John Overbury, son of Joseph Overbury and Elizabeth (née Pike) was born the 12 April 1807 in the parish of Tetbury, situated in Gloucestershire He was privately baptized at Bristol, just over a month after his birth. He was subsequently christened at Tetbury almost two years later, on the 28 December 1809.(1) He was brought up in a Baptist household so it is surprising to see him having been christened in a Church of England ceremony. Little is precisely known about his early years. Joseph, his father, spent much of his time living in Cheltenham, so it seems likely that John also will have been raised there. It seems sure that John followed his father to London, however.
An extract from a diary, cryptically attributed to “Oswald Overbury from Paris” mentions John had a residence at “The Green”, Tetbury when he “Dined with John Overbury 12 December 1826”(2). Whilst residing in Tetbury some of the time, it is clear he operated simultaneously as a Wool-merchant in London, based on Basinghall-Street. Until 1829, he worked in partnership with Richard Dutton but, an entry for that year in the London Gazette notes they went their separate ways the 31 March 1829.(3)
“Notice is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between Richard Dutton and John Overbury, of Basinghall-Street, in the City of London, Wool-Merchants, is dissolved by mutual consent. – All debts due and owing to and from the said Partnership will be received and paid by the said Richard Dutton. – Dated this 31st day of march 1829.
It seems likely that John continued in the trade as he was certainly working the same throughout the 1840s. He would marry Mary Ann Lee on 1 June 1832 at Battersea. Mary Ann was the daughter of Roger Lee, an exceptionally wealthy insurance broker of Clapham. More importantly, however, he was a Baptist and involved in the financing of numerous Baptist initiatives. John and Mary’s children’s births would also all be registered in Baptist chapels. It is clear that John, like his father, was proud of his family’s non-conformist traditions and certainly desired to maintain them. Mary Ann would die the 19 March 1842, aged only thirty four. What effect this had on John is unknown. He later remarried to “Elizabeth Jane Seward [née Croome], widow of Charles Thomas Seward, Esq., of Charlotte Street Bath”.(4) Elizabeth Jane “died April 16th at her residence 21 Carlton Hill, St. John’s Wood after a short illness”.(5)
At this time he was still living at Basinghall-Street as recorded in his marriage record which describes him as a residence of St Lawrence Jewry. In 1833 John was probably no longer a resident of Basinghall. The London Royal Blue Book for that year describes him as a resident of 37 Doughty Street,(6) London. His father may also have lived with him there for a time - or he may even have acquired the property from his father, who was recorded as paying land tax in 1823 in Doughty Street. His children’s baptism records suggest he was living there to at least 1835. At the time of the 1841 census, though, he was living at 2 Devonshire Place.(7)
In 1835 he was required to undertake jury service from the 13 May to the 18 May.(8) He would serve on the sixth jury of that Old Bailey for that period, generally giving verdicts on minor theft cases. The jury’s willingness to convict on the word of gentlemen and police was incredible in comparison to modern criminal justice. A good example of a typical case was that of George Charles:
“1295. GEORGE CHARLES was indicted for stealing, on the 7th of May, 1 set of fire-irons, value 7s., the goods of George Turner.
GEORGE TURNER . I live in Long Acre. On the 7th of May I had some fire-irons exposed for sale at my shop door, about twelve o'clock, they were stolen.
ESTHER TIBBY . I live in Long Acre, opposite Mr. Turner's house; ”I am in the service of Mr. Witridge. On the 7th of May, I saw the prisoner take a knife out of his pocket, cut down the fire-irons, and go off with them; ”I am sure he is the man, ”on the Saturday following, I saw him lurking about the shop, and gave information; ”I am sure of his person; he was lurking about the house for two hours before he cut the string.
GUILTY . Aged 25.â€” Confined Three Months.”
