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The History Detectives and the Mystery Marker Stone

How many tenants of the Leather Gardens Estate in Abbey Road, London, E.15, have walked past an old lump of stone, standing on the communal green, and not noticed it? (See photo at end of item).

If they had, they may have noticed some writing and a crest on it.

I did, and have carried out (with a lot of help from a lot of people) research on it, which has brought one or two twist and turns that would do any good Detective Mystery proud!

The first and most expected answer was it was something to do with the old Leather Cloth factory, Crockets, which stood on site.

Thanks to Richard Durack at Newham Archives and Local Studies Library at Stratford for his help on this.
He found a copy of the map of the area just after the factory was built, this theory was soon dispelled, as the stone looked to be much older than the building date, and seem to have no connection.

The next family who it could have connected with was the De Montifitchet Family.
They were Lords of the Manor.
In this case the stone was not old enough to have marked off their lands, plus their estate was much larger than just this area, plus the family crest on the stone was unlike any of the variants of the De Montifitchet Family crest.

I needed a midway point in history between these, and this seemed to be the Stratford Workhouse.

In 1725, a Parish Workhouse was built on land given by Sir Gregory Page-Turner Bt.

His family `seat` was at Blackheath in Kent.

A part of the land where the workhouse stood was a garden area.
This was later to turn out more important than I realised.

Another name to come up was Sir John Henry Pelly Bt, who is remembered in the naming of Pelly Road, E.13.
He had helped to establish the Poor Law Union in West Ham in 1836.

Again after research there was no obvious connection between these two Knights of the Realm and the Marker Stone.

A part of the old workhouse became a factory with other buildings being built on the site, which had become the Handcock brothers, Gutta Percha Works, in1850.
This went on to become the Leather cloth factory, which went through various owners before closing in 1961.

Again despite research through both the Internet and the Local Studies Library (Thanks to Jenni Munro-Collins for her help), there was no seeming links between any of this.

Despite asking on both Newham Local History Web site, and the West-East Newham London Yahoo Local Group site, (which I am a member of), there was very little joy, although a name had come up, Sir Peter Meutis (or Mewtas.)

When the Stratford Abbey was dissolved in 1538, he was granted property in the precincts of the old Abbey. He later became the Ambassador to France. Despite this, there still seemed no link to the memorial, and I was no nearer an answer.

The Carpenters name was also mentioned, but again the crest was incorrect, and their lands were more north of the old road through Stratford.

Both the Hills and the Hennikers were also checked out, but again were dead ends.

It was then that Kathy Taylor, (Manager of the North Woolwich Railway Museum), found a missing clue, Thomas Holbrook.
Kathy, as well as giving me support, was also doing research herself on the subject.

Thomas Holbrook had bought up the remaining land to the South and East of the old Stratford Langthorne Abbey, including the old remaining Buildings.

He had the buildings demolished and sold off for other use.

There was a very strong link between him and the stone.

The family crest of the Holbrooks is very much like the one on the stone, plus stone is not parallel with the road, but is facing in a southeast direction.

Another link is the chains, which show on the heraldic crest on the stone.

Chains are rarely seen on crest, so the next piece of research was to contact one of the major web sites on Heraldry.

A photo of the stone was sent to them, but even they were uncertain of the marking on the stone because it is so badly worn, but they did confirm that when chains are used they signify a Gift or Service to the Church.

In 1804, Thomas Holbrook gave the Royal Arms to West Ham Church and other items.

The seemingly final link to Thomas Holbrook is that he died in 1811.
On the stone, there is a very faded date, but the last two numbers seemed to be II, which I had assumed was Roman numerals.

The Holbrook Family Crest is described as a Gules Chevron, with three Gules Cross Botonny, in other words, a red Chevron with three Botonny Crosses.

If Thomas Holbrook was as close to the King as to be allowed to present a Royal crest to the church, I see no reason why he would be allowed to have his own personal alterations to a Heraldic Crest, and this would account for the chains on the Crest.

We therefore felt the most likely reason for this Mystery Marker Stone was in fact, a memorial to Thomas Holbrook.

Neither Kathy or myself felt a 100% happy with the result, it was at this point Kathy called on some devine intervention.
She contacted West Ham Church!

After some research by Staff from the Church, Kathy went off to the Guildhall in the City of London.
From there she was directed to the City of London Livery Company, the Ironmongers Guild, who are known as a part of the Great twelve, the senior companies of the London Guilds.

These Trade Guilds were set up to monitor the quality of the Tradesmen in the City of London, and to this day the City and Guilds Qualifications is still used for this.

The Worshipful Company of Ironmongers are one of the major Livery Companies in the City, and are based at the Ironmongers Hall in the Barbican, for more information see their web site www.ironhall.co.uk/
They originated in the 14th Century.

Amongst the information she got from them was a map of a park/garden in Stratford on land that was called Barrowfield, which was purchased from Sir Gregory Page.
This had been paid for from the will of Thomas Betton, a Merchant Venture and Ironmonger, who died in 1723.
He had bequeathed half the interest of his estate to redeem British slaves in Barbary and Turkey.
The rest was one quarter to charity schools in London and one quarter for the relief of decayed freemen, and it was a part of this that was used for the poor in West Ham.
Some of the poor rather than having to go into the workhouse, were paid to tend this garden instead.

The fund for this garden came from what was known as the Betton Trust, which is still a charitable fund today.

She also got a copy of the Livery Crest of the Company, which is exactly what is the crest on the Stone.

The full Heraldic Arms was received by them in 1455, and is described as being,
Argent on a Chevron Gules between three Gads of Steel Azure three Swivels Or

Now we know that the communal green on the Leather gardens estate is called Barrowfield, and the stone is in memory of Thomas Betton and the Ironmongers Guild.

There are two turnings on the estate, called Old Barrowfield and Bettons Park, the second name would seem to have been used as it was sometimes called `Bettons Park` by some of the people in the area.

So now we know what the old lump of stone really means, a history which goes back seven centuries!

There is a lot more research to be done, and it may change a few `facts`.
One day it may be produced as a booklet for Newham, but for time being, next time somebody tells you that they have no interest in the History of Newham, just tell them what they are missing!

Thanks to all who helped this History Detective.

The Mystery Stone, now a History told.

M&E Inspector
Property & Asset Management Services,
Newham Homes,
Bridge Road Depot.
March 2006.