The Howcott family at Lichfield
Click here for pictures and information about Market Street, where Howcotts lived around the year 1700.
Lichfield, Staffordshire is situated about 24 miles from Coventry. Since the Middle Ages, it has been a significant trading and religious centre, with a market and fair. Being on the route from London to North Wales and the north west of England as well as the highway from Bristol to Doncaster, Lichfield was an important staging post for horse-drawn transport and contained numerous inns.
As well as Lichfield Cathedral, there were three ancient parish churches, dedicated respectively to St Mary, St Michael and St Chad. St Mary’s church is next to the market place and has never had a churchyard of its own, so its parishioners were usually buried at St Michael’s or St Chad’s.
Despite its local and wider significance, the resident population was modest by modern standards. Gregory King’s local census in 1695 listed 2,833 people in the town, with another 205 in the Cathedral Close (1). Most of the inhabitants lived in a network of streets that had been laid out around the market place, to the south of the Cathedral. Lichfield received its market charter in 1153 – the first to be granted for a town in Staffordshire.
Links with Coventry
Evidence of the origins of Edward Howcott of Lichfield appears in a list of freemen of Coventry who were eligible to vote for its members of Parliament in 1722. Among these people was "Edward Howcot of Lichfield, a capper" (i.e. a person who made that type of headgear). This indicates that Edward had been apprenticed there and that he was a member of the Howcott family who had been established at Coventry since before 1500.
Records of the Cappers’ Company at Coventry include a reference to five shillings being received from Richard Howcott for his apprentice Edward Howcott, who was bound on 29 September 1666 for seven years (2).
An apprenticeship would normally start at about the age of 14, suggesting that Edward had been born around 1652. However, this date does not correspond with the age of 50 recorded by Gregory King in his 1695 population list at Lichfield (see below), The Cappers’ Company accounts do not state family relationships between masters and apprentices, but it is likely that Richard was Edward’s father, as Richard Howcott was the only householder with the surname in the Coventry hearth tax list for the half-year ending 25 March 1666. At that time, he had one hearth in Cross Cheaping Ward but was exempted from payment on grounds of poverty (3). It was not unusual for the first son of a family to be named after his grandfather, so it may not be coincidence that Edward had his oldest christened as Richard. An earlier reference to Richard Howcott can be found in a list of 125 freemen recorded on 4 June 1639 as subscribing to the Orders of the "Company and fellowship of cappers and feltmakers" at Coventry (4).
There does not seem to be a record of Edward’s own admission as a member of the Cappers’ Company. However, the following references to him appear later in the Company’s accounts:
The records of St Mary’s parish provide a considerable amount of information about the Howcott family at Lichfield. "Mr Howcott" appears in the levy list for St Mary's dated 26 February 1673/4 (6), the levy being raised to pay for the expenses of the parish church. The assessment was at 3d and appears at the end of the list for Bird and Sandford Street. This positioning and the fact that he does not appear anywhere in the earlier lists (which have been searched back to 30 June 1670), indicate that Mr Howcott had become a householder there fairly shortly before February 1673/4.
Edward Howcott is shown in the same street in assessments up to 30 September 1676. It seems that he may have had difficulty paying these dues, as in December 1674 his assessment appears as 4d, in October 1675 as 8d (4d abatement) and in September 1676 as 0d. His name does not appear in the parish lists for 1677 and 1678 but is shown at Sadler Street in October 1679, assessed at 1 shilling. Edward continues in the lists for most years down to 3 March 1706/7; the street is not identified on each occasion but is shown as Sadler Street whenever a street name is mentioned, the last of these being in 1703.
An entry of about 1681/2 reads: "Recd. of Mr Jno. Parker, Rich Adye & Edward Howcott & Henry Meeson 12d a ps for seates in Mr Hawkes his loft - which was given to poore people"
A note written on 4 January 1685/6 reads: "these following not gathered ... Edward Howcott 6 levys 3 shillings"
In 1689, there is a further note that Edward had not paid. From 1692/3 to 1699 no reference to him at all appears in the levy list. He reappears in 1699/1700 as a defaulter and remained one for some other years until his final appearance in that list on 3 March 1706/7.
During the latter part of the 17th century, only a handful of people are shown as not paying their levy in St Mary's parish. It is unlikely that Edward failed to pay during the 1690s because of poverty, as in the 1695 population list includes a servant in his household. It seems feasible that during that period he chose not to pay - whether for religious reasons or because he preferred to spend his money on other things, we do not know.
Doctor Johnson’s birthplace
Because of the large number of clergy associated with the Cathedral and of travellers passing through Lichfield, the range of facilities there was greater than usual for a settlement of its size. Among the residents of Sadler Street in 1695 was Michael Johnson, a bookseller, who later married and fathered Doctor Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the first English dictionary.
Gregory King’s 1695 population list includes the road now known as Market Street on two sheets, headed "Sadler Rowe alias Markett Street" and "Sadler alias Markett Street" respectively. The first of these consists of 25 households and the second has 27, so it seems that they each relate to one side of the road. Edward Howcott and his family are household number 6 on the list for Sadler Rowe and apparently lived a few doors away from Michael Johnson (household 9 on the same sheet).
