The Druggists of Bucklersbury

The third blog in our series from the work of University of the Third Age members participating in the Shared Learning Project with the British Academy Hearth Tax Project, Centre for Hearth Tax Research, is by Peter Cox. Using the hearth tax returns from the City of London and Middlesex as a starting point, Peter investigated the ‘druggists’ of Bucklersbury Street in the City parishes of St Stephen Walbrook and St Benet Sherehog.

A notable feature of the 1666 Hearth Tax returns for the contiguous parishes of St. Benet Sherehog and St. Stephen Walbrook is that one sixth of the residents are described as ‘druggist’. The parishes share the street of Bucklersbury between them, SSW also listing The Strete and Barge Yard which were offshoots of the main thoroughfare. This area was the locus of the trade with fifty percent of residents involved.

Originally, Bucklersbury marked the boundary for navigation of the River Walbrook to The Thames. Barges brought cargo from the docks up to Bucklesbury which is noted by Stow as being a place for pepperers and grocers. When the Apothecaries Guild split from the Grocers Guild in 1617, stressing that their knowledge and skill set them apart from simple traders,  a number of ‘spicer-apothecaries’, later known as druggists, remained in the Grocers Guild. The main function of apothecaries was to dispense the complicated prescriptions issued by doctors and to compound preparations of various substances for use in common ailments. The censors of the Apothecaries Guild inspected their members premises regularly and expected them to have a full range of all drugs available. It was to the druggists that the apothecaries turned for this supply.  Bucklersbury was the centre where herbs and drugs were stored and sold together with spices, confectionery, perfumes and spiced wines. Though they interacted directly with the public, it seems druggists acted mainly as wholesalers, supplying drugs to apothecaries nationwide.  In the 1600s, nearly all drugs were imported to London and apothecaries from hundreds of miles away would send their orders in by carrier to be delivered back to them in the same way. For example, in 1623, Henry Elliott apothecary of Exeter sent monthly orders to London for his supplies. Even later in the next century, the account books of a Coventry apothecary, Thomas Bott, show that he procured his drugs from London druggists.

Though imported substances had been known and used since Tudor times, they had, at first, been treated with suspicion by the public who tended to favour simple cures based on local herbs or simples. The second half of the seventeenth century was a period of stabilised population and falling farm produce prices so that there was an increasing amount of income available to many people and this coincided with the increase in available imports. Use of more exotic ingredients in prescriptions began to be fashionable and the number of different drugs known proliferated.  In 1588 only 14% of drugs imported came from outside Europe but by 1669 this had increased to 70%, most originating in India and the East Indies though some came from the New World. The actual quantity of imported drugs increased by twenty-five times during the seventeenth century and hundreds of different substances became available.  Some were particularly effective – notably,  ipecacuanha (used as an emetic and an expectorant) and Jesuits’ bark (a source of quinine for the treatment of malaria.). Rhubarb and senna were among the most important drug imports.

At this time, all drug came into the country through London and so the Bucklersbury druggists were enjoying a position of monopolised supply to meet a soaring demand. Drugs, in general, were not bulky and usually only made up about one or two percent of a ship’s cargo but they were valuable and sought after so that merchants were happy to search them out as imports. It is likely that the fourteen merchants listed in the two parishes (again a significant proportion of the population) would, among other merchandise, have been involved in the import of drugs to supply the druggists. It should be remembered that the term ‘drug’ was not limited to substances of a purely medicinal nature. John Dandy of Sise Lane, the tobacconist, would also have been purchasing from the druggists and documents have survived showing that John Lilburne was interested in madder (a red dye stuff) as a commodity. Bucklersbury was noted even in Shakespeare’s day as a place of perfumery and cosmetics.

John Lilburne (1629 – 1678), Citizen and Grocer, was one of the largest druggists holding (with his partner) a property of 11 hearths on the north side of Bucklersbury. His memorial in St. Stephen’s Walbrook was erected by George, his first-born and only surviving child of five. It mentions his family connections with Sunderland and the Bishopric of Durham but he does not appear to be closely related to the famous Leveller of the same name. The memorial shows John and his wife Isabella though it cannot be judged whether the representation is lifelike.


