The Greetham family can be traced back to Robert Grittam of Fareham in the early 17th century. His son Charles (b. 1666) married Margaret Dowes in Bursledon in 1697 and the following year they moved to Portsea where he changed the family name to Gretham. They had two sons, Obadiah (b. 1698) and James (b. 1699). Charles died in 1707 owing more money than he was worth, and according to probate it was all owed to Thomas Missing, reputed to be a benevolent landowner who was mayor of Portsmouth in 1720. Nothing further is known about Obadiah, but James, changing the family name to Greetham, was destined to set the family on a route to social acceptance.
James Greetham first appears on record as a sawyer, which almost certainly meant he worked in the dockyard, where he would have come into contact with Richard Poate who was also a sawyer, and later caulker, and who probably held some seniority there. That Greetham and Poate knew each other well can be deduced from the fact that in 1723 James Greetham married Ann Poate, Richard's daughter, who was the widow of Richard Tamadge. They began their married life in North Street, Portsea.
We know from Sessions Records that Richard Poate was no stranger to the courts, having a lengthy history of petty crime which included being bound over to keep the peace in 1736 after assaulting his wife. Despite this he seems to have accumulated enough money, much of it possibly inherited from his father, also called Richard and also a sawyer in the dockyard, to dabble in the property market. When he died, Ann's father Richard left land and over 20 messuages and tenements, much of it passing into the hands of James and Ann.
With the inheritance James set about establishing himself as an important developer in the rapidly expanding areas in and around Portsea but he found it difficult to shake off the often violent tradition of his background. It is plain that James wanted to escape this but it wasn't until 1743 that he applied to run a Public House, by which time he had managed to secure the support of Richard Coles, a churchwarden, and three overseers. He also served as Borough Hayward which gave him responsibility for the maintenance of fences and enclosures. Eventually James and Ann moved into larger premises in St George's Street.
At the time that James was entering the business of property development Portsmouth dockyard was expanding rapidly and with it came an influx of workers, all needing accommodation nearby. The dockyard itself remained behind fortified walls and it wasn't long before the available land for housing within the walls was exhausted. Outside the walls the land was either common or divided into furlongs and narrow strips devoted to farming, but as it became apparent that the land was worth more for housing development so men with vision began to purchase it and build a new Portsea. In the 1740s and 50s one of the main sources of building land was West Dock Field which was largely bought up by James Greetham.
The layout of the strips largely determined the pattern of the streets, the land between them being typically 150-180 yards long and 20 to 80 feet wide. The houses that James built were for the working classes and as such were rather primitive, being very small with no running water or sanitation. Many of the inhabitants were so poor that they paid no rates and those that did paid little more than 2 shillings. It did not take long before his properties such as those around White's Row and Blossom Alley acquired the status of slums and were notorious for prostitution and drunkeness.
Notwithstanding the nature of the properties that he built, James Greetham had become a sufficiently wealthy man that by the time he died in 1785 he could legitimately describe himself as a 'Gentleman' in his will. His property portfolio included tenements, yards, storehouses and warehouses in White's Row, Queen Street, Halfway House, Prince George's Street, Blossom Alley and North Street. Not content to sit idly by whilst her husband accumulated his property empire, Ann Greetham owned at least fourteen houses in her own right, in Moores Square, Surrey Court, Surrey Street and New Row, though much of it was mortgaged.
James and Ann Greetham had eight children between 1724 and 1737. The eldest son, Charles, was provided with the means to qualify as a solicitor which for the son of a sawyer was a highly significant step up the social ladder. Another son, James, became a merchant, but it was his youngest son Moses (b. May 22 1737) who followed most closely in his father's footsteps to become a major property developer.
Moses does not seem to have received the type of education needed for social aspirations like his brother Charles, rather, he spent his early adult life shifting between jobs, often working as a grocer. His move into independent property development occurred fairly late in his life though he may well have been involved in his father's projects before then. Until 1777 he was still describing himself as a Grocer but by about 1781 he was starting to refer to himself as a Merchant, a term far more appropriate for a gentleman.
