Some years ago I wrote the article about my Dee ancestors which traced the line back
to my greatx5 grandfather William Dee who was born in around 1715 and who was buried
at Upper Clatford in North Hampshire. Despite later occasional searches, this voyage
of discovery was totally becalmed.
Then, out of the blue, I received this e-mail: “Hi, My name is Christine, I live
in Germany and recently found at a boot sale an Indenture dated 1773. Thomas Dowling
and John Dee are the executors of the late William Dee Horse Doctor of Upper Clatford.
Also mentioned (are) Thomas and William Dee sons of the said William Dee.....At the
bottom John Dee Thomas Dowling Thomas Dee and William Dee have all signed each with
a wax seal. I have no idea how it reached Germany, but after searching on Ancestry
and the internet I found your internet page and thought you might like to have a
photo of it. Kind regards’ Chris.”
The Dee document, contained this one illuminating line:
I knew from William Dee’s will that he had a brother, John Dee. This indenture described
him as a bricklayer living at Henley-on-Thames, which is fifty miles north-east of
Clatford in Hampshire. Armed with this information, it has been possible to take
my Dee ancestors back into the sixteenth century - and a further four generations.
This episode also illustrates the potential advantage of posting details of one’s
ancestry on-line. Who knows when or where it may be found - and what may result!
Of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
Above, a map of the centre of Henley from the late nineteenth century. Note Friday
Street, Duke Street (formerly known as Duck Street) and Hart Street which will feature
in our story. The parish boundary between Henley (to the north) and Rotherfield Greys
(often simplified to “Greys”) ran down the middle of Friday Street. The River Thames
is the boundary between Oxfordshire and Berkshire (to the east). Less than a mile
to the north of Henley is Buckinghamshire.
Henley sits at the foot of the Chiltern Hills which add to the town’s superb landscape
setting as captured in Siberechts’ paintings. It is eight miles from Reading and
thirty-five miles from London. The Thames was a natural conduit to London and from
the early fifteenth century, barges plied their trade between the towns. From 1568
to 1573, about a third of London’s grain was transported via Henley. A wooden bridge
built in around 1200 encouraged trade between Henley and its neighbours in Berkshire
- although the bridge gradually fell into disrepair and was replaced in 1786.
As many of the Dees were bricklayers and masons the history of Henley’s houses is
worth mentioning. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, houses were of wooden
construction, inlayed with wattle and daub. From the 1300s good quality bricks were
baked at nearby Nettlebed. During the seventeenth century brick walls were constructed
instead of timber which was in short supply due to the demands of shipbuilding and
the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. The centre of Henley today
features many brick-built properties which date from the 1500s and 1600s.
Many of the Dee sons were recorded as bricklayers/masons who lived in relatively
comfort and surely left their mark on Henley, which survives to today:
Two events at Henley touched the lives of my Dee ancestors. The plague cast its shadow
over the town in 1581,1603 and 1625. It’s victims were noted in the parish burial
registers with a cross (as will be shown later). There was cycle of fatalities which
began in August and ended in winter-time - a reflection of the life span of the fleas
that carried the virus.
Then during the Civil War of 1642-44, the parish burial records have the following
entries for January and February 1643:
Henley was divided in it’s support for King Charles I and Parliament. The deaths
during the most serious incident in the town during the Battle of Duck Street (as
reported above) occurred when a group of royalists from Reading were confronted by
cannon manned by Parliamentarians at the crossroads in the town centre. Eight soldiers
were killed and the Royalists retreated.
Early Dees at Henley-on-Thames
The parish registers for Henley survive from 1558 for Henley and from 1591 for Rotherfield
Greys.The first mention of Dees at Henley was on 12 September 1577 when Antony Dee’s
son, Thomas, was baptised at Henley. Then, on 10 August 1578, Richard Dee’s son,
also Thomas, was baptised at St Mary’s. Probably Antony and Richard were brothers
and maybe one was my direct ancestor, but the records do not provide a certain link.
The Henley parish registers also mention other events that feature the Dee family
in October 1581:
Above are noted the burials of Antony and Thomas who were killed by The Plague -
note the crosses in the record. Were they the father and son noted earlier? The virus
also took another Dee, John. Adding poignancy to these tragic events was the baptism
of Antony’s daughter, Sarah, less than a month later, on 13 November 1581.
My greatx9 grandparents, Richard and Sibill/Isabell Dee.
It is not clear when Richard and Isabell died. There is a burial of a Richard Dee
at Rotherfield Greys on 30 April 1613, but we have already established there were
likely at least two Richards alive at the time. Similarly with Isabell - there is
a burial of an Isabell Dee from the parish of (Rotherfield) Graies (sic) in 1607
at Henley - but we know that two Isabells were probably alive there then.
