MORDEN, Sir John, 1st Bt. (1623-1708), of Wricklemarsh, Blackheath, Kent
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Family and Education
bap. 13 Aug. 1623, o. s. of George Morden, goldsmith, of St. Bride’s, London by Martha, da. of Thomas Harris of London. m. 31 May 1662, Susan (d. 1721), da. of Joseph Brand, of Edwardstone, Suff., alderman of London, s.p. cr. Bt. 20 Sept. 1688.1
Appr. Levant Co. 1643, freeman 1659, asst. 1660–1, 1665, 1667, 1668–72, 1677–81, treasurer 1673–6; cttee. E. I. Co. 1667–71, 1672–3, 1674–8, 1679–83; member, New Eng. Co. 1677; treasurer, Bromley coll. 1693; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1704.2
Commr. excise 1689–91, relief French Protestants 1689, Million Act 1694–5 (dir. 1695), taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3
Freeman, Colchester 1695.4
According to tradition Morden successfully applied his energies to trade, but fell victim to the uncertainties of mercantile venture and, having recovered his fortune, devoted the rest of his life to the founding of a charity college to alleviate the plight of distressed merchants. Much of this story, bar the plunge into poverty, is verifiable. His family came from Thurlow in Suffolk, which probably explains his apprenticeship to the moderate Parliamentarian Levant merchant Sir Thomas Soame†, who owned an estate there. By 1649 Morden was in Aleppo, where he acted as a treasurer for the company, and although replaced in this office by 1651 he remained as a factor. One of his London trading contacts was William Love† who, in 1657, complained that for the previous seven years Morden had held ‘goods and moneys to a considerable value’ which he refused to surrender. Perhaps summoned by the company to explain himself, as Love had requested, Morden was back in London by 1659, giving further evidence of a truculent nature by refusing to pay fees to the consul at Aleppo until his own treasurership accounts had been settled. His refusal to part with money in both these instances may lend some credence to the tale that while he personally returned safely to England, several of his trading ships failed to arrive and were for a long time given up as lost, forcing him to accept work as a butcher’s messenger to earn enough to live. On the other hand, Strype records that he had ‘a very fair estate’ on his return, his marriage certificate of 1662 describes him as a merchant, and in 1660 he was elected a Levant Company assistant. In 1667 he also became a committee member of the East India Company, and two years later paid over £4,000 for the estate at Wricklemarsh. Between 1683 and 1688 he did not hold office in either company, but this obscurity probably owed more to political considerations than to financial ones. He was certainly very wealthy by the end of James’s reign, owning £5,575 of East India stock in 1689, and it was probably in recognition of his money rather than his sympathies that James conferred a baronetcy on him shortly before the Revolution. Nevertheless, Morden was anxious to dispel any ideas of collusion with the old regime by lending King William large sums of money, both in his personal capacity and as an excise commissioner, and his knowledge of the financial world helps explain his appointment as a commissioner for distributing the royal bounty for the relief of French Protestants in 1689, for the Million Act in 1694, and for taking subscriptions to the land bank in 1696.5
Morden, sometimes confused with Sir John Mordaunt, 5th Bt.*, probably partnered John Wildman† at the election at Bury St. Edmunds in 1690, but neither candidate was successful and it was not until 1695 that Morden won a seat. He survived an attempt to oust him by petition, before which he was forecast in January 1696 as a likely supporter of the Court over the proposed council of trade and subscribed the Association. In the following session, on 25 Nov., he voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, and in September 1698 was retrospectively assessed as a Court supporter.
Morden does not appear to have stood for re-election in 1698, presumably because his foundation in 1695 of a college, close to his home at Blackheath, now took up much of his time. The haven for ‘poor, honest, sober and discreet merchants, which shall have lost their estate by accidents, dangers, and perils of the seas’, may partly have been inspired by nearby Bromley college, established in 1666 by the bishop of Rochester for widows of loyal clergymen, and for which Morden acted as treasurer from 1693. Morden stipulated that the pensioners at his own refuge should be Anglicans, and that any who did not attend the chapel, or who were found guilty of swearing, drunkenness or any debauchery, were to be ejected. Sir Christopher Wren* may have designed the building, which opened its doors in 1700, and Morden bought the manors of Old Court, Greenwich, and Sedgewick Park, Sussex, for £2,000 in 1699 to endow his institution. Blackheath was his principal, but by no means his only, pious and charitable concern. By 1677 he had become a member of the missionary New England Company, and he loaned money to Christ Church Hospital and St. Thomas’ Hospital: his will converted this money into a gift, also bequeathing £200 to poor parishioners and £100 to the blind, and his involvement in the mine venture in Cardiganshire on the property of Sir Carbery Pryse, 4th Bt.*, may also have had philanthropic motives.6
Notes drawn up in the 19th century suggest that Morden stood again for Colchester in April 1708, but he would by then have been 85 years old, and there is no other evidence for this claim. He died on 6 Sept. of that year, and his body was ‘set out with all the trophies befitting his degree’, before being buried, appropriately enough, in the chapel at Morden college. Although he had no son, one of his apprentices, Charles Cooke, became an MP in 1715.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Mark Knights
- 1. Rough Notes Towards a Mem. of Sir John Morden (1867); DNB.
- 2. Info. from Miss S. P. Anderson and Prof. H. Horwitz; W. Kellaway, New Eng. Co. index; A. E. Harvey, Sir John Morden and his College, 13; Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 547, 552, 983; xvii. 530, 539, 550; Eng. Courant, 25 May 1695; CJ, xii. 508–10.
- 4. Oath Bk. . . . of Colchester ed. Benham, 248.
- 5. Rough Notes, 5–7; SP 105/151, ff. 301, 320, 359 (ex inf. Miss S. P. Anderson); Harvey, 9–10; Stow’s Survey of London ed. Strype (1720), i. 219; Add. 22185, ff. 12–13; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 292, 594, 965, 1972, 1981, 1987, 2004.
- 6. DNB; Copy of the Last Will and Testament (n.d.); Cal. Treas. Bks. xiv. 152; xv. 3, 130, 135, 157; BL, Dept. of Printed Bks. 695. 1. 14 (5).
- 7. Rough Notes, 11; info. from Miss Anderson.