Walter Prest of Melton
John de Woodford of Brentingby married Alice Prest who is described in the Woodford Cartulary as the daughter and heir of Walter Prest.
It is possible that
Walter Prest came from a priestly family; it is just as likely that his
family was `of Prest(on)', a nearby village close to the town of Uppingham in Rutland near the Leicestershire
In the early years of the 14th century, the prosperous wool trade in the English shires created some of the country's wealthiest merchants. Numerous records exist that detail the remarkably high quality of life of these merchants and the considerable power and influence that they held.
In the case of Walter Prest and his son (also named Walter), the clear picture is of a partnership (joined later by one William de Cheriton) enjoying substantial wealth and authority together. Melton Mowbray during the first half of the 14th century was an important centre for the English wool trade, and consequently it became the home of this small group of very wealthy and influential wool merchants.
Of these, Walter Prest was
clearly the richest and most successful. A measure of his wealth and
influence is that he is noted on many occasions within Exchequer documents
between 1320 and 1350. According to the Subsidy Roll for 1327, Walter
Prest (senior) was the richest man in the town apart from the Lord of the
manor, John de Mowbray. In a comparison with the tax paid by merchants in
Leicester and Loughborough, he appears as one of the wealthiest merchants
in the entire county.
The earliest surviving Tax Roll for Melton
indicates that of 37 payees, Walter Prest paid more than 15% of the
entire subsidy levied on the town. In the years 1327-1348, he loaned considerable sums of money to Edward lll to finance military ventures. The
Close Rolls for 1339 detail single transactions in favour of Walter Prest
amounting to over £1000.
It appears that Prest's son, also
named Walter, inherited most of his father's holdings. It was this
Walter's daughter who married John de Woodford. Alice was the eldest of
Walter's two children, both female, and was heir to his wealth.
These rich Melton
merchants, with their high standard of living, were better housed
than their poorer neighbours. During building work over recent
years, substantial stone foundations have been unearthed in the
centre of Melton. It is generally assumed that these remains are from
early religious buildings, but some writers now suggest that they
could be the remains of the substantial dwellings of the wool
tycoons of the 14th century.
In 1331, Walter Prest sought permission from John de Mowbray to build a porch to his house in the market place.
This may have been the building which has survived as the Swan Inn. The original building was destroyed in a fire in 1985.
Prest was referred to as 'the king's merchant' due to the fact that he was asked to pay £2100 to the attorney of the Earl of Derby, due formerly to the king, in order to release the Earl's jewels that had been pledged by the king in Flanders. In 1344, he was exporting wool from Bristol, London, Hull and Boston.
It appears that both Walter Prest and
his son may have died of the Black Death in Melton in 1362 because there is
no record of any transactions relating to them after that
date. Alice Prest died in 1333.
Walter Prest junior had a second daughter, Lettice, who married (firstly) Sir James Bellers. Confirmation of this part of the pedigree of the Prest family is provided by an entry in the Fine Rolls dated 1377 in the form of a commitment `to Thomas Talbot and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of James Belers and Lettice late his wife, daughter and co-heir of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray'. Further confirmation is to be found in a complex De Banco Roll entry dated 1430 relating to land that formerly belonged to Walter Prest. This includes references to:
`Simon de Leek esq. and Joan his wife, kinswoman and heir of the said Walter, son of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray.' ... the said Joan is the daughter of Elizabeth daughter of Lettice daughter of the said Walter, son of Walter Prest.'
Sir James Bellers married secondly Margaret Bernake and had one son, John Bellers.
Some of the above text is taken from Philip E. Hunt, Notes on Medieval Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire Libraries and Information Service.