Fascinating Find: John Lewis’s Medieval roots in Chelmsford

A deed dating from 1263 was recently discovered by our archivists in the county archive which shows that Henry of Sandwich, the Bishop of London, granted land to John Lewis (recorded as ‘Johannes Lewis’ in the medieval Latin) of the Uxbridge Road in Middlesex to build ‘a big shop’ in Chelmsford town centre.

This story has particular relevance for 1 April, as in return for the land John Lewis was to pay Henry of Sandwich ‘one chilli pepper on the feast of All Fools’ each year.

The deed names several other men as witnesses, Peter Jones of Chelsea, Robert Sayle of Cambridge, Robert Bond recently of Chelmsford and then of Norwich, Arthur and Henry Trewin of Watford, John Caley of Windsor, John Heelas of Reading, Zebedee Jessop of Nottingham, and John and Thomas Cole of Sheffield.

750 year old deed discovered giving land in Chelmsford

750 year old deed discovered giving land in Chelmsford to ‘Johannes Lewis’ to build ‘a big shop’

 

Archie Ives, spokesman for Essex Record Office said today: “This is a very exciting find and shows the importance of new stores in the development of medieval Chelmsford, just as it is today. I am delighted that the Record Office has found evidence for the development of department stores at such an early date. It shows that Chelmsfordwas leading the way in retail 750 years ago.”

The deed ties in with a later map of Chelmsford dating to 1591, which helps us to identify the land in question. Lewis was granted ‘land in the field called in English Le Backsydes’, which is clearly shown on the later map to the east of the High Street. The map also shows us how little the shape of Chelmsford has changed since the medieval period.

Extract from Walker map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

Extract from Walker map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

In an interesting coincidence, the 750 year old document reflects the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Essex Record Office.

 

Full English translation:

Let all men present and future know that I Henry [of Sandwich], by the grace of God, Bishop of London have given, conceded and by this present charter have confirmed to John Lewis of the Uxbridge road in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields in the county of Middlesex and his heirs and assigns for ever for homage and service, land in the field called in English Le Backsydes in the town of Chelmsford to build a big shop.  To have and to hold to him and his heirs and assigns from me and my heirs quietly freely and fully the said land paying annually to me and my heirs one chili pepper on the feast of All Fools for all secular service, exactions and demands and I and my heirs will warrant and defend the said land to the said John and his heirs and assigns against all people forever.  These being witnesses Peter Jones of Chelsea, Robert Sayle of Cambridge, Robert Bond recently of Chelmsford and now of Norwich, Arthur and Henry Trewin of Watford, John Caley of Windsor, John Heelas of Reading, Zebedee Jessop of Nottingham, John and Thomas Cole of Sheffield and many others.  Given at Chelmsford on Easter Day in the forty-seventh year of the reign of Henry III.

Original Latin transcription:

Sciant p[re]sentes et futuri q[uo]d ego Hen[ricus] d[e]i gr[ati]a Ep[iscopu]s Lond[on] dedi concessi et hac p[re]senti carta confirmavi Joh[ann]e Lewis de via ad Woxbrigg[e] in par[ochia] s[an]c[t]i Martin[i] in campo in com[itatu] Midd[lesex] et h[er]edibus et assignatis suis imp[er]petuum p[ro] homagio et s[er]vicio t[er]ram in campo vocet anglice le Backsydes in villa de Chelmeresford ad aedificand[am] magnum emporium.  Habendum et tenendum sibi et h[er]edibus et assignatis suis de me et h[er]edibus meis lib[er]e et quiete integre plen[ar]ie p[re]dicto t[er]ra Reddendo inde annuatim mihi et h[er]edibus meis pro unum purum piper in die fest[um] om[niu]m stultor[um] p[ro] om[n]i secul[ar]i s[er]vicio exactione et demand[a].  Et ego et h[er]edes mei p[re]dicto t[er]ra Joh[ann]e p[re]dicto et h[er]edibus et assignatis suis cont[ra] o[mn]es gentes warrantizabimus et defendemus imp[er]petuum.  Hiis testibus Pet[ro] Jones de Chelchith, Rob[erto] Sayle de Cantabrig[ia], Rob[erto] Bond nuper de Chelmeresford et m[oment]o de Noruicum, Art[ori]o et Hen[ric]o Trewin de Wadford, Joh[ann]e Caley de Windesor[a], Joh[ann]e Heelas de Redding[es], Zebed[ae] Jessop de Nottingam[ia], Joh[ann]e et Thom[e] Cole de Scafeld et multis aliis.  Dat’ apud Chelmeresford die Pasch[a] anno regni Hen[rici] tercii post conquest[um] quadraginta septem

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