John Bankes Trust – 1716

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As a young girl I had been vaguely aware that there was some kind of family Trust Fund, from which all the girls in my family could benefit on marriage if they so wished. My curiosity was not fully aroused until many years later I was informed that a family tree had been deposited at Haberdashers’ Hall in London in connection with the John Banks Trust, administered by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers.

I was eager to see this for myself, also to find out more about the family Trust and the man who had bequeathed it, so I decided to visit Haberdashers’ Hall. The Company kindly provided me with much biographical information and a photocopy of an 1826 copy of the original Banks’ Charity Bequest.

John Banks was born about 1652, became a Citizen Haberdasher and Mercer of the City of London, and was connected with the Levant trade by way of silk dealing. He was admitted to the Freedom of the Haberdashers’ Company in 1672, and after long service to the Company, he became Master in 1717; he died the following year.

Banks lived in a notable period of turmoil in British history: he was born during the interregnum, just three years after the execution of Charles I, so his lifetime encompassed such events as the Restoration, the Plague and Fire of London, the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral by Wren, and the scientific work of Newton. It was also a time of increasing national prosperity, as foreign trade was growing in importance to this country. In the midst of this prosperity, however, there were many poor people applying for relief from the parish, and it fell to the newly prosperous merchant tradesmen to play a large part in the alleviation of poverty. Merchants and tradesmen were responsible for some 70% of charity and charity endowments in the 17th century, but the main beneficiaries were probably not the poorest people, as I shall show in relation to the Banks’ charity.

John Banks decided to found a Charitable Trust, to be administered by the Master and Wardens of the Haberdashers Company, and part of the Banks’ Benefaction was that certain “sums should be annually paid, viz: for putting out apprentices, helping to set up in business, or towards the marriage of the descendants of his relations, in such proportions as his Trustees should think fit.” It is this last group of recipients which is most relevant to our family.

As succeeding generations claimed their benefits under this bequest, each had to state the basis of their claim; this meant providing documentary evidence of their parentage, etc., to the trustees of the charity. This evidence may have taken the form of sworn statements or, after 1837, registration certificates.

These have been recorded by the Haberdashers’ Company, noting the relationships of the various claimants, resulting in a `family tree’, which stretches back to 1716 and John Banks. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to see this family tree, and extract from it my particular strain of ancestry. In more recent years, claimants had to submit details of their address, age and occupation. This is invaluable to me as it provides more background information on the people concerned and leads on to further research.

The Benefaction relating to our family was wound up only a few years ago, due to the “too numerous applications and much dwindling sums.” It had been in existence for approximately 260 years.

There are also numerous other charities included in the Trust, such as payments to poor and elderly men and women, inhabitants of different parishes such as Battersea, St Benet Paul’s Wharf and St Mary Overy in addition to various annuities to relatives; the bequests totalled £912.0.0. 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. It is interesting to note that people of the age of 40 years or more were considered old enough to benefit, an indication of the span of life expected in Banks’ time.

To fund this Charity, John Banks bequeathed his leasehold estate in St. James Parish, Westminster and property in Clerkenwell to the Master and Wardens of the Haberdashers Company and their successors, upon trust, to pay out of the rents and profits and residue of same the sum of £10,000. 0. 0. and interest, to meet the cost of the charities. The estate originally included 72 houses in Westminster, held by lease under `the Crown, and two further freehold houses in Clerkenwell. Banks left instructions that the lease from the Crown was to be renewed upon expiry, but in 1822. the then trustees were advised by two consultants that the terms of renewal of the lease were `unreasonable’ so the lease was not renewed and the 72 houses in Westminster ceased to form part of the charity One can only guess at the likely value of these properties to the trust had they still been part of its assets.

I was intrigued to note reference in the charity bequest to payment of £2.O.O. per annum for a sermon to be preached on each of the half-yearly days at the meeting-house adjoining the hall; it made me wonder whether John Banks was a non-conformist but the entries at Haberdashers’ Company say that he was buried “beside the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace in London” (now the site of the Borough Market), so it seems unlikely that he was a religious dissenter. I hope to discover more about the nature of his religion.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to benefit from the existence of John Banks’ Charity in researching my family history. It has suggested several avenues of research that I hope to follow. In his Charity he provided for others but how did he provide for his second wife, who survived him? My next step is to find John Banks’ will. Perhaps I shall find sufficient material for a further article!

Alice Culshaw & Geoffrey Culshaw

Published in North West Kent Family History , Vol 4, No 6, June 1987, pp 222-3

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