London Bridge: Selected Accounts and Rentals, 1381-1538. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1995.
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The Corporation of London's own archives constitute a great resource for the history of the medieval and early modern city. However, although they are very rich in administrative and legal records, they contain few financial records from before the seventeenth century. (fn. 1) A major exception to this is the series of accounts and rentals that record the management of London Bridge and its estates. The series begins in the second half of the fourteenth century and survives almost unbroken thereafter. The records provide a picture not only of the work on the bridge itself, one of the biggest and surely the longest-running building project in London, but also of an organisation reacting to economic and administrative change over a very long period, and give much information on the life of London on and around the bridge. The detailed and continuous nature of the records reveals both short-term events and changes and long-term developments in the areas covered: wages, work and employment practices in the construction industry. building materials and techniques, property values, administrative method, institutional culture. Their value as a quarry for particular kinds of information has long been known, (fn. 2) but only limited extracts have ever been printed, and the potential contribution of the series as a whole to the history of London in a more general sense has not been fully exploited.
Two aspects of the records in the period c. 1380–1540 are especially worthy of attention, the economic and the linguistic. For the former, the accounts help us to examine changes in the economy of London, providing plentiful evidence for the strength of the property market and for changes in wages and work practices. The experience of an institution whose main income was from rents and whose main expenditure was on wages, in a period when these were moving in opposite directions, must be a topic of some interest to historians of the medieval economy. In the case of language, the fifteenth century saw the development of English as a language of business and professional activity, and these accounts, with their repetitive format and concerns and their specialist vocabulary, document this. The medieval Latin of the early accounts is studded with vernacular words, while the accounts as a whole are written in English after 1480.
This volume offers a selection from the series of accounts for the later middle ages. Although one of the great values of the series is its almost unbroken continuity, it was felt that the best way of displaying the range and detail of the material in a single volume of reasonable length was to present accounts for complete years at intervals: the selection therefore starts with the first surviving account (1381–2) and includes accounts for four more years at roughly 40-year intervals, up to 1537–8. Where two complementary accounts survive, both have been included (this dictated the choice of 1537–8 rather than 1540). Two rentals of the Bridge estate, from the first Rental book and to match the last account, are also printed. Within this framework, accounts for more eventful years were chosen; thus the account for 1420–1 details expenditure on decorating the Bridge for the entry of Henry V and Katherine of France in 1421, while that for 1501–2 refers much more briefly to the entry of Katherine of Aragon.
The records are presented in modern English, somewhat calendared, rather than as a verbatim transcript/translation, but no information has been omitted. There is thus enough material to make comparisons over a long period, while retaining the full detail of individual years' accounts. It would be possible to take the comparison further in time, but arguably the period to c. 1540 is the one to which these records can make the greatest contribution: the evidence is genuinely comparable across the period, while later accounts show a lower level of activity and may be less sensitive to change. (fn. 3)
London Bridge and the Bridge House
London's stone bridge was begun in the later 12th century, replacing a previous wooden structure. Its construction was associated with the development of the cult of Thomas Becket, London's native-born saint and martyr (d. 1170; canonised 1173), and one of the bridge's most prominent features was a chapel dedicated to St Thomas, on one of the central piers. Nineteen pointed arches, with variable gaps between them, spanned some 900 ft. (275 m.) of fast-flowing, tidal river. A drawbridge near the southern end could be raised to allow the passage of ships to the upper river and to prevent entry to the city; the gate at the Southwark end could also be barred or chained. From an early period it appears that the bridge was lined with houses and shops. It was completed around 1209, but for the six and a half centuries of its existence, until its replacement in the mid-nineteenth century, it needed constant maintenance and sometimes substantial repair. (fn. 4) By the time sixteenth-century visitors were recording their impressions of the city, the bridge was acknowledged as one of the sights of London - 'a remarkable sight even among the beauties of London', 'easily one of the finest bridges in the whole of Europe, both for size and beauty' (fn. 5) - and it dominates most early views of the city, even if it is not always accurately represented. (fn. 6)
Even before the building of the stone bridge, pious Londoners gave sums of money or property to sustain the wooden bridge, but the association with a popular cult and a major campaign to secure adequate funds helped in the acquisition of a substantial landed estate which generated the greater part of the income necessary to maintain the structure. (fn. 7) Much of this estate had been acquired by the middle of the fourteenth century, and by the late fourteenth century, when the surviving accounts series begins, it is clear that the work of the administrators of the bridge was almost as much concerned with managing and exploiting this estate as with organising the repair and maintenance of the bridge's structure. Other sources of income included tolls from carts passing over the bridge and from ships passing through the drawbridge, and the rents from the fish- and flesh-markets at the Stocks, built in the later 13th century by the then mayor, Henry le Waleys.
Unlike for example Rochester Bridge Trust, (fn. 8) the administration of London Bridge was not in the hands of an independent charity or corporate body; essentially it was a municipal institution at one remove from the municipality. The stone bridge had been begun at a time when the citizens of London were struggling for recognition as a collective entity, before the institution of the mayoralty and the development of a civic administration, so it is perhaps not surprising that the arrangements for managing the bridge retained some informality.
