Robert Mitchell Feltmaker

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The Feltmaker in the title of this page was Robert Mitchell, husband of Mary Rand, half sister to John Bankes. My line of descent from John Bankes’s generation begins with Mary Rand,

I believe that Mary Rand was born around 1668, but I have not traced this event in the records. Her husband became a Freeman of the Feltmakers’ Company on Monday 14 March 1680(1), having served his apprenticeship under the tutelage of a certain Howard Ashby. Assuming that he was aged approximately 21 at the time of his Freedom, I estimate that he was born c1658/9.

The Feltmakers received their first Charters in 1667 and 1669, so they were a fairly young company in Robert’s day. They were involved in the production and sale of hats. Although I have not found any records relating to Robert’s business affairs, I assume that he was engaged in the hat trade.

The reader will have noted, in my Biography of John Bankes, the active part played by Bankes in the affairs of the Haberdashers’ Company. In the 16th and 17th centuries feltmakers had been rivals of Haberdashers, as they pursued a craft complementary to that of haberdashers, but tried to do so outside the control of the Haberdashers’ Company. Archer tells us that felt making was mainly carried out in the suburbs of London , where there was an adequate water supply and room to lay out cloths for drying the wool being processed. To exemplify this he states(2) that in the parish of St Olave, Southwark in the 1620s about 16% of the householders were feltmakers.

The marriage between Robert and Mary is unlikely to have occurred before the date of his freedom, as the terms of his apprenticeship would have precluded such an event. From information gained about his son’s apprenticeship(3), I estimate that his first known child – a son – was born c1692. Assuming that his son was born in wedlock, it is likely that the marriage between Robert and Mary took place between 1680 and 1692.

By 1716, when John Bankes made his Will, Robert Mitchell had died. I have no direct evidence of his death, but as his daughter, Mary, was born c1700(4) it would seem that he was alive until at least 1699. In 1706, when his son started his apprenticeship, Robert was referred to as deceased. It would thus seem that he lived to the age of at least thirty two years, but had died before reaching the age of thirty nine. I have not traced his Will, and it is possible that he died intestate.

As far as I know, Robert and Mary’s union produced only two children – a son named Robert and a daughter named Mary. As I have not succeeded in identifying the place of residence or origin of either Robert or Mary, it is quite possible that they had more children, and that some of them died whilst young.

Mary (Rand) Mitchell was referred to as a Widow in the Will of John Bankes(5), being left property and an annuity as follows:

Bequests: £5 for mourning

An annuity of £10 per annum

The interest on a loan of £50, given to her by the testator, was waived. She had to repay the loan to her daughter in law – Elizabeth Mitchell.

Four leases owned by the testator at Whitechapel – nos 8, 9, 10 & 11. These were left jointly to Mary and her children.

I have traced the legal Indenture that effected the transfer of the leases at Whitechapel to Mary Mitchell(6) . It bears the signatures of Mary, her son and daughter, and was dated 12 August 1720 .

As I mentioned in my Biography of John Bankes, the annuities due to John Bankes’s relatives under the terms of his will were not paid promptly, and on Wednesday 18 August 1725 Mary ( Rand ) Mitchell, in league with other relatives, issued a Bill in the Court of Chancery demanding the payment of outstanding monies(7) . There were many other people named alongside Mary as Plaintiffs in the cause, but I think that the fact that Mary was the first named shows that she was a leading figure in the decision to commence legal action to obtain their dues. Her name features as Plaintiff in the cause Mitchell v Hales(8) , and as the executors of the estates of Bankes’s executors died, the name of the defendant in the cause changed to reflect this. Thus, we see Mitchell v Denton(9) and Mitchell v Foxall(10).

In 1728 Mary’s sister – Elizabeth ( Rand ) Hopkins, died. She was a widow, and had been predeceased by her son and daughter in law. She left property to Mary Mitchell as follows(11):-

•  A Life Annuity which had been given to Elizabeth by her daughter in law

•  The annuity left to Elizabeth by John Bankes

•  Elizabeth’s ‘right and interest’ in her house at Maidenhead Passage in the parish of St James, Westminster , with all arrears of rent that may be due’.

•  Elizabeth’s household effects, jewellery, and clothes.

Mary was Elizabeth ‘s executrix, and the above bequests were left to her on condition that she paid all her sister’s ‘just debts and funeral expenses’.