The marriage of Richard and Sibill (sic) on 12 December 1597
My greatx8 grandparents, William and Ann Dee.
Note: The Henley burial registers records the burial of “William Dee’s child” on
14 February 1645. This is probably Priscilla.
The Henley parish registers are fragmented in the seventeenth century, although Bishops
Transcripts survive. I have not found the burials of William or Ann. There are no
baptisms or burials of Dees at Henley between 1600 and 1650 apart from those in my
My greatx7 grandparents, William and Elizabeth Dee.
Illustrating the ineptitude of transcribers, the entry for William jnr shown above
is recorded as Deeson.
My greatx6 grandparents, John and Elizabeth Dee.
Now, information about my ancestor, John Dee emerges. He was a (stone) mason. All
of his children were baptised at St Mary’s, Henley - although he was living in the
nearby parish of (Rotherfield) Grays in 1715. As noted earlier, Rotherfield Grays
stretched from the Chiltern Hills to the Thames very close to the main street in
Henley. It was probably far easier for John and his family to use the services of
St Marys rather than journey to the church of their parish, St Nicholas.
The imperfections of the transcribers of parish records are again illustrated as
William Dee’s baptism is not recorded though clearly written in the register (as
Once again, we glean more information about John and his family from his will (dated
21 November 1639 and proved on 23 May 1640), than from any other source. Described
as a bricklayer, he bequeathed 20/- to his son, John Dee; 40/- to his son Robert;
£10 to his daughter, Mary, wife of Edward Taylor; to his wife Elizabeth Dee, his
house in Duck Street (sic) and his two houses in Friday Street on the Rotherfield
Grays side occupied by William Gale and William Berris; to his son Ambrose, his house
in Duck Street and to his daughters Elizabeth Rakestraw and Sarah Dee, the houses
in Friday Street following his wife’s death. His executors were named as Elizabeth
and Ambrose Dee.
Baptism 7 Nov 1708
Baptism of my ancestor 12 August 1715
Baptism 14 October 1666
My direct ancestor, William Dee is a glaring omission in this list of beneficiaries.
He was John’s youngest son and was now twenty-five years of age and single. Was this
because there had been a falling-out between father and his youngest son? William
did not follow the family trade as a bricklayer and six years later married in north
Hampshire, fifty miles from Henley.
John Dee’s signature to his will
Other Dees at Henley from 1650 to
After commenting that were no baptisms or burials of Dees at Henley between 1600
and 1650 apart from those in my line, there was a flurry of mentions in the Henley
parish registers from the mid-seventeenth century. They included an Adam Dee (baptism
unknown) who married Elizabeth Stirrup in 1662. The couple produced six known children
and many Dees descended from this union. One was Abraham who was also a bricklayer
and who evidently died childless. After his death in 1756 at Henley, his will furnished
extraordinary details of his immediate family - and illustrated the relative wealth
of local bricklayers:
To his cousin, Anne Winter - a house in Duck Street, Henley
To his cousin, Christopher Fennell - two houses in Duck Street, Henley
To his cousin, Mary Bath - a house in Duck Street, Henley
To his cousin Sarah Houes (sic) - the house adjoining the above house.
To his cousin, Sarah Kente (sic) - eight houses in Harte Street, Henley
To his cousin Abel Dee - four houses on the hill at Henley
To his cousin Ambrose Dee - two houses on the street next to the above. Abraham
wish was that his cousin, Elizabeth Dee, lived in one of these houses.
To his ‘loving friends...the Quakers’ - £3
To his cousin, Martha Burch (sic) -£3
To his cousin, Hannah Willab (sic) - £3
So, Abraham owned a total nineteen houses - thirteen of them in the centre of Henley:
Duck Street and Harte Street which was the main road leading to the bridge. Again,
it should be pointed out that no mention was made of my ancestor, William Dee’s children
who would also have been his cousins.
A trawl of listed buildings at Henley today reveals that there are twenty-four in
Hart Street; ten in Duck/Duke Street and twenty-four in Friday Street. Not without
reason does Henley on Thames, a History state that ‘The central part of town has
many attractive buildings that range in date from the 1400s onwards’. One wonders
which of these were owned by members of my family - and, indeed, built by them.
Hart Street, Henley in around 1872 - with St Mary’s in the background
Duck/Duke Street, Henley in around 1860
Friday Street in around 1890 - viewed from the river, with the side in the parish
of Rotherfield Greys on the left
John Dee - bricklayer (1736, the same man as above?)
William Dee - bricklayer (1736)
Abraham Dee - bricklayer (1676 - 1756)
John Dee - bricklayer (-1791)
I am delighted that Christine contacted me with information which revealed so much
about my direct ancestors. I was even more thrilled on 29 September when I received
the Dee document which she was so kind to send.