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George & Nicholas Speringe - the London Goldsmiths (c1543-1611)

Please read this account in conjunction with the draft family tree on Ancestry and Rootsweb. Please also be aware that the earlier connections are tentative and should not be taken as confirmed fact until there is clear documentary evidence. For example, currently the link between the London Spering's and the early Limerick Spierin's needs to be strengthened.

Sources of Information

So now we jump back to London in the late 1500's. And here, we have lots of documentation which ultimately allows us to trace the family to Ireland. The Visitation of London in 1633 shows the Coat of Arms and outlines the family tree of George Speringe, goldsmith (referred to as George I for simplicity, as he had a son George and a grandson George).[1] It is Rebecca Carter, the wife of his son, George II, that links this family with Ireland - her will was proved in 1680 in the Prerogative Court in Dublin. None of the other families mentioned in the sketch pedigree to the right have Coats of Arms.[2]

Further investigation of this annotated pedigree was conducted by the Chief Herald in 2011 and his report (with my footnotes) can be read here. In short, a comprehensive search of a variety of genealogical and heraldic sources failed to identify any further information over and above what is already summarised here.

We know from various wills (see below) that George I had several other children, and a brother Nicholas, who was also a goldsmith.[3],[4] These wills are useful in identifying the people in the tree and provide crude dates for births, marriages, etc.[5] This information was then supplemented with more specific data from various other sources including the International Genealogical Index (IGI) via the LDS familysearch website, Boyd's Marriage Index and Index of Inhabitants of London (via, and scanned versions of the original parish registers (from Only brief tree outlines are included here but more comprehensive information is included in the trees which have been published on Ancestry and Rootsweb..

Family Tree of George Spering (from the Visitation of London 1633)

This Visitation of London was taken in the years 1633 through 1635 by Sir Henry St. George, herald of Richmond and deputy to Sir Richard St. George, Clarencieux King of Arms. Heralds conducted visitations to record the use of arms, including the pedigrees of the families using them in order to prove their right to bear the arms by showing their connections back to the original bearers.


As regards their profession, Nicholas senior became a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in 1564 and took on his brother George as an apprentice in 1568 (he would have been about 10 years old). Six years later (1574), George was apparently granted the freedom of the Merchant Adventurers in Flanders. He became a freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1577 after 9 years of apprenticeship.[6] See here for a history of the Guilds of the City of London.

There is evidence that Nicholas was importing goods through London as early as 1567, the year of his first marriage. The London Port Books record that he imported goods from Antwerp on a regular basis between 1567-1568.[7] Some of the items suggest he may have been a general merchant as well as a goldsmith (why else would he have bought so many petticoats?).

George worked closely with John Stowe, the most famous chronicler of London prior to the fire of 1666, and in fact was the overseer of his will (1603). George helped Stow collect levies for raising an army under Queen Elizabeth in 1585. His burial record describes him as the "Aldeman's Deputie" and he was apparently Deputy of Limestreet Ward. It may be that it was George who was granted the Coat of Arms but precisely why has yet to be elucidatedHe was also a Governor at the Bridewell Hospital to which he donated a silver communion plate and chalice.[8]

15th century engraving of the goldsmith, and patron saint of goldsmiths, Saint Eligius in his workshop.

15th century engraving of the goldsmith Saint Eligius (patron saint of goldsmiths) in his workshop.


The goldsmiths worked with both silver and gold to produce jewellery as well as metalwork like the gold jug and plate above

The Goldsmiths' Company has been responsible for the testing of the quality of gold and silver since the 1300's (and for the quality of platinum since 1975 and palladium since 2010)

Goldsmith's Hall

The first Royal Charter granted to the Goldsmiths' Company was in 1327 by Edward III. The first Goldsmiths' Hall was purchased in 1339. It was a merchant's house in Foster Lane, just north of the goldsmithing district in Cheapside. The second hall (pictured here) was built on the same site in 1634-1636, but was gutted in 1666 by the Great Fire. It was renovated in 1669. The third hall was built in 1829-1835 (again on the same site) and remains standing to this day.

Monument to John Stow in the church of St Andrews Undershaft

The Coat of Arms of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths 

In the mid-1500s, Antwerp was the most important port and the richest city in Western EuropeIt was situated in Flanders (southern Netherlands) which belonged to Phillip II of Spain.

Many foreign merchants were resident in the city. Hundreds of ships would pass in a day, and 2,000 carts entered the city each week. Antwerp experienced three economic booms during its golden age: The first based on the pepper market, a second launched by American silver coming from Seville (ending with the bankruptcy of Spain in 1557), and a third boom, from 1559, based on the textiles industry. 

