John Man (1718-1783)

John Man was born in 1718 in Hurst, Berkshire, the eldest son of John Man and Ann (Tyle) Man, and was baptized on 8 June 1718 at St. Nicholas, Hurst. 

He married Mary Balchen on 26 February 1746/47 at Holy Trinity Church, The Minories, London. (Their marriage licence can be viewed at the end of this page.)

Marriage of John Man and Mary Balchen

John died (as Thomas Roberts) on 7 April 1783 at Cardiff, Wales, and was buried on 10 April at St. John the Baptist, Cardiff. Below, the burial record for Thomas Roberts who is the last listed. Reasons for John changing his name and moving from England to Wales can be found later on this page.

Mary Balchen was born in 1721 in London, the third daughter of Richard and Martha (Hitchcock) Balchen, and was baptized on 26 April 1721 at St. Mary Aldermary, London.  Mary died in October 1798 at the home of her son James in Walworth Common, St Mary Newington, Surrey, but she was buried on 23 October at St. Mary Matfellon, Whitechapel, Middlesex.

Holy Trinity Minories c1750
Holy Trinity, The Minories c1750

John and Mary belong to Man Generation Five; their children belong to Man Generation Six and are:

  1. HENRY
  2. JOHN
  3. MARY
  4. ANN
  5. JAMES
  7. MARIA[H]

[References: John’s baptism – FHL Film # 1999444; his marriage at The Minories – FHL Film # 0094652; his death and burial – FHL Film # 0104857; baptism of Mary – FHL Film # 0374484; death of Mary – “The House of MAN”; her burial – FHL Film # 0094712.]

John Man was a London architect/builder. In the introduction to son Henry Man’s Miscellaneous Works, John is described as an ’eminent London builder’; and in Henry’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography John is described as a ‘well-known builder’.

John and Mary were living at Prescot Street, Whitechapel, in 1748 [Henry’s baptismal record]; on Mansel Street [around the corner from Prescot Street] from 1749 to 1755 [John’s and James’s baptismal records] (See the map of Whitechapel below).

John Man's Signature
John Man’s Signature

They then apparently moved to Croydon, Surrey, around 1756 [based on Frances’s baptismal record] and were there through 1764, at least, based on the date of an assignment of a lease among: James Waller of Mansell Street Goodmans Fields, St Mary Whitechapel, gunstock maker; John Man of Croydon Surrey, carpenter and Beeston Long of Bishopsgate Street London, Esquire. This would be consistent with the fact that Henry, and perhaps his younger brother John, was educated in Croydon under the Rev. John Lamb (no relation to Charles Lamb the writer).

By 1774, wife Mary [at least] and family were back in the London area living on Mile End, Middlesex [according to Clementine Black’s The Cumberland Letters].

schematic mapof Whitechapel

The map left shows Mansel and Prescot Streets on either side of Goodmans Fields where four of John and Mary’s children were born. Also Holy Trinity (marked in red to the left half way down the Minories) where John and Mary were married and St Mary Matfellon (top right) where some of the children were baptized.

John suffered some business losses as evidenced by: the Chancery Proceedings below; his brother-in-law’s (William Balchen) will where John’s debts are forgiven; and the fact that he eventually left his family, assumed the name of  Thomas Roberts, and settled in Cardiff, Wales.

Chancery Proceedings, 1758-1800, 348/69.
23rd November 1758.
John Man, of Croydon, Surrey, master-builder, versus William Farquhar.
William Farquhar, of Hayes, Kent, clerk, on 23rd May 1757 requiring a dwelling-house to be built, applied to the plaintiff who he knew to be an honest man and “knowing in his business” for an estimate and plan thereof. The said estimate amounted to £105 and an agreement was accordingly drawn up (with the plan of the building therein) and signed on the above-mentioned date. William Farquhar at once took the said agreement into his possession, assuring the plaintiff that he would have two copies made and stamped, one of which he would sign and give to the plaintiff.

They also agreed that the said £105 was to be paid by installments. The plaintiff started the building of the said house from memory as he had no plan thereof and was put to much extra expense because the defendant insisted on the foundations being dug deeper than those on which the old house had been built and also because he would not let the plaintiff use up any of the old materials which is usually done. The defendant paid £20 on account and the plaintiff finished the outside or shell of the house from memory as the defendant would not allow him to see the agreement nor get the copies thereof. ‘When a further £30 became due the defendant refused to pay it and made the plaintiff stop all work on the house, which anyway he would have had to do as he could not finish the inside without the plan. He, the plaintiff, was bound under a penalty of £30 to finish the house by Michaelmas next so the defendant has him all ways.

