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Help and advice for Gloucestershire: Tobacco growing in the Cotswolds

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Tobacco Growing in the Vale of Evesham,
Winchcombe and District,
and John Stratford.
By Gerald H. Stratford.


This Chapter deals with a Bill of Complaint, made by John Stratford, Gentleman, and Salter, against John Hopkins and John Gayre, and is dated 1624.

John Stratford Esquire, a Salter and Citizen of London, says, that about twenty years ago, that is in 1602, setting up Trade, in buying and selling Flax, and Broad Cloth, which hindered, with a small stock of less than two hundred pounds, he did, in the space of two years, raise an Estate of one thousand two hundred pounds.

And Peter Robinson, with whom he had served as an Apprentice, finding him to thrive, did bestow his eldest daughter on him in Marriage. And there being then at that time, one John Hopkins, who was by John Stratford's means, placed with Mr. Peter Robinson, as an Apprentice for a period of three years, after John Stratford had been Trading for himself. But, John Hopkins, Traded in the Country, and had small skill in his Trade, and to improve, and better his Trading, John Hopkins begged him, John Stratford, to be a Partner with him, and, Mr Peter Robinson, also asked him to actuate, so he did.

He lent John Hopkins, two hundred and fifty pounds, upon his own Security, and also, became Bound as Surety for him, and procured others to give John Hopkins Credit, and by which means, John Hopkins raised eight hundred and fifty pounds.

And, John Stratford did introduce John Hopkins, to Merchants, with whom he had lately begun to Trade with, in selling Broad Cloth. But, John Hopkins was addicted to pleasure, and, left the work to John Stratford, and when John Hopkins was given the job of drawing up the Accounts, he set all his Losses and Expenses, to be allowed in the Account.

Yet, his smooth words beguiled John Stratford. And yet, John Stratford approved as wife for John Hopkins, his own wife's sister, the daughter of Peter Robinson. They continued as Partners, but when John Hopkins's wife died, and, when one Vickars, a Wool Draper, who had bought much white cotton off of John Stratford, and John Hopkins, during their Partnership, finding the goodness of the Trade of white cotton, and the profit thereof, he, before having dealt in coloured cloth, confederated with John Hopkins, and arranged a Marriage between Vickars wife's sisters and John Hopkins.

At that time, John Hopkins's Estate appeared to be worth about seven thousand pounds. So, to rid him of John Stratford, yielded the Cotton Trade, to him, and kept for himself, the Flax Trade, but this decayed.

Therefore, Netherlanders, began to bring in Dressed Flax. Then one Thomas Lane, being also their Partner, who married another of John Stratford's wife's sisters, and, also had little or nothing to begin with, other than what John Stratford and John Hopkins had lent him, and Ralph Stratford, John Stratford's half brother, and one Humphrey Thornbury, having some part in the Trade, having being fellow Servants with John Stratford and John Hopkins, and the Trade of Flax being sufficient to maintain so many Families, and, Thomas Lane and Humphrey Thornbury, forgetting all the good they had been raised unto, by Partnership with John Stratford, they had gained between them near four thousand pounds, and coveting to gain the whole Trade to themselves, often moved John Stratford, to forbear further Trading's, and to live upon his Lands, for which courses, John Stratford, partly by their persuasion, and partly by their unkind usage, broke off the Partnership, and took upon himself to deal in Planting Tobacco.

John Stratford, was concerned thereby, to disburse for one years crop, one thousand four hundred pounds, to poor people, for the work performed, besides, one thousand eight hundred pounds for Rent of Lands, and Material, for that one years planting, by means whereof, and for the Lands of John Stratford, formerly purchased. He took up at interest about five thousand pounds, and was borrowed of one Abraham Burrell, which came wholly into the hands of John Hopkins, which he converted to his own use, and yet, it was Charged to John Stratford, and with Interest, amounted to One thousand five hundred and seventy five pounds. When the same did grow due, John Hopkins, refused to give any Account to John Stratford, and, John Stratford, having a great store of tobacco on his hands, and divers Debts owing him, being likely to have raised monies, to have paid his Debts, and to have seen a reasonable gain thereby, and had no Prohibition occurred, and John Stratford, was enforced to send great quantities of tobacco to Holland, and Ireland, and to most of the Cities of note in England. But all places being gutted, he got only a small return, and no profit at all. So, Vickars, took advantage and pressed to be secured by John Stratford's Lands, and Leases, which cost John Stratford eight thousand pounds, and being well worth three thousand more than the Debt, for which John Hopkins was engaged for John Stratford. Yet, Vickars, persuaded John Stratford to have the Lands granted to himself, and Mr. John Gayre, pretending that John Hopkins, was gone into Lunacy, whereas, John Stratford, intended only to Trust John Hopkins, with the Lands, and not John Hopkins and Vickars. But, they persuaded him, that it was better for his Credit, to satisfy divers small Debts, and to be Indebted only to Vickars, and John Hopkins. and, they claimed, that they had six thousand pounds to spare, and that John Stratford, should keep his Land at Winchcombe and Cockbury, in County Gloucester, for four or five years, in his own possession, and in which time John Hopkins and Vickars persuaded him he might either, by the sale of tobacco, or, by calling in his Debts, or by selling other Lands, be it out of his own Estate, to discharge all their Engagements. And, also to redeem Lands in Winchcombe and Cockbury.