The druggists were probably comfortable financially though their properties have, on average, just five hearths. The three largest businesses of Joseph Lilburne (11 hearths, see above), Henry Lascoe (10 hearths) and John Sadler (10 hearths) all ran their businesses in conjunction with a partner. Unfortunately, only one will, that of John Brisco, has been found during this research. He lived two doors away from John Lilburne in a property that had just five hearths. However, in 1689, he left over £5000 to his children and grandchildren while his wife, Beatrix,received £1000 and all his properties and appurtenancies which consisted of the house of the late Sir Richard Hawkins(d.1687) which was in the Old Bayley area near Ludgate Hill and three other properties adjoining it.

By Peter Cox


Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 396, John Brisco

The National Archive, E 134/31and32Chas2/Hil6, Edward Brooke, clerk v. Wm. Hills, John Hill, Fras. Hacker, Geo. Lilburne, administrator…

Burnby J.G., ‘A study of the English apothecary from 1660 to 1760. Med Hist Suppl. 1983;(3): pp.1–128

Porter, R. & D.  ‘The rise of the early drugs industry: the role of Thomas Corbyn’

Medical History 1989 33(3) pp. 277-295

Roberts, R.S. ‘The Early history of the import of drugs into Britain’ in F.N.L. Poynter (ed.)

‘The evolution of pharmacy in London’, Pitman 1965

Photo of Lilburne monument courtesy of Bob Speel,


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St Botolph Aldersgate: Women Printers and Booksellers in 1666

The second blog in our series from the work of University of the Third Age members participating in the Shared Learning Project with the British Academy Hearth Tax Project, Centre for Hearth Tax Research, is by Lisa Vine. Using the hearth tax returns from the City of London and Middlesex as a starting point, Lisa worked with other documents to trace the stories of women printers and booksellers in 1666.

The parish of St Botolph’s Aldersgate was, in 1666, mainly situated just outside the old London Wall, though a small section was inside the Wall and subsequently suffered damage at the Fire. The old Wall and its “Towne Ditch” had the effect of cutting the southeastern part of the ward off from the City, for here the Wall came from the east and then turned sharply south  (near the present day roundabout,) to the Aldersgate, then ran west past Christ’s Hospital to the Lud Gate. The Wall thus protected most of the ward from the Fire, as did some of the old monastery walls of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the neighbouring ward of Farringdon Without to the west. Access to Aldersgate Street from the City would have to be through Inigo Jones’s splendidly ornate Aldersgate, although for the west side of the ward a small gateway at the Wall and Ditch also connected St Bartholomew’s grounds and Smithfield (to the west and north ) with Christ’s Hospital grounds (formerly the Greyfriars) via “The Gravill Path in the The Long Walk”. For the many booksellers and printers living and trading along this walk, this must have been important short cut for clients and other booksellers at St Paul’s, 5 minutes walk away.  

“St Bartholomew’s Precinct”, survey by Martin Llewellyn, c1613” in “London Plotted”, by Dorian Gerhold, London Topographical Society 2016. 


 Aldersgate was a wide and splendid thoroughfare with “Italianate houses” and the imposing Gate designed by Inigo Jones. It led north “to Edinburgh” out of the City. There were several large and important houses here, several of which survived into the C19th. In addition, on the east side there were three important printing establishments, two of them run by women. 

 1)  Going north through the Gate, between Stone’s Court and Ball Alley on the east side of Aldersgate Street, was the Parish Clerk Printer, ELINOR COTES, or ELLEN, (9 hearths), who ran a business with 3 presses, 2 apprentices, and 9 pressmen.  In December 1665, she was commissioned to print the Bills of Mortality for the 16 City parishes, as “London’s Rememberancer” in that year of the Plague. In St Botolph’s Aldersgate, the total for that year of plague victims is listed as 755, though there were probably more. (Guildhall Library.) 