Details of the document referenced above regarding the assignment of a lease when John was in Croydon are as follows:

Assignment of lease [Reference: IOR/L/L/2/1257]
[1] James Waller of Mansell Street Goodmans Fields, St Mary Whitechapel, gunstock maker
[2] John Man of Croydon Surrey, carpenter
[3] Beeston Long of Bishopsgate Street London, Esquire
Date: 30 Nov 1764
Held by: British Library: Asian and African Studies.

John’s eldest son, Henry, had to begin work as a clerk in a City office in 1763 probably as a result of his father’s inability to flourish at his trade.

Some details of John and Mary are given in Clementine Black’s book Cumberland Letters. It has long been suggested that Mary Balchen was John Man’s second wife – the name Anne Pincus – has even been suggested for the first. However no record of such a marriage has yet been found.  Recently discovered on the burial film for St Mary’s Whitechapel from 1717 to 1743, an interesting entry has been found on page 444 as follows: “John Man’s stillborn male from Catherine Wheel Alley, 03 Sep 1742”. This date is prior to John’s marriage to Mary Balchen and it revives the notion that John may have been married previously, even though his marriage allegation at the time of his marriage to Mary Balchen says he was a bachelor. Of course, this could have been another John Man, but the chances seem slim.

John died in Cardiff, Wales, under the assumed name of Thomas Roberts, and was buried on 10 April 1783 at St. John the Baptist, Cardiff. When and why he left his family and took another name is not known.  Some family researchers suspected that he ran up large debts as a speculative builder and was afraid of being imprisoned for debt.  It is also noted that his wife Mary was a very difficult woman (according to accounts in The Cumberland Letters). 

In 1787 his son John Man of Reading went to Cardiff to look for him.  His son found that he had arrived four years too late.  From son John’s letter to his brother James it appears that their father had established himself as a much-respected builder in Cardiff. Scratched out on this letter is a mention of a ‘cursed letter’ (apparently written by the eldest brother Henry) to the father, that son John says ‘broke his [the father’s] heart’.  The whole tenor of the letter seems to hint at another underlying cause for the action of the elder John Man. In this letter, John Man of Reading writes to his brother James to describe the search he made to discover their father’s whereabouts and what he discovered had happened to their father after he had disappeared.

July 12th 1787

Now my dear James our search is over – I am just arrived at Newport after a very dangerous passage and a disagreeable wet journey of 15 miles in a Post Chaise from the Black Rock where we landed. As soon as I got over I ask’d the waiter at the Inn if he knew Mr.__. After some recollection he said he remembered such a person about a twelve month past being at Chepstow. I was so elated at the news that I immediately ordered a chaise for this place.

It being set for rain how did I please myself with the hope that in a few   days, if not a few hours I should take the poor wanderer by the hand, but we are born for disappointments and must submit. My landlady a very communicative old woman has just brought me in my Salmon. I put the question to her. Yes sure do I, Never never was there a better man on the Earth, many a time have I converse with him, a sober, honest, quiet, humane, good natured, worthy man as ever lived. Gentle and simple, all loved him in this country. Where did he live? At Cardiff for many years and was reckoned a very ingenious Architect and was employed and respected by all the Gentlemen. Do you know where he is now? In a better place I hope. What! Is he dead? Yes, poor man he died about three years ago and is buried at Cardiff but I don’t hear he has left any children. Such was the dialogue between the old woman and myself which so affected me that I could ask no more questions – how happy would it have been if we had set about this enquiry sooner it is now too late, however as I am within 12 miles of Cardiff, if tomorrow is fine, I will shed one tear over his grave. I forgot to tell you she described him so minutely, even to his dress that there can be no doubt of his being the person we want, my hand shakes so I can hardly write and the pen is such a stump it is past mending, however if you can read it it is enough. As the post don’t go from this place ’till tomorrow evening, I shall not send this away ’till I have been at Cardiff.

Wednesday evening.

