Joseph Beckwith Early life
Joseph was the firstborn son, and second child of Jonah and Mary Ann Beckwith (née Callendar). His father was a silver turner, who worked for the firm of Hennells for most of his life. I do not know why he was called Joseph - it does not seem to be a family name on either side. Curiously though, in the baptism record (and also in his father's marriage record) his father’s name is given as Joseph although in the baptism record Joseph, is crossed out and replaced by Jonah. Probably doesn’t mean anything, but food for thought nevertheless. He was born on 11th November 1776 and baptised on 22nd December at the church of St. Mary Staining, which is odd in itself as this church was burnt down in the Great Fire and not rebuilt. The following from Topographical Dictionary of London by James Elmes; 1831, may clarify -
“St Michael Wood Street with St Mary Staining, the church of, is situated on the west side of Wood Street, Cheapside. The original church is of some antiquity, [as early as]...1328. The old church was destroyed by the common conflagration of 1666, and the present church was erected a few years after from the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. The neighbouring church of St Mary Staining was also destroyed at the same time, and the parish was united to this act of parliament. ... ; the patronage of which devolving to the crown after the Reformation, it is now in the gift of the Lord Chancellor, and the united rectory is presented to alternately by his Lordship and the parishioners. The united parishes are now a rectory in the city, diocese and archdeaconry of London, and in before mentioned patronage. “
So I am guessing that this means he was actually baptised in the church of St Michael Wood Street with St. Mary Staining.
Joseph Beckwith was a Londoner. He spent all his life within a very small area of the eastern city on one side of the river or the other. It was a time when this part of London was filled with a maze of little streets, squares and alleys, most of which still exist today - although, alas, Lilypot Lane, where Joseph was born, is not one of them as the picture below the old map attests. John Strype in his Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1720) describes the immediate area thus: “Noble street, pretty long, and indifferently well inhabited; the end next to Foster lane being esteemed the best. In this Street are these Places of Name. Lilly pot lane, but ordinary; falls into Staining lane”. Well there’s worse things to be than ‘ordinary’ I guess. Lilypot Lane is shown on the map at left (dated 1792-9) as Lillyput Lane.
Just a little bit more about the area in which Joseph must have spent his early life - The Goldsmith’s Hall is just to the south, Little Britain is a couple of streets over to the west - his father worked here at various times. There is a street called Silver Street - so definitely an area populated by silversmiths and other metal workers. I have tried to find pictures of London life in the eighteenth century, but they do tend to be dominated by the graphic engravings of William Hogarth whose focus was on everything that was seedy and dissolute. The best I found was this painting of Cheapside in 1812. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that Joseph’s family belonged to this kind of society - the very opposite in fact. No doubt his father worked hard - he would have had to, as he and Mary had eleven children in all, although the last two, both boys, died in infancy. Joseph himself, would have had a relatively privileged infancy, with not as much competition for attention or food from siblings as his younger brothers and sisters. And what was going on at this time? Well it was the time of the great revolutions - the Americans had had enough and and the French people were beginning to stir. The aristocratic governments which had ruled them for so long were losing their grip. 1776 is, in fact, the year of the declaration of American independence, so a highly significant date in modern history. Mad King George was on the throne, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, so change was in the air. It would have been an exhilarating time to be alive.
Plan of London, Westminster and Southwark, shewing every house 1792-9 by Richard Horwood - I love this map - the detail is just amazing. You could almost picture the streets. The picture on the right right is a detail from it.