In 1760 Moses had married Mary Lamburn with whom he had seven children. After she died he married again, this time to Ann Knight, some 30 years his junior, with whom he had four more children. The second born son with Mary was also named Moses (b. Aug 22nd 1762), forever known as "The Younger", who must have been rather precocious as by the age of 19 he had been admitted to Gray's Inn and within two further years he was working as a solicitor. This must have been very useful for his father, who, from 1784, used his son Moses and brother Charles to carry out all the legal transactions required in his property acquisitions and sales.
When Moses (Snr.) entered the property market most of Portsea had already been developed and so he branched out to the north and east of the dockyard to the area known as Landport where he soon owned land in Town Field and East Dock Field. From 1774 a number of development projects were carried out in partnership with Thomas Binsteed, who was to be appointed Deputy Judge Advocate of the Fleet in 1780. There is no clear indication of how these two men came into contact, let alone partnership, but perhaps Binsteed just had the same ideas about the amount of money to be made from property as had Moses. In any case the post of Deputy Judge Advocate did not attract a significant salary, so he would have had to have some other form of income. The entry of Binsteed to the Greetham family history was to have considerable relevance to the career of Moses (Jnr.)
Like his father James, Moses (Snr.) built with the poorest of the community in mind, his properties being without drains or running water. Such building ventures were to prove highly profitable for builders, however, and produced a higher return for investors than they could expect elsewhere - 10-12% profit compared with the more usual 3%. By the time he died he owned property on Greetham St, Greetham Court, Spring St, Charlotte St, Fountain St, Moores Court, Moores Square, Moores St, Surrey Court, Surrey St, Church Path Row, Clarence St, Prince George St, Blossom Row, Mary-le-bone St, Dock Row, New Row and Chalton St. He also owned the lease on a large and very profitable piece of land that was to become a Marine infirmary.
With such a wide portfolio of property Moses (Snr.) had the wherewithal to spread his wealth widely amongst his family but he did not do so. When he died his will specified that none of the children from his marriage to Mary would receive anything and that almost everything would pass to his second wife Ann. This suggests a major rift between the two halves of the family which is supported both by anecdotal evidence and the fact that when Ann died she followed her husband's disposition and left nothing to members of the first family. In fact most of the property ended up with Edwin, son of Ann. This argument is not entirely convincing as Moses (Snr.) had plainly laid out a lot of money in setting up all his sons in their careers, Moses (Jnr.) and Samuel as lawyers, James as a Lieutenant in the Hampshire Militia, Charles in the navy as a Purser as well as Edwin who ran a tobacconist business.
The death of Moses Greetham (Snr.) ended two generations of property development but by then the family aim of achieving social respectability was already well on the road to success. In Moses Greetham (Jnr.) it was to reach even greater heights.
Just as Moses (Snr.) had married twice then so did Moses (Jnr.) The first marriage was to Mary Figg on August 16, 1785 and the second to Mary Andrews on October 2, 1788. The first marriage only produced one child, Mary, whilst the second marriage produced six children amongst whom were George Lamborn Greetham and John Knight Greetham who were destined to become a solicitor and a minister respectively.
The career of Moses Greetham (jnr.) followed a twin track for most of his working life. In the first, he was a practising solicitor, working originally from the offices of his uncle Charles and later in his own prestigious offices in the centre of Portsmouth, whereas in the second, he was performing the role of Deputy Judge Advocate for the Navy. Both arms of his professional life were in place by 1784 when he was only 22 years of age, a remarkable feat that he couldn't possibly have achieved on his own, talented though he undoubtedly was.
The role of the Deputy Judge Advocate was to take the minutes of Courts Martial, offer opinions on the matter of civilian law and Navy rules and regulations and to announce the outcome of the trial. That he attained this position at so young an age would have required the very active assistance of his father's partner Thomas Binsteed who himself had been appointed to the role just four years earlier. It is not clear quite how this arrangement arose but it was plainly in both men's interests and that suggests something more than simple nepotism. In practise Moses' role was no sinecure in that he was performing the full role on behalf of Binsteed at a very early stage, even signing the minutes "M Greetham Junior, Judge Advocate of the Fleet and his deputy being absent".
