Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The richest of the rich


Where did it all go right for the Craven family? It began with the birth in approximately 1548 of a son William, to Beatrix and William Craven in Appletreewick in Yorkshire. William was born in one of two cottages that now form part of the church of St John the Baptist in Appletreewick. He attended a "Dames School" in nearby Burnsall, a place where basic education was provided to the children of poor working families before they themselves were old enough to go out to work. In 1560 William got his big chance when he was chosen to be the new apprentice to Robert Hulson, a Burnsall man who had become a merchant tailor in London.


Based on Craven's later career one can speculate about his rise to riches. He was a clever boy who worked hard and was utterly determined to succeed. After he became a member of the Merchant Tailors' Company in 1569, Craven went into businesss with Hulson and when Hulson died he left his former apprentice £5, “a mourninge gown and my shop at Breedstreete corner of Watling Street with the lytle shoppe and warehowse thereunto adjoining, for a terme of three years.” This bequest was made to William "for failthful and diligent service to me done." He had evidently been a loyal and industrious business partner.

After Hulson's death Craven expanded the business and became a Warden of the Merchant Tailors Company on 4th July 1594. He married late, in 1597, when he was already a man of substance and could look for a wife who was younger but was of equal wealth and stature. Elizabeth Whitmore was the daughter of William Whitmore, another merchant tailor, and her brother George went on to be Lord Mayor of London. Elizabeth and William Craven had six children.

William was by now well on the way to making a fortune and moving up in the fluid social world of the Elizabethan middle class. Opportunities provided by trade gave men such as Craven a route not merely to money but also to influential municipal connections. He was elected Alderman of the Bishopsgate Ward of London in 1600, became Sheriff of London in 1601, was knighted in 1603 and became Lord Mayor of London in 1610. He made his money in the wholesale of cloth for the domestic market, providing, for example, cloth worth almost £600 for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I. Later on in his career he became a moneylender to the aristocracy, and his debtors included Sir Robert Cecil, the 2nd Earl of Essex and the 9th Earl of Northumberland.
Craven was associated with a number of charitable projects in London and he also became a benefactor to Burnsall and Appletreewick. He paid for renovations to St Wilfrid's Church Burnsall in 1612, furnishing the main body of the church and the chancel with seats and "stalls of wainscot" and he walled the churchyard and had gates added. He paid for a bridge to be built over the River Wharf and had a causeway built from Appletreewick to the church. This was visible until the mid-20th century but is now buried. A rather charming verse was painted onto the church wall to record Craven's generosity:

This church of beauty most, repaired and bright,

Two hundred pouds or more, did cost Sir William Craven, knight,

Many other works of charity whereof no mention here;

True tokens of his bounty in this parish did appear.

His place of his nativity in Appletreewick is seen,

And late of London Lord City Mayor he hath been.

There is a second verse in a similar vein referring to "that bountiful knighte" and his genersoity once again! The total sum Craven spent restoring the church and its grounds was about £600, the equivalent of about £80,000 today.

Craven also built and endowed Burnsall Grammar School in 1605, giving £20 per annum to pay a schoolteacher and £10 for an usher (assistant schoolmaster). The scholars received free education in Latin and English but had to pay one shilling a week for tuition in Maths. The school statutes give a fascinating insight into both Sir William's benevolent paternalism and into the influence which the rest of his family were already exerting in local affairs. All documents relating to the governance of the school were to be kept in a chest in the schoolhouse. The chest had three locks and the three keys were held by the Rector of Burnsall, Sir William and his relatives Robert and Antony Craven. The keys were handed down through the family and the statutes decreed that they should be held by "two men of the name of Craven from the Parish of Burnsall" for as long as there were Craven descendents in the parish.

The school was built on land given by Sir Stephen Tempest, the local squire. The Tempest family had been well-established in the Appletreewick area for three hundred years; it would be interesting to know how they felt about the re-appearance of the newly rich and knighted Sir William Craven in a county where they had always been influential, especially as in 1601 Craven bought the manor house Elm Tree in Appletreeewick, which he re-named High Hall. It was situated opposite the cottage where he had been born. Again this seems a significant statement in Craven's rise to eminence.

When Sir William Craven died in 1618 he left a fortune of £125,000, the equivalent of £5.3 billion in today's values which enable his widow and sons to buy a considerable landed estate and his surviving daughters to marry into the aristocracy.

It was said of the later Cravens that Sir William made all the money and subsequent generations spent it. Whilst this is somewhat unfair, a look at the family tree serves to demonstrate the difference that one "boy-made-good" could make to the future of an entire family. Craven's eldest son William went on to become the first Earl of Craven, a notable soldier and the builder of Ashdown and other grand houses. His second son John became Baron Craven of Ryton. One of his cousins became Master of the Horse to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and another became her usher. Several other Craven nephews and cousins were knighted and married into the aristocracy. Perhaps the most interesting early descendent is Mary Craven who became Lady Andros. As a result of her connection to the first Earl of Craven she gained a place at the court of King Charles II and went on to marry Sir Edmund Andros, gentleman in waiting to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and later one of the early colonial governors of America. Mary died in Boston in 1688. It was a long way from Appletreewick and a graphic illustration of how high the Craven family had risen on the coattails of one man.

References: Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.richestoftherich.com/richlist.php?richindex=133 , A Short History of Burnsall School by Stockdale and Townend, Burnsall Church and its Story by M L Dawson.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Herepath


The other day I came across the word "herepath" and didn't know what it meant so being a bit of a geek when it comes to words I looked it up on the internet. As a result I came across the website of the wonderful organisation The Friends of the Ridgeway. This is a great site for anyone interested in the Ridgeway, its natural history, geology, archaeology and history. They have some excellent articles on the legends and literature of the area and whilst I was browsing I came across an entire page on "The Herepath." This turns out to be an Anglo-Saxon term for Army Road and according to the article the greatest military activity near the Ridgeway in historic times was in the Anglo Saxon period because the Romans preferred to build their own army roads and did not use the Ridgeway. Indeed the road that runs from Wantage to Wanborough, along the northern line of the Downs but at a lower altitude than the Ridgeway was originally Roman in origin and called the Portway. This road, unlike the Ridgeway, was built along the spring line so that there was water available to travellers along the route. There was a Roman fort in the field to the south of Ashdown Park (which of course wasn't there at the time!) and a Roman villa was built into the Anglo Saxon site at Alfreds Castle and another only a mile to the west. These were rich lands for Roman agriculture, all part of the timeline stretching from the Bronze Age to the present at Ashdown.