Some thoughts on the will of John Bodington, apothecary

The last will and testament of early-eighteenth-century London apothecary John Bodington, a transcription of which I published in the previous post, is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the will is unusual in its length and attention to detail. Most wills from this period leave funeral and burial arrangements to the discretion of the executors. However, Bodington specifies the number of people to be invited to his funeral and even the dimensions of the grave in which he wants to be buried. Secondly, the reader of the will is struck, not only by the failure to mention any close relatives, but also by the apparent hostility to family members: Bodington declares that ‘none of my Relations shall have any manner of Claime right or title’ to his tomb.

Tombs in the churchyard of St Dunstan's, Stepney

Tombs in the churchyard of St Dunstan’s, Stepney

There is a reference to ‘my cousin Mrs Bayley’ in the codicil to the will, but apart from that, the other people mentioned all appear to be friends and neighbours – with one possible and notable exception. The person who receives the most attention in the will, and who is the main beneficiary of it, is John Bodington’s goddaughter, fourteen-year-old Mary Johnson. At this stage, despite the details of her birth given in the will, I can’t be sure if Mary was a relative of Bodington’s (I’ve come across instances in other wills of grandchildren also being godchildren) or connected with him in some other way. I’m still trying to track down her birth record and family members. The detailed information given about Mary Johnson’s schooling, in what appears to be a series of London dame schools, provides us with a fascinating glimpse of early eighteenth-century private education, more reminiscent of the world of the Barbaulds or even the fictional worlds of Jane Austen at the end of the same century. Incidentally, it is difficult to tell whether these ladies in Hampstead and Holborn were ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, since Bodington’s abbreviations fail to distinguish between the two (presumably Mary Johnson is a ‘Miss’, but the letters in front of her name look identical to those preceding her teachers’, and those of other married women mentioned in the will). Perhaps the distinction wasn’t clear at this period, and both married and unmarried women were ‘mistress’?

18th century school for girls: painting by Jan Josef Horemans (1682 - 1759)

18th century school for girls: painting by Jan Josef Horemans (1682 – 1759)

John Bodington’s reference to property in the village of Mucking, in south Essex, is yet another example of a Londoner of the ‘middling sort’ owning a country estate in addition to a home in the city. The most striking example among my own ancestors was the manor of Woodredon, near Waltham Abbey, bought for my 6 x great grandparents John and Mary Gibson by the latter’s mother Mary Greene –  the person of that name mentioned in John Bodington’s will.

John Bodington entrusts the oversight and execution of his will to three friends, whose names are repeated endlessly throughout the will. First among them is my 7 x great grandfather, Joseph Greene, citizen and goldsmith, who was born in Bodington’s home village of Ratcliffe, Stepney, but lived in the Minories in Aldgate. The second is Richard Phillips: I think his occupation is ‘blockmaker’, though clockmaker would make more sense. He is said to have lived in Ratcliffe, but I haven’t been able to find out anything more about him. The third executor is Edward Baldwin, stationer, another Ratcliffe resident; he was married to a woman named Drusilla and his father might be the Edward Baldwin, mariner, who died at Ratcliffe in 1693. In 1714 Edward Baldwin, a stationer living near Ratcliffe Cross, was included in a list of subscribers to a publication offering an account of the ‘numbers and sufferings of the clergy of England’ who were ‘sequester’d, harassed, etc. in the late times of the Great Rebellion’, which appears to be sympathetic to the Nonconformist cause.

I’ve yet to confirm the identities of most of the other people named in Bodington’s will, partly because the surnames – Bailey, Mills, and so forth – were so common. However, I’ve discovered that the oddly-named Mudd Fuller, a witness to both the will and its codicil, was another Ratcliffe resident who was a citizen of London and a scrivener. His wife’s maiden name was Martha Asser and they were married in Stepney in 1719. Mudd was born in the same parish in 1696, the son of Captain Samuel Fuller. I wonder if the latter named his son after Captain Henry Mudd, also of Ratcliffe, who died in 1692 and was a founder of Trinity Hospital in Mile End Old Town, as well as being one of the four wardens of Trinity House (another was my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene, father of Joseph) appointed by royal charter in 1685?

On a minor note: Bodington asks his executors to sell ‘my scarlett Ridding Coate and both my Roquelares or Cloakes’. Apparently a roqelaure was a man’s cloak, popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reaching about to, or just below, the knees.

Man wearing roquelaure

Man wearing roquelaure

Despite the fact that John Bodington trusted his affairs to my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene, and gave the latter’s wife Mary ‘tenn pounds for morning’, and despite the reference to my 8 x great grandmother Alice Byne (Mary’s mother), the will doesn’t really help us to understand Bodington’s connection to my maternal ancestors, or his interest in Alice’s property in Badsey, Worcestershire. I’m hoping that the Stepney parish registers, which appear to contain a number of references to the Bodingtons of Ratcliffe, will be able to throw more light on this mystery.

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