from) Walter, Abbot of St John’s, Colchester.  We have an idea about what Est Strete in Colchester was like at this time.  It was ‘one of the poorest in the town after Bere Lane, and was home to several unlicensed brothels’.  ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Colchester, accessed 06/09/19) Richard also left to his son John ‘all my [unspecified] lands and tenements in Derbyshire …’.  As he had left money to the brotherhood (or fraternity) of Our Lady of Ashbourne, it seemed likely  that  Ashbourne was the locus of the Derbyshire landholding.  And so it proved to be: the Derbyshire Archives have a wealth of documentary evidence linking the Welbeke family to considerable landholding and property ownership within Ashbourne and surrounding villages, particularly Compton and Clifton. 

Both Richard and Jane refer to a William Welbeke – possibly Richard’s uncle. A bit more investigation into this person reveals that he was a Merchant of the Staple. He is mentioned in the Close Rolls of Henry VII (1489) as ‘haberdassher and merchant of London and the Staple’, indicating that he was a member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and a freeman. Exports of wool were restricted to freemen of the company and they were granted a monopoly over the export in return for collecting duties and paying these to the Exchequer – of course creating an income for themselves in the process.  Perhaps the Derbyshire properties referred to in Richard’s will were associated with the lucrative wool trade and the familial links between him and William ensured that the income was kept in the family.
On the north wall of the parish church in Putney was a brass memorial dedicated to Richard’s parents, John (died 1476) and Agnes (died 1478), but the inset brass figures were stolen in the 1970s. Richard’s own monumental brass bears the inscription ‘of the Middle Temple’ but his name does not appear in the admissions register as a member – leaving us with another conundrum about this interesting individual!

As already mentioned, Richard Welbeke bequeathed all his Derbyshire lands and tenements to his son John.  A year later, in Jane Welbeke’s will, she mentioned her son Richard and three daughters, all of whom were below the ages of majority, but there is no mention of John.  This is probably because he had already had a sizeable bequest from his father, so Jane considered that what was left of her estate should reasonably be divided between her other four children.  If only her will had survived, and not her husband’s as well, John’s existence would be unknown.