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The Keep Family of Berkshire and North Hampshire

Their son John 1709 married Elizabeth Cooke in 1737 living in the same property. They again had a large family of 10 children. John and Elizabeth lived to a good age. Elizabeth died in 1785 aged 74 and John in 1793 aged 84. They are buried side by side with a fine double head and footstone in Stratfield Saye churchyard in front of the main entrance. No Will can be found.  Records regarding their offspring are vague.


I am descended from their youngest son Joshua, born in 1754.  Joshua married Ann Gosling in 1778 with just two known children, John 1778 and Charles 1789.  Joshua and Ann are once again known to have lived in Keep’s Cottage. In William Clift’s Reminiscences of Bramley, published in 1908, he mentions as a young boy the invaluable lessons taught by old Mrs. Keep (Ann Keep nee Gosling) regarding the value of chicken rearing.  He bought his first hens at the age of 10 from the “old Lady.”   He attributes his start to financial success with this encounter.  Ann died in 1838 aged 93. Joshua died in 1812 and is buried in Stratfield Saye, again no Will found.  At some point the Cottage takes on the roll as a tavern. I found Ann Keep’s brother, James Gosling, written about as an Innkeeper and lay Preacher within the village. He sold Ale from here as he preached.


by Simon John Keep, London



My Grandfather Arthur John Keep was born less than 25 miles away from where his 11th Great Grandfather John Keep lived and died in 1579. Ties to Land and Property kept them within this small area, a tie and a love for that picturesque and productive swathe of farmland that forms South Berkshire and North Hampshire.  From earlier records such as Manorial Rolls and Indentures/Land Titles, the family were well established here by the 16th Century.


John Keep, who died in 1579 in the Reign of Elizabeth 1st, was a farmer in West Hendred, Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire). His Will and inventory, the first in English, are on 5 velum pages. An earlier John Keep died in 1545 in the Reign of Henry VIII, a few miles away in Abingdon, leaving a similar estate and is likely to be his father--thus taking the lineage back to the late 15th Century, the Reign of Henry VII and the War of the Roses

It is largely from Wills that we are able to piece together the next 8 generations where parish records are either missing, destroyed, or too difficult to read.


The move from Abingdon to West Hendred may well have resulted from the policies of Henry VIII, when during the separation from Rome in 1538, lands were confiscated from the local Abbey and given to the management of Corpus Christie College, Oxford. It was in this period John Keep, senior and junior, gained wealth and John junior established a productive and profitable farm in West Hendred.

West Henred Church
Wills provide a fascinating glimpse into our ancestors' lives.  John Keep (spelt Kepe until the 17th century) left money to his grandchildren, wife and even a business associate in Kingsclere Hampshire.  His will lists household objects such as plates and candlesticks, furniture with  beds and tables, clothing, as well as farming stock and money in hand.
The reference to Kingsclere might reflect an earlier tie.  Trade here is associated with the royal estates first established under King John.  These estates  link to Winchester where we find Wulfward Cheppe (Kepe)  in the Doomsday records.
By the close of the 17th century, the Keeps from Hendred leave eight extensive Wills.  The rich farmland of Berkshire, along with a lot of hard work, resulted in an immense gain in prosperity.  The family was enjoying favour under the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  They benefited and gained from the dissolution of the monasteries and establishment of the New Protestant Church.

