Centre for Metropolitan History



Derek Keene & Vanessa Harding (editors)

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'Introduction', A Survey of Documentary Sources for Property Holding in London before the Great Fire: London Record Society, 22 (1985), pp. XI-XV. URL: Date accessed: 19 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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Records of property holding comprise one of the bulkiest, and most intractable, categories of written sources for the history of medieval and early modern towns. Few European cities, if any, are richer than London in such records. The aim of this survey is to render more readily usable the mass of documentation for property holding in the city of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666. The records are numerous from the twelfth century onwards, (fn. 1) and can be used to trace the histories of houses and their owners and occupiers, to map the property boundaries, to study patterns of land use and the social geography of the city, to reconstruct the physical arrangement of houses and other buildings, to follow in detail programmes of building and repair, and to chart the operation of the property market. The sources are thus of value for archaeologists and geographers, as well as for historians and all those with an interest in the city and its inhabitants before the Fire. The survey is arranged so that the records concerning particular localities in the city, defined principally according to the parishes in which they lay, may readily be identified. Much of the information was collected in the course of a detailed study of a sample group of parishes in the Cheapside area, which showed how this material can be used as evidence not only for the history of particular sites but also for elucidating the development of the city as a whole over a long period. (fn. 2)

The scope of the survey

This book surveys the documentary sources for the histories of properties and property holding in the city of London up to the Great Fire of 1666. The sources, found in record offices and collections in London and elsewhere, fall into two main groups: documents of title and records of estate management. The former, comprising original deeds and leases and copies in cartularies and registers, are numerous from the twelfth century onwards. From the thirteenth century, when they begin to survive in even greater quantities and acquire a new topographical precision, London title deeds can, in most cases, be related to particular sites on the ground. The records of property management comprise rentals, surveys, accounts, minute-books, papers, and plans. Some London rentals and accounts survive from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and more frequently from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but they do not become numerous until after 1500, with the increasing survival of city livery company and parish archives. They can record the names of tenants and the sums of rent paid, and, up to c. 1550, can provide extensive records of payments for building and repairs. From c. 1550 onwards the records of the deliberations of corporate bodies on the management of their holdings are increasingly informative. The great expansion of the city in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries caused many landlords to have detailed surveys made of the value and structural character of their properties.

The provenance of the principal bodies of records varies over this long period. Up to the mid sixteenth century the records of property holding in the city mainly concern, on the one hand, the properties of those private individuals whose deeds and wills were enrolled in the Court of Husting (cf. 2) and, on the other, the estates belonging to religious houses or similar bodies. Records of title in the latter group can concern many transactions between private individuals. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the records concern principally the holdings of corporate landlords, who by this time owned a large proportion of the land within the city. Records of property holding produced in this period for private individuals, who were in general more directly concerned with the occupation of the land, are still numerous but are less readily identifiable and provide less comprehensive coverage than formerly.

A third category of sources covered by this survey comprises administrative and judicial records of local and national government. These concern not only the estates in the possession of the City and the Crown, but also escheats, the regulation of nuisance, and disputes over ownership. Taxation- and assessment-lists of a topographical character are also described in the survey.

The Great Fire of 1666 is an obvious limit to take for a survey of sources concerning the topographical development of the city, not least on account of the records engendered by the process of rebuilding immediately afterwards (11). Other sources later than 1666 which have been covered include copies of earlier records, now lost, and plans or surveys of the seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries of value for identifying or understanding pre-Fire holdings. No attempt has been made to cover graphic or cartographic records of London before the Fire, other than those, essentially plans of individual holdings, produced for landlords.

In topographical extent the survey is restricted to records of properties within the liberty of the city of London, that is the walled area and the extra-mural suburbs under the city's jurisdiction. In most records of title, even in the seventeenth century when London sprawled beyond the city's limits, the distinction between the city and its suburbs on the one hand, and the county of Middlesex on the other, is scrupulously maintained; but on occasion with these records, and more frequently with other sources, it is not possible to tell whether properties in extra-mural parishes which straddled the liberty boundary lay within the city or not. In such cases, where doubt exists, references have been included in the survey. An attempt has been made to include references to areas, such as the parish of Holy Trinity Minories or the precinct of St. Katharine's Hospital, which in the earlier Middle Ages appear to have been within the city, but which later lay outside it. Records relating to Southwark are not covered. Readers should note that this necessarily restrictive policy has led to the exclusion from the survey of records concerning the important extra-mural settlement extending along the Strand towards Westminster.

The survey covers collections, public and private, in the United Kingdom, with some exceptions noted below, and includes notes on a number of collections in the United States of America (518–28). There are also noted, from printed sources, some collections in continental archives (266–74).

The survey is intended to be complete within these limits, but inevitably there will be omissions. In some cases these will be in fields which we have surveyed; where we are aware of them, they have been pointed out. This is particularly true of the Public Record Office entries (436–53), where several potentially interesting classes could only be sampled. Other omissions will be archives which we have not noticed. In general, we have not attempted to survey the archives of present-day property owning bodies founded after c. 1670, although some of these may contain records of title from the seventeenth century or earlier. The problems of identifying such holders, and of gaining access to their records, seemed too great if the survey was to be completed within the time available. The archive of British Rail, a substantial freeholder in the city, has not been consulted.

