The Drew family of Bristol

Castle Street 17th Century houses

The Drew family line can be taken back to one John Drewe who was probably born around 1575. His marriage to Joan Gillson is recorded at St Philip and St Jacob’s church in Bristol on 2nd May 1603, although Joan may be his second wife, as there is an entry in the burial register a year earlier for Elinor, the wife of John Drewe. No baptisms with John and Elinor as parents occur in the register, but his marriage to Joan produced four children, two daughters named Anna (the eldest died aged 2), a son, Robert and a final daughter, Bridget. Little more is known of John; he does not appear in the Bristol Burgess Books, but we can be sure he lived in the eastern part of the city, in the Old Market area, and he is surely the individual whose burial is recorded in 1624 at St Philip and St Jacob.

John died intestate and administration of his estate was granted to the widow, Joan on 20th September on presentation of an inventory, which happily survives. It is frustrating that the occupation of John is unclear (and possibly missing), but it may read “husband(man)”, which is a smallholder or farmer who leased his land. Certainly the contents of the inventory would bear this out, although no animals or leases are mentioned. He did leave however, two acres of oats and oats in the barn as well as fodder and three stacks of hay, which would indicate that he kept stock. In addition he had horse fetters and saddles in the house as well as ox yokes and pig styes. The only livestock listed are a single cock and hen. Inside, as well as the normal household items there were cheese vats, a cheese press and ten cheeses. He also owned a crossbow, arrow and bolt. No mention is made of the property apart from the fact that it must have comprised a dwelling house with three downstairs rooms (hall, parlour and kitchen) and two chambers above, as well as a barn.

Inventory of John Drew 1624

The Inventory of John Drewe’s goods 1624

With John’s son Robert, the documentary evidence is much stronger. On 28th July 1633 he married Elizabeth Brayne (also at St Philip) and eighteen months later he was admitted as a Burgess of Bristol. He is listed as a Carpenter and the name of the master to whom he had been apprenticed was John Friend. Carpenters (sometimes House Carpenters) were major figures in the rapid expansion of Bristol in the seventeenth century.

Before c1700 virtually all houses were constructed of wood, even the grandest, such as the famous “Dutch House” which once stood at the corner of Wine Street and High Street. This magnificent structure was built about 1680, almost certainly by local craftsmen. The master carpenter was the main contractor on any construction, being responsible for arranging the design, foundations, all the major framework and the roof woodwork. Separate tradesmen would be called in for the minor works; a joiner for the internal partitions and probably the doors and windows; plasterers, glaziers and plumbers for the windows and roof leadwork, and finally tilers for the roof. During this period wages were fixed and strictly enforced by the Corporation – a master carpenter, if employed was paid 2/- per day; journeymen and older apprentices received 1/8d and junior apprentices 1/4d. The hours of labour were also fixed – from 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning until 7pm – with breaks for breakfast and lunch.

Dutch House

The Dutch House

The mid seventeenth century was a busy time for carpenters in Bristol; apart from the regular rebuilding of decaying properties and those damaged by the constant fires that were a terrifying hazard in a largely timber-built city, a major construction site became available in the 1650s when Oliver Cromwell authorised the demolition of Bristol Castle by the City Corporation. The Castle had been purchased by the Corporation in the 1630s, and although garrisoned during the Civil War, had not seen any military action for hundreds of years; Cromwell was pleased to see the end of a possible stonghold in the centre of the second city of the Kingdom, which still held many royalist sympathisers. The Castle had been in disrepair for some time and the site contained many illegal gerry-built structures which harboured criminals and low-life of all descriptions. It was almost completely demolished and three main streets were constructed on the site – Castle Street, Tower Street and Castle Green.

St Philip and St Jacob, Bristol

St Philip and St Jacob’s Church

Although living closer to the parish church of St Peter, the Drew family maintained their connection with St Philip and St Jacob. All of Robert and Elizabeth’s children were baptised there, and two of their daughters married there; Elizabeth married William Horwood, a feltmaker on 7th April 1656 and the following year, Mary married Francis Page who had been one of Robert’s apprentices. Francis became a Burgess of the City through the completion of his apprenticeship, whilst William did so by virtue of his marriage to Elizabeth; marriage with the daughter or widow of a Burgess was one method of becoming a Freeman. A lease of 1641 shows that Robert already rented a property inside the Castle grounds – “that tenement wherin he dwelleth” with a woodyard adjoining the Castle wall on the south side. The lease was for 99 years or the lives of himself, Elizabeth his wife and John, his son.
On the destruction of Bristol Castle the Corporation granted many new leases to citizens who were willing to take on the clearing of the site and the construction of new properties. Robert must have been one of the earliest to obtain such a lease – possibly because of the situation of his existing dwelling. On the 26th July 1656 a lease was granted on the surrender of his previous one, which included a property (“messuage or tenement” is the phrase customarily used) called the George Inn, which was near the site of the Castle Gate, just inside the walls, and a piece of void land leading to the highway – the new Castle Street as it was to become. It may well be that this included the house and woodyard he previously rented from the Corporation. A renewal in 1658 granted him the land behind the George, running down to the river and gives the dimensions of the site – a street frontage of 47 feet. and a frontage onto the Avon of 42 feet. The lives on which the lease was granted are now those of his daughters, Mary Page and Elizabeth Horwood, and his youngest son, Joseph, and the term has been extended from the 41 years of the 1656 lease to 99 years. The annual rent was £6.10s and there was a convenant to erect a building on the street frontage, so the George must have stood somewhat back from the line of Castle Street.

