Twelve wills have been transcribed covering the period 1559 to 1612.
They are the wills of the moderately prosperous, and although occupations
are mostly not given, most would have had land in Hackney. This is
not necessarily an indication that the principle income came from
farming, for the proximity of the City of London made Hackney a favoured
location for a country retreat. Some of the testators also held land
elsewhere in the county. Thomas
Catcher left money to his grandson, apprenticed to a Londoner,
and also held land in Haggerston, Tottenham and Edmonton (Edmelton).
Snape left the lease of a house in Church Alley near Coleman Street.
Lawraunce had land at Hounslow and Thistleworth. Henry Hardwick,
a Yorkshireman, had still kept ties with his native county in 1599,
leaving bequests of land in Essa and Long Addingham, Yorkshire. The
sums of money left in some wills indicates that some testator's land
holdings would have been greater.
There is some indication of occupation from the wills.
John Finch of Shacklewell in his will of 1599, was a wheelwright,
living at Shacklewell, while Phillip Gye in his will of 1600 calls
himself "Hackneyman" (a man who kept either horses
or carriages for hire). Others are yeoman, an indication of social
status, but probably indicating that the testator held land in the
parish. Some would have been more than just farmers. The Catchers
were tenanting some of their property, and Thomas
Catcher the elder helpfully lists the most important parts
of his farm stock and implements. Henry
Warley, who had had a brush with quarter sessions in 1572 for
wrongly wearing the livery of the earl of Leicester, and had suffered
the loss of three hairs from the horse of his bay mare, was a farmer
at his death in 1586, but his son Henry was one of those listed as
a moneyer in 1602.
Wills began with the conventional assignment of the soul to God
and the body to earthly burial, but as the century progresses some
wills demonstrate the power of the spoken word from the Tudor pulpit.
Lawraunce leaves money for sermon to be preached at his funeral
by the vicar, Hugh Johnson. Christopher Sweete in his will of 1574
all but provides his own within his will:
" First I bequeathe my selfe boethe bodye
and soule into the handes of God the Sonne my Saviour Jesus Christe
whoe hathe redeamed me by the blod of his crosse to liefe everlasting
in full assurance that for his sake and by his oblacion of his bodye
offered for me and his precious blodd shed for my synnes shall never
be remembered but that I shall passe from deathe to liefe hopinge
to see the goodnes of the lorde in the lande of the liveinge and that
he my Savioure shall at his glorious cominge rayse up this my mortall
bodye in the resurrection to ymmortalitie to see him with theis my
verye eyes and to live with him in his kyngdome world without end
and I bequeath my earthye bodye to the earthe from whence yt was formed
therein to sleepe in rest till the laste trumpe shall blowe and the
holye anngelles gather the Lordes wheate in his Barne."
There are other small indications of Puritan sympathies of some of
Hackney's late Tudor residents. In his will of 1612 Christopher Valyntyne
"unto my Sonne in law Mr Robert Pratt
vi of my bookes which pleaseth him but excepting the worke of Mr Calvin".
There are few direct bequests of tokens of mourning, although in
Lawraunce left Margaret, Lady Audley "my
ringe of Gold havinge a stone with a greene bird in it"
which she was to have within ten days of his death.
Bequests to the poor of the parish in the form of hand outs at the
funeral are common throughout the Tudor period ranging from 6s 8d
in the 1550s to £1 2s 6d in 1601. Bequests for the repair of
the parish church are more common towards the end of the century -
perhaps reflecting the physical state of the building, as major repairs
were put in hand in 1605-06.
With the later Tudor yeomen families including a number of moneyers,
it is likely that there had been some increase in prosperity in the
area, despite some years of poor harvests in the 1590s. Consequently
there are more bequests of money and less of clothing, household goods
and farming equipment. Such things may well have been included in
the inventories that would have accompanied the wills, but these do
So there are no later wills comparable with that of Thomas
Catcher the elder. His son Thomas is to get the best of his clothing,
two feather beds and the accompanying sheets and blankets, his silver
salt cellar, mazer and six silver spoons, a range of brass pots (including
one for making brawn and three for milk), as well as a selection of
pewter, and four candle sticks. Thomas, who was clearly to take on
the running of the farm, was to get the four oxen , three horses,
a long cart, two tumbrels, two ploughs and several harrows as well
as the remainder of the farm equipment.