Elinor Cotes was the widow of Richard Cotes who had been the official printer to the City of London and died in 1658. Listed in the Inhabitants of London in 1638, he had been in partnership with his brother, Thomas Cotes, who had been apprenticed to Thomas Jaggard, and through this family connection the copyright to Shakespeare’s first Folio was assigned from the Jaggards to Thomas and Richard Cotes. (Arber). After Richard’s death, Elinor joined up with Sarah GRIFFEN (see later) to publish Chetwin’s Welsh language books, amongst other subjects. 

Richard Cotes’ will of 1652 leaves the residue of his will to his widow, Ellen. The will also includes a bequest to his apprentice, William GODBID, who by 1666 is running his own printing business in Gravill Alley in the Long Walk. (see later) 

 2) 10 doors further north on Aldersgate Street, was MARY SIMMONS with 13 hearths. Mary Simmons printed with her young son Samuel. Their most famous printed work was “Paradise Lost” in 1667 by John Milton, who lived nearby, and which was  later sold by Thomas Helder in Little Britain. The partnership between Milton and the Simmons family lasted for 30 years, as Mary was the widow of Matthew Simmons who had printed Milton’s “Doctrine of Discipline of Divorce” in 1643. Matthew had printed early material for the Independents, like Henry Jessey, and Leveller tract booksellers like Henry Overton and Hannah Allen, who sold in Pope’s Head Alley.  He had also been granted 1 years’ monopoly to print the army’s papers in the Commonwealth period. In 1674 the Simmons’ printworks was said to be “next to the Golden Lion”, between Ball Alley and Deputy Court. Matthew Simmons has 

 3) ANN GRIFFEN, 7 hearths, living in Half Moon Alley, was most probably the widow of printer Edward Griffen. After her husband’s death she “took her husband’s business” in 1652 and worked with her son, also Edward, in Old Bailey. (nearby). She gave a deposition against Laud in Jan.1642/3 and he threatened to close her down. She is described in the depositions as a widow of 48 years. She also published medical works. Ann Griffen is not listed in Part 1 HT returns, and is replaced by Richard Glover.  

She dies of “dropsy” 18th Dec. 1669 and buried at St Bot’s Aldersgate – LMA P69/BOT1/A/001/MSO3854/001  

 However, her son’s widow, SARAH GRIFFEN, may be the person who appears in Little Britain in part 1 HT at Michaelmas. She may have been burnt out from St Sepulcre in the month previous. As a widow, she continued as a printer for 21 years and printed “General Monck’s Speeches” for John Playford in 1659. She took on her husband’s business in 1652 and her last entry, (Arber) is Feb 7th 1673. 

Women were also active in bookselling, in this area west of Aldersgate which was full of bookshops. Of these, Elizabeth HARFORD, 4 hearths, bookseller at the Bible and States Arms  1665-67 in Little Britain, was the widow of Ralph Harford whose will of 1664 made her sole executrix. In the Gravell Alley in the Long Walk, Rebecca SHERLEY, 5 hearths, was a bookseller and probably the widow of John Sherley. Three other “widows” were probably also widows of booksellers: REBECCA SAYWELL, 8 hearths, in Half Moon Alley, was probably the widow of bookseller John Saywell, who died in 1658. (Little Britain 1646-58). MARGARET SHEAREMAN,  whose husband may have been William S, bookseller in 1664. 

By Lisa Vine

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Hearth Tax U3A Project Blog Series

The British Academy Hearth Tax Project, Centre for Hearth Tax Research and the University of the Third Age ran a Shared Learning Project through 2018. U3A members used hearth tax returns from the City of London and Greenwich to uncover hidden histories. With the returns as a starting point, they worked with other documents to trace the stories of people, buildings and localities mentioned in the Hearth Tax.

