[John has written this essay about the Bagwell family of Deptford. Latham & Matthews describe William Bagwell as “ship’s carpenter and the complaisant husband of one of Pepys’s mistresses.” P.G.]

The Bagwells’ relatives, neighbours & associates from Flaggon Row, Parish of St Nicholas, Deptford — all of the people below other than the Allins were living in this street in 16701.

William Bagwell b. 1637. His wife’s approaches, if we may call them that, to Samuel Pepys appear to have borne fruit in the long term. William was in a prominent shipbuilding position in Bristol by the late 1670s2, in Chatham3 and then Plymouth in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and finally Master Shipwright at Portsmouth in 16964. Some of the ships built under his supervision can be found via the National Archives (search for “Bagwell Bristol” & “Bagwell Plymouth”) and also in A New List of all the ships and vessels of Her Majesties Royal Navy5. William saw at least some active Naval service on the Providence in the Four Days Battle of June 16666. They were fortunate to escape the plague which carried off one fifth of Deptford’s population during 1665-667 including one member of their own household8.

The couple must have been fairly prosperous even in William’s early career since they were employing at least one servant (although possibly an apprentice) by 16669, and by 1670, at Flaggon Row, Deptford, lived in a larger-than-average five hearth house10. An 1880 photograph of some houses in this street has been identified as being contemporary with buildings of the mid to late 1600s and appears to be of the size they occupied. The three Bagwell households — Owen’s, William’s and John’s — as well as Alexander Sutherland (together with son William) were all in this street in 167011. The timbered construction suggests that they may have been built by shipyard carpenters. By the time of his death in 1697 William owned numerous items of silver — tankards, plate, candlesticks, etc.12 — commensurate with the then practise of silver gifts being given to master shipwrights. More noticeably, a watch and as an indication of his self-perceived social status, a sword and scabbard. William leaves his entire estate to his wife Elizabeth with allocations to unnamed first cousins and siblings’ children in the event of her re-marriage or death13. There is no reference to any offspring and no children’s baptisms have been found at St Nicholas or elsewhere.

Mrs Bagwell Although no marriage has yet been traced which would give her maiden name, William’s will of 169714 refers to “Elizabeth my well beloved wife”. One of his Trustees, described as “my kinsman”, is named Owen Sutherland and his name appears again in the 1702 will of Elizabeth Bagwell, Deptford where he is described as “my husband’s kinsman”. Clearly this must be the same person and thus links the two wills together.

Elizabeth also refers to her husband’s kinsman John Bagwell, and sister Margaret Bagwell. Individuals of these names along with William himself are recorded as being children of Owen and Alice Bagwell and baptised at St Nicholas, Deptford in 1646, 1638 and 1637 (William)15. She spreads her possessions out among numerous relatives and friends but again with no mention of offspring. A full list of beneficiaries, witnesses and trustees is below. Copies of both wills can be downloaded from The National Archives.

The apparent absence of a marriage record does not necessarily imply that William never married Elizabeth. Records for the 1600s are often patchy and their marriage could have taken place in the interregnum period i.e. to 1660 when recording was particularly bad. It has not been found possible for example to establish family structures of any depth for the many individuals named in the two wills.

It may also be necessary to treat the term “kinsman” on the wills with caution. There are a high number of discreet surnames described as “kinsman” on the two wills even allowing for changes of name following marriage. Given the close-knit nature of the Deptford shipbuilding community it may be that the term includes distant relatives or close friends.

Elizabeth Bagwell died in 1702 and was buried at St Nicholas, Deptford on 14th August. Her plot could not have been far from that of Pepys’ sister-in-law, Hester St Michael, who had been buried there in 1687. Elizabeth’s residence was given as Back Lane (as does her will) and her occupation or status as Gent. i.e. Gentlewoman. Those familiar with her past may not feel this description entirely appropriate. Back Lane’s location, roughly New King Street today, can be seen on this map of 1802.

Two other candidates for the wife of William have been put forward elsewhere and counter-arguments for these are detailed below.

John Bagwell* b.1646. William’s younger brother; he married Ann Brognane in 1668 at St Nicolas, Deptford. Three children were born to them over 1671-75. In 1694, ostensibly widowed and childless, John, then a mariner age 48, makes a will prior to going to sea (his mother’s will says he’s in the Indies). He leaves everything to “his kinsman” William Sutherland. Nothing to his still living mother, brother William, sister Margaret or any of his children or wife. This may be connected with the apparently bigamous marriage of “Anne Bagwell widdow … of Deptford” to a William Bailey in 1678 at Holy Trinity, Minories where many clandestine marriages took place. A court petition16 of 16 May 1681 reads “Anne Bagwell widow … to John Bagwell Shipwright” — and in a subsequent letter she’s described as “Anne Bagwell alias Bayley wife of William Bayley”. John is still alive and it appears she’s faking her widowhood.

Owen Bagwell, William’s father and foreman at Deptford Dockyard gets some illuminating mentions in The Secret History of His Majesty’s Ship-Yard at Deptford (1718)17.

William Sutherland b.1668 described as a kinsman in Elizabeth’s will, was a nephew of William and was so described in the introduction to his book The Ship Builders Assistant first published in 1711. It appears to have become a standard work being re-printed up until 184018. Frustratingly, although he and four siblings were baptised at St Nicholas, Deptford the relationship between his father Alexander and William Bagwell’s father Owen has not been discovered. He was apparently a close relative since William B’s apparently childless and widowed brother John leaves his entire estate to him.

