The Name and Family of Barham

by Sydney Pay Barham

Chapter Twenty Four


John Barham was only three years old when his father died at Maidstone in 1591. As already stated, he inherited the forges of Brookland and Verage, and was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, Edmund Willard until he could attain the age of 24. During the long period of his minority it is to be presumed that his uncle managed the property for him, and either worked the forges himself or leased them to an operator. At any rate, when John became of full age in 1611, he received the undertaking in good working order and proceeded to operate the forges himself. He also made his home in Wadhurst. He was however still a freeholder of Maidstone, and as such was liable to service on the Common Council. There is what I take to be a reference to him in the municipal records in 1635, where it noted that, "Certain persons, including John Barham heretofore elected to be the Common Council, are hereby discharged on that behalf."

In 1610, a year before becoming his own master, John Barham then aged 23, married Elizabeth, the daughter of Dunmoll. The Dunmolls, a Wadhurst family, were connected by marriage with the Barhams of Snape, and years afterwards a member of the same family was to take over the Snape estate when the last owner had surrendered possession. John Dunmoll has a cast iron memorial slab in Wadhurst Church which bears the date 1625. On her mother's side Elizabeth was descended from the Fowls of Riverhall in Frant, an iron working family. The marriage took place not at Wadhurst, but in London, at St. Saviours, Southwark, now Southwark Cathedral. John's uncle Thomas Barham was already established in the city as a tallow chandler. On attaining full age, John Barham purchased the estate of 'Shoesmiths', comprising 140 acres for £1000 from another member of the Fowl family, William Fowl of Lightlands; his wife's uncle, who is presumably the same William Fowl whose daughter became the wife of David Barham of Snape in 1622. These opulent families were well intermixed, and money and lands were added to money and lands.

The Shoesmiths estate adjoined the Brookland and Verage forges and Bartley Mill, which had been Barham property for nearly a century. The existing house called 'Great Shoesmiths' was built or rebuilt by John Barham in 1630. A traveller along the beautiful road that leads through the woodlands in Bayham Abbey, from Hood Green in Lamberhurst to Bell's Yew Green in Frant has on his left a deep and thickly wooded valley through which runs the stream that supplied the power to the forges, and turned the wheel of the Bartley Mill. All the woods on the south side of the byway, and the fields beyond belong to the Shoesmiths estate, but Great Shoesmiths itself, although it was within earshot of the hammers, is hidden from the road by a dip in the ground. Its position is marked by a commanding knoll of trees, where the farmhouse that has succeeded to the Bartley Mill is plainly visible.

Views of Great Shoesmiths are included in Mr. Fitzgerald-Uniacke's article and in 'Footpaths of the Kent Sussex Border' by J. Bradock. The house is a long one of two stories, partly built of local sandstone, with a tiled roof, and a massive chimney stack. From an inventory taken in 1724 we learn that it contained, among other rooms, a hall, great parlour, little parlour, study, great parlour chamber, little chamber, nursery, play closet, garret over the nursery, chamber over the bake house, and banqueting house, (presumably a grand dining room). The bedroom over the grand parlour had painted panels, one of which represented Cleopatra with the fatal asp at her breast. 'Great Shoesmiths' became the home of three generations of Barhams and was to witness the final collapse of the family fortune.

By the building of his house, John Barham demonstrated that he was not going to be an absentee landowner, but that he would personally oversee the work of his forges. That he was recognized to be a man of wealth is shown by the fact that he was offered a Knighthood on the occasion of the coronation of Charles I, who ascended the throne in 1625. The Stuart Kings were in constant need of money and the conferring of titles was a convenient means of getting fees and payments. The honour was declined by John Barham as well as George Courthope and others of Sussex gentry. In 1631, when the King was endeavouring to govern without Parliament, the Commissioners for Knighthood Compositions recorded John Barham as one of those who had not agreed to pay their fines for not attending the King's coronation. I do not know whether the King's Commissioners succeeded on this occasion in getting money from the master of Shoesmiths.

John Barham had already had a brush with the law. The iron industry was unpopular on more than one count. It was alleged that by its demands on the woodlands of the Weald for charcoal to feed the furnaces and forges, it was depleting the stock of standing timber, which was essential for domestic and industrial purposes, and for export. The threat to the timber supply was probably exaggerated, but legislation was passed to conserve it. Another count against the ironmasters was the damage done to the roads of the Weald by the transport of heavy oxen drawn loads of mye (ore) to the furnaces, and of sows (cast-iron), to the forges. An Act of 1597 required the ironmasters within the Weald to pay a highway rate, and in addition to mending the roadway during the summer months with cinders, etc., in proportion to the loads carried, or in lieu, to pay an extra rate. In 1629 John Barham and four other defendants were indicted at Lewes Quarter Sessions for non-compliance with this Act. The charge against John Barham was that he caused 45 tons of iron sows to be carried from the furnaces of Snape and Cowshoply to his Verage forge without laying the required cinders. I am ignorant of the outcome of this case.

John Barham, the first of Shoesmiths, died in Feb., of 1640, aged 53. His wife had died a year or two before him. Neither has any memorial in the parish church. They left surviving four sons and three daughters; three sons having died in infancy. To the eldest son Stephen, his father bequeathed all his property in Maidstone, which included a house called 'The Cider Mill', with a garden orchard, and the underwood growing at Verage. This last no doubt a valuable asset in view of the demand for charcoal. The second son, John, received the house and estate of Shoesmiths, and the two forges. To each of the two younger sons, who were minors at the time of their father's death, he left £400 to be paid to them when they became 21, with the desire that "..they be bound out to honest and able masters, to learn such good trades as my overseers should see fit". The elder daughter Dorothy was already married and living at Wortling, and so she got nothing more than her dowry. The younger girl Elizabeth, a minor was to receive £400 at the age of 21, or at her marriage.

Although the inheritance of Stephen, the eldest son, was mainly in Maidstone, he seems to have resided at Wadhurst where he died in 1673, aged 53 years, leaving three sons and two daughters. A grandson of his, named Nicholas, was living at Speldhurst in 1727, when he acted as administrator for the will of the third and last John Barham of Shoesmiths - his father's first cousin.

Nicholas, the third son of the surviving sons of John Barham, went to London with his legacy, but he died at the early age of 25. He described himself in his will as of St. Saviour’s Southwark, where his father had been married.

William, the youngest son seems never to have left Wadhurst. At the time he made his will he appears to have been living at Riverhall, a residence of the ironworking Fowls but he was buried at Wadhurst on 30th Jan. 1701-02 as Mr. William Barham of Shoesmiths, age 72. Thus he died within a few months of the other Mr. William Barham, the veteran of Scragoak, who has the memorial of cast iron in the parish church, but unlike his namesake, has no memorial.

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