Antwerp also became the sugar capital of Europe, importing product from Portuguese and Spanish plantations. The city attracted Italian and German sugar refiners by 1550, and shipped their refined product to Germany, especially Cologne. Moneylenders and financiers did a large business loaning money to the English government in the 1544-1574 period. London bankers were too small to operate on that scale, and Antwerp had a highly efficient bourse that itself attracted rich bankers from around Europe.

The Reformation resulted in consecutive but overlapping waves of religious reform: a Lutheran, followed by a militant Anabaptist, then a Mennonite, and finally a Calvinistic movement. Phillip II suppressed this latter movement and so started the Dutch-Spanish Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) which culminated in Dutch Independence. Also during this time, the first of several Anglo-Spanish Wars (1585-1604) was sparked by England's support for Dutch resistance against Spain.

When the Eighty Years' War broke out, commercial trading between Antwerp and the Spanish port of Bilbao collapsed and became impossible. After 1570 the city's banking business declined; England ended its borrowing in Antwerp in 1574.

On 4 November 1576, Spanish soldiers plundered the city in lieu of wages (the Sack of Antwerp, pictured above). During this Spanish Fury 6,000 citizens were massacred, 800 houses were burnt down, and over 2 million sterling of damage was done. Furthermore, it brought about the ruin of the Antwerp Cloth Market. English traders, not wishing to risk visiting a town that now resembled a war zone, sought out new commercial links. By 1582, all English trade to Antwerp had ceased.

On August 17, 1585, Antwerp finally fell to the Spanish forces and as part of the terms of surrender its Protestant citizens were given two years to settle their affairs before quitting the city. This ended the Eighty Years' War for the Southern Netherlands, but the rebels in the Northern Netherlands fought on. The Dutch (as they later became known) managed to reclaim enough of Spanish-controlled Flanders to close off the river Scheldt, effectively cutting Antwerp off from its trade routes and crippling its economy which never recovered. Many Antverpian merchants emigrated north to Amsterdam which was rapidly transformed into "a new Antwerp" and one of the world's most important ports.


The Families of George & Nicholas Spering

The birthdates of Nicholas (c.1543) and George (c.1558) have been estimated from the birth dates of their children and their year of entry into the Company of Goldsmiths.

Nicholas was married 3 times and had 3 children (William, Hary, and Anne). His third wife had a 3 month old baby when he married her. Nothing is known of the fate of Nicholas' male children but they don't appear in the burial registers of St Andrew Undershaft so they may have survived childhood.

So far it has not been possible to find a will for Nicholas (who died in 1608) which is a pity as this could answer a lot of these questions.

However, it would appear that Nicholas raised his stepson, Robert Yeomans, as a goldsmith. When Nicholas died, the lease of his residence at 136 Leadenhall Street (see below) appears to have passed to Robert who in turn passed it to his wife (Susan Yeomans) in 1625. It remained in her possession until her death in 1641 when it passed to her eldest son Lawrence who disposed of it in 1647 by which time the family were in Essex. A full account of this is included here.

Family Tree of Nicholas Sperynge (brother of George)

George I married Elizabeth Hanbury (Handberry) in 1580 and they had 13 children, 3 of whom died in childhood (Hanbury, Helen, & George - not shown here).

All of them were baptised in the church of St Andrews Undershaft (which is about 500 metres from the present day building know as "The Gherkin" on St Mary Axe).

George's eldest son (Nycolas) was also a goldsmith (made free by patrimony in 1604) and was involved in military training of the Artillery Company, becoming their first Auntient (or Ensign-Bearer). He was also involved in the organisation of the Company of Goldsmith's contribution to the Plantation of Ulster. However he died relatively young (in 1619, aged 36) and from his Will, it appears he was unmarried and had no family.

Nothing is known of the fate of George's son, Henry, but it is suspected he died in childhood because he is not mentioned in his father's Will of 1611, nor his elder brother Nicholas' will of 1619.

William is mentioned in the 1619 Will (and again in the Visitation of 1633) but is deceased by the time of his mother Elizabeth's Will of 1641. Furthermore, a 1635 deed of sale indicates that William died at some point between 1627 and 1635. There is nothing to suggest he ever married.

The only son who is known to have married is the youngest son George. He married Rebecca Carter in 1633 and is discussed further below.

