Economic history


Victoria County History



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'Economic history: Agriculture', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea (2004), pp. 146-150. URL: Date accessed: 21 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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In 1066 the two-hide manor of Chelsea was valued at £9, considerably more than the much larger manor of Kensington at £6, and had land for five ploughs. The five ploughs are appropriate for the 780 acres of the parish and suggest that the manor and parish were roughly coterminous, but the assessment of the Domesday manor at 2 hides seems low, perhaps the result of a concession to a pre-Conquest holder by the king. (fn. 1) The value remained the same in 1086. The demesne was assessed at one hide and had two ploughs, while the remaining hide with one plough was shared between six villeins, three serfs, and three bordars, with land available for two more ploughs. There was enough meadow and pasture for the cattle of the vill, and woodland worth 52d. a year; there were also 60 pigs kept on the manor. (fn. 2) As there is no trace of woodland in later records for the main parish, the Domesday woodland may have been in Chelsea detached, sometimes called Kingsholt, which means king's wood. Another possibility is the area in the north-east corner of the parish, known from the Middle Ages as Blacklands, which was not part of the open field system and may therefore have been cleared from woodland before the earliest extant records.


In 1214 a tenant acknowledged he held 20 acres in villeinage of the lord of Chelsea, (fn. 3) and heriot is mentioned in 1350 and 1367, (fn. 4) but by the later 14th century the surviving manorial court records show no trace of villein or copyhold tenure in Chelsea. According to 16th-century records, the manorial tenants held freely for a fixed money payment (assized rent), suit of court held every 3 weeks, and relief. (fn. 5) In 1453 there were 20 tenants paying the assized rents; in 1536 there were 13, and the changes in the rent suggest that division and amalgamation of holdings frequently took place. Four of the holdings were cottages in Fulham, some or all at Wanden (Walham) Green. It seems likely that the 11 properties which had commoning rights on Chelsea common in the 17th century were successors to the freeholdings: some can certainly be traced from estates paying assized rents in the 16th century.


In 1453 the manorial demesne comprised 173 a. plus three unspecified closes in Landmedes. By far the greater part, 160 a., was arable, of which 28 a. lay in Westfield, 24 a. in Blacklands, 20 a. in Landmedes, and the rest in Eastfield: 38 a. in Gospelshot, 24 a. in Medshot, 16 a. in Crosshot, and 10 a. next to the manor close. Of the meadow, 1 a. and 3 lots lay in Westfield, and 12 a. lay in three pieces in Eastmead. (fn. 6) By 1587 some demesne had been taken to form the new manor house and its gardens, as well as the sites for other buildings, and many closes mentioned have unspecified areas: nevertheless, taking quantities given in later sources, the demesne included 242 a., excluding additional land bought by Henry VIII. (fn. 7)

In the mid 14th century nearly all the manorial demesne was apparently managed directly by the lord of the manor. A note of the income from Chelsea manor shows that only a few small parcels were let: a pightle, or small field, at Sandfordbridge (Stamford Bridge) was leased for 6s.; 1 a. 3 r. and a little garden were leased to Robert Shepherd for 4s. 4d.; two other small parcels were let at 2s. and 3s. 4d.; and Richard Est held some meadow valued at 13s. 6d. Other income from the manor consisted of the rents of assize totalling £7 6s. 6d. and from cottages £2 7s. 6d.; profits from customary works were valued at 8s.; profits from the courts 10s.; 2 mowings of the meadow were valued at £8; a close of pasture was valued at 26s. 8d., a croft at 8d., and pasture opposite the manor 6s. 8d. (fn. 8) However, no accounts survive for the medieval manor except for two brief periods when Westminster Abbey administered it. The first of these was 1367-70, when the lord of the manor, Richard de Heyle, granted it to the abbey for his lifetime on condition that they did not farm it out. The four surviving accounts show the abbey, which lay only a couple of miles from Chelsea, setting up a short-term farming system, presumably mainly for their domestic needs at Westminster in conjunction with one or two of their other manors in the region, principally Battersea. Nevertheless, the abbey apparently carried on much the same agriculture as that under the lay lord. When their occupation began in July 1367, the monks bought from Heyle for £38 10s. all the corn growing on the demesne- wheat, rye, barley, dredge, and oats - and all the stock: farm horses, bulls, cows, boars, sheep and ewes, young sheep and lambs. Further stock costing £21 was bought by Michaelmas: 2 carthorses, 6 farm horses (affri), 9 oxen including 4 from Heyle, and 11 cows in addition to 11 cows and a bull bought 'in the manor'. Another bull, an ox, and 3 bullocks were received from another manor, and a pig as a heriot. (fn. 1) More stock was bought in the following 12 months: a boar, sow, 14 piglets, a ram, 39 young sheep, 58 ewes and their lambs, 21 young ewes, an ox, and 14 calves. The sergeant also bought hay for the horses and additional grain to top up the manor's needs: wheat and rye mainly to pay to servants, dredge (barley and oats) for the pigs. (fn. 2)

