Friday, 23 October 2015

Simon Eyre 1588-1658, Lavenham, Suffolk (Week 43) Theme: "Oops!"

The "oops!" to match this week's theme is my having dropped the ball on my 6th great grandmother who was identified in my records for years simply as "Sarah", wife of Major Edward Winslow. While recently browsing through the one big family tree on, I noticed that Sarah was identified with the surname "Clark". A bit of investigation convinced me that I had been missing out on a whole branch of my family tree. Oops!

Quickly being able to get back three (and more) generations from Sarah Clark led me to my 9th great grandfather Simon Eyre who will be this week's focus. (As with so many surnames in these times, the variations in spelling of Eyre are numerous including Ayer, Eyres, Eir, Eire.)

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Lavenham, Suffolk
Church completed about 1525
Simon was baptised 21 June 1588 in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham, Suffolk, England, one of the most charming unspoiled villages imaginable. His parents had been married in this church on 7 February 1582/83. No doubt many family members were buried in the cemetery here.

I first visited Lavenham twenty years ago while on honeymoon with my second husband, Graham. He had emigrated from Suffolk to Canada several decades earlier, but his siblings had all remained in England, primarily in Suffolk. They insisted that we visit Lavenham to experience its 15th century authenticity with crooked half-timbered medieval buildings - and I fell victim to its charm, not knowing until this week that I had ancestors originating there. (Another "oops!")

The author at Lavenham, Suffolk 1994
Photo courtesy Graham Barnard
Simon married Dorothy Paine in the church at Lavenham in 1616 and it seems that both the Paine and Eyre families were well established in that community. Lavenham had prospered greatly during the 15th and 16th centuries on the basis of its wool and was then one of the wealthiest towns in England. The Guildhall of the wool guild was built in 1529 and continues to stand in the centre of the town square. (The charming ambiance of the town has resulted in its use in several films including "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".)

The Church was completed in about 1525 with the tallest village church tower in England at 121 feet. During our 1994 visit, Graham climbed the tower to take advantage of the views of the surrounding countryside.

View of Lavenham and surrounding area from Church tower
Photo courtesy Graham Barnard
However, by the time that Simon and Dorothy were married, cheaper European cloth imports had caused a sudden and drastic decline in the fortunes of the town. It is said that the resulting poverty is the reason for so many of the buildings remaining unspoiled - no one could afford to modify or replace them with something more up-to-date.

Crooked descendants of Simon and Dorothy at Lavenham's Crooked Gallery:
My sister Sandy and mother Elinor during 1998 road trip
The crooked buildings in the town are thought to have inspired the poem
"There was a Crooked Man"

Simon and Dorothy started their family in Lavenham, but then moved a few miles away to Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Simon was a surgeon and physician, and, with the decline in population and wealth in Lavenham, he probably moved to the bigger centre for economic reasons.

At Lavenham, 1994
Photo courtesy Graham Barnard

It seems that the Eyre family was caught up in the religious discontent so prevalent at the time in England (and in Suffolk in particular). This might explain the inability to find baptisms for any of their children at Bury St Edmunds in the established church. On 13 April 1635, "Simon Eire, gentleman, and Dorothy his wife" sold 2 houses, a stable, 2 gardens and an orchard at Bury St Edmunds in preparation for their departure from London for New England two days later aboard the Increase. Included on the passenger list were Symon Ayres, surgeon, aged 48, wife Dorothy aged 38, Marie aged 15, Thomas aged 13, Symon aged 11, Rebecca (my 8th great grandmother) aged 9, Christian aged 7, Anna aged 5, Benjamin aged 3 and Sara aged 2 months. (Coincidentally, other of my ancestors were also passengers on that same voyage - Samuel Morse and his family from the Redgrave and Hinderclay areas of Suffolk.)

They lived first at Watertown, just out of Boston, where Simon became a freeman of the town on 17 April 1637. In order to become a freeman, he would have joined the Puritan church there. Clearly, he was a respected man who was often named to act as deputy to the General Court, Commissioner to end small causes (probably a sort of Small Claims Court), Selectman on council from 1636-1643 and on the committee to lay out farms when it was "ordered that Simon Eire shall write a transcript of the lands in a book and give it to the Court."

He became a large land owner with grants of land in Watertown 1636-1638. The 1644 Inventories show him possessed of some 10 parcels of land, one as large as 1900 acres. On 22 August 1646 he bought a barn and garden in Boston and soon moved his family to Boston, where he was admitted to the Boston church early in 1647.

It was in the performance of his public duties that Simon was thought to have had his own little "oops!" He was the Clerk for writs for Watertown in the 1640's but, when he left for Boston, his successor John Sherman prefaced his 1648 report by saying that "What was taken before was by Mr. Eirs and uncertain in the transmitting - yet in this book transcribed according to the order of the Court so many as came to hand 1648. The year by Mr. Eires as I supposed began the first of March, but from 1648 the 25th of March." (This seems to relate to the confusing period of time when the Gregorian Calendar was replacing the Julian Calendar at different times in different places. The Julian Calendar started the new year in March rather than 1 January as it does now, so perhaps Simon can be permitted a bit of latitude and forgiveness for how he expressed his dates. On the other hand, perhaps the problem was really with his handwriting if it was as notoriously bad as that of some doctors!)

After wife Dorothy's death in 1650, Simon married a woman named Martha (Hubbard) Whittington who is mentioned in his will dated 5 July 1658. He could have had a premonition of death, since he died on 10 November 1658 in Boston, not long after writing his will. He left an estate valued at almost 600 pounds, a large estate for the time. Over half of the value was in his real estate - house and garden in Boston and houses and lands in Watertown. He bequeathed books, manuscripts, mortars, scales and weights, stills, pots and glasses to one son. His inventory included books valued at 30 pounds and 5 Dutch pictures. Compared to many immigrants, Simon Eyre had clearly led quite a comfortable life.


  • website for Simon Eyre accessed 15 October 2015
  •, "Suffolk, England, Extracted Parish Records"; "Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records 1620-1688"; "New England, The Great Migration and the Great Migration Begins"; "England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975"; "U.S. and Canada Passenger Lists Index 1500's -1900's"
  • Wikipedia articles on Lavenham and on Church of St Peter and St Paul
  • Early Boston cemeteries article located at this link
  • Bond, Henry, M.D., "Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, Volume II"; Boston: Little, Brown & Company 1855, page 756

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