Kings Lynn: Philip Case, four times mayor of Lynn

My research into the Cases of Norfolk kept leading me to Philip Case, “four times mayor of Lynn”. I also knew that there was a memorial marble stone in the floor of St Nicholas’ Chapel at Kings Lynn. I had to see it, and learn more.

Customs House, Kings Lynn

Customs House, Kings Lynn

Lynn (originally known as Bishops Lynn, then Kings Lynn as the result of some obscure wranglings for control between state and church in the sixteenth century), was a prosperous port for several hundred years. At the mouth of the Great Ouse, it was a major trading point for English farm produce from much of the country when rivers and canals were the main means of transport. The city was a member of the Hanseatic League, trading with northern European ports as far away as Danzig (Gdansk) in Poland. One of the more interesting buildings is the old Customs House, built in 1683. Over the main entrance is a statue of King Charles II. In front is a statue of Captain George Vancouver, a local sailor and contemporary of Captain James Cook.Vancouverexplored and charted the west coast of Canada, claimingBritish Columbia for the King. The main city and island is named after him.

I can’t do better than to quote the summary of Philip Case’s career from the Norfolk Records Office, where it covers a collection of his papers, and in particular his cashbooks.

Philip Case (1712-1792) was the most successful attorney in King’s Lynn in the eighteenth century. The son of a farmer at Fransham, he set up his practice on completion of his articles in 1733, became a freeman of King’s Lynn by the end of the year, was elevated to the council on the same day, and married into a local gentry family in the following year. His outstanding abilities soon brought him a large clientele. While still in his twenties he was acting for the second viscount Townshend and Sir John Turner of Warham, and was deputy clerk of the peace. By mid-career he was acting as ‘man of business’ to many of the landed families of north-west Norfolk, not only as an attorney but often as land agent and steward of their manors – being described as ‘the greatest and cleverest court keeper in England’ in 1768. He became comptroller of customs at King’s Lynn in 1754, and clerk of the peace in 1760.

Throughout his life he purchased property, eventually accumulating estates at Stradsett, Crimplesham and Fincham, Gayton Thorpe and East Walton, Grimston, and Gaywood, Mintlyn and Bawsey. Although he had manor houses at Stradsett and Gaywood, he continued to live at King’s Lynn, where he was mayor in 1745, 1764, 1777, and 1786. He had three daughters – Pleasance and Hester who married Thomas Bagge and Samuel Browne, both prominent Lynn merchants, and Sarah, the only one to survive him, who married Anthony Hamond of Westacre. He died worth approximately £100,000 in land and investments.

The “Comptroller of Customs” at a place like Kings Lynn was clearly a powerful position, and one that would see a lot of money changing hands. Philip Case knew where the money was, and it wasn’t in the family business of farming.

I have since discovered an article published in Norfolk Archaeology in 2000, titled Building a Fortune: Philip Case, Attorney, 1712 – 1792. The author has examined Philip Case’s correspondence, cashbooks and other documents, and while intimating that he was not above “borrowing his clients’ money for a while not necessarily with their knowledge”, he concluded (quoting a description of a fictional lawyer) that most of Philip’s wealth came because:

“he was very rich, the result of prudence and economy, not that he was stingy, but his income outstripped his expenditure, and money, like snow, rolls up amazing fast.”
(quoted(from RS Surtees; Handley Cross 1854)

Incidentally, in another record, in 1745 he is listed as having donated thirty pounds to help raise a force to fight the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland: a “fund for the Preservation of the King’s Person”.

A doorway in St Nicholas Chapel, Kings Lynn, 2009

A doorway in St Nicholas Chapel, Kings Lynn, 2009

A guidebook told me that St Nicholas Chapel was normally locked, but the key could be obtained from the nearly fisheries museum. The manager of the museum kindly escorted me to the chapel to point out which door the key would open. He told me to look on the floor near the font as I walked in, as I would see the grave of Robinson Crusoe. I said nothing, but must have looked a bit sceptical. “Most people think I’m telling them a yarn” he said, “obviously he’s a fictional character: but the memorial is there to see.” Apparently the author, Daniel Defoe, had a government job which took him regularly toLynn, and it’s generally argued that he noticed the stone memorial plaque and poached the name for his castaway character. The novel actually pre-dates the gravestone by about 50 years, but the facts should never get in the way of a good story – and anyway, Defoe may well have known the family before the memorial stone was laid.

Philip Case's memorial in St Nicholas' Chapel, Kings Lynn

Philip Case's memorial in St Nicholas' Chapel, Kings Lynn

But a stone in the opposite corner of the chapel was what I had come to see, though I had examined every single part of the building before I found it. Although cracked, and with a gratuitous ship’s anchor parked across one corner of it, it reads:

” Sacred to the memory of
Philip Case Esquire,
four times mayor of this town,
who departed this life on XI April
in the eighty first year of his life.”

Another plaque on the wall commemorated Samuel Browne – twice mayor of Kings Lynn,  and perhaps even wealthier and more influential than Philip Case or the Bagge family, who died in 1784, and his wife Hester daughter of Philip Case, who died in 1768, aged 29.

My father always believed a family tradition that the eldest son of the family was called Thomas. There was certainly a Thomas in every generation, but not always the eldest. In fact, the Case men seem to have been almost universally Thomas, Edward or Philip, at least in the eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth. Many of those who stayed on the land tended to marry local girls, who came from quite a small selection of middle class families, so the same surnames have cropped up quite often. On top of this, the general habit of reusing the name of a child who died in infancy – sometimes just a year later – has made it quite a challenge to get all these people in the right order. Fortunately Norfolk genealogy records seem to be well documented and easily available, and enough of the Case family seem to have come into prominence to provide more evidence than is usual for family tree researchers.

Anyway, it’s clear that this particular Philip Case was one of the most prominent figures in Kings Lynn for much of the eighteenth century.

Stradsett Hall in 2009 (from brochure)

Stradsett Hall in 2009 (from brochure)

Returning the key to the museum, I explained my interest, and my connection with Philip Case, whose daughter married Thomas Bagge. The museum manager was interested, and told me that the Bagge family still lives at Stradsett Hall, and the present Sir Jeremy Bagge, seventh baronet, was a patron of the museum. Stradsett Hall, the one-time home of Philip Case and subsequently his daughter Pleasance, is a first class country house now frequently used for garden shows, antique fairs and so on.

In a different life it could have been ours to inherit, but not in this one! So it was time to leave the Cases of Fransham and Lynn, and return to the Longley side of the family. The next destination would be Conisholme on the Lincolnshire marshes, and I had booked an overnight room in Louth.


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