Rachel Erskin (fl. 1658 – 1718)

Rachel Erskin was a seamstress working on the Royal Exchange for more than fifty years in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Erskin was the middle of three daughters of William Erskin, a Doctor of Divinity. He died in Norfolk in 1657, bequeathing her £150 and a ‘parcell of rings and Jewells as they are papered and sealed up with inscription of her name’, though this would only be transferred to her upon reaching the age of 21, indicating that she was likely born in the 1640s.[1] On 29 September 1658, she was apprenticed to a married couple named Robert and Deborah Lloyd, both sempsters, whose shop was situated on the upper pawn or floor of the Royal Exchange.[2]

Admitted as a freemen of the Merchant Taylors’ Company in 1669, after completing her 8-year apprenticeship, Rachael Erskin was active in business in the following decades. Her recorded occupational identities include ‘Royall Exchange, Sempster’ and ‘Exchange Linnen shop’, suggesting that she would have been trading in linen and lace and making shirts, childbed linen and collars and cuffs. She was the mistress of up to nine female Merchant Taylors’ Company apprentices between 1672 and 1693, though the company clerk recorded a variety of spellings of her surname from ‘Rachael Arestyn’ to ‘Rashael Carskin’, making it difficult to confirm the exact number. The apprentices were all from the middling sort. For example, Elizabeth and Anna Gregory were the daughters of Abraham Gregory, a ‘Doctor in Divinity’ from Gloucester, indicating a similar social background to Rachel Erskin herself. The apprentices were also drawn from various provincial regions including York and even further afield as Jane Hay bound in 1685 was from Scotland, showing that young women travelled long distances in order to undertake training at the Royal Exchange in London.[3]

Erskin was one of three appraisers of the shop goods for another sempster who trained with the Lloyds named Robert Antrobus in 1688, suggesting that these two citizen Merchant Taylors maintained lasting ties in friendship and trade.[4] Erskin’s role as an appraiser shows that she was an established businesswoman with experience in retailing similar goods, entrusted to assign accurate values to Antrobus’ wares. In 1689, the Gresham Repertories recorded that ‘Rachell Aereskin of London Spinster and present Occupier of Eight foot of Shop room in the South outward Part of the inner Pawn of the Royall Exchange’ was granted an 11-year lease – whilst providing a more specific location – for her shop.[5] According to land tax assessments, Erskin was the named tenant of her shop until 1711, demonstrating remarkable longevity in trade.[6]

The maiden name of Rachel Erskin’s mother – who was also called Rachel – was Kynaston, and Rachel Erskin mentions a cousin named Edward Kynaston, Doctor of Laws in her will dated 1718.[7] It is possible that she was at least distantly related to the actor Edward Kynaston (1643-1712?), who was said to have been ‘of a genteel estate at Oteley in Shropshire’.[8] A document from the Court of Chancery certainly suggests a continuing connection between the county of Shropshire, the Kynaston family and William and Rachel Erskin senior in 1648.[9]

Rachel Erskin died in 1718 in the parish of St Margaret’s Westminster suggesting that she had retired from business and left the City of London to live with her sister Eleanor. She bequeathed small sums and the proceeds derived from parcels of land primarily to her niece Jane Brown, with further bequests to another niece Rachel Woolls, [Elizabeth] Calverley, nephew Samuel Roberts and various cousins and acquaintances. Rachel Erskin asked to be buried with her sister Eleanor Stockton in the ‘New Chappell’ in Westminster.[10] Eleanor Stockton’s will tantalisingly notes the existence of several portraits: ‘my Mothers Picture, my Sister Hays, my Sister Areskins and mine that was drawn in London’.[11]

Could these likenesses still exist?


Footnotes

[1] The National Archives (TNA) PROB 11/267/138 Will of William Erskin, Doctor in Divinity of Hardwick, Norfolk, 24 August 1657.

[2] Guildhall Library (GL) MS 34038/14 Merchant Taylors’ Company Apprentice Book, f. 360.

[3] GL MS 34048/16-MS 34048/17, Merchant Taylors’ Company Apprentice Books.

[4] TNA PROB 4/12879, 13 July 1688, Robert Antrobus at his shop by the Royal Exchange, London.

[5] Mercers’ Company Archives, Gresham Repertories, 1678-1722, 16 August 1689, f. 205.

[6] London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) CLC/525/MS11316/037, Candlewick – Farringdon Within.

[7] TNA PROB 11/565/23 Will of Rachel Aereskin alias Ereskin, Spinster of Saint Margaret Westminster, Middlesex, 4 August 1718.

[8] Milling, J. “Kynaston, Edward (bap. 1643, d. 1712?), actor.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  October 03, 2013. Oxford University Press. Date of access 10 Sep. 2020, <https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-15821&gt;

[9] TNA C 8/122/134 Niccolls v Lee., 1648.

[10] TNA PROB 11/565/23.

[11] TNA PROB 11/547/35 Will of Eleanor Stockton, Widow of Saint Margaret Westminster, Middlesex, 5 July 1715.

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