Abraham Houlditch

by Tony Holdich - May 6, 2013

Jim Holdich’s recent article, Abraham, Citizen and Merchant Taylor in Issue Eight of the HFHS Journal, raised the question whether apprentice Richard was Abraham’s grandson. Jim has since established that they were so related. But other questions about Abraham and his line remain and that article has stimulated this attempt to answer them.

The records abound with references to Abraham Houlditch. It is of course, common for a researcher to be faced with disentangling the lives of two contemporaries of the same name and then trying to establish their precise relationship. Depending on the name, this task can be tackled with more or less enthusiasm. The distinctive name Abraham Houlditch, encourages the belief that the task can be successfully completed, but as research proceeds confidence weakens. It appears that there were always two of them alive at the same time in the same place and that each had a wife, a sister and a daughter named Elizabeth.

This particular trail seems to lead back to Phillip Houlditch who lived in Totnes, Devon, in the early 17th century. Phillip, if there was only one of him, was twice Mayor of Totnes, twice married and apparently had 10 sons and 9 daughters. Anyway there were at least two Abrahams alive there in the mid-17th century. There were also two active in London at about the same time, who came from Totnes, though only one can be identified with one of those in Devon. Difficulties are compounded by inconsistent spellings of the name. There is Healditch, Holdage, Holdech, Holdedge, Holdich, Holdick(e), Holdig, Holditch, Holdridge, Hordich,etc… Looking up Houlditch in an index, will not normally lead one to Healditch etc…

Jim’s findings give a clear line back from Richard, probably born about 1730, through Abraham 2 to Abraham 1, Citizen and Taylor, presumably born about 1675. Who were these men? Is it possible to find, in other records, three men similarly named and related who can be identified as Richard, his father and his grandfather?

Of the several potential Richards, one who was buried at Hampstead stands out. The Houlditch monument on the south side of the parish church of St. John, records his death on 14 December 1794; age 64 years, giving a date of birth in 1729/30, fitting reasonably with an apprenticeship starting in 1747. Other inscriptions on the monument include Richard’s wife Mary, who died aged 63 just two days after her husband and then their children: James, died 3 July 1843 aged 74, John, died 29 December 1845 aged 78; Richard, died 31 August 1848 aged 89 and two others who are remembered here, though they died elsewhere; Captain Thomas R.N. died 1790 and Captain Henry, Queens 2 Regiment, died 1795.

The I.G.I. records the marriage of Richard Houlditch and Mary Foster on 3 March 1754 at

St.George’s Mayfair and the baptism of a number of children – presumably theirs – including Ann at St. Luke’s Finsbury on 5 March 1758 and Richard at the same church on 24 June 1759. This fits nicely with the date of birth of son Richard, indicated on the monument. Given that Richard of Hampstead (d. 1794) was born c. 1730 and on the basis that his father was Abraham 2, it seems likely that his baptism is that shown on the I.G.I. for a son of Abraham Houlditch and Elisabeth at Wandsworth on 9 January 1732. Several other children, presumably theirs, were also baptised at Wandsworth, firstly, Thomas Johnson Houlditch on 9 November 1729, others including Edward Johnson Houlditch, but not Abraham, in the 1730s and finally, Samuel Johnson Houlditch on 7 December 1740.

It is likely that these were the children of Abraham and Elisabeth, nee Heath, who were married at Clapham on 9 November 1724. This date and the absence of a Wandsworth baptism for a son named Abraham, suggests the possibility of other children being born between 1724 and 1729. Alternatively, there may have been an earlier marriage, as an Abraham Houlditch obtained freedom by Patrimony in December 1741. But this may have been the belated admission of Abraham 2, who might have decided to move from Wandsworth, following the birth of Samuel Johnson Houlditch and gain admission as a Freeman in order to pursue his occupation in the City.

The Will of one Abraham Houlditch of Beaufort Buildings, parish of St. Clement Danes, was signed on 4 September 1763 and proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury three days later by his son Richard, who inherited his freehold estate at Hayes. Significantly, the Will included a bequest to another son, Edward Johnson Houlditch (who was said to have been left money by his aunt Mary Houlditch) and to Richard’s daughter Ann. The Will was witnessed by John Foster and clearly points to this Abraham being the father of Richard of Hampstead.