About 145 a. of arable were sown each year, and an unknown acreage lay fallow annually. (fn. 3) Over half the acreage in 1367-8 was sown with barley (78 a.), about 27 a. with rye, and 21 a. with wheat. The remainder consisted of oats (11 a.), a little vetch, and mixed crops such as maslin (wheat and rye), and haras (oats and vetch). The following year barley was still the largest crop but only 53 a. was sown, while 16 a. of dredge was added. A high proportion of the grain produced each year was used for next year's sowing: nearly two-fifths of the barley, most of the wheat and maslin, and half the oats. Of the remainder of the harvest, three-fifths of the barley, some of the wheat, and all the dredge were sent to the Westminster granary or to Battersea. Small quantities of barley were used for brewing for the harvest or fed to the pigs; a little wheat was used for harvest expenses; the oats were used to feed servants, or the oxen and horses. Over three-quarters of the rye was used within the manor as payment to the servants and for bread for tenants doing customary work.

The manor was worked by a combination of servants, customary or boon work by manorial tenants, and paid piece work. The sergeant, who kept the manor's accounts, a carter, roofer, reaper, two herdsmen, a shepherd, dairymaid, and swineherd all received money wages, as did a named individual for carrying dung with his cart. A servant was also employed to cart dung and cultivate at sowing time. Food and dues were also paid at Christmas and Easter to eight servants, and food was paid during the year to a carter, two ploughmen, the shepherd, the farmer of the cows, and a reaper. The sergeant received a bushel of wheat each week, and oats were used for flour and pottage for the servants. In addition, all those working in the harvest received their food and drink, as did manorial tenants. The lord benefited from several customary works by the tenants. At least 12 boon ploughmen worked and received wheat and rye bread for customary ploughing; the manor provided 4 ploughs, made or repaired, but customary work in winter and at Lent involved 11 ploughs. The 24 men and 12 ploughmen who ploughed for winter sowing received wheaten bread. The manor had the use of customary work to reap and lift 14 a. of hay but two or more extra mowers had to be brought in to assist; customary mowers received rye bread and drink. The second hay crop was cut by paid labour for 6 days. During the harvest 69 men and 5 servants of the manor were used for 1 day each to reap and bind. It is not clear how many of the 69 were doing customary work and how many were employed at piece rate: only 18-20 a. were reaped by customary work; the remaining 125 a. were reaped by paid labour, at 1s. an acre. The customary tenants received bread and cheese during the day and ale and meat for supper. The servants, carters, two loaders, a binder, and a reaper received money payment for 4 weeks and 2 days work, as well as bread and ale. The manor also employed 2 carters and 4 other men at piece work during the harvest, plus a cook to provide for them. Most of the crops were threshed in the manor by named grangers, paid at piece work plus a bushel or two of wheat or maslin. Other work carried out concerned the manorial buildings: the sergeant paid for removing and stacking straw from the grange and cleaning it out as well as re-roofing it over 3 weeks. Roofing of buildings was a regular expense; the sheephouse was walled, and the piggery mended.

