The prosperous silk weaver
Reasonable Blackman made a good living from a booming new industry
Reasonable Blackman was a silk weaver based, by the end of the 1570s, in Elizabethan Southwark. He had probably arrived in London from Antwerp in the Netherlands, which had a sizeable African population and was a known centre for cloth manufacture. Around 50,000 refugees fled to England from the southern Netherlands between 1550 and 1585, as war raged between Dutch rebels and Spanish forces occupying their country.
Blackman had a family of at least three children, named Edward, Edmund and Jane, and as none of them were recorded as bastards in the parish register, we can assume he was married to their mother, about whom we sadly know nothing. As with John Blanke’s wife, however, she was probably an Englishwoman.
That Blackman was able to support a family is a sign of his prosperity as a silk weaver (in fact, he may have named himself Reasonable in order to draw attention to his ‘reasonable’ prices). The silk industry was new to England and its products were the height of fashion. Once Queen Elizabeth I received her first pair of silk stockings in the early 1560s, she concluded: “I like silk stockings well; they are pleasant, fine and delicate. Henceforth I shall wear no more cloth stockings.” The queen’s courtiers followed suit, and such was the demand that imports of raw silk increased five-fold between 1560 and 1593.
Tragedy struck the Blackman family in October 1592 when his daughter, Jane, and one of his sons, Edmund, died of the plague that struck London that year.
Nothing more is known of Blackman after the death of his children, but there is a tantalising record that suggests his son Edward carried on his father’s trade. On 6 March 1614, when Edward Blackman would have been 27, a certain “Edward Blakemore of Mile End, silkweaver” was married in Stepney.
BBC History Magazine