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All about "Sweeting"

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Notes by Tony Sweeting

For those of you who appreciate bits of historical trivia, Tony Sweeting has kindly agreed to share with us some snippets he has gathered over the years:

From Early London Personal Names by Eilert Ekwall, Published by Lund 1947:

The origin of the name is Olde English Sweting, Swetinc, first seen as "Moneyers" in London during the reigns of Ethelred the Second (The unready) and Canute. The name is also listed in "A catalogue of English Coins in the British Museum, The Norman Kings" by C.C.Brooke London 1916, being the names of London Moneyers found on coins struck between 1066-1154. There are also coins lodged in Colchester Museum, Essex. Moneyers were Goldsmiths who struck coins.

From A Dictionary of English Surnames the following appears:

Sweeting: Sueting Cadica 1135, Oseney, Oxford; Sweting, de Hunebir 1225 Assizes Somerset; Ralph Suetinge 1185 Knights Templars, Hertfordshire: John Sweting 1250 Fees Wiltshire. The name: Algarus filius Swetingi 1111-1138 appears as a Witness in a report on the Manuscripts of the Dean and Chapter of St Pauls, and this is possibly the same Sweting who is listed as a Witness Suetingus fil. AEilwardi c 1140. The name appears again as Suethin as a Witness 1137.

Will Shakespeare was familiar with the word if not the name as in Elizabethan times it meant a sweet apple and was used as a term of endearment like darling. He wrote in 12th Night Act 2 scene 3,

          "O Mistress mine where are you roaming
           O stay and hear, your true love's coming
           That can sing both high and low
           Trip no further pretty sweeting
           Journeys end in lovers meeting
           Every wise man's son doth know".

The first mention of tea being drunk in England is in a 1658 London newspaper announcing the death of Oliver Cromwell. An advert says "That excellent and by all Physicians approved, Chinese drink called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay or Tee, is sold at the Sultanesshead, a Cophee House in SWEETINGS RENTS by the Royal Exchange London". Barbara Sweeting has found a reference in Mercurius Politicus dated 30 Sept 1651 with the same advert.

Sweetings Rents or Sweetings Alley was also the place where the first Stock Exchange was established in July 1773. There is some doubt as to the exact origins of Sweetings Alley, research by Barbara Sweeting shows that it was possibly named after a Dutch merchant Henry Swieten or Sweeting at the time of The Great Fire and another reference states Sweetings Alley, Cornhill at the east end of the Royal Exchange was so called after John Sweeting who owned considerable property on this spot at the time of The Great Fire.

John Sweeting married Sarah Harris at St Michael Cornhill c1646 their first child Hannah was baptised 17/6/1647, they went on to have many children, most of whom survived - a miracle in those days - these siblings bequeathed various properties in Sweetings Rents including The King's Head Tavern and The Amsterdam Coffee House. John was buried at St Mary Woolnoth in Lombard St and Sarah in the Upper Vault at St Michael Cornhill. Sweetings Alley is not named, but is possibly shown on the Newcourt and Faithorne map of London 1658, but it is specified in "An exact surveigh by Leake and Hollar" 1667 showing property destroyed in the Great Fire.

About "Sweetings Rents"

The following information was kindly provided by a member of staff at the Corporation of London Records Office - http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/archives/clro.

According to A Dictionary of London, by HA Harben (London, 1918), p. 513, Sweeting’s Rents or Alley was on the site of what is now Royal Exchange Buildings, which runs south out of Threadneedle Street at No. 1, to 82 Cornhill, on the east side of the Royal Exchange. It lies within Broad Street Ward. Harben cites several names of locations pre-dating the formation of Royal Exchange Buildings, which was first mentioned in 1875. These include "Sweetings Alley" 1662 (mentioned in the Account books of St Bart the litell, ed. Freshfield, p. 174), "Swithun’s Rents" (Rocque’s Maps of London, 1746 and 1763), "Swithun’s Alley" (Ogilby and Morgan’s Map of London, 1677), "Sweeting’s Alley" (New Remarks of London, published by the Parish Clerks’ Company, 1732; Horwood’s Map of London 1794-1799 and Elmes’ Topographical Dictionary, 1831) and "Exchange Buildings" (Ordnance Survey maps 1848-1851 edition). Harben’s entry continues: "In Lockie [Lockie’s Topography, editions 1810 and 1816] and Elmes "Sweetings Rents" are described as coming east out of Sweetings Alley as in Rocque, but in the other maps they are called by the one name, "Swithins" or "Sweetings Alley". Elmes says that before the Great Fire the alley contained only one house, a spacious building, which belonged to a merchant of the name of Sweeting. Wheatley [London Past and Present, by H.B. Wheatley, in 4 volumes] says Henry Swieten or Sweeting, a Dutch merchant in the 17th century. The house was burnt again in 1838 [when the Royal Exchange was destroyed in a large fire] and rebuilt as "Exchange Buildings"."

I have been able to check the entry on Sweetings Alley in London Past and Present by Henry B Wheatley (London, 1891), Vol. III, pp. 342-343, and he states the following: "Sweeting’s Alley, originally Sweeting’s Rents, Cornhill, at the east end of the Royal Exchange, was so called after Henry Swieten or Sweeting, a Dutch merchant who owned considerable property on this spot at the time of the Great Fire of 1666 [Wheatley cites as his source for this information British Library Additional MS 5065, fol. 138] ... Sweeting’s Alley was swept away for the new Royal Exchange. The site is covered by the paved area of Exchange Buildings." Wheatley also cites examples of the alley in various sources, as follows:

"August 6 1731 – Died Mr Charles Sweeting, an eminent grocer Without Bishopsgate, and Deputy [i.e. the senior Common Councilman) of that part of the Ward, possessed of a plentiful estate at the east end of the Royal Exchange – Universal Spectator, August 14 1731.

