With my renewed interest in William Greene, the seventeenth-century Stepney surgeon who may turn out, after all, to be one of my ancestors, I’ve decided to go back and look at him afresh, since there are so many uncertainties associated with him. So then, back to the records…


The earliest record I’ve found that mentions ‘William Greene, chirurgeon’ is from 1623/4. On 14th March 1623 (1624 by modern reckoning), William, son of William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon and Agnes, his wife, was christened at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. Some three and a half years earlier, on 14th November 1619, the parish register notes that Margaret, daughter of William Greene of Ratcliffe and his wife Agnes, was baptised. Unfortunately, in the digital record William’s occupation is obscured by a fold in the original page. However, given the names, the date, and location, it seems likely that this is the same family. Moreover, I now believe that it was this Margaret who would marry William Greene’s apprentice, John Bodington, some nineteen years later.

I haven’t found evidence of any children born to William and Agnes Greene before 1619, which suggests that they were married shortly before this. However, the only marriage I’ve found that matches their details took place in 1606, which seems rather early. On 29th December 1606 William Greene of Ratcliffe married Agnes Hurle (?) of the same, a widow. Both the date and Agnes’ status make me cautious about associating this record with William Greene, chirurgeon.

Two years after the birth of his son William junior, William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, had a daughter baptised at St Dunstan’s. In this case, it is the Christian name that is partly obscured by the paper fold, but it seems to be Anne. Curiously, this is also said to be the name of William Greene’s wife. Had Agnes died in the intervening two years and William remarried? I’ve found no trace of a marriage between William Greene and a woman named Anne during this period. Or perhaps Agnes and Anne are the same person? I noted a possible similar elision between Anne and Agnes in the case of the wife of Bartholomew Greene, a mariner who lived in Ratcliffe at around the same time as William, and may indeed have been a relative.

On 17th January 1628, Emmanuel, son of William and Anne Greene, was christened at St Dunstan’s. Once again the address given is Ratcliffe, and William is described as a ‘barber chirurgeon’. This child would only live for four years or so, being buried on 16th July 1632. In the meantime another daughter, Mary, was born, and was baptised on 21st October 1631. On 24th January 1633/4, a daughter named Elizabeth was christened, and on 14th October 1636 another daughter, named Ellen, was baptised.

On 31st January 1638, the marriage took place at St Dunstan’s church between John Bodington, a barber-surgeon of Stepney, and Margaret Greene of the same parish. I’m fairly certain that this is the John Bodington who was apprenticed to William Greene and that Margaret was the latter’s daughter.

'The visceral lecture delivered by Barber-surgeon John Banister', anonymous, 1581

‘The visceral lecture delivered by Barber-surgeon John Banister’, anonymous, 1581

To my knowledge, the last child born to William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, and his wife Anne, was Abigail, christened at St Dunstan’s on 1st July 1639. On 23rd October 1644, Anne, the wife of William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, was buried at the same church.  Nine months later, on 28th July 1645, William married Anne Roades of Brook Street, the widow (as I believe) of another Stepney surgeon named Richard Roades. I’m not sure when Richard died, but it was certainly some time after 1642 (see last post). One imagines that William Greene and Anne Roades, both recently widowed, being close neighbours in Ratcliffe, and probably already known to each other given that William and Richard followed the same profession, were an obvious match for each other.

I’ve been unable to find a record of any children born to William Greene and Anne Roades. By the time of their marriage, both were probably in their forties, and William had at least one married daughter, Margaret, with four others, Mary (14), Elizabeth (12), Ellen (11) and Abigail (6), still living at home. One imagines he would have been glad of the help. Apart from the possible exception of her son Joseph who, if still alive, would have been about 24 years old by this date, we know that Anne had no surviving children from her first marriage to Richard Roades, at least five having died in infancy.

The next record we have for William Greene is a will written on 25th August 1654, nine years after his marriage to Anne. We know that this is the same person, not only because he describes himself as ‘William Greene of Ratcliffe in the parish of Stepney in the county of Middlesex chirurgeon’, but also because he refers to ‘my wife Anne Rhodes’. And confirmation that the William Greene who married Anne Roades is the same person who was previously married to Anne (and Agnes?) is provided by his bequest to ‘my foure youngest daughters To witt Mary Elizabeth Ellen and Abigaill’. This reference suggests that William had other, older children (presumably Margaret and William), though why they are not mentioned in the will remains something of a mystery. William Greene named ‘my loving cosin Thomas Cumberford of Ratcliffe … plattmaker’ as the executor of his will. I’ve written elsewhere about the famous map (or platt) making Cumberfords or Comerfords – though I’m still not quite sure how William was related to them.

William Greene’s will was proved on 24th April 1656. The will claims that William was in perfect health when he wrote it, so it’s likely he died closer to this later date. However, I’ve been unable to locate his burial in the St Dunstan’s register for this period. I wonder if William made his will because he was embarking on a journey, perhaps a sea voyage? I’ve referred before to the possibility that he worked as a ship’s surgeon. Would a death at sea mean that there would be no body available for burial?

17th century ships in port: from a painting by ludolf bakhyusen (via http://siftingthepast.files.wordpress.com)

17th century ships in port: from a painting by Ludolf Bakhyusen (via siftingthepast.files.wordpress.com)

The mystery deepens with the discovery of one more record relating to William Greene, in the list of burials at St Dunstan’s for 1674. On 9th August 1674 ‘Willm Green of Ratcliffe Chyrurgeon’ was buried at St Dunstan’s church. How are we to explain this? Might it refer to William Greene senior’s son, also William, christened in 1623/4: perhaps he followed his father’s profession (in which, he is certainly not identical with my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene, mariner). However, I’ve found no other records for William junior, chirurgeon. Another possible explanation is that this is the first William Greene, having died at sea or abroad, and that his remains were finally returned to Stepney churchyard some 18 years after his death.