Expanded Family Tree of George Sperynge


St Andrew Undershaft got its name from the maypole that was erected outside its south door each year for May Day celebrations. The maypole was higher than the church tower (hence the name "under shaft"). Shaft Alley was where they used to store the maypole when not in use (suspended by large iron hooks over the doors and under the eves of the cottages there). [12]

Maypole in The Strand

The brothers George & Nicholas lived in "St Peter's and St Andrew's paroches" in "Lyme Streete warde" according to the London Subsidy Rolls of 1582, 1599 and 1600.[9],[10],[11] This is confirmed by George's 1611 Will in which he leaves his "dwellinge house and foure small tenements or cottages in Shafte Alley" to his youngest son, George II. Shaft Alley (aka Sharp's Alley or Shaft Court) was situated on the north side of Leadenhall Street (at number 133). 

The Spering's made and renewed leases in this area from 1577 up to 1644. According to the records of the Rochester Bridge TrustNicholas leased property in Leadenhall Street (number 136) from 1577, and probably before that too. George leased property from 1590 (number 137) and 1594 (numbers 134 & 135). So the brothers and their families lived side by side. 

A full account of their residences in Leadenhall street can be read here.

Map showing Leadenhall Street with the maypole (shaft) in front of the church 
of St Andrews Undershaft where all of the Spering children were baptized.

Properties, Messuages & Tenements

It is clear from George's 1611 Will that he owned extensive property, including tenements in Stepney (that he left to his oldest son Nicholas), tenements in the "parish" of St Andrew Undershaft (to William), and his own home and several tenements, situated in Shaft Alley (to George II). How did this land pass through the family?

1619 -  Will of Nicholas II - property in Stepney left to his brother William

1635 - lease - property in Stepney sold to Thomas Greene, Innkeeper, and his wife Mary

1641 -  Will of Elizabeth - properties left to Goerge, sole surviving son

1646 - birth of George III

1657 -  Will of George II

1665 - plague kills 20% of London's population [13]

1666 - Fire of London. The Great Fire of London in 1666 stopped right on their doorstep! The records of the Rochester Bridge Trust indicate that rents were still being collected after 1666 from the properties on Leadenhall Street and Shaft Alley so the houses here probably escaped the fire. Or maybe they weren't quite so lucky? Did they lose anything in the fire?

1680 - will of Rebecca Spierin, Dublin 

View George Speringe (1558-1611) - land bequeathed in will in a larger map

George II (1601-1657) was the youngest of 13 children, with a 20-year gap between him and his eldest sibling. His father had died when he was 9 years old so he would have been raised by his older brother's and sisters. 

We have no information about what his older brother William did for a living, but his eldest brother Nicholas (1583-1619) was a Goldsmith (like their father), as described above. George II does not appear to have followed in their footsteps. In the Visitation of 1633 he is described as a Gentleman, implying that he was a noble man of independent means who did not need to work. It is possible that he derived his wealth from the many properties that were in the family's possession.

Also in 1633, at the age of 32, George II married Rebecca Carter. They had at least 4 children - Elizabeth, Rebecca, Mary & George III. Elizabeth was baptised in St Giles Cripplegate; the next two in St Andrew Undershaft; and George III in St Botolph Bishopsgate (which was only about 300-400 metres from the church of St Andrew Undershaft).

Far less is known about these children (in terms of marriage and burial records) compared to the previous generation. However, (if they survived) they were all still teenagers when George II died in 1657, leaving everything to his wife in his brief Will.[15] She died 23 years later and almost 500 miles away. And therein lies one of the greatest mysteries of this family - what happened to them between George II's burial in1657 and Rebecca's death in Ireland in 1680?

Family Tree of George Spering & Rebecca Carter

Rebecca's 'will' [16] was destroyed in the fire that swept through the Four Courts in Dublin at the start of the Civil War in 1922, so knowledge of its existence depends entirely on the notes made prior to this by Sir William Betham, Ulster King of Arms (1820-1853). According to Betham's notes (see below), her 'will' was proved in the Prerogative Court in Dublin indicating that she owned land of considerable value in at least two dioceses.[17] She died intestate and administration of her estate was granted to a John Miller Esquire for the use of Elizabeth Baynham, daughter and next heir. This would imply that the other children were dead by 1680, otherwise (I assume) her estate would have been split equally between them.

George and Rebecca's first daughter Elizabeth married Isaac Baynham in May 1679 but it did not last long - he died 6 months later in November and is buried in St Andrew Undershaft. It was a very late marriage and she was about 45 years old at the time. Furthermore, while she was getting married in London, her mother was in Ireland - why were the family separated?