Cardiff July 12. 87

I told you last night I intended going to Cardiff this morning. It was cloudy when I got up, but on the strength of a N. W. wind I set out about 8 o’clock and had a very pleasant walk. Almost all the way in sight of King Road and the Shiping, at 12 I got safe here – my first object was to visit the church yard which I did without success. I then enquired of a little girl where the Sexton dwelt, but her direction was so obscure I could not find him, so I looked about for an Inn and with difficulty found that I am now in for notwithstanding Mr Carey’s description of this place I see little difference between this and the other towns in Wales. Having ordered a lamb chop for my dinner I began my enquiry with my landlady who could give me no other information than that she knew such a person, that he died about 4 years ago and was buried by a  Mr. Priest who was a principal creditor and took to all his effects. As she could give me no other information except that Mr. Priest too was since dead, I beg’d a direction to the Sexton. She said the Clerk was the properest person to enquire of so I went to him. The man was very civil told me the Parson had taken the register out of his hands, but if I pleased he would go with me to him. I asked him if he knew the person? He said very well. I told him I was sorry not to see any stone over him in the church yard. He said he was sure there was one and went with me to shew me where I found a black slatey stone laid upon which he informed me had been used before for the same purpose and the old writing partly erased on this was written — Here lieth the body of Thomas Roberts of this town Architect who departed this life April 7th 1783 aged 70 years. On our return I asked him where he had lodged. He said he had a house to himself. Who was his housekeeper? A Mrs Page. Was she living? He could not tell, but if she was, it was at the farther end of the town. There I went and seeing an old woman at a little Public House door, I asked for Mrs Page. She was gone from those parts she knew not where but would ask her daughter who informed me I might hear of her at Robert Francis, Plumber, at Bristol. I told her my business. She said she knew Mr. R. very well, that he lived at the opposite house [ a large handsome one, for the country ] had always paid his men [ the old woman said he had always walked with God ] that she sat up with him a week before he died and was with him when he died, that he was not ill to keep his bed more than a week, was very composed and calm and died without a groan. That Mr. & Mrs. Page had lived with him long, he as his foreman she his housekeeper, that he never had any wife, that Mr Page died before him after which he kept his house about 3 years. That he never was distressed but had always been imposed upon by the villains who worked for him, that he left what he had, when all his debts were paid, to Mrs Page but that Mr Priest had taken all and the old woman was never the better. That she never heard him say anything about his family (but heard from Mrs Page he often talked of a son he had [ Oh James, that cursed letter broke his heart, but say nothing to Harry about it for I sure he never meant it ] as this is all information I am likely to get here I shall set off immediately on my return to Bristol and if I can see Mrs Page I will give you another letter from Reading. This melancholy business so distresses me I hardly know what I write as you will see by my blunders. This life has few comforts for me and I am walking fast after the poor old man. May my latter end be like his. We have been too remiss. May God forgive us. My best respects attend all my good friends who are kinder to me than I deserve. Tell your wife I heartily wish her and her sister better health. May Mr. Humphrey do well. Tell Harry I long to hear a good account of his health and spirits and his wife that I heartily thank her for the kindness shewed to me and my boy whom I would wish her to send home as I am sure he must be an additional trouble to her considering her own family. I write this with tears in my eyes and have been longer perhaps than I need but as I know your temper I am sure you will not grudge the double postage of this. I have been often in great distress and my present circumstances are not very flattering but the distress of this day is the greatest of all to lose such a father and in such a way is too much for one. May heaven shower down his blessings upon you and yours is the earnest prayer of your unhappy brother.

John Man

Cardiff July 12th 1787

My Grandfather died April 7th 1783 aged 70. (<– this note is probably written by John Man of Reading’s son William Man)

It is not known when John went to Wales, but since he did not appear in Hurst to claim the property left by his mother Ann in 1767 it would seem that he had left by then.  Therefore, he was in Wales for over 16 years.  Obviously, his family knew he was in Wales and the assumed name he was using, but for some reason there apparently were no earlier attempts to locate him.  For more details, see also John Man of Reading’s letter to his cousin George Cumberland which can be read at the end of this page,.

With the advent of the Internet, a search was made for more information on Cardiff and the following was found:

Cardiff Record: Being Materials for a History of the County Borough from the Earliest Times, Edited by John Hobson Matthews. Transcribed by Pat Sewell. The Cardiff Record is a six-volume set of extracts, notes of numerous historical records of Cardiff and environs. Together the volumes offer a fascinating history of the area from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. In Volume III (published 1901), Chapter VI, Glamorgan Country Records (name index), Quarter Sessions Order Books (1730 – 1770), page 242:

Thomas ROBERTS; 1770; builder, to be paid 50 pounds sterling.

