The portrait hangs in the new Haberdashers’ Hall. Over the past 250 years it had occupied a prominent space in the headquarters of the Haberdashers’ Company. However, the Company sold their headquarters building in the mid 1990s, and an ultra modern block of offices now stands on its former site in Staining Lane in the City of London. A new headquarters for the Company has been built in West Smithfield, and is now home to the portrait of my ancestor.

Visitors to the Bankes Page of this site will see an image of the picture to which I refer. It shows John Bankes, Citizen & Haberdasher of London. The artist, whose identity is unknown, portrayed Bankes as a proud-looking, upright figure dressed in his best clothes. In life he was a successful London businessman; in death he was my family’s benefactor, and the spur to the family history research on which my mother and I embarked in 1986.

In this text I briefly summarise the main findings of our research to date. I have divided the text into sections, each dealing with a different aspect of John Bankes’s life.

Family Matters

I do not know when or where John Bankes was born.The only source known to us that gives information relating to his place of origin is the record of him becoming a Freeman of the City of London in 1673. This implies that he was not born in the City, referring to him as:

‘…John Banks Carpenter having served an Apprentishipp to that trade in the Countrey & since the late dismall fire bin imployed in the rebuilding of this Citty…’ (1)

The available evidence of his age states that our benefactor was 60 years old in 1715, when he signed a statement on applying for a marriage licence at the Vicar-General’s Office in London(2). This would indicate that he was born c1655, but I do not regard that as necessarily the case. I think that people in Bankes’s time were less concerned about recording their age accurately than we are today – after all, they had no old age pensions to claim, or senior citizen’s railcards! There was no reason why age should necessarily have been stated accurately, and an approximation, for example 60, would have sufficed for most purposes. If this birth date is to be believed, Bankes would have been only 18 at the time of his Freedom, but I do not believe that likely, as people normally had to be at least twenty one years old when granted this privilege. If we assume that his apprenticeship started at age fourteen and lasted the usual term of seven years he would have been twenty one before he arrived in London. Allowing for the fact that he spent some time working on the reconstruction of the City, I believe that Bankes was probably born before 1652.

The evidence of Bankes’s Will shows that he had at least two half-brothers and three half-sisters. Bankes’s half-siblings bore the name Rand, so it seems that his father died sometime after his birth, and his mother re-married. No trace has been found of these events.

I know something of the ages of his half-siblings, and this information helps me in estimating the approximate birth date of Bankes. Anne (Rand) Deane was born c1679. I calculated this from the age stated on the Marriage Licence Allegation relating to her marriage to Joseph Deane, Carpenter, in 1704(3). As I have traced the record of Elizabeth (Rand) Hopkins’s burial I know that at the time of her death in 1728 she was said to be aged 66 years(4). Thus, I calculate that she was born c1662. My hypothesis that these half-siblings were the fruits of John Bankes’s mother’s second marriage means that he must have been older than all his half siblings, so the above evidence means that he was been born before c1662.

In his Will John Bankes left a number of bequests to various relations of his first wife, Elizabeth Atherton. We have not yet traced a record of his first marriage, so do not know when or where this event took place. Bankes’s Will states that the couple produced eight children, all of whom died before 1716. Only one child was identified in the Will – a daughter named Esther. She, along with the other members of the family, was buried at the Bishop of Winchester’s burial ground at Southwark, on the south side of the River Thames. We believe that this was a non-conformist burial ground, also known as Deadman’s Place, which was located just north of the modern Thrale Street, near the junction of Southwark Street and Southwark Bridge Road. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was nearby, and to the east of the site of the burial ground a street named Deadman’s Place existed at least until 1875, when it was shown on the Ordnance Survey map for the area. As the burial records for this graveyard have not survived, and the site was built on, there seems no possibility of tracing records of the Bankes family burials.

As a young man Bankes played a part in the reshaping of our capital city. The fire of London in 1666 marked the end of the plague, but in so doing destroyed much of the metropolis. Bankes was involved in the rebuilding that followed this event. The churches that Wren rebuilt in the late seventeenth century would have formed the backdrop to his everyday life, first as a tradesman and later as a merchant in the City of London. His timber yard and wharf at Paul’s Wharf was within yards of Wren’s great masterpiece – St Paul’s Cathedral, which was built in the thirty five years up to 1710.

A transcription of Bankes’s Will is displayed in the Sources section of this site. This document suggests that he was of the Independent religion. It seems that he was a member of the congregation at Three Cranes Independent meeting-house in Thames Street, and the Presbyterian meeting house at Haberdashers’ Hall, Staining Lane. His Will mentions Dr Thomas Ridgeley DD, who was the Minister at Three Cranes Meeting-house from 1700 to 1734. Ridgeley was an associate of Sir Isaac Newton, the scientist.

