Poor and vagrants

Pages 357-364

Analytical Index to the Series of Records Known as the Remembrancia 1579-1664. Originally published by EJ Francis, London, 1878.

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Poor and Vagrants.

II. 74. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lords of the Council, forwarding for their approval copies of Orders to be enforced against Vagrants, &c., (fn. 1) and calling their attention to the state of the tenements and their inhabitants in Kentish Street, Newington, and other places in Southwark.
17th November, 1594.

II. 75. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Justices of the Peace for the Counties of Middlesex and Surrey, appointing, by request of the Lords of the Council, a conference with them upon the measures to be taken for the suppression of Vagrancy.
30th November, 1594.

II. 76. A Copy of the Orders for the suppression of Vagrancy within the City of London.

II. 85. Causes of the great numbers of begging Poor within the City of London and other parts of the Realm.

II. 87. Remedy for reforming the abuse of vagrant begging Poor.

II. 102. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lords of the Council, concerning the number of Poor begging within the City, and requesting the assistance of their Lordships to prevent the building of small tenements in Southwark and Kentish Street.
10th September, 1595.

II. 229. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lords of the Council, touching the Complaint made by the Justices of the Peace for the Counties of Middlesex and Surrey, concerning the two houses of correction proposed to be erected in those counties for the maintenance of the Poor.
(Circa 1602–3.)

II. 231. Answer of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to the demands of the Justices of the Peace of Middlesex and Surrey, touching the contributions required from the Mayor and Commonalty of London for the erecting and maintaining of houses of correction in those counties.
(Circa 1602–3.)

II. 254. Petition of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty to the King, as to the building of the two houses of correction for the counties of Middlesex and Surrey.
(Circa 1604–5.)

III. 159. Letter from the Lord Mayor to the Lord Chamberlain, detailing the steps taken by him since his appointment for reforming what he found out of order in the City.

Firstly. He had freed the streets of a swarm of loose and idle vagrants, providing for the relief of such as were not able to get their living, and keeping them at work in Bridewell, "not punishing any for begging, but setting them on work, which was worse than death to them."

Secondly. He had informed himself, by means of spies, of many lewd houses, and had gone himself disguised to divers of them, and, finding these nurseries of villany, had punished them according to their deserts, some by carting and whipping, and many by banishment.

Thirdly. Finding the gaol pestered with prisoners, and their bane to take root and beginning at ale-houses, and much mischief to be there plotted, with great waste of corn in brewing heady strong beer, "many consuming all their time and means sucking that sweet poison," he had taken an exact survey of all victualling house and ale-houses, which were above a thousand, and above 300 barrels of strong beer in some houses, the whole quantity of beer in victualling houses amounting to above 40,000 barrels; he had thought it high time to abridge their number and limit them by bonds as to the quantity of beer they should use, and as to what orders they should observe, whereby the price of corn and malt had greatly fallen.

Fourthly. The Bakers and Brewers had been drawn within bounds, so that, if the course continued, men might have what they paid for, viz., weight and measure.

He had also endeavoured to keep the Sabbath day holy, for which he had been much maligned.

Fifthly. If what he had done were well taken, he would proceed further, viz., to deal with thieving brokers or broggers, who were the receivers of all stolen goods.

And lastly, the inmates and divided houses would require before summer to be discharged of all superfluities for avoiding infection, &c.
8th July, 1614.

IV. 34. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, stating that, forasmuch as there were dispersed in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark and other villages and towns adjoining, an infinite multitude of rogues and vagabonds, with other loose and base people, having no certain places of abode, and living by no lawful labour or occupation, His Majesty had thought fit, by his Proclamation now published, to command such good laws as were provided in that behalf to be speedily put in execution; and that Provost Marshals should be appointed within the Liberties of the City and in the Counties of Middlesex, Kent, Surrey, Essex, Herts, and Bucks. It remained for the Court of Aldermen to see the same carefully performed within the City. The Council, therefore, required the City to contribute in some reasonable measure towards the maintenance of Provost Marshals in Middlesex, the charge being but temporary, and not necessary (as they hoped) to be continued for any long time.

The Council were informed there had been great negligence in constables and such like inferior officers, in not apprehending notorious vagabonds and proceeding with them as the law directed, and they required the Court of Aldermen to reprove the constables sharply and admonish them.

