Seaman Cooke Beale: A London Wharfinger

Seaman Cooke Beale,  1742-1789.

Wharfinger of London, and my 4th great grandfather.

It’s the ancestors closest to home that get neglected.  After all, I’ve lived in London all my life.  I am very familiar with London Bridge – I used to live a short walk away.  I’ve walked past Southwark Cathedral a million times.  There is more fascination for me in a tiny Essex village than in the huge city.  But when the Society of Genealogists advertised a visit to All Hallows Barking Church (which is not in Barking but near the Tower of London), the place where my ancestor “Rich” Richard Beale was baptised in 1771, I thought I’d go along and visit the home of my London Beales.

The Beales weren’t a London family, of course.  Seaman Cooke Beale was born in Biddenden, Kent, like all the other Beales I previously wrote about.  This is a very serious genealogical blog, so I’m sure none of you will be sniggering at his name.  Seaman wasn’t a seaman or named after a seaman either, “Seaman” was the surname of his great great grandmother, Mary Seaman.  Mary Seaman’s father (my 9th great grandfather) was Symon Seamon, a very well respected Cambridge alumnus who became the vicar of Bredgar.  I have a total of twelve Seamans in my tree, the last of whom died in 1941.  Cooke was the surname of Seaman’s mother, Anne, from Cranbrook.  I don’t know much about the Cookes yet, so back to Seaman.

Seaman marriage.jpg
Seaman’s marriage.  (From London Met Archives, via Ancestry.)

Seaman must have come to London some time in the 1760s.  He married Sarah Speer at St Leonard Shoreditch on 26 November 1768.  (I was going to visit St Leonard but apparent you can’t go inside in winter, so I will update this post when I can).  I wonder about Sarah’s surname, Speer – I’ve seen it spelled other ways that make it appear more German (Spiere, Speyer, etc) and wonder if she is my best shot at an international, exotic ancestor, but I haven’t found anything yet.  Seaman and Sarah had two sons and six daughters; you won’t be surprised to learn that their sons were named Richard and Seaman.  All their children were baptised either at All Hallows or the now demolished Saint Katherine Coleman church on Fenchurch Street.  I noticed that the baptism records for All Hallows were in perfect condition and today I found out why – a previous vicar in the 1700s, fearing destructive non conformists getting their hands on them, hid them in a disused water cistern, where they remained undiscovered for two centuries and narrowly avoided being thrown out in the clear out.

All Hallows Barking.  As you can see, it’s rather lost amongst the Tower of London paraphenalia and the Walkie-Talkie Building.  Don’t miss it!

(All Hallows was also the workplace of vicar Tubby Clayton, who founded Talbot House, the place of recreation for WW1 soldiers that I visited on my recent visit to the Passchendaele area, but this is a bit of a tangent, so I won’t go in to it here.  Neither will I go into the damage and rebuilding of the church after WW2, but do give it a visit if you can, it’s a fascinating place with a surprisingly interesting little museum in the crypt.)

The frustrating thing about 18th century ancestors is that there are no censuses, official records or newspapers detailing their antics, and it is much harder to fill in the gaps and bring them to life.  I know that Seaman lived in Mark Lane and that he worked as a wharfinger.  I know that he was a home owner, as his name appears on the land tax records between 1771 and 1779.  I also know that he went bankrupt in 1779, as a document appeared in an online auction detailing his debtors.   I wish I knew what went wrong for Seaman, and how he recovered, but he seems to have got back on his feet somehow, as by the time of his death in 1789, he had plenty of possession to leave to his family in his will.

Southwark Cathedral. Shard not there in Seaman Cooke Beale’s day.  If only he could see it now.

Seaman was buried at St Saviour Southwark, having moved to a new address in “Honey Street”. I can’t find this on any map but I guess it must be south of the river somewhere.  St Saviour Southwark is now known as Southwark Cathedral, and sadly for Seaman, no graveyard, let alone grave, remains.  He was only forty-six years old and his youngest child was ten.  Although I can’t find a death record for Sarah, I can find her on the land tax records until 1812, so assume she died around then.

Both of Seaman’s sons returned to Biddenden after his death – this seems to be because Rich Richard had been left River Hall in Seaman’s father’s will three years previously.   I have only managed to trace three of the six daughters, but all three had also returned to Kent. With nothing to keep my ancestors there, my association with the City of London came to an end.

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