I believe that Anne (Rand) Deane, another widowed half-sister of John Bankes, was still alive when Mary received these bequests from her sister(12), in which case it may be significant that Anne was not mentioned in Elizabeth’s will. This could indicate that Elizabeth enjoyed a close relationship with Mary, and therefore trusted her to sort out her affairs.

I suspect that the Westminster property bequeathed to Mary by Elizabeth had once been part of the estates of John Bankes. It was certainly in the same area as that in which Bankes’s estate was located.

When Mary Mitchell died in January 1738/9, her body was borne the few yards to her local church – St Botolph, Aldgate, where she was buried. It seems apparent from the record of this event(13) that she never re-married. At that time she was recorded as ‘Mary Mitchell a woman, of King Street ‘. This address was near the Tower of London and was the stated address of Mary’s son in law – James Jacobson – in several records. It seems likely that Mary lived out her last days in the home of her daughter.

If you would like to see an abbreviated family tree for Robert Mitchell, Feltmaker, (c1658-c1706), his wife – Mary Rand – and children you can do so by clicking here.

Some thoughts on Lifespan in the eighteenth century
In trying to relate to our forebears it is worthwhile to consider aspects of their lives, and try to understand what it must have been like to live in those times. The fact that the three sisters of John Bankes all outlived their spouses may be viewed in at least two ways. One may think that they were all lucky insofar as the grim reaper did not take them first, or one could feel sympathy at their misfortune at losing their breadwinners when they still had quite a time to live. In fact, the experience of my forebears in respect of the lengths of their life spans seems fairly typical of their age. John Bankes’s experience shows how childhood mortality afflicted even wealthy people in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He had had no fewer than nine children, and they all died before him! We do not know the ages at which they died – indeed, we are only able to name one of them – but it seems reasonable to suppose that several of them died in childhood. According to Earle(14) the rates of child mortality in Bankes’s time were so high that ‘it might take two births to produce one adult’.

If a person survived to adulthood, he or she stood a fair chance of living to a reasonable age(15), but the incidence of death in adults under seventy years of age was far higher than we are accustomed to. In his Essay upon Projects , published in the 1690s, Defoe suggested the the people we would call middle class businessmen should instruct their spouses in the art of business, to prepare them for the day when they died(16). In 1696 Gregory King estimated that one sixth of women in England were widows(17), and that many of them were indigent. None of Bankes’s sisters appear to have been poor, but in the cases of Elizabeth Hopkins and Mary Mitchell, they certainly experienced lengthy periods of widowhood.

If we assume that Robert Mitchell died c1715, ie a year before Bankes drew up his Will, it seems that Mary Mitchell lived approximately twenty-three years as a widow. Her relationship to Bankes suggests that she was comfortably off financially, and as such she may well have been quite an eligible lady if she had sought another spouse, but we have seen above that she never remarried. This suggests to me that she was probably an independent-minded lady, and this impression is consolidated by the facts that her sister named her as executrix of her estate, and she was a leading figure in the court proceedings referred to above.

If my estimate of Mary’s year of birth is accurate, she lived to reach her three score years and ten. In a society experiencing such high mortality rates it seems likely that as her years advanced, she spent quite a lot of time contemplating her demise – or rather, her fate after death. Although the eighteenth century intellectual climate gave rise to considerable religious rationalisation(18), most people had strong religious beliefs, which encompassed concern about the fate of their soul after their death. I mentioned this factor in my Biography of John Bankes, when considering the reasons why my subject founded his trust, and it would, I suspect, have been a significant element in the psyche of his sister.

Having said this, I have found no evidence to show how such thoughts would have manifested themselves in Mary’s behaviour. In view of her age and apparent ability to cope with legal matters, it surprises me that she appears to have been died intestate. Probate in respect of her estate was not effected until May 1773, when Letters of Administration were granted to the husband of her granddaughter – a solicitor named Thomas Hunt. The record of this event(19) states specifically that neither of Mary’s two children had

‘… taken themselves the administration of their mother’s estate…’.

On 5 July 1722 at the church of St Benet , Paul’s Wharf, Mary, the daughter of Mary and Robert Mitchell married a Broker named James Jacobson(20). No doubt Mary Mitchell, Widow, attended this occasion. She would have been aged about 54 years at the time, and was no doubt a central figure in the events of the day, being the mother of the bride. If only we could travel back through time to witness this scene! Alas, that is not possible.

Please click on the James Jacobson button to read about James Jacobson and Mary Mitchell.

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GM Culshaw December 2005
Updated January 2008

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