Local People
Thomas Sutton, founder of London's Charterhouse and after whom Sutton House is named
Thomas Sutton, founder of London's Charterhouse and after whom Sutton House is named

There are fewer written sources recording information about Hackney people in Tudor times than for later periods. However extracts from the minutes of Hackney's vestry survive, which provide information on who served in the unpaid parish offices. (There is more on this in the local government, and law and order sections).

The "Long memorandum book", which includes these extracts, also records some of the local collections for disasters, wars, or repair of the church. One of these assessments, intended to collect money towards the construction of a new house of correction for the county of Middlesex in June 1602, even gives us the occupation of the ten inhabitants who were "moneyers" - either bankers or moneylenders, and who might well have had property in the City of London as well as at Hackney.

The different amounts paid also give some idea of the relative wealth of the people in the list. Those of highest status were the titled people - listed separately in the 1602 assessment as "nobylitie and knyghts". These included Edward de Vere, earl of Oxford, whom some believe was the author of William Shakespeare's plays and who was living in the former King's Place (later Brooke House) at Clapton, while Shakespeare was acting and writing in the Shoreditch theatres.

There were also a number of London citizens, including James Dequester "stranger".

But we have other sources to tell us about some of the other people in this and other local taxation records, like the assessment to equip three soldiers levied in July 1594, when another expedition by the Spanish was thought to be in the offing. Some would have been local farmers, others widows left to manage their late husband's property. Men would have worked together, and many were bound by ties of marriage.

How do we know this? Principally it is the records of church courts that give us an insight and a record of people of some property - and in some cases none at all. Church courts played an important part in the regulation of morality, but before 1858 all wills were registered in national or local church courts.

What people owned could be divided into their land holdings and their personal property. In Tudor times very little of a man's landed property - and it was only widows who had property of their own to leave - features in wills. Under the feudal system in theory all land was held for the Crown and therefore the disposal of land - either through sale or inheritance - was a matter for the royal or manorial courts.

In 16th century Hackney there were three main manor courts - Lordshold and Kingshold, covering the majority of the parish between them, and the much smaller Grumbolds or rectory manor, which centred round Church Street, Hackney, and land to the east. Sutton House came within Grumbolds manor.

Manorial courts recorded the passing on of title of copyhold land (literally held by copy of court roll), which were called surrenders, and the acquisition of copyhold land - admissions. Manorial courts also regulated the quality of local ale, obstructions of the highway and the control of grazing on Lammas and common land, which in Hackney included the marshes. With these rights also went the rounding up of stray sheep and cows.

There are extensive manorial records from the mid 17th century onwards for Hackney held at the London Metropolitan Archives. Some earlier records, not all of which have survived, were partially copied in the mid 19th century for the collection of historic sources built up by the Tyssen family, and especially for John Robert Daniel Tyssen, steward of the manor and brother of the lord of all three of the manors. But these are not sufficient for us to establish who were the principle farmers, or where there land was held. And while some real property is mentioned in wills, this was confined to land or houses held on short leases, or property acquired by the person producing the will.

But everyone with personal property worth more than £5 was supposed to leave a will. This included bedding and other household furniture, pots and pans, clothing, money, and stock in trade, although regrettably little of this features in our wills. But the relatively low amount above which people were supposed to make a will does tell us something of what people thought, what they prized, to whom they were related and how many servants they had. Sometimes there are allusions to rooms in houses, to favourite garments or ornaments, even the names of horses or cows. Wills which made reference to extensive lists of goods could be accompanied by an inventory and this would also have been lodged with the court

Local wills were lodged in church courts - but where you lived determined which court you went to. If you were an important person with property in more than one county, then your will ought to go to the Archbishop's Court and in the London area this would have been the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). Later people who felt themselves to be of local importance chose to go to the PCC anyway. These records are at the Public Record Office

For Hackney people wills were registered in the Bishop of London's court. This was the Commissary Court of London. A fine collection of local wills survive in the Commissary Court, but we are bereft of the inventories, even where the court has noted that there was one, as these do not survive until 1662.

However it was only those who lived in the parish of Hackney and certain parts of the modern Stoke Newington which then came within the parish of Hornsey, who used the Commissary Court. The majority of Stoke Newington and all of Hoxton were both prebendal manors, where the lord of the manor was a prebend of St Paul's Cathedral. Local wills for these areas were lodged with the Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of St Pauls. Lastly the remainder of Shoreditch came under the jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry Court of London.

The Commissary Court, the peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's and the Archdeaconry Court are all held by the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.

The Commissary Court also heard cases that related to marriage - or the lack of it - problems arising from the administration of parish property, or with parish officers , or working on a Sunday. The majority of this business was concerned with morality, but there are also some interesting other episodes, notably the young woman teaching boys and girls in a Hackney house in 1599.

Black People in Tudor and Early Stuart Hackney

There would have been very few people of African origin who visited Tudor or early Stuart Hackney, and we have only one reference to a black man who lived in Hackney at the time of his death.

The merchant John Lok brought five black men from Ghana to London in 1555, though three were returned some months later. The adventurer and slave trader John Hawkins incorporated three black men shackled with slave collars into his coat of arms in 1564. Black people were brought to England from the 1570s onwards and lived in London as household servants, courtesans or as court entertainers. Black slaves were fashionable by the end of the 16th century and some aristocratic families had one or two slaves among their servants.

There was a royal proclamation in 1596 ordering that all black people in the country be deported, but it was evidently not successful as a further order was made in 1601 and there would have been a small number of black people living in or near to London. Four were recorded in the parish of All Hallows in 1598.

The burial register of Hackney parish records the death of 'Antony, a poore old negro, aged 105' in 1630. We have no other record of Antony, who may have been a servant to a prosperous Hackney resident, a visiting nobleman, or who may have retired to Hackney as a freeman after years of service.

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This site, developed with funding from the New Opportunities Fund as one of the projects within Sense of Place, London, forms part of the National Archive's Education site. It was developed as a partnership between Hackney Archives Department, Immediate Theatre and the National Archive's Education Team