John Bankes’ Will

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In 1987 my mother and I wrote an article for the NWKFHS journal about a trust set up by our ancestor, John Banks (c.1652-1719), a Master of the Haberdashers’ Company and a Freeman of the City of London, for the benefit of the descendants of his family. These benefits were claimable on the occasions of marriage, apprenticeship or the setting up of a business. As each claimant had to prove their descent from the benefactor, the Company of Haberdashers has gradually compiled a family tree stretching from my generation back to the seventeenth century, which my mother and I had used as the basis of our research.

Shortly after we wrote that article, I moved to Shropshire and was therefore less able to research the London end of my family history. My mother’s health was in decline, so she, also, was unable to research. However, we did make some progress, particularly with regard to John Banks’s will, which will, I hope, illustrate the value of wills in family history research.

The photocopy of Banks’s will which I obtained from the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, was not easy to comprehend for two reasons: the lack of clarity of the copy and the difficulties of understanding 18th century English. Most of the deciphering work was done by my daughter, Helen, whose work was amply rewarded by the wealth of information which the will revealed.

Banks’s will follows the general pattern of most wills of that period, by starting with the bequest of his soul to `my dear redeemer’. He then names and rewards his executors. This is followed by instructions for his burial, and his many bequests.

The will tells us much about the social status and lifestyle of Banks. His executors, who are identified as friends and associates, were obviously men of substance – John Hales of Inner Temple, London, Esquire and John Cartlich Citizen and Goldsmith of London. Banks had acquired much wealth through silk trading in the Levant, but if we had not already known of his prosperity, the status of his executors would have given us a clue, as would the existence of a portrait of the testator, which he left to his wife. On her decease, Banks’s instructions were that this portrait should be hung in the parlour of Haberdashers’ Hall, London. The Hall has had to be largely rebuilt, due to fire and the blitz, but this picture still hangs in the parlour. I own a photograph of this portrait, kindly given to me by the Company of Haberdashers (who have been most helpful to us). It was painted in 1716, when Banks was 64. He is shown wearing what appears to be his best wig and gown, a very upright figure, standing in a wood-panelled room. The portrait is inscribed `John Banks esq., A Worthy Benefactor’. The impression given is of a solid, upright, prosperous and benevolent citizen. I have no doubt that this was the impression Banks wished to give.

Banks’s bequests show that he owned a large amount of property in London, including a dwelling house at Nine Elms. At the date of his will (1716) he was, apparently, living at another of his residences, at St.Benet, Paul’s Wharf. This parish was situated on the north bank of the Thames, south of St Paul’s Cathedral. In addition to these homes, he also held a leasehold estate in Great Queen Street, St.Giles Parish, Middlesex (i.e. St Giles-in-the-Fields), `consisting of four severall messuages’ and another leasehold estate – consisting of `13 severall leases’ in and around George Yard in the parish of St.Mary Matfellon, Whitechapel. In 1888, Jack the Ripper was to murder one Martha Turner in George Yard.

The property in Great Queen Street had, according to the will, been left to Banks’s `now wife’ as part of their marriage settlement, and the Whitechapel Estate was divided amongst many relations in his will, including, interestingly, relatives from the family of Banks’s first wife. These relatives were the five children of her late brother, and the fact that property was left to them indicates that Banks still kept in contact with them after his wife’s death and that he was something of a benefactor to them.

It is interesting to note that my family have stayed in the same area of East London from the time of Banks right up to my mother’s generation. I wonder how many other descendants of Banks’s family still live in that area!

The John Banks Trust, under which my ancestors and contemporaries benefited until c1970, and which was the subject of our 1987 article, was mainly financed from the proceeds of the estate which the benefactor held in the parish of St.James, Westminster. This consisted of 72 houses, held by lease under the Crown. They were sold by the trustees in 1822.

It is readily apparent from the above that John Banks was a wealthy man. What a shame that none of this wealth percolated down to my generation!

The will also tells us of Banks’s own family, and brings home to us the harshness of 17th and 18th century life, even among the better-off.

In 1986 the then archivist at the Hdberdashers’ Company told us that Banks had one child – a son – by his first wife. This son had predeceased him. The will tells us that Banks wished to be buried in the burial ground `in Winchester Parke in Southwark’, on the site of the now Borough Market. However the inscription on his tombstone was to state that his first wife (Elizabeth), their daughter (Esther) and seven other children `lie there or near thereunto’. Banks was evidently more prolific than he had been given credit for! He had been predeceased by at least eight children.

Because Banks left property to his first wife’s family, we also now know that her maiden name was Atherton, and we know the names of her late brother (Augustine) and his children. We also learn from the will the names of Banks’s brothers and sisters, and their children. Unfortunately we do not know the maiden name of his `now’ wife.

I made reference above to Banks leaving property to his second wife (another Elizabeth) in his will, having provided for her at the time of their marriage. Apparently this was often done in Banks’s day, but it has its frustrations for the family historian! The Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, does not hold a copy of his marriage settlement. I have had similar lack of success in my attempt to obtain a copy of the inventory of the property which he left on his decease, which surely must have been prepared, but which does not seem to exist now.

Even with these gaps in my knowledge, however, I have been lucky to have had an ancestor as illustrious as John Banks, and to have inherited, by virtue of his legacy, a family tree following a mainly female line back to Banks’s sister.

There is much work to be done to learn more of my ancestors, and I look forward to many years of research. Sadly, my mother died in September 1990,and I have now taken over her research. I would be very pleased to hear from any NWKFHS members who believe their research may overlap with mine.

McLaughlin,E (1985) : Wills before 1858 , FFHS
Will of John Banks, Prob.11/573,quire 78, f240/242v., PRO, Chancery Lane

Geoff Culshaw

Published in North West Kent Family History , Vol 5, No 12, Dec 1991/Jan 1992, pp 442/4

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