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Judith Gresham the elder (1632 – 1694)

Judith Gresham was a milliner on the Royal Exchange in the late seventeenth century.

Judith Beckingham and Seliard Gresham were married on 26 February 1660 and thereafter had five children.[1] They were long-standing tenants of the Royal Exchange and Seliard Gresham bound at least three apprentices – Mary Cox, Thomas Marshall, and Edward Pettit – before his death in 1672.[2] When Seliard Gresham died aged 41 in 1673, a probate inventory was compiled by Henry Duke of the Haberdashers’ Company, and the Gresham’s former apprentice Thomas Marshall. The ‘Wares in the Shopp’ included millinery wares such as ribbons, capes, fans, stomachers and linen, valued at more than £300.[3]

Stomacher, early 18th century, linen, silk, whale bone, Accession Number:41.102 © 2000–2020 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The dates of Sarah Bullen’s (22 January 1673) and Mary Brookes’ (16 November 1675) apprenticeships after Seliard Gresham’s death confirm that Judith Gresham was an active partner in the business and she used her status as a freemen’s widow to bind new apprentices through the Painter-Stainers’ Company. Moreover, the Gresham Repertories reveal that on 13 April 1686 she was granted a new lease for ‘12 foote of shop roome in the North outward Pawne of the Exchange for 11 yeares’, for £18 per annum.[4] Judith bound a further three female apprentices, and the Broad Street Ward Poll Tax returns indicate that some of these apprentices were living in the Gresham household, as ‘Judith Gresham, two children and four servants’ resided in the parish of St Peter le Poer in 1690. Two of the ‘servants’ were surely Elizabeth Peck and Edith Hickson, apprentices bound on 7 November 1688 and 23 May 1689 respectively.[5]

When Judith Gresham died in March 1694, she had three surviving children, Judith, John and Mary.[6] Her daughters Judith and Mary, aged 32 and 26 respectively had gained the freedom of the Painter-Stainers’ Company by patrimony for a fee of £1 each on 2 May 1694, and were made joint executrixes of her will.[7] Though they did not bind any further apprentices through the company, Judith and Mary Gresham used their right to freedom by patrimony in order to continue in trade. They had certainly been trained in retailing by their mother, likely also contributing to the training of her apprentices, including Elizabeth Pemberton, whom she bound just before her death on 4 July 1694.[8]

The Gresham sisters did not retain their family home after their mother’s death as Marriage Duty Assessments indicate that they were lodging in the household of Anne and Francis Speidell in 1695.[9] Nevertheless, Judith Gresham the younger remained a tenant on the Royal Exchange, presumably in partnership with her sister, though Mary’s name never appeared in tax records.[10] The sisters also acted as guardians to their brother John’s children, thereby combining caring duties with their trade as milliners.[11] The Gresham sisters both marked their occupational identities as ‘traders’ in their own wills, suggesting that they were still in business in the late 1720s.[12] Moreover, their niece Martha Susannah Gresham acted as their executrix and was the chief beneficiary of their estate, indicating that she had also benefitted from training in their household though she was not bound as a formal apprentice. This shows the transfer of skills through multiple generations of the same family.


[1] London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) P69/ALP/A/001/MS05746/001, Parish Register, Saint Alphage, London Wall, fol. 29v; LMA P69/PET2/A/001/MS04093/001, Parish Register St Peter le Poer: Judith bap. 25 November 1662; Mary bap. 31 July 1666; John bap. 7 March 1666; Mary bap. 6 December 1668; Jane bap. 27 June 1672.

[2] Mary Cox was admitted free of the Loriners’ Company by redemption on 4 October 1669. According to the Court of Aldermen Repertories, she had ‘served five yeares Appntice with Siliard Gresham a freemen of this Citty using the trade of a Spinster upon the Exchange’: LMA COL/CA/01/01/078, Court of Aldermen Repertory, 1668-1669, fol. 291r. Unfortunately, the Loriners’ Company records do not survive for that period. The Painter-Stainers’ Company Court Minutes note that Thomas Marshall ‘servant to Mr Gresham made free’ on 11 January 1669, indicating that Marshall had been apprenticed to Seliard Gresham on the Royal Exchange: Guildhall Library (GL) MS 5667/2, Part 1, fol. 115. Edward Pettit was also apprenticed to Seliard Gresham on 24 June 1670: GL MS 5669/1.

[3] LMA CLA/002/02/01/0890, Seliard Gresham, Inventory, 29 November 1673.

[4] Mercers’ Company Archives (MCA) Gresham Repertories, 1678-1722, fol. 145.

[5] LMA COL/CHD/LA/03/022/009, Poll Tax 2 WM & M C.2, 2 July 1690, fol. 40; Guildhall Library (GL) MS 5669/1, fols 71v-72r.

[6] The National Archives (TNA) PROB 11/419/46, Will of Judeth Gresham, Widow of Lambeth, Surrey, 7 March 1694.

[7] GL MS 5667/2, Part 1, fol. 334.

[8] GL MS 5669/1, fol. 81r.

[9] LMA COL/CHD/LA/04/01/074, Marriage Assessment, St Michael Cornhill, 1695.

[10] LMA CLC/525/MS11316/028, Assessment Book, Candlewick – Farringdon Within, fol. 7.

[11] TNA PROB 11/536/299, Will of John Gresham, Gentleman of Middle Temple, 13 November 1713.

[12] TNA PROB 11/610/21, Will of Mary Gresham, Trader, Spinster of London, 2 July 1726; TNA PROB 11/624/216, Will of Judith Gresham, Trader, Spinster of London, 11 September 1728. Both sisters were buried in the Parish of St Mary Colechurch: LMA P69/MRY8/A/002/MS04439, fols 23-24.


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