The Twickenham Museum
People : Builders

Edward Reeves
Carpenter-Builder of Twickenham
c1685 - 1757

Edward Reeves' signature on a building contract

Edward Reeves became one of the leading builders in Twickenham during a golden period for house building. Active during much of the first half of the 18th century, he was probably of the family of bricklayer-carpenters who were noted in Twickenham from the beginning of the 17th century: an Edward Reeves was paid for making a wheel for one of the church bells in 1618. In 1623 Edward Reve of Whitton the Elder was allotted a pew in the church. Edward and Thomas Reeves signed a memorandum about church bell ringers in 1640. Edward Reeve paid a modest rate of 2/6d in 1659 and 5/0d in 1660. An Edward Reeve was a third (unusual) churchwarden in 1611 and 1629. Thomas, Simon and William were commonly used Christian names in the various branches of the family.

Edward appears to have worked with a later Thomas Reeves, bricklayer, baptised on 14 September 1683 and buried on 7 October 1742, the son of Simon and Mary. They may have been related, although the evidence is circumstantial.

There is no record of the baptism or the marriage of Edward, in Twickenham. However, seven children for him and his wife Thomasin were baptised at St Mary's Church between 1708 and 1719: Mary, Edward, Simon, Thomas, Elizabeth, Thomason (sic) and James. Yet there is a small mystery: he did not pay rates in the parish until 1734. So, where did he live, with his family for the period? It can be suggested that he shared premises (including workshops?) with Simon Reeves, who disappeared from the rating list after 1733, perhaps retiring (although he did not die until 1744, being buried on 3 June, three days before Alexander Pope) so transferring responsibility for rates to Edward. Edward's Will, mentioned below, does not specify where he lived, but it is possible that he moved into a house in Sion Row, for which he held a lease as noted in his will.

Sir Thomas Skipwith's house as remodelled by the Earl of Mar

Working in Twickenham

The first recorded mention of Edward in Twickenham is in 1705 when, together with Simon Reeves Senior, Adam Postern and Thomas Jackson, he was a witness to the Will of Sir Thomas Skipwith. Skipwith owned a house on the riverside which, according to Macky, had been enlarged by the amateur architect John Erskine, Earl of Mar.* Mar had married in Twickenham in 1703 and was living in this house by 1709, perhaps earlier.

It is speculation, but the building work may have been underway in the hands of Simon and Edward in 1705; their presence on site making it a convenience for Skipwith to ask them to be his witnesses. This Simon may have been the father of Thomas.

In 1713/14 Edward took part in the rebuilding of the nave of St Mary's Church; first by donating to the appeal fund and then by undertaking work. The record shows that four members of the Reeves family; Simon, John. Edward and Thomas each subscribed £4-6s: described as "Four Guineas" in the original schedule of donors. Unfortunately the total sum raised was insufficient and, a proportion of the bills remaining unpaid, there was an action in Chancery to recover debts. Edward's share of the outstanding debt of over £1,000 amounted to £212-4-8d. Some, or all, of this was still outstanding when he became a Churchwarden in 1723 and he was deputed, with Joseph Fitzwater, to collect the arrears from parishioners. This probably gave him enough leverage to obtain payment for himself: a list of outstanding creditors in 1725 did not contain his name.**

Churchwardens' Accounts for later years regularly show payments to him for work in the church.

It is possible that he was involved with the building both of Montpelier and Sion Rows. In 1734 he acquired a lease of, a house in the Sion Row (probably no.11) and paid the rates for the remainder of his life. Thomas Reeves also owned, or leased, one of these houses: in the summer of 1741 he provided lodging for Alexander Pope's friend Martha Blount.

In 1725 Edward and Thomas were persuaded to support Pope in his dispute with Lady Kneller, who wished to displace Pope's memorial to his father in the church, by one to her late husband Sir Godfrey. They both stated that the brick wall of the gallery was insufficiently strong to support a monument 14 feet high and projecting three feet.

In 1737 the Vestry engaged Edward to construct a Watchhouse, for which he was paid £20. This building was first erected in the middle of the town, probably somewhere in King Street.

In 1749 He was noted in the Churchwardens' Accounts as the High Constable of the County Bridges.

It can be speculated that he would have been responsible for the construction of a number of houses in Twickenham which appeared during his working life, but this is a matter for further research.

Wentworth Castle in Yorkshire

Working in Yorkshire

In 1709 Edward was referred to by Isabella Wentworth as "Ned Reeves", in connection with flooring work at the riverside house of her son Lord Raby, later Earl of Strafford. During the following year he acted as surveyor for Raby at Stainborough Hall, near Barnsley, Yorkshire. Raby had bought this 600 acre estate in 1708, and in 1734 renamed it Wentworth Castle. He engaged Johann Von Bodt to design a new East Wing for him, directing the work by letter from Berlin, where he was acting as British Ambassador-Extraordinary to Brandenberg-Prussia. Reeves' part in this has yet to be ascertained, but Raby must have needed an agent on site to direct the work. It is possible that Edward obtained the appointment on the recommendation of Isabella. Bodt, a Franco-Prussian architect had earlier been in the service of William III, but had returned to Berlin. James Gibbs completed the interior work in 1724.

