Between January and June 2018, a shared learning project was run with the University of the Third Age in Greenwich. As with the London and Middlesex SLP, the team was charged with using the hearth tax returns as a starting point and following their interest to reveal stories of Greenwich and the people who lived there in the late seventeenth century. In this post, John McKinley looks to the connection of Sir Nicholas Crispe to Greenwich.
In looking at the Quarter Sessions Assessment (1664) – In the Lath of Sutton At Hone – The Hundred Of Blackheath I came across references to a Sir Nicholas Crispe who owned a property in Upper Deptford, which was chargeable (3 hearths and empty), and also a property in Lower Deptford, which was also chargeable (6 hearths and empty). Although he resided in Hammersmith (with a property costing 25,000 pounds, and containing 45 hearths!) in the parish of St Mildred, Bread Street, where his family are noted in respect of baptisms, marriages and burials, he held a considerable portfolio of properties, and was linked to Deptford through properties, and mercantile interests.
In his Diary, Samuel Pepys mentioned Sir Nicholas Crispe several times. On 11th February 1660, Pepys wrote, “Hence we went to a merchant’s house hard by, where I saw Sir Nicholas Crispe, (an eminent merchant and one of the Farmers of the Customs. He had advanced large sums to assist Charles I, who created him a baronet”. Crispe died 1667, aged 67.In January 1662 he mentioned a certain project of Sir Nicholas Crispe, who planned to make a great “sasse”, or sluice, in “the King’s lands about Deptford,” to be a wett-dock, to hold 200 sail of ships.” This project is also mentioned by John Evelyn and Lysons.
Sir Nicholas Crispe was the son of Ellis Crispe, Alderman and Sheriff of London, who died in 1625. His mother was a sister of John Ireland, first master of the Salters’ Company. The first references speak of him as Captain Crispe, so he had most probably been to sea as a trader in his early years, before settling down to mercantile activity in the city of London. Politically he was an English Royalist, and a wealthy merchant who pioneered the West African trade in the 1630s; a custom’s farmer (1640, and 1661 – 1666); a Member of Parliament for Winchelsea (1640 – 1641; a member of the Council of Trade (from 1660) and for Foreign Plantations (from 1661); and Gentleman of the Privy Chamber from 1664. He was knighted in 1640, and was made a baronet in 1665, a year before his death in February 1666 at the age of 67.
Portrait of Sir Nicholas Crispe
Crispe made his money from his brickworks in Hammersmith, which he then used to invest in other ventures. His main commercial interests were in the trades to India and Africa. Like his father he was a substantial stockholder in the East India Company, and throughout his twenties, he imported a wide variety of commodities, including cloves, indigo, silks, pepper, elephant tusks, calicoes and shells. The shells were specially purchased on his behalf by the company’s agents, and it is thought that they were used to finance the purchase of slaves in West Africa.
His daughter, Mary Crispe, married Richard (later Sir) Levett who was Sheriff, Alderman and later Lord Mayor of London (1699/1700). He was master of the Haberdasher’s Company. He founded the trading firm of Sir Richard Levett & Co, which sold Kew to the Royal family. One of the first governors of the Bank of England, he was also a member of the original East India Company. A pioneering merchant and politician, he counted among his friends and acquaintances Samuel Pepys, Robert Blackborne, John Houblon, physician to the Royal Family, and son-in-law Sir Edward Hulse, Lord Mayor Sir William Gore, his brother-in-law Chief Justice Sir John Holt, Robert Hooke, Sir Owen Buckingham, Sir Charles Eyre and others.
The Company of Adventurers of London traded with the ports of Africa, and became more commonly known as “The Guinea Company”. It was the first private company to colonize Africa for a profit, primarily exporting redwood (used for dyes) from the western parts of Africa. Nicholas Crispe started investing in the company in 1625, and became the controlling stockholder in 1628. Nicholas Crispe got most of his royalist support through the building of trading forts on the Gold Coast of Komenda and Kormantin, which the King, James 1, saw as offering great value to the future of England/Africa trade. It is estimated that Nicholas Crispe and his company made a profit of over 500,000 pounds through the gold they had collected with the period 1632 – 1644. According to British parliamentary records the company also appears to have been involved in the trade of enslaved Africans.
