John Millns[1], alderman, former mayor and property owner

The Borough of Newark discharge record[2] which survives at Nottinghamshire Archives and is dated 20 Sep 1739, records the unanimous agreement of the mayor and six of his fellow alderman to dismiss from service, without penalty, Mr John Milnes, and two more of the aldermen. These three men requested their discharge on the grounds that for five or six years they have suffered ‘Sickness Lameness and other Disorders’ and, in addition, increased demands on their time in the Court of Chancery.  Click HERE to read a transcript of the document

The document refers to both their seniority and their faithful assistance. But the parish church of St Mary Magdalene contains the burials of at least 5 ‘John Milnes’ (spellings of the surname being very varied)[3] – how can we decide which of them is for the ‘right John’?

Fortunately and helpfully, in his book[4] Brown lists ‘Mr. John Milnes, twice Mayor of this town, who died January 1st 1739[5], aged 77’. This record suggests two places to search for further information about John: by looking for a baptism 77 years earlier and by seeking a will proved after 1 Jan 1739/40. With luck, the latter could hold information that would confirm a baptism and family assigned to John.

These sources, along with others, have been used to piece John’s story together but readers must remember that other men of the same name existed, though this account is made in good faith.

John’s age at death fits well with a baptism on 2 Apr 1663, (St. M.M., mf.7), son of John Milnes. This entry does not record the given name of baby John’s mother. However, John seems to have had older siblings: Mary, baptised 19 Apr 1648; Francis, bap. 20 Feb 1653/54; Elizabeth, bap. 19 Sep 1656[6] (all mf.6) and Sara, bap. 23 Jun 1659,(mf.7)[7]. The first of these describes Mary as daughter of John and Elizabeth but no marriage has been traced for John & Elizabeth to date. There is another later baptism for Ellin, 18 Apr 1666, who may be the last child in the family.

It’s possible that John and Elizabeth, the parents of this family, lived on ‘Milngate’, present-day Millgate, where a John Mills was recorded as paying Hearth Tax in 1664 and 1674[8] and this same man may be the one buried on 6 Feb 1679/80[9].

John (b. 1663) may have married Elizabeth Fotherby, spinster, of N. Collingham on 20 Apr 1690, when he would have been 27 years old. The Abstracts of Marriage Licences[10] describes him as ‘fellmonger’, which occupation may fit with later information. However this could be a different John Milnes entirely. There appear to have been no surviving children of this marriage, if it was ‘this John’, as none are named in his will.

In 1703, John Milnes (1663) first appears as an alderman of the town[11]. This entry along with his discharge in 1739, shows that he served the town in this capacity for an impressive 36 years.

On 16 Jan 1704/5 at Rolleston (mf.4), John married Mrs. Hannah Redmore, the widow of Richard Redmore[12] of Suffolk. Further research shows that Hannah was a daughter of William Twentyman (d. 1695), and that both her marriages were conducted by John Twentyman, thought to be her brother-in-law by his marriage to Elizabeth Twentyman, daughter of William and eldest half-sister to Hannah. (He was possibly also a cousin of some degree.)

Neither in John’s will, written in 1737 & proved in 1740[13], nor in Hannah’s will of 1751, is any mention made of children so this also appears to have been a childless marriage. In the absence of any children of his own to whom he could leave his considerable estate, John makes very detailed provision for what should happen to everything that he will leave.

Hannah was baptised 14 Nov 1679, so she was about sixteen years younger than John and therefore it isn’t unusual that John leaves a large proportion of his estate to support Hannah, followed by instructions for who should inherit which property following her death.

Which neatly brings us to the surprising information that John’s will lists at least 14 separate properties! Amongst them, also unexpectedly, are estates in Lincolnshire at Kirton, fframpton (both lying off the modern A16, Boston to Spalding road) and Wellburne[14] (on the A607, Grantham to Lincoln route) and an ‘Estate at Stoak in the county of Norfolk’ (which remains unidentified). Before considering what they may reveal about John, let’s focus firstly on his Newark holdings.