The baptism of Abraham of Gravesend/St.Clement Danes has proved elusive. However, on the basis that he was a son of Abraham 1, he was probably born a year or two after Abraham 1 paid for his freedom in February 1694/95. But who was Abraham 1?

The Abraham who married Elizabeth Johnson on 4 February 1695/96 at Stepney seems a likely candidate, but no baptism for him or his children has been traced. Moreover neither Will, nor burial date has been found. But from the Will of one Captain Abraham Houlditch, made and proved in February 1677/78, we learn that he had two sons, Abraham and Richard and three daughters, Elizabeth, Anne and Agnes and that his wife was pregnant. This mariner had married in November 1661 and two of his children – William (who seems to have died young) and Elizabeth – were baptised in Stepney in 1664 and 1665/66 respectively. It seems likely that his son Abraham, would have been born about 1662 or between 1667 and 1675.

Richard Houlditch, son of Abraham of Stepney deceased, was admitted a Freeman in 1699, some four years after the admission of Abraham 1. This Richard was a Director of the South Sea Company and was in difficulties following that Company’s collapse. In a statement made in 1721 (seeking to preserve as much of his estate as possible) he maintained that in addition to his wife and five children, he had a “decayed brother and several children” dependent upon him for their subsistence. This could have been Abraham – or a brother born after the mariner’s death. It is perhaps relevant to note that an Abraham was heavily involved in Chancery proceedings early in that century, an activity liable to decay the strongest constitution. It may also be significant that in his Will dated 1733, Richard made no mention of his brother Abraham, who may of course, by then have been dead.

A Will which does mention an Abraham, was made by his sister Elizabeth Houlditch in February 1729/30. But this is a Will, which tends to confuse, not clarify. She also referred to his wife Mary, his son – her godson – Thomas Johnson Houlditch, another brother Edward, her sisters Anne and Susanna, her cousins Jane and Mary Houlditch, Richard Houlditch Jnr. etc etc.

Given this string of relations, it should not be difficult to identify Elizabeth. But her references to his wife Mary, his son Thomas Johnson Houlditch and her cousins are confusing. Was she the sister of the Abraham who married Elizabeth Johnson (who died in 1712) or of the Abraham who married Elisabeth Heath? The earlier pair might well have had a son bearing his mother’s name; the latter pair are certainly credited with a Thomas Johnson baptised before the Will was made. But at that time Abraham was married to Elisabeth, not Mary.

The cousins Jane and Mary and Richard Houlditch Jnr. are identifiable as children of Richard, son of the mariner, but can we safely assume that she used the word cousin in its modern sense?

On balance, it seems reasonable to assume that Elizabeth was Abraham the mariner’s eldest daughter and that her brother was the Abraham who (contrary to precedent) had married a Mary after he lost his first wife Elizabeth nee Johnson, in 1712. On this basis, in giving several of his children Johnson as a name, Abraham of Wandsworth was perpetuating the memory of his mother and in one case, his brother, Thomas Johnson Houlditch.

Thus a line can be sketched from Abraham, son of Abraham the mariner, through Abraham (c 1696- 1763) to Richard (1729 – 1794) and, although none of these seems to have referred to himself as Citizen in other records, it does appear that they are the three Citizens of Jim’s article. However, this is an assumption which needs verification and there are gaps in the story which need to be filled before it can be regarded as confirmed. Perhaps a descendant of Richard of Hampstead could help in this respect.

The foregoing casts no light on any relationship between these Houlditches and the Norfolk or Northampton families. However, it remains notable, at least to one not versed in heraldry, that there is a similarity in their arms – in tincture, ordinary and charge and it would be interesting to peer into the recesses of the Collage of Arms to uncover the significance of these similarities.

I am indebted to Deborah and Jim for some of the material used in this article, but any errors in its interpretation cannot be laid at their doors.

This article was written by Bill Keymer and first appeared in Issue 10 of the HFHS Journal in May 1996
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