James Matthews (also spelt Mathews) 1655 - 1728

'The Honest Hoyman' Early Benfleet Businessman, Landowner and Entrepreneur

St. Marys Church

‘Sixty-three years our hoyman sail’d merrily round,
Fourty-four liv’d parishoner where he’s Aground,
Five wife’s bear him thirty-three children Enough;
Land another as honest before he gets off.’

So runs the affectionate doggerel verse on the grave of James Matthews, ‘written by Dr. Francis Clerk, Rector of North Benfleet’ … ‘who took quite an active interest in North and South Benfleet’ (p.45, South Benfleet, A History, by Robert Hallmann).
Unfortunately, I have been unable to source a picture of Matthews grave with the inscription, as Priestley & Phillips, writing in the late 1970s, (A History of Benfleet, Book Two, Modern Times, p.87) comments that Philip Benton ‘saw the epitaph a hundred years ago’ – well its 139 years ago now – and that they (Harold Priestley & Wyn Phillips) ‘tried to make a rubbing of it but not a character showed up’. They go on to say (ibid) that, ‘It would have been good to know more about him, unfortunately the Overseer’s Accounts for that period have been lost’.

Suttons Farmhouse in the 1920s, Endway

Baptism 1656
James Matthews

With the benefit of the online genealogy sites that we have access today, I have found several entries for James. He was a Londoner – an Eastender. If it is the correct Baptism entry, and the dates certainly tie-up, he was baptised on the 2nd April 1656 at St. Dunstans, Stepney. His father was, James; his mother, Jane.



Marriage Entry (first Marriage)
James Matthews and Dorothy More

His first marriage, as a twenty-two year old bachelor, in 1677, was to Dorothy More. She was a widow, and they were both of St. Dunstans in the East (Stepney).
At the age of twenty-nine (in 1684) he came to South Benfleet, but obviously had close business ties with the City of London.



By 1700, James was a Widower. He married Martha Smith from North Benfleet, who was twenty-five years his junior. Within two years, ever, I suspect, an opportunist, he was at Suttons Farm, with his new (third) bride, Margery Walker.

James Matthews Marriage
to Margery Walker (third)
Original – Microfiche only

Marriage Entry 1700 (second marriage)
James Matthews and Martha Smith








Bucolic view from Suttons Farm
by S. Williams in 1920/30s

Priestley, A History of Benfleet, Book Two, Modern Times (p.78) gives the summary of South Benfleet Hall Manor property transfers with reference to Suttons Farm, ‘In 1702, Lawrence Holder died in possession [of the farm]. His heir Mary, wife of John James, inherited. It was occupied by James Matthews’. That would suggest he either rented or leased it, although Philip Benton says, ‘Suttons belonged to him’ (p.78 as annotated below). As a Mariner and Hoyman, he would have been in a good position to trade hay, and other cargo, up to the Port of London.

Hay Barge

James Matthews marriage entry
Margaret Cork (fourth marriage)


In June 1706, he married his fourth wife, Margaret Cork, at Holy Trinity Church, Minories, London. He always kept his links with the City of London.



James Matthews Marriage Entry
To Mary Maynard (fifth)
Microfiche only


In August 1713, at the age of fifty-eight, he married his fifth and final wife, Mary Maynard, by whom he had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margarett.






[Image of grave to be added after further research]


Robert Hallmann says, (p.39, South Benfleet, A History), that, ‘Astonishingly, the arms on his churchyard monument were, ‘Or, a stork close’ (a stork, standing, wings closed, on a gold or yellow background)’ and goes on to comment that he thought it ‘an unusual attribute for a hoyman and farmer’. However, Philip Benton, writing 139 years after Matthew died, (p.78, The History of  Rochford Hundred), comments that, ‘Matthews was a man of considerable landed property in the parish. Suttons belonged to him’.  Harold Priestley in his A History of Benfleet, Book Two, Modern Times (p.87) calls him ‘a local celebrity’. ‘He came to live in the parish in 1684, was Overseer of the Poor from 1708 to 1713 and again from 1718 to 1719, Surveyor of the Highways in 1721 and 1723. He became Churchwarden in 1728 and died in office at the age of 73’.  Robert Hallmann, in his book, South Benfleet, A History, (p39), states that, ‘James Mathews served as an Overseer as early as 1697’. Also, that he ‘had been recorded (in 1712 and 1713) by the then Churchwarden, John Lowry (in Vestry Minutes), as receiving payment for water caridge, [sic] supplying half a dozen ‘Dall’, the hollowed out tree trunks used for transporting water’, for nine shillings, and even earning the odd shilling for bringing in a fox or a badger, which were still pursued as vermin’ (ibid.)