The arrangement of the survey

Each entry in the survey is identified by a number in bold. After an account of the Corporation of London archive, covering both judicial and estate records (1–15), the survey falls into two main parts. The first (16–435) consists of separate descriptions of the archives of individual property holders, principally institutions, arranged in several sections. The introductions to these sections describe the systematic procedures adopted in identifying the archives. Many of the institutions covered are now defunct (as most of 70–274, religious houses and bishoprics), but their archives, and a picture of their estates in London, can be reconstructed from records surviving in the Public Record Office, the British Library, and elsewhere. Not all the surviving bodies still hold the London properties once in their possession. Many of the surviving institutions still hold their own records, but a number, including most of the city livery companies (16–69), have deposited their archives in record offices. A few private archives, mostly still in their owners' hands, are also noted (420–35).

The main Public Record Office classes relevant to the survey are described next (436–53), with indexes to deeds and miscellaneous accounts and a brief guide to Crown estate and administrative and judicial records.

The second main part of the survey (454–528) is arranged by repository (libraries and record offices in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United States of America) and covers collections of records, mostly of family origin, which do not constitute significant, separate archives in their own right. Items from institutional archives in these repositories are described in the earlier part of the survey.

Finally, there is a short section (529–30) noting the location of London wills and inventories.

The entries in the survey

An entry concerning the records of a property-holding institution generally begins with a brief account of the institution and the location of its archive, together with a statement on the topographical extent of its estate in the city. The records subsequently described in the entry concern that estate, unless more specific details are given. In many cases records of title will include some deeds or references concerning properties not acquired by the institution, and the coverage of such references will be indicated. Since many institutions built their estates up gradually, and at times lost parts of them, the records described in any particular group will not necessarily concern all the properties in the possession of the institution during the period covered by this survey. Major changes in an estate are covered by the statement at the beginning of an entry. For minor changes, in particular those arising from the progressive accumulation of properties, reference should be made to cartularies, registers, 'will books', or rentals, which can provide a guide to the date of acquisition of a property, after which it will be covered by records of a continuous administrative character.

Entries containing descriptions of the records of property-holding institutions are arranged by lettered (lower case bold) paragraphs covering topics in the following order: deeds and leases; cartularies, registers, and lease books; rentals and accounts; administrative records, principally minute books or act books; miscellaneous papers; plans. Where an archive is particularly large and complex, each of these categories is dealt with in a separately numbered entry. Not all these categories are present in every case, and different kinds of institution may have had slightly different practices of estate management and archive arrangement which dictate variations in the arrangement of entries. The descriptions of records include reference or call numbers and other means of identification, references to printed editions, approximate dates for both contents and compilation, references to any index or other searching aid, and, if necessary, a particular description of the topographical coverage of the record (generally in parentheses at the end of the description).

Sources in libraries and record offices (454–528) are usually listed with a separate paragraph for each large collection or deposit, with details of date and coverage. Most of these collections consist of deeds and papers only, but when there is material of other kinds it is listed in the form used in descriptions of separate archives in the earlier part of the survey.

The judicial and administrative records in the Corporation of London Records Office and the Public Record Office are described briefly, with an indication of the character and scope of the records and notes on dates, topographical coverage, and guides and indexes.

It should be noted that many of the archives of institutions covered by the survey include material of interest which does not relate to or arise from property holding, and so is not described here. Thus, no reference is made to records concerning the internal economies of religious houses, to the apprenticeship registers or quarterage books of livery companies, or to the records of poor-relief payments prominent in parochial records.

The means of topographical reference

The primary means of defining the location of a property in the city between the twelfth and late sixteenth century, in both deeds and other records, was by reference to the parish or parishes in which it lay. The practice remained common in deeds even after the Fire. The London parishes were numerous and their boundaries appear to have been constant from the twelfth century onwards; only a handful of parishes had been lost by the time of the Fire, and the boundaries of those surviving at that date are recorded on accurate modern maps. When seeking the pre-Fire records of any property it is essential to know the parish in which that property lay. Wherever possible, therefore, parish references have been adopted in this survey as the means of defining the topographical coverage of the records. In the survey entries, parishes are identified by means of a series of coded references, 1–162, printed in italic. The code is explained fully on pp. xvii–xix, with a map. References to parishes are indexed on pp. 223–32, as Part ii of the Topographical Index.

In some cases the records refer only to street- or house-names, or to unspecified locations within London, and the parish or parishes within which the property lay cannot be identified. In these cases the survey entries give the street- or house-name, or 'unspec.' or 'London unspec.', according to context, and these references are indexed on pp. 233–8, in Part iii of the Topographical Index. In almost all cases of 'unspecified location in London', except where the reference derives from a record office index, it is probable that the property lay within the city and its suburbs and not outside the liberty. Part iii of the Topographical Index also includes the few references to properties outside the city which are mentioned in the survey.

In addition, reference should always be made to those entries, indexed on pp. 222–3 as Part i of the Topographical Index, describing classes of records which cover many or all parts of the city, and of which some are adequately indexed elsewhere.

Index to property- and archive-holders

The second index, on pp. 239–46, is a combined alphabetical index to the holders of property in London, and to the libraries and record offices where collections relating to London are held, as they are described in the headings to individual entries. This index does not identify all entries in which records in a particular collection may be mentioned, nor does it cover those private property holders whose present or former records are described in entries concerning libraries and record offices.


1 . For Pre-Conquest charters relating to London, see C. N. L. Brooke and G. Keir, London, 800–1216: the shaping of a city (1975), 367–70.
2 . Derek Keene, 'A new study of London before the Great Fire', Urban History Yearbook 1984, 11–21.