The Parish of St Margaret New Fish Street in 1666

The fourth 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 Barbara Sanders. Using the hearth tax returns from the City of London and Middlesex as a starting point, Barbara presents an incredibly detailed picture of the intramural parish of St Margaret New Fish Street in 1666. 

John Stow published his Survey of London in 1598, then a revised edition in 1603. His maps of each ward in the City of London were topographically extremely accurate for the time. The ground plan of St Margaret’s parish would have changed very little by Lady Day (25th March) 1666 when the Hearth Tax survey was recorded.

The Fire, less than 6 months later, in September 1666, devastated most of the City of London. When it came to rebuilding, Londoners resisted grand designs for boulevards and squares and preferred to rebuild on their own plots, so again the ground plan did not change.

The map below is the part of Maitland’s adapted version of Stow’s map showing the parish of St Margaret New Fish Street in 1720. It has the advantage that lesser byways are also labelled, clarifying the locations of the Hearth Tax inhabitants. The difference is that Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire, in Monument Yard, has been built on the site of the former St Margaret’s church and churchyard.

Fish Street

The Itinerary of the Hearth Tax Enumerator

The addresses listed for the Hearth Tax for 1666 in this parish are in the following sequence:

  • Fish Street Hill, (part of) east side
  • Pudding Lane, west side
  • Pudding Lane, east side
  • Fish Yard
  • Lamb Yard
  • The Church Yard
  • Fish Street Hill, (part of) west side
  • Crooked Lane, south side
  • Mitre Yard
  • “The Lane side”
  • Crooked Lane, north side
  • “The Streete side”
  • Bell Yard
  • “The Streete side”

Note that the dashed line on the map marks ward boundaries; this parish is partly in Bridge Ward and partly in Billingsgate Ward. The fainter dotted line is the parish boundary.

The enumerator’s path seems to be to start at the lower end of Fish Street Hill east. This seems likely as the first six residents are fairly well-to-do fishmongers (4 to 7 hearths) who are close to the river and the Fishmongers Hall (which is at the bottom of the Hill, in the next parish).

He proceeds up the Hill, past the Sun inn (substantial with 13 hearths, but not marked), and the minister’s house (7 hearths). The church and minister’s house were formerly at the junction of the Hill and St Margaret’s Lane, now replaced on the map by the Monument and Monument Yard.

He then turns right to the Star inn (a large site with 29 hearths), cutting east towards Pudding Lane.

Going southwards down Pudding Lane west there is a very socially mixed working population with between 1 and 7 hearths.

Crossing Pudding Lane to the east side there are two residents (4 and 7), then a turn right into Fish Yard and Lamb Yard (the former is now marked on Maitland’s map; the latter is not marked but is probably the adjoining yard).

He then crosses back to the Church Yard (later Monument Yard) with 6 residents, the last being a merchant with 9 hearths, next to the church.

Back on Fish Street Hill he crosses to the west side, with 4 fishmongers (1 to 6 hearths), the Mitre coaching inn (12 hearths) and one more fishmonger.

A left turn into Crooked Lane south coming next suggests that the unmarked area within the junction of the Hill and Crooked Lane is probably the yard of the Mitre.  Crooked Lane south has 5 homes:  4 artisans (2 to 4 hearths) and 1 empty (4 hearths)

Next comes Mitre Yard. It seems that the location is as suggested above but the access in 1666 for inn users  was from the Hill, while access to the dwellings behind was from the much narrower Crooked Lane.

Turning back into Crooked Lane south there is one resident (“the Lane side”), then a U-turn along the north side of Crooked Lane where there are mixed properties (1 to 7 hearths).

Back on the Hill (“the Streete side”) are 4 substantial properties (4 to 9 hearths).

A left turn goes into Bell Yard with 2 merchants (7 and 17) and a “kallendor” (5).

Back on the Hill (“the Streete side”) are 5 more properties (2 to 11 hearths).

Fish Street Hill

London Bridge was the only way to cross the Thames on foot, horse or by coach, though watermen did a roaring trade ferrying passengers across as well as along the river. Fish Street Hill was the main thoroughfare north from London Bridge, starting in the parish of St Magnus the Martyr. As the Hill ascended steeply it entered the parish of St Margaret New Fish Street, passing onward to Gracechurch Street (Grasse Street). It was sometimes known as Bridge Street.

The parish church of St Margaret New Fish Street was on the east side, described by John Stow in his survey as “a proper church, but monuments hath it none”.

There were passenger services for travelling by coach between cities and towns. It was a slow and uncomfortable experience in unsprung unstable vehicles over poorly maintained roads, mainly cobbled in town and unmade cross-country. The stagecoach was introduced in Britain in 1640. An improved design developed in Germany in about 1660, was known as the Berlin, with curved metal springs, to help absorb shocks. so gradually springing and other improvements to passenger coaches and carriages were made. The building of turnpike roads was yet to come. Journeys which in the 21st century take hours took days then; London to Bath by stage coach took 3 days, assuming the weather was favourable. Coaching inns provided the facilities for the coach driver to break a journey at intervals for the driver’s and passengers’ rest and refreshment, and for the tired horses to be changed.

