The manuscripts


Centre for Metropolitan History



Henry Littlehales (editor)

Year published




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'Introduction: The manuscripts', The medieval records of a London City church: St Mary at Hill, 1420-1559 (1905), pp. XIII-XV. URL: Date accessed: 29 July 2014.


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The Manuscripts.—The Records of St. Mary's are contained in two large volumes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Both books have been deposited in the Guildhall Library of the City of London, and are labelled respectively MS. 1239/1 and MS. 1239/2.

These volumes contain:—

1. A series of Wills under the provisions of which the parish church held certain properties.

2. A copy of the Lease of a House.

3. A number of Inventories both ecclesiastical and secular.

4. A copy of the documents of the Royal Commissioners' Inquiries respecting the Church valuables at the time of the Reformation and the Replies of the Churchwardens thereto, etc.

5. The Accounts and Memoranda of the Churchwardens for nearly a hundred years.

The question naturally arises—What do these Records tell us ? To this the answer may fairly be made that, with certain exceptions, they show us clearly the whole system of medieval life as connected with a common city parish church.

MS. B.

MS. 1239/2, which we may designate as MS. B, is far the less important, and may therefore be very shortly and at once described. It is a large volume standing about twenty inches high, twelve inches wide, and about three inches in thickness. It is bound in parchment, apparently by the same binder by whom MS. A was rebound, probably about a.d. 1559. The presence of the book (much of it a duplicate of the other) is explained, in a measure, by the following inscription on the first page:—

This Booke was made, And the moste parte therin wryten, by the handes of Iohn halhed, grocer, a parischen of the parysche of Seynte Mary at hyll', on whoes sowle Allmyghttye God haue mercye: Amen, for charyte.anno 1486

The book contains an abbreviated copy of part of the substance of the larger book, copies of most of the Wills under which the church of St. Mary at Hill held property, Inventories, etc. About half the leaves of this volume are blank, the first 114 and two near the end alone being occupied by text.

The last document in this book is of the year 1577. Possibly this MS. is referred to in 1504–5, p. 255.

MS. A.

MS. 1239/1, the larger book, which we may call MS. A, is about twelve and a half inches high, ten inches wide, and nearly six inches thick. From this book our main text has been taken.

The Binding.—The book is bound in stout parchment, probably of the middle of the sixteenth century, very possibly about the date inscribed on almost the last leaf, a.d. 1559 on leaf 820.

The Leaves.—All the leaves, 821 in number, are of paper, and nearly all of them are of the same size and substance. The first leaves are missing, and how many are wanting at this place it is impossible now to even guess. With perhaps the exception of the Porth Inventory, the leaves up to the year 1537 are probably in their right order. After this date, the proper sequence of the leaves 696–763 is chronologically a good deal disturbed in the MS. In our text, however, an endeavour has been made to print the accounts throughout in their proper order.

The following table will, it is hoped, exhibit this disorder, and show the proper sequence of the leaves as they should have been bound:—

1. Porth Inventory, etc., printed at p. 36, leaves 724–741 b.

2. 1538–9 lost.

3. Michaelmas 1539 to Michaelmas 1540, leaves 712–723 b.

4. 1540–7 lost.

5. " 1547 to Michaelmas 1548, " 704–711 b.

6. Christmas 1548 to Christmas 1549, " 699–703 b.

7. Michaelmas 1549 to Michaelmas 1550, " 696–698.

8. " 1550 to " 1551, " 742–743 b.

9. " 1551 to " 1552, " 745–747 b.

10. 1553 " 758–760 b.

Inventories " printed pp. 50–5 " 748–752 b and 761–763 b.

" the two wardens' names " 753.

11. 1554 " 754–757 b.

12. Christmas 1554 to Christmas 1555, " 764–773 b.

It will be noticed that the accounts for the year 1550–1 are remarkably scanty; but both writing and pages present every appearance of completeness.

In the last pre-Reformation year our MS. retains, 1539–40, the expenses for garlands and decorations and bell-ringing for festivals have been inserted for comparison with those of earlier periods.

The Writing.—The writing of this MS. varies very considerably, sometimes being very beautifully inscribed, at other times it is set down with great carelessness. In 1524 the writing and spelling are perhaps at their best (see facsimile, p. 322), in 1506 at their wildest.

The entries have been inserted under the authority and possibly sometimes by the hands of the churchwardens. From the manner in which they are set down, the entries were clearly not inserted at the period of each receipt or payment, but from notes made elsewhere. Probably the main text of the MS. is the work of a succession of professional scribes, see the yearly sum expended for writing the Accounts. But additions in various hands have sometimes been appended at the end of the year. The actual handwriting of more than one person is distinctly specified as being present, pp. 260 and 268.

The meaning of the series of dots placed at the foot on many of the leaves about a.d. 1490 is not clear; they are considered by Mr. Welch to have relation to the money totals.

An interesting circumstance lies in the fact that many pages of the MS. have been headed with the name of 'Ihesus,' a tribute to-day of the simple faith and piety of the individuals by whom such inscriptions were placed.

Period covered.—The earliest entries now remaining commence in 1420, and the last dated page, as has been said, carries the date 1559.

Spelling.—The spelling, as was common in the middle ages, is very uncertain. Several instances occur of the transposition of letters and syllables: 'chollve,' p. 255; 'spalter,' p. 389;—shovel, psalter.

Reference to this MS.—Probably the following note entered in the wardens' accounts in 1504–5 has reference to this MS.: —'payde for a parchementt skyn, & for settyng in of the paper in þe olde boke of þe Chyrche wardens Acowntt—viij d,' p. 256.