"That excellent and by all physicians approved China drink called by the Chineans Toha, by other nations Tay alias Tee is sold at the Sultanes Head Cophee House in Sweeting’s Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London – Mercurius Politicus, September 30, 1651.

"Knight’s in Sweeting’s Alley; Fairburn’s in a court off Ludgate Hill; Howe’s in Fleet Street – bright enchanted palaces, which George Cruikshank used to people with grinning fantastical imps and merry harmless sprites – where are they? Fairburn’s shop knows him no more; not only has Knight disappeared from Sweeting’s Alley, but, as we are given to understand, Sweeting’s Alley has disappeared from the face of the Globe – Thackeray, Westminster Review, June 1840, art. George Cruikshank".

There are various published facsimile maps which might be of use to you in locating the exact position of Sweetings Rents, although, as Harben shows, the name might have been different, depending on the map. The A-Z of Georgian London, with introductory notes by Ralph Hyde (Harry Margary, Lympne Castle, Kent, in association with Guildhall Library, London, 1981) is a reproduction of John Rocque’s map of the mid 18th century, and shows Swithun’s Alley running down the east side of the Royal Exchange between Threadneedle Street and Cornhill, with a narrow passage called Swithun’s Rents running parallel to Swithun’s Alley further east, emerging onto Threadneedle Street just west of St Benet Fink church. The street pattern is identical in The A-Z of Restoration London, with introductory notes by Ralph Hyde, and index compiled by John Fisher and Roger Cline (Harry Margary, Lympne Castle, Kent, in association with Guildhall Library, London, 1992), which is a reproduction of Ogilby and Morgan’s map of 1676, but there the alleys are not named. The street pattern is also identical in The A-Z of Regency London, with introduction by Paul Laxton, and index compiled by Joseph Wisdom (London Topographical Society Publication No. 131, 1985), which is a reproduction of Horwood’s map of the 1790s, although here, both parallel streets are called "Sweeting’s Alley".

The Chamberlain’s Foundations Posting Book ["A Posting Book for Receipts of Money for Staking Out of Foundations in the Ruins of the City of London"], which is edited and published in The Survey of Building Sites in the City of London After The Great Fire of 1666 by Peter Mills and John Oliver, introduction by P.E. Jones and T.F. Reddaway Volume I (London Topographical Society Vol. 103, 1967) lists the names of several persons paying for surveys of foundations for properties in Sweeting’s Alley after the Fire of 1666: Dr Ben Whitchcott, Silvanus Morgan, John Sweetinge (4), William Tawney (3), Abraham Williams (2), and John Wilbraham (2). John Sweeting also paid for foundation surveys for properties in Cornhill, Finch Lane and Threadneedle Street.

John Sweeting also appears in two cases in the Fire Court in 1667, relating to property leased by him at the corner of Sweeting’s Alley and Threadneedle Street and property leased by him in Pope’s Head Alley in the parish of St Michael Cornhill. Summaries of these cases are edited and published in The Fire Court: A Calendar of Judgments and Decrees of the Court of Judicature appointed to determine differences between landlords and tenants as to rebuilding after the Great Fire, edited by Philip E. Jones, Volume 2 (London, 1970). A footnote in The Fire Court Calendar states that John Sweeting, merchant, and his wife Sarah purchased property near the Royal Exchange in about 1654 from John Lamott, and in developing the site left a passage called Sweeting’s Alley leading from Threadneedle Street to Cornhill: the source for this is cited as Husting Roll 342 (32). The Husting Rolls (1252-date) are held here at the Corporation of London Records Office, and there are manuscript indexes and calendars up to the 20th century. There are a number of Swetyng/Swetings in the index dating from 1315, 1389 and 1520, and then a number of Sweetings from the 17th and early 18th centuries: Henry and wife June in 1649; John, merchant, wife Sarah and sons Charles, merchant and William in 1671, 1683; Thomas, mercer, wife Mary, and sons Thomas and William, surgeon in 1716.

Tax assessments are another useful source, and we hold a considerable number of these for individual wards and parishes, particularly for the period around 1663/4-1716. We publish an information sheet on Inhabitants’ Lists which includes tax assessments, and this is available at our website at www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/archives/clro. The area covered by Sweeting’s Alley/Rents appears to have been in two wards (Broad Street and Cornhill) and two parishes (St Benet Fink and St Michael Cornhill). For the two wards, we hold a good set of tax assessments for the late 17th/early 18th centuries. For St Benet Fink, we hold tax assessments for 1673/4, 1695 and then nothing until the 19th century. For St Michael Cornhill, we hold tax assessments for 1671, 1681, 1695 and 1804. The 1695 assessment (the so-called Marriage Assessment: see our information sheet mentioned above for further details) has been edited and published as London Inhabitants Within the Walls 1695 with an introduction by D.V. Glass (London Record Society Publications, Volume 2, 1966). The only Sweetings in this volume are Charles Sweeting, his wife Ann and son Charles in the parish of St Katharine Cree, and a child, Elizabeth Sweeting in the parish of St Mary Magdalene, Milk Street.

If members of the family were still living in London after 1681, there is a good chance that they would have become Freemen of the City of London, for which we have admission records commencing in that year. For further details, please see our research guide on City Freedom records on our website (cited above).

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