The story of Thomas Elwood, Tyler & Brickmaker, and underdog…

The fifth 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 Jane Harrington. Using the Hearth Tax returns from the City of London and Middlesex as a starting point, Jane presents the story of one Thomas Elwood.

In the 1666 Hearth Tax returns for both Lady Day and Michaelmas, Thomas Elwood, bricklayer, is recorded as living in Stones Court (St Botolph Aldersgate) with a modest 2 hearths. Stones Court was to the east of Aldersgate and near to the City boundary, more or less opposite Trinity Chapel. It was also home to alehousekeeper Mathew White, with a generous 8 hearths, some of whose tradesmen’s tokens still survived in 1849 (and may yet do so)[1]. Other fellow residents listed included Edward Cox, a milliner; Richard Cox, a shoemaker; and Thomas Terrill, a silversmith.

In 1632 Thomas was apprenticed by his father, Clement, to Edward Dee of the Tylers & Bricklayers Company[2].  At that time they were living in London (in the Minories, which is near to St Botolph Aldgate). By 1638 Thomas has moved into the parish of St Botolph Aldersgate, appearing in a list of London inhabitants in that year[3].

Thomas’s elder brother, also Clement (and later Executor of his will), had been apprenticed to another Master of the same Company, four years earlier[4], when the family were evidently still living in Rutland and Clement snr. was a farmer (husbandman).  It seems likely that Clement jnr. stayed in the Aldgate area as there are St Botolph Aldgate records which refer to ‘Clement Ellwood, bricklayer” of Houndsditch[5]. Bricklaying was clearly a family business. There are some other Ellwoods mentioned in connection with this Company.

This is all pretty unremarkable but at some point in the years following, Thomas got entangled in a complex and protracted legal case of ejectment, from which an impassioned printed legal defence document (1659) survives in the British Library[6]. In a recent book, Peacey refers to it briefly as an example of such documents sometimes coming from “any number of less well-connected individuals, such as impoverished London bricklayer, Thomas Elwood…” [7]

It revolved around the lease of a house in St Pauls which Thomas had obtained from a successful Mercer/Draper called Richard Higginson.  Higginson, originally from Bispham in Lancashire, had clearly made a fortune down in London. His will is an extensive document with a large number of bequests[8]. He owned a good deal of property, including in the vicinity of Paternoster Row (known as an area where mercers and drapers were concentrated) and he later became an Alderman in Castle Baynard Ward in 1658[9], also nominating various others for similar office around the same time.

Ejectment was/is not the same as eviction.  It is an action to recover the possession of, or title to, land – not merely eviction from it for not paying the rent or otherwise breaking a contract. The dispute about whether Thomas could be ejected from his entitlement clearly went on for months if not years, with Higginson changing his story, involving various relatives and associates, then denying that they were involved at all, then persistently not turning up in various courts (he could clearly afford to forfeit the various bail payments involved) and finally dying (in summer 1658) before any resolution was reached. At one hearing Thomas turns up with “3 Counsell and 14 Witnesses” but the case is still not tried. At the end of the document poor Thomas bemoans “such potent unjust men, supported in wickedness by the corrupt practice of the Law, the just cause of the poor is destroyed, and the poor by them eaten up as they eat bread, and for that your Petitioner by these impious practises is utterly ruined in his Estate, Credit and Calling, and his wife and Children destroyed and your Petitioner damnifyed above 500 [pounds].” One assumes that he never got satisfaction, only impoverishment. It all seems to resemble Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ some 300 years later.

Thomas himself died in Spring 1667[10]. If he was apprenticed around the age of 12 (as was typical) that would make him around 47 years old, actually a reasonable age to attain of course. He was buried at St Botolph Aldersgate on 21st May and his will was probated quickly, on 1st June[11]. His wife Ann is mentioned, also his sons John and Thomas to whom he rather sadly leaves what is left of his tools and equipment.  His brother Clement is appointed Executor.

There is a marriage record for Thomas Elwood, Tyler & Brickmaker, to one Hannah Tompson in the preceding February[12]. This may or may not be him. Although he and his family are also similarly described in Boyd’s List of London Inhabitants and Ann is a known diminutive of Hannah. If his first wife had indeed died earlier, he may have been ill and trying to make some sort of last minute provision of care for his sons? There are records for the sons in the City of London Court of Orphans at the end of 1667[13], in which Thomas jnr is described as the orphan, presumably being under the stipulated age for that status at the time. In the inventory Thomas Snr has debts, both ‘separate’ and ‘desperate’, and little that is owed to or owned by him.  His brother also seems to have died a few years later, in 1674, as he too appears in the same records in January of that year[14].

This seems to be the story of a country lad without any obvious social advantages who achieved some solid professional success in London. But then he came up against the forces of those who were privileged, affluent and unscrupulous, if not downright corrupt. As a result, he lost virtually everything he had worked for, providing a thought-provoking corrective to the many accounts we have of successful men in the City.

By Jane Harrington


[1] AKERMAN, John Yonge ‘Tradesmen’s tokens, current in London and its vicinity between the years 1648 and 1672.’ London: John Russell Smith, 1849, entries 32 & 33.  [accessed 2 April 2018]

 [2] WEBB, Cliff ‘London Apprentices Vol 2: Tylers & Bricklayers Company’ London: Society of Genealogists, 1966/ LMA Ref Book 35.31WEB. 

[3] DALE T. C, ‘Inhabitants of London in 1638: St. Botolph without Aldersgate, London’, in The Inhabitants of London in 1638 (London, 1931), pp. 203-209. 

British History Online  [accessed 7 June 2018].

 [4] WEBB op.cit.

 [5]Burial of Clement 5 Dec 1674 and earlier of wife Ann, 2 Dec 1641

Parish registers LMA P69/BOT2/A/015/MS09222/002 (via Ancestry)

 [6] ELWOOD, Thomas ‘The case of Thomas Elwood bricklayer, and Richard Higginson mercer in Pater-noster-row, late alderman of London’ BL 669.f.21.(65).

Also online at;view=fulltext  [accessed 25 May 2018]

 [7] PEACEY, Jason ‘Print and public politics in the English Revolution.’ Cambridge University Press, 2014 p313

[8] PCC National Archives Kew PROB11/294/514

[9] BEAVEN, Alfred P, ‘Aldermen of the City of London: Aldersgate ward’, in The Aldermen of the City of London Temp. Henry III – 1912(London, 1908), pp. 1-8. 

British History Online [accessed 7 June 2018].

[10] Burial 21 May 1667 St Botolph Aldersgate. Parish Registers. LMA P69/BOT1/A/001/MS03854/001 (via Ancestry) 

[11] PCC National Archives Kew PROB 11/324/186

[12] Marriage 28 February 1667 St James Duke’s Place, Aldgate.  Parish Registers LMA P69/JS1/A/002/MS07894/001 (via Ancestry and The Genealogist)

[13] Elwood, Thomas, Citizen and Tyler & Bricklayer. Court of Orphans, City of London 1662-1677 LMA CLA/002/02/01/0339

[14] Elwood, Clement, Citizen and Tyler & Bricklayer. Court of Orphans, City of London 1662-1677 LMA CLA/002/02/01/0989




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