Essential both to the city's economic health and to its security from attack. London Bridge was often referred to as 'the city's bridge'. (fn. 9) Important decisions about the estate and regulations about the bridge's use were authorised by the mayor, aldermen, and citizens, who kept a close eye on its administration and finances, and defended its interests. (fn. 10) The mayor and aldermen made or approved leases of property devoted to the bridge's upkeep, sometimes granting rebates of rent or concessions, and other business concerning the Bridge was issued under the City's common seal. (fn. 11) Although the estates pertaining to the Bridge and those to the municipality were kept separate, sums of money from the Bridge revenues were at times given to or appropriated by the City for its own uses. (fn. 12) The day-to day running of the Bridge and its estate was in the hands of wardens or masters elected in civic fora and answerable to the commonalty; auditors of their accounts were appointed annually. Nevertheless, though never incorporated as such, the wardens, workforce, properties and rights of London Bridge developed an institutional identity, to which the name 'the Bridge House' was applied from the thirteenth century. (fn. 13)
The number, status, and competence of the men appointed to discharge the trust seem to have varied in the late thirteenth century, with references at different times to two or three wardens, to a sub-warden, and to the appointment of a coadjutor. (fn. 14) Edward II's charter to the City granted the keeping of the bridge to two worthy men of the city, other than aldermen, and thereafter two wardens were the norm. (fn. 15) Fourteenth-century wardens were elected and took their oaths in the Court of Husting, the county court of the City, and rendered their account to auditors approved by the City. From 1404 the wardens were elected on 21 September, by the same congregation that elected the sheriffs and the auditors. (fn. 16)
Fourteenth-century wardens often served for a period of some years, and may not have rendered accounts until they left office. Alan Gille served from at least 1336 until 1350, John de Hatfeld, alias John le Chaundeler, from 1353 to 1363, Henry Yevele for perhaps 30 years. (fn. 17) In 1404 the wardens' term was limited to two consecutive years, with the possibility of later re-election, but in 1406 the immediate re-election of suitable candidates was permitted. (fn. 18) As a result, wardens still commonly served several years at a time, and a handful served for more than ten years, sometimes with interruptions. (fn. 19) The accounts were nevertheless meant to be rendered and audited annually, within a month from Michaelmas, though this was not being strictly applied in the middle of the fifteenth century. (fn. 20)
The wardens seem to have been men of substance, as might be expected, but not necessarily of the top rank in the city. Fourteenthcentury wardens often had interests in riverside parishes or waterborne trades: Edmund Horn, Thomas Cros, William Jordan, Robert Swote, John Lovekyn, Alan Gille, owned property in riverside parishes; (fn. 21) Gilbert Cros, Robert Swote, John Lovekyn, John Little, Richard Bacoun, were fishmongers. (fn. 22) The charter of Edward II of 1319 said that the wardens should not be aldermen, though this had sometimes been the case in the past, and one, John Lovekyn, apparently served as alderman and bridge warden at the same time from 1347. (fn. 23) Up to the middle of the fifteenth century several men who had served as wardens subsequently became aldermen, but thereafter, perhaps as the Court of Aldermen became a narrower élite of overseas merchants, the two circles ceased to overlap. (fn. 24) Regulations in 1404 for the wardens' election specified 'two good and discreet citizens', and it seems probable that all fifteenth-century wardens were members of Common Council. They normally belonged to one of the leading livery companies. (fn. 25) By the later sixteenth century the Bridgemasters (= the wardens), still normally Common Councilmen, could effectively be classed as city officers or bureaucrats; aldermen in the making, 'notable' and 'élite' Londoners, served rather as auditors of the accounts, or sat on the Bridge House Estates and City Lands Committees. (fn. 26)
Fifteenth-century wardens swore to serve the city of London in the office of warden of the bridge of the same city; to repair and sustain the bridge, using its lands and rents to its best profit; to do no waste to the estate, but increase it if possible; and to make account without concealment, charging themselves with all profits and advantages and asking no unlawful allowance. The office of warden does not appear to have been one of profit, though the form of the oath recognised that the provision of materials might offer opportunities for exploitation: wardens promised to buy stone, timber, iron, etc. at the lowest prices, 'without any increase or winning to your use or profit in any wise'. (fn. 27)
The wardens handled very large sums of money, accounting for some £750 a year in the late fourteenth century and around £1,500 in the mid-sixteenth, but their annual fees and rewards still came to less than £30 each by the latter date (1, 457, 487–8, 491). There may have been a reward on leaving office, once the accounts had been satisfactorily audited, but at least one warden, William Wetenhale (1434–8), forfeited this because he was judged to have tended the bridge negligently. From 1459 incoming wardens had to provide security of £500. (fn. 28) In 1491 Common Council ordered a stricter control of the nominations for warden: the mayor and aldermen were to provide a list of four candidates, from whom Common Council would choose two, rather than the free choice that had prevailed hitherto, since that had led to the admission of 'needy men and unable for the office', whose accounts, by implication, were unsatisfactory. (fn. 29)
It is difficult to assess how efficiently the wardens discharged their office over the period covered by the accounts in this book, though it seems likely that quite serious mismanagement occurred in the midfifteenth century. (fn. 30) Such irregularities aside, the wardens were not expected to balance income and expenditure year to year, only to set down what had come in and what had been spent. The needs of the bridge varied and there might be extraordinary calls on their revenues: the accumulation of 'arrears' (essentially a deficit carried forward) could reflect an increase in needs not matched by any increase in current revenue, not in itself the fault of the wardens. There was no way of budgeting for future expenditure: the idea of maintaining a reserve seems to have been unknown and indeed impracticable, since any surplus would probably have been raided by the City for its own uses. (fn. 31)
Of the five accounts printed here, only that for 1501–2 shows an excess of income over expenditure, when arrears and other accounting elements have been subtracted, though the overspend in 1420–1 is almost all accounted for by the £75 spent on decorating the bridge for the royal entry in 1421 (257–66, 278, 280, 287, 294). It seems to have been fairly normal, if not perhaps very sound practice, to allow the account to run into debt, and trust to a future excess of income over expenditure to pay it off. Indeed the excess of £120 in 1501–2 only went a small way towards paying off the huge paper arrears of over £1000 carried forward at the start of the account (356), but a series of years in profit had reduced the deficit to almost nothing by 1537. (fn. 32) It is not clear who carried the debt - the masters, the bridge's employees or creditors, or the city - and how liabilities were eventually settled. Ultimately the evaluation of the wardens' efficiency must depend on the health of the estate and of the fabric of the bridge.
The headquarters of the operation was at the Bridge House in Southwark, where building materials were stored, accounts kept, and wages paid. (fn. 33) The wardens had a staff to carry out the daily business of the Bridge, but the numbers of these, and the way in which they were deployed, varied over time.