Citizen and Haberdasher

As I mentioned above, John Bankes received the Freedom of the Haberdashers’ Company by Redemption on Sunday 16 March 1672/3(5) – two weeks before Easter Sunday. The records of the Haberdashers’ Company show that several apprentices to John Bankes received their Freedom during the thirty years after Bankes gained his Freedom. One of these – a certain Thomas Smith – received his Freedom on 8 June 1683(6). If I assume that Thomas had served the usual seven years apprenticeship, this means that Bankes was taking on apprentices in his trade in about 1676 – within three years of gaining his Freedom, aged about 24 to 26.

The governing body of the Haberdashers’ Company is the Court of Assistants, and the records show that John Bankes served on this body for about nineteen years. The first entry I have seen that refers to him being on the Court of Assistants of the Haberdashers’ Company occurs in the Court Minutes for Monday 10 March 1701/2, when he was one of three people sworn in as a junior Warden(7). Junior wardens tended to be recruited from the ranks of senior liverymen who were not members of the Court of Assistants(8), so I assume that Bankes did not serve on the Court prior to this date. Membership of the court carried considerable prestige, and the people elected were usually experienced in the ways of the Company and fairly prosperous. It was necessary for members of the Court to be financially well off because the duties attached to holding office on the Courts could be expensive personally. As an example of this, the four Wardens had to pay the costs of the election feast, over and above certain payments that were made by the company. The amount of costs so incurred is not known, but may be assumed to have been significant(9).

The records reveal some controversy In Bankes’s day over the reluctance of members of the governing body to pay their dues. The Court of Assistants Minutes for Tuesday 9 July 1706 record the election of Bankes as a senior Warden for the second successive year. After taking the oath of office, he spoke on the inequitable nature of such service. Bankes said that people were being called upon to serve as Warden more frequently than had been the case previously, and that ‘… the charges of the Wardens were … so very burthensome …’ that they acted as a disincentive to people taking their turn as Wardens. He added his opinion that ‘…no person will undergo the trouble and charge thereof when … to pass over the same …’ and pay a fine would be a cheaper and more acceptable option. In order to rectify this situation Bankes proposed that an annual allowance should be paid to Wardens during their time in office. This was agreed, and the amount of the payment was fixed at £25(10).

Bankes seems to have taken seriously his responsibilities as a member of the Court of Assistants. The Company records show a number of his interventions in the business of these meetings. There were periods in which he appears to have missed a number of consecutive meetings, for instance he missed three consecutive Courts during 1702/3 before attending that held on 15 April 1703(11), but in general he was in regular attendance at the Court’s meetings. He served as a Warden three times – in 1701, 1705 and 1706 – before being elected Master of the Company on Saturday 23 November 1717:-

” … our present Master … proposed that Mr John Banks (sic) a worthy member of this company … might be elected Master of this company for the year ensuing. The said Mr John Banks was thereupon unanymously (sic) chosen Master of this company for the year ensuing.”(12)

The oath of office was administered on 27 November 1717, and John Bankes’s first meeting as Master was held on 28 February 1717. His last meeting as Master was held on 3 December 1718(13).

Bankes died on Wednesday 23 March 1719/20(14). Although it seems to have been usual for the death of a member of the Court of Assistants to be marked by an entry in the Minutes, no such entry was recorded on his demise. This omission seems odd when one considers his long service on the Court, and the fact that he had served as Master only two years previously. Do I infer from this that he was not popular with his peers?

When I first started researching my family history with my mother we were told, by the then archivist of the Haberdashers’ Company, that John Bankes had been a silk merchant, trading in the Levant. We accepted this explanation. After all, if a man was a Freeman of the Haberdashers’ Company it seems unsurprising that his business should lie in the trading of cloths. However, as our research progressed, one of my fellow researchers found evidence that Bankes was involved in the timber trade. One such reference occurs in the Haberdashers’ Company Freedom Admissions in which the following entry appears on page 311(15) :-

1711 Samuel Bridgeman of Pauls Wharfe Timber Merchant
by John Banks of do do July 13

Latterly, I have traced many business records of John Bankes, which make it clear that he was, indeed, involved in the timber trade. However, this was not the only business in which he engaged. He participated in significant property deals in Westminster and areas of Middlesex that lie just outside the city. Evidence of this aspect of his business life was found in his Will.

