On 7th May 1622, James Boevey was born in Mincing Lane, London, the son of a Huguenot Dutch financier. James was to have a long and interesting life that was to include time spent living in London, Exmoor and Europe but he ended his days in Cheam with both he and his wife remembered on a plaque in the Lumley Chapel.
James Boevey, painted in 1634 by an unknown artist.
James was a clever child. He attended the Mercer’s School in London and as a young man was sent on a Grand Tour of Europe and was proficient in several European languages. He followed his father with a career in finance but was obsessed with the law. He retired aged just 38 and spent the rest of his life pursuing a series of lawsuits mainly about property.
In 1653 Boevey purchased the freehold of the Forest of Exmoor where he built a very large house ‘Simonsbath’, the first to be built in the forest – it must have been an isolated life. He had a second home in Chelsea where perhaps he and his wife enjoyed more society. It is known that he associated with John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys. In his diary Pepys described Boevey as an ‘intolerable boaster’.
As he grew older he spent less time at Exmoor and sometime around 1679 he gave up the house at Chelsea and retired with his third wife Margaret, to a more comfortable and convenient life in Cheam. But where did he live?
Some believe he lived at Vault Cottage on Malden Road, but this seems a small property for a man of money and means. The second, and possibly more likely home for James and Margaret would be Whitehall itself. This was certainly the view of Manning and Bray (c1804-14) “A house at Cheam built of timber, now inhabited by Mr James Killick …. a tradition that one Mr. Bovey who lived in the house and died about 1700….” The story goes that James Boevey used the vault that runs behind these properties to coin his own money.
The project at Whitehall, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will give us the opportunity to look into the story of James Boevey and some of the other interesting people who have lived in the village. And hopefully, one day, we will be able to say with certainty whether he lived and died at Whitehall or at Vault Cottage. Which do you think most likely?