The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300

WALTER PREST - MELTON WOOL MERCHANTS - PRESTON FAMILY
 

 

The Wool Trade in Melton Mowbray

The following text is taken, with full acknowledgements, from Philip E. Hunt, `Notes on Medieval Melton Mowbray' (Pub: Leicestershire Libraries and Information Service):
 

These rich Melton merchants, with their high standard of living, were better housed than their poorer neighbours.  During building work over recent years, substantial stone foundations have been unearthed in the centre of Melton. It is generally assumed that these remains are from early religious buildings, but some writers now suggest that they could be the remains of the substantial dwellings of the wool tycoons of the 14th century.

 

St Mary's Melton Mwobray

St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray


It appears that both Walter Prest and his son died of the Black Death in Melton in 1362 because there is not a single record of any transaction relating to them after that date.  Alice Prest died in 1333.   Walter Prest junior had a second daughter, Lettice, who married (firstly) Sir James Bellers. Confirmation of this part of the pedigree of the Prest family is provided by an entry in the Fine Rolls dated 1377 in the form of a commitment `to Thomas Talbot and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of James Belers and Lettice late his wife, daughter and co-heir of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray'

Further confirmation is to be found in a complex De Banco Roll entry dated 1430 relating to land that formerly belonged to Walter Prest.  This includes references to `Simon de Leek esq. and Joan his wife, kinswoman and heir of the said Walter, son of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray.’ … the said Joan is the daughter of Elizabeth daughter of Lettice daughter of the said Walter, son of Walter Prest.'

Sir James Bellers married secondly Margaret Bernake and had one son, John Bellers.

 

 



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© Stephen Butt 2003 - rev  27/06/06
 

 

The Prest(on) family of Melton Mowbray

In the early years of the 14th century, the prosperous wool trade in the English shires created some of the country’s wealthiest merchants.  Numerous records exist that detail the remarkably high quality of life of these merchants and the considerable power and influence that they held.  In the case of Walter Prest and his son (also named Walter), the clear picture is that of a partnership (joined later by one William de Cheriton) enjoying substantial wealth and authority together.  Melton Mowbray, especially during the first half of the 14th century, was an important centre for the English wool trade, and consequently it became the home of this small group of very wealthy and influential wool merchants.   

Of these, Walter Prest was clearly the richest and most successful.  A measure of his wealth and influence is that he is noted on many occasions within Exchequer documents between 1320 and 1350.   According to the Subsidy Roll for 1327, Walter Prest (senior) was the richest man in the town apart from the Lord of the manor, John de Mowbray.  In a comparison with the tax paid by merchants in Leicester and Loughborough, he appears as one of the wealthiest merchants in the entire county.  The earliest surviving Tax Roll for Melton indicates that of 37 payees, Walter Prest made more than one-eighth of the whole subsidy levied on the town. In the years 1327-1348, he lent very considerable sums of money to Edward lll to finance military ventures. The Close Rolls for 1339 detail single transactions in favour of Walter Prest amounting to over one thousand pounds.  It appears that Prest's son, also named Walter, inherited most of his father’s holdings. It was this Walter’s daughter who married John de Woodford.  Alice was the eldest of Walter’s two children – both female – and was heir to his wealth.

It is possible that Walter Prest came from a priestly family; it is just as likely that his family was `of Prest(on)’, a nearby village just over the Leicestershire border in Rutland. 


Sources:


Fine Rolls, Feb 10th 1377 (50 Edw III),Westminster.
De Banco roll 679, 9 Henry VI, Michaelmas. M.115, Leyc.



 A table indicating descent of Prest(on), Woodford, Belers, Talbot and Leek families is available here