The next change of location was by Richard Keep born in West Hendred in 1585. He left the family home to marry Isabelle Alexander at Stratfield-Saye in 1605. This is the start of Keeps living in that village that continues to the current day.  It is uncertain whether Richard intended to permanently settle here. We know that in 1620 he found himself in the midst of legal action. This came about by his inability to read or write.  Richard appealed as a complainant in the Star Chamber in London.   The Star Chamber was considered the best place for those of prominent rank to be judged-- some said “to judge those so prominent that ordinary courts could not convict them.”  Hence Shakespeare writes, “I will make a Star Chamber matter of it” in the The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The case involved John Chamberlyn, Edward Bushall, and Thomas Mostyn. The case is that the  Freeholder of some land in Rotherwick, Hampshire, a John Browne,  Doctor of Divinity at Oxford, was at some time in financial trouble, spending time in jail. The land was inherited by Browne on his father’s death. Browne needed to raise cash, so leased the land to Chamberlyn, Bushall and Mostyn, who then passed it hastily on to Richard Keep. Richard Keep, who was described as “a very Contentious man,” discovered conditions attached to the land causing him to desire to release himself from the liability or dispose of the lease. He investigated the lease and freeholder Dr John Browne, finding many discrepancies and faults in the person and transaction. For one, John Browne is a junior when he assigns the lease; and secondly is the question of his Doctorate in Divinity.  Richard Keep sent to Derbyshire for proof of Browne’s age and to Oxford for his Doctorate--both findings to Keep’s favour.  Then Keep explained that although he questioned the conditions within the lease, since he could not read or write, he was lied to, and the conditions bound by the lease were not spoken of.  Keep stated twice that he asked for further information questioning content, and on each occasion he was kept in the dark with regard to the onerous clauses.  He then set his seal to the lease unaware.  He discovered the full extent of the conditions when he was in breaches of them and was “imprisoned” in Winchester jail.  From other records it shows he slept within the house of the High Sheriff until the matter was explored. The same Richard saw the family through the Civil War and died a few months after Charles II was received in London in 1660.


It appears the Keeps, like many families, were divided in the English Civil War which raged around their family lands. With previous generations prospering from the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, they strongly supported the Protestant cause and thus were divided when the crown seemed to be leaning towards the Catholic cause, as was the case with Charles 1st.  Major battles took place at Newbury and Basing House.  Certain individuals appear; one a relative, Andrew Keep of Hendred, was an inquisitor of Clergy and Teachers under Cromwell’s Parliament.

The next generation, Richard was born in 1615 in Rotherwick, resided in 1675 at the Vyne Lodge Farm, a fine Jacobean house opposite the Vyne, Sherbourne St John, Hampshire.  


The Vyne was purchased by Chaloner Chute from Fulham in 1653, who was the speaker of the House of Commons during the Commonwealth. Chaloner Chute I(?) died in 1659 and Richard Keep in 1660. Their respective sons might be viewed as more distant from the Commonwealth under Cromwell as the Crown re-emerges

Vyne Lodge

The Chute family and the Keeps have further ties to Northend, Fulham (now in London).   Edward Keep, grandson of Richard, lived there with his family. The London Keeps are Masters of Trade.  Edward was a citizen and Painter Stainer of London when he died in 1727; his cousin Richard Keep, a citizen and Barber Surgeon, died in 1712. The paint manufacturers Thomas Keep and Sons descend from this line.  Another of this branch, William Keep, died in Oxford in 1745.  He started a fashion for home-made Wills, a frequent occurrence from this time.  He asked for his body to be placed in a lead coffin and carried to Fulham for burial, not cheap. His Victualler in Oxford, Isaac Matthew, and Elizabeth Turton had to appear in court to verify that the Will was by his hand.  Another similar case appears in 1781 when Edward Keep, son of Edward from Fulham, died in Woodford, Essex. Not only is the Will handwritten on 7 pages, but it is altered and edited with a memorandum and codicil at the end. Edward’s grand sarcophagus and tomb are by Samuel Robinson and is a Grade II listed monument.  Made from the latest material, Coade stone, it is in the Adam style. From research it appears the Keeps threw themselves fully in to the taste of the time.

By 1750 there were dozens of Keep families in North Hampshire, all descended from the Hendred line. They were highly successful and held posts such as Church Warden, taking their role as Yeoman Farmers and Gentlemen with diligence.  However, as with any family, certain members caused scandal.