The City group researched eight of the 21 City of London parishes, whose 1666 Lady Day Hearth Tax returns included data on the occupation of the householder, making possible in-depth research of lives. The parishes and their researchers were:

All Hallows Staining (AHS)                                                      Joan Hardinges

St Botolph Aldersgate (SBA)                                                   Lisa Vine, Aelwyn Taylor and, later, Jane Harrington

St Benet Sherehog with St Stephen Wallbrook (SBS/SSW)    Cheryl Bailey

St Katherine Coleman Street  (SKC)                           Pauline Brown and Maryke Koomans

St Magnus the Martyr (SMM)                                     Peter Cox

St Margaret New Fish Street   (SMNFS)                     Barbara Sanders

For each parish U3A members produced documents of different types:

A Directory, giving the basic data of name, occupation, street and number of hearths, with a final column for extra observations from the return, such as ‘empty’ or ‘stove’.

Analyses, on the City as a whole, or particular parishes.

Lives, which summarised research done on the individuals.

A Life, which expanded on a single individual of interest.

Articles, which looked at particular aspects of the parish – for example its buildings or speciality occupations.

While there was a deliberate similarity of structure, the individual research avenues and topics often differed. The remit set at the outset of the project was to use the Hearth Tax Return to investigate ‘what interests you’. The only certain commonality was the Hearth Tax as a starting point, though of course the investigations were inevitably shaped by the available information, either online or in Archives, notably the London Metropolitan Archive, the Guildhall Library, the British Library and the Society of Genealogists.

Over the coming months we will run a blog series show casing the hidden histories uncovered during this exciting collaborative project. The first in this series is by Peter Cox, and details the Thomas Morris family and the London Bridge Water House. Please do comment on the blogs as they are published.

The Thomas Morris Family and the London Bridge Water House

Thomas Morris Esq, no occupation given, in the 1666 Hearth Tax Return occupied a nine-hearth dwelling called the Water House, listed as being in Churchyard Alley. This was a road that ran south from Thames Street down to the river, to the west of St Magnus church. Thomas Morris’s house seems to have been at the southern end of Churchyard Alley, close to his water wheels, illustrated alongside, in an 18th century drawing. They were affixed to the first arch on the upstream, west, side of the north end of the bridge. Apparently they later extended to at least the second arch.

Horris Map Water Wheel

The Waterworks

We have no description of the waterworks before 1666, when they were destroyed by the Fire along with the first 14 houses on the bridge, but they were rebuilt afterwards. A special dispensation was included in the first Rebuilding Act of 1667 to allow him to recreate it in wood. An article published in 1731 by the Royal Society describes it as having three wheels working 52 pumps. The wheels could turn in either direction, thus able to harness the tide when either flowing or ebbing, and the pumps could raise over 130,000 gallons an hour to a height of 120 feet.  They were described in the 1731 article as being ‘near the Fishmongers Hall steamboat pier’ , the dark blue wedge shape to the left of the bridge on the map.

So lucrative had these waterworks become by the mid-seventeenth century that they were taken over by a consortium of City Knights, who at the time of the Fire were paying Thomas Morris to manage the works, as well as annuities to the widow of Thomas’s brother John and other members of the Morris family. But unsurprisingly the rebuilding caused a dispute between the various parties, who had lost a considerable income, and the case went to the specially constituted Fire Court.

