The Merchant Taylors

In this article I describe possible connections to the Merchant Taylors’ Company I found while while looking for Thomas White’s origins. Thomas White first appeared in Lower Norfolk records as a headright with 5 other people, one of whom was named Wm. Spackford, in 1637/8. I believe that Spackford is a variant spelling of the name Sparchford and that this family is the same that lived in Saint Martin in the Fields, Westminster. Robert Sparchford in his will of 1591 named as his executor John White of St. Clement Danes, Tailor.

The Merchant Taylors’ records of freedom admission go back to 1530 and are availble online ( Once a person was admitted to the company either by apprenticeship or otherwise he was known as a citizen of London. These records show that Robert Sparchford’s father Thomas was admitted via apprenticeship with Thomas Pagett in 1546. Robert’s brother Richard was admitted by patrimony in 1600.

It is not clear from the will of Robert Sparchford whether John White, taylor, was a citizen and Merchant Taylor, but since St. Clement Danes was outside the City of London in Westminster this would not have been necessary.  The admissions before 1591 for John White occur in 1582(2), 1576, 1563, 1555(2), and 1550. One will was located for John White citizen and merchant taylor, dated 1609, but it did not give his place of residence or otherwise indicate which of the above freedom admissions was his or if he might have been John White of Saint Clement Danes.

Ralfe White of London was in Lower Norfolk court records in 1656/7. This and the fact that Thomas White appeared in the previous court record makes it appear that Ralph White of London was possibly related to Thomas White. Research has found several possible identities for Ralph White of London. First is the family of Ralph White that appears in the parish register of Saint Martin in the Fields. Another is “Ralph White cittizen and grocer of London livinge in the parish of Stepney” whose will was dated 1661. The other 2 possibilities were living in The City in 1638 and are the 2 Ralph Whites that appear in a tax list. They are Ralph White of St. Leonard’s, Foster Lane, and Ralph White of All Saints, Stayning. Ralph White of St. Leonard’s Foster Lane was a heelmaker and left a will dated 1663.

Ralph White citizen and Merchant Taylor left his will in 1665. In it he directed that he was to be buried at St. Allhallowes Steynings (ie, the same as All Saints, Stayning in the 1638 tax record). However, at the time of his death he was evidently living in west London as he made bequests of items in his chamber in Newgate Market. Coincidently or not this parish is adjacent to St Leonard Foster Lane where the other Ralph White lived. The freedom admissions for the Merchant Taylors show that Ralph White was admitted in 1624 as apprentice of Jasper Saunders. The 1638 tax list for All Saints, Stayning lists in addition to Ralph White, Jasper Saunders, so that Ralph White continued to live in the same parish as his master until at least 1638.

One way to try to identify which Ralph White of London was the one in the 1656/7 Lower Norfolk court record is from the record itself, ie who else was mentioned. Edmund Bowman the attorney lived in Virginia and Richard Sternell died in Lower Norfolk County, however Robert Causby might have been living in London.

A Robert Cosbye, son of Anthony, was  baptized at Saint James Clerkenwell in 1621, and a Robert Crosby was married to Joane Sandes 1632 at St Bride Fleet Street. The will of a Robert Cosbee of St Andrews Holburn was dated 1603. In correspondence with a researcher of this name he informs me variant spellings include Cosby, Cosbee, Causby, and Crosby so either of these is a possibility. Robert Crosby and Joan continued to live in St. Bride Fleet Street until at least 1646 which is the year their last child was baptized there.

Robert Greene of St. Bride’s, —, and Francis Clement of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West, gentleman, for Anthony Cosbye of London, tailor, to appear.(

This record, dated 1613, shows an Anthony Cosby, possible father of Robert Cosby, who was a tailor. If Robert Cosby’s father was a tailor that would be a possible connection of Ralph White, merchant tailor, to Robert Cosby.

The possible Spackford and White of Lower Norfolk County connection to the Sparchfords  in the Merchant Taylors’ Company and John White, tailor, is one clue that Ralph White was the merchant taylor. Aside from that his last residence at Newgate Market was close to Saint Brides, and somewhat further to Clerkenwell, the 2 possible locations for Robert Cosby/Crosby, but closer than any of the other Ralph Whites considered, and there was a possible tailor connection with Anthony Cosby. Finally as a citizen and merchant taylor it is not unlikely that he might have had commercial connections to Virginia. In Ralph Whites’s will he mentioned a bequest to him from Christopher Alderman of Waterford in Ireland. In parliament’s war in Ireland land was awarded for financial support, and Chistopher Alderman evidently received land in this manner since in 1654 Christopher Alderman of Ipswich Clothier was assigned land in Ireland (Calendar of State Papers Relating to Ireland, 1642-1659). This shows some connection of Ralph White to overseas interests and also to the parliamnetary cause which was heavily supported by the new merchant traders to the Americas ( Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution).

Having establishe Ralph White, citizen and merchant taylor, as a good candidate for the one with business in Virgina, I located the apprenticeship record dated 1617, original in latin, transcribed by Ian Hilder.

Ralph White son of Ed[wa]r[d]i White of the town and county of B[e]rwick, gentleman po[nit] se (i.e. puts himself) apprentice [to] Jasper Saunders of St. Clement’s Lane for seven years from the second day of September prox[imo] futur[o] (i.e. next in the future). Dat[um] (i.e. given) fourth day August 1617 Annoq[ue]

Parish records for Berwick-upon-Tweed start in 1574 and show that Ralph White, son of Edward was born in 1596, and would have been 21 when he started his apprenticeship, older than many that started by age 14. In his will Ralph White named his sister Margarett Jackson. Margaret White, daughter of Edward White was baptized at Berwick in 1590, and married there in 1609 to Robert Jackson. Clearly the Ralph White testator of 1665 is the same who was apprenticed in 1617 to Jasper Saunders. The parish records of Berwick do not contain a record of birth of Edward White, either because they start too late or he was born elsewhere and moved to Berwick.

In conclusion Thomas White’s possible connection to Ralph White, and Ralph White’s tentative identification as the one born at Berwick raises the possibilty that Thomas White’s family origins lie in the north of England.