On 24th January 1689, just a few months after the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ that deposed King James II and put the Dutchman William of Orange on the throne of England, my Sussex-born 8 x great grandfather John Byne, a citizen and stationer of Tower Hill, London, signed and sealed his last will and testament. In his will John made reference to ‘all those my fower Messuages or Tenements with their and every of their appurtenances Situate lying and being in or neere Distaffe Lane in the parish of St Margaret Moses in Fryday streete and St Nicholas Coleabbey or one of them neere old Fish streete within the City of London And all my Estate Right Tytle and Interest of in or to the same or any of them or any part of them either for Terme of yeares or otherwise howsoever’.

Section of Rocque's 1746 map of London

Section of Rocque’s 1746 map of London

Distaff Lane was close to St Paul’s in the City of London, between Old Change and Friday Street, with Little Distaff Lane running off it, down to Old Fish Street (see the map above). Some or all of the property in Distaff Lane would remain in the family for at least 137 years after John Byne’s death, being passed down through five generations. We can trace the changing ownership of this property by analysing references to it in a succession of family wills.

John Byne’s will decreed that his property in Distaff Lane should be shared between his five children – John, Alice, Mary, Magnus, and Thomas – after the death of his wife Alice. John died in March 1689, at the age of 38, but his widow Alice lived for another forty years or so, dying in 1738 when she was about 80 years old. She appears to have outlived all of her children except Mary (my 7 x great grandmother), who had married goldsmith Joseph Greene in 1701, and Alice, who was herself by now a widow, having lost her husband Thomas Bouts in 1716.

The deaths of her children probably explain why at least some of the properties in Distaff Lane seem to have reverted to Alice Byne. In her will, made in 1733, five years before her death, Alice bequeaths to her daughter Alice Bouts ‘all that my freehold Estate with the appurts Situate and being in Distaffe Lane London and in the parishes of Saint Margaret Moses Fryday Street and Saint Nicholas Coleabby or one of them and now or late in the Tenure or Occupation of William Ashurst Gentleman his undertenants or assigns for and during the Term of her natural life and from and after her decease.’ Alice also leaves the same property to her granddaughter Anne Bouts ‘for and during the term of her natural Life’, presumably following the death of her mother. However, if Anne dies without issue, then the estate is to pass to ‘my […] Grand daughter and God daughter […] Mary the […] Wife of […] John Gibson and to her heirs for ever’.

Alice’s granddaughter Mary Gibson, my 6 x great grandmother, was the daughter of Joseph Greene and his wife Mary née Byne. The younger Mary had married John Gibson in 1729. Apparently Anne Bouts had no children of her own – in fact, I can find no further records for her – and the property in Distaff Lane thus passed to Mary Gibson, who also survived her husband and reached the age of 80, dying in 1790.

In her will of 15th April 1788, Mary Gibson bequeaths ‘all that my messuage or tenement and premises with the appurts used as a sugar house and situate in Little Distaff Lane London let on lease to Mr Nathaniel Jarman at the yearly amount of forty pounds’ to her unmarried daughter Sarah Gibson, but only on condition that ‘she my said daughter shall and do within three calendar months next after my decease pay off and discharge the sum of three hundred pounds now due and owing from me to Sir John Henniker baronet as mortgage of the said premises and not otherwise’.

18th century sugar refinery

18th century sugar refinery

As I noted in an earlier post, Nathaniel Jarman, one of the founders of the New Fire Office, owned a sugar refinery in Little Distaff Lane. Sir John Henniker was the person to whom the Gibson family sold their country estate at Woodredon in Waltham Abbey, after the death of my 6 x great grandfather John Gibson in 1763. To quote British History Online:

In 1764 John Henniker began to acquire the manor from the Gibsons and their relatives. This process does not appear to have been completed until 1792. Henniker, who succeeded to a baronetcy in 1781 and was created Baron Henniker in the Irish peerage in 1800, died in 1803.

