The Jeake Family and their Rye Residences

The Jeake Family and their Rye Residences

The First Jeakes of Rye:

Of Huguenot origin, the family’s first settler in Rye appears to have been a late 16th-century merchant, William Jeaque (a possible corruption of Jacques). His son Henry set up a bakery in the High Street and married a girl from Peasmarsh. Their son, first recorded as Sammewell but later as Samuel, became a freeman of Rye and its Town Clerk. He bought for a guinea the entire collection of statutes belonging to the borough, and from them produced a scholarly volume, The Charters of the Cinque Ports, Two Ancient Towns and their Members. Throughout his life he remained a staunch Presbyterian – or Dissenter – which was no hindrance during the Cromwellian years, but caused him trouble after the Restoration of Charles II, when the Act of Uniformity denied freedom of worship and preaching – “holding forth” — by Nonconformists. Threatened with prosecution in 1682, Jeake fled to London, where he was joined in hiding by his son and daughter-in-law the following year. The son returned warily to Rye in 1684, but his father did not risk it until James II introduced a more tolerant regime, followed by further relaxation under William and Mary.

Samuel Jeake II:

This son, Samuel Jeake II, was equally firm in his Presbyterian beliefs, but also had an incongruous interest in astrology. As a hard-headed merchant in wool, hops, money-lending and shrewd investments, he nevertheless turned to the stars for guidance before deciding to become one of the first subscribers to the newly formed Bank of England. Sustaining no injury after hitting his head against a door, he ascribed this to the relative positions of the planets at the time. Contemplating marriage, he worked out the details of the dowry he expected from the young lady’s widowed mother, but was not confident of the girl’s own response until “the Cluster of Planets . . . seem’d to shew a successful time for such addresses.” As a result, at the age of 29 he married Elizabeth Hartshorn, daughter of the late headmaster of the Grammar School in High Street, when she was 13 years of age. Always prone to depression, ague and other ailments, shortly after the betrothal he was “surprised . . . with excessive Melancholy, which lasted all September and October” during which “there arose great displeasure & difference between me and my intended Mother in Law and Wife.” Not a good omen for wedded bliss ! But by November he had recovered, and for once thanked God rather than a conformation of planets.

Samuel II followed in his father’s footsteps by being made a freeman of Rye in 1690, but the very next day sent his mother-in-law and daughter out of the town because of the scare of a French invasion. He and his wife remained “since my little Boy was this morning taken sick of a feaver, & very bad, so that he could not be carried without danger of his Life.” When no attack was forthcoming, he ascribed this to heavenly intervention, and sketched the horoscope in his diary.

The diary has been published as An Astrological Diary of the Seventeenth Century Samuel Jeake of Rye. It contains day-by-day accounts of his business dealings and local events, each entry preceded by the astrological symbol for the day. Personal matters such as his marital relations and quarrels were camouflaged in a form of shorthand as tricky as Samuel Pepys’s, but solved and transcribed in the 20th century.

The diary is  considered an important source for historians seeking to understand the life and thought of the 17th century: social, intellectual and religious beliefs and assumptions as well as daily life and relationships within a provincial town.

Another of Jeake’s works is also considered remarkable:  A Radical’s Books: The Library Catalogue of Samuel Jeake of Rye 1623-1690. This is  because so  little other direct information about the reading habits of 17th century intellectuals living outside London is available.  Jeake’s catalogue includes some 1500 volumes including not only radical pamphlets and astrology but also theology, literature, science and medicine and foreign books.

Among the children of Samuel and Elizabeth Jeake was another Samuel, derided locally as “a Conjuror.” He was reputed to have built a flying machine which unfortunately failed to fly. Rye’s most revered historian, William Holloway, records in the mid 19th century that he had known men who had seen the remains of the machine in the attic of the Grammar School.

The Old Hospital:

On the north side of Mermaid Street is a half-timbered Tudor building with three overhanging gables, called the Old Hospital because of its service in that capacity during the Napoleonic wars. In earlier times it had been Hartshorn House, given to Samuel Jeake II as part of his dowry on marrying the young Elizabeth Hartshorn, whereupon it became generally known as Jcake’s House – confusing for later historians.

