Friday, 22 April 2016

From Blackfriars to Whitefriargate – Shakespeare’s connection to Hull

When John Jackson, of the parish of St Thomas the Apostle in the City of London died around the end of January in 1625 he was comfortably off, and doubtless well regarded in Jacobean business circles. His will dated 26 January was proved on 12 April 1625. It recorded that he left considerable property to his wife Jane. Not only was she his residuary legatee, inheriting all his goods and chattels, leases, debts and rents but she was also to receive a life interest in property Jackson owned in Hull: one tenement in High Street and three tenements in Whitefriargate.

John Jackson had purchased these houses and their land in 1601, for £100 from another London man with Hull connexions, John Gregory. Jackson was then 26 and perhaps it was about this time he married a rich widow Jane James, who had three daughters and £8000. He established himself as a link man between the ports of London and Hull. He was involved in the wine trade and was a moneylender, making loans to men in Hull, North Lincolnshire and London. In a litigious age, his name inevitably comes up in records of court cases, such as a dispute about a diamond ring in 1616.

His business associates included such commercially prominent Hull men as Robert Dalton, John Lister, Joseph Field and John Ramsden.

Another business associate, at the London end of things, was William Shakespeare.

Entry from Freemen’s Roll (C BRG1 f198) recording that John Jackson, son of Thomas Jackson, weaver, was admitted and sworn freeman of the town of Hull by patrimony the same day and year aforesaid [25 July 1609].

In 1613 John Jackson was one of the trustees with Shakespeare for the purchase of a desirable property in London, the gatehouse of the former Blackfriars monastery. This represented an investment by Shakespeare of £140 with the help of a morrgage; perhaps some of the money came from Jackson.  The area was well to do and it was close to the Blackfriars Theatre where Shakespeare’s company of actors, the King’s Men, played their winter season.

Shakespeare and Jackson shared at least one mutual friend: Thomas Savage, another London merchant with a background in Lancashire who. it has been argued, may have got to know Shakespeare in the so-called ‘lost years’ of the late 1580s. Savage was one of the trustees for the lease of the site of the Globe Theatre in 1599, and when he died in 1611, it was John Jackson who oversaw his will. Another connection may have been John Heminges, actor, co-editor of the First Folio, and sea-coal meter (a trading standards officer for the City of London overseeing coal imports) who appointed a John Jackson his deputy in the latter role.

Jackson may have also had literary interests. The Shakespeare scholar Leslie Hotson, who identified the Blackfriars John Jackson with the Hull/London merchant of the same name, suggested that he was also the John Jackson who wrote a poem for inclusion in a popular book – Thomas Coryate’s Crudities. Hotson also suggested that John Jackson was the ‘JJ’ who equipped the ‘Water Poet’ John Taylor with a letter of introduction to the grandees of Hull – including Joseph Field – in 1622.

John Jackson is a common name. Hotson may be stretching it a bit by suggesting that all these references relate to the same man. But it is possible that he was; maybe even probable. He may also have been the John Jackson who in 1609 was made freeman of Hull by patrimony of Thomas Jackson, weaver (although he would have been 32 at the time if he was).

It is unlikely that Shakespeare himself ever came to Hull. But perhaps one of his business associates, maybe even a friend, John Jackson, was a Hull man and that for a few years in the second decade of the seventeenth century, property in Hull was owned by a man who also owned property in London in partnership with William Shakespeare.

Martin Taylor
City Archivist

Hotson, Leslie Shakespeare’s Sonnets Dated London 1949
Wyatt, Diana Shakespeare: The Hull Connection BBC website 2016
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography “Shakespeare, William” “Heminges, John” (accessed 16 April 2016)
The National Archives PROB 11/145, ff. 392-3 (will of John Jackson)
Hull History Centre C BRG 1, f198 (freedom of John Jackson)

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