The London lay subsidy of 1332: III, Wealth and trades of wards

Pages 51-56

Finance and Trade Under Edward III the London Lay Subsidy of 1332. Originally published by Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1918.

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III The Wealth And Trades of The Wards

Tax-rolls are frequently described as directories of the districts which returned them It is fortunate that there is one of these directories for mediæval London, which makes it possible to reconstruct the city as it was six hundred years ago Such a reconstruction is particularly interesting after a study of the crafts, since it shews where they were located

As in other mediæval cities, the members of the same trade were gathered together in one district, probably to simplify the enforcement of the regulations, and the toll-taking which were prominent features of the gilds (fn. 1)

Some crafts however, especially the victuallers who were indispensable in all quarters of the city, were not confined to one district But many trades were particularly associated with one ward

In the river-side wards it was naturally the mercantile element which predominated From Vintry to Tower stretched a line of wealthy wards, through which the imports and exports of the city passed

These wards resemble each other in the numbers who paid the taxation, about seventy-five in each, and the average amount paid, about ten shillings a head, except Vintry, the second richest ward in London, which, with only forty assessed, contributed £37

The trade which employed the greatest number of people in these wards was fishmongering It occupied the inhabitants of Bridge, rich and poor, almost exclusively In Billingsgate and Queenhithe also the majority of the people appear to have been fishmongers, and in the other three wards a minority The fishmongers of Billingsgate were doubtless conterminous with those of Bridge, several of them had shops in Bridge Street (fn. 2)

Even more important to England than the import of fish was the export of her wool Tower and Billingsgate were the wards through which large quantities of it passed It was evidently a profitable trade, as the three richest men of Tower ward, all of them aldermen, were wool-mongers (fn. 3)

Vintry, as its name suggests, had the wine trade of the city, which was then passing into English hands One of the richest men in London, John de Oxenford, was a vintner The four other aldermen in this ward had other occupations (fn. 4)

The distinctive trade in Dowgate appears to have been that of a corder There were doubtless many corn and woodmongers in these river-side wards, but few have been discovered Shipbuilding would also be carried on along the banks of the river, but apparently by men not important enough to find their way into the city records Only one shipwright has been found in the roll, Alan le Palmere, who lived in Petty Wales near the Tower (fn. 5)

All the occupations that have been mentioned, from their nature had their headquarters in these wards But there were also, along the river-side, wealthy members of misteries which centred in other parts of London These, like Benedict de Fulsham, (fn. 6) the pepperer, and Robert le Callere, (fn. 7) the mercer in Vintry, and John de Caustone (fn. 8) in Billingsgate, doubtless imported ware for their own shops, and for the purely shop-keeping members of their misteries

Of the other rich wards of London, which clustered together behind Vintry and Dowgate, Cordwainer was by far the wealthiest Cheap, a thickly-peopled ward, with about twice the number assessed, contributed only about the same amount In Cripplegate Within and Bread Street both population and assessment were about one-half those of Cheap

It is more helpful in explaining these facts, not to confine the attention too strictly to the wards The wards had no bounding walls restricting men within their limits Many of the great highways of London, running from East to West, retained the same name in different wards Thus it was with West Cheap, and round it the richest shop-keeping district of London centred This wealthy area apparently widened in the East, including all Cordwainer, and South Cheap, while it probably comprised those parts of Cripplegate, Bread Street and Farringdon Within, which bordered more nearly on West Cheap In this district were pepperers, mercers, drapers, and hosiers

The pepperers were specially connected with one street which ran at right angles to West Cheap John de Grantham of Cordwainer Ward was one of the "good folk of Sopereslane of the trade of pepperer" (fn. 9) They were settled here till the reign of Henry VI, when they removed to Bucklersbury (fn. 10)

The Mercery of London was on West Cheap, (fn. 11) round the great shed which it came to include in Henry VI's reign, which Edward III built by the church of St Mary le Bow, in order to "behold the justings and other shewes" (fn. 12) Not far away was the great seld which had belonged to Roesia of Coventry, near to which William de Causton, one of the richest men in London, had his houses and shops (fn. 13)

The mercers were also found as far north in Cheap as Catte Street-where Henry le Chener (taxed in Cripplegate Within) had five shops (fn. 14) The drapers probably occupied the same district, but not stretching so far into Cheap (fn. 15)

