Brick by brick (or database by database) I am starting to dismantle the brick wall which has surrounded the origins of John Player and Patience Byard, my 4th great-grandparents who lived in London at the turn of the 19th century and who were the parents of a gaggle of Player watchmakers.
This family has been a difficult one to research, principally because it has been impossible to discover who John’s parents were. In the meantime, however, I have been able to uncover quite a bit more detail about the Byard family, thanks in large part to several new London-centred databases which have been published by Ancestry.com.
Revelation #1. The Byards were clockmakers
Patience Byard’s father John was a clockmaker. I found the marriage allegation for John Byard and Ann Lacy which lists John Byard’s occupation as a clockmaker. Records show that John Byard was apprenticed to John Tillier of St James Clerkenwell, a movement maker, in 1758 and to Steven Stokes of St James Westminster, a watchmaker, in 1759. Further research showed that John and Ann’s son Horatio Thomas Byard was also a watchmaker.
I had wondered why all of John Player and Patricia Byard’s sons were involved in the watchmaking trade, and this gives us an answer. John Byard does, however, seem to have been the first clockmaker in his family. His father Thomas was a barber and tallow chandler.
Was John Player also involved in the watch trade?
Revelation #2. There were Quakers in this family
Patience Byard was undoubtedly named after her grandmother Patience Parker. Patience was the daughter of a pastry cook and she was a Quaker. She married her first husband William Humphery in a Quaker meeting house in Horsley Down, and she had six children with him. These children and their descendants were remembered in the will of Thomas Byard, Patience’s second husband. The Humpherys were tallow chandlers, a detail which will become important below. Patience Parker would have likely had to give up her Quakerism when she married Thomas Byard.
Revelation #3: They were East Enders
John Byard’s will and that of his father Thomas also indicates that this family owned houses on Brook Street in Ratcliff, Middlesex, which is now a part of London. Ratcliff was a small hamlet on the banks of the Thames which was know in the 16th and 17th centuries for ship building. In the 19th century, it is known for the serial murders of two families.
Interestingly enough, Ratcliff was also a centre for non-conformism — a rejection of the Church of England. This lines up with the fact that Patience Byard’s grandmother was a Quaker.
Patience’s father John Byard moved the family to Kentish Town in the northern part of the city sometime in the late 18th century. Many middle and upper class residents moved to the outer limits of London during this time period. For this reason, Patience and John were married in the Old Parish church of St. Pancras which is near Kentish Town.
Revelation #4: John and Patience Player were living in Ratcliff before John’s death in 1811
Thanks to the new database London, England, Land Tax Records, 1692-1932, I found quite a bit more information about John and Patience Player’s residences in London. For several years, they lived in the Craven Buildings on Craven Street in Shoreditch which were own by Humphrey Sturt and his son Charles. Around 1802, the family may have moved to Islington (Skinner’s Place) or may have gone to Birmingham which would possibly account for the birth of Thomas Player in Birmingham. By 1808, however, the Player family was back in London and guess where they were living: Brook Street in Ratcliff. An entry in the 1811 directory lists a Patience Player at 46 Brook Street, working as a tallow chandler (remember that her Humphery relatives and her grandfather were also tallow chandlers). Because Patience is listed and not John, we know that she must be a widow by this time. Indeed, all of the land tax records after 1811 list Patience Player as the primary occupant. Patience remained in Ratcliff until about 1818, and then she disappears from these records until her death in 1831.
What does this tell us?
All of these revelations help paint a picture of the lives of John Player and Patience Byard in Georgian London. Patience Byard’s family were clearly middle to upper class freemen who owned property. This suggests that the Player family may have also been of this class. There may have been some turmoil or economic difficulties in John and Patience’s lives as they did move from their residence on Craven Street to Islington or to Birmingham.
From these records, we can also be fairly certain that John Player died in 1811, although I was not able to find his burial in the St Dunstan parish records for either 1811 or 1812. After 1811, Patience is clearly on her own and working to support her family making candles. This suggests that the Byards no longer had enough money to support Patience or they didn’t want to. Or they may have chosen to support Patience by apprenticing her sons in the watch- and clockmaking trade, not a cheap prospect when the apprenticeship fees could cost as much as a year’s rent. Patience’s father and her brother would have been able to act as masters for these boys.
While this didn’t get me any farther with my search for John’s parents, it did help to suggest that he might be related to the Player family who lived on Brook Street in Ratcliff. After all, if John and Patience end up living there in 1808, either one or both clearly had a connection to Ratcliff and to Brook Street. After Patience Player leaves Brook Street in 1818, there is an Elizabeth Player living on this street. Is this a relation?
Another possible clue to John’s family turned up in Shoreditch at the Sturt Estates. At the same time that John and Patience were living the Craven Buildings, so too was a Christopher Player. Who is Christopher? Any database that I tried has not revealed a single Christopher Player. Yet another Player mystery to be solved.