There was always at least one rent-collector, paid at least £10 yearly; he also had an allowance for drinking when he collected the weekly rents from the Stocks market. In the middle of the fifteenth century there were two collectors, one for the proper rents and another for the foreign and quit-rents and the Stocks rents. By the end of the century there was one receiver, allowed £23 6s. 8d. a year for his fee and drinking (2, 294, 349, 395, 487). The passage-tolls over and under the bridge appear to have been collected by a man referred to as the clerk of the drawbridge or tollkeeper, who rendered them weekly to the wardens, receiving a salary of 20d. a week, later £3 6s. 8d. a year (3–107, 189–241, 254, 267, 280, 294, 310, 349). The tolls were farmed from 1488 (359, 448). Another clerk wrote up the accounts; in 1420–1 both these tasks were undertaken by clerks of the chapel, but in 1461–2 and later the clerk of the works had an extra allowance for writing the accounts (67, 82, 93, 107, 254, 267, 280, 292, 294, 351, 396, 488).
The office of clerk of the works first appears by name c. 1440, (fn. 34) but it seems possible that John Silkeston was acting in this capacity in 1420–1, even though he is not directly attributed a salary. Silkeston sold materials from the Bridge House store and apparently presided over the weekly accounting (190, 192, 194, 197, 217, 220, 226, 243–94), though John Hethingham, a clerk of the chapel, wrote up the account (254, 267, 280, 292, 294). Later clerks of the works also bought and sold materials (311, 452, 538), paid foreign workmen (474, 520, 526), and at times supervised both work and materials, (fn. 35) as well as writing the accounts. Silkeston was paid the weekly stipend of the cook of the Bridge masons and carpenters, and also the allowance for the Bridge dogs, apparently guard dogs or mastiffs. (fn. 36) The cook subsequently disappears from the accounts, but a janitor or porter of the Bridge House gate, paid the same weekly wage and allowance for the dogs, appears, and it seems likely that he fulfilled the role of house manager (243–94; cf. 2–54, 349, 395). In 1537–8 it was the Bridge's boatkeeper who kept the dogs, still at 10d. a week (487). The Bridge House employed a boatman or keeper of boats and shouts at a low weekly wage (2s. 6d.), but paid him year round. Part of his job must have been transporting materials, normally unrecorded except in special cases (535, 538, 541, 544, 551), but he also employed and supervised labourers working with boats and at the starlings of the bridge (346, 528, 531, 534, 538), and supplied the tide-masons with cement (480, 532–3, 536). In 1350 the Bridge House had three boats, a great one, a small one, and a shout or barge; (fn. 37) the accounts printed here record the building of two new boats (74–9, 346) and the purchase of two (252, 382). In 1538 there were seven boats, including one known as the cement boat (473, 484).
At the beginning of the period covered by these accounts the Bridge House employed a carter, paid like the boatman a low weekly wage throughout the year, with at least one cart and a team of cart-horses. However, these could not do all the Bridge's carting, and were quite expensive to maintain (56–107, 243–94). Evidently the advantages of buying materials delivered to the store or site, and of hiring carters as the occasion warranted, prevailed. In 1462, halfway through the accounting year, the wardens sold the six carthorses and two carts, together with all the harness and some of the store of hay, and ceased to employ a carter (311, 338). They kept the riding-horses for the wardens until c. 1470, (fn. 38) but thereafter the wardens received an allowance for horsehire (338, 382, 487).
The best-known name among medieval Bridge Wardens must be that of Henry Yevele, architect and mason, who may have served from 1365 to 1395, though he asked to be allowed to resign in 1383. As a result of his experience and skill gained in London, he also contributed to the new building of Rochester Bridge in the 1390s. (fn. 39) He appears to be the only warden within the period covered by this volume who had a specialist knowledge of architecture and construction. At other times the wardens must have depended on the skills of the master masons and carpenters employed by the Bridge and perhaps also of the clerk of the works. (fn. 40) Throughout the period covered by this volume at least one chief or master mason and one chief or master carpenter were paid an extra allowance in respect of their supervisory activities. In 1381–2 they received a weekly wage at the same rate as the other skilled workmen, a quarterly reward of 5s. each, and offerings totalling 2s. each (67, 82, 93, 107). In 1420–1 they received a wage and an annual reward of 20s. (294), but they may also have profited from the supply of materials. (fn. 41) In 1461–2 the chief mason and carpenter were rewarded by full employment, that is they were paid wages for a six-day week throughout the year, and each also had an apprentice, for whom he received a wage for all or most of the year, but no extra reward seems to have been paid (340–1). In 1501–2 there was a chief mason, paid a yearly fee, and both a master carpenter of the Bridge works, and a warden carpenter. The former was clearly in overall charge, receiving a yearly fee for 'overseeing and putting-to his helping hand at all times needful', while the latter, appointed during the year, was paid for a six-day week from the time of his appointment (386–7, 390). By 1537–8 the chief mason was also credited with supervising work and buying materials, while there was now a chief carpenter and under him two warden carpenters, one for the waterworks, that is work on and under the bridge, and one for the land works, presumably mostly house-carpentry. The chief mason and chief carpenter each received an annual fee of £10, while the warden carpenters were paid wages for a six-day week throughout the year whether or not they worked the whole week (478–9).
The other building workmen employed by the bridge included a team of masons, usually four to six not counting the master, and a larger number of carpenters, depending on the amount of work in hand. In the fourteenth century they were paid by the week throughout the year, for a six-day week except in the weeks following Christmas, Easter and Whitsun (68, 83, 90). Two sawyers, a dauber, and a paviour were also paid for a six-day week throughout the year, with the same exceptions. One of the notable features of these accounts, however, is the progressive casualisation of the Bridge's workforce during the fifteenth century. By 1461–2 there had been a noticeable shift away from reliance on a permanent workforce, paid for the whole week, to day labour, while by 1501, day labour was dominant. By that time all the masons, carpenters, labourers, dauber, paviour, and tilers, apart from the chief masons and carpenters, were paid by the day. None of them worked for the Bridge for more than 260 days, and most worked for less than 200 days. One sawyer 'and his fellows', now paid by the hundred-foot sawn, did all the Bridge's sawing, but they probably did not get more than half a year's work; similarly, the Bridge gave almost all its tiling, paving and daubing work to one craftsman in each case, who brought servants and others, but none worked for a full year.