Elevation of the school and houses at Chertsey

Building at ChertseyBetween July 1723 and August 1724 he spent time at Chertsey building the Charity School and adjoining two pairs of houses in Windsor Street for Sir William Perkins (c1665-1741). Perkins had, earlier, been connected with properties in Twickenham, including the Manor and its Park, but he may not actually have lived here. The contract for the work at Chertsey amounted to £1,000 and was completed as specified. It is interesting to note that Thomas Reeves signed as a witness to the contract. The specification for this work sheds some light on Edward's standing and abilities: he produced drawings for the buildings and a full description of the materials to be used. The job was completed and he was paid the final amount in August the following year. It has been suggested that the pairs of houses flanking the Charity School are of a design similar to those in Sion Row.The man, his property and his familyEdward was buried at St Mary's on 29 July 1757. His Will (PCC Prob11/832), made in 1752 offers clues about his life and character. The opening phrase, "In the Name of the Great Creator and Preserver of the World. our God, Amen" is suggestive of devotion. His property was substantial, consisting of a freehold estate in the Old Town of Croydon and a copyhold estate in Feltham, Middlesex; the lease of the house in Sion Row, three tenanted copyhold cottages at the East End of Twickenham and four tenanted houses in Church House Alley. He had built these four houses on land for which he obtained a 60 year lease from St Mary's Church: the original Indenture for the lease dating from 1724 is held in St Mary's archives. It was, for Edward, a property speculation: he paid £36 for the land and undertook to spend £100 0n the buildings.

He bequeathed the bulk of this estate to his wife during her lifetime and then to his son Edward. His daughters, Elizabeth and Thomasin and grandchildren Mary and Edward Phillips (offspring of his daughter Mary) received mainly financial bequests, but his son Thomas had clearly been a disappointment to him and received only a nominal sum of "five and twenty ponds in money, one of Mr Gibbs' Books of Building, Evylins' Parrallel, Mr James's Books of Architecture, One Case of Drawing Instruments and what materials I shall leave belonging to the Bricklayer's Trade." The rest of his books of architecture and two globes were bequeathed to Edward. His sons Simon and James were not mentioned and may have died earlier.

It is evident that Edward Senior was not just a carpenter, nor simply a jobbing builder. His library is indicative of his education and interest in architecture: his possession of books by John James and James Gibbs (both of whom he must have known) are evidence of this. Equally, for him to have owned a copy of John Evelyn's Parallel of Architecture, first published in 1664 (his translation of Freart's Parallele de l'architecture antique et de la moderne,augmented by an account of modern architects in the third edition published in 1709) is evidence that he was a cultivated man.

Edward the son died less than three years later, immediately after making his will on 3 April 1760 (PCC Prob 11/855), apparently unmarried, leaving everything (unspecified freehold and copyhold property) to his mother Thomasin for the duration of her life and thereafter to his sister Elizabeth. Thomasin obtained probate on 11 April. She died in the next year, not having administered her son's will and, on 7 August 1761, administration was granted to the sole executor of her own will (PCC Prob 11/867), Joseph Harris, a fisherman, who had married her daughter Thomasin on 21 September at St Mary's.

The Will of Thomasin Senior illuminates the family's domestic arrangements and perhaps gives a clue to where they lived:In the Name of God, Amen…..I give devise and bequeath unto my son Thomas everything in the room wherein he lies and what books he may think convenient to take To my Daughter Elizabeth Reeves a Silver Pint Mug and three silver Table-Spoons and a Marrow Spoon and a Silver Punch Ladle and the Furniture of the Large Parlour and the Second Porridge Pot To my Daughter Tomison Harris four Silver Table Spoons with the two others that are in common use and the two handled Silver Cup with the furniture of the little Parlour and the Bed and all the rest of the Furniture that is in my Chamber together with all the furniture that is in the Chamber where she lives two pair of Brass Camdlesticks a Brass Pestle and Mortar a Coffee Pot and a little Cupboard that stands upon a Shelf and the large Porridge Pot and all the Pewter to be equally divide between my Son Thomas Reeves my Daughter Elizabeth Reeves and my Daughter Tomison Harris To my Grandaughter Mary Phillips a set of teaspoons and a silver Milk Pot To my Grandson Edward Phillips the Bed and all the rest of the Furniture of the Chamber where he lies, the chairs belonging to the Kitchen and the largest Table and the Glass that is in the Kitchen and the Range of Grates and the least Porridge Pot To my Grandson Charles Phillips my Gold Ring and all the Linen and other things not mentioned to be Equally Divided amongst them all and I do hereby nominate....Joseph Harris Husband of my Daughter Tomison to be my sole Executor. It sounds as if Thomasin, her son Thomas, her daughter Elizabeth, her married daughter Tomison (sic) Harris with husband Joseph, and grandchildren: Mary, Edward and Charles Phillips, the three children of Mary Phillips who, with her husband, probably Thomas, a butcher, shared one household. Edward had already died. Her will mentions a large and a small parlour, a kitchen and four chambers, but there must have been other rooms Were they all living in Sion Row?

In 1784 the lease of the four properties in Church House Alley ran out and Joseph Harris took a further 60 year lease in his own name.

*John Macky's 2nd edition of his Journey Through England published in 1722, but probably written in 1711, describes a property in Twickenham as "A Little House, which belonged formerly to Sir Thomas Skipwith and was improv'd and inhabited by that great Architect the late Earl of Marr, with its hanging Gardens to the River, is well worth the curiosity of a Traveller...".

**Creditors to the church listed in 1725 whose rates were abated:

Robert Fisher
Thomas Goodwin
Thomas Morris
Henry Pasmore
Robert Parsons
Thomas Rogers
Thomas Reeves
Francis Vincent
Garrard Cook
James Watkinsfurther reading:(for Bodt) Howard Colvin, a Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, Yale University Press, 1995 (3rd edition)

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