Witnesses to the will of Captain William Greene (d. 1686)

As part of my continuing effort to find out more about my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, Stepney, I’ve been following up the names of the witnesses to his last will and testament, which he drew up in October 1685, about three months before his death.  As an indirect result, I believe I’ve discovered the actual street in Ratcliffe where the Greene family lived.

William signed his will in the presence of three men, who append their signature to the will:

Their names seem to be Thomas Nelson, Barnard Glover and Samuel Knowles, though the first letter of ‘Barnard’ looks more like an ‘R’. All my attempts to trace someone called Barnard Glover, or similar, living in London or Middlesex in the late seventeenth century, have so far come to nothing. A number of people with that name can be found living in other parts of the country, or in other periods, but there are no exact matches.

I’ve had more luck with the other two witnesses. Via London Lives, I found a Samuel Knowles paying 6d in the pound tax on a property, with a rental value of £3 2s, in Painters Rents in the hamlet of Ratcliffe in 1694 – nine years after the death of William Greene. He would appear to be the same Samuel Knowles, a ‘gent’ of Ratcliffe, who on 2nd January 1683 announced his intention to marry Rebecca Warner of the parish of St Giles Cripplegate. He was 26 years old, so was born in about 1657, whereas she was only 19, being born in about 1664, and needing the consent of her guardian. Samuel’s signature on the marriage allegation matches that on William Greene’s will perfectly.

Samuel Knowles and Rebecca Warner were married at the church of St Giles Cripplegate on 5th June 1683. As far as I can see, they had four children: Elizabeth (1685), Rebecca (1686), Esther (1688) and John (1690). All were born in Ratcliffe and christened at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. In each case, the parish register describes their father as a ‘gentleman’.

In addition to property tax, in 1694 Samuel was also liable to what became known as ‘Four Shillings in the Pound Aid’ which was levied by Parliament in that same year, to pay for King William’s involvement in European wars. (Charles II had died in February 1685, and by the time William Greene wrote his will, his brother James II was king. James was overthrown by William of Orange in the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and fled to France, from where successive attempts to re-establish the Stuart dynasty were launched, at least one of them involving my paternal ancestors.)

King William III (or ‘the usurper’, as we descendants of Jacobites think of him!)

I’m not sure whether Samuel Knowles is the man of that name who composed his own will in 1731. That particular Samuel was a distiller in Spitalfields. However, someone who was definitely a distiller – though in Ratcliffe – was Thomas Nelson, one of the other witnesses to William Greene’s will.

Thomas Nelson, distiller, was married to a woman called Anne, and they had two children, Elizabeth (1668) and Thomas (1671), both born in Ratcliffe and christened at St Dunstan’s. Thomas junior died when he was only a year old.

In 1694, someone by the name of Thomas Nelson paid tax of 2s 4d on a property with a rental value of £4 in Dolphin Yard, Ratcliffe. I’m not sure if this was the same Thomas Nelson (‘and partners’) who in the same year was paying 6d tax on a property worth £20 in Cutthroat Lane, Ratcliffe. He paid Four Shillings in the Pound Aid on both properties. Thomas died in 1700: I believe his wife and children had all died by this date, since he left all of his property and wealth to more distant relatives.

Ratcliffe in Rocque’s map of 1746, showing Cutthroat Lane

It was the discovery of the ‘Four Shillings in a Pound’ records for Knowles and Nelson that led me, inadvertently, to finding the address of the Greene family. Looking down the list of people paying the tax in Cutthroat Lane, Ratcliffe, I came across the name of one ‘Widow Greene’, who was paying £2 tax on a property with a rental value of £20. In his will of October 1685, William Greene had left ‘the house I now live in’ to his son Joseph, while expressing the wish that his widow Elizabeth ‘doe enjoy the same during her life and no longer att and under the ground rent payable for the same’. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believe that Elizabeth lived for another 26 years after her husband’s death (and not 36 as it seems to say on the family tomb).

Of course, I can’t be sure that ‘Widow Greene’ is my 8 x great grandmother. But it would make sense that at least one of the witnesses to William’s will (Thomas Nelson) was a near neighbour. Today, Brodlove Lane, running north to south between Cable Street and The (Ratcliffe) Highway, has taken the place of the ominously named Cutthroat Lane. The layout of the local streets is surprisingly similar to Rocque’s map of 1746, with Glasshouse Fields and Schoolhouse Lane still in existence. But, in appearance, the area has changed utterly in three hundred years:

Brodlove Lane (image from Google Maps Streetview)

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