They deemed it fit that once a week, or as often as convenient, secret and sudden searches should be made in all victualling houses, inns, and other suspected places within the City and Liberties, and that the Justices of the Peace of the adjoining counties should be secretly informed when such searches were to be made, that they might at the same instant make similar searches within their limits and divisions.
(Circa 1616.)

IV. 35. Letter from the Lord Mayor to— (the Table of Contents says "the Justices of Surrey"), stating that the inhabitants of the Borough of Southwark had informed the Court of Aldermen they had directed their warrant to the constables to tax those of the borough under the City's Government, towards the maintenance of Provost Marshals for Surrey. According to the King's Proclamation, the Court of Aldermen had already appointed Thomas Dudson Provost Marshal for the Borough of Southwark, under the City's grant, and had caused the inhabitants to be taxed for defraying his charges.
26th August, 1616.

IV. 36. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, requiring him to appoint a Provost Marshal for the Borough of Southwark under his government.
Last of August, 1616.

IV. 68. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, reciting their former letters for the appointment of Provost Marshals in the City and in the adjacent Counties. They had been informed that for the short time such course was tried it did much good, and that it was more necessary than before, seeing that the King was about to make a journey into Scotland with a great part of his Council, and to be absent so long a time. They required the same practice to be adopted until his return. Such of the Council as the King should be pleased to leave behind for that purpose would be ready to assist whenever required for preservation of the peace. The Council were further given to understand that no Provost Marshals were appointed last year, either in the City or the Counties, and that the same course was intended again, which they altogether misliked, and they required that proper officers, with a sufficient number of assistants, should be appointed.
16th March, 1616.

IV. 83. Letter from Mr. Abraham William and others, who had been authorized by the King under the Great Seal for the suppression of idle vagabonds, and for the licensing of pedlars and petty chapmen, stating that since their publication of the King's pleasure in the matter, divers citizens had complained of the wrongs sustained by them in their trades by such persons as covertly carried wares to sell within and about the Liberties of the City, and had requested that no pedlars should be licensed in the City. Though they were very unwilling to hearken to such request, yet since they had to answer a great rent to the King for their office, they did not doubt that it would seem to the Lord Mayor reasonable that those who were benefited by such a course should contribute to theiryearly charge. Since they were given to understand it could not be done but by the Lord Mayor's decree with common consent, they had thought it right to bring the subject to the consideration of the Court of Aldermen, and trusted it would be speedily determined, because, though hourly applied to for licences, they had, out of respect to his Lordship and the City, forborne to issue any until they should have received the City's answer.
Whitehall, 17th July, 1617.

V. 8. Letter from the King to Sir Thomas Smyth, stating that the Court had lately been troubled with divers idle young people, who, though twice punished, still continued to follow the same, having no employment. His Majesty, having no other course to clear the Court from them, had thought fit to send them to him, that at the next opportunity they might be sent to Virginia, and set to work there.
Newmarket, 13th January, 1618.

V. 9. Letter from Sir Thomas Smyth to the Lord Mayor, reciting the foregoing Letter, and stating that some of these persons had already been brought, by the King's command, from Newmarket to London, and others were coming. The Company of Virginia (fn. 2) had no ship ready to sail, and no means to employ them or place to detain them in, and he requested the Lord Mayor to authorize their detention and employment in Bridewell, until the next ship should depart for Virginia.
18th January, 1618.

V. 56. Letter from the Company for Virginia to the Lord Mayor, expressing their regret that differences should have arisen between the Committees for the City and themselves. Seeing that these differences had no solid foundation, and that the Company had now solemnly ratified, as much and more than in their former letter was offered, which they understood had been accepted and approved by the Common Council, — that on the City's part the money had been collected and the children provided— that the Company had supplied a fair ship for transporting them, and the Privy Council had, at the City's desire, granted their warrant for the shipment of such children, the Company trusted that the Lord Mayor and Aldermen would proceed to the speedy ending of the differences.
(Circa 1619–20)

VI. 172. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor, referring to the satisfactory results which had arisen from the steps taken in accordance with their former directions for the suppression of vagabonds and wandering persons in the City. Of late they had very much increased, and they were commanded in the King's name to require him to take speedy and effectual order for their suppression.
Whitehall, 16th April, 1629.