John Bankes, Landlord & Property Developer

It is clear from his Will that John Bankes owned several leasehold estates at the time of his death. His instructions were that the properties forming his Whitechapel estate, located “in and about George Yard” in the parish of St Mary, Matfellon, were to be divided amongst certain members of his family. This estate consisted of thirteen leases, and was shared between his half-brothers and sisters and their children, and also the family of his first wife. The fact that there were thirteen leases making up this estate does not mean that the estate consisted of thirteen houses. For example, Lease no 13 appears to have comprised ten houses. Five of these houses were fronting George Yard and four of them were smaller, and situated in the back court. There is no description of the precise situation of the other house covered by lease no 13. Bankes’s business papers for the year 1695 make reference to his ‘.. lease in George Yard'(16), so it would seem that at least some of these properties were in his possession at that date. His accounts for 1697 show that four mortgage loans were outstanding to Bankes on premises at George Yard. By the next year another mortgage of property at George Yard had been added(17).

To the West of the city of London Bankes held another leasehold estate. According to his Will this consisted of “severall houses buildings and ground in or near Poltney Street, Windmill Street and Princes Street in the parish of St James, Westminster”. It consisted of 72 houses and was left in trust to the Master and Wardens of the Haberdashers Company. They were to use the ‘rents profits and residue’ derived from this property to finance a trust fund for the benefit of Bankes’s half-siblings and their descendants.

I have found many documents relating to people renting some of these premises from Bankes. A lease dated 1 February 1709(18) constitutes an agreement between Bankes and a certain Henry Howard, Silk Dyer, of St James, Westminster. It was of seven years’ duration effective from 25 March 1709, and concerned a ‘messuage or tenement’ on the west side of Poultney Street. The property included a yard and a shed, and the rent payable was £16 per annum, payable on the usual four feast days, which were:-

Lady Day 25 March
Midsummer Day 25 June
Michaelmas Day 25 September
Christmas Day 25 December

Henry Howard was to be responsible for the maintenance of the property, whilst John Bankes was to be allowed access to the property for inspection purposes.

The particularly interesting aspect of this document is that it had attached to it an endorsement, which provides a fairly detailed description of the property.

This property was a shop, with living accommodation attached to it. It seems to have been fitted out quite comfortably, and included wood panelling. All the windows appear to have been sash windows, and presumably were of glass. As it is unlikely that I shall ever see a picture of any of Bankes’s properties, this is probably the best image of one of them that I shall ever see. The use of sash windows in the early eighteenth century indicates that the design of Bankes’s houses incorporated the most up to date fashions. Sash windows were first used in England in grand houses like Chatsworth, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court. Having been used in such prestigious buildings, they quickly became a fashionable feature, and were incorporated into both new and existing buildings(19).

Another estate owned by Bankes in 1717 consisted of ‘four severall messuages which I hold by five severall leases’ in Great Queen Street, St Giles in the Fields. These were left to his wife, possibly as part of their marriage settlement.

During his lifetime, Bankes was involved in business transactions involving the buying, development, selling and leasing of property. The earliest such transaction traced was dated 1678/9, when he was recorded as building property on a piece of leased land at St Margaret’s Hill, Southwark. The property was described as:

‘All that close piece or parcell of ground whereon a new brick messuage or tenement is lately erected by the sayd John Bankes.’.

The property was said to be situated in Counter Lane, and to be then occupied by one Nathaniell Ballard (Grocer)(20).

The document was accompanied by a plan of the property, which was L shaped and situated on the south side of Counter Lane. The frontage on Counter Lane was over 38 feet long, and formed the upright of the L. The West side of the building (the base of the L) was 22 feet long, and the upper storey protruded over an entry and paved yard which was 4 feet wide.

I assume that Bankes did not live in this house himself, but bought it as an investment. With the building work that was going on in London in the aftermath of the Fire of 1666, it seems likely that the property market would have seemed an attractive investment opportunity to a young man such as my ancestor.

This property deal was not an isolated investment for the young Mr Bankes. On 20 June 1683 he signed a similar deal in connection with premises in Duke Street, St James, Westminster. In this transaction he was doing business with Nicholas Barbon, the famous speculative builder. Once again, Bankes is recorded as erecting a brick building on a piece of leasehold land(21).

By 1702 John Bankes’s Southwark properties included a number of houses in Coke & Hart Yard(22). This estate appears to have comprised thirteen houses, yielding an annual total of £256 – 0s – 0d in rents The available evidence suggests that the dwellings comprising this estate were extremely varied in size. A list of the rents due for this estate(23) includes the following entries:-

‘Mr Sowter pays 12m £50. 00. 00
Mr Norriss pays 12m £35. 00. 00
Mr Shipp pays 12m £22. 00. 00
Mr Harriss pays £ 8. 00. 00
4 new houses emptie £10. 00. 00′

The business records of John Bankes show that he bought this property in December 1701/2 for £821.10s.0d. The legal costs associated with this totalled £35.7s. 0d. Bankes then embarked on what appears to have been significant building work. Between July 1702 and October 1703 he paid builders’ accounts to the value of £1837.7s.5d.

