My great great great great great great great grandfather Joseph Greene was born in Ratcliff, Stepney, in the East End of London, in 1677, the son of mariner Captain William Greene and his wife Elizabeth. On 15 February 1692, when he was about 15 years old, Joseph was apprenticed to Joseph Strong, Citizen and Goldsmith. He was made free on 14 April 1708.

I’ve found the will of Joseph Strong, my ancestor’s apprentice master, at the National Archives site, and starting from there, have begun to build up a picture of the man, his family, and the places where he lived and worked. Strong drew up his will on 14 April 1707, coincidentally (?) a year to the day before his apprentice Joseph Greene was ‘made free’. The will was proven in September 1707 and Joseph Strong appears to have died some four months earlier: the parish records of St Katherine by the Tower state that on 30 May a man was buried in the church by the name of Joseph Strong of St Katherine Street, the cause of death being ‘feaver’ (sic).

St Katherine's by the Tower

Other records confirm Strong’s association with St. Katherine’s. On 14 December 1676 a Joseph Strong married Elizabeth Wyard in the church. She was probably the person of that name who was christened there in 1654, making her 22 when she married Joseph. There is a probate record for Richard Wyard from around the same time, suggesting that he died shortly after his daughter’s birth.

I’ve found baptismal records for four children born to Joseph and Elizabeth, all at St Katherine’s. Their first child, Ephraim, was christened on 16 May 1680. A daughter Elizabeth was christened there on 3 May 1683. Joseph junior was born in either 1684 or 1685, and Hannah or Anna on 22 January 1690. I assume Joseph didn’t survive to adulthood, as he is the only child not mentioned in Joseph senior’s will.

Joseph Strong’s wife Elizabeth seems to have died a year before her husband (she is not mentioned in his will), and of the same cause, a ‘feavour’. The parish register of St Katherine by the Tower records that, on 14 June 1706, a woman was buried in the church. There is then a gap where the Christian name should be, followed by the surname ‘Strong’ and the description ‘wife of Mr Joseph Strong Goldsmith near mill bridge’.

Joseph Strong left the tools of his trade to his son Ephraim, so I assume that the latter was a goldsmith. He would have been 27 when his father died, but I can’t find any apprenticeship, marriage or burial records for him. Nor can I find any further trace of Hannah or Anna Strong, who was 17 when her father died.

Joseph’s will describes his daughter Elizabeth as the wife of Maidstone clockmaker Walter Harris (to whom, appropriately, Joseph left his own clock). Elizabeth and Walter were married at St Katherine’s on 26 December 1702. Walter Harris, clockmaker, appears in an index of Maidstone freemen, named as the master of an apprentice named William Gill, who was made free in 1713. A Walter Harris of Maidstone is also listed as a constable in the Kent assize records for 1683, but the date is probably too early for ‘our’ Walter: it might be his father.

Joseph Strong’s will also mentions his grandson, Joseph Harris, son of Walter and Elizabeth, who was yet to attain the age of maturity. There is evidence that the younger Joseph might have combined the trades of his father and grandfather, since the British Museum has in its collection a trade card for Joseph Harris, goldsmith and watchmaker of Maidstone, as well as this notice:

The will of Joseph Harris, goldsmith of Maidstone, can also be found in the National Archives. He seems to have married Katherine, daughter of George Green, and to have occupied premises, inherited from his father-in-law, in Stone Street, Maidstone. He died in 1743.

There appears to be a connection, evident in later records, between the Harris family and Earl Street Presbyterian Chapel in Maidstone (whose pulpit was once occupied by the father of William Hazlitt). I suspect that both the Harris and Strong families were Dissenters. I’m no expert in these matters, but the language used by both Joseph Strong and his grandson Joseph Harris in their wills suggests Nonconformist leanings. Strong, for example, commits his soul ‘into the hands of Almighty God my Creator hopeing through the alone merits of Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to obtaine a full remission of all my transgressions and to be received into those mansions of bliss which he hath purchased and prepared for all true believers’.  Giving one’s children Old Testament names – such as Ephraim – was also a Nonconformist habit.

Joseph Strong’s burial record states that he lived in St Catherine’s Street, while the record for his wife Elizabeth places their home ‘near mill bridge’. Mill Bridge does not appear on any contemporary maps but according to one source was located in ‘St. Catherine’s Thames Street’. Presumably this is identical with the St. Catherine’s Street that is shown running alongside the Thames, to the east of the Tower, in Rocque’s map of 1746. In his will, Joseph bequeaths to his son Ephraim ‘all that my messuage or tenement and dwelling house I now live in with the bathhouse adjoining thereto which I hold by lease from the hospital of St Katherines’. This would suggest that the Strongs lived in the section of St Catherine’s Street closest to the church, as shown on the map:

The Tower and St Katherine's in John Rocque's map of 1746

The full name of the church where members of the Strong family were christened, married and buried was the Royal Hospital and Collegiate Church of St Katherine by the Tower. A medieval foundation close to the Tower of London, it was unusual in not being dissolved at the Reformation, since it was personally owned and protected by the Queen Mother. It was re-established in Protestant form and grew to be a village offering sanctuary to immigrants and the poor, and consisting of over a thousand houses, crammed into narrow lanes. St Katherine’s survived the various religious upheavals of the 17th and 18th centuries, and even hostility from extreme Protestants during the Gordon riots of 1780, but was completely demolished in 1825 to make way for the St Katherine Dock.

Joseph Strong’s house and workshop would only have been a short distance from the corner of Little Tower Hill and the Minories, where his apprentice Joseph Greene would eventually set up his own business as a goldsmith and pawnbroker.