The main produce exported from the manor was wool and barley, and neither were valued in the accounts. In the first full year 116 fleeces were produced and 135 in the second; after a tenth had been given to the rector the rest were sent to Westminster. Nearly three-quarters of the barley crop was sent to Westminster, and a quarter of the wheat was sold, to the manor of Battersea. Sales of grain accounted for were small, and probably all at the barn door in the manor; a small quantity of straw and a larger amount of hay were also sold. Similarly, a few sales of surplus or unproductive animals were made each year, including 12 hens out of 18 obtained as rent at Christmas. Dairying was also a main source of income but was farmed: the manor received £6 13s. 4d. a year for dairy produce and calves from 20 cows, paid by the farmer of the cows at 6s. 8d. a head. In the final year of the abbey's possession, 1370-1, most of the barley, maslin, rye, wheat, vetch, dredge, and oats produced was removed from the manor and was either sent to Westminster or to other Westminster manors such as Battersea, Finchley, or Hendon; some oats and rye were sold.

In the mid 15th century, when Westminster again had temporary possession, the manor was farmed out in several parcels: some of the parcels are described as short leases for that year, but it seems likely that most of the manor was already farmed out before Westminster took possession for the years 1453-55. Assized rents were £9 1s. 6d., but neither cottage rents nor customary works were mentioned: the latter had probably been commuted when the demesne was farmed out. The site of the manor with 54 a. arable, and 4 a. and 3 lots of meadow were let to Simon Bayley, who also leased 3 a. next to the close of the manor and two other small parcels out of the remaining 15 parcels of the demesne land; the total rental for the demesne was £15 17s. 8d. in 1454 and £16 7s. 7d. in 1455. The lord also received 60s. a year from Richard Hurlock, the farmer at 'Westbourne', presumably Chelsea detached. A stipend of 20s. a year was paid to the collector of the rents and farms of the manor; other annual payments included the £4 chief rent to Westminster Abbey and 7s. 10d. to the manor of Knightsbridge for the Westbourne land. In 1455 nearly £36 was paid for 'repairs to the manor', presumably the manor house or manorial buildings. Overall, in the two and a half years the manor was held by Westminster the income of £71 was exceeded by expenses of £75. (fn. 1)


There were about 60 men listed in the tithing in 1389. (fn. 2) The chief pledges of the manor in the late 14th century included William Cotes, John Stoket, William Est, John Passour, William of Chikewell (Chigwell) and Richard Est, and tithing-men included Thomas Partrich, John Carter, Richard North junior, Richard Titegrove, John Couper, John Partrich, Edward Smith, and William Helder. John atte Water, John Stoket, Richard North and Thomas Churchman were presented for ploughing up markers or highways, and other tenants for encroaching on highways with dung heaps, straw stacks, and pigsties. Chief pledges in 1396 were Stephen Wilkyn, Richard Est, John Est, Hugh Hunt, Thomas Churchman, and John Partrich. Several women were presented for illegally mowing the meadow of other tenants or taking sheaves of corn. (fn. 3)

In 1340 the rector's tithes of corn, wool, and lambs produced within the parish was valued at £6 13s. 4d.: 40s. had been deducted because 30 a. arable and 2 a. meadow belonged to the rectory. There were 30 a. of titheable meadow; 100 a. lay fallow or waste. (fn. 4) Little detail is available concerning the type of farming by Chelsea's inhabitants, but the animals who died of murrain in 1369-a cart-horse, 3 cows, 3 young ewes, and 10 lambs - suggest the range of animal husbandry was similar to the demesne, as do the strays found within the manor between 1369 and 1399: horses, steers, a boar, wethers, piglets, chickens, and geese. (fn. 5)


Inclosure and Common Rights

Although Blacklands and Landmedes were in closes by the 15th century, (fn. 6) and possibly always had been, land in the two large arable fields of Eastfield and Westfield was in open parcels, confirmed by the fines for ploughing over the markers of the strips and field paths. (fn. 7) By the 15th century there is some indication of piecemeal inclosure of parts of Eastfield: although listed in four pieces, 24 a. of Medshot was farmed out as pasture by 1453. (fn. 8) Any inclosure took place slowly, however, and on a piecemeal basis, with some parts, such as on the south side of Chelsea common, remaining open until built on. Despite this, however, there are no indications of a common agricultural system, such as organized rotations, nor of common management of the fields except for the Lammas rights. (fn. 9) This may partly be because few court proceedings survive, but equally the lack of court rolls, even when Westminster Abbey managed the manor, suggests that there was no need of such records because any common management had long since disappeared.