VI. 173. Reply of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, detailing the steps taken by them, and stating that they found such persons were mostly foreigners and Irish, very few of whom, when set to work, would undergo the labour with the slender diet in that case allowed. The foreigners, at their own request, had been discharged with correction or relief of money, those who came from the several quarters of the City had been returned to their parishes. They requested the Council to give order to force the Irish vagrants into their own country, and that those who by the strict search which had been made had been driven into Middlesex, Surrey, and Essex, might be so proceeded with that they should not fill the City again.
Dated in margin, 20th April, 1629.

VII. 103. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor with respect to their former letters for the execution of His Majesty's Book of Orders concerning charitable uses, and for the punishment of wandering rogues and vagrants, and requiring him to be more careful and vigilant in the performance of his duty therein.
15th January, 1633.

VII. 149. Letter from Mr. Secretary Windebank to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, calling their attention to the King's letters, previously sent to them, in favour of William Davis, Provost Marshal of the City of London, and requiring that he should be re-established in his place and his arrears paid. The King required them either to give Davis satisfaction, or forthwith certify the cause of their refusal.
Westminster, last of July, 1635.

VII. 154. Answer of the Court of Aldermen concerning Provost Marshal Davis. He was admitted 22nd September, 1625, with an annual allowance of 80l. and Two Freedoms, which had been paid him till Lady, Day, 1632. Since Michaelmas, 1632, he had been yearly paid 60l. and Two Freedoms. He never purchased his office. The City had paid 40l. per annuam to another to supply his place.
18th September, 1635.

VIII. 89. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, transmitting a commission, orders, and directions for the relief of the poor, and for the punishment of vagrants.
31st January, 1630.

VIII. 120. Same as No. 103. Vol. VII.

VIII. 205. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, requiring them to proceed more effectually in the execution of the laws for the suppression of vargrants, and to report their proceedings at the end of every them.
16th June, 1638.

VIII. 212. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen with respect to the great number of wandering poor in the City, requiring order to be taken for the relief of the poor according to the laws, that they might have no pretence to wander and beg, and for the punishment of the rogues and vagabonds.
20th March, 1638.

IX. 10 Letter from Secretary Edward Nicholas, by command of the King, to the Lord Mayor and Common Council. His Majesty had been informed there had existed for some years past a corporation for the relief and employment of the poor within the City and Liberties which had caused many hundreds to be employed and relieved. He desired the City to continue their care of this institution until the reassembling of Parliament, when order should be taken for constituting the corporation.
8th October, 1660.

IX. 40. Order of Council, authorizing the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen to direct a collection for the relief of the poor to be made every Sunday during Lent in the several parish churches within the City. 19th February, 1661.

IX. 56. Letter, signed John (fn. 3) Nicholas, from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen. Similar in effect to No. 40.
(Circa 1662–3.)

IX. 103. Letter from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, acknowledging their memorial for authority for collections to be made for the relief of the poor every Sunday during Lent in the several parish churches within the City and Liberties. Order of the Council accordingly to the Churchwardens, &c
19th February, 1664.


  • 1. After the closing of the monasteries the poor increased to such an extent that it became a State difficulty as to what should be done with them. The enactment which is usually considered the origin of our Poor Laws was passed in the 12th of Richard II., 1388. The Statute passed in 1536, 27 Henry VIII., attributes the then exisiting distress to the decay of husbandry, i.e., the turning an immense extent of arable land into pasture. Early in Edward the Sixth's reign (1547) an Act was passed for the punishment of vagabonds and for relieving the poor. Collections were ordered to be made weekly for the poor, 2 & 3 Philip and Mary, c. 5. All the preceding enactments were repealed, and a comprehensive Act set forth by 14 Elizabeth, c.5, 1572, which was amended from time to time in this reign; and in 1601, by 43 Elizabeth, c. 2, compulsory assessment for the relief of the poor was finally and fully established, Charles the First, in 1630, issued a Commission for the relief of the poor, who published a book of Orders and Directions in the following year. See Nicholls's 'History of the English Poor Law.'
  • 2. The Lord Mayor received an intimation from the Council informing him that all the ills and plagues affecting the City were caused through the number of poor swarming about the streets, and recommending the Corporation to subscribe with the Companies and the several Wards, and so to raise a fund to ship out these persons to Virginia, and he issued his percept to the several Companies for the purpose March 27th, 1609. On April the 29th the Merchant Taylor's Company determined to subscribe 200l., and the Members of the Company advanced 300l. more; the Ironmongers advanced 150l. 18,000l. was raised in the City for the purpