Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Geffrey, Robert
GEFFREY, Sir ROBERT (1613–1703), London merchant and lord mayor, son of Robert Geffrey of Tredennack, was baptised at Landrake, Cornwall, on 24 May 1613. His parents were of humble means, and he appears to have left home at an early age for London, where he realised a large fortune. He is said by some to have been a Turkey merchant, and by others to have been in the East India trade; his house was in Lime Street, and there he carried on business for over fifty years. Geffrey was a large importer of tobacco, and suffered severe loss in the great fire of 1666; Chamberlayne, in his ‘Present State of England,’ states that he had 20,000l. worth of tobacco destroyed in ‘the vast incendy’ (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. xi. 310–11).
Geffrey was an influential member of the company of Ironmongers, and was one of the six persons appointed to represent them at Guildhall on 5 July 1660, when Charles II was entertained by the city. In 1664 he was warden, and in 1667 master, of the company, and when, in 1683, Charles II seized the company's charter under the quo warranto, Geffrey was deputed to deliver their petition of submission to the king. James II gave them a new charter, in which he reserved to the crown the right of displacing the master, wardens, and court of assistants, and appointed Geffrey the first master under the charter, in the place of William Hinton, who had been elected to the office in the regular course. By an order in council, dated 25 Sept. 1685, Geffrey and twenty-one others were dismissed from the office of assistant, and not replaced until 1688, when the king made a general restitution to the corporate bodies of their forfeited privileges (Nicholl, Hist. of the Ironmongers' Company, 1866, pp. 275, 301, 322, 331).
On midsummer day 1673 Geffrey was elected sheriff of London and Middlesex, and at the mayoralty banquet in that year sixteen of the livery and twenty-two of the yeomanry of his company dined with him at Guildhall, the court of assistants contributing a hundred nobles, according to custom, ‘towards the trimming of his house.’ On this occasion Geffrey and his colleague, Henry Tulse, were knighted. Geffrey was elected on 22 June 1676 alderman of the ward of Cordwainer, and continued to represent this ward until his death, except for a brief period from 16 Aug. 1687, when all the aldermen were discharged by the king, to be reinstated in the following year (City Records, Repertory 81 f. 224, 92 f. 363). His mayoralty was in 1685, and the Ironmongers' Company prepared a splendid pageant for his inauguration, no member of the company having been mayor for fifty years before. The total expense incurred was 473l. 0s. 4d., which included 10l. given to Matthew Taubman, then city poet, for the speeches and songs composed for the occasion, entitled ‘London's annual triumph … London, printed for Hen. Playford, near the Temple Church, 1685’ (Nicholl, p. 305). This pageant is now very scarce; a copy is preserved at the Bodleian Library, and another at the Guildhall Library; it is reprinted at length by Nicholl in his ‘History’ (pp. 306–21). The water procession was witnessed by the king from the leads of Whitehall (London Gazette, 2 Nov. 1685), and, this being the first mayoralty feast in the new reign, their majesties honoured the city with their presence at Grocers' Hall.
Geffrey was colonel of one of the regiments of the trained bands in 1681, and was elected president of Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospitals in March 1692–3. On William III's return to London, after the peace of Ryswick, in 1697, Geffrey was excused by the court of aldermen, on account of his age and infirmities, from riding before the king with the other aldermen (City Records, Rep. 102, f. 3). He died on 26 Feb. 1703–4, having been for many years father of the city, and was buried on 10 March in the church of St. Dionis Backchurch, where he had long been a parishioner (Colonel Chester, Registers of St. Dionis, Harleian Soc., pp. 237, 272). He married Priscilla, daughter of Luke Cropley, a London merchant, but had no children. She died on 26 Oct. 1676, in her forty-third year (Hatton, New View of London, 1708, vi. 212). Geffrey had a colleague upon the court of aldermen named Jeffery Jeffreys, and one of the two, most probably Sir Robert, was very intimate with their famous namesake Sir George Jeffreys, the judge, and promoted his interests in the city. Woolrych, in his ‘Life’ of the judge (p. 25), says: ‘Although it does not seem to be agreed whether they were in any way related to him, there being assertions on<section end=Geffrey, Robert/ both sides, one of them, a great smoker, took a vast fancy to his namesake.’
Among the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian Library (142, Art. 41) there is a letter from Geffrey to Archbishop Sancroft, dated 29 Sept. 1686; and many interesting letters written by him are said to be preserved in the collections of the Archer family at Trelaske (Polsue, Parochial Hist. of Cornwall, ii. 397). By his will, dated 10 Feb. 1703, and proved in the P. C. C. 3 March 1703 (63 Ash), after many bequests to friends, relatives, hospitals, and clergymen's widows, he established certain trusts under the charge of the company of Ironmongers. A service was to be provided twice daily in the church of St. Dionis Backchurch, a school was to be maintained at Landrake, and the poor of St. Erney and Landrake to be relieved. The residue of his estate was to be devoted to the erection of almshouses in or near London. The company accordingly purchased a piece of ground in Kingsland Road, on which they built fourteen almshouses and a chapel, and appointed rules for their government on 17 Nov. 1715 (Nicholl, pp. 569–73). There are now forty-two pensioners, each of whom receives 12l. per annum. In the foreground of the building is a statue of Geffrey, executed for the Ironmongers' Company in 1723 by John Nost, and, on the removal of the church of St. Dionis Backchurch in 1878, Geffrey's remains and those of his wife were re-interred in the burial-ground attached to the almshouses (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. xi. 57). A full-length portrait of Geffrey, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, is preserved at Bridewell Hospital, and has been engraved by Trotter (London and Middlesex Archæol. Soc. Trans. ii. 72). Another portrait in full length, at Ironmongers' Hall, was painted for the company by Richard Phillips for thirty guineas (Nicholl, p. 344); a copy in water-colour is in the Guildhall Library (MS. 20).[Luttrell, i. 76, 411, iii. 56; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 169–70, ii. 1192; Malcolm's Lond. Rediv. ii. 35, 38–9, 45–7, 571. The information given in Herbert's Twelve Great Companies, vol. ii. passim, is to be found in fuller detail in Nicholl's Hist. of the Ironmongers' Company.]