Passing further West, goldsmiths were among the wealthy shop-keepers They also centred round West Cheap John Makeheved in Bread Street had his shop opposite to the Stone Cross, (fn. 16) and those in Cripplegate and Farringdon Within had their shops in the parishes of this neighbourhood-St Peter de Woodstreet, (fn. 17) St Matthew Fridaystreet, (fn. 18) St Michael le Quern (fn. 19) and St Vedast (fn. 20)

In the goldsmiths' charter it was stated that "it had been ordained that all who were of the Goldsmith's trade were to sit in their shops in the High Street of Cheap, and no silverplate, nor vessel of gold or silver ought to be sold in the city of London except at our Exchange or in Cheap among the Goldsmiths" (fn. 21)

The only other rich men in these wards appear to have been some girdlers in the North part of Cheap (fn. 22)

It has not been possible to discover the occupation of many of the poorer inhabitants of the wards In Cheap, however, various trades were practised (fn. 23)

A large number of the men in Farringdon Within were saddlers and cordwainers The richest members of these crafts, like Robert de Bristoll (fn. 24) and William de Mymmes, (fn. 25) were, however, in West Cheap (fn. 26)

Passing out of these wards beyond the walls of London, the shop-keeping element is left behind Cripplegate Without was a poor ward, paying only £7 with forty-three assessed The trade of nine men only is known They are all workers in leather, probably dependent on the saddlers to supply them with work

Farringdon Without, a somewhat richer ward, also contained many leather workers, of a different type however Tanning was one of the chief industries of the ward It was carried on in the neighbourhood of the Fleet Ditch (fn. 27) These tanners carried their hides for sale to the "Tannereselde in the forum of West Chepe in St Mary le Bow," where many of them would have a place and table

To this region of the Fleet valley, the Cutlers also, whose earlier settlements were near the Conduit in Cheap and in St Magnus' parish near the Bridge, had for some time past been overflowing (fn. 28)

The cappers appear to have been as closely connected with Fleet Street as the pepperers were with Sopers Lane (fn. 29)

Walbrook is the only one of the remaining wards, which is certainly known to have been almost entirely inhabited by a set of craftsmen peculiar to it In point of numbers it comes after Farringdon Within and Cheap, and resembles the former ward in contributing about £20 less than the latter It was pre-eminently the skinners' ward Twenty-one in the roll have been found to be skinners, including all classes from John de Oxenford and Simon de Thorpe paying sixteen pence each to John de Cotum paying 35s 6¾d

The skinners would no doubt have their works along the Walbrook, the name Budge Row (fn. 30) suggests that they were also on the Cordwainer side of the stream, but only one skinner has been discovered in that ward

In the case of Walbrook and the neighbouring ward of Candlewick, a street is again the centre of an industry The cloth of the burlers of Candlewick Street was noted, in 1322 some was purchased for the King from Thomas de Wynchestre among others (fn. 31) There are only two burlers in Candlewick Ward, but five have been found in Walbrook The majority of them paid small amounts (2s 8d and 16d), and it is probable that the great number of burlers were too poor to be assessed

They were doubtless provided with work by the rich drapers of the district One of these drapers, Richard de Torinton, was the richest man in the Candlewick Ward, and John de Somersham in Walbrook lived in Candlewick Street (fn. 32)

Twelve wards still remain, but they must unfortunately, through lack of information about them, be dismissed in a few words On the outskirts of the city were the poor, thinlypopulated areas, in the East, of Portsoken, Aldgate and the diminutive Limestreet, and in the West, of Castle Baynard and Aldersgate

Slightly richer, and containing more inhabitants, were the wards of Langbourne, Cornhill, Coleman Street, Bassishawe and Queenhithe, which bordered on some of the richest wards of the city

The potters carried on their handicraft in Portsoken, (fn. 33) and the tapicers were apparently located in Langbourn (fn. 34)

The study of the individual wards suggests to the mind the main features of mediæval London The impression which it leaves is of rich mercantile wards on the river bank in the East which were easily accessible to sea-going ships In their Western rear was a shop-keeping area which formed a wealthy centre, from which radiated districts of poorer shops, and then of workmen, poor in the North, but richer in the West and East, till the poor, thinly-populated districts of the East were reached.