A sizeable assemblage of early 17th century glass beads “wasters” were discovered in association with a brick furnace in the grounds of the private estate of Sir Nicholas Crispe (on what is now Hammersmith Embankment) during excavation in 2005. Crispe had a patent for making and vending beads and he also obtained a patent for slave trading from Guinea to the West Indies, these beads were probably used for both the local and colonial markets, as researchers have uncovered similar beads in the Americas and in Ghana. This is the first clear archeological evidence for the manufacture of early post-medieval glass beads in England.
Elected to the Long Parliament in 1640, to represent Winchelsea, he was expelled in 1641 for collecting duties on merchandise which he used as security to loan money to the cash-strapped King Charles I without the authorization of Parliament. On New Years Day 1640, Charles knighted Crispe, recognizing his past services, but perhaps more importantly, anticipating his future service to the Crown.
Crispe supported the King in a number of ways throughout the Civil War and he was at the centre of a plan in March 1643 to head a force to take over London, but the idea failed. He was forced by Parliament to surrender his patents for making and vending beads and for slave trading from Guinea to the West Indies. An order relating to a debt owed by Sir Nicholas Crispe to the Navy was laid before the House of Lords in December 1643, the House of Commons of England had ordered that Crispe’s share in the Guinea company, his trading venture to Africa should be used to cover this debt. The arrival of gold from this adventure now prompted the House of Lords to confirm that Crispe’s share in this should be used to pay off the debt. However on the 6th May 1644, he was commissioned to equip 15 warships at his own expense and granted one-tenth of any prizes taken by them. Operating from West Country ports he ferried troops from Ireland and played an important role in shipping tin and wool to the Continent. He would also bring back arms and ammunition as a return cargo, and ultimately he held the important position of Deputy Controller-General of posts. His allegiance to the Crown was steadfast, even after Charles I was executed in 1649, and he was forced to flee to France, like many others. Family connections allowed him to return to England, but his politics had not changed, and in the run up to the Restoration, Crispe performed secret services and raised money for the exiled Charles II. He was among those London Royalists who signed the declaration in support of General Monck to restore the Stuart Monarchy. In May 1660 Sir Nicholas Crispe was one of the committee sent to meet Charles II at Breda, as he returned to England to take up the throne his father had vacated. Once the monarchy was restored he was paid back in part for all he had lost defending the Crown, the King also appointing him to a number of prominent offices to make up the deficit. He was returned to Parliament again in 1661 to represent Winchelsea until 1666. In 1665 Charles II honoured his loyal servant by creating him a Baronet.
In his will he directed that his embalmed heart should be placed in an urn beneath a bronze bust of Charles I which in his lifetime he had placed in St Mildred’s, Bread Street, East London where he had worshipped God. For a century and a half the heart was taken out on the anniversary of its burial and refreshed with wine. It then became “dust to dust”, but the memory of old Sir Nicholas, the marble monument, and the Kings bust would long survive it. The urn which once contained the heart of Sir Nicholas is now beneath a bust of the aforementioned King in St Paul’s church, Hammersmith. He was a great benefactor to the Borough of Hammersmith, supporting the building of Hammersmith’s first church, which later became St Paul’s, supplying both money and bricks. The memorial to Crispe was transferred to the newer church, built on the same site in 1883. On 18th June 1898 his remains and his heart were reunited in a chest tomb which stands in the churchyard of St Paul’s by the north-east door of the church. A horseshoe, like in his coat of arms is now present in the coat of arms of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. The portrait appended below this report of Sir Nicholas Crispe is attributed to Robert Hartley Cromek. Crispe was also responsible for building Brandenburgh House in Fulham Palace Road at a cost of 25,000 pounds. A drawing of the same is again detailed below. Originally named “The Great House” by Crispe, this impressive residence was later the home of King George IV’s estranged wife, Queen Caroline. There is a Crisp road in Hammersmith named after him.