It does not appear that workmen moved from weekly work into daily labour for the sake of higher pay in the short term, since where weekly and daily wages were paid, the rates were equivalent, and few of the men employed by the day worked for as many days a year. The Bridge wardens did not actually save money by employing fewer people: though there were obvious variations from year to year, the number of days worked did not change significantly, but is possible that they gained flexibility, and were able to meet changing needs with a greater short-term variation in the number of workmen employed.
One area where there was little change was the work at the ram or gins. Work here was as continuous as tides and weather would allow: it seems to have stopped overwinter. It evidently needed a team of about 20 to 25 for the great ram, and 8 to 11 working on the lesser rams or gins, and the impression gained is of a coherent group of men working regularly together. The actual wage paid - 3d. a tide - changed not at all, while the extra benefits in ale were reduced over the period. Men very rarely worked more than 5 tides in one week, so it is not clear if those who worked in this way also had other employment; it seems likely that they would have needed it. But unless the Bridge was able to coerce labour (and there is no indication that this was the case) it appears that tidework (despite being part-time, irregular, wet and perhaps dangerous) was nevertheless sufficently attractive without an increasing financial reward.
A further part of the Bridge Wardens' charge was the maintenance of services in the chapel on the bridge. The wages of the chaplains and clerks, and the other expenses of the chapel, formed quite a significant part of the wardens' annual outlay, around £40 a year in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, rising to £60 in the sixteenth. These services appear to have comprised a daily mass and the seasonal observances of the church, together with placebo, dirige and requiem mass for the benefactors of the bridge four times a year, and celebration of the feasts of St Thomas the Martyr and other saints. (fn. 42)
The establishment was intended to be four chaplains, but in fact the number of chaplains and clerks varied. In 1381–2 there were at different times three, four, or five chaplains, and one clerk; in 1420–1 four chaplains and two clerks; in 1460–1 four chaplains and three clerks; in 1501–2 two chaplains and four clerks; and in 1537–8 three chaplains and six clerks. The chaplains, who were nominated by the mayor, aldermen, and commonalty, received a salary of 10 marks (£6 13s. 4d.) from the early fifteenth century, slightly better than the weekly wage of 2s. 3½d. with 2s. offerings they had had in 1381–2; they also had free accommodation and fuel, and paid none of the running costs of the chapel. (fn. 43) The clerks contributed to the chapel services, and must have been in minor orders, but one at least was married, (fn. 44) and several performed other tasks, including writing, gatekeeping, and keeping the chapel. John Seyntjohn, one of the clerks of the chapel in 1420–1, who also wrote the accounts, clearly served the city in other capacities as well, receiving a pension of 12d. a week for life (2/3 of his clerk's salary) after being injured in the city's service. (fn. 45) An allowance of 20s. was at one time paid for the chaplains' cook or servant, but by 1501–2 this had been translated into a payment for keeping the chapel, made to one of the clerks.
The income of the Bridge House came from three main sources: the rents and quit-rents given or devised for the upkeep of the bridge, the rents of the Stocks market, and passage-tolls. Offerings and collections in the chapel were negligible, as were most other casual fines, gifts, and legacies, while sales of materials represented a realization of assets rather than a significant net profit (1, 188, 296–315, 355–66, 441–57).
The estate of the Bridge at the beginning of the fifteenth century (109–87), like that of many other institutional landlords, comprised properties scattered across the city and suburbs, the result of piecemeal acquisition and benefaction. The main areas of concentration were around the bridge and near St Paul's cathedral. There were 138 houses or let units on the bridge and a further 30 tenements in Southwark, not counting the Bridge House itself. There were 28 shops in Old Change and a great messuage and 30 shops in Paternoster Row, while in the parishes of St Audoen and St Nicholas Shambles there were 49 shops, several tenements, a brewhouse, and eight cabane or booths. There was a small cluster of houses and cottages in the parish of St Dionis Fenchurch, but elsewhere in the city the Bridge's properties were isolated units. The quit-rents owed to the Bridge were even more scattered. Outside the city to the south, the Bridge held a few acres of farmland at the Lock, St Thomas Watering, and Lambeth, and the manor of Lewisham, including a mill. On the river Lea at Stratford, on the Middlesex-Essex border, it owned two watermills, Spilmans, a fulling-mill, and Saynes mill for grain, with a few acres of meadow.
The rents from this estate accounted for more than ¾ of the Bridge's income: after allowing for decreases and vacations (but not for charges on the estate in the form of obits and quit-rents due to others, or the maintenance of the properties), the net income from lands and quit-rents made up c. 75% of the total in 1381–2, rising to c. 87% in 1537–8. This rise is partly explained by a decline in the income from tolls and the Stocks, but much more is due to a real increase in the value of the estate. Between 1404 and 1537, the net income from the estate rose from £421 11s. 6d. to £796 14s. 4½d. This remarkable overall rise does not entirely confound the argument, presented elsewhere, that London rents were generally declining between the mid-fifteenth and mid-sixteenth century. (fn. 46) Rather, it suggests that through judicious investment and maintenance, and in this case thanks also to benefactions, a landlord could improve the value of an urban estate even against the trend.
The earliest surviving rental of the estate, from 1358, (fn. 47) has been so much amended and erased that it is not possible to arrive at a total for any one date, but it is clear from the 1381–2 account (1, 2) that rents, or at least occupancy rates, had fallen from earlier totals: £45 2s. 1d. had to be allowed for vacancies of Bridge properties against the rental total of £466 13s. 7d. The rental for 1404, and its amendments, certainly indicates that rents were falling quite rapidly (cf. 139, where the value of the London rents declined from £462 2s. in 1404 to £448 10s. in 1410). The rental also indicates that the most vulnerable area was the shop property in Old Change (122), but decreased rents are evident almost everywhere. The London rents received in 1420–1 came to around £410 (241).