The Fire Court Case

The Fire Court case pitted Thomas, who’d inherited from his brother John, against John’s widow Mary. Appearing with Thomas were his (I think) widowed sister-in-law Lettice and her five daughters – that family relationship is not spelled out and is hard to clarify.  The consortium who took it over in 1659, with a lease now extended to 420 years, That Thomas was its manager and not its owner is because his brother John had sold it in 1659 to a consortium of City Gents (in this instance all Knights) for 420 years, were paying out of its profits annually £200 to Lettice and each of her daughters, and £300 to the petitioner, the widowed Mary.  That £1500 a year gives you an idea of what the City Knights were raking in. Thomas, knowing that they and Mary were extremely keen to restart their money-spinning water-wheels, said that he would neither rebuild nor help them to. After a long and involved case, including an adjournment to get experts to review the costs of the rebuild, it was decreed that, in exchange for Thomas waiving his rights to any profit for 21 years, Mary herself would fund the rebuild (doubtless with loans from the eager City Knights). A battery of further arrangements ensured that the women would get their annuities back. The history of the Waterworks says only that ‘the replacement was engineered by a grandson of Peter Morice’. That would presumably be Thomas, although it’s not possible to be certain that he was Peter Morice’s grandson. The parish records don’t reveal it with any certainty, but given the time lapse I think it’s more likely that Thomas and John were great-grandsons.

Lond Bridge

Subsequent Building and Ownership

The works were in operation until the old bridge was demolished in 1821. In the following year the dismantling of the water wheels and machinery, and unearthing of the remains of the earlier structure, generated interest from engineers. That led to an 1822 article in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which said that the wheel illustrated on the opening page was built around 1700 by a George Sorocold. In 1701 the then consortium of City men sold the property to the goldsmith Richard Soames for £36,000. There was a further highly detailed article in an 1851 edition of the Mechanics’ Magazine, which analysed at length the workings of the 18th century wheels.


1.  Water-related Infrastructure in Medieval London,

2. Fire Court 27 April 1667 – A199, from The Fire Court : calendar to the judgments and decrees of the court of judicature appointed to determine differences between landlords and tenants as to rebuilding after the GreatFire. Two vols, edited by Philip E. Jones.  1966.



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New Hearth Tax Website

Hearth Tax Digital – an exciting new website has been launched by the University of Roehampton’s  Centre for Hearth Tax Research in partnership with the University of Graz’s Centre for Information Modeling.  The Roehampton-Graz website has been designed by Professor Georg Vogeler and Dr Andrew Wareham, and it has been built by Theresa Dellinger and Jakob Sonnberger, with financial support from the British Academy and the Department of Humanities at the University of Roehampton.

HT landiong page for blog

As a result early modern historians, local historians, family historians and genealogists now have full access to an increasing number of records of the Restoration hearth tax in a single searchable database.  The database enables searches across returns and counties. At present the site has the records for London & Middlesex and Yorkshire East & West Riding, and over the next six months data for more cities and counties will be added.

The team has been working on the intersection between Digital Humanities, local and regional history and the documentary study of the Restoration hearth tax.  The new website represents a breakthrough in hearth tax studies and makes a major contribution to the digital humanities, transforming our understanding of this source to provide deeper insights into early modern society.

Digital approaches to taxation records, such as the hearth tax, have typically used databases and spreadsheets (eg Access and Excel) to extract data on numbers of taxpayers/households, indexes of taxable wealth/hearths and payment status. The data can be quickly sorted and interrogated and compared with other numerical datasets, and these approaches have been particularly popular in the social sciences, especially with economists interested in working with historical data.

But this approach is of less value to historians and students interested in social and cultural history. The problem is twofold. Firstly, the cleaning of the data required for a database structure results in the removal of all the extraneous data on the personal circumstances of taxpayers, and, secondly, readers are not able to follow collectors as they went from house to house to collect the hearth tax. In the medieval and early modern periods, plague, fire, famine and other disasters were part of the everyday experience and information on these problems find their way regularly into the hearth tax records. But because these marginal notes were not recorded in a systematic way in a tabular format they cannot be captured readily through databases. For instance, there may be a sequence of entries providing references to tax-payers who were blind in a particular locality and/or as the result of the work of a particular collector.

Social and cultural historians are likely to capture such information through textual descriptions supported by Word tables (just as powerful as Excel if you are doing basic calculations), and this is a very powerful tool if one is interested in a series of micro or local history case studies. But it is of limited use once the data starts to build up to cover a multitude of locations. However this new database technology on Hearth Tax Digital would allow the user to combine numerical and textual data to search for all references to blind people living in properties with one or two hearths, as opposed to three and four hearths.

Hearth Tax Digital has four key features:

There is a general search button which allows users at any time to do any textual search – by personal name, location or descriptor.  (All searches enable you to move from the results of the search to the record in which the results were found.)

A records page which allows readers to read the entries in the returns, together with the preliminary information, as they were written in the original returns and assessments.

The databasket which allows users to click on all the entries which they are interested in for further use.

There is also an advanced search function which allows users to combine searches for people and places with numbers of hearths.

As the team worked on the project it became clear that this technological advance, which took account of nuanced understanding of the hearth tax records, opens the door to other early modern records allowing them to be read and searched in the same way.  As a result on the about page, a statement has been added to encourage those who may have similar digital records to approach us to see about making these available on Hearth Tax Digital. Perhaps this will lead in team to a fifth feature – watch this space!

Hearth Tax Digital

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St Bride Fleet Street and the 1666 Hearth Tax

In 2014 the British Hearth Tax Project published the 1666 hearth tax return for London and Middlesex. My PhD studies are focused on plague and the poor in early modern London and this volume has proved invaluable in establishing the social character of a number of suburban parishes I have been researching. One of these parishes is St Bride Fleet Street, located immediately to the west of the city walls. The parish experienced accelerated population growth through the first half of the seventeenth century, marked changes to the built environment, and a host of derived social ills; overcrowding, poverty and plague. The parish buried 2,111 of plague in 1665 and was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

The total number of households returned for St Bride’s in the 1666 hearth tax return was 1,613, with seventy-nine houses noted as empty, quite possibly due to fall out from the plague epidemic in 1665. Total hearths across the parish numbered 6,003, the average number per house 3.7. This crude measure of wealth distribution shows St Bride certainly not the richest of parishes, but also not the poorest. Andrew Wareham explores the unpopularity of the hearth tax and identifies fifty-three householders paying the tax and 1,481 not in 1666. This might say something about the inability of many households to pay, but also reflects the impact of the Great Fire making it impossible to collect and pay the tax, due to the fact the Lady Day collection was still in progress when the Fire struck.

Going beyond the average hearth figure and considering average numbers in different areas of the parish, reveals a more accurate picture of the geographical distribution of wealth and social character. Of the total number of houses, 337 contained just one hearth and 525 one to two, around a third of the parish then meeting the average hearth number for a poor parish like St Botolph Aldgate on the eastern fringe of the city walls. The maze of courts and alleys running off Fleet Street and Shoe Lane were home to the poorer elements of the parochial community. Girder Alley contained just nine households with an average of one hearth per house, whilst Harp Alley contained seventy-seven households, averaging 2.5 hearths each. Green Rents and Black Horse Alley fared only slightly better, averaging 3.4 hearths, thirty-eight and sixty-six households respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum just 238, or 15% of houses, contained six or more hearths. Those at the upper end of this scale were few and far between and mainly confined to the exclusive Salisbury Court, home to most of the parishes titled residents, including the Earl of Dorset and Lord Mansfield with 28 and 26 hearths respectively. Sir John Massume lived in the court with nine hearths, and Sir Thomas Twisdon 11. The average number of hearths for the court was 8.2 across a total of just thirty-nine households, two of these though, William Gibbs and the widow Thornton, having just one hearth each. The houses lining Fleet Street averaged 5.6 hearths, reflective of the middling sort resident along this commercial thoroughfare.

The socio-economic hierarchy of locations is obvious with decreasing averages from streets though courts to alleys and yards. No one location could be identified as typical of the parish. There was an element of social segregation at play, mainly pertaining to the poorest of the poor. The north-south artery of Shoe Lane would represent more a cross section of parishioners, the average hearth number 4.3. One household contained 14 hearths, the other 106 between one and nine, and no tendency towards any particular number in between.

Whilst an average of hearths per parish provides means by which to compare the relative wealth distribution across Restoration London, it does not reveal the whole picture, particularly in the large suburban parishes. Using the hearth tax to drill down to the street level of St Bride Fleet Street, shows a handful of wealthy, a number middling, the abject poverty that many members of the parochial community were living in, and the great proportion of the parish neither rich nor poor, although poverty never more than a change in circumstance away.

Aaron Columbus

The 1666 hearth tax return for London and Middlesex is also available on British History Online – and will be available on the new Hearth Tax Online website (with a searchable data base) from January 2019.

Aaron is a PhD student at Birkbeck College, University of London, and Research Officer for the British Hearth Tax Project. His research is focused on plague and the poor in the suburban environs of early modern London. He also co-runs a blog about death in early modern London –

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Bristol volume in the Hearth Tax Series is launched

The latest volume in the Hearth Tax Series, compiled by the Hearth Tax Research Centre, and covering Bristol during the late 17th century, was launched at Clifton Cathedral in Bristol on October 17th.  This is the eleventh edition in the Hearth Tax series produced by the Hearth Tax Centre in partnership with the British Academy and the British Record Society.

The hearth tax, sometimes known as chimney money, was a property tax introduced in England, Wales and Ireland in 1662. It was the first progressive tax designed to raise money fairly; wealthier people would have had larger houses, which would have required more hearths to provide sufficient heat.  In theory, seventeenth-century lists of householders that include the number of hearths are a valuable census-type tool for historians, but in practice their accuracy is variable.

This volume, Bristol Hearth Tax 1662-1673, covers the period when Bristol’s population grew by a quarter in just 20 years, and reveals a new understanding of what was becoming England’s second-largest city. The city was described in June 1668 by Pepys, en route with his wife and his servant ‘Deb’ Willett to inspect a warship being built there and to see Willett’s uncle, the merchant William Willett (his house in Baldwin Street recorded in the hearth tax lists for 1662–73). Pepys ‘walked with [his] wife and people through the city, which is in every respect another London’, and saw ‘the quay, which is a most large and noble place’. In Bristol, as in London, this was a time of much new building and rebuilding.

Bristol is fortunate because its Chimney Book brings together a series of hearth tax returns in a single manuscript and is unique in the surviving hearth tax records for Britain and Ireland. With its extensive information in householders and streets, it has been used to identify the locations of the houses, giving insight into both the buildings and people residing in these newly established areas. This will be of interest to all early modern histories, urban histories, economic and social histories and members of the general public interested in the historic environment.

Using supporting documentary and physical evidence, the Bristol hearth tax team has brought together expertise in the Restoration hearth tax, architectural history, vernacular architecture, social history and cultural history, to produce a series of new discoveries. One such discovery has been to deepen our understanding of the new suburb which was put up in the footprint of the castle and Royal Fort which had been demolished in 1655 on the orders of Cromwell.

Dr Andrew Wareham says ‘Combining hearth tax records in The National Archives of Kew, with the remarkable evidence in the Chimney Book has added a new and unparalleled dimension to the study of the Restoration hearth tax. This work develops our understanding of Restoration life and the growth of Bristol as a city.’ Dr Wareham goes on to say that ‘as a result of the work undertaken in this edition, it is possible for the first time to peer into every household in this burgeoning city, as it began to overtake Norwich as the second city of England, and to consider the wealth of these households and how they responded to the demands to pay the hearth tax.’

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City of London U3A-Hearth Tax Centre Shared Learning Project

This month we feature a guest blog from Peter Cox, one of the group leaders of the volunteers undertaking a Shared Learning Project between the University of the Third Age (U3A) and the Hearth Tax Centre. Peter’s team have been delving into a fascinating set of records showing London society on the eve of the Great Fire in 1666.

We’re nearly halfway through the Hearth Tax project, and it’s time for the City group to take stock. We’re looking at the occupants of particular City parishes, eight of the 21 whose 1666 Hearth Tax Returns, for some reason yet unknown, tell us the occupation of each householder. This gives us an unrivalled opportunity to track individuals – if there are many Nicholas Smiths about, it’s impossible to distinguish between them unless you know that yours was a Salter.