John records himself as occupying two properties: first, a house and ground ‘bought of Richard Lovett ‘(maybe suggesting it’s a relatively recent purchase?) and second, a house with outhouses, ‘woolroomes’, gardens and close adjoining (i.e. an enclosed piece of land) – though sadly there is no indication whereabouts in the town these may be situated. There are four additional properties which are rented out to other people, two of whom, William Allin and Francis Allin, are his nephews, sons of John Allin, who married John’s older sister Elizabeth. After Hannah’s death, another nephew also named John Milnes, is charged with eventually selling those two properties and dividing the proceeds amongst the respective families of William and Francis Allin.

This is just one example of John’s ‘good head for business’ and at the same time displays a generous side to his nature. The will includes other similar examples which might be tedious to repeat here but can be read by anyone curious to know more by following the link to the transcription of John’s will.

John also lists eight ‘Closes’ of land, one of which is being divided into two and which is described as being near the brick kilns of Newark. Attenburrow’s 1790 map of Newark records a lane leading to the brick kilns and it seems reasonable to think that perhaps they are same kilns that existed in the 1730s when John prepared his will. That lane appears to have become the present Cliff Nook Lane. The other closes are rented out except for one which John retains.

It is unclear from the will exactly what use the townsfolk, including John, would have made of these enclosed plots of land, though some are described as ‘pasture’, suggesting they could have been used as grazing, perhaps for a milk cow, or to keep a horse. Alternative uses could have been for small livestock such as poultry, goats, pigs and possibly at the same time or in part, as an orchard. Such a resource would have been important for good household management at this period, when even the well-to-do families would have produced many of their own ‘consumables’ in the way of small beer, preserves etc. – or at least, their servants would have been kept busy this way!

Such an extensive portfolio of property implies that John was a relatively wealthy man, though considering that his father appears only to have paid a low level of Hearth Tax, he might better be described as a ‘self-made man’. How did John earn a living and prosper so well?

A tantalising clue lies in the description of one of his properties: the word ‘woolroomes’.

Given that John is a ‘fellmonger’ at the time of his first marriage in 1690 (assuming this is the same man), it seems not too great a stretch to think that he could have become a dealer – or ‘breaker’[15] of wool.

John’s woolrooms were likely to be the regional equivalent to the Yorkshire wool lofts described by Prof. Adrian Randall in his book on pre-industrial cloth production[16]. Another source on the mid-18th century Yorkshire wool trade[17] explains how each fleece needed to be sorted in order to separate out the differing qualities of wool from the various parts of the sheep’s body – in other words ‘breaking’ the fleece into these grades. Then wool of like quality can be collected together in bales (of a standard quantity by weight) so that spinners or dealers can buy wool of consistent quality for their needs in order to produce a length of cloth which is ‘all of a piece’.

So it appears that woolrooms would be like warehouses, where the raw fleeces could be collected, sorted and baled. Sorting would have been a highly skilled job and interestingly, there is a baptism recorded at St. Mary Magdalene where the child’s father is described as ‘wool sorter’. At a time when there was no requirement to list father’s occupations, they are often only added where the job is worthy of respect.

If John was dealing in wool, then acquiring properties in Lincolnshire also makes sense because they would give John a foothold in communities from which he could buy wool, and likewise with the estate in Norfolk. Both counties had reputations for producing high quality wool and with his base in Newark situated on the Great North Road, John would have also been well placed for sending his bales of wool into the Yorkshire trade.

John’s will does not include an inventory of household goods or other moveable property. It may have become separated from the will and lost. However, in order to gain an insight into what today we’d call John’s life-style, instead we can refer to the will of his widow, Hannah[18]. This document confirms the previously mentioned interpretation that the couple left no surviving children because it suggests that upon her death, her home will be broken up and her household possessions distributed around her relatives.

In addition to £981 11s worth of monetary legacies, Hannah leaves an impressive quantity of furniture, linen and silver, the latter in the form of table wares not jewellery. The manner in which specific items are given to named individuals implies that she intended to give people things she thought appropriate to them, such as a silver tankard to a nephew whilst 8 large silver spoons go to a god-daughter. The fact that she also gives another person the ‘best sett of china’ suggests that there was another more ‘every-day’ set, which presumably remains amongst ‘the rest of my personal Estate Goods and Chattels’ left to her two nephews, also her executors.