Lammas rights became a source of conflict between landowners and parishioners by the late 16th century with the gradual enclosure of parts of the open fields, particularly Westfield. The freeholders and tenants of the manor of Chelsea had the right to graze the open arable fields with any stock except temporary sheep flocks between Lammas day (1 August) and Candlemas (2 February), and were prevented from doing so on about 50 a. in Westfield belonging to the earl of Lincoln when he inclosed it c. 1607. Lincoln's successor, Sir Arthur Gorges, opened up most of the land by 1619, but was challenged by inhabitants over Brickbarn close, which he claimed had never been open. The commoners maintained that the close had formerly had one side left open until the earl had inclosed it; after a suit in 1612 he had left a gate into the close open for the exercise of common rights, but the gate was kept closed after the earl's death (in 1616). (fn. 10)

In 1631 a report was made for the Privy Council after complaints about inclosure in Chelsea. In Eastfield an inclosure near Stonebridge had been reversed, and c. 20 a. of Sir William Blake's estate had been inclosed and partially hedged, but was still laid open at Lammas. The meadow in the detached part of Kensington by the Thames which was ditched and banked had also usually been commoned at Lammas over the bank. In Westfield, however, inclosures seem to have become permanent. The five acres on which Richard Stocke's house and garden had been built by 1619, and 14 a. adjoining it behind the houses at Little Chelsea was inclosed, with another 31 a. in Westfield belonging to Lady Elizabeth Gorges, probably including the grounds of Stanley House, and 3 a. meadow of Lady Elizabeth's in the open field had also been ditched and common rights prevented. (fn. 1) Prior to that Lady Elizabeth and her daughter Lady Lane had been allowed to inclose 4 acres in return for a payment to the parish poor. (fn. 2)

Lammas rights presumably became less of an issue as Chelsea's agriculture changed, but even in 1834 the parish officers and inhabitants repossessed the Lots meadow after the bankruptcy of the Kensington Canal Company on the grounds that it was Lammas lands on which they had a right to put their cattle, with Lord Cadogan having the right to let it for the other six months. (fn. 3) However the status of the Lots is unclear. It was divided into portions called lots, about a quarter of an acre each, and in extant sources individual lots were held in severalty and passed with other land holdings. However, the name suggests that the strips of meadow had once been apportioned annually to manorial tenants, though no hint of this survives in the medieval court rolls or accounts. The Lots meadow was still called Lammas land in the Chelsea Improvement Act of 1845, when it was owned by Lord Cadogan, the West London Railway, the Kensington Canal Company, and Chelsea parishioners. (fn. 4)

Chelsea Common

Chelsea common or heath was referred to in 1373, (fn. 5) and in 1386 a tenant was presented for illegally digging there. (fn. 6) By the 1540s manorial freeholders were presented for grazing too many cattle and sheep. (fn. 7) The right to graze the common was limited by the 17th century to 40 cows and 20 heifers divided in the proportion of one heifer to every two cows between 11 named properties, apparently successors of houses or holdings belonging to the manorial freeholders. (fn. 8) By the late 17th century the commoners were the leading landowners in the parish, and in 1674 they agreed to allow the common, computed at just over 37 a., to be inclosed temporarily and leased for 21 years to pay for rebuilding the parish church. In 1707 the vestry decided to approach the commoners about using the grazing rights to support the parish charity school, but apparently without success. In 1713, because of carting and illegal pasturing, the commoners let their rights to John Huggett for 3 years for proportionate payments to each commoner of 18s. for each cow or heifer they were entitled to graze. Huggett was also to inclose the common with a ditch and bank at his own expense. The lease was renewed in 1716 for 20s. an animal and continued until Huggett withdrew from the agreement in 1723; the commoners then proposed to seek another tenant. (fn. 9) They also had problems with the Kensington turnpike trust, who tried to dig gravel on the common in 1726 and 1736, but were prevented when it was shown that the common was not a public waste belonging to the parish but a private stinted common belonging to the proprietors. (fn. 10) Some encroachments were made: by 1674 there were 4 small houses, presumably the 'poor houses' mentioned in Hamilton's survey, and a pond or water-place made for rotting dung which was ordered to be filled. (fn. 11) The common disappeared c. 1810 when it was laid out for building. (fn. 12)