Site of Sir Nicholas Crispe’s mansion (later Brandenburgh house), Hammersmith, after Roque, 1746
Sir Nicholas Crispe’s home in Hammersmith
He founded the English slave depot and refreshment base for East India Shipping on the African Coast – Cormanton and in the later 1630s this London Customs Farmer and his faction sought a Royally backed monopoly on Moroccan trade. In 1631, Crispe and his partners were issued with a patent giving them a monopoly for 31 years on the entire West Coast of Africa and prohibiting all others from importing African goods into England. Crispe himself had been active in the Africa trade since 1625. On 22nd November 1632, Charles I, gave Crispe and five others, an exclusive right to trade the Guinea Coast with a 31 year patent. Crispe got redwood from Guinea and had the sole importation rights. The wealth Crispe received from slaving and other business in 1640 enabled him to contract for 2 large Customs farms “the Great and the Petty farm”, and on that security he and his backers gave King Charles I, use of 253,000 pounds. In May 1661 his son obtained the post of Collector of Customs for the Port of London. Thomas Crispe, together with John Ward, Thomas Walter, William Crispe, William Pennoyer, Maurice Thompson, Robert Thompson, Samuel Pennoyer and Roland Wilson, were active from 1649 in the Guinea Barbados slave trade. Sir Nicholas Crispe’s son Ellis, married Anne Strode, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Strode, died sometime after Lady Day 1664. In his Will Sir Nicholas Crispe bequeathed Anne Strode an annuity of 300 pounds per annum, which was quite generous possibly because he anticipated his own death. However her father, Sir George Strode displayed considerable bitterness towards Sir Nicholas Crispe in his own Will in 1664. In that Will, Sir George Strode criticized Sir Nicholas Crispe for misappropriating Anne Strode’s portion, Several Chancery records in the 1650s give evidence of protracted legal disputes between Sir George Strode and Sir Nicholas Crispe as to Anne Strode’s portion. (For example C6/41/131 Short title: Crispe v Strode. ) Ellis Crispe, Sir Nicholas Crispe’s eldest son, appeared in the Lady Day 1664 Surrey Hearth tax records in Mortlake with a house of 24 hearths. Sir Nicholas Crispe sired 7 children in total and records of births, deaths and marriages were held in the Parish records of St Mildred, Bread Street.
Sir Nicholas Crispe, apart from his trade activities in West Africa (including slaving) established copperas manufacture in Deptford, near Church Street. The works had their own dock on Deptford Creek. An account given to the Royal Society in 1678 described the copperas bed as “about 100 feet long, 15 feet broad at the top, and 12 feet deep, shelving all the way to the bottom. The bed had clay and chalk at the bottom with a wooden trough in the middle which led t a system. The iron pyrites stones were laid about 2 feet deep then left to ripen for 5 to 6 years in the sun and rain before they began to produce a liquor of sufficient strength. New stones would be laid on top every 4 years to refresh the bed. “At Deptford, Sir Nicholas Crispe, had in his lifetime, a very famous copperas work: as indeed, there that ingenious gentleman, one of the greatest improvers, and one of the most public spirited persons this nation ever bred, introduced several other inventions. Copperas was also formerly made, together with brimstone, in the Isle of Sheppey.” ( “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society”, No 142 page 1056 – 1059.
- F.A. Crisp, Crisp Colls. Iv. 4-5; C.J. Feret, Fulham Old and New, iii. 68
- Crisp, iv. 2-5; Feret, iii. 60-61; Clarendon, Life, ii. 232-3; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. Xv), 201; DNB; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1651; K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 40.
- “The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983.
- “The Crispe Family and the African Trade in the 17th Century”, R. Porter. The Journal of African History, vol. 9, No. 1 (1968), pp. 57-77.