Ed Man was able to get in touch with Pat Sewell by e-mail and she was kind enough to examine this material at the Glamorgan County Record Office at Cardiff and found this detail to the above entry

Thomas Roberts, the builder of Landaff bridge, is to be paid 50 pounds sterling towards the expenses thereof.  Agreement that he is to repair Cardiff bridge, raising the broken pier as high as it was formerly, and dam out the water so as to get a sufficient foundation, and afterwards to underpin the foundation of the said pier together with the foundation of the two arches supported by the said pier, with Lyon stones and good lime mortar, and all to be filled solid to compleat the same in a good workmanlike manner, for 220 pounds sterling.”

John Man’s bridge

Ed then asked Pat if there were any extant records about the bridge and she replied: “Yes, Ed, there is still a bridge there. I have looked through my book of Llandaff Past & Present published in 1978. In it is a picture of the Bridge with the following paragraph” –

LLANDAFF BRIDGE spans the River Taff at the far end of Bridge Road. At one time this was the most important bridge across the lower reaches of the Taff and sometimes had to be used instead of Cardiff Bridge when that became flooded or was unsafe to cross. The existing bridge was originally built as a three-arched stone structure in the mid-eighteenth century. At the end of the nineteenth century, the narrow roadway and stone parapets were replaced by a flat metal deck resting on the old stone piers and arches. The bridge is now insufficient to carry all of today’s traffic and is likely to be replaced within the next few years by a single-span concrete structure.

John Man’s bridge

Chapter X, Parochial Records (name index), Vestry Book of St John’s, Cardiff, Vol. II, page 476: Thomas ROBERTS; 1777; builder.

[The above entry also states that he was given the job of rebuilding the wall on the North Side of the Church.]


Chapter XI, Ecclesiastical Memorial Inscriptions (name index), St John’s Church, Cardiff, Extract No. 63, page 523: Thomas ROBERTS; 1783;  builder;  died 1783, aged 70.

Llandaff Bridge Old

Cardiff Records, VOLUME V (published 1905), Chapter XII St Mary’s Church Wardens,

1781   ROBERTS Thomas; WILLIAMS Thomas.

1782   ROBERTS Thomas;  DAVID Rees.

[Ed’s note: I believe this name has been transposed]


Thomas ROBERTS  1782 presented for blocks of free-stones laid in the street.

The book Llandaff Past & Present, contains three pictures of the bridge, shown below, as it stood at the end of the nineteenth century. The bridge was in use, with modifications, for over two hundred years before being replaced with a modern steel bridge in the late twentieth century. (Pat Sewell was kind enough to send these photos by JPEG files to Ed by e-mail (see pictures at the end of this page).  The following map was drawn in 1886 and shows this old bridge.

Old Llandaff BridgeA

At some point in the 1760’s John Man had been appointed as one of the trustees to moneys held on behalf of George and Richard Cumberland, his wife’s nephews; the other trustee was Henry Balchen, his wife’s uncle. Some ten years later, as noted above John left England for Wales and his whereabouts became unknown. As a result it was necessary to arrange the release of the trust money without John.

But this was not easy and a legal tussle between the Cumberland family and the remaining trustee – Henry Balchen – to have the trust funds released took place. The legal arguments used to bring this about can be read HERE.

In the letters of George and Richard Cumberland there is a discussion as to how to convince their ‘Aunt Man’ (Mary Balchen) to declare herself a widow (ie that John Man was dead) in order to have the money in stocks released to them. The letter below is from John Man’s son John in response to an inquiry from his cousin George Cumberland as to the whereabouts of John’s father. John gets his dates muddled; he writes 1760 when he means 1770.

John Man Geo Cumberland about 1775/6


It is with the utmost pleasure and satisfaction dear sir that I now set down to answer your last obliging letter which I received a few day ago and would have answered soon had I had the opportunity. Since my brother has referred you to me I shall enform you of what I know concerning my father.

In December 1769 I went to him at (?Knighton?) and after that I received one letter from him or I believe two but cannot say for certain at this distance of time. But whether it was one or more I can safely assert I never received any from him or have heard of him by any other means since Easter 1760 [John means 1770]. I am very certain of the time because in the last that I received I was ordered to go to him for the rent of the houses there and I think it was 1st of May that I went however I am very sure it was sometime before I came to Reading and I came hear in June that year. This is all I know of the affair and I am pretty certain none of the family have heard of him since.