At the same time, the value of the quit-rents assigned to the Bridge was also declining, evidence that other properties were vacant or unlet or their owners untraceable. In 1381–2 the quit-rents had a nominal value of £30 3s. 2d., of which £2 19s. 2d. could not be collected for the above reasons (1, 2). In 1404 the quit-rents due totalled £31 1s. 7d., but £5 12s. 1d. was denied or due from tenements now vacant; the rental provides graphic evidence of disarray (144–87). In 1461–2 the total received came to £22 1s. 11d., but another £9 19s. 7d. in quit-rents scattered across the city were deemed irrecoverable, because they had long been withheld and the wardens did not have the evidences with which to sustain a plea (302–9). In fact one rent of 2s., denied in the early fifteenth century (171) had recently been recovered, and some small rents had been added, but nearly a third of the original quit-rent roll had been permanently lost (cf. 361, 370, 450, 462). It is possible that the accounts are not very sensitive to rent movements, since it was alleged in 1442 that many of the Bridge's tenants were making a profit from subletting at much higher rents than they were paying. (fn. 48) If this was so, and if an effort was made to prevent it happening in future, this could help to explain the recovery in rents received by the Bridge from the middle of the century. Rent income from property, rather than quit-rents, had begun to increase by 1460–1, when the rental total of London rents came to £541 18s. 8d. and of foreign rents to £53 18s. 8d. Part of this is attributable to new properties added to the estate, such as the tenements by the Stocks devised by Christian Mallyng (fn. 49) and the lands in Deptford; rents and occupancy remained weak in some areas, and the wardens still had to ask allowance for £63 4s. 3d. of vacancies and decreased rents (298–9, 319–20). By 1501–2, however, rents were increasing year by year, vacancies were down, and more properties had been added to the estate (360, 373). Still fewer vacancies and decreased rents were reported in 1537, when the London and foreign rents brought in £796 14s. 4½d. (445–6, 464–5).
Comparison of the 1537 rental (401–40) with earlier evidence shows where the growth in value was concentrated: in the houses on the bridge itself, and in Southwark and outside the city. The rents on the bridge had been more buoyant than some in the early fifteenth century, but by 1537 a smaller number of units (51 on the east side and 49 on the west, compared with 68 and 70 in 1404) had nearly doubled in value. It seems probable that peripheral and suburban parts of London saw increased development and rising rents sooner than the city centre, (fn. 50) and this may be borne out by the fact that the Bridge's tenements in Southwark more than doubled in value. The Bridge's foreign rent income had increased because of new acquisitions, but the value of its Lewisham lands had risen, possibly with new building, while the rent from the mills in Lewisham and Stratford had doubled or nearly so.
Not all areas had done so well. The rents in Old Change had declined to a fraction of their earlier level; the combined rents from St Nicholas Shambles and St Audoen (Ewen), and those from Paternoster Row, had hardly changed. Significant improvement in value may have been achieved by considerable expenditure on repairs, even rebuilding, and it is not easy to compute the cost of the works done for comparison with the increase in rents. New shops built in the parish of St Dionis Fenchurch accounted for £2 10s. increased rent in 1381–2 (1); the £50 paid to rebuild Spilmans mill at Stratford in the same year (107) may have helped to raise its rent to the £6 13s. 4d. paid in 1404 (143). (fn. 51) The Bridge's property opposite the Standard in Cheapside, in the parish of All Hallows Honey Lane, fell vacant in 1508–9 and into ruin shortly after; the plot remained empty until the house was rebuilt from the foundations in 1536–8. The improved rent then charged was £13 6s. 8d., an increase of £4 on the rent before 1508, but it would have taken a good many years to recover the cost of rebuilding. (fn. 52)
The majority of the Bridge estate was treated as an investment, generating the income on which the work depended, but some other concerns were also met. Several houses in the city were set aside as storehouses for building materials, and others allowed rent-free to Bridge officers or employees (321, 371). The names of workmen employed by the Bridge can also be found as tenants of Bridge property. (fn. 53) Some of the Bridge's rural property was used to make necessary materials: a tilekiln at Lewisham produced some 60,000 tiles in 1420–1 (244–94 passim), while the limekiln at East Greenwich supplied 105 quarters of lime in 1461–2 (323, 330). Hay for the Bridge horses was a minor but useful product of Lewisham in 1420–1 (247–8, 276, 285–6), but in general the Bridge had to look outside its own estates for the supply of building materials.
The Bridge's sources of income other than its estate, as noted above, declined both in relative terms and absolutely. The importance of the Stocks revenue to the Bridge was asserted in the fourteenth century, (fn. 54) but in the fifteenth it was allowed to decline. The rents received from the butchers and fishmongers at the Stocks came to £59 7s. 3d. and £45 3s. 3d. (£104 10s. 6d. in all) in 1381–2, but only to £61 7s. 8d. together in 1420–1. By the middle of the century the wardens of the Butchers' company, and representatives of the fishmongers, leased the market in two parts for £40 and £27 14. 8d. respectively, a slight improvement, but by the end of the century the farms had been reduced to £36 19s. 10d. and £20, at which they remained in the sixteenth century. The overall decline in income from the Stocks was still greater, since in the fourteenth century a number of cupboards or aumbries at an upper level had been let to drapers selling cloth, though 2/3 of these were unlet in 1381–2 (1, 2) and thereafter the chambers over the Stocks were let for a small rent (128).
The Bridge received a variable amount each year in the form of tolls paid by carts crossing the bridge and ships passing through the drawbridge. The 13th-century customs of the Bridge list a range of tolls in money and in kind, mostly on the bringers of fish for sale, (fn. 55) but the accounts from the late fourteenth century list only money payments, probably at the rates of 2d. per cart and 1d. per ship. (fn. 56) Citizens of London were probably exempt from the cart-toll at least, and members of other communities claimed exemption, (fn. 57) so neither toll can be taken as a proxy for the amount of traffic passing over or under the Bridge. Nevertheless receipts were declining in the late fourteenth century, from £24 8s. 5d. in 1381–2, and were only £7 6s. 11d. in 1420–1, which must reflect some decrease in use. An ordinance in the 1420s, forbidding iron-shod carts from using the bridge, because of the damage they did, may have reduced traffic still further; (fn. 58) by 1460, however, such carts were again allowed to use it, but for a much increased toll of 2s., with a marked increase in the Bridge's receipts, to £43 16s. 7d. from carts and wains (310). Iron-shod carts were again blamed for the decay of the bridge in 1481, and again banned; by this time too the drawbridge was in decay. By the end of the fifteenth century the toll on carts was farmed for £23 a year; in 1537–8 the farm was only £20 (359, 448). If the ban on iron-shod carts was sustained this would help to account for the decline in value.