One of her sisters is given the furniture from Hannah’s personal ‘Lodging room’, which includes a ‘Table Glass’ (likely to be a table top mirror), along with four items of silver. The same sister also receives her ‘wearing linnen’, which may include undergarments such as petticoats or night gowns, and a half share of ‘other Linnen not before disposed of’, probably either table cloths, napkins or bed linen. If it is listed in the same way as the silver items, surely that indicates the perceived value put upon these linen goods?

One final item, easily overlooked amongst so many separate bequests, is ‘half the Wine in my house at my decease’ which goes to another of her sisters. Does this mean that Hannah is applying herself to consume as much of it as she can before she dies? Or is the more likely explanation that she knows this sister will appreciate it the most? Either way, the remaining half also goes to the nephew executors.

These examples chosen from a longer list show that John did not invest all his wealth in the 14 separate properties which he owned when he died. He and Hannah obviously lived very comfortably for their period in history, in a well-appointed home. They must have entertained in some style – because usually folk don’t have such a fine collection of silver table wares unless they want to impress their guests, who probably included not only the well-connected members of their wider family but presumably others of Newark’s elite families. Such people clearly know, respect and trust each other well because they witness documents for each other and name each other executors in their wills.

Though no other material has been traced so far to support this theory about how John climbed up in the world, nevertheless his two separate periods of office as mayor suggest that he was seen as dependable rather than as an irresponsible, ‘get rich quick’ kind of fellow. It was customary that having served as mayor, an alderman would not be eligible to be proposed for a further period in that office within the following seven years, though there are exceptions to this in the immediate post-Civil War period. The minutes[19] meticulously record the names moving through the list as evidence of an attempt to ensure a degree of equality and fairness in the business of electing each new mayor. Whilst there may be other men who served as mayor more than twice, those two periods of office still testify that John retained the good opinion of his fellow aldermen.

Researched & Written by Jenni Dobson, June 2015


[1] Brown, (see no. 3 below) quotes William Dickenson that a family of this name are present in Newark in the earliest parish records. They may have derived their name either from where they lived or the occupation of an ancestor. Almost as far back as the town’s history goes, its corn mills were famous, the road where they stood bearing the name ‘Milnegate’ and the ancestors of this family possessing most of the property adjoining that road.

[2] DC/NW/3/1/2 Borough of Newark Minute Book held at Notts Archives.

[3] Brown, Cornelius, A History of Newark-on-Trent, Vol.1, repr. 1995, Notts C. C. Leisure Services, under Notts Historical Reprints.

[4] Brown, C, op.cit., p.315.

[5] Before the calendar was revised in 1752, the start of a New Year was not until 25 March / Lady Day. By modern reckoning, John died on 1 Jan 1740.

[6] Elizabeth appears to have married John Allin, 1 Nov 1676. John Allin’s 1729 will was witnessed by Francis Milnes, either the elder brother or nephew of John, (1663).

[7] The survival of these records from the period after the Civil War & before the 1660 Restoration is very fortunate and is thanks to the town officers who continued to record ‘births and baptisms’ in the existing registers instead of following the Commonwealth directions for Civil Registration of Births, Marriages (by J.P.s) and Deaths..

[8] Historical Geography Research Series, Late C17th Taxation & population: The Notts Hearth Taxes and Compton Census, Tim Unwin, no. 16, August 1985.

[9] St. Mary Magdalene, mf.9.

[10] Abstracts of Marriage Licences, The Index Library, Vol. 1, held at Notts Archives.

[11] See note 2, above.

[12] Hannah Twentyman married Richard Redmore on 25 Jun 1700, Rolleston, mf. 4.

[13] PRNW Newark deanery 1740, mf. 1,820, at Notts Archives.

[14] Period spellings copied from the original will.

[15] The term in use at the time but which presumably gives rise to the more modern word ‘broker’.

[16] Randall, Adrian, Before the Luddites: Custom, community and machinery in the English woollen industry, 1776-1809, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[17] Smail, John, Woollen Manufacturing in Yorkshire, The Memorandum Books of John Brearley, Cloth Frizzer at Wakefield, 1758-1762, York Archaeological Society, The Boydell Press, 2001.

[18] PRNW Newark deanery 1752, mf. 1,845, at Notts Archives.

[19] See note 2 above.