James Clitherow of Boston Manor

by David Shavreen, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 11, 2002

The Clitherow family first became prominent as merchants in the City of London in the 16th century. James, the first Clitherow to live in Brentford, was a younger son of Sir Christopher Clitherow, who served as Lord Mayor of London in 1635. Established as a merchant banker when he was only 24, James had made his money from trade. News of a fire at Boston Manor reached him and in 1670 he bought the damaged house and set about restoring and enlarging it. As a younger son, despite coming from a titled father, he was no doubt seeking the status which came with property ownership in Restoration London.

International Trade
During this period London was transforming itself into a major international port with trading links around the known world. Two hundred years before the Portuguese had rounded the Cape of Good Hope and opened up routes to the East in search of spices. England and Holland had fought to displace them, gaining control of the lucrative spice trade. The Levant Company and the East India Company made large profits importing currants, pepper, spices, wine, silk and raw cotton from the Ottoman Empire and beyond, and made additional income by re-exporting them to other European markets.

Woollen cloth had been the mainstay of British trade with Europe in the past but heavy cloth suitable for cold climates was of little use to the inhabitants of warmer lands. New methods had to be adopted to produce lighter materials and for these there were new markets. Cargoes of cloth from England were carried in quite modest ships of between 450 and 500 tons by merchants who underwrote a portion of the cargo, usually in sixteenths, and shared proportionately in the profits.

References to such voyages appear often in James Clitherow’s account books:
• August 1660 ‘Voyage to Roan [Rouen] in France is Debitor 84 f[rancs] For 4 bales of cotton yarn shipt thither in the Magdalen’
• October 26th ’20 bales of cotton yarn shipt thither in the shipp Marigold £420.13s.0d [£420.65p]’
• 1661 ‘Cotton yarn, voyage to the Morea in Turkey £505.1s.8d.[£505.8p]’
• ‘The Turkey Company, Captain Crane, towards my one-sixteenth part of Golden Fleece cloth sent to Aleppo’ [at the entrance to the Silk Road through Syria Persia and China]
• 1664 ‘Lost by the West Indies Voyage – the goods being returned £163.10s.6d [£163.52p].’

The West India market was a new one and James Clitherow was clearly in the forefront of this trade. Molasses and sugar, tobacco and dyes supplemented the calico, silk and pepper which were his main interest. In 1663, for example, he paid £292.17s.3d [£292.86p] for 25 bags of pepper from the East India Company and quantities of currants brought from Venice.

In 1669 he took shares in a voyage to Surat in India, one of the trading posts of the East India Company. This was the main source of diamonds for export and London had become the European centre of the diamond trade. James’ brother, Anthony, had been sent out there as early as 1649 to act as agent but, like so many young men of the time, he had died there, far from home. James still retained his interest in older products from Northern Europe and he records sending cargoes of pilchards, pigs of lead, boards and other timber products to Leghorn [Livorno] and Venice.

There was not always a ready profit but joint ventures were a kind of insurance against disaster. There were dangers from European and North African pirates, enemy shipping, unfriendly rulers and bad weather. As late as 1682 James Clitherow records a voyage to Aleppo in the charge of two factors or agents, William and Edward Fane, who were to sell cloth. However, the ship, the Golden Fleece, was damaged and the cargo lost. Merchants with interests in a particular area sought safety and capital by joining together in joint stock companies by means of which they could raise capital from land-owners and other non-mercantile investors.

Influence as a banker
Increasingly, James Clitherow’s role as banker became more important. A later historian said of such men ‘They were for the most part … men known to be rich, and of so good a reputation that all the money of the kingdom would be trusted or deposited in their hands’. Thus James Clitherow began to lend money to the King, recording a loan in 1662 to ‘Our Sovereign Lord King Charles II in Debitor £100 for so much paid into Whitehall London’ and ‘Lent His Majestie with the citizens of London £300.’ In 1669 he records ‘Our Sovereign Lord Charles II, £1202.08s.00d [£1202.40p].’ Only three years later Charles, who was loath to part with his cash, defaulted on his loans and ruined some of the biggest lenders in the process. And James Clitherow does not appear to have continued to supply His Majesty’s needs.

Nevertheless he had many clients amongst the aristocracy. These included Francis George Dashwood, William, Lord Petre, the Countess of Huntingdon, Sir William Dudley and the King’s favourite, George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (a notorious rake and swordsman who later killed the Earl of Shrewsbury in a duel and took his widow to bed, still wearing his bloody shirt as a trophy according to popular belief). The demand for banking services was not limited to Crown and Court. Wealthy visitors to London needed money for shopping, gambling, renting and furnishing their homes, paying servants or tradesmen and marrying off their daughters. Amongst these no doubt were such men as Raymondo de Smith from Amsterdam and Jeremiah Hagan of Antwerp as well as John Booker, an astronomer. A simple exchange of money and receipts gave both parties money where they wanted it and avoided risky cash movements at a time when highwaymen were becoming habitual and dangerous nuisances.

There were more humble clients such as his own servants. In 1671 for example, James records: ‘Mary Miller, my servant, paid in full for principal and interest due this day £50.3s.0d [£50.15p]’. He also acted as banker for John Bird ‘my coachman’. Local tradesmen who were clients include Thomas Dugdale of New Brentford, yeoman, William Holiband of Isleworth, bricklayer, and Nicholas Hilton of West Brentford ‘gardiner’.