Fish Street Hill was the only street in the parish broad enough to accommodate such coaches so it provided coaching inns – the Sun, Mitre and Star – serving both travellers and locals. Stow wrote “in New Fishstreete be Fishmongers and fayre Tavernes”.

Samuel Pepys mentions these inns where he has social or business meetings, having a merry time with fine food and wine. Where he describes the dishes, a wide range of fish and shellfish seem to predominate.

Virtually all the houses of quality in the parish were on Fish Street Hill.

The Lanes and Yards

Pudding Lane has gone down in history as the site of the bakery where the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666. It was parallel to Fish Street Hill, but very narrow, made narrower and darker by successive upper storeys of the houses being “jettied” to the point where top storeys nearly touched each other above the street. Crooked Lane was probably similar. The residents were of lesser status than those on he Hill, but the lowest were in some of the Yards, packed in behind other houses and accessed through dark narrow alleys.

Fish Yard and its likely neighbour Lamb Yard were the poorest, tucked away in a small complex behind Pudding Lane.

Mitre Yard was the back part of the Mitre inn with space for the coaches and stabling; the homes there may have had a better aspect though the noise and smell could be off-putting. The residents are a tailor and two hook and eye makers, both fairly comfortable at 3 or 4 hearths. The remaining four are widows with just 1 or 2 hearths. This usually suggests poverty, but could this be a case of early sheltered living for the elderly?

The name of Bell Yard suggests a former inn of that name on the Hill. The three dwellings there with 5, 7 and 17 hearths are much superior to those of the other Yards.

The Church Yard had buildings looking out onto what we now understand by a “churchyard”, that is the church access and burial ground, though even that could be less than appealing. One wealthy resident was a merchant (9 hearths), next door to the church.

Occupations – and the notorious Thomas Farriner

This was a mixed community but with no-one important enough to qualify in history books of the City of London. That is, with one notable exception –  Thomas Farriner.

Farriner and his Bakery

Farriner’s bakery was the source of the Great Fire in 1666. He has been written about plenty elsewhere so there is no point in researching him here, though in browsing the Internet I have encountered two fallacies about his story.

Firstly, he was not the King’s baker. The belief arises from the fact that he was appointed by the King to supply the Royal navy with ship’s biscuit, but not to supply the royal household – no doubt Whitehall Palace had its own in-house bakery. The Navy account must have taken a lot of his time, but he did provide the Eucharist bread for St Margaret’s (Churchwarden’s Accounts) and most likely the daily bread of his neighbours.

Secondly, the Monument is definitely not on the site of his bakery (beware the internet!). It is generally accepted that the bakery was in Pudding Lane, 202 feet to the east of the Monument. There has been some question as to its precise location. Dorian Gerhold recently presented a thoroughly researched new theory, based on post-fire legal and planning documents [1].

In the 1666 Hearth Tax survey the Pudding Lane residents do not include Farriner; he is in Fish Yard.  Fish Yard is not named on Stow’s map, but Maitland, using the same map, has added the words “Fish Yard” to the alleys off to the east of Pudding Lane, backing towards Botolphs Lane, but accessed from Pudding Lane.

In the 19th century, Stow’s St Margaret Lane, later Maitland’s Monument Yard, was absorbed  into the new Monument Street thoroughfare. The continuation of Monument Street towards the east would cut across Maitland’s Fish Yard. Dorian Gerhold has identifed the precise location under the present day Monument Street, so it tallies.

The Fishmongers

With the Fishmongers Hall to the west of the bridge foot, and wharves and Billingsgate dock, base of the long established fishing industry, to the east, it is not surprising that the southern end of the parish was mainly populated by fishmongers, plus a number of porters. In the Hearth Tax list for St Margaret New Fish Street, of 73 occupations shown, 12 were fishmongers and 5 porters. Here the fishmongers were successful businessmen rather than simple shop or market traders. Among them, Arthur Wine or Wyne, recorded  here as Arthur Wind, fishmonger, for the Hearth Tax, had the most hearths at seven. He was Fishmonger to the King, supplying fish to the royal household from about 1660 to 1668. He is mentioned in Pepys diary:

9 November 1660: “. . . to dinner with Mr. Wivell at the Hoop Tavern where we had [list of companions], and our dinner given us by Mr. Ady and another, Mr. Wine, the King’s fishmonger.”

The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers was one of the earliest and most powerful of the livery companies of the City of London. In 1515 the Court of Aldermen of the City of London had settled an order of precedence and ranked the Fishmongers fourth out of the 48 existing at that time. The rank still applies, with later Companies being ranked by date of foundation.

Ancillary trades for the fish business

4 coopers, 1 salter.  A cooper’s barrels and tubs would generally have many uses, but here the fishmongers would be his biggest customers. Both fresh and salted fish were traded, even in the past having separate guilds.

