John Manser (1631 – 1681) was the first member of the extended Byne family to move from Sussex to London in the seventeenth century. He was the second cousin of my 8 x great grandfather John Byne and his brother Stephen, who would follow him to London and become his neighbours at Tower Hill.

John Manser shared a grandmother with John and Stephen Byne. She was Mary Manser, daughter of John Manser of Wadhurst, who married Stephen Byne of Burwash: they were my 10 x great grandparents. Mary’s brother Christopher married another member of the Byne family: Anne, daughter of John Byne of Wadhurst, whose precise relationship with my own Byne ancestors is not entirely clear.

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Burwash and Wadhurst can be seen in this section from an eighteenth-century map of Sussex

Like Stephen and Mary Byne, Christopher and Anne Manser lived in Burwash. They had seven children, of whom John, born in 1631, was the second. He had an older brother, Nicholas (b. 1628) and five younger siblings: Abraham (b. 1635), Anne (b. 1639), Deborah, Mary and Jane (dates of birth unknown).

John Manser was christened in the parish church of St Bartholomew, Burwash on 21st August 1631, in the sixth year of the reign of King Charles I. Two years before John’s birth, the King had suspended Parliament, and when John was eleven years old, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham, marking the beginning of seven years of civil war in England. As I noted in a previous post, it’s not known on which side my Sussex ancestors found themselves in the Civil War, or whether any of them took an active part in the conflict, though there is definite evidence of Puritan sympathies in the Byne and Manser families.

apothecary-shop

An apothecary’s shop

When the King was executed and the Commonwealth declared in 1649, John Manser would have been eighteen years old. It’s my belief that John was already living in London by this time and either apprenticed to, or studying to become an apothecary. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries had separated from the Grocers’ Company in 1617, when they were granted a royal charter by James I, and their status as medical practitioners grew during the seventeenth century, under the influence of key figures such as Nicholas Culpepper.

Why John Manser decided to become an apothecary, and what drew him away from his home and family in rural Sussex, is unknown. However, we know that his older brother Nicholas remained in Burwash and inherited the family property there, though John would retain an interest in it. As a second son without property of his own, John would have needed to find a profession, and presumably there were more opportunities for work in the capital.

John wasn’t the only one of the Manser siblings to be drawn to London. His sister Ann married Thomas Frith at the church of St James, Dukes Place, in 1666, and they had a son John baptised in London seven years later.

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St Botolph, Aldgate

John Manser must have met and married his first wife Sarah by 1653, when he was twenty-two years old, since their first two children – twins named John and Thomas – were born on 21st January 1654 (1653 according to the old calendar still in use at the time). Unfortunately we don’t have a record of the couple’s marriage, or of Sarah’s maiden name or origins. What we do know is that they lived in the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, since that is where John and Thomas were christened, on the day of their birth.

John Manser junior must have died in infancy, since another child with the same name was born almost a year later, on 10th January 1654/5, and baptised at St Botolph’s on the next day. The entry in the parish register for this baptism is the first to identify the Mansers’ address as Tower Hill. One of the oldest parts of London, this elevated area to the northwest of the Tower is best known as the grim site of high-profile public executions. However, it was also the meeting-point of a network of streets, including the Minories which led northwards towards St Botolph’s church, and Thames Street, which ran westwards past the church of All Hallows, Barking, towards the Custom House and the docks. This area would be home to a number of my ancestors over the next century or so.

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Tower Hill and St Botolph’s church can be seen in this section of the Agas map of London (1561/1633)

When Joseph, their next child, was christened in May 1657, and when another son, Abraham, was baptised two years later, John and Sarah Manser were still living in ‘ye Tower libertie’, perhaps at the same address in Tower Hill. However, by the time their first daughter Elizabeth was baptised in December 1663, three years after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, they were said to be resident in East Smithfield, an area immediately to the east of the Tower.

I believe that John and Sarah Manser had another son, Nicholas, who was born before Sarah’s death, perhaps in childbirth, in October 1672. Some time in the next three years, John Manser met and married his second wife, Jane Sawen. She was born in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, and was the second youngest of the nine children of Thomas and Anne Sawen. Jane’s younger sister Rebecca, born three years after her, remained unmarried and seems to have lived with the Mansers in East Smithfield.

John and Jane Manser’s first child together, also named Rebecca, was born in December 1675 and christened at St Botolph’s. Another daughter, Jane, was probably born two years later. In 1675 John’s daughter Elizabeth, from his first marriage, died at the age of twelve, and in 1677 his son Nicholas also died, aged five. In 1679 Jane Manser’s sister Rebecca Sawen died of smallpox without leaving a written will, though her final wishes were written down by her brother-in-law John.

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Part of John Manser’s handwritten record of the will of his sister-in-law Rebecca Sawen (via ancestry.co.uk)

A document in the London Metropolitan Archives dated 16th January 1679/80 informs us that on this date ‘appeared personally’ Jane Manser of the parish of St Botolph without Aldgate, aged about forty years, with Margaret Tailor of the same parish, and swore that they were well acquainted with the late Rebecca Sawen, also of the same parish, and that they had been with her in her last sickness in the previous December when she ‘had a mind to make her will’. The deceased had left property to her ‘brother and sister’ John and Jane Manser and had made John the sole executor of her will. John’s hastily written note is attached, and it begins ‘December 19 1679 my Sister Rebeckah Sawen was taken sicke and Sunday 21 the small pox came out the 23 she made her …will as followeth’.

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Mottynsden Manor House, Burwash, Sussex (via rightmove.co.uk)

John Manser signed and sealed his own will a year later, on 8th December 1680, and died some time early in the following year. He would have been fifty years old. In his will John made reference to his interest in a property called Mottensden or Mottynsden in Burwash, Sussex, which was occupied by his older brother Nicholas and his wife Elizabeth. As well as leaving sums of money to his younger children, to be paid to them out of this estate, John also bequeaths ‘unto my sonne Abraham Manser All my right and title of that house and Land called Mottensden in the parish of Burwash in the County of Sussex and to the heires of his Body lawfully begotten forever’. The seventeenth-century manor house is now a Grade II listed building and is still in use as a private residence.

John also bequeathed to his son Abraham ‘the Lease of my house that I now live in (hee paying the Rent as it becomes due) with the Shopp as it is now furnished and all thereto belonging As Stills and Books of Phisicke, and Chirurgiry,’ together with various items of furniture. We know that Abraham Manser would follow in his father’s footsteps, working as an apothecary in East Smithfield. I’ll write about him another post.

after Robert White, published by William Richardson, line engraving, published 1795

John appointed his wife Jane as executrix of the will, and ‘my loving Brother Nicholas Manser and my kinsman Mr John Byne of Tower hill to be Overseers and to assist my Executrix’. John was also one of the witnesses to the will. Another, intriguingly, was Josiah Keeling, a white salter or oilman in East Smithfield, who would achieved notoriety in 1683, firstly as one of the conspirators in the Rye House Plot to kill King Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York and secondly as the person who informed the authorities of the plot and thus brought about the arrest of his co-conspirators. It’s tempting to speculate that Keeling may have been a neighbour or even a friend of John Manser’s, but he may simply have witnessed the will in his capacity as a parish constable.

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