In April 1754 William Keep, farmer and landowner, died. He was 29 and married with three young children.  His “grieving” widow Elizabeth rushed to Winchester to gain access to her dead husband’s Estate, as no Will had been left.  In October, six months later, she remarried John Hall. The first child being born very soon after the marriage! It was custom at the time for a widow of standing to go into mourning for two years.  The vitriol from this emerged in 1799 when the eldest son of the dead William came of age and inherited his father’s land. He then, under duress, granted the land to his step father, who in turn claimed he had gone to a lot of trouble and expense in “the Breeding up of Keep.”  The ensuing lease contained all the details as set down by William Keep of his mother’s haste to Winchester and then marriage, with a counter claim by Mr. Hall that William had not amounted to much.


William Keep, 1725-1754, and my ancestor John, born 1709, were two of ten children, their parents being John Keep (great grandson of Richard of the Star Chamber) and Elizabeth Ives, marrying in Reading in 1708.  John and Elizabeth lived in a house now known as Keep’s Cottage at Keep’s Corner Stratfield Saye. This property is a Tudor house which originally had a thatched roof.  Elizabeth Ives inherited land and money from her father William Ives--Ives Farm also at Keep’s Corner.   John died in 1743 and his Will is below.

Another record found is that of a Joshua Keep sent to Australia on board the Coromandel in 1802. Joshua was sentenced in York; as yet I have been unable to discover his crime.  He did not serve a full sentence and his fate is unclear. Thus he might have returned to England. Keep is an unusual surname and Joshua is a rare name for a Keep.  Maybe there are two in the same timeline; it would be quite a coincidence.


John, born 1778 (son of Joshua), married Mary Ham in 1808.  Mary Ham had just come into a legacy and trust from Jenny Timbury of Romsey in 1807.


What becomes evident is that the 19th Century was a more difficult era. Some of the Keeps, such as those in Rotherwick and Aldermarston, were still putting up fine monuments to themselves and leaving large fortunes into the 19th century.


The colours of the Berkshire Regiments in Aldermarston Church are dedicated to and held by the Keeps for their role in the Napoleonic Wars.  But by the end of the 19th century, most have left the area and land, some going as far away as America (California). The period of and preceding the Napoleonic Wars was one of the worst for agriculture, starting with the Enclosure Acts followed by bad harvests and the introduction of new farming methods. By the 1840s, the countryside of Britain had been transformed. Those family members that remained in Stratfield Saye held on at Keep’s Corner. It is known that the house was still in John’s ownership when he died in 1837, again no Will found.  His widow Mary nee Ham lived on to 1872 and died in her 90th year.  I will return to Mary’s Will.


John and Mary had 6 children, William, Daniel, George, Mary, Ann and John. By the first census in 1841 John is dead.  Mary, his widow, is a housekeeper and the boys are all shoemakers.  Cordwaining is a skill that can be traced back to much earlier times.  In 1675 Richard Keep of Sherbourne St John, Gentleman, bound his son Edward to an apprenticeship with Benjamin Alexander, citizen of London, skinner. Other records from the Guild of Cordwainers show many Keeps as apprentices and Masters.


The next three generations of the family continued in the same trade.  My own line, George, Matthew Henry, and then William (born 1881), were all craftsmen in leather.  They traded in Stratfield Saye making shoes, harnesses, saddles, and other agricultural leather goods.


The last male heir to live in the Cottage appears to be Matthew Henry Keep 1844-1920.


Matthew, always known as Henry Keep, married Mary Ann Thackham in Marylebone, London, in 1865.  The Thackham family built the Four Horse Shoes Pub and ran the bakers and grocery shop in Stratfield Saye.  They profited from the building of the Railway in the mid 19th century.


After Matthew Henry’s death in 1920, his daughter Ellen Hampton lived on in the cottage until her death in 1963.


The final chapter for Keep’s Cottage somewhat reflects those first years of the Keeps in Hampshire. After Ellen Hampton’s death, the cottage stood empty for three years before being sold by the Wellington Estate.  This caused considerable upset within the Keep family as they thought they owned it.  From letters I have discovered at the Wellington Archive in the Museum of English Rural Life, its ownership is far from clear.



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