One of the earliest of the courts martial in which Moses Greetham participated was that concerning Thomas Rind, surgeon of the sloop Bulldog who was charged with treating Lt. Robert Hesketh with insolence and contempt. The trial was presided over by Captain J. Falknor with Captain Horatio Nelson on the board. Also present was Admiral Sir Roger Curtis who was to become a life long associate.
Binsteed and Greetham shared the role of Judge Advocate but in 1785 Greetham started signing the minutes as "Deputy Judge Advocate for the time being". Binsteed appeared only once more in Portsmouth but must have retained the title as his name later appears on courts martial in London. In his absence Greetham acted as his deputy until 1804 when he was officially promoted to Judge Advocate. During this time he officiated at some of the highest profile trials in naval legal history, most notably those of Captain Bligh and of the mutineers of the Bounty in 1792. In total Moses Greetham acted during 293 trials in the period 1784 to 1801 and having having officially replaced Binsteed served as Deputy Judge Advocate until his death in 1831.
Given that courts martial could often last up to 10 days it is astonishing that Greetham managed to not only retain his civilian practice but to expand it. In this he was helped by taking his son George into partnership. Between them they took on every job they could get their hands on from Law agents to Government departments to coroners to the Admiralty and notaries.
Although by now Moses Greetham could be seen to have ascended to a high level of social acceptance he had not really achieved the status he desired, and that he intended to change. In 1809 he applied for and was granted Armorial Bearings. This allowed him to plan the next step, the marriage of his daughters into higher social echelons and his principal target was his old associate Sir Roger Curtis who had two eligible sons. The major barrier in his way was sufficient money to provide his eldest daughter Mary with a dowry. He had no immediate way of borrowing the money, certainly not from his father from whom he was trying to distance himself, but he did have a highly sought after address on High Street, firstly at No. 25 and later at both that address and at No. 24, both elegant houses.
By 1807 he had sold both properties and moved to No. 27 High Street, a more modest property, but the proceeds would have formed the foundation for the dowry. His planning came to fruition in 1811 when Mary married Sir Lucius Curtis (later a Provincial Grand Master of the Hampshire Freemasons) and moved into the manorial house at Gatcombe Park in Hilsea. Moses did not however rest on this success as over the next 15 years he changed his office premises several times, sometimes in High Street, sometimes in Grand Parade and he purchased a new family home in the highly prestigious area of East Cosham. Each move seems to have been with the motive of gaining status or providing his four remaining daughters with dowries.
The main business of Greetham's office was that of the conveyancing of properety but this would not have provided enough income for his ambitions even when combined with the 144 per annum he earned as Deputy Judge Advocate. In addition he took on high profile legal cases, had a financial interest in a Naval Agency Business in Piccadilly and dabbled in the stockmarket. He became a founder member of the management committee of the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal company, was involved in paving, transport and water projects as well as many philanthropic ventures. As befitted many local men of social standing he joined the Portsmouth Volunteers militia and rose to become Captain.
In 1831 Moses Greetham died at the home of Sir Lucius Curtis, Ramridge House, near Andover, and was buried in Wymering churchyard, his position in society secure. Though he came from a semi-lawless background, rooted in a business which successfully created many of the slums of Portsea and Landport, Moses Greetham (Jnr.) had parted company from his family and established a new prosperous regime where he was able to mix with the most influential men of Portsmouth. It is a little ironic therefore that his name is virtually unknown today and only remembered at all by the name of a Portsmouth road, Greetham Street, which had been created as part of the process of accumulating the money that enabled him to rise to the position of standing he so craved.
Tim Backhouse
"The Greethams of Portsmouth", a dissertation by Joanna Fleming, held at Portsmouth Central Library.
Research by Doug Greetham and others on the website
Hampshire Telegraph