Priestley & Phillips, comment (ibid.) ‘He kept a number of boats in the creek, had a succession of five wives and sired thirty-three children’. In my opinion, this larger-than-life character was  among the first of the charismatic, capable, entrepreneurial Essex businessmen with which we have always been blessed. And, indeed, if he purchased his coat of arms, as I suspect was the case, what of it? It would have opened doors in the society of the times, and he was obviously an asset to the local community. I suspect he had an amazing sense of humour as well, choosing a stork for his coat of arms, as it could well reference the age-old myth, known to many cultures, of being the bird that delivers babies. I may well have information to add at a later date on this Coat of Arms’. I have now heard from William Hunt TD BA FCA, Research Assistant to John Petrie, Windsor Herald of the College of Arms (23rd February 2023), as follows: ‘I have examined the Visitation records (1530-1687) and the subsequently recorded pedigrees for Mat(t)hews up to 1800, but none includes a James’. ‘I have also examined the registers of grants to Mat(t)hews up to 1800, but none included James as a grantee and none were of the arms that you described’. ‘It would appear therefore that James Mat(t)hews was using arms without authority’.

James Matthews
1st page of Will, and Probate

Certain passages stand out to me in his Last Will & Testament – he seems to have been a fair and pious man, as would have come naturally to a Mariner, with all the hazards associated with that calling. He thanks ‘Allmighty God for being of sound mind and memory although weak of body…. calling to mind the various casualties and uncertainties of this life’. He seems to have weathered a few.

James Matthews
2nd page of Will, and Probate

He obviously stayed on good terms with his extended family, as the Executors of his Will were Peter Smith and Thomas Smith, together with his son, William Matthews (his second wife had been Martha Smith, from North Benfleet).

His Will was signed and sealed in the presence of James Kirkwood, John Brewitt and Jonathan Carr. I have managed to find trace of two of these people. James Kirkwood seems to have been a colleague of James Matthews on the Parish Council. Priestley (p87) History, Book Two, quotes, ‘6th April 1724 – Mr. James Mathews and James Kirkwood Survairs (Surveyors) Gave Up their Accounts and was nothing in the Parishes Debt nor the Parish in theres’. (p66) ibid. ‘This was John Brewitt, a local notable in his day, who at some time or other, held every Parish office, and who as a young man in 1720  and 1721 was Parish Constable’.

The voluntary Parish officers, made up from the merchant class and farming gentry, handled the  affairs of the village. They were the precursor of our modern system of local government. Priestley, analyses this period in our history, thus: ‘It shows how British local government first took shape in the Parish, the germinal authority where public affairs were semi-private and officers often financed their public dealings, temporarily at least, out of their own pockets’. (ibid.).

It was a time of big fish in small pools, and the services delivered to villagers, were either as good (or bad) as the elected Parish Officers.

Many thanks to Eileen & Frank Gamble for ‘field work’! and for the invaluable technical assistance.


BENTON, Philip, The History of Rochford Hundred VI together with the Parishes comprised within the Union (1867) facsimile published by Kessinger Legacy Reprints, U.S.A.

HALLMANN, Robert, South Benfleet, A History, published by Phillimore & Co. Ltd. West Sussex, 2005

PRIESTLEY, H. E. & PHILLIPS, W.T. A History of Benfleet, Book Two, Modern Times, published by Castle Point District Council, (Undated) probably late 1970s.

A Guide to St. Mary’s Church, South Benfleet, (undated) probably late 1960s.

Ancestry Web Site

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