In the 16th and 17th centuries the manorial demesne continued to be leased out in parcels, as were the manorial farm buildings, but after the original manor house was replaced by a Tudor building, the latter and its immediate gardens and closes were usually occupied by the Crown lessee or later by the owner of the manor. (fn. 13) Sir Thomas More's estate was partly farmed by himself and partly let. In 1528 he had enough barley and oats to feed his daily household of 100, and was able to sell 20 quarters of barley and 24 quarters of oats; he also had enough wheat until midsummer, after which he would have to buy it. The only other resident listed with corn available to sell was William Chamberlain, with a household of 8, who could sell 20 quarters of barley and 4 of rye. About 16 households in the parish had no corn at all. (fn. 14) By 1537 all More's estate apart from his mansion and grounds was let, the farmhouse in Chelsea with c. 90 a. to Thomas Beane junior, and the remaining land and houses in Chelsea and Kensington to 11 other tenants. (fn. 15) In 1567 the owner, Lord Winchester, let the farmhouse and all the land, perhaps 130 a., to Nicholas Holborne, of Lincoln's Inn, for 50 years. Holborne also leased part of the manorial demesne and in 1587 was holding from year to year 5 bays of the great barn, the longhouse next to the barn, the granary, 12 a. in the common fields, and 1 a. called Wiffes acre. (fn. 16) After the death of Nicholas and his wife Catherine, the leasehold passed to his son Nicholas, who let parts of the Winchester estate: a close called Nine Acres near the mansion, to William Arnold of Fulham, (fn. 17) and the Farmhouse and 3 a. to tenants including Lodowick Briskett and Sir Robert Stapleton. (fn. 18)

Most of the third large estate in Chelsea, Hungerford's, was also let in one large farm, to William Wrennall. (fn. 1) In 1607 it consisted of a messuage or farmhouse, which stood in Church Lane opposite the rectory, 4 closes of arable or pasture called Sandhills (32 a.), 21 a. arable in two parcels in Eastfield adjoining Upper Church Lane, 9 a. arable on the south side of King's Road, 6 a. arable in Eastfield in same area, two parcels of 2 a. each on the north side of King's Road, parcels of 1½ a. and ½ a. arable in Eastfield between the road to Westminster and the Thames. In the West meadow he had two separate parcels containing 11 lots in all, 7 long and 4 short, and another 1 a. None of the arable is described as being in closes, and its description suggests it was still in open parcels in Eastfield and Westfield. (fn. 2) From the deeds, reference to Wrennall's crops in Sandhills, and from Wrennall's involvement with Lammas rights, it seems likely that Wrennall was farming his leasehold himself, together with land he rented from others. This included 6½ a. described as arable, meadow or pasture in Westfield on the north side of the Lots, and 14½ a. arable in Westfield on the north side of the King's Road, all leased from William Arnold of Fulham. (fn. 3) In 1630, when Sir William Blake sold Wrennall's farm to Massie, it consisted of the farmhouse in Chelsea and 7 parcels of arable in Eastfield totalling 43 a. all occupied by Wrennall, another 3 a. arable and 10 a. meadow in Eastfield, 11 lots and 1 a. of meadow, 21 a. arable, three 1 a. parcels of arable, a close of 5 a. all in Westfield, 2 parcels in Westfield called the two long lots (½ a.), and 3 roods called three lots in Westfield, a messuage or tenement in the tenure of Nicholas Harman (or Herne), and 1½ a. meadow in Fulham. (fn. 4)

Like the neighbouring parishes of Kensington and Fulham, agriculture in Chelsea was transformed during the 17th century as land was increasingly turned over to growing vegetables for the London market, and where traditional arable crops were still grown it was apparently in conjunction with vegetables. (fn. 5) The other influence on Chelsea's agriculture from the 17th century was the growth of residences for gentlemen and noblemen, with substantial parts of the open fields being inclosed to create pleasure gardens and parkland. Ten acres of Westfield, which had been enclosed in 1605 by the earl of Lincoln to make Brickbarn close, was with the adjoining 32 acres called Sandhills turned into Chelsea Park attached to Sir Lionel Cranfield's great house c. 1620, and other parts of Westfield were inclosed for gardens to the houses at Little Chelsea by 1631: (fn. 6) William Arnold's 10 a. arable, which had been partially inclosed and built on by 1618, (fn. 7) was apparently all inclosed by 1631 as gardens for houses along Fulham Road. (fn. 8) In the south-east corner of the parish some demesne farmland was taken for the site of Chelsea College, and later much more was taken for the Royal Hospital. Although part remained farmland until required for building, by 1700 land not used for the Hospital and its grounds had been leased to create Ranelagh House and gardens and Walpole House. The remaining strips between the highway and the Thames were soon afterwards being used for non-agricultural purposes and the Apothecaries' Physic Garden.