The purchase and development of this estate was financed by three loans, totalling £2,400. I do not know the amount of interest that was charged on this, but assume that the security entailed was the value of the site and buildings.

The disposal of the Coke & Hart properties was recorded by a note in John Bankes’s records, dated June 1706, which stated “This estate is all sold”(24). I have not found a record of the amount Bankes was paid for the estate.

During the period 1703-5 John Bankess accounts include references to properties at the Temple in the City of London. It appears that he carried out some quite prestigous building work in that area. Bellot tells us that :

“Between the old Crown Office and the site of Harcourt Buildings, S. of Crown Office Row, a small building was erected in the year 1703 by John Banks, a Haberdasher in the City. It had a 10-ft frontage and the ground floor opened out into the garden under the paved walk or terrace, whilst the first floor was on a level with the terrace. With the ground floor was connected a summer house, and the whole reserved for the use of society. Below this building John Banks was licensed to build three sets of chambers with a frontage of 50 ft apiece and a depth of 27 ft, of three stories each. The front windows were “to be all sash frames and sashes glezed with crown glass.” These buildings were erected during the Treasureship of Sir Simon Harcourt, and instead of being known as Banks’ Buildings, were named after the silver-tongued Chancellor. In the course of their construction the gardener’s house, which stood at the lower end of the site, was pulled down.”(25)

As far as I am aware these buildings stood until 1833, when they were replaced by another development.

I have no other details of these properties.

By 1715-16 Bankes was in possession of six houses at Mary Gould Alley, off the Strand. I have traced some documentation concerning the renting of these properties, among which was a house that was rented to his half sister – Elizabeth Hopkins. The revenue from this estate in 1718 totalled £54 per annum. I have also found some bills for maintenance costs incurred on the estate(26).

This has not been a complete record of Bankes’s property dealings. Such a venture would take more space than I have on this website. However, I hope the reader has gained an impression of the type of activity my ancestor was engaged in, and the considerable scale of these ventures.

Timber Merchant

I do not know when Bankes started his business as a timber merchant, but assume that this line of business was a natural progression for him, given his training as a carpenter. As we have no knowledge of his origins we have no way of knowing the social standing of his parents. There are pieces of evidence that suggest that he may have come from a family that was comfortably off. For example, his payment of redemption fine to obtain his freedom in 1673, at what must have been a young age, suggests that he had access to significant funds. The fine would probably have been to the value of approximately £20(27), a sum which would have been beyond the means of many people in the 1670s.

Secondly, the fact that he was buying property in Westminster and building on it as a young man (see above) provides evidence of his ability to raise sizeable amounts of money. These facts encourage me to entertain the possibility that Bankes may have had fairly prosperous parents.

I do not know anything of Bankes’ trading activities before 1695. The Freedom record of Samuel Bridgewater, referred to above, shows that our ancestor was a timber merchant when a young man, but I have no other evidence of his early activities. However, by 1695 it is apparent that he had a sizeable business. Although I have no conclusive evidence, it seems likely that his trade was with countries across the North Sea. His lists of creditors from around the end of the seventeenth century catalogue people with Scandinavian sounding names like Jacobson and Peterson, and a certain Mr Jacob Larwood of Amsterdam(28). Presumably Bankes’ timber was shipped to London from across the North Sea, and landed at his wharves at Nine Elms or Paul’s Wharf.

The most obvious market for the timber imported by Bankes was the London construction industry, but no doubt there were other markets, as well.

The archives of the Court of Chancery contain some accounts of Bankes’s commercial activities, which tell us much about his business as a timber trader. For the period 1695 to 1698 I have found regular documentation showing

“The state of my Condishon as to what I owe and what I have to pay and how much I doe owe more than I have to pay (sic)”(29).

I surmise that Bankes had to produce these annual statements in order to satisfy his creditors of the healthy state of his business affairs. They were written in his own hand, and in some cases he signed them.

I am impressed by the large values involved in these statements. For instance, the values of stock and debtors as at each Christmas Day for the period 1695-8, in respect of the timber yards at Paul’s Wharf and Nine Elms, were stated. In 1695 the combined value of stock and debtors at both wharves was £2879. By 1709 this had risen to £7449.