  • 1. Unwin, Gilds, pp 31-3 See his map of localized trades in mediæval London Cf Lavisse, Hist de France, IV, pt 1, p 24
  • 2. William Turk, Cal Wills, II, 56, and John Leche, I, p 584, described as "fishmonger of Bridge Street" Thomas de Brayneford evidently lived near the boundary of the two wards, as his house was opposite St Magnus the Martyr, Ib, I, 465
  • 3. William de Briklesworth, Henry de Combemartyn and John Priour senior Beaven, op cit, 382, 383, 385 The alderman, Richard de Hakeneye, who was a collector of the subsidy, was a woolmonger, so probably belonged to one of these wards Ib, p 382
  • 4. Walter Nel, blader, Walter Turk, fishmonger, Benedict de Fulsham, pepperer, and Robert de Callere, mercer
  • 5. Cal Wills, I, 412
  • 6. Beaven, op cit, p 383
  • 7. Ib, p 382
  • 8. Cal Wills, I, 672 He had tenements in all parts of London and shops in Thames Street
  • 9. Riley, Mem, p 120 Thomas Corp also had a shop in Sopers Lane Cal Wills, I, 477
  • 10. Stow, I, 26
  • 11. Richard le Lacer had a seld near West Cheap (Cal Wills, II, 59), John Knopwed (Ib, I, 448), and Richard Scarlet received a grant of "a mansion and shop near West Cheap" (Bk F, p 155), Simon Fraunceys leased a cellar there (Bk E, p 224)
  • 12. Stow, I, 257
  • 13. Cal Wills, I, 680 "A seld was an extensive warehouse open at the sides, sometimes containing shops within and room for wholesale stowage" Riley, Mem, p 22
  • 14. Cal Wills, I, 462
  • 15. Only one draper has been found in Cheap, and he is called "mercer or draper" In Cordwainer Richard de Berkyng had tenements in the parish of St Mary le Bow, some of them in Goose Lane, which ran along the south side of that church Ib, I, 687
  • 16. Ib, I, 587
  • 17. Simon de Berkynges (Bread St ), Cal Wills, I, 542
  • 18. Robert le Bret (Cripplegate Win), Ib, I, 410 William de Ippegrave (Farringdon Win), Bk F, p 222
  • 19. Henry le Gloucestre (Farringdon Win), Bk G, p 44
  • 20. John de Mallyng and Richard Denys had tenements in "Goderoneslane," Cal Wills, I, 437, 457
  • 21. Unwin, Gilds, p 79
  • 22. John Potyn owned 8 shops in St Michael de Bassishaw (Cal Wills, I, 383), Thomas West and Nicholas de Reygate also had tenements in that parish, Bk F, 70, Cal Wills, I, 556
  • 23. A butcher, cordwainer and a chaundeler paying over £1, a glover, baker, cheesemonger, armourer, purser, coffrer paying over 10s, chaundeler, two armourers, an ironmonger, a cutler, a purser, a coffrer and saddler, two tailors, a fuller, two apothecaries, three brewers and an "ymginour" paying smaller amounts have been found
  • 24. Cal Wills, I, 507
  • 25. Ib, I, 405
  • 26. Cf Unwin, op cit, p 53 The saddlers had their shops at the N W corner of Cheap, near the ends of Foster and Gutter Lanes
  • 27. Richard Ussher's shops were in the parish of St Sepulchre, some of them in a "little lane opposite the Flete Prison," others in "lanes called Sacollane and Wandayeneslane" (Cal Wills, I, 439) Walter Ussher's were in the same parish (Ib, I, 420)
  • 28. C Welch History of the Cutlers' Company, I, 36-42
  • 29. In addition to the three hatters indicated in the roll, there are Richard de Luton and Alan de Wight They are spoken of as "capellaru de Flete Street" in Munimenta Gildhallae Londoniensis, II, pt 1, 430
  • 30. Stow, I, 250
  • 31. Bk E, p 171
  • 32. Cal Wills, I, 441
  • 33. See the roll
  • 34. The only men whose trade has been found in Langbourne were tapicers John de Bromhelm, Walter de Stepenheth, Richard Frere, Richard Merk presented the ordinances of the tapicers (Riley, Mem, p 179) William Palmer was also a tapicer (Bk F, p 122)
  • 35. Note-Since the above was written, Prof Willard has contributed a note on the taxes upon Movables of the Reign of Edward III to the English Hist Rev, XXX, p 69 Margaret Curtis