Returning to his career, it seems John was still a wool merchant in 1841. He was described as a ‘merchant’ on the 1841 census. As a merchant, John was, more precisely, a Blackwell Hall factor, like his father had been. He had been in partnership with John Lawrence Harris, until that partnership was dissolved the 10 June 1856.(9)
“Notice is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore carried on by John Overbury and John Lawrence Harris, as Blackwell Hall Factors, at their house in Frederick’s place, Old Jewry, has this day been dissolved by mutual consent and in future the business will be carried on by the said John Overbury on his separate account, who will pay and receive all debts due and owing to and from the said partnership in regular course of trade.”
By 1846, however, his occupation had changed to that of warehouseman and he was now a resident of 4 Frederick’s Place, Old Jewry, in the City of London, he was no presumably no longer a Blackwell Hall Factor. He received part of the assets of Thomas Evill, a clothier, as a consequence of Thomas being declared bankrupt.(10) This change of career was probably prompted by the decline in importance of London as a centre for wool merchants, and the rapidly declining economic prospects for such merchants.
By 1854, the situation had become so dire for John that he was required to apply for bankruptcy. “John Overbury, Frederick’s Place, Old Jewry, City, woollen warehouseman” applied for bankruptcy.(11) The initial hearings on the 10 January and 23 February created a commission which would subsequently meet to oversee the bankruptcy filing. That commission would meet subsequently in 1857 to initiate the division of his goods amongst his creditors.(12) Interestingly, he was described as a “woollen warehouseman, dealer and chapman” which suggests that he had attempted to continue dealing in wool even beyond 1846.
John’s situation was not unique in the family, his uncle had already been forced to declare himself bankrupt several decades previously, and his father had problems with creditors at a similar time. In 1859, his brother Nathaniel would also be forced to file for bankruptcy. His brother had been a relatively successful dealer after becoming a trained lawyer but even he could not compete against the inevitability of the wool industry’s decline. Interestingly, in articles discussing his case, insights into John’s life can be obtained. “My books are in possession of Mr John Overbury, my brother, who is trustee in the deed mentioned... My brother John, when I executed the deed of mortgage, had a counting-house in King William Street, London Bridge. My brother had once been a bankrupt, but his character is in good repute”.(13) This would suggest that John had attempted to turn his life around. King William Street where he now lived was certainly as nice an area as Jewry, and running a counting-house was a respectable career. By 1860, the effects of John’s bankruptcy were terminated as he finally repaid the entirety of sums owed to his creditors.(14)
John died around June 1866, living in Marylebone at the time. He would be succeeded by his sons and daughters each of which would be grateful for the upbringing he had provided.
Sources / Citations:
1. Dates obtained from Tetbury and Bristol Parish Registers.
2. From an early 20th century family tree, currently owned by E. A. Overbury.
3. London Gazette, (Issue Number: 18564, 3 April 1829).
4. ‘On 16th instant at Trinity Church Bath, John Overbury, Esq., of Oakley Sq., London to Elizabeth Jane Seward widow of Charles Thomas Seward, Esq., of Charlotte Street Bath’ Western Daily Press, (21 April 1864).
5. ‘Died April 16th at her residence 21 Carlton Hill, St. John’s Wood after a short illness, Elizabeth Jane widow of the late Mr. John Overbury and previously of Mr. Charles Thomas Seward of Charlotte St. Bath, aged 67.’, Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 22 April 1875).
6. ‘London Royal Blue Book’, (http://www.ancestry.co.uk, 1833).
7. ‘England Census’, (‘Class: HO107; Piece 1068; Book: 1; Civil Parish: Streatham; County: Surrey; Enumeration District: 2; Folio: 23; Page: 11; Line: 1; GSU roll: 474659’, 1841).
8. Proceedings of the Old Bailey, (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/print.jsp?div=t18350511, 11 May 1835).
9. London Gazette, (Issue number: 20480, 17 June 1845), p. 1806.
10. London Gazette, (Issue number: 20558, 6 January 1846), p. 65.
11. The Observer, (7 January 1855), p. 16.
12. London Gazette, (Issue number: 21983, 31 March 1857), p. 1202.
13. Daily Scotsman, (19 November 1859), p. 4.
14. London Gazette, (Issue number: 22502, 9 November 1860).