The toll on ships had risen from a probable 1d. to 2d. by 1460 (310); this was increased to 6d. in 1463, but by 1481 the wardens petitioned that the bridge should only be raised for the defence of the city. (fn. 59) The drawbridge had been raised against Fauconberg in 1471, but receipts from tolls on ships were last recorded in 1475–6. In the account for 1476–7 it was stated that the drawbridge could not be raised because the stonework needed repair, (fn. 60) and this statement was repeated thereafter (359, 448), so that the 1481 petition must have been after the event. Fewer ships were in any case using the upper river by this time, (fn. 61) and the income to the Bridge was almost negligible, so major expenditure on the drawbridge would only have been justified for strategic and defensive reasons.
The normal annual revenue of the Bridge could not cover all the necessary expenditure in emergencies, and accounting practice discouraged the accumulation of surpluses against possible future needs, so the major works on the bridge were at least in part funded by levies, loans and gifts. Common Council raised 500 marks for the repair of the gatehouse tower in 1439; gifts of £100, 100 marks, and £20, and a loan of 250 marks are also mentioned. (fn. 62) Given that the City drew on the Bridge revenues for other purposes, such as the building of Guildhall, (fn. 63) this was probably the most appropriate way of handling exceptional demands. As suggested above, balancing the budget, in the sense of tailoring expenditure to meet income, was not a priority.
The fabric of the bridge
The evidence for the decline of passage tolls also indicates some of the problems with the bridge structure in the fifteenth century. However, concern expressed in City Journals and Letterbooks tends to focus on the superstructure, whereas the Bridge House accounts show how much continuous work was necessary to maintain the basic framework of the bridge.
The major event of the period covered here must have been the collapse, in 1437, of the gatehouse tower and the arch or arches on which it stood. There had been anxiety over the strength of the bridge from the 1420s, and it was said to be in a ruinous condition in 1435, so some disaster was perhaps expected; the severe winter may have precipitated the collapse. (fn. 64) Immediate and expensive repairs were necessary, and it is not clear how long the bridge was out of commission; 500 marks was to be raised by the City in 1439, and work was continuing in 1440. Common Council remained concerned about the bridge, appointing committees to review and report on necessary repairs in 1453, 1456, and 1462. (fn. 65)
The drawbridge tower, built or rebuilt in 1426, also had serious problems. During Cade's revolt the bridge was stormed and the ropes of the drawbridge 'hewn asunder': if the raised bridge then fell open unbraked it would have caused a violent shock to the stonework. The drawbridge is also said to have been burned in 1450, and the houses round it by Fauconberg's rebels in 1471. (fn. 66) The masons were working on 'the tower', probably the drawbridge tower, in 1461–2 (340), but the difficulties seem to have proved insuperable, and as noted above, the drawbridge could not be raised after 1476, 'until the stonework of the drawbridge tower be amended' (359). The bridge's structural problems were caused principally by the continuous assault of tide and river, and to a lesser extent by the vibration of traffic and the drawbridge; careless watermen also damaged the bridge by collision, and fishermen's nets and anchors in the gulleys below the bridge may have dragged at the foundations. (fn. 67) The many piers of the bridge formed something of a dam across the river, and the stability of the stone structure depended on the maintenance of the breastworks or starlings which surrounded each pier with a timber island packed with piles and stone. Without them, the stone piers would rapidly have been undermined, but the existence of the starlings contributed to the problem they were helping to solve, since they narrowed the course of the river still further, increasing the force and scour of both tide and river flow. They must have been awash, if not flooded, at high tide, since work there was dependent on the state of the tide.
In every account printed here, teams of men worked for several months of the year by the tide at the gins and rams, piling and packing the starlings with iron-shod piles and chalk rubble; masons and carpenters also had to work by the tide on the stonework and timbering of the bridge. By the sixteenth century there was a specialist warden carpenter of the waterworks, who supervised both the work at the gin and the carpentry of the bridge (479, 495–6, 536–40, 542–6). Probably not more than four to five hours' work was possible at a time, since the rate, 3d. per tide at the ram, with 4d. for masons and carpenters in 1537. was half to three-fifths of the daily wage, and some of the work was by night or 'out of due time' (386–8, 478–9). Several rams, gins or beetles used for pile-driving are mentioned, some needing a small team of men to handle them; they appear to have had wooden frames bound with iron, iron handles, and ropes, and were repaired and maintained using curried horse-hides and grease or tallow. (fn. 68)
It is not easy to separate work on the bridge from that on the Bridge's other properties: years of high overall expenditure may reflect the repair or rebuilding of tenements, not a high level of work on the bridge itself. There are often indications of the location of work, however, even if the total spent on any project is not given. Thus, the staddle (a word seemingly used to denote both starling and pier) on which the chapel stood underwent repair in 1501–2 (386), and one of the arches at the Southwark end in 1537–8 (478). The team of masons probably worked almost exclusively on the stonework of the bridge: outside men were hired to make foundations, chimneys, and paving elsewhere in 1461–2 (340). The carpenters worked both in the waterworks and on house-building (cf. 479), while the other building workmen employed by the Bridge (daubers, tilers, paviours, later bricklayers and glaziers) must have concentrated on the tenanted property, including the houses on the bridge.
The materials bought for the works on the bridge give some idea of the nature of its construction. (fn. 69) They included stone, notably the fine 'Bridge ashlar', Reigate and Maidstone stone, rag, and chalk rubble for the starlings. The masons used iron crampets, lead, and a waterproof cement made with pitch and rosin, delivered hot, to fix the stonework. Much of the oak timber bought must have been used for house-building, but the elm trees bought and hewn were made into piles and probably boards for the waterworks. Smiths supplied iron pileshoes and nails, and also mended and sharpened tools (adzes, augers, axes) for masons at the waterworks. The wardens' activity in seeking and securing building materials, the prices they paid and the costs of delivery, are thoroughly documented in the accounts.
