WELLES, John II, of London and Southwark, Surr.
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Family and Education
Tax collector, Southwark Nov. 1404.
Master of the Grocers’ Co. July 1431-2.1
Nothing is known of Welles before June 1400, when, described as ‘spicer of Southwark’, he stood surety in Chancery for John atte Crowne; nine months later he was among the more eminent burgesses who met to witness a feoffment made by John Windsor to (Sir) Thomas Clanvowe* and others. By Michaelmas 1405 he had leased a tenement in the borough from the wardens of London Bridge, and apparently lived there without incident for the next ten years.2 Welles was one of the jurors summoned to attend an assize of novel disseisin held in May 1415 at Southwark; and in February 1417, together with his fellow MPs, Robert William and Thomas Lucas, he attested another local deed. It was probably on behalf of the London fishmonger, Nicholas James*, in 1423, that Welles acquired 12 messuages and their appurtenances in Southwark. He was again active as a feoffee—this time for William Weston, a local cloth merchant—in February and July 1429, being engaged in the conveyance of land to the use of the bridge wardens. A wealthy and influential man, Welles became increasingly involved in his neighbours’ property transactions. In August 1434, for example, he and other trustees of John Elingham and John Heyward (including Margery, the wife of his namesake, John Welles III*) settled an inn in St. Margaret’s parish, Southwark, upon Arthur Ormesby†; and twice, in June 1438 and November 1439, he was again a witness to deeds drawn up in the borough.3
Meanwhile, from 1428 onwards, Welles began to play an important part in the affairs of the Grocers’ Company of London. The donation of 30s. which he made in 1429 towards the cost of building a hall in Coneyhope Lane was one of the largest then listed by the wardens, and in the following year he was elected to the advisory body of ten, or ‘feliship associed’, designed to assist the company’s three senior officers in the business of administration. The next elections, in May 1431, brought even heavier responsibilities, for he was then instated as master.4
The extent of Welles’s investment in property remains unknown, although it was probably considerable. Some tenements, such as an inn called the Fleur de Lys in Southwark, he leased from different landlords; others, including a local bakery called ‘The Peacock’ were evidently his own. In June 1436 Welles conveyed all his goods and chattels to three trustees, two of whom were then living in the Southwark area, but it is not clear how soon afterwards he died.5
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
It has long been supposed that John Welles III was returned to Parliament by both the City and Southwark (Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 6). From 1428 onwards, however, the accounts of the wardens of the Grocers’ Company draw a firm distinction between him (as the ‘aldyrman in boge Row’) and John Welles II, who is described either as ‘in Southwark’ or as ‘the elder’ to avoid any confusion with his more celebrated namesake (Ms Archs. Grocers’ Company ed. Kingdon, ii. 185-228). There can, indeed, be little doubt that the burgesses of Southwark, resentful of the economic hold which the corporation of London exercised over them, chose to be represented by a local man with influence in the City, and not by the alderman whom they must have identified with those who opposed their interests.