3 The Wests of Sibsey
The first ancestor of the present family of whom we have positive evidence is Thomas West, who was born about the year 1470, and is known to have attended the Post Mortem Inquisition at Horncastle held in January, 1507/8, when with John West, also of Sibsey, he gave evidence that it would not be to the prejudice of the king or others if Thomas, the newly appointed Abbot of Revesby were allowed to acquire some 33 acres of land in, Sibsey. Thomas appears to have been a person of some importance In October 1529, he witnessed two Wills, first that of John Busshe of Sibsey who left minor bequests to members of the West family, and second, that of Sir John Patryk, Vicar of Sibsey, who left all his wood and reed to Thomas and his son Henry. The will of John, 1557, shows survival of the Bushe and Gannock connections.
Thomas appears to have had issue, Richard, Margaret, Henry and Alexander. All that is known about Henry is that he married Agnes Bushe (or Busche), daughter of the John Busche mentioned above. Alexander is known to have married an Isabel and to have died in 1563, leaving a widow and two daughters, Cicily and Ann.
John West who accompanied Thomas to Horncastle, and who may well have been his brother, appears to have had two children, Isabel, who married Thomas Smyth, and John who married Isabel Cowper, a widow with one son. It is clear that the male line died out with this John, as we have his Will of 1557 by which he makes bequests to his wife, his sister, his stepson and his wife's relations as well as various friends, but there is no mention of children of his own. An interesting point about his will is the provision he makes upon the death of his wife,
And immedyatlye after the dyscease of the same Isabell my wyfe I will that the said howse four acres pasture and 7 acres of medowe be solde by myne executors and the money that shall come therof to be bestowed vppon the high way callyd northdyke way ......................... (pla)nkes and tresselles so that Foote folk may have save and dry pass(age).
The will is damaged towards the end. The dots show the damaged part and the brackets the completions of parts of words. Care of highways had long been considered a pious duty, but as far as I am aware, this was the only West who made such a provision in his will.
We know very little about Thomas's son, Richard, except that he was born about 1500 and that he died in 1575, and that, like his father, he was a yeoman of Sibsey. His will, if he made one, has not survived, but Administration i 312 of 1575 establishes that he was the father of Margaret West who married Thomas Munck in 1565. He was also father of another Richard West who married Eleanor Neale also in 1565, and Thomas, the ancestor of the present family. Richard appears to have been pre-deceased by his wife Eleanor, and it is clear from his Will of 1581 that he left no issue, as he makes his brother Thomas his chief beneficiary, with bequests to Richard, Agnes and Isabel Muncke, his sister's children.
Thomas was a successful and substantial yeoman, born about 1530. He married Dorothy Ormsby, daughter of J. Ormsby, of Partney, gentleman. Thomas West and Dorothy his wife appear twice in the fines and Concords, purchasing land, in 1570 from Christopher Woodrofe and in 1574 from William Gannok. John Ormsby, gentleman, must have thought highly of Thomas for in his Will of 1576 he makes Thomas, jointly with his own son John Ormsby, supervisor and guardian of his younger son Nicholas during his minority. However, Thomas died at a comparatively early age in 1583 and his wife died four years later. They left two children only, Margaret, of whom we know nothing except that she was born in 1566 and John who was probably born in 1568, as he was still a minor at his mother's death, and it was John Ormsby who had to be proctor for him when the administration of his mother's estate was committed to him in 1587.
This John West is the first of seven John Wests in a direct line of ancestry of the present family. To distinguish them, I have decided to give them numbers as well as dates. This then was John I. We know nothing of his wife's family, but only that her Christian name was Mary. They had six sons and one daughter, though only three of the sons appear in the Sibsey parish register as having been christened there. However, it is clear from this and other evidence, that the children were John II, Nathaniel, Richard, Andrew, Thomas, and a second Thomas on the death of the first. John I was barely forty when he died, evidently carried off by the plague, as his Will is dated 10th August, 1609, and the Sibsey register records the burial of John West, Yeoman, the following day. In his will he left his wife her dower and a third of his estate. The rest is left to John II, but the profits until he reaches the age of 25 are to be used for the education and upkeep of the younger children. His wife Mary is the executrix, but she is to have the expert advice of his cousin, Thomas Walgrave. It would, perhaps, have been better if he had made Thomas Walgrave the executor, for in 1613, four years later, the widow Mary married Thomas North of Louth, mercer Within six months, Mary herself was dead, and Thomas North found himself having to enter into a Bond in £10, jointly with Thomas Melton, of Louth, Clerk, to act as Tutors and Guardians of John II during his minority, and to administer the estate of John I. How well Thomas North carried out his duties it is difficult to ascertain. In 1517, in reply to an enquiry of the Vicar General of the Bishop of Lincoln, he stoutly maintained that he had had none of the goods of John I, but had used the rents for the maintenance of his children and for their portions.