On her death in 1680, Rebecca would have been aged somewhere between 65 and 80 years old. So ... how did she get over to Ireland? If her children (bar Elizabeth) were dead, did George III have any family before he died? If not, how did the Spering name get into Ireland?

The Will of Elizabeth Baynham was written 30 years later in December 1710 in London. She had kept in close touch with the Pennington's (in-laws from the marriage of her aunt Alice to John Pennington in 1598) and one of them was Executrix of her will (Mary Bramston, nee Pennington). However, nowhere is there any mention of land in Ireland. Did she dispose of it some time before this? or did she inherit any land at all? And why is there no mention of her putative nephews Matthew and Luke Spierin in Limerick?

These and other questions remain unanswered. While further research is possible, for now we must turn our attention to the next section, and the Early Limerick Spearin's. 

Notes of Sir William Betham with my interpretive transcription:

[1] The visitation of London, anno Domini 1633, 1634, and 1635. Made by Sr. Henry St. George, kt., Richmond herald, and deputy and marshal to Sr. Richard St. George, kt., Clarencieux king of armes (1880)

also at

[2] There are no fixed criteria of eligibility for a grant of arms, but such things as awards or honours from the Crown, civil or military commissions, university degrees, professional qualifications, public and charitable services, and eminence or good standing in national or local life, are taken into account. 

[4] Will of Alice Hanberie or Hanburie, Widow of Saint Andrews Undershaft, City of London, 22 March 1596 at

[5] Need to chase the other family members mentioned in the wills - Granngesdon, Bluett, Luras ...

[6] Letter from Goldsmith Hall Librarian dated 19 Nov 1998.

[8] From Bridewell Hospital; palace, prison, schools: from the death of Elizabeth to modern times. Edward Geoffrey O'Donoghue, Lane1929. In 1605, it states George Speringe (Liz Hanbury's husband) donated a golden plate to Bridewell hospital with his coat of arms on it. When the fire of London occurred, a man by the name of Knowling was hired to cover graves with dirt and sand as the fire had "burned the graves out of the ground". No one could pay him and he seized the George Speringe golden plate as payment and erased the coat of arms.


[12] However following a riot by apprentices in 1517 (sparked by dissatisfaction at the influx of foreigners) the maypole remained under the eves in Shaft Alley until 1549 when it was cut up into pieces for fire wood following an incendiary sermon by the curate of St Catherine Cree who called it an idolatrous icon.

From Old and New London: Volume 2 by Walter Thornbury 1878 at //

Perhaps of all the old churches of London there is scarcely one so interesting as St. Andrew Undershaft, Leadenhall Street, nearly opposite the site of the old East India House, the very name itself suggesting some curious and almost forgotten tradition. Stow is peculiarly interesting about this church, which he says derived its singular name from "a high or long shaft or Maypole higher than the church steeple" (hence under shaft), which used, early in the morning of May Day, the great spring festival of merry England, to be set up and hung with flowers opposite the south door of St. Andrew's.

The venerable St. Andrew's Maypole was never raised after that fatal "Evil May Day," in the reign of Henry VIII., which we have mentioned in our chapter on Cheapside. It remained dry-rotting on its friendly hooks in Shaft Alley till the third year of Edward VI., when the Reforming preachers, growing unusually hot and zealous in the sunshine of royal favour, and, as a natural consequence, considerably intolerant, one Sir Stephen, a curate of the neighbouring St. Katherine's Christ Church, Leadenhall Street, preached against the good old Maypole, and called it an "Idol," advising all men to alter the Popish names of churches and the names of the days of the week, to eat fish any day but Friday and Saturday, and to keep Lent any time but between Shrovetide and Easter. The same eccentric reformer used to preach out of a high elm-tree in his churchyard, and sing high mass in English from a tomb, far from the altar. The sermon denouncing the Maypole was preached at Paul's Cross, when Stow himself was present; and that same afternoon the good old historian says he saw the Shaft Alley people, "after they had dined, to make themselves strong, gathered more help, and with great labour, raising the shaft from the hooks whereon it had rested two-and-thirty years, they sawed it in pieces, every man taking for his share so much as had lain over his door and stall, the length of his house." Thus was the "idol" mangled and burned. Not long after there was a Romish riot in Essex, and the bailiff of Romford was hung just by the well at Aldgate, on the pavement in front of Stow's own house. While on the ladder this poor perplexed bailiff said he did not know why he was to be hung, unless it was for telling Sir Stephen (the enemy of the Maypole) that there was heavy news in the country, and many men were up in Essex. After this man's death Sir Stephen stole out of London, to avoid popular reproach, and was never afterwards heard of by good old Stow. And this is the whole story of St. Andrew's Maypole and the foolish curate of Catherine Cree.