Presumably the mortgage on the properties in Distaff Lane was part of the larger transaction with Henniker. ‘Their relatives’ probably refers to Mary Gibson’s mother, Mary Greene, who I suspect took back ownership of the estate to protect it when her son-in-law John was made bankrupt in the early 1740s.

Another condition attached to Mary Gibson’s bequest is that her daughter Sarah should pay annuities out of the income from the property in Distaff Lane to her four married sisters: Jane Coates, Elizabeth Holdsworth (my 5 x great grandmother), Frances Bonner and Anne Schwarz. After the deaths of any two of these sisters, their annuities should be paid to ‘Esther Gibson alias Hester Gibson the daughter of my son Bowes John Gibson’. If I read the will correctly, Mary also decrees that Bowes John should inherit the property and that it should then pass to Esther and ‘all and every other the child and children of my said son Bowes John Gibson’ to be divided between them.

Mary Gibson died in Mile End Old Town in 1790 and was buried on 26th October at St Dunstan’s church in Stepney. However, she was predeceased by just ten days by her daughter Sarah, to whom she had bequeathed her property in Distaff Lane. Sarah had made her own will in October 1789, a year before her death at the age of 44, and a year after her mother Mary made her will.

In her will, Sarah Gibson notes that she is entitled ‘to the sum of five hundred pounds to be paid to me by the bond of Sir John Henniker Baronet within one month after the death of my mother Mrs Mary Gibson’ and that her mother ‘is indebted to the said Sir John Henniker in the sum of three hundred pounds to him by a mortgage of a messuage or tenement sugar house and premises with the appurtenances situate in Little Distaff Lane London’. Sarah directs her executors, from the five hundreds pounds payable to her on the death of her mother, ‘to pay off and discharge the said sum of three hundred pounds due and owing to the said Sir John Henniker from my said mother as aforesaid upon having an assignment of the said mortgaged premises made to them’. She further directs her executors to pay the interest of two hundred pounds from this three hundred pounds to her sister Frances Bonner and to her pay her sister Elizabeth Holdsworth one hundred pounds, being the residue of the said three hundred pounds.

Cordwainers Hall, Distaff Lane (via museumoflondon.org.uk)

Cordwainers Hall, Distaff Lane (via museumoflondon.org.uk)

At least some of the property in Distaff Lane must have passed to Mary Gibson’s youngest son Bowes John Gibson, a broker and auctioneer for the East India Company. He died in 1817 and although his will of 1804 makes no mention of his property, he appoints his second wife Mary Catherine as ‘wholesale legatee and executrix of all my worldly estate’.

In her own will , made in 1826 (the year after the first commercial railway line opened in England) Mary Catherine Gibson states that ‘having purchased my son William Henry’s and my daughter Elizabeth’s shares in the freehold premises in Distaff Lane’, she directs that ‘the rent of the said premises be for the use and benefit of my daughters Emily Gibson and Matilda Henrietta Gibson and of my son Bowes Charles Gibson’. She also decrees that the freehold on the property be sold ‘on the youngest child’s attaining his or her twenty first year’ and the product of such sale ‘to be divided equally between my daughters Emily Gibson and Matilda Henrietta and my son Bowes Charles Gibson save and except thirty pounds to my oldest son Edward Gibson thirty pounds to my son William Henry Gibson and the like sum of thirty pounds to my daughter Elizabeth Gibson’.

And that’s where, for now, we lose track of the property in Distaff Lane, which had been in the same family for more than 130 years and had been passed down through five generations. More research is needed to trace the children of Bowes John Gibson after their parents’ death. We know that, of those who were mentioned in Mary Catherine Gibson’s will, Bowes Charles Gibson died in 1837 and Matilda Henrietta in 1846. I don’t know what became of Emily, Edward, William Henry or Elizabeth. Was the freehold on the Distaff Lane property sold, or did one of these children pass it on to yet another generation of the Gibson family?