So, John Stratford, two years ago in 1621, passed over the Land, in Trust to Vickars and John Gayre, by John Hopkins appointment, and Vickars and John Gayre, leased back to John Stratford for two years, which by Vickars promise, should in fact have been four or five years, and His Manors of Prescott, his Manor at Coates, and Land at Guiting, the Lease at Woontlowe, and his house in Friday Street, London, all valued at about five thousand pounds, were agreed to be sold for payment of Debts, if John Stratford were not able to Redeem them in a reasonable time, and, in being thereof, Vickars, John Gayre, and John Hopkins, agreed to resecure all the Lands and Houses in Winchcombe and Sudeley, or, if John Stratford could not redeem these Lands in Winchcombe and Sudeley, there should be given them one thousand pounds, and they would procure five hundred pounds, which John Stratford's wife's Mother, had promised to make up the sum of one thousand five hundred pounds.

Various other promises by John Hopkins are mentioned in the Document.

A Debt was paid to John Poole, which John Hopkins stood Bound for, but John Hopkins did not perform any other of his promises.

Vickars is now dead, having and leaving a weak Estate. John Stratford, on his Lands at Winchcombe and Cockbury, began sowing Flax, and made watering for the same, and filled the Barns with undressed Flax, and Flax Seed, and employing two hundred people at a session, and might perform much more good service for the Country, if he had not been interrupted by Vickars.

John Hopkins, also made offer to Alderman Freeman, and his Brother, lately deceased, to pay one hundred pounds, which John Stratford did owe to the Neeland Company, if they would bury one hundred Broad Cloths off of him, without any consent from John Stratford, to deal with his Creditors.

That is, John Hopkins, John Gayre, Thomas Lane, Humphrey Thornbury, and Burrell, are plotting against him, to over throw his Trading in Flax. They are also engaged in the Trade of Flax, bought from beyond the Seas, and vented in divers parts, being false conditioned, and at high prices. Whereas Flax grown here , employ's many poor people. They are all trying to defraud Him of his Lands.

John Hopkins reply says that he became alarmed at being Pledged for John Stratford's Debts, when known to be growing weak in his Estate. So, he came to an Agreement with Vickars.

John Hopkins and John Gayre, made Answer to John Stratford's Bill of Complaint on the 6th of December 1624.

They say, that they paid for John Stratford, six thousand three hundred and ninety pounds, fifteen shillings, excepting the sum of One hundred and forty pounds, which John Stratford, paid to one Pole, and is part of the said Debt, in consideration whereof John Stratford, Bargained, and sold to them, and to Thomas Vickars, now deceased, in Trust, to their use, all the Lands, in the various Deeds expressed. And, John Stratford, agreed with them that all those Lands, should be sold with all convenient speed, at the best Value, in excess of the above Debt, with Interest, and forbearance thereof, and then, they would give John Stratford, the overplus. And, if the Lands did not yield so much, John Stratford, would make up the difference to them. But, they do not know the value of these Lands, because John Stratford still has the Leases, but he does not think that their value will come to six thousand pounds odd.

He denies he ever made any offer to John Stratford, or Creditors, to pay them Debts, out of the said Lands, but he did have speech with Alderman Freeman, regarding some Broad Cloths, to be bought by him, and the Defendants, and, Alderman Freeman desired to be holden to a Debt of ninety pounds, due to himself, by John Stratford, but the Defendant did not offer him any payment thereof.

John Gayre, says that his name was only used in Trust for John Hopkins, and he does not know the value of the Lands.

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Data transcribed by Colin Hinson from:
A document written by
Gerald H. Stratford in 1988.
Reproduced here by permission
© Gerald H. Stratford.