The growths in values that these figures evidence suggest that Bankes’s business was expanding at a prodigious rate. When I use Bank of England conversion tables(30) I conclude that in 1998 values, Bankes’ total stocks and debtors in the late 1690s were worth approximately £374,000.

It is also evident that Bankes was sometimes a source of finance for other people. In 1697 five debtors owed him money under mortgages, the total value of these loans being £1,071. By 1698 four debtors owed him money on mortgages, the debts totalling £570.

For the period 1701/2 to 1718 I have found several of Bankes’ annual statements of his indebtedness to John Hales, a London lawyer. By combining these with the accounts for 1695, referred to above, I am able to form a good picture of Bankes’ business dealings with Hales over a 23-year period. Hales was one of the persons named as an executor in Bankes’ Will. He was also Bankes’ major creditor. In partnership with John Cartlitch, Goldsmith, he was owed £10,000 by Bankes in 1717, when the Will was drawn up. This loan was by way of a mortgage on the estate in St James, Westminster. It is clear that Hales was a major source of finance for the business activities of John Bankes for many years.

These loans were mortgages, secured by Bankes’ business properties. As in the case of the stock and debtors figures cited above, they suggest that the late 1690s and early years of the eighteenth century saw considerable expansion of Bankes’ business activities. The level of Bankes’ indebtedness to Hales remained more or less constant after 1701.

Hales was not Bankes’ only source of working capital, however. Another name that appears often in his papers as a creditor was Lord Lempster. The figures for 1698 show that he had advanced £3,000 to Bankes, which appears to have been secured by his two timber wharves. The records show that Bankes had paid interest on this loan, but the capital sum remained outstanding in 1713, after Lord Lempster’s death.


The evidence of John Bankes’s will was that in the final years of his life he had two residences. One house was at St Benet, Paul’s Wharf, which he referred to in his will as his “dwelling house”, and the other at Nine Elms, Battersea. The first of these houses was in the City of London, near St Paul’s Cathedral, and the second was on the South side of the Thames, in what was then Surrey.

I do not know for how long Bankes had owned these premises before 1717. Both St Paul’s Wharf and Nine Elms are known to have been the sites of his timber yards; his Will suggests that he may have built his houses in the environs of his yards. I know, from the accounting information I referred to above, that earlier in his life John Bankes had held several other premises. For example, in 1697 he listed among his assets “The equitie my Great House in Goodmans Fields”(31). Goodmans Fields is in the Bethnal Green area, to the east of London

Alas, we have not yet found any descriptions of Bankes’ personal houses. The information above is all I know about his living accommodation.

The Bankes Bequests

I mentioned some of Bankes’s property bequests above. To recap, in his Will, John Bankes made several grants of property to his half-siblings, and to members of the family of his first wife. These bequests were enacted by means of a series of indentures, and I found a number of these documents in the records of the Court of Chancery(32). They bear the signatures of many of Bankes’ relatives, and thus help identification of other relevant documents.

Bankes bequeathed his leasehold estate in St. James, Westminster, consisting of 72 houses, to the Master and Wardens of the Haberdashers Company and their successors. He owned another freehold property in Clerkenwell, consisting of two houses, and this also passed to the Haberdashers’ Company.

These properties were left to the Company in trust, and the rents and profits they yielded were to be used by the Company to finance a series of benefits laid down in Bankes’ will.

Bankes left instructions for the payment of a large number of charitable bequests. These included payments to a specified number of poor and elderly men and women of three parishes, namely St Benet Paul’s Wharf, Battersea, and St Mary Overy, Southwark. The poor of the Haberdashers’ Company also benefited(33). The poor people were selected by the trustees as being suitable persons to benefit from charity; many of them were of the yeomanry, or widows of freemen. I assume that they had to conform to acceptable standards of behaviour to receive a grant.

It is interesting to note that people of the age of 40 years or more were considered old enough to benefit, an indication of life expectancy in Banks’ time.

In addition to the above payments, Bankes made a number of bequests of various annuities to officials of the Haberdashers’ Company, to the Minister and congregation at the Three Cranes Meeting-House, and to his relatives. In total, the annual value of the bequests was £912.0.0.

The aspect of the Bankes Trust that most interests me is the series of annuities that were to be paid to his nominated relatives. These payments were to be made by the Haberdashers’ Company, and can be classified into four types:-

  1. Annuities of stated sums that were to be paid to nominated individuals for the duration of their lives. On their deaths they were to be paid to their children and descendants.
  2. Annuities that were to be paid to descendants of his relatives on entering into an aprenticeship.
  3. Annuities that were to be paid to descendants of his relatives when they set up a business.
  4. Annuities that were to be paid to descendants of his relatives on their marriage.

In general, the payments for marriage were made to females, and the payments for apprentices and for setting up a business were paid to males, but the records of the Haberdashers’ Company show that there were exceptions to this rule.

The History of the Bankes Trust

In his will Bankes appointed two executors, ‘my loving ffriend (sic) John Hales of the Inner Temple London esquire and John Cartlitch citizen and Goldsmith of London’. As I have shown, these two men were long-standing business associates of Bankes. The reference to Hales may suggest that he and Bankes were good friends.

Bankes’ Will was proved by John Hales on 26 April 1720/21 – within a month of his death(34). Evidence of the efforts that were made by the executors to settle Bankes’ estate was provided by a statement made in a legal document by James Hales, son of John Hales. He described how on 23 December 1720 John Hales, John Cartlitch and the widow of John Bankes all met to: ‘ make up an account of the interest then due to John Hales’ on his loans to Bankes'(35).

However, the minutes of the Court of Assistants of the Haberdashers’ Company for 21 February 1752 record that ‘several years were after his death spent in settling the accounts of Mr Bankes’ Estate with his executors, and what was due on the several mortgages on his estate, whereby the annuities ran into arrears'(36)

According to the Haberdashers’ Company, the blame for the delay in sorting out these matters lay with the executors, who, when the Company had pressed them for a swift resolution of the matter: ‘pretended that the Estate was not sufficient to pay the debts upon it, and insisted to keep possession of it.’

Some aspects of Bankes’ will were resolved quickly. In August 1720 a series of Indentures effected the transfer of the leased properties that Bankes had left to his relatives. However, five years after the death of John Bankes none of the relatives named in his will had received any payments in respect of the annuities he had left them, and it is apparent that this situation was intolerable to them. In 1724 Bankes’ widow, Elizabeth (Trevers) Bankes, brought a complaint in the Equity court of Chancery, seeking payment of monies that she claimed were due to her under the terms of her husband’s Will(37). She made reference to their marriage in 1715, and the marriage settlement that was drawn up at that time

‘It was agreed between them that each of them should at any time, notwithstanding such marriage, have full power to dispose of their Estate and Effects which did respectively belong to them at the time of such marriage and that your Oratrix should not be intitled to any dower of thirds out of the said John Banks’ Estate or to any part of his Estate other than what he shall be pleased to give her by his Last Will and Testament.’

Elizabeth went on to say that her husband’s Will laid down that she should receive certain annual payments. She recounts that successive Executors to his Estate had died, and the only payments she had received at the date had been made by John Cartlitch – £40 as part of a sum of £100 plus other payments. The total amount she had received was £290.

The current Executors of Banks’ Will had said that there was insufficient money in the Trust to meet all the requirements, and the mortgages must be paid before any bequests can be met. She claimed that this was inequitable, and sued for payment of the arrears due to her, plus the ongoing payments plus interest.

On 18 August 1725 my ancestor – Mary Mitchell – one of the half sisters of Bankes, in concert with other relatives, issued a Bill in the Court of Chancery :

‘against the representatives of Mr Bankes, the Master and four wardens of the Haberdashers Company, and the then Trustees, for an account of the Bankes estate and a performance of the Trusts in the said Deed mentioned …'(38)

As was mentioned above, Elizabeth Bankes recounted that successive executors of Bankes’ Estate had died, and there seems little doubt that those events had complicated the enactment of Bankes’ wishes. John Hales died 30 September 1723/4, and the two people he nominated as his executors had both died before him! His son, James Hales, took his place as executor. By 1726 he, also, had died, leaving his executor Thomas Denton of Furnivals Inn, London, Gentleman, to resolve his (and Bankes’) affairs. As if that was not bad enough, John Cartlitch died in 1726/7.

A Court of Chancery Decree dated 4 August 1727/8 stated that the problems of enabling the annuities to be paid should be resolved by selling Bankes’ personal estate not included in the Trust, and using the proceeds to pay the debts entailed in the properties involved in the Trust. It added that the annuitants should be paid(39). This suggests that the Court saw some merit in the Executors’ claims that there was insufficient equity in the Trust’s properties to facilitate payment of the debts entailed.