[13] The extent of the Fire of London 1666 is at London Spering google map is at

[14] Although his older brother William appeared in the Visitation of 1633, he may have been dead by that time - why else would George's name appear in the Visitation and not his elder brother's? This is a question for the Chief Herald.

[16] In fact it was a grant from the Dublin Prerogative Court- a grant is a document stating that the court has 'granted' permission for the deceased's estate to be dealt with by a named person or persons. If a will exists then the grant is a 'grant of probate' issued to the executors named in the will. If no will exists then the grant is a 'grant of administration' issued to an applicant (usually a relative of the deceased) to administer and distribute the deceased's assets according to the prescribed formula as set down by law. From

[17] If the deceased person had property valued over £5 in a second diocese then the will had to be proved in the Prerogative court rather than the more local Consistorial or Diocesan Court. This court was the supreme court in ecclesiastical and testamentary affairs in Ireland and was under the Jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Armagh. From 1644 the Archbishop was empowered to appoint a judge to act on his behalf. The court did not have a permanent location, and records were not necessarily kept in one place, this led to the mislaying and loss of documents. In 1816 the Court was allocated a permanent building at the Kings Inns, Dublin. From

[18] the 1718 Will was actually written on 22 Jan 1719 (corrected to the Gregorian Calendar) and proved on 2 April 1719, just over 2 months later. The 1726 Will was actually written on 3 Jan 1727 (corrected to the  Gregorian Calendar) and proved 24 July 1728, 18 months later.

[19] Reports from the commissioners, appointed by His Majesty to execute the measures recorded in an address of the House of Commons, respecting the public records of Ireland: with supplements and appendixes. Vol 3 (1821-25). Accessed in the British Library (Sep 2010).

[20] Extracted in The Cromwellian Settlement of the County of Limerick by James Grene Barry. From

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1485 The War of the Roses ends at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry Vll crowned king.
1497 John Cabot sails from Bristol aboard the 'Matthew' and discovers North America
1509 - 1547 Henry Vlll succeeds to the throne
1513 English defeat the Scots at the Battle of Flodden
1534 Henry VIII forms the 'Church of England'. Henry is confirmed as 'Supreme Head of the Church of England 'following a parliamentary Act of Supremacy
1536 Act of Union joins England and Wales
1536 - 39 Destruction or closure of 560 monasteries and religious houses
1542 Mary, Queen of Scots lays claim to the English throne
1558 Elizabeth I begins her 45 year reign
1570 Sir Francis Drake sets sail for his first voyage to the West Indies
1587 Queen Elizabeth I executes Mary, Queen of Scots
1588 The English defeat the Spanish Armada
1591 First performance of a play by William Shakespeare
1600 First British involvement in the Indian continent - East India Company formed.
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The Stuarts had ruled Scotland since 1371, but James VI of scottish flag Scotland was the first Stuart king of England flag England.
1603 James VI of scottish flag Scotland becomes James I of England flag England uniting the two kingdoms
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1652 Tea arrives in Britain Union Flag
1653 Cromwell proclaimed Lord Protector
1660 Restoration of the Monarchy under King Charles II
1664-1665 The Great Plague breaks out and up to 100,000 people die in London
1666 Great Fire of London
1689 English Bill of rights 1689
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1692 William III massacres the Jacobites at Glencoe
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In 1714 the British throne passed to a german flag German family, the Hanoverians.
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1757 First canal in Britain is completed
1776 America declares independence from Britain


Industrial Revolution Begins
1783 Steam powered cotton mill invented by Sir Richard Arkwright
1788 First convict ships are sent to Australia


Edward Jenner invented a vaccination against small pox
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The first census. Population of Britain 8 million
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 Richard Trevithick built the first steam locomotive
1805 Lord Nelson defeats Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar
1807 Abolition of Slave Trade
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1825 World's first railway opens between Stockton and Darlington


Robert Peel set up the Metropolitan Police force


The Poor Law set up workhouses, where people without homes or jobs could live in return for doing unpaid work.

Timelines from Project Britain and used with permission.

© Copyright 2011 Mandy Barrow

Maurice Gleeson
Apr 2012

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Last update: Feb 2012

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