William seems to have been a man of considerable talent. A National Archives document summary reads:

William Sutherland, Master Caulker, Sheerness. In 1705 he made a proposal for a method of delineating ships’ draughts, using the principles of Sir Isaac Newton and other mathematicians. Surveyor Furzer agreed that the method was good and recommended him to the Board for encouragement, … In 1710 he made a proposal regarding the planking of ships’ bottoms… In 1712 he made proposals for the more efficient use of hand pumps… In his leisure time over the past 30 years he has studied the works of mathematicians and Master Builders and has developed proposals for an entirely new way of building and equipping ships…19.

He died in 1740.

Owen Sutherland is named in both William and Elizabeth Bagwell’s wills as above. He was the younger brother of William and supplied timber from the New Forest to Portsmouth shipyard20.

Jos(eph) Allin a witness to William’s will. In 1694 he was 2nd assistant Master Shipwright at Portsmouth, then Deptford (1701), Sheerness (1704) & Woolwich back to Deptford in 1705 as Master Shipwright. In 1708 he had the Master Shipwrights House built there which still survives. He was dismissed from service in 1715 on corruption charges. Commended in the parish records of 1710 for having “raised the sum of fifty pounds and upwards” towards the founding of a model school (which was apparently spurned by the shipbuilding community)21; he died in 1716.

His son, also Joseph, became Master Shipwright, Portsmouth in 1726, went on to become Surveyor of the Navy and was knighted in 1747. Subsequently his mental health collapsed leading to a commission and inquiry of lunacy in 175822. He died the following year.

Finally, a fantasy reasoning:

  1. Had his wife not engaged with Samuel Pepys then William Bagwell would not have risen to Master Shipwright.

  2. Had William not have become a Master Shipwright then he would not have inspired his nephew William Sutherland to write his work on shipbuilding.

  3. Had William Sutherland not written his work then shipbuilding techniques would not have been of a quality to enhance us militarily up to and beyond the Napoleonic Wars.

  4. Had we not ruled the waves then the British Empire would not have come about.

Should an overdue epitaph for Elizabeth Bagwell be “Mother of the Navy” perhaps? (With apologies to Arthur Bryant.)

Other suggested candidates for Mrs Bagwell

Anne. Richard Endsor’s book — The Restoration Warship — advances the case that Mrs Bagwell was named Anne and cites some pay ticket dispute papers in which she’s named. Her court petition23 of 16 May 1681 reads “Anne Bagwell widow … to John Bagwell Shipwright” — not William — and in a subsequent letter she’s described as “Anne Bagwell alias Bayley wife of William Bayley” which leads back to the 1678 marriage referred to above. John Bagwell is not dead as we know although why he apparently became estranged from Anne and possibly his original family is unknown. Clearly however Anne was never William Bagwell’s wife.

Judith. A mooted but unlikely candidate is the Judeath (sic) Campion, cited in Richard Ollard’s Pepys’ biography, who marries a Will (sic) Bagwell at St Botolph’s Bishopsgate in June 1660. In 1670 however a Judith (sic) Bagwell, widow of William, is contesting ownership of her late husband’s estate in Lincolnshire24. Given the relative rarity of the names — Judith and Bagwell — it seems reasonable to assume that these are the same people who married in London ten years earlier and that this deceased William is not our eponymous carpenter and shipwright.


  1. Deptford Hearth Tax return of 1670 (currently in compilation at Greenwich Heritage centre)
  2. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/321/11, 15, 17, 19&c.
  3. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/378 f424
  4. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/493/50, 53, 55&c.
  5. Google Books: A New List of all the ships and vessels of Her Majesties Royal Navy (1710)
  6. Pepys’ Diary 23 June 1666
  7. Unpublished counts of parish register entries and hearth tax returns by the author
  8. Pepys’ Diary 13 June 1666
  9. Pepys’ Diary 13 June 1666
  10. Deptford Hearth Tax return of 1670 (currently in compilation at Greenwich Heritage centre)
  11. Deptford Hearth Tax return of 1670 (currently in compilation at Greenwich Heritage centre)
  12. National Archives: PROB 11/466
  13. National Archives: PROB 11/443
  14. National Archives: PROB 11/443
  15. Two other children — Owen 1646 (a twin to John) and Owine 1658 — died in infancy, a third, Alice 1651 marries in 1677 but no trace after that. Source: Parish Registers of St Nicholas, Deptford, 1563-1796 (Online copies of the original entries can be viewed at Ancestry.co.uk)
  16. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/3540 part 2 Affidavits
  17. Google Books: The Secret History of His Majesty’s Ship-Yard at Deptford (1718)
  18. www.bruzelius.info/Nautica/Biography/Sutherland,_William.html
  19. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/842/49
  20. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/857/79
  21. Dunkin, The History of Kent, Deptford p.309, 310
  22. National Archives: Chancery: Commission and Inquisition: C211/1/A37
  23. National Archives, Navy Board records: ADM 106/3540 part 2 Affidavits
  24. National Archives: Court of Chancery: Six Clerks Office: C6/195/10


First Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

John, what a pleasure to read: a marvelous piece of research and convincing argument -- shedding light on what, until now, was in the shadows, as the best scholarship does! Kudos for your persistence and resourcefulness: a model of its kind!

Second Reading

Gillian Bagwell  •  Link

This is great, John. Using your information (and listing you as the source), I've just set up a family tree for William Bagwell and family on Ancestry.com. Have actually found baptism records for William (b. 1637) and Margaret (b. 1638) and found another sister Alice, baptized 16 April 1651 and brother Owen, baptized 12 March 1658. No doubt more info will turn up!

Cliff  •  Link

Fascinating reading John - and convincing!

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