It is hard to estimate whether the bridge was in better or worse repair at the end of the period covered in this volume than at the beginning: it was nearly a century and a half older, after all, having undergone some severe traumas, but a high level of expenditure had been maintained. Despite the fall of the gatehouse tower and the problems with the drawbridge. London Bridge seems to have fared better than Rochester Bridge, built at the end of the fourteenth century, but cracking within 20 years and actually broken in 1445, 1465, and c. 1490. Reconstruction after the the last event took longer and probably cost more than the original building. (fn. 70) London Bridge, patched and strengthened piecemeal, nevertheless stood for another three centuries, and served as the city's only bridge for two and a half of them.
The archive of the Bridge House
The Bridge House archive now forms part of the records of the Corporation of London, though the estates of the City and of the Bridge were and still are treated separately; the Chamberlain of London first assumed responsibility for the Bridge House accounts in 1854. (fn. 71) The records include muniments of title from the late 12th century, but these are inherited from earlier owners of property. The archive created by the operation of the enterprise dates really from the fourteenth century, when the surviving series of annual accounts begins, and when the rental now bound into the fifteenth-century Small Register or cartulary was compiled (c. 1358). The early sixteenth century may also have been a period when record-keeping received new attention, with the compilation of a second cartulary, the Large Register, and the survival of a second series of weekly account books. (fn. 72)
The account rolls and books of the Bridge House run almost continuously from the late 14th century, but the form in which the account is made, and the detail and arrangement of the information provided, changed several times. In general, however, the accounts follow the medieval compotus form, and are more concerned to establish the wardens' indebtedness or otherwise than to provide a clear picture of the Bridge's financial state. For the first century they are in Latin, but the scribes used many English (or French) words for materials and items, especially of a technical nature; the first full account to be written in English is that for 1479/80.
The earliest surviving account is for the year Michaelmas 1381 to Michaelmas 1382, but this was certainly not the first written account rendered by the wardens: there is a reference in 1300 to rolls of account delivered to the Chamberlain, (fn. 73) and the sporadic audits noted in the early fourteenth century must have been based on some written material. (fn. 74) It seems likely that the accounting history of the Bridge was similar to that of the Chamber: accounts were rendered at irregular intervals, often for several years at a time, in the first half of the fourteenth century, with some suggestion that practice was becoming regularised by the middle of the century. (fn. 75) In the 1350s indented inventories of Bridge House goods and a rental of the estate suggest a new enthusiasm for formal record-keeping. (fn. 76) From the mid 1370s both the Chamberlain's and the Bridge Wardens' accounts seem to have been rendered and audited annually, though it is not clear whether this was an administrative reform, related perhaps to the constitutional changes in the city at this time, or merely a more regular recording of an already established practice. From 1378 auditors of the Chamberlain's and the Bridge Wardens' accounts (normally two aldermen and four commoners) were elected at the assembly or congregation that met on 21 September to elect the sheriffs. (fn. 77)
The series of accounts now begins with 17 annual account rolls (Bridgemasters' Accounts 1–17) covering 1381–94, 1395–8, and 1404–5. The first roll (1–108), starts at Michaelmas 1381, but refers to 'arrears from the last account' (1), and it seems likely that a series of rolls dating from at least the mid 1370s once existed. Although the starting date of 1381 makes it tempting to suppose that earlier rolls were destroyed in the Peasants' Revolt, there does not appear to be any independent evidence for this, and the loss, if loss there was, could have occurred at a later date. (fn. 78)
The surviving annual rolls each begin with a charge or list of the income for which the wardens answered, then a list of vacancies and allowances, and a balance of the two. This is followed by week-by-week details of income through the year, and of expenditure likewise. It is thus relatively easy to chart the chronology or seasonal change in the Bridge's activity, but more difficult, or at least laborious, to compute totals for expenditure in different categories. The account rolls do not include a full rental of property, only a total, and it seems likely that the rental referred to in 1 ('as appears in the rental made thereof') is that in the Small Register, dating from the mid-fourteenth century.
From the early fifteenth century the style and physical presentation of the accounts changes. Two series of volumes begin in 1404, one known as 'Rentals' and the other as 'Weekly Payments Books'. The first Rental volume begins with an estate rental for 1404, subsequently amended and updated (109–187), and contains weekly receipts and annual receipt totals for the years 1404–21; Rental 2 contains similar receipt accounts for the years 1421–60. The Weekly Payments Books are larger and rougher, and detail weekly expenditure, usually listing wages and regular expenses first, followed by purchases, payment of quit-rents, and, at the quarters, those payments made quarterly especially for the chapel. Taken together, the Rentals and Weekly Payments Books give as full a picture of the Bridge's business as the account rolls, but with the same caveat, that figures for total income or expenditure by category have to be compiled from the weekly details. The present volume calendars the complementary accounts for 1420–1 from Rental 1 and Weekly Payments Book (first series) 2 (188–241 and 242–95).
