Ancestry 10

Property Developing, Freedom of the City and Carnal Knowledge

Samuel Axe, my 5 x great grandfather, was born in Greenwich in April 1771, the son of William Axe and Ann. He was baptised on 14 April 1771 at St Alfege Church, Greenwich.

Samuel married Grace Austin (1786–1823) on 22 September 1803 at St Luke Old Street, Finsbury, London and the couple lived in Hoxton, Middlesex where they produced eight children, including my direct ancestor, Jane Esther Axe.

As a property owner, Samuel was eligible to vote and therefore appeared on the electoral registers, which confirm his address. 

Various documents describe Samuel’s occupation as ‘bricklayer’. In the first half of the nineteenth century a bricklayer was a builder, someone who designed and constructed houses. These houses could range from humble dwellings to huge city projects.

Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, 1896 – buildings built by Samuel?

It would appear that all was not well with Samuel and Grace’s marriage because on 21 June 1816 Maria Hammont, single woman, petitioned the parish with the claim that ‘Samuel Axe, bricklayer of Hoxton Town gained carnal knowledge of her body.’ Maria gave birth to a bastard female on 12 May 1815 at her mother’s house in Hoxton Fields. The outcome of her petition is not recorded. However, Samuel was a wealthy man so hopefully he supported his child.

Samuel died on 26 November 1838 in Shoreditch, London and was buried on 2 December 1838. 

My direct ancestor, Jane Esther Axe, who lived in the same street as Samuel and Grace, was the sole executrix of Samuel’s will. Samuel left £600, approximately £40,000 in today’s money, which suggests he was successful in his trade.

On 17 January 1845 Samuel’s youngest son, John, paid £5 to acquire the ‘Benefits of a Fellowship Porter’. In other words, he could trade in ‘measurable goods’ such as coal, grain, flour and salt, overseeing their transportation from trading ships to dockside warehouses. This was a good position with the opportunity to make considerable sums of money.

The above records suggest that the Axe family lived comfortably during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, only five of Samuel’s eight children survived into adulthood.

On the Waterfront

My 6 x great grandfather William Axe was born in 1733 in Cornhill, Middlesex to William Axe (1697–1768) and Mary Dry (1704–1737). He married his wife, Ann, c1765. No records of Ann survive. William lived in Birchin Lane, Cornhill where his son, Samuel, established a hosiery business before moving on to property developing.

Land tax records reveal that William was a Waterman to the Preventative Officers.

Watermen were an essential part of early London. They would ferry passengers along and across the Thames. With bad rural roads and narrow congested city streets, the Thames was the most convenient highway in the region. Until the mid-eighteenth century London Bridge was the only Thames bridge below Kingston upon Thames. 

As a Waterman to the Preventive Officers, overseeing the trade and potential smuggling that occurred on the river, William was well remunerated. Indeed, Inspecting Commanders received financial rewards on par with a Rear-Admiral. During the Industrial Revolution, captains and boat owners made fortunes as watermen.

Vessels moored at London’s Custom House in 1755

William left the following will.

Transcription of the Last Will and Testament of William Axe of Birchin Lane, Cornhill, London. Will made 14 March 1809. Died 21 October 1809, (buried 31 October 1809, St Michael, Cornhill). Entry into wills book 2 November 1809, probate 3 November 1809.

This is the last Will and Testament of William Axe in Birchin Lane, Gentleman. I Give unto my wife Ann Axe One Hundred Pounds a year in Lieu of all Dower. I give unto my Son Samuel Axe and my Daughter Mary Axe the whole of all I shall die possessed of Real and personal and do appoint my Son Samuel Axe and my Daughter Mary Axe my sole Executors of this last will written by myself the fourteenth day of March eighteen hundred and nine.

Ann died on 7 December 1809 so in effect William’s wealth and possessions passed to his son, Samuel, and daughter, Mary.