First an apology to email subscribers of this blog. About a week ago you’ll all have received an unfinished and inaccurate version of this post. I clicked ‘Print’ instead of ‘Preview’ and Whoops…….unfortunately the deed was done!
I deleted the offending post on WordPress immediately, but unfortunately there was no way to retrieve the emails that had automatically been sent.
Here is the completed post that is now accurate and ready for you to read.
So far ‘Who was Fanny Yates?’ has been about my maternal grandmother’s ancestors, on her father’s side. My maternal grandmother was May Ethel Yates and her father was Edward Cavendish Yates. His father is still unknown but his mother, Fanny Yates and her likely ancestors are shown below.Click image to enlarge
My next few posts will still be about the ancestors of my maternal grandmother, May Ethel Yates, but now I’ll be focusing on her mother’s side of the family. As other family members and readers of this blog may already know, her mother’s maiden name was Priscilla Jane Mecham. I’ve managed to trace this line of my family back to my 5th great grandparents Samuel Mecham and Caroline Mechendall.
Samuel Mecham was born during the reign of either Queen Anne of Great Britain or King George I, I’m not certain which. The only possible birth match I’ve found for him so far is for a Samuel Meakham who was baptized at St. Andrews Holborn in 1711. His father was recorded as a ‘gentleman’ named John Meakham and his mother’s name was not recorded (implying illegitimacy). This birth date makes Samuel a little older than I would have expected so, although it may be the best match, it’s probably not the right one. Another possibility is that Samuel was born in Ireland or Europe, but so far I haven’t managed to find records of his family’s arrival at any English port.
Even though I’m unsure about Samuel Mecham’s parentage, I do know for certain that this Samuel and his descendants, were my ancestors, and were originally weavers by trade. At least two if not more generations of the family lived in Thomas’ Street, Whitechapel during the eighteenth century. The earliest records I found of them living at this address were the apprenticeship papers of one of his children. His son, also called Samuel Mecham, was apprenticed to George Mecham, Weaver of London in 1769 at the age of 14.
“This Indenture witnesseth, That Samuel Mecham son of Samuel Mecahm of Thomas’s Street Whitechappel Weaver doth put himself Apprentice to George Mecham Citizen and Weaver of London”.
I’m fairly certain that George Mecham, named as the master in the document above, was the young Samuel’s older brother (i.e. also son of Samuel Mecham Snr.) who was about 25 in 1769. George had previously been apprenticed to a John Deare “citizen and Weaver of London” from 1760 to 1767. The name of George’s father looks like James in the indenture below, but on closer inspection it is in fact Samuel.
There are many different spellings and pronunciations of the name Mecham – Meacham, Meecham, Mechum, Mecum and more. There are also a number of different theories regarding the origin of the name. None seem very certain.
“This Indenture witnesseth, That George Mecham son of Samuel Mecham of the Parish Of St Mathew Bethnal Green Weaver doth put himself Apprentice to John Deare Citizen and Weaver of London”.
Almost as varied are the possible geographical origins of the weavers working in Whitechapel at the time Samuel Mecham lived in Thomas’ Street. It’s possible that his ancestors were among the French Protestant (Huguenot) silk weavers who fled to England from France in 1685, although Mecham doesn’t sound like a particularly French name and isn’t mentioned on the official Huguenot list. On the other hand, they may have been among the Irish people who arrived slightly later – I have found quite a few records of Mechams from Ireland and I think the name Meakham (mentioned above as a possible ancestor) is almost certainly an Irish name.
Going back even further in time, the Mechams could have been part of an earlier group that made a positive impact on the weaving industry in England long before the Huguenots and Irish arrived. Many of the French and Flemish protestant refugees who settled in England in the early 16th century were silk workers, and they brought with them new skills and materials that the weaving industry in London benefited from – Londoners took up silk weaving and many foreign weavers were absorbed into the Weavers Company.