Rose, the daughter had some personal ornaments, including a silver
girdle and a gold ring. She also took her share of beds, but additionally
she was to have
"one fine bearinge sheet of Lynnen with
an open seame of silke in ye middleste one fether bedde one matres
twoo bolstares two coverlettes next the beste twoo paire of blanketes
xii paire of sheites one pillow and one pillow beare"
besides a selection of pewter and candlesticks.
Clothes were very costly and passed down the social scale until
they wore out. In 1562 Marion
Bourman, sister of Austin Catcher left her sister in law Agnes
Catcher her black cassock and kirtle and a friese cassock. She then
left her better friese petticoat to Isabel 'my
maiden' and her best petticoat and "my worst friese
peticote" to Marian, her servant. In 1575 John
Snape left Thomas Tate, his brother in law,
"my wite Frese Cote my lether doublet
with my Sky coullour hose with the nether Stockes"
Hopefully, bright blue hose was the colour of the season.
There is some indication both of the state of literacy and of attitudes
to women in the wills. Roughly half the witnesses and testators sign
with a mark - this may not indicate that they were wholly illiterate,
perhaps some could read but not write at all or with confidence. Where
there is a wife living it was not uncommon for her to be the executrix,
a clear indication of the trust the dying husband reposed in his wife's
ability to manage the family affairs. Sometimes there is a glimpse
that the testator has anticipated family squabbles over the disposal
of his goods. This is the careful John
Lawraunce in 1601.
"And I charge you my Sonne Thomas uppon my
blessinge not to open anye chest in my bedchamber nor procure any
to be opened until those parties or the most parte of them be present
which I have named to bee at the Oversight of the particon and that
the keyes of those chests in my chamber be punctualie delivered unto
my brother in lawe Christopher Pate as also the key of my chamber
Dore untill my brother Pate doe appointe a daie and geve the parties
warninge to make the division and particion of my goodes and cattalls
as before is expressed."
Valentine was more concerned about his daughter's future prospects:
"Item I give and bequeath unto Mary Valyntyne
my Daughter lx [pounds] to be paid unto hir at one monethe after hir
marriage day Allways provided that she marry with hir mothers consent
And that if she doe not marry with the same that then my Will is that
she shall stand unto her Mothers curtesie"
There were occasions when sudden illness prevented the making of
a proper will, in which cases the signed testimony of witnesses could
stand in for any important dispositions the dying person wanted to
make. The example in this group is the will of Christian
Payne, a widow in November 1599, who believed her son Henry Dove
(presumably a child of a first marriage) would not be cared for by
her surviving relatives. She wanted him, and the residue of her goods
entrusted to the parish clerk, Christopher Elliot, who was already
teaching the child (in his likely capacity as parish schoolmaster).
While Elliot was in the act of taking an inventory, the parish constable
Richard Kneweth (or Knewitt) looked in and claimed that Widow Payne
had spoken to his wife claiming that she wished the Kneweths to bring
up William Dove. But Christian Payne overheard him from her bed and
"No, no goodman Knewiit, I defer all
unto Mr Elliot for my childe".
The combination of reported intention and direct speech is remarkably
vivid, one of the window's "work fellows" Margaret
Brookes, is quoted in conversation with her:
"You are verie merrie, Widdowe Paine.
I think you will not die yet".
In the event Christian Payne died before the end of the month. Christopher
Elliot did not live long to honour his charge, for he died in November
1603, probably of plague.
The legacies and naming of witnesses also reveal the close ties of
kin and friendship between the Catchers, the Sweetes, the Lawraunces,
the Snapes, the Warleys and the Valentines. In the main the wills
come from those who served in parish offices, met together in church
and in vestry meetings, and who would have common concerns from their
local farming activities. Some were close neighbours. In 1594 those
assessed at Homerton included John
Skelly, Ippolite Lynnett and John Catcher. Ralph
Bell was a Church street resident, while Thomas and John Sweete
came within the Mare Street division. William Maxfield (perhaps the
youngest son named in Margaret
Maxfield's will of 1559 was in the Grove Street and Well Street
area, while Richard Snape appeared in Newington and Shacklewell. But
there is not enough evidence to provide precise locations for any
house, and some would have had property in more than one place. In
1609 Richard Snape's daughter Frances Nicholls surrendered "a
corner house in Humberton Street" as part of a property
transaction, suggesting that the Snapes had either once been Homerton
residents, or had acquired the property through marriage with another
This small sample of wills does provide a glimpse into
the lives of the moderately well to do, and in one case the worries
of one of the less well off community members. It contrasts with the
Daniells' household, and with the life style of a local nobleman,
Sir Roger Townsend at the Stoke Newington manor house, as shown in
of the house