ALKHAM, John (1354-c.1433), of Dover, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. Guston, Kent 8 Sept. 1354, s. and h. of Peter Alkham by Christine, da. of William Archer of Dover. m. c.1368, Joan, da. of Walter Ellis† of Dover, 1s.
Alkham was left, probably as an orphan, under the guardianship of Walter Ellis, whose daughter he subsequently married. As heir to his maternal uncle, William Archer, he enjoyed a disputed title to lands at Buckland, Hougham and River, all near Dover, some of which were held in chief by the unenviable serjeanty of holding the King’s head when he crossed from Dover to Wissant (France). After these were successfully reclaimed for Alkham in 1373, Ellis obtained custody of the young man’s inheritance in return for payment of £10 a year at the Exchequer. Having made proof of age in 1376, Alkham purchased a royal licence to demise 39 acres of arable land and 14 of pasture at Buckland to his father-in-law, although, as these holdings afterwards returned to his possession, it would seem that the transaction was an arrangement of temporary duration, perhaps a mortgage.3
In 1381-2 Alkham sold to the commonalty of Dover building stone worth 5s.; and in 1384 he not only acted as local collector of a levy to equip ships for an expedition against Scotland, but also leased to John Gerold, the former mayor, a cellar under his house in Dover where certain Frenchmen taken at sea might be detained as prisoners. Thereafter, for the rest of his life Alkham seems to have been in serious financial difficulties: he was frequently involved in lawsuits in the town courts, appearing most often as defendant in suits for debt or for rental arrears. This obliged him to sell much of his property: in 1394 he relinquished 100 acres at River, and in 1397 he conveyed to John Monyn* 90 acres in Atterton and Buckland (including those lands once demised to Ellis).4 In the meantime, in 1395, he had borrowed £20 by statute staple from John Oxney of London, and when it was discovered that he could not repay the loan, an order went out to the sheriff of Kent in February 1398 to seize and value his remaining lands for Oxney’s benefit. By then he was holding only the manor of Maxton in Hougham, worth six marks a year, and land at Buckland worth 24s. a year. These were duly delivered to Oxney to hold until satisfied of the debt. Alkham himself, whom the sheriff had been unable to track down, then disappears from the Dover court records until June 1401, when he was enrolled as attorney for Peter Alkham (probably his son of that name) in a suit against one John Roper for the return of a ‘cristalston’ entrusted by his own wife to Roper’s.5
For just a short while Alkham was permitted to hold positions of responsibility in the community: for at least two years (1404-6) he acted as deputy (or ‘attorney’) to the absentee bailiff of Dover, Patrick Seyntowen, on whose behalf he carried out such duties as presiding over the town courts and farming the local dues payable to the Crown. It is possible that he was still in office when returned to Parliament in 1407. However, his improvidence had continued; and, having failed to pay the wages due to his clerk and serjeant of the bailiwick for almost three years’ service, he was the defendant in a legal action in June 1408. Alkham’s rural interests also continued to involve him in litigation on occasion. In 1411 Thomas atte Crowche* sued him for breaking an agreement to sell him corn, and in 1425 he himself had to bring an action against someone whose cattle had broken into his close. It was, however, as Thomas Herry’s executor that in June 1428 he promised to reimburse one of Herry’s creditors for a debt of five marks, by paying one mark in cash in July and 6s.8d. quarterly thereafter from the issues of his own land at Alkham. But even this undertaking he could not keep; and, in September following, his son Peter had to provide the creditor with a fresh bond for the whole debt. When, in the early 1430s, Alkham went surety for John Chapman, a draper of Calais, Peter, again acting for his father, had to extract a guarantee from Chapman to save the old man harmless, if outlawed, and reimburse him for all expenses. John is last recorded in May 1433 as himself at law with Chapman, defending his failure to pay for some cloth he had purchased.