The substantial house in Market Street where Doctor Johnson was born on 7 September 1709 was erected by his father only a year or two beforehand. It is now known as the Samuel Johnson Museum and directly faces St Mary's church, near Lichfield market place. On 28 March 1707, Michael Johnson purchased the corner house that previously occupied the site from Nathaniel Barton, then of the City of London, silkman, who had inherited it in 1689 from his mother, Mrs Sarah Barton of Coventry, widow. Unfortunately, it seems that nothing remains of the original structure (7).
When Michael Johnson bought the house, it was described as having been "formerly in the tenure or occupation of the said Michaell Johnson and now or late in the tenure or occupation of Edward Howcaut" (8), so it was probably not the property that Edward had occupied in the same street in 1695.
Michael Johnson had sued Edward Howcott for debt on a number of occasions (9):
It is not certain how these debts had arisen but, as Michael Johnson was himself a former occupier of the house that was tenanted by Edward Howcott in 1707, it seems likely that he had sublet the property to Edward by 1700 and that the debts were rent arrears.
Although the Howcotts are recorded as already living at Lichfield before this date, Richard, son of Edward and Mary Howcott, was christened at Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire on 7 September 1674 (10). Edward’s other children were all christened at St Mary, Lichfield (11). The full family consisted of:
Gregory King’s list of 1695 includes these members of the Howcott household:
he latter part of Edward’s life was marked by the loss of family members and increasing poverty. His son Richard died in 1696 and his daughter Elizabeth in 1714. His son John was almost certainly “John Hawkiat", who was one of 21 people imported into North Carolina by Mr Cuthbert Phelps senior, as a result of which Phelps claimed 1,050 acres there by applying to the General Court on 26 February 1695/6 (12). John’s brother, Edward Howcott, is first recorded in North Carolina on 4 August 1713, when he witnessed the transfer of land from Isaac Zehenden to John Champen (13).
As it is not know what became of Samuel Howcott after his christening in 1678, it is quite feasible that the only child in the family to remain in England and produce offspring of his own was Nathaniel. He was presumably Nathaniel Howcott who married Elizabeth Bond at Fradswell in 1718. They were both then living at Colwich but appear to have moved to Birmingham, where five children of Nathaniel Howcott were christened at St Martin’s church between 1719/20 and 1735.
The accounts of Mr Hinton's charity for the poor of Lichfield have been searched from 1702 and first mention Edward Howcott in 1713, when he received 1 shilling. Payments made by the charity at that time were usually in the range of 6 pence to 2 shillings, a few being as high as 5 shillings. In the following year, Edward was living at Tamworth Street and was allowed 1s 6d. Annual payments to Edward continued, with the exception of 1720-1722, until 1728. Those for 1718 and 1719 were for "Edward Howcotts wife"; the residence was shown on each occasion as Tamworth Street until the final year when Edward was living at Wade Street (14).
Edward also benefited from the "yearly gift of Henry Smith ...to the Poor Inhabitants of the City of Lichfield" which was paid on 24 June and 25 December each year. In 1723, he received three and a half yards of cloth. Four years later, he was given four yards with 3s 6d allocated for making his coat. In 1728, he was given a further one and a quarter yards (15).
No record has been found of the burial of Edward's wife, Mary. However, it appears that he married again after she died as Elizabeth, wife of Edward Howcot, was buried at St Michael, Lichfield on 13 May 1723. An alternative possibility is that “Elizabeth” was written by mistake instead of “Mary”.
Edward Howcoate was buried at St Chad’s on 15 October 1729. He was apparently the last member of the family to reside at Lichfield.
“Johnsonian Gleanings” by Aleyn Lyell Reade was privately printed in a number of parts between 1909 and 1952. The abbreviation “JG” is used below to refer to it.
(1) British Library Manuscripts Department: P52/2214 Harley 7022.
(2) Coventry Archives Office (CAO): 1491/5/1, page 192B.
(3) The National Archives: E179/259/9.
(4) CAO: 1494/5/1.
(5) CAO: 14991/5/1, pages 221B and 223B.
(6) Genealogical Society of Utah microfilm 1468779 - St Mary Lichfield church records
(7) The evidence that establishes that Michael Johnson redeveloped the property at that time is extensively discussed in JG, Part IV, pages 13-16.
(8) JG, Part IV, pages 16-17.
(9) Court Rolls of the Court of Record for the Manor of Lichfield, quoted in JG, Part VIII, page 44.
(10) Boyd's Index of Apprentices (ref. 6/53) records the apprenticeship in 1717 of Richard, son of William Buller of Bromley, Staffordshire, to William Howcott(e), a threadmaker of Birmingham. William’s relationship with the Lichfield Howcotts is not known, but this may indicate a long-standing connection between the family and Abbots Bromley.
(11) The Abbots Bromley christening record names both parents but the entries in the St Mary’s register only provide the name of the father.
(12) "North Carolina Higher-Court Records 1670-1696", edited by Mattie Ermie Edwards Parker (Raleigh, NC, 1968), quoted in "North Carolina Headrights - a list of names 1663-1744" compiled by Caroline B Whitley (Raleigh, NC, 2001).
(13) Deed recorded at Chowan Precinct on 29 March 1716 and referred to in "Christopher Woodward of Virginia" by Frances Cullom Harper.
(14) Lichfield Record Office (LRO): D20/7/1
(15) LRO: D20/7/3