In 1663 Robert was granted a further lease on a site in Castle Street of 36 feet in frontage and 70 feet backwards. This was the site of Nos 7 & 8. One condition was that he “remove the Rubbell thereon and build two houses within the space of four years in uniformity to the rest of the Castle buildings”. A rent of 12d per foot (presumably a reduction on the norm) is agreed because “there are noe stones left to bee made use of”. It seems that Thomas Harding, another carpenter had already constucted the house at No.7 as the lease records that one house is already built. These houses were almost facing Robert’s other properties at the George Inn site on the south side of Castle Street. Although the lease stipulates that the houses were to be constructed “in uniformity” with rest of the new developments in the area, it appears that such uniformity was loosely applied. Robert’s house at No. 8 bears the inscription in the plasterwork “ID” and “1663”.


Castle Street 17th Century houses

Nos. 7 & 8 Castle Street painted in 1828

All three of Robert and Elizabeth’s sons became House Carpenters and Burgesses in due course – John the eldest (born 1635) was admitted in 1665, Samuel in 1666 and Joseph in 1677, and the elder two are also found being granted leases in the Castle Precincts (as the area encompassing the old Castle site was known).

1663 Lease Robert Drew mark

Mark of Robert Drew on 1663 lease

In 1665 Samuel, the middle son was granted a lease on a plot in Tower Street on which he was covenanted to build two houses and in 1668 the eldest son John, took a lease on a plot at what became Nos. 70, 71 & 72 Castle Street. In all these cases it is laid down the pattern of the buildings to be constructed – in the wording of the 1668 lease to John Drew: “one good, strong, firme and substantiall tenement, fitt and convenient for a tennant to dwell therein and the same tenement to be three story in height besides the roof and alsoe in uniformity to the rest of the Castle buildings there erected”. All three of Robert’s sons
have fine signatures on these documents but Robert himself could only make a mark. Strangely enough John Drew alone signs himself “John Drue als Druw”.


Castle Precincts 1673 copy 2

Detail from Millerd’s map of 1673. Robert’s properties at The George Inn in red and No.8 in yellow; Samuel’s Tower Street houses in blue and John’s houses in Castle Street in green; The “Sugar House” in white.

We can pinpoint the area where the Drews constructed their houses and where they lived for the next thirty or so years. In Millerd’s map of 1673 a cluster of buildings is shown to the east of St Peter’s church. One lease granted to a Ralph Hele in 1656 states that his plot of land is between Castle Street and the river to the north and south, and between the George Inn on the east and the “Sugar House” on the west, and stood where the old Castle ditch had been, against the Castle wall. The George is, of course, Robert’s plot, and the Sugar House was part of the old mansion of the Aldworth family, later known as St Peter’s Hospital; it had been used for sugar refining for much of the 16th century, and was later to become the Bristol Mint, the first Workhouse in the country and later, the Bristol Register Office. It was totally destroyed in the Blitz in 1940. Thus the site where Robert and John built their houses was a property’s width away from the Aldworth mansion.

Site of George Inn 1789

A later map of 1789 shows quite clearly where the yard of the George Inn lay and confirms the situation.

It is not known if the Drew family ran the George themselves, or simply sublet the running of it to others. A Council resolution of July 1657, just a year after Robert had acquired the site states: “Whereas the Castle is now demolished, and a common street and highway made therein. And whereas there was formerly a house in the Castle called the George inn. A new house having been built on part of the old site, and it being very commodious for entertaining men and horses, Ordered that the said house be used as a common inn and hostelry”. A few months later a further resolution forbad the establishment of any other inn within the Castle Precincts. Obviously Robert had constructed a very desirable residence and perhaps the family then had to live in another house on the site. It could be a reason for the later (1663) lease which enabled Robert to build elsewhere in Castle Street. The George became a very valuable property for the Council and they sold it on to the Merchant Venturers in 1686.