Once set in motion, the legal action in the Court of Chancery lasted for many years, and involved a number of different Causes. Apart from the problems of resolving the finances of Bankes’ estate, there were disputes about who should receive the annuities he had set out. After the death of a relative who was due for payment of an annuity, who should receive the money in question? This was a question that exercised the minds of most of the descendants of the benefactor’s siblings. One example of this problem was the case of Elizabeth Hopkins, half-sister to Bankes, and her son, Edmund. Elizabeth was described as a widow in her brother’s will. She was entitled to an annuity of £10 for the duration of her life, as was her son. Bankes added:

‘And after the decease of my said sister and her son the Annuity of twenty pounds to be paid to the issue and descendants of her said son’

Alas, Edmund Hopkins died in 1723. His wife had died before him, and he left no issue. His mother died in 1728. In these circumstances, who should receive the annuity of £20 per annum? There was no shortage of people ready to state their claim in Court, and the decision on payment of this grant had to be made by a Master in Chancery.

It is often said of legal proceedings that the only people who gain from them are the lawyers, and that may be true of the litigation surrounding the Bankes Trust. The records of the Court of Chancery contain many entries in the Decrees and Orders Books concerning this matter, and the number of Masters’ Reports is considerable. The proceedings were protracted and complex, and the Haberdashers’ Company, as Trustees, were put to a great deal of trouble for very little benefit. By 1752 the Company had declared their

‘desire to be discharged of the whole Trust … as no advantage (in our opinion) can ever accrue to the Company from the said estate'(40).

They sought a means of honourable withdrawn from the Trust and the legal proceedings resulting from it, but the Court would not allow this.

In 1792 the mortgage that had been mentioned in Bankes’ will was paid off. Up to that date the Court’s Receiver had been collecting rents from the tenants, and payments had been made to beneficiaries as the Court directed. However, a decree of 1792 handed over the collection of rents to the officers of the Haberdashers’ Company, who were to pay out the benefits laid down by Bankes, as amended by the court(41).

In the early years of the nineteenth century the Haberdashers’ Company decided to buy the annuities from the then recipients, and entered into negotiations with those people to achieve that end. At least this course of action provided the possibility that the wrangling between different members of the family about these matters may stop from that time onwards! The minutes of the Court of Assistants of the Haberdashers’ Company for the period 1804-1819 contain many references to them carrying through this policy(42).

The last act in the Chancery litigation relating to the Bankes Trust occurred in the High Court, Chancery Division, in 1933. An item in The Times newspaper of 26 July 1933 was headed Case Disposed Of After Two Centuries. Mitchell v Holloway(43), and recounted briefly the history of the litigation over a 200 year period. Ultimately, the Haberdashers’ Company had applied for payment by the Court to them of the Trust funds then held by the Court, arguing that they were better able to obtain a good return for the Trust. Mr Justice Farwell agreed to this request, on condition that the Company honoured the wishes of Bankes, as expressed in his Will.

The other benefits due under the Trust continued to be paid. Grants payable on apprenticeship, marriage, or setting up a business to many descendants of Bankes’ siblings figure regularly in the annals of the Haberdashers’ Company, and did not cease until the 1970s, when the number and value of claims outstripped the amount of money available to pay them. To this day, a Bankes Dinner is held for officials of the company; I believe this is the last part of the Bankes Trust that is still in operation.

One may ask why, given the fact that Bankes’ bequest was based upon property located in what is now a very expensive property area, did the funds of the Trust become so depleted? The answer lies, at least partly, in the events of 1822-3. A report of the Charities Commissioners dated 1824 recounts the circumstances(44).

On 26 February 1822 the Crown lease on Bankes’ Westminster properties expired, and in accordance with his wishes, the Trustees applied to renew it. However, the terms demanded by the Crown for renewal involved considerably higher costs to the Trust than had the old agreement, and certain covenants were demanded which were thought unreasonable. The minutes of the Court of Assistants of the Haberdashers’ Company show that the company employed two surveyors, each of whom surveyed the properties independently of the other, and arrived at the same conclusion – the lease should not be renewed. The better option would be to sell the properties and finance the trust by investing the proceeds.

The properties were sold, with the exception of the two houses in Clerkenwell. They realised £54,482 0s 7d, which was invested in 3% government stocks. One can only speculate at the likely value of these properties to the trust had they still been part of its assets.

The Genealogical value of the Bankes Trust

The value of the Trust to family historians derives from two sets of sources. Firstly, the Haberdashers’ Company archives contain much material relevant to the trust. These range from entries in the Court of Assistants Minutes to sources specifically created to record the transactions of the Banks Trust. The latter category of sources includes a wide range of documentary material, encompassing accounting records, minute books, and small notebooks.

The most immediately impressive source held by the Haberdashers’ Company is its wonderful Bankes pedigree book. This is held by the company, and is, in effect, a very large family tree. It was created early in the twentieth century to display the various branches of the Bankes dynasty, the information being obtained from the applications made by people seeking benefits under the trust.