In his will, John I had made provision for his children to be educated and set forth to apprenticeships or service. It is clear that Andrew was apprenticed in Lincoln, but that he died in his twentieth year. John II, who describes himself as gentleman, is now of age, and in 1621 enters into a bond in £40, jointly with William Foster of the Close of Lincoln, Yeoman, to administer the goods of Andrew West, late of Sibsey, his brother deceased. Nine months after entering into this bond, John II exhibited the following Inventory at Boston:
An Inventory of the Goods and Chattels of Andrew West, late of the City of Lincoln - NlL.
There is a note underneath which reads: The administrator of the goods of the said Andrew West, deceased, saith that the goods of the same deceased are certain legacies and gifts given and bequeathed to him in and by the testament or last will of John West, his father, deceased, but he hath not as yet got, neither can get, any part of them.
There may have been no love lost between John II and his guardian Thomas North, and although the forthright statement given above mentions no names, it points fairly at Thomas North. But there, John II was in the wrong. The will of John I clearly laid down that the younger sons were not to receive their portions until they were 21 and Andrew was barely 20 when he died. His estate would need little administering, as it consisted of nothing more than his personal possessions at death.
It seems likely that Thomas North dealt faithfully with his charge, as by 1622 John II is married and settled in Sibsey and already described as Yeoman. We know nothing of his wife except that she too was a Mary and that she bore him four children, Mary, Jane, John III and Luke before she was buried at Sibsey in 1626.
So far, no reference has been made to national events. For the main part, fen farmers tended to live in a world of their own and ignore them, but there were some things which could not be ignored - the changes in religion, the draining of the fens and the struggle between king and parliament. In the days of Henry VIII, some 40,000 of the commons of Lincolnshire were in arms in 1536. Whether the John West who was Vicar of Sibsey at this time was a member of the family, or whether he or members of the family were involved may never be known. At any rate, he ceased to be vicar in October 1538, by which time Henry was much more concerned with the more serious Pilgrimage of Grace in Yorkshire and was uprooting those who had shown any opposition in Lincolnshire. The Wests seem to have had a sincere attachment to their religion, but probably accepted the changes that came without making martyrs of themselves.
What John III could not escape was that in 1631 practically the whole of the East and West Fens were overwhelmed by water, and that the Court of Sewers summoned by Charles I ordered a tax of 10/- acre to be levied for the repair of the natural outfalls at Wainfleet Haven, Black Gote, Symon Gote, Laud Foster Gote, New Gote Anton Gote and others that should be made or enlarged. The fen farmers, as was expected, defaulted, and Charles granted a concession to Sir Anthony Thomas, John Warsopp and others to carry out extensive drainage works. The work was carried out with vigour, including the big drain from Cow Bride to Boston, 30 feet wide and 13 feet deep. Poor cottagers received 1,600 acres in the East Fen and 400 acres in the West Fen, but the Adventurers received 16,300 acres worth £8,000 per annum, and the economy of the fens was disrupted. Common grazing rights just disappeared. John III at Sibsey could not help but be concerned with this. Whether he was also concerned with the Riot of the Commoners in 1642, just before the Battle of Edgehill, we do not know, but it was by common consent that .... they fell upon the Adventurers, broke their sluices, laid waste their lands, threw dawn their fences, spoiled their corn, demolished their houses, and forcibly retained possession of the land." (History of the Fens of South Lincolnshire W.H.Wheeler, 1894.)
As 52 towns and 40,000 families were involved, the Adventurers faced considerable opposition. They failed to secure the protection of the local authorities and petitioned the lords and the Commons. The Lords were favourable to them, but the Commons rejected their petition on the grounds that their decree from the Court of Seers in 1631 had been unfairly obtained, that the Adventurers had not fulfilled their bargains, that the grant of land to them was excessive, that as they had had £57,000 profit from their seven years' tenure of the land, they had been amply repaid for their outlay. The House of Commons ordered the Sheriff and J.Ps to prevent or suppress riots, but indicated that they would not impede the fenland commoners in the legal pursuit of their interests. The commoners then proceeded at Common Law and succeeded. The fenland reverted to its natural condition, the drainage of the East Fen not being accomplished successfully until the second half of the 19th century. Meanwhile, the commoners were restored to their rights, and it is hardly surprising that in the struggle between king and Parliament, this part of Lincolnshire was solidly behind parliament. In 1644, just two years later, a Remonstrance from the Newark garrison to Charles stated, "All that county (excepting the little garrison of Belvoir) is now in possession of the Rebels, where they hold Lincoln, Gainsborough, Brigg, Tatshall and Bolingbroke castles, and that seditious town of Boston, as garrisons well fortified; and are able to draw together out of these garrisons above 5,000 armed foot besides twenty troops of horse". East Anglia and the Great Civil War - A. Kingston.)