James even acted as banker to his own wife Elizabeth. He married three times. His second wife’s death in 1662 had been recorded in a businesslike way: ‘Ye charge of my wife’s sickness and funeral, £307.10s.1d[£307.50p].’ Shortly afterwards he had married Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas Barker of Chiswick Grove. For her he banked £360 and calculated her annual interest was £21.12s.0d [£21.60p], about 6%. She was his ‘dear wife’ and it was no doubt for her that he indulged in the purchase of jewellery. Pearls were still the most popular jewels at that time. Samuel Pepys bought his wife a three-row necklace for £80, an enormous amount for those days, but in July 1664 James Clitherow paid even more, the sum of £145 for a ‘necklace of oriental pearls’. In 1669 he spent £65 having a pair of pendants made and £6.10s.0d [£6.50p] on a diamond ring. If these were indeed meant for Elizabeth she was magnificently adorned. They must have lived in some style. Boston Manor House has magnificent plaster ceilings and the house has a comfortable domestic feel about it. It had been an expensive buy, involving the usual legal fees and requiring £1,439.12s.10d [£1,439.64p] to be spent on repairing and extending the building after the fire. Other sums appear later ‘for furniture for my house’.

An extract for James Clitherow’s accounts on building work ‘on my Manor of Boston’. The last item is £6 for ‘a Clock sett up on the top of my house for the benefit of my Tennants’

Involvement in local affairs
As the Lord of the Manor James Clitherow was expected to participate in the governance of the parish and to be the source of charitable contributions when collectors came round cap in hand. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 he paid £50 towards rebuilding burnt churches and £5 towards the rebuilding of St Pauls Cathedral. Other charitable donations went to relieve prisoners captured by Barbary pirates and taken to Algiers, to support Christ’s Hospital (the only children’s home in London) and to help French Protestants who lived uncertain lives in a country where Protestantism was still regarded with hostility.

James was appointed to the post of Parish Constable in 1665. A refusal to serve such in an office often meant a fine, but James took the alternative way out and paid someone else to act for him: ‘To John Symkin for serving my office of Constable, £13′. From 1673-4 he was appointed Churchwarden together with his ‘cousin’ Henry Hawley; in that year a man hanged himself in Boston woods, costing the parish £1.0s.8d [£1.04p], duly recorded in the Clitherow household accounts: For a messenger to the Coroner and burying the man that did hang himself in the wood 5s.0d [25p], Paid the Coroner’s fee, 13s.4d [67p], Spent upon the jury, 2s.4d [12p]’

James Clitherow was also responsible for apprenticing poor children under the terms of Lady Spencer’s will and gave £5 for the repair of Brentford Bridge. He was entrusted with money from the Orphans’ Fund of the City of London. Aldermen controlled the City’s chest and charities whose income came from many sources including properties and bequests. The City was the official guardian for all children whose citizen-fathers died before they married or came of age. Executors responsible for maintaining such orphans might transfer into the city’s coffers the sums involved, these then being invested, lent out or drawn upon to cover current expenses. Certain monies had clearly been banked with James on behalf of one of them. Hence the entry of 1669: William Beadell, son and orphan of William Beadell late citizen and draper. Left in my hand by Orphanic Court £77.07s.05d [£77.7p]’.

The cover of James Clitherow’s Journal and Account Book 1618-1682 (London Metropolitan Archives)

Special attention was given to numerous member of his own family. His father had had two wives and he was one of eleven offspring, several of whom by now had their own families. He himself had half brothers and sisters and four children of his own. Scattered amongst the accounts are references to family members, some with figures listed alongside and some with no financial details given:
• Oct 31st 1671: ‘Paid for plate given my nephew James Parke, £20.2s.6d [£20.12p]’
• Sept 1682: ‘Matthew Trollope my nephew, This is to pay more for his brother James Trollope mourning, £10.0s.0d.
• 1676-78: ‘Christopher Clitherow nephew’
• 1681: ‘Apparel and other things for my daughter Jane.’

In April 1682 there was a serious flood in Brentford which had badly damaged St Lawrence’s, where James Clitherow had worshipped and been active as Churchwarden for so long. He records his losses as £10.16s.6d [£10.82p] and the Vestry accounts supplement this with further details: ‘To the watermen for Beer and Brandy, that brought their boats to save the people from the flood that day’. Further payments went to four labourers to clear the water out of the Church and for a mop and broom. Robert Tunstall, a builder and owner of lime kilns in the Hollows, was paid for a load of lime ‘to build the Church wall blown down by the said flood’ and the carpenter, Edward Moorcock, ‘for new making the gates and stiles to the Churchyard’. George Butler, yet another carpenter, repaired seats overturned by the floodwater, and other payments are listed, for ironwork and paint. The water must have even got into the parish chest destroying several books kept there.

James died the following November. In his will he left £20 ‘to the poore of New Brentford in putting out children apprentices or to poor, aged and decayed people’. No doubt his experiences as Churchwarden had made him familiar with the dismal poverty of so many of the parishioners. His charitable disposition and Christian faith combined with his experience to ensure that he did not forget the poor.

Sources used

Clitherow accounts, London Metropolitan Archives
Daniel Lysons, Environs of London

David Shavreen lives in Brentford and has long been interested in its history. He is now retired after 40 years as a teacher, working mainly in schools in Brentford and Chiswick.

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