Thomas Toft was born around 1585 in Norwich, Norfolk, England to father John Toft 1554-1628.
Thomas traded as a merchant grocer of St Clements.
Thomas Toft chose to protest against the harsh traditions of the Anglican Church of England.
In the late 17th century the Non-conformist movement rose to prominence in Norwich.
Non-conformists or dissenters were people who did not agree with the church law that stated that all churchmen used all rites and ceremonies as prescribed in the Book of Common prayer of the Church of England.
It was a time when religious freedoms were evolving and the right of people to choose the path of their own religious beliefs developed. (The Octagon Chapel website).
For centuries there had been Christians who believed that the Church was moving away from its New Testament roots. They saw it as a power structure, existing by pomp and elaborate liturgy, and imposing itself upon the common people. Anyone who made their own decisions regarding religion was called a heretic. Its seems our Toft ancestors decided that they wanted something different than following the stage religion of Anglicanism.
In a book entitled ‘Godly Reformers’ Thomas Toft was mentioned as having been ‘counted as a non-conformist for refusing to stand for the Creed at St Clements while he was also presented the church disciplinary council for ‘sermon gadding’ with several neighbours.
As well as being a grocer merchant, Thomas also served as Sheriff and Mayor of Norwich.
He purchased property in St Clements, much of which still stands today on the corner of Fye Bridge and Fishergate, Norwich, now known as the King of Hearts Gallery.
He appears in the 1630 rate books for this property.
Around 1605 Thomas Toft married Susan Chapman, daughter of Doctor (of Divinity) Edmund Chapman 1538-1601 and Susan Cardinal 1554-1624. Edmund was an outspoken puritan minister in Dedham, Essex.
Lots of information about the Cardinal family and their connection to the Chapman family is available to read on this document from the Oxford Shakespeare webpage.
Another interesting website Essex and Suffolk Surnames, also mentions the Chapman and Cardinal families, including their pedigrees (from Visitation records), arms, crests, memorial brasses, wills, etc.
Susan is named in a Covenant Indenture document as being the sister and co-heir of her brother John Chapman, late of Ipswich, Suffolk.
Thomas and Susan had 13 children, baptised at St Clements, Norwich –
- Thomas (Rev) b 1607 d 1679. Thomas was educated at Cambridge University and ordained in 1632. He was rector of St Michael at Plea in Norwich and was the father of Rev John Toft. His will was proved in Norwich in 1679 and he named his daughters Sarah and Ann, son John.
- John b 1609 Norwich d 1609 Norwich
- Lydia b 1612 Norwich, d 1676 Norwich. Married Robert Cubit, 2 children.
Daniel b 1614 Norwich d 1660 Norwich. Married Elizabeth Clea. 2 children. Daniel made an excursion to Leyden, Holland in 1637 to communicate with other emigrant Norwich citizens. Daniel was an overseer and churchwarden at St Clements, Norwich in 1659. He was also a merchant grocer, and a grocer’s token of his survives in the Norfolk museum. There is a plaque to his memory on the south stone wall of St Clements.
5. Joseph b 1616 d 1691 Norwich – baptised and buried at St Clements, Norwich
6. Priscilla b 1619 marr Edward Rozier per her father’s will.
7. Deborah b 1621 marr John Leverington per father’s will.
8. John b 1623 d 1698 Norwich. 4 children. Grocer and Dissenter. will 1696.
9. Peter b 1626 d 1633 Baptised and buried at St Clements, Norwich
10. Samuel b 1627 d 1683 Buried at St Clements, Norwich. Named in fathers will.
11. Abigail b 1628 d 1666 Norwich married Miles Greenwood. 2 children.
12. Benjamin b 1630 d 1630 Baptised and buried at St Clements, Norwich.
13. Lydia b 1631 Norwich d 1688 Great Yarmouth. Married Rev Christopher Spendlove, 7 children.
In 1632 it seems Thomas was a whistleblower, reporting that he was in the house of John Wright of St Clements and did see parishioners drinking and playing slyde groates in the house (Norwich Mayoralty Records 1632-1635). ‘Slyde groates’ were polished silver tokens using in gambling. Gaming was made illegal to encourage men to practice their archery instead of wasting their time with other games.
In 1633 Thomas appears in the Norwich Rate Books under Easter 1633/4 – Thomas Toft, Churchwarden.
In 1636 Thomas was mentioned in the will of John Weld, clerk (minister) as being a brother in law of John and Thomas Toft, grocers of Norwich. Thomas’s sister Ann had married John Weld in 1603.
The following year in 1637 Thomas apparently organised a church rate strike among the good folk of St Clements to ‘stymie laudian refurbishment of the church’.
Thomas was Sheriff of Norwich in 1643 and Mayor in 1654.
While he was Sheriff in 1644 he received orders to demolish ‘idolatrous images’ in churches and to strip the cathedral of all its brasses. He was turned out of his aldermanship in 1662. The History of Norfolk 1805-1810, Blomefield.
In 1650 he was mentioned in a land document –
Charter: Feoffment. Thomas Toft of Norwich, grocer, to Thomas Husband of Beelaugh, Esq. 14 Nov 1650. Messuage and two pieces of land in Beelaugh. (Norfolk Record Office.)
Thomas was listed as the Mayor of Norwich in 1654.
It seems Thomas also owned land in other parishes – this one in the parish of St Mary Pulham, 16 miles south of the city of Norwich.
Indenture: Covenant to levy a fine. Thomas Toft of Norwich, and Susan, his wife, one of sisters and co-heirs of John Chapman late of Ipswich (Suffolk), esq., decd. John Toft of Norwich, grocer, son of the said Thomas Toft. William Davy of Norwich. 2 October 1661. (Norfolk Record Office.)
Unfortunately in 1662 the King decided to eject Non-conformists from office, including Thomas –
The King, by commission empowered local gentlemen to …. regulate and govern corporations, but deeming it expedient for public safety on 24 July …Thomas Toft… were removed from the office of Alderman … and the Kings commissioners … were sworn in. (British History Online)
Thomas’s wife Susan Toft died in July 1669 in Norwich, and was buried at their parish church of St Clements on 19 July 1669.
Her burial was registered under ‘Susen Tooft, wife of Thomas Tooft’.
It appears Thomas didn’t like to be alone, so at the grand old age of 85 years, he decided to remarry, this time to Jane Swan.
They were married at St Laurence in Norwich on 11 April 1670.
Two years later Thomas Toft died in January 1672 and his will was probated in April 1672. The will was written in latin. Bequests were to –
- Thomas Toft, clerk son
- Jane Toft, widow of deceased
- John Toft, son
- Wife of Simon Fen
- Grandson John Toft, son of my son Samuel
- daughter Priscilla Rozer
- Daughter Lidia Cubit
- Son in law John Leverington
- Brother in law John Chapman
- unnamed grandchildren
- three widows – Mrs Heard, Mrs Powell and Mrs Aldrod
- Christopher Spendlove (daughter Lydia’s husband) who alleged he was the principal creditor. Christopher Spendlove was a clerk and minister at Great Yarmouth.
Thomas was buried at St Clements, Norwich on 4 January 1672 under the name ‘Thomas Toftt’.
I haven’t been able to find the burial of his wife Jane, though she was mentioned in his will of 1672.