MARCHFORD, William (d.1413/14), of London.
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Family and Education
s. of Robert Marchford by his w. Isabel. m. (1) Katherine, ?1s. 1da.; (2) by Mar. 1406, Alice, wid. of Thomas Walyngton (d.1403), of London, draper, 1s.1
Warden of the Mercers’ Co. 24 June 1394-5, 1400-1, 1406-7, 1412-13.2
Auditor of London 21 Sept. 1395-6.3
Tax collector, London Dec. 1406.4
Marchford probably came from the Isle of Ely, since his will contains a number of bequests to the church, the bridge and the poor of ‘Marchford’ (now March, Cambridgeshire). Very little is known about his background, although it is possible that the land and tenements in the nearby village of Doddington which he owned at the time of his death were part of a family estate. One of his kinsmen became rector of Wells (Norfolk) which suggests that the Marchfords were not without influence or connexions. William himself was apprenticed to the wealthy London mercer, John Maymond, a master whom he evidently regarded with great respect and affection. He had set up in business on his own account by 1390, for between March of that year and May 1391 he shipped cloth and other luxury goods worth £600 into the port of London, presumably for sale on his own premises. Two apprentices were already learning their trade under his direction by 1392, and from then until his death, some 21 years later, at least eight other young men followed them in his service.5 Marchford’s standing among his fellow mercers was high, as can be seen not only from his four annual terms in the office of warden, but also from his appearance among the eight commissioners ‘de sagesse et discrescion’ chosen by the company to settle a particularly fierce internal dispute during the early years of the 15th century. Marchford had by this date developed an interest in the wool trade, exporting a minimum of eight sarplers of wool from London to Calais in mid November 1400 alone. The loss of many customs’ records for this period makes it impossible even to estimate the scale of his operations, which no doubt provided a significant part of his income. In March 1413 he was one of the English merchants given permission to ship a cargo of wool and woolfells from Bishop’s Lynn to Calais. Shortly before his death in that year, he joined with Richard Whittington* and Thomas Aleyn in dispatching a further 20 sarplers of wool thence from the port of Chichester: their three ships foundered off the Sussex coast, and it was only after a royal commission had been set up to inquire into the theft of part of the merchandise that Marchford’s executors managed to recover what was due to them. From a comparatively early date the mercer appears to have had business dealings in Ireland. Two Dublin merchants were made his attorneys there for a year in October 1393; and similar appointments followed at the end of the decade. Interestingly enough, Marchford himself was retained by Sir John Colville, a member of Richard II’s last Irish expedition, to act as his attorney in England.6
A substantial proportion of Marchford’s commercial profits were invested in land, both in London and the country. Some of his property came to him through marriage, since his second wife, Alice, held a life interest in estates around Buntingford and Alswick in Hertfordshire. These had been settled upon her, together with a dyehouse and land at St. Paul’s Wharf, London, by her first husband, and may have led Marchford to purchase more extensive holdings in the neighbouring villages of Therfield, Buckland and Burleigh. Here he owned five messuages and almost 300 acres of land at the time of his death, as well as the above-mentioned property at Doddington, and, according to his will, a game of swans, perhaps along with fishing and hunting rights, on the Isle of Ely. Marchford was one of the enterprising city merchants who, in 1405, bought up several plots of freehold land in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, possibly in order to set up commercial premises in the town.7 It is, however, far less easy to determine the extent of his property in London. He was a party to so many settlements and conveyances that his own transactions cannot easily be distinguished from those of friends and colleagues. He possessed at least one large house in the City, probably in Milk Street, since he made many bequests to the local church and had an interest in two neighbouring tenements, as well as being co-feoffee of a chief messuage there.8 Together with John Shadworth* and some of their fellow mercers, Marchford acquired titles to land and houses in various parts of London.9 He was instrumental in obtaining premises called ‘Le Crowneselde’ in West Cheap for their company, which had been given a royal licence to own property worth £20 a year and employed him as a trustee to this effect. The building came into his hands in November 1407, but was not finally surrendered by him for another four years.10 Marchford also became a feoffee of land in Berkshire, Essex and Middlesex, again often in association with his friend, Shadworth. In October 1399 another mercer, Laurence Andrew, settled all his goods and chattels upon him, but he was never again called upon to hold any personal effects or possessions in trust. Nor, surprisingly, were his services as a mainpernor much in demand. In October 1401 he offered joint sureties of 100 marks in Chancery on behalf of his partner (and later his executor), John Bally; and five years later he entered into similar recognizances in £100 as a guarantee of Nicholas Bacon’s good behaviour. Again, in March 1413, he stood bail of 500 marks for John Hertwell on his release from the Tower. Otherwise, he seems to have avoided financial commitments of this kind, and only once performed the office of executor—for the rich and influential mercer, John Woodcock*.11
Not much is known about Marchford’s finances, although he clearly did well for himself and died a wealthy man. His appointment as an auditor of London in 1395 and the commission given to him in 1402 by the city chamberlain to examine certain private accounts imply a considerable degree of financial expertise on his part. Although he experienced some trouble in recovering debts from those with whom he did business, he never appears to have been persistently owed more than £36 by any single individual, and was but rarely driven to invoke the law. He incurred considerable commitments of his own, however: in February 1410, for example, he joined with two others mercers, Thomas Aleyn and John Whatley*, in binding himself to pay £600 to Sir John Lumley and William Mayhew over the next four years. The recognizances were cancelled, but two months later identical ones were drawn up in favour of William Cromer*, the draper, who duly acknowledged payment of the money in six instalments.12
Marchford died between 1 Dec. 1413 and 13 Jan. 1414, and was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard next to his first wife, Katherine. In his will he made bequests of more than £730 in cash, over and above a settlement of goods and plate worth £500 upon his widow, and many generous gifts of plate to friends. He also bestowed alms and vestments upon an unusually large number of city churches and other religious houses in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, most of which fared considerably better than the Mercers’ Company with its relatively humble legacy of £5. Marchford’s will refers only to one of his sons, William, who was not then seven, although the codicil mentions two other children, John and Margery, both of whom may have been the offspring of his first marriage.13
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
- 1. PCC 4, 28, 30 Marche; CAD, i. B806.
- 2. Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 14, 31, 43d, 58.
- 3. Cal. Letter Bk. London, H, 425, 434.
- 4. Ibid. I, 55-56.
- 5. PCC 4, 30 Marche; Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 7-7d, 18, 21, 32d, 34d, 48d, 51d, 60; E122/71/13.
- 6. Mercers’ Company Recs. Wardens’ acct. bk. ff. 39d-40; E122/72/2 m. 1; CPR, 1391-6, p. 316; 1396-9, pp. 79, 456, 559; 1413-16, p. 149; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 6, 164.
- 7. PCC4 Marche; CAD, i. B806; Corporation of London RO, hr 151/50; VCH Herts. iii. 140.
- 8. Corporation of London RO, hr 133B/69, 135/83, 138/18, 141/58; CIMisc. vii. no. 402.
- 9. Corporation of London RO, hr 133B/54, 134/74, 137/77, 91, 138/19, 140/39, 46, 141/12, 30, 43.
- 10. C143/442/17; Corporation of London RO, hr 135/44; CPR, 1408-13, p. 274.