My first foray into the enthralling world of family history occurred in the mid-1980s, when I accompanied my mother on a visit to Haberdashers’ Hall, to see the pedigree book. We were thrilled to be able to extract from it our particular line of ancestry. Since then I have re-visited the Haberdashers Company a number of times, and been allowed access to the pedigree book. As I am interested in the whole Bankes dynasty, as well as my own line of descent, I have recorded all the information contained in the book. It can be seen on the Family Tree incorporated into this website.

Of course, the Bankes Pedigree Book cannot be assumed to be wholly accurate; given its size and scope, it would be surprising if it was! However, as it was created in order to record the details of claimants under the Trust, and as the items of evidence used in its creation were the records of claims on the Trust, it should be a fairly reliable document. I have spent much time checking the accuracy of information contained in the book. Inevitably, I have found a few inaccuracies, but these are generally matters of detail; the names catalogued are usually accurate, and the same is true of the dates and locations.

The Pedigree Book only contains details of people who claimed on the Trust; people who did not claim are unlikely to feature in it. This is not absolutely the case; there are some details of non-claimants that have been added, presumably because a third party gave the relevant information to the company, but it is generally so. Through my research I have been able to add the details of a number of non-claimants to the information I obtained from the Company. I have obtained this data from a number of varied sources, including parish registers and census enumerators’ books. I have also received a great deal of information from modern day Bankes descendants. I am always delighted to hear from anybody who has an interest in the Bankes pedigree, and to exchange information with them.

It will be appreciated from the above that the Bankes Pedigree Book has been of immense value to me, insofar as it has provided a framework of data on which I have based my research. Without this record it is highly unlikely that I would have traced my ancestry back to Mary Mitchell, half-sister of Bankes.

I should give mention to the second category of sources spawned by the Banks Trust – the records of the Court of Chancery.

It is my immense good fortune that the executors of Bankes either could not, or would not, resolve the affairs of my benefactor within a reasonable time after his death, as this resulted in the records of the Court of Chancery causes being available to me. I shall now briefly outline their range and content, and their value to my research.

The Court of Chancery archives consist of several different types of record. Firstly there are the Decrees and Orders Books. As their title implies, these record the decisions taken by the Court. They tend to be fairly terse, and the hope is that, apart from any information they may contain, they may provide information that suggests other records of the court that may be available. They may refer to previous decrees, or hearings, or contain information about the cause. These are official records and can, I think, be assumed to be fairly accurate sources of information.

The Master’s Reports were issued by an officiating Master in Chancery when he was adjudicating on matters brought before him. The length of these documents can vary between a few lines and many pages. The subject matter can be almost anything relevant to the cause.

In using this material you have to bear in mind that some of the information I have mentioned is based on the statements of the claimants, and they must be assumed to have tailored their evidence to what they hoped would be their best advantage, in putting their case. Nevertheless, most people would hesitate to tell untruths to a Court, so I judge that the information in these reports can be generally regarded as reliable.

Bills of Complaint, Depositions and Responses were presented to the court in order to advance the claims of the person tendering them. They constitute the statements made by the people involved in the cause, and as such contain the advantages and weaknesses mentioned above in relation to statements made to the court. The evidence I have obtained from these records is varied and highly valuable. In various cases it has clarified relationships, given me information about dates of birth, marriage and deaths, stated places of residence, indicated occupations, and in certain cases made me aware of facts that I would have had great difficulty in finding elsewhere. One example of this occurred in a document in which a deponent stated that somebody who lived in eighteenth century London attended the funeral of a cousin in mid Wales(45).

The final type of record derived from the Court of Chancery proceedings are the items of evidence presented to the court. The survival rate of these items is not good, but when I have traced such material I have found it of immense value. I have found sources such as Indentures effecting the transfer of property, accounting records relating to John Bankes’ affairs, property leases, a copy of the Will of John Bankes, and a bundle of tradesmen’s bills relating to the properties owned by Bankes. As can be seen on the Sources section of this website, many of these documents bear original signatures of the parties involved. This wonderful material has provided me with a large amount of information about the lives of Bankes and his relatives and as it consists largely of legal documents and business records, I believe it to be quite reliable.

It will, I hope, be appreciated from these notes that the research I have carried out has been possible because of the existence of the Bankes Trust and the records it has spawned. Hopefully, the visitor to this site will find the fruits of my research of interest.

Click here to view references and bibliography for this text.

GM Culshaw October 2004
Last updated December 2008

  • This page was last updated on Saturday July 2nd, 2011.