Wednesday, 3 July 2019

A Whitechapel Butcher


Continuing on my stories about tradesmen ancestors, this is the tale of Nicholas Foskett*, ten generations back.  In addition to being a butcher, he had an uncommon (but difficult to spell and transcribe) name, which has helped with uncovering the story of his life.

Nicholas Foskett was born in Whitechapel, London, England, around 1716.  In his baptism record, his family’s address was given as “Over against the church”.  I am not quite sure what this means but it doesn’t sound very salubrious.  The mentioned church must have been St Mary’s Whitechapel, where he was baptised.  Nicholas was the eighth of nine children of John Foskett, a Throwster (silk weaver) and Isabel Mallard.  The two oldest children, Samuel and Sarah both died infancy.  I am not sure what happened to most of his other brothers and sisters: Elizabeth, John, Richard, Thomas, Mary and George.  In spite of their unusual surname, the only one I can find record of as an adult is John, who married Elizabeth Christian.  I wonder if Foskett might be an anglicised version of a French name.  Many East End silk weavers were of French Huguenot background.  

Mother Isabel died when Nicholas was only six years old and his father, John, remarried to Alice Cornwell with indecent haste (the likely subject of a future story).  It seems likely that Nicholas’s childhood was not easy with his parents perhaps not having a happy marriage and his mother being replaced when she was barely cold in the ground.  He may not have had much education as he does not appear to have been literate; he marked rather than signed his name on his marriage records.

Probably around the age of 14, Nicholas would have been apprenticed as a butcher.  I haven’t found a record of this, so it seems likely that he worked for a relative, although not his father, as more formal apprenticeships at the time were recorded and taxed.  I need to track down a Foskett or Mallard butcher.  Apprenticeships typically lasted seven years.

At about the age of 21, presumably having just completed his apprenticeship, Nicholas Foskett married Margaret.  I haven’t found their marriage, so don’t know Margaret’s surname.  The marriage St Mary Whitechapel registers for several years around 1737 are missing.  Yes, there are some gaps in this story and I have avenues for further research about Nicholas’s early life. Nicholas and Margaret had four children: Samuel (my ancestor), John (who died in infancy), Mary and Henry.  Margaret then died in 1745. 

Unlike his father, Nicholas didn’t rush into his second marriage, although his third was another matter.  He married Sarah Bennett in Jul 1769 by licence.  As marriage licences were expensive, he must have been doing reasonably well in his butchery trade by then.  Sarah died in August 1787, and Nicholas married Mary Pether at the end of September the same year, weeks later, by banns.  Mary outlived Nicholas by several years.  I haven’t found any record of Nicholas having children by his second or third wives.

I have found Land tax records showing that Nicholas lived in Whitechapel for most of his adult life.  He lived in good enough circumstances to be able to pay Land tax (this was before the days of income tax), which not everyone could manage.

Nicholas plied his trade via a butcher’s cart rather than selling from a shop. He cart features in his grandson James’s story.  Butchers took meat around to streets to prospective customers.  Butchery was (and is) a messy business but meat was to some extent a luxury item, so while  butchery was consigned to the East end and other not so nice parts of London, a butcher could do well taking his product to nicer parts of town.  However, in 1759, I have a record of Nicholas working as a coal dealer.  Maybe there was a downturn in the meat trade so he put his cart to other uses or perhaps the work was seasonal.  The butchers trade was also closely associated with leather, for obvious reasons, and Nicholas’s son Samuel was a leather worker.  It seems likely that Nicholas took on his grandson James as an apprentice, or at least played a role in his career choice.  However, as per James’s story, that didn’t work out so well and he disinherited James.

A butcher's cart (Public Domain via Wikipedia)
Although a long time Whitechapel resident, when he died in February 1792, Nicholas Foskett was living in nearby Stepney.  His cause of death was given as “decline” and he was buried at Whitechapel.

Nicholas left a detailed will written after his marriage to Mary Pether with a codicil added after his son Henry died around 1788.  In that short time, James had caused his grandfather enough offence to be cut out of the will.

I think knowing even a little about an ancestor’s work makes them fell much more real than just a few dates and places can do.


Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Walter George Charley > John Joseph Charley > Catherine Thompson > Catherine Foskett > James Foskett > Samuel Foskett > Nicholas Foskett

*Also Fosket, Faskett, Fosset, Fosgate, plus other spellings and poor transcriptions, including Sosket.

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