Below is a short extract from British History Online about the silk weavers of East London, but read their whole section on SILK WEAVING if you have time.
The origin of this important industry as located in Spitalfields dates from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685, when the French Protestants, driven by persecution from their own country, took refuge in England in large numbers…… A great body of these refugees occupied a large district which is usually called Spitalfields, but which includes also large portions of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and Mile End New Town.
More information can also be found on Wikipedia under the heading Spitalfield Riots. I’ve copied a section of the info here:
Irish weavers came slightly later, but by the middle of the 1730s there were many people from Ireland, or of Irish origins, working in the Spitalfields silk industry.
Relations between the groups were not always good. There were times when the Irish weavers were blamed for working for too little money and bringing down the rates of pay. The conflict of 1769 cut right through the middle of both communities, the Huguenots and the Irish. Journeymen were involved in a struggle to keep the rates that the master weavers paid for their work from falling below a subsistence level. They organised in unofficial, and highly illegal, trade unions. ‘Silk-cutting’, slashing up a weaver’s work, was used as a punishment for weavers who accepted a lower rate of pay, or master weavers who refused to pay money into the funds that were collected to support union activities.
It was only four months after our Samuel Mecham (Jnr) started his apprenticeship as a weaver with his brother George in 1769 that ‘an attempt was made to arrest an entire meeting of weavers. ‘An officer with a party of soldiers invested an alehouse, the Dolphin, in Spitalfields, “where a number of riotous weavers, commonly called cutters, were assembled to collect contributions from their brethren towards supporting themselves in order to distress their masters and oblige them to advance their wages“. Meeting with resistance, the soldiers fired on the weavers and killed two, and captured four. The remainder fled and lay concealed in cellars of houses and in the vaults of the churches throughout the night of terror not only for them but also for their womenfolk.’ Read more on Wikipedia.
Before I began my research into the Mechams I was under the impression that they would be a reasonably ‘well to do’ family, simply because that’s what I’d been led to believe by the snippets of information I’d gleaned from my family. So when I first discovered that Priscilla Jane’s father, Thomas William Mecham, was a Weaver with East London connections, it was a surprise. Given the location and trade, I jumped to the naive conclusion that the family would be poor – nowadays, if you search online for the history of Thomas Street, Whitechapel you’ll only find references to the workhouse and the poverty that existed there.
To find the location of Thomas’ Street today, you’ll need to ‘Google’ it’s new name Lomas Street – it looks just a little different from the street where Samuel and his family lived and worked in the 18th century! See the map below for Thomas’ Street in 1795.
The detail I feel I’m missing at the moment is whether or not any of the Mecham family were Master Weavers. I know that several of them were apprenticed and after seven years became ‘Freemen of the City’, but that would only make them journeymen, not masters able to employ other weavers. Could a journeyman take on an apprentice? Does the fact that the apprentice weaver had a ‘master’ make that master a ‘master weaver’? I don’t think so but I’m not sure.
I’m also not sure what Thomas’ Street was like in 1796. Descriptions I’ve found have been of people living in extremely poor circumstances but I think this was some time after the Mecham family were there.
If anyone knows the answer to these questions please do leave a comment at the bottom of the blog or email me via the contacts page.
Having rearranged my thoughts to incorporate this new information about my family, I then discovered some facts that, once again, came as a surprise.
I’ll leave them with you until my next post when I’ll fill out the details…..
- Someone called Mecham (no first name or initials given) crops up regularly from 1798 until at least 1827 in the London and England Land Tax records. He had either bought the long term leases or the freeholds of several plots of land and several houses in Wheeler Street, Phoenix Street and King Street in Spitalfields.
- Thomas William Mecham, my great great grandfather ended up owning more than one house.
- Although like his forefathers he had been apprenticed as a Weaver, in his later years Thomas became a Licensed Victualler and at least part-funded his brother-in-law to start up a new pub in Brick Lane on the corner of Phoenix Street.