The Hearth Tax was invented in 1662 by Parliament to help fund the restored monarchy, which was calculated to need £1.2m each year. It was levied on each householder, who would pay one shilling twice a year, on Lady Day and at Michaelmas, 25 March and 28 September, for each Hearth in his or her dwelling. The team at Roehampton University, for whom we’re working, are going steadily through transcribing those Returns that still exist.

Their project doesn’t allow for any investigation beyond the transcriptions, and that’s where we come in, as unpaid but energetic researchers. Our remit is broad: ‘find out what you can, and follow what interests you’. Thus Lisa Vine, already researching stationers and booksellers, is looking at a group who settled in Little Britain, a street in the large parish of St Botolph Aldersgate that she’s sharing with Aelwyn Taylor and Jane Harrington, who has only recently joined the team. This parish differs from all the others, being more like a small town clustered along Aldersgate Street, with many more households and a wider range of occupations.

It didn’t suffer as badly as the others did in the Great Fire that swept through the City in early September, starting in Pudding Lane in the parish of St Margaret New Fish Street, which is being researched by Barbara Sanders, who is currently wading through its original churchwardens’ accounts and vestry minutes. Its church was burnt down – one of the 83 churches destroyed – as was St Magnus the Martyr, the abutting parish which incorporated all the houses on old London Bridge. Wren rebuilt it, but St Margaret was one of several not replaced, and its parishioners worshipped in St Magnus instead. Of our other parishes, the churches in St Gabriel Fenchurch and St Benet Sherehog, both of which served fewer than 100 households, were destroyed and not rebuilt, the latter becoming part of St Stephen Walbrook. Their church was also burnt down and was another rebuilt by Wren in the 1670s. The Walbrook was an ancient stream, by then covered over, which ran south to the Thames, and Walbrook, a street that runs parallel to it, contains an unusual number of skinners and druggists. St Benet and St Stephen are being investigated by Cheryl Bailey; St Gabriel’s researcher has just had to drop out, so we’re looking for a replacement.

One parish church that survived the fire was our most easterly, being tackled by SLP veteran Joan Hardinge, is Allhallows Staining (meaning stone, to distinguish it from other Allhallows churches which were made of wood.) But it collapsed in 1671 and was rebuilt in 1674. The church of St Katherine Coleman no longer exists, but it did survive the fire. It’s being researched by Pauline Brown and Maryke Koomans.

Researching City parish records and how they were governed is complicated by the fact that the City was divided into 23 administrative districts known as wards, which each covered several parishes. St Magnus the Martyr, which I took over when a researcher dropped out, is in the ward of London Bridge Within. A rare set of books survive for the Ward, itemising every inhabitant and Ward officer – such as constables and ‘scavengers’, and grand and petty jury members – from 1627-88. I’ve set myself the task of using the lists, an intriguing annual census, to look at how the ward was governed from the years before the Plague and Fire of 1665 and 1666 to a few years after it. London had perhaps the most comprehensive and effective form of local government of any European city of the period.

The years 1665 and 1666 were pivotal in London’s history. A fifth of Londoners died in the plague summer of ‘65, and many fled the city. Few are recorded as dying in the Fire, but many were permanently or temporarily displaced. So the project is an opportunity to see what happened to some of its inhabitants and their homes. The ‘Fire Court’ was set up in late 1666 to hear disputes over occupancy and rebuilding, usually between landowners and their tenants. It dealt unusually swiftly and flexibly with the cases, and its pages – thankfully already transcribed and printed – give an insight into how the City got back on its feet, house by house. We now have thirteen weeks left to find out all we can.

Peter Cox. 31st March 2018.

(Image above: Great Fire Map of London, 1667. British Library, Maps.Crace.Port.1.50. Copyright The British Libary)


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