The Woodforde Family
The Wool Trade in Melton Mowbray
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.
Sir James Bellers married secondly Margaret Bernake and had one son, John Bellers.
contributions to this site are welcome.
© Stephen Butt 2003 - rev
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.