Merchants

The 3 merchants in this parish could be dealing in any sort of goods and materials coming into or leaving the Pool of London. All imported cargoes had to be inspected and assessed by officers at the Custom House, further east, on the riverside in All Hallows parish. Merchants tended to be affluent, as here with 7, 9 and 17 hearths.

The Church

Minister, parish clerk, sexton, 1 of each.

Personal services

3 apothecaries, 1 barber, 1 surgeon and 1 scrivener. A scrivener wrote or copied legal documents, sometimes also producing minutes or accounts, sometimes simply writing letters for those who could not write.

Landlords of hostelries

1 vintner (The Sun), and 1 innholder  (The Star). The Mitre is recorded as empty, possibly due to the Plague.

Supplies and  food

1 baker, 1 oilman, 1 water bearer, 1 tobacconist, 2 victuallers, 1 vintner, 1 innholder, and 1 cook. A victualler or vintner often had a dual role of running a hostelry but also selling food or other provisions.  A cook who was a domestic servant would not appear (as here) as a householder. In this case Widow Bennett is living next door to the Mitre Inn.  She has 4 hearths, so could have her own business, serving the inn and/or local households.

Textiles and clothes

2 clothworkers, 1 kallendor, 2 tailors, 1 haberdasher, 4 hook & eye makers, 6 (linen) drapers, 2 glovers,  1 hosier.

A “kallendor” or calender in textiles operates a finishing process used to smooth, or coat or otherwise enhance a fabric by passing it between calender rollers at high temperatures and pressure.

Before zips and press studs were invented, clothes were fastened with hooks and eyes, buttons, clasps, belts or drawstrings. Making hooks and eyes from wire was a specialist precision task, but 4 separate makers seems rather excessive. Possibly they were selling not just to the local haberdasher, but to the pedlars who travelled around the country selling small items.

Draper was originally a term for a retailer or wholesaler of cloth that was mainly for clothing; some specialised in linen or wool.

Craftsmen

2 glaziers, 3 plasterers, 1 smith, and 1 turner

Metal-workers

2 latten men, 1 needle maker. 1 plateworker and 1 wire worker,

Latten is an alloy of copper and zinc, similar to brass, much used for church decorations and vessels, candlesticks and some tableware.

A plateworker used tinplate to make household articles such as drinking vessels, plates, bowls and lanterns.

A wire worker used wire to make functional or decorative objects such as fish hooks, cages and small chains.

The latter two groups of craftsmen had amalgamated to form a trade guild for the management and regulation of their trades, and in due course the company was granted a Royal Charter by Charles II in 1670 with the title of “The Trade Arte and Mistery [Guild] of Tynne Plate Workers als Wyer Workers of the City of London”. The Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers, as it became known, still exists as a charity even though though its original craftsmen have been replaced by machines.

Then in less than 6 months time . . .

. . . the world these citizens knew would be turned upside-down by the Great Fire. Some would never return to the City, while others faced the challenge to make a fresh start. At least the craftsmen and metal-workers there were assured of full employment into the foreseeable future.

The Health and Mortality of the City Inhabitants

Some Londoners caught but did survive the 1665 Plague, (which was still lingering in 1666) but it would have left them debilitated.

Everyone who remained in London, even those not infected, suffered from food shortages.  The prevalence of Thames fish around Fish Street did still provide one important part of a balanced diet. But farmers and poulterers avoided bringing their meat animals to market in London. The benefits of fruit and vegetables, not well understood at the best of times, were lost when farmers and smallholders refused to deliver to the infected capital as they had previously. The Plague had reduced imports of food and wine into the Port of London. Then the Great Fire devastated the Thameside wharves and warehouses.

The report of just a handful of deaths actually in the Fire is ludicrously small and subject to debate. But in addition, after surviving two years of unspeakable hardships, premature death must have been commonplace. Elsewhere there are contemporary records of longevity well beyond the biblical “three-score years and ten” (Psalm 90)  in parishes such as on the South Downs, where there was fresh air, uncontaminated water, good local food and an established supportive community. But even at the best of times, conditions were poor in the City of London. The population was not yet overly knowledgeable or concerned about public health, so expectation of life was much lower.

Survivors of even a single house fire may have long term respiratory problems. This Great Fire was all-consuming in a densely built-up area, generating soot containing poisonous elements, floating burning embers and noxious gases. Lung problems can be killers after the event as in emphysema and cancer.

I have explored the life and careers of two of the inhabitants of this parish. Both survived the Fire itself, but David Barton, the Minister of St Margaret New Fish Street, moved to a country living and complained of severe headaches; Thomas Padnall (age 57), vintner and innkeeper and his wife both died within 2 years of the Fire. It seems very unlikely that many survived unscathed.

By Barbara Sanders

[1]     Where Did The Great Fire Begin? by Dorian Gerhold, London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Transactions, 66 (2015), 1—7

References

The Guild of Scholars of the City of London:
http://gofs.co.uk/guild.aspx?name=4

 

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