Bynes and Mansers: brothers and cousins in seventeenth-century London

My 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne was born in Burwash, Sussex, in 1615, in the twelfth year of the reign of King James I. He was the son of yeoman farmer Stephen Byne and his wife Mary Manser. In 1631, the year in which Magnus went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, his cousin John Manser was born in Burwash. John was the second child and eldest son of Christopher Manser, who was the brother of Magnus’ mother Mary.

In 1639 Magnus was appointed curate in Wadhurst, not far from Burwash, and in the following year he became rector of the parish of Clayton-cum-Keymer, thirty or so miles to the west. Magnus married Anne, widow of two previous Clayton incumbents, and they had six children.

Parish church of St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex

Parish church of St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex

In 1647, in the fifth year of the English Civil War, Magnus Byne’s son Stephen was born and four years later he was followed by his brother John, my 8 x great grandfather. Between these two births, England witnessed the end of the Civil War, the execution of King Charles I and the inauguration of Cromwell’s republican Commonwealth. Stephen and John were Magnus and Anne Byne’s last two children: there were two older sisters, Mary and Anne, both of whom died young, and an older brother Edward. Magnus Byne’s wife Anne died in 1661 and in the following year Magnus married his second wife, Sarah Bartlett.

Some time in the late 1640s or early 1650s, when he was in his late teens or early twenties, John Manser must have moved from Sussex to London. We know that he worked there as an apothecary, and I assume that he would have served his apprenticeship in the city. We also know that he had married his first wife Sarah by 1652, when he was twenty-one years old. At least one of John’s siblings followed him to London: his younger sister Anne married Thomas Frith there in 1666 (the year of the Great Fire) and they had a son named John, who is mentioned in John Manser’s will. Over the next two decades, John and Sarah Manser would have six children that we know of, all of them christened at the church of St Botolph without Aldgate.

St Botolph without Aldgate

St Botolph without Aldgate

In 1660 the monarchy was restored in England and King Charles II ascended the throne. In 1665 the Great Plague struck London and in the following year the Great Fire destroyed much of the city. We have no way of knowing how these events affected John Manser and his family, though they appear to have moved from Tower Hill (which seems to have been badly affected by the fire) to the comparative safety of East Smithfield a few years earlier.

It must have been some time in the late 1660s that John Manser was joined in London by his second cousin Stephen Byne. Stephen would work as an upholder or upholsterer there, and I assume that he also served his apprenticeship in the city. We don’t have records for Stephen’s marriage to Rebecca, daughter of citizen and joiner Thomas Whiting, or for the birth of their son Thomas, but both events probably occurred around the year 1670.

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

1671 saw the death of my 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne, father of Stephen and John. I believe that Magnus’ second wife Sarah died either before him, or shortly afterwards. Besides Stephen and John, who were aged twenty-four and twenty respectively, Magnus left a son Edward, aged twenty-eight, from his first marriage: he remained in Sussex and married there. From his second marriage to Sarah, Magnus was survived by his son Magnus junior, aged seven, and by his daughter Sarah, aged five. It appears that these two young children now became dependent on their older half-brother Stephen, and probably came to London to live with him, since he makes provision for them in his will of 1674.  Certainly, by the latter date Magnus junior would be enrolled in Merchant Taylors School in the city.

It’s reasonable to assume that my 8 x great grandfather John Byne also came to London at about this time. He would set up business there as a stationer, and I’ve speculated before that he might have been apprenticed to John Bartlett junior, his stepmother Sarah’s brother and son of the prominent Puritan stationer and bookseller of the same name. We don’t know for certain where the Byne brothers lived before their respective marriages, but there’s a good chance it was in the Tower Hill area, where they would later establish their families, and also where I assume John met his future wife, Alice Forrest, who had spent her childhood there.

Tower Hill and Little Tower Hill, from Rocque's London map of 1746

Tower Hill and Little Tower Hill, from Rocque’s London map of 1746

In 1672 John Manser’s wife Sarah died, leaving the widowed John with six children. Two years later, at the age of 43, he married his second wife Jane Sawen, who was originally from Little Hadham in Hertfordshire. They would have two daughters together. In the same year,  1674, John’s cousin Stephen Byne died, at the age of only 27.  He appointed his wife Rebecca as executor of his will and his father-in-law Thomas Whiting and ‘my cosen’ John Manser as joint overseers.

We don’t have a record for the marriage of my 8 x great grandfather John Byne to Alice Forrest, but it probably took place in 1675, the year after his brother Stephen’s death. Alice was the daughter of haberdasher Thomas Forrest. John and Alice Byne would have seven children together.

In 1681 John Byne’s cousin John Manser died at the age of 50. He appointed ‘my kinsman John Byne’ as one of the overseers of his will. The main beneficiary of John Manser’s will was his son Abraham, who would remain in East Smithfield and follow his father in working as an apothecary.

In 1685, King James II came to the throne, only to be deposed four years later and succeeded by William of Orange and his wife Mary. In that year of the so-called Glorious Revolution, 1689, John Byne died at the age of 34, leaving his wife Alice and five surviving children.

By this time, John’s younger half-brother Magnus was working as an apothecary, and in the following year, at the age of 26, he married Jane Dakin, daughter of Southwark cheesemonger Joseph Dakin.

John Byne’s widow Alice would remain at Tower Hill until her death in 1738. Her daughter Mary, who married Stepney-born goldsmith Joseph Greene in 1701, would also set up home in the area: she and Joseph were my 7 x great grandparents. The family’s tie to the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, would continue for at least two more generations. Mary Greene, daughter of Joseph and Mary and my 6 x great grandmother, married John Gibson and kept a house at Tower Hill, while their daughter, my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson, would live in Darby Street, off Rosemary Lane, during her first marriage to John Collins.

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