Pastoral farming in the form of grazing animals and making hay was also limited, though in 1800 substantial areas of enclosed meadow or pasture were dotted around the parish, generally as closes attached to the larger houses. (fn. 9) Some grazing was used for dairy cattle, though increasingly during the 19th century cowkeepers kept their animals in sheds and did not have any land. By 1851 there were at least 25 registered cowkeepers in the parish, as well as those in related occupations, such as dairymen. (fn. 10) In 1867 the parish recorded 17 farmers who kept 308 cows and heifers for milking; as only one of the farmers had any land, with 6 a. of grass, (fn. 11) most of the cattle were being kept in sheds by cowkeepers. In 1877 18 cowkeepers kept 382 cows in sheds, (fn. 12) in 1882 20 had stock but no land with 340 cows in milk or in calf, (fn. 13) and in 1885 14 had stock only with 327 cows in milk, 3 horses were kept for agriculture or market gardening, 4 unbroken horses, and 44 hens. (fn. 14) As late as the 1890s cows were kept in premises on King's Road. (fn. 15) Chelsea still had 1 cow shed just before the First World War, but by 1918 there were none. (fn. 16)


1 Inf. from Dr C.P. Lewis.
2 VCH Middx, I. 129.
3 Cur. Reg. R. VII. 152-3.
4 Cal. Close, 1349-54, 264; WAM 4813.
5 PRO, SC 2/205/40. Similar to situation in man. of Westm., also originally a Westm. Abbey man.
6 WAM 4804. For location of fields, above, Settlement, to 1680.
7 BL, Harl. Roll L 26; PRO, CP 43/520, carte rot. 5.
8 WAM 4797.
1 WAM 4813; 19861; 30014.
2 WAM 4807.
3 Foll. 3 paras based on surviving accounts: WAM 4806-8, 4813.
1 WAM 4804.
2 WAM 4805.
3 WAM 4805, 4809-12, 4814-17.
4 Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 197.
5 WAM 4805, 4809-12, 4814-17.
6 Above, Settlement, to 1680.
7 e.g. WAM 4817.
8 WAM 4804.
9 Below.
10 PRO, STAC 8/160/18; C 2/JASI/G2/16.
1 PRO, SP 16/193, f. 101 and v.
2 Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 106-7.
3 Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1955), 42.
4 8 & 9 Vic. c. 143 (Local and Personal).
5 WAM 4811.
6 WAM 4814.
7 PRO, SC 2/188/42-3.
8 Dr King's MS, p. 38; Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 50.
9 Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 51-2, 55-7.
10 Ibid., 58-60.
11 Ibid., 60-1.
12 Above, Settlement, 1680-1865 (Chelsea Pk).
13 Above, Landownership, Chelsea man.
14 PRO, E 36/257, f.44.
15 PRO, SC 6/HENVIII/7247.
16 BL, Harl. Roll L. 26.
17 PRO, STAC 8/91/25.
18 Below.
1 Above, Landownership, Hungerford.
2 PRO, CP 43/99, carte rott. 41v.-43v.
3 PRO, C 54/1884 (not numbered).
4 PRO, C 9/15/92; above, Landownership, other ests (Blake).
5 Below, farm-gardening.
6 Cal. SP Dom. 1631-3, 73.
7 PRO, C 54/2376, no. 5.
8 Above, Settlement, to 1680.
9 Thos Milne's Land Use Map of London and Environs in 1800 (LTS 118-119, 1975-6).
10 PRO, HO 107/1472/2/1.
11 PRO, MAF 68/136.
12 Ibid., 68/535.
13 Ibid., 68/820
14 Ibid., 68/991.
15 Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1958), 56-61.
16 LCC, London Statistics, XXVI (1915-20), 90.