Samuel and his father took possession of this property several months before the actual wedding, though the younger man complained repeatedly before and after marriage about mischievous spirits of a rather inferior order groaning and sighing about his bed and playing pranks with his walking sticks.

As trade prospered, he determined to build a wool storehouse on the other side of the street, and consulted the stars regarding the most propitious date.

Jeake’s House (formerly the Woolstore):

Precisely at noon on 13th June 1689,, the foundation of the storehouse, which is now simply called Jeake’s House, was laid, “the first stone by myself under this positure of heaven.” A stone plaque set high in the front wall of the present building shows the astrological aspect of the heavens which he found so crucial.

Samuel and Elizabeth had six children, all of whom died without issue. Towards the end of his own life in 1699 at the age of 47, Samuel II planned to erect a Nonconformist meeting-house next door to his wool store  (today’s Jeake’s House). After his death his widow remarried, and through her daughter Philadelphia, their family home, Hartshorn  House, descended eventually to the Frewen family, a respected name in Rye. Elizabeth completed the task of building the meetinghouse, and licence for its opening was granted in 1703.

Quaker’s House:

In 1704 the Quakers, flourishing in and around Rye, bought the meetinghouse and laid out a burial ground behind it. In 1753 it was bought by the Baptists, in such a derelict state that it had to be virtually demolished and rebuilt in its present form. The baptistry still exists below the floor of the dining room; but guests eating breakfast need not fear a sudden plunge into the water. Jeake’s House itself later became the Baptist schoolroom. Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker prison reformer, visited during a tour of Sussex, and is believed to have addressed the congregation. In 1909 the Baptists built a new chapel in Cinque Ports Street, and their Mermaid Street buildings were sold off. Jeake’s House became a private residence, while the meeting-house served for several years as St. Mary’s Men’s Club.

Elder’s House:

Adjoining the meeting-house, this was also known as the Minister’s House. One incumbent, the Rev. Purdy, had the building consecrated so that he could hold services there after a schism with his congregation. In the 20th century it became a private residence, the property of the painter Perugini, and for a time before and after the Second World War was the home of the great-uncle of the present proprietor, Jenny Hadfield, before its present amalgamation with the Jeake’s House complex.

Families and Visitors:

In January 1924 the American poet, novelist and critic Conrad Aiken bought Jeake’s House for £1700 – “So vast, so tall the establishment that we are sure that at the end of a year we shall encounter, here and there, rooms unnoticed before, filled with mice and foul with bats, squealing with rats and roped with webs, littered with bones and stinking of ghosts.” As time went on he changed his mind, referring to it as his “deeply cherished home … lighted by laughter, the kind of light that never goes out.” Certainly the present owner will have no truck with bats, rats or malodorous phantoms.

In 1928 Aiken also bought the Men’s Club and began the task of combining the two which has been further developed today. He was visited by local and American friends, including Dame Laura Knight, E. F. Benson, Thomas Hardy’s widow, T. S. Eliot, Paul Nash, Radclyffe Hall  and the wayward Malcolm Lowry, with whom he had many protracted drinking sessions.

In more recent years, Patrick Moore stayed here while lecturing on astrology and astronomy in connection with the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jeake’s House. It is frequently used as a base by visiting members of the Tilling Society, devoted to the works of E. F. Benson, who disguised Rye under the name of Tilling (after the local River Tillingham) in the Mapp and Lucia novels written while he lived in Lamb House, round the corner in West Street.


by John Burke
Rye historian and novelist and father of Jenny Hadfield, one of the  proprietors of the present ‘Jeake’s House’.

See also the Jeake’s House website.

First posted in Literary and Artistic Rye, Notable People, Rye Buildings and Defences, Rye Streets, Rye Town History, Rye Trades and Industries on 1st November 2009
Last updated: 20th April 2017
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