Some of the extended Drew family became Quakers as the century progressed, and suffered as a result. It is recorded in March 1682 that Constable Hoares “violently haled one Mary Page, Wife of Fra. Page, out of the Meeting to the endangering of her life, she being big with Child”. It seems that Robert’s eldest son, John and his wife Dorcas were also members of the Society, along with the Pages and Elizabeth Horwood. The births of the children of John Drew and Mary Page are recorded in Quaker registers, whereas those of John’s brothers are not, and the Horwoods had their children baptised at St Philips.

The three Drew sons all married and produced families, and at least two of Robert’s grandsons became house carpenters in their turn. The family appears to have remained in Bristol thoroughout the eighteenth century. The two eldest boys, John and Samuel predeceased their father, leaving their widows with six and three children respectively. John made his will in June 1680 and presumably died shortly after; Samuel died only a month before his father in September 1681. John’s widow, Dorcas married again in 1683 in a Quaker ceremony. Her new husband was John Collins, a cooper, who had previously appeared at a Quaker Meeting to agree to the conditions of Dorcas’ children inheritance expressed in their father’s and grandfather’s wills. Of the two brothers, only John’s will survives, together with an inventory of his possessions. He left two houses, for the term of their leases, in Castle Street and a further piece of land and workshop of some type in Gaunt’s Mead (possibly near where Barton Hill is today), all in trust to his wife and children. The inventory has his possessions valued at £32 7s 6d – more than twice that of his grandfather, and in addition his four leases were valued at £150. His residence in Castle Street, which he had built in the 1660s was of three stories with a cellar and a garret.
In addition there was a storehouse and yard at the back. It would have resembled the houses at Nos. 7 & 8 as well as those in the same rank, shown below.

Castle Street 1820s Nos. 65-8

Nos. 65-8 Castle Street in the 1820s. John’s house was at No.70

Robert died in 1681 and was buried at St Philips on 7th October, and in his will he left a substantial estate There are a few money bequests to his grandchildren and daughters-in-law, but the main inheritance were the leases on seven or eight houses which were left to his three surviving children (his two sons-in-law being enjoined not to “intermeddle or have to doe with any part of my estate”) for the remainder of his interest therein. Of the houses, one was left to son Joseph, one to the children of son John, and the others to trustees who were required to distribute the rents and profits therefrom to Joseph, Mary and Elizabeth equally. Apart from one house in Marsh Street, all the others were in Castle Precincts, mainly in Castle Street, but also “behind” Castle Street – one “next to the waterside”. The three children were to share equally the cash, household belongings and “stocks of timber” as well as the usage of one third each of the garden on the site. Apart from requiring his children to pay an annuity to their mother, no further mention is made of Robert’s widow, Elizabeth (even her name is not recorded in the will). Although Robert seems to have remained an Anglican, it is interesting that one of the Trustees to his will is named as Nathaniel Snead, who was a leading figure in the Broadmead Baptist Chapel.

Robert’s surviving son, Joseph, did not seem to have the entrepreneurial spirit of his father. An account book of the wealthy merchant, Thomas Speed records various small payments to him for work done or timber supplied during the 1680s, the final one being £1.12s for work carried out at a stable in Duck Lane (the account book ends in 1690). Furthermore in 1688, Speed had purchased from Joseph three tenements in “the Castle… held by him by the last Will and Testament of Robt. Drew his father, deceased”. These included the houses occupied by Francis Page and William Horwood. Speed also purchased the reversion in fee of the properties from the City, becoming the outright owner of the freeholds. He paid Joseph £137 and a further £120 to the Corporation, whilst continuing to receive rent from the Pages and Horwoods, who are recorded as still living there in 1696.

In the same year Speed paid a further amount to Joseph (£3.6s.3d) for “flooring a kitchen & new windows etc.” as well as £25.3s “in consideration of his poverty, over and above the purchase money contracted for”. The contra account splits this payment up, showing that a part of it was to “Francis Yeamans for managing his business with his Creditors whilst in prison, release from Walton Short…”. So Joseph had got himself seriously into debt and needed to sell the leases in order to settle outstanding liabilities. Joseph’s sons seem to have restored the family’s fortunes somewhat, both leaving property in their respective wills in the following century, but our interest lies in Joseph’s sister Elizabeth and the Horwood family.


Illustrations courtesy of Bristol Record Office and Bristol Museums



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Stephen Bumstead

I'm retired and live in Devon, England. I have been researching my family for forty years and am also the OPC (online Parish Clerk) for Chewton Mendip in Somerset. I have helped transcribe registers for FreeReg and wills for Oxfordshire FHS.

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