If I can be of any service to your mother I beg she acquaint me in what manner and be assured I shall exert myself to the utmost to delight her. I am very glad to hear that your brother is going to Driffielde because you give me reason to hope that the road through Reading will not be much out of the way. I flatter myself I should be welcome else should not presume to offer to attend you. We are naturally fond of pleasure so it is no wonder if I catch at every opportunity that offers to gratify a passion which I inherit from my nature, if I can conveniently accommodate the journey to the beginning of our Whit Sun Holidays I shall be very happy to join you on the journey at Reading. I can then accommodate you with a bed which though none of the finest I can promise you shall be wholesome and better than travellers usually meet with at Inns. And we set off with the Sun and get to the vicarage by the time a fine little pig will be put to the spit. Since you say the west has attractive powers as well as the North I think I may be certain of seeing you in summer whether we go the journey or no therefore I shall use no arguments to persuade you to favour one with a visit which I think you have favoured on these 6 years but never yet fulfilled. But now I expect you in good earnest so take care you don’t disappoint me. When your brother was here I engaged to write to him but alas! Never thought to ask for his address whence it comes. I have not fulfilled my promise. Do you make my compliments to him and beg him to use the power of the keys (which in spite of the Pope I believe was given to him) in behalf of a poor persistent sinner who like other (?pxrittents?) is determined to transgress again until the next time. You and I George are now laymen and have nothing to do with religions dispute. We believed before Gibbons attacked our faith and I dare say were not staggered with his objections so stood in no need of Dr Watson’s vindications. One of the Fathers [no matter which] said he believed in the Trinity because it was impossible but I believe in Christianity because it was founded by a divine power grew up and flourished in opposition to principalities and powers and by its own internal evidence has withstood the attacks of (?Deistoltsheists?) and unbelievers. Compliments to your mother brother &c

from your affectionate cousin

Jno Man

Addressed to
Mr. Cumberland
Secretary’s Office at the Exchange Assurance Office

The pictures below were taken on 7 June 1999 on the occasion of Steve and Ann Man taking Ed and Phyllis Man on their first visit to England to visit Col. Andrew Man at Narbeth, Wales.

View from the north bank of the River Taff showing the remaining stone supports on the south bank
The modern replacement of the bridge is shown in the background
John Man and Mary Balchen's Marriage Licence dated 19 February 1746/47
John Man and Mary Balchen’s Marriage Licence dated 19 February 1746/47

John Man left a will which can be read HERE.

Below Dorothy Man’s letter to her brother Hubert on discovering John Man of Reading’s letter to his brother James about their father John Man the builder which can be found above.

New Year’s Day 1907.

My Dearest Hubert I have been wanting to write to you for ages, but Christmas time is fearful in the way of writing letters. I want to know if you are still keen on Pedigree, I have been trying to write it up a little, but have had very little time. I enclose a copy of John Man’s letter as I want you to read it. Father doesn’t know that I know of its existence, so don’t give me away! I don’t know why I feel guilty about it, because it was lying about loose, in an envelope with some other papers in the box – but I had a nightmare the other night that the old gentleman himself [John Man] was coming up the stairs to fetch his letter! I wish I had left [it] on the table in my room, in my blotter! I haven’t told anyone else about it, except Katie [Catherine (Man) Crosthwaite], and I know of course that it doesn’t matter your seeing it. Uncle George was down here and I tried a few judicious questions, but he looked absolutely blank, and said he had never heard that Henry Man’s father had died under another name!

I have asked him to look out 2 things:

1)     History of Reading written by one John Man, to be found in the British Museum date I don’t know, but I imagine 17—something. There is a preface, in which we might find out what John Man this is.

2)     In the P.C.C. (Prerogative Court of Canterbury) there is the record of the Administration of the goods of John Man, made to Mary Man, widow, Feb 5 1784. Our John Man died intestate 1782, so this must be him, and Mary Balchen was his widow.



It is sometimes assumed by earlier family researchers that John Man took the name of ‘Roberts’ because his son James had married a Sarah Roberts, but James was only twelve at the time of his father’s disappearance so that theory does not stick. It could have been that the two families were known to each other prior to John’s flight but they lived in different parishes and John’s stays in London were intermittent as he travelled with his family; following wherever his trade took him — from one building to the next.

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