‘In the name of God, Amen’ Ipswich wills from the seventeenth century by Frank Grace, published 2017.
I had promised to write a review on the final book from Frank Grace for this issue of the Newsletter but it would be remiss of me not to mention his extensive contributions to the historical research into Ipswich’s past.
You will almost certainly know Frank wrote Rags and bones, the social history of the Rope Walk area of Ipswich, a wealth of other books and edited the Suffolk Review for thirty years. Frank was a significant historian, researcher and lecturer whose contributions will be sorely missed.
Ipswich wills from the seventeenth century at first appears as if it might be rather dull but what Frank has done is to take the almost unreadable script of some 250 wills and testaments and turn it into a time-limited social history of Ipswich. It is at least part of the social history for one of the first things we learn is that the peasants without did not need to leave a will because they had nothing to leave.
It was during this period that Ipswich was among the top ten towns in the country measured by wealth, a wealth that was held by the few and the majority simply working to live and living each day as it came.
We learn that the term ‘Gentlemen’ was changing, from being applied only to the ancient landed gentry to a wider group, those who now had access to new money, merchants and tradesmen. A surprise is that some of the land and property listed in the Wills was widely scattered, not only across Suffolk but into other counties as far afield as Cumberland and Northumberland.
Most of the new money had come from the wool and cloth industries, and from the shipping required to export the products of the wool towns. In fact the list of ships mentioned in the wills gives an insight into the activities of the time. There were ships, carvels (a light, fast sea- going vessels), hoys (coastal vessels rigged as a sloop) and lighters (barges).
William Mosley who died 5th December 1639 was a merchant, probably the richest amongst all of those featured. Frank reveals a list of his beneficiaries, and the bequests made to their benefit, a list that includes Henry Drewe, William’s brother-in-law who (according to the Will) by ‘foolish and unthrifty course’ wasted his maintenance and is in great want and misery. Despite the implied threat he gives him 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) per week, part of the ongoing income from the rents of William’s extensive property portfolio.
It is a fascinating and readable book and I recommend it, not only to Ipswich residents who will recognise local names and places but to anyone interested in social history.
Frank Grace managed to complete this book just before he died in the autumn of 2017.