The Vandersteens - Flemish Weavers

by Ray George

As a child I remember when we visited my grandfather at Christmas his tales from life in Bethnal Green which went back to Victorian times and earlier through the memories of his mother and uncle. A name that came up was Vandersteen, a Dutch name he said. We were related but in what way he did not know. Many years later I started my family history and quickly traced his line back by visits to St Catherine's House to the early years of civil registration. He also passed to me a small bundle of papers. Among them the name Vandersteen appears just twice. One was on a short letter dated 15 May 1861 in beautiful cursive handwriting:

How to Make the Brown Paper Salve

One pint of Dropings of sweet Oil
Four Ounces of Frankincence
Then cool it, one hour afterwards
put in half a pound of White Lead
boil that two hours then add
two Ounces of White Vitriol
pound it to a fine Powder then
take it and put a little at
a time until it is all well
mixed stiring it well for
about one quarter of an hour

from Mrs Beedham
W. T. Vandersteen

The other was a Mary Vandersteen a witness on the surviving portion of a copy from the register of the marriage between James SHEPHERD and Elizabeth MOORE. These were my great great grandparents. An annoying omission: the rector had failed to fill in the year and the portion giving the church was lost!

I joined a W.E.A. evening class on "Making your family tree" given by a lady with a vast amount of practical information. She introduced us to the Mormon's Genealogical Libraries and the wonders of the International Genealogical Index. And there it was in the I.G.I - Mary VANDERSTEEN married Jacob MOORE on the 19 March 1799. I grouped all the entries in the I.G.I. into families of parents and their children and having done so it was possible to make some plausible interconnections between them. The entries stretched back to the baptism of Bertholome son of Bertholome VANDESTIENNE and Michelle PLEU on the 18 Nov 1638 at the French Huguenot Church, Threadneedle Street1.


It was time to go public. My search of the telephone directories of the U.K. yielded only forty five entries and I sent them each a copy of my researches so far. The response was twelve letters and four phone calls. Two explained that their families were recent arrivals in England. All were fascinated, but as is quite usual most had no knowledge about their family earlier than their grandparents. For the younger people this left a big gap between their information and mine with little more recent than the middle of the last century. Several were descendants of Joseph Vandersteen, a fishmonger of 275 Roman Road, Old Ford who was born on 27 October 1844. An elderly lady was the great granddaughter of another Joseph VANDERSTEEN who married Annie HOLLOWAY on 10 August 1862. By a remarkable coincidence my brother on a visit to Bandon Hill Cemetery, Wallington, noticed the grave of the same Joseph who died 22 January 1922 aged 79 years. Another had twin great aunts Rose and Lily, most helpful when searching the birth indexes. He also had a family tradition that the first Vandersteen was robe maker to the king. Another sad tale was of an Albert Vandersteen who had jewellers/pawnbroker shops in Dover and was nominated to be mayor but was ineligible because he could not trace his ancestry!


The most interesting reply was from someone whose friend had done some researches and found entries in the Court Books of the Weavers Company2. He found a string of Batholomew Vandersteen entries from 1668 to 1725. If I interpret the entries correctly there are four different Bartholomews:

Bartholomew Vanderstam born in St. But. Brgt. (=St Botolph's Bishopsgate) served 7 years in Holland admitted for a journeyman on 7 December 1668 and paid 14s 4d

Barth. Vanderstam apprenticed to Aron Fascon, foreign 18 May 1674,

John and Batholomew Vanderstein made free on 7 February 1725 and

Bartholomew Vandersteen was apprenticed to his father for seven years on 4 July 1737


I wonder if the first one is the child baptised in 1638. Thirty is rather old to become a journeyman; the usual age would have been about twenty one3. The one that can easily be connected with the list of baptisms is the last one. Batholomew Vandersteen was baptised 3 December 1722 and so would have been 14 years old. His mother's maiden name was Martha FEEST and on Court Day 7 July 1735 a William FEAST was apprenticed to Bartholomew Vandersteen for seven years.


It seems rather surprising that someone with a Flemish or Dutch name should have his children baptised at the French or Walloon Church in Threadneedle Street rather than the Dutch Church in Austin Friars. But by that date the congregations would have been in England several generations and perhaps it was because he had married a Walloon. It does make it very likely that all these Vandersteens belonged to the same family.


How far back could the Vandersteens in England go? Invitations to Flemish artisans to come and settle in England were issued as early as the reign of Edward III. A similar policy was adopted by successive kings down to Henry VIII. From the reign of Edward VI religious persecution in Europe no longer made invitiations necessary4. When Charles V intensified his campaign against protestants in the Netherlands in 1544 immigration to London accelerated. Large waves of immigrants sought refuge in London in 1567 after the Duke of Alva's arrival in the Netherlands, in 1572 after the St Batholomew massacre and again in 1585 after the siege of Antwerp5.


The earliest reference to a Vandersteen, I have found is in the Returns of Aliens for 1571 in Lambourne Ward Joyce Vandestine of Anwarpe, his mayd servant both hath bene viij years in the ward. 6 Again in 1581: Names of strangers in London of no churche, Joosse van[den] Steene in Candlewick Ward7 . In 1583-3: The Ward of Candlewick Strete, Joyce Vandensten merchante and Elizabeth his wife , John Vandensten, Nicholas Vandensten his brothers, Lawrencia Vandensten his mother.8

On 13 May 1583 Joos Vanden Steen from the Dominion of the King of Spain was granted a Patent of Denization 9


Van der Steen is a fairly common name in the Netherlands, so we should expect several independent immigrations of unrelated Vandersteens. There was probably later arrival at Mortlake. Flemish tapestry weavers came from the tapestry works at Paris established by Henry IV and elsewhere to the factory built on the banks of the Thames at Mortlake by Sir Francis Crane in 1619.10,11 It seems likely there were was a Vandersteen among them as there are Vandersteen baptisms in the registers of the Austin Friars, Dutch Reformed Church in the Parish of Peter-le-Poor and earliest entry is Steene, van de Abigail f. Paulus tot Mortlake 17 August 1620 and further baptisms of Paulus's children Paulus, Catherine, Maria, Debora, Jonathan and Daniel, all at Mortlake.


Is there any chance of tracing the Vandersteen back to Holland? Remember Bertholome who served his apprenticeship in Holland? Perhaps this was with a relation. Again there is a témoinage in the records of the French Church, Threadneedle for Bartholome Vandersteen given at Layden on the 27 June 1677. A témoinage was an attestation as to good character to enable someone to join another church. This looks like an invitation for some more detective work!



[1] Publications of the Huguenot Society 13 Register of the French Church, Threadneedle Street Part II

[2] Publications of the Huguenot Society 33 (1931), Extracts from the Court Books of the Weavers' Company

[3] Alfred Plummer, The London Weaver's Company 1600-1970, Routledge, 1972 p. 19

[4] Huguenot Ancestry, Noel Currer-Briggs & Royston Gambier, Phillimore 1985.

[5] Dutch Calvinists in Early Stuart London, Ole Peter Grell, E.J.Brill, Leiden 1989 pp7-9

[6] Publications of the Huguenot Society 10 ( ) Lists of Aliens Resident in London, Henry VIII to James I, Part I, p416

[7] ibid. Part II,p 214

[8] ibid Part II, p273

[9] Publications of the Huguenot Society 8 (1893) Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization p14 [Pat 25 Eliz]

[10] Op. cit p82.

[11] Austin Friars registers, W.J.C. Moens, Lymington 1884, p xxxiii

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