The first series of Weekly Payments Books only continues to 1445, so that for the period 1445–60 there are no expenditure details. It is probably no coincidence that this gap in the records (which is preceded by several years of deterioration in the presentation and detail of the accounts), corresponds to the period when we know from other sources that there was concern over the wardens' account-keeping and management. (fn. 79)
Rental 3, starting in 1460, takes a new form, which henceforth becomes the standard for the rest of the period covered in this volume, comprising a fair copy of annual accounts which total income and expenditure by category. Rental 3 contains an estate rental at the beginning of the volume, and the first few accounts take that total as a benchmark and set rent increases, decreases and vacations against it; estate rentals subsequently become more frequent, until by the 1530s almost every annual account is preceded by a new estate rental. This series represents the formal audited accounts, signed by the auditors (353, 400, 493). A duplicate set of accounts was made, one being kept at Guildhall and the other at the Bridge House (330, 351); only one set now survives, apparently that from the Bridge House rather than the Chamber. (fn. 80)
The formal accounts were clearly compiled from a series of other documents, now lost: the bills and 'parcels' of individual workmen, contractors, and suppliers, and probably some kind of weekly reckoning used for the payment of workmen (cf. 331) and to keep a record for the final account. A second series of Weekly Payments Books, made up of annual paper accounts bound together, starts in 1505; possibly some earlier accounts of this kind are now lost, but it seems unlikely that there was ever a continuous run of such accounts from 1445. The Rental account for 1501–2 does not specifically refer to keeping a weekly account, but notes the payment (381) of 10d. for a book 'wherein is written all the remembrance of this account', which seems likely to be a paper volume of the kind in the surviving series. The Rental account for 1537–8, which is paralleled by a Weekly Payments Book, does refer to a 'weekly journal' with details of workmen's wages (478, 480, 482). The surviving Weekly Payments Books (second series) cover the period to 1538, with gaps 1515–16 and 1527–9; further books (classed as a third series) cover 1552–5, 1575–6, and 1594–1741, suggesting that the sixteenth-century sequence was once continuous but has since been broken by the chances or mischances of survival.
The formal accounts in the Rentals for 1461–2 and 1501–2 (296–354 and 355–400) give an overview of activity for the year as a whole, but not of the seasonal variation. When, as for 1537–8, the Rental account (441–93) is supplemented by an up-to-date estate rental (401–40) and a complete account of weekly payments (which also includes some memoranda of weekly income) (494–536), we have a very full picture of the Bridge's activity, which at this date was very extensive.
Further account series, including receipt books, accounts of materials sold, and 'cash books', begin in the later sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, and contain useful material, but by this time the Bridge House was no longer engaged in repairing and maintaining a large estate across the city: leasehold practice had transferred these responsibilities to tenants. It employed a much smaller workforce, for works in relation to the bridge itself, and the houses on it, so the variety of activity was reduced, and the accounts no longer seem to represent market wages and conditions of employment.
The Bridge House records are written in two languages: Medieval Latin before 1479/80, and Early Modern English after 1479/80. The Medieval Latin of the earlier records is of the type known as 'macaronic', that is, it contains an admixture of English words and suffixes. It was the usual custom of scribes in the Middle Ages to mix languages while keeping accounts. This was not a random practice: nouns, verb stems, and certain suffixes could be written in English, for example, but prepositions, determiners, and finite verbs would normally be in Medieval Latin. Word-order could either follow the Latin tradition (where, for example, adjectives follow nouns) or the English tradition (where adjectives precede the nouns they qualify).
In fact, the two languages overlapped somewhat, for three reasons. Firstly, English and Latin are related languages, descending from a common Indo-European ancestor, and therefore some of the wordstock is shared. Secondly, English had by the end of the Middle Ages borrowed a considerable amount of Latin vocabulary. In these records this is apparent in the vocabulary to do with the chapel on the bridge. Thirdly, medieval scribes used not only letters of the alphabet, but also a system of abbreviation and suspension signs. This enabled them to save valuable parchment space and to write and read more quickly. The signs were the same, whether the scribe was writing in Latin or English. Medieval Latin was a language which inflected more than Early Modern English. Much of its grammatical information was conveyed by suffixes attached to word-stems, where English used separate words, and a rather more fixed word order, to do the same job. The Bridge scribes frequently reduced the Medieval Latin inflexions to a sign, so that the reader could either interpret the whole word as fully-inflected Latin, or just look at the stem and not bother with the inflexion. So the use of the abbreviation and suspension system also helped to blend the two languages. Thus, although the records before 1479/80 are in Medieval Latin, they nevertheless contain many English words which have otherwise been lost to us, and many antedatings of English words known only at a later date elsewhere, or with a different meaning.
This archive is an invaluable source of fourteenth- and fifteenthcentury London vocabulary to do with all aspects of life on the river Thames, from the technical terminology relating to the fabric of the bridge, to the now-lost names of the marshes, ditches, tributaries and sandbanks that went to make up the water-system it traversed. (fn. 81)
Note on editorial method
As stated above, the records have been translated from Medieval Latin or Early Modern English into modern English. No information has been omitted, but some of the phrases and expressions have been given more briefly, and in general an attempt has been made to render a modern version rather than a literal translation. The original form of some words is given, where the translation is difficult or dubious or the vocabulary particularly interesting, and there is a brief glossary at the end of the volume before the index. Christian names have been translated or modernised, but all surnames are given as in the manuscripts. Most place-names in London and elsewhere have been modernised, but unusual variants, or ones without a modern equivalent, are given in the original. Following the normal practice in this society's publications, the text has been broken down into paragraphs numbered in bold. In most cases these represent a paragraphed entry in the original, but where such an entry runs on for more than a page, it has been broken up here into smaller sections, each numbered individually, usually at the page-breaks. Indexing is by paragraph number.
In general the originals are very clear, and relatively little editorial interpolation is necessary. The exception to this is the rental for 1404 (109–87), heavily amended in succeeding years. (fn. 82) The following set of conventions has been adopted, principally for the rental, but is also applied elsewhere in the edition:
Division of labour on the volume reflected the respective interests of the editors. Laura Wright made a litteratim transcript of the accounts on computer, which Vanessa Harding translated, edited, and indexed; the latter also transcribed the estate rentals. Both editors checked the transcript/translation against the originals. Vanessa Harding wrote the introduction, with the exception of the section on the language of the records, which is by Laura Wright.
This project of work on the Bridge House records has taken some time to come to completion, and the editors owe many debts. Birkbeck College, University of London, has sustained Vanessa Harding's research activity since 1984, and made a research grant to both editors for a pilot project in 1988/9. Laura Wright held a British Academy fellowship at Keble College, Oxford, and is now at the University of Hertfordshire. Permission to publish this edition was kindly given by the Corporation of London, while work on the records was made possible by the helpful assistance of the staff of the Corporation of London Records Office, under the direction of James Sewell, Deputy Keeper of the Records. In particular, we would like to thank Derek Keene for his advice and comments on the text. We would like to dedicate the volume to Caroline Barron, in gratitude for her encouragement, inspiration and support over many years.