Christopher Clitherow

By David Shavreen, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, 18, 2009

Christopher and his family were the second generation of the Clitherows to live at Boston Manor House. This is the last piece that David Shavreen wrote for this Journal before his death in 2008, and is based on his research into Christopher’s papers which are held at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Christopher Clitherow, portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller (Hounslow Local Studies Collection)

Early life
There is in Boston Manor House a portrait of Christopher Clitherow, the son of James who was the first of the Clither-ows to arrive in Brentford. James died in 1682 and, at the youthful age of 16, Christopher became the Lord of the Manor. He was not alone, for his mother was still alive and no doubt exercised some influence over him, and he had the powerful example of his father to guide him.

The portrait is by the German artist Sir Godfrey Kneller. If the truth be told he was not so much an artist as the manager of a factory dedicated to churning out likenesses, but he was also a fellow Justice of the Peace and neighbour (he lived at Whitton Hall, later to be known as Kneller Hall), and certainly the image is no mere pot-boiler.

There Christopher stands, a rather portly man in a full bottomed wig and a sober brown suit ornamented with buttons and rows of embroidered button-holes, his cocked hat under his left arm, his right hand gesturing proudly to the trees of his estate and a commanding expression on his face. No doubt this is a portrait of a man in the prime of life.

As a young man he was rather slimmer and less sober, for he was living in stirring times. In 1688 when William of Orange was invited to take the throne of England in place of his Catholic father-in-law James II, the local militias were raised in case of trouble, and Christopher and other local bigwigs rode to horse. His household accounts for the time include payments for a bridle for the militia horse, and payments which he shared with four others for the militia horse, and for troops for fifteen days. Certainly the parish records suggest that in general the populace approved of the change of King. Prayers were said in St Lawrence’s Chapel to celebrate the deliverance of the nation, and the bells were rung with such enthusiasm that two barrels of ale were needed to cool the ringers’ thirst.

In 1687 Christopher’s mother died. Perhaps he felt time slipping away; a wealthy squire could never feel secure without male heirs, and in 1689 he married Rachel Paule of Braywick, Berkshire, who was 15 years old while he was 23. Such early marriages were customary at the time, for families were large and the women needed all the strength of a young body if they were to fulfil the expectations of their husbands and the families that they married into. The price was often an early death, and Rachel was only forty when she died, having in that time produced 15 children.

Banker and man of business
Meanwhile the new King and Queen were striving to establish themselves on a sound financial footing, and looked to their supporters to provide the ready money. The banking fraternity rallied round, and showed their ingenuity and their affluence by adopting a variety of schemes to raise the sums required, and to establish a sound and reliable banking system. Amongst these schemes was that of a National Lottery. Christopher played his part by helping to fund the Bank of England with sums of £100 and £523, and by regularly buying lottery tickets, usually in the names of various members of the family including his dear wife, his son George who was only two years old when he died, and his son Charles for whom he bought half a ticket, and for many others amongst his relatives. These were very numerous, for apart from his two sisters he had a half brother and sister, the progeny of his father’s earlier marriages, and the many offspring of his various uncles and aunts. There was the case of John Jenyns of Hayes who had married his half sister Jane. For him he seems to have acted as a most charitable bank manager for he wrote the following in his account book:

I allow him no interest although justly deserving the interest for my trouble and charges in his Hungtingdonshire Estate for I do not charge him . . .  yett I keep him in this account Brother Jenyns being so greedy for his money as appeares by sales of his estates in Essex and Pinner, yet I am willing to reserve a private bank least he want if I dye.

Christopher valued education as a merchant banker would, as being a useful tool in the business of making money, and as fitting men for the positions of power for which they might be destined. He supported his nephew Christopher Paul at school, even paying the apothecary when he fell ill. He sent his own son to Eton, and paid Mr. Weston the master £7 10s 6d. Nor did he neglect the poor people of the parish, for in 1703 together with his fellow JP Henry Hawley, he helped to found a charity school intended to teach those children to read the bible and the catechism, and generally keep them out of mischief. His regular contributions helped to keep the school going despite the withdrawal of support from neighbouring parishes when they started up their own schools.

That he could on occasion lose his temper with the wayward is shown by one of his self administered rebukes in his cash accounts, for he was accustomed to scrawl his occasional confessions in the margins. For example one of his tenants, and he had many, had challenged his assessment, resulting in some bitter exchanges. Christopher wrote:

After he had been very saucy with words and told many lies I arrested him, but on application of his wife I forgave him, and I took John Westbrook’s bond for fee to clear William Richards.

Normally he was genial and tolerant in his approach to sinners. When the poor barber-surgeon William Nichols appeared before him accused of receiving £4 3s and two pocket pistols, the goods of one Henry Roberts who had been convicted of felony, he wrote: ‘Nichols being poor I remitted the money. Pistols I had’.

Another aspect of his character and interests that emerges from Christopher’s account books is his interest in farming. He had a steward to whom no doubt he left the running of his land. There are lists of purchases of grain – oats for the horses, barley and malt perhaps for the brewing of beer for the household – and for himself and his friends there are hogsheads of claret, but his chief interest seems to have been the buying and selling of cattle. In Brentford the cattle market was of great importance, and among his friends and tenants were some who dealt regularly in buying and fattening up cattle. There are lists and prices of oxen, cows and calves that he bought at Smithfields and then sold on to local dealers, and of purchases from them of cattle he bought in the hope of breeding from them and reaping a profit from the sale of calves. He also bought cattle to feed under the cherry orchards which he owned, a practice not uncommon in Middlesex, but of agriculture there is little mention and innovation does not appear to have been much practised.

The wealth of the family was based on commerce, and they had a shop in London which sold luxury goods including sugar and spices, particularly pepper, silks and Malaga raisins, which were highly prized as a rare treat for making exciting new dishes and puddings. Other exotic foods mentioned in his account book included a basket of lamb, lobsters and port. He paid £13 for a hogshead of claret and £1 for two boxes of sugar. Such luxuries however seem to have done his health no good for among such items as stockings, towelling and silks from the shop was rhubarb, an import from the east whose bitter root was a cure-all for many diseases. In 1691 he spent vast sums providing furnishings for the house, and these included pictures costing £50; upholstery (which meant all kinds of small furniture) £200; a bed for £29, and in accordance with his trading interests, a book of maps.

Lord of the Manor
As Lord of the Manor Christopher Clitherow had to preside over the Manorial Court to protect his property against infringements, and to collect rent from tenants on his land who owed him money in lieu of their feudal obligations. To supervise these measures jurors were appointed from among local men of substance. As many as twenty two members could be chosen, and failure to attend when summoned carried a fine. The venue for these meetings was usually one of the two great coaching inns, the Red Lion or the Three Pigeons, and to ensure that the jurors were adequately housed and fed there were prescribed sums of money set aside for food and drink. Friends and neighbours took the opportunity to participate to such an extent that the costs absorbed most of the fines and other moneys collected at the court sittings. Christopher complained that there was little profit in holding court, writing in 1709 that the expenses were greater than usual on a greater appearance of neighbours.

The memorial to Christopher and his wife Rachel formerly in the chancel of St Lawrence’s Church, New Brentford.

Profit was certainly the driving force behind many of his activities but so was service to the community, and faith in God. He was one of the mainstays of the church, and the dominant voice in the Vestry, which was concerned not only with the upkeep of the church but also with all the activities that concerned the community as a whole. It was in his time that the church began to acquire galleries. These were intended to increase the seating accommodation for the many families who were excluded from the church by lack of accommodation. Private pews were offered for rent, and the income was to be used to provide for the poor, and to help pay the Minister’s salary. For many years he collected the money.

His association with the church was not merely an official one, for he was a devout Anglican and kept a book of prayer which he prized, and with which he prayed for the well-being of his family and children: ‘Give them grace to do their dutys not as eye servers but in simplicity of heart as in thy sight’. Nevertheless there were times when the Vestry proved fractious and exhibited a measure of independence that he must have felt hard to bear. In 1698 for example, the old Church House which had fallen into disrepair and had been let out in part to a school mistress, was due to be replaced. The Vestry resolved to replace it with a habitation for the present or any other minister ‘that shall reside in it and officiate in the chapel there’. Christopher, responding to a request, agreed to ‘freely release his claims to the said town’, and thus stirred up something of a hornet’s nest. The house being let to Mr. Sam Packer, the then Minister, for one year from Lady Day 1699, a fierce note was added in the Vestry minutes:

The Church House was the Minister’s time out of mind, and built upon the Church Yard, and they always had the rent, when let, in their own right as being an appurtenance to ye chapel’, and added ‘Query: How could Christopher Clitherow Esq. release his claim and title to this House, to which he never had any; nor in ye fore-mentioned release bearing date July 25th 1698, does he make any recital of any right he or his predecessors ever had to it’?

He undertook other duties such as putting out orphan children as apprentices, and he was also Treasurer for the maintenance of the Middlesex bridges, and had to order timber, stone and gravel, workmen and contractors, a major operation which he relinquished with gratitude in 1719. In short he followed in his father’s footsteps, serving his community well and fulfilling the role that was expected of an East India Company man and a Clitherow.

Later life

Page from Christopher Clitherow’s account book. (City of London: London Metropolitan Archives)

1714 proved a terrible time for Christopher. In that year his wife died, having delivered fifteen children and only 40 years old. Christopher’s thoughts were for the future of his children. He wrote in his book of prayers ‘Incline I beseech thee most mercifull father, thine eares to my humble petitions for my poore motherless children. I aknowledge with all humility thy greate goodnesses and mercies in spareing me so many of them’. In his account book he wrote ‘This hath bin a dismall and expensive yeare by my own illness and irreparable loss of my Dear wife’. He himself died in August 1727, aged 61, and is buried beside his wife in St Lawrence’s church; a handsome marble monument was erected on the east wall of the chancel to commemorate them both.

The Clitherow papers at the London Metropolitan Archives (Accession 1360), especially the Account Book of Christopher Clitherow, and the Vestry records for St Lawrence’s Church, at Chiswick Library

David Shavreen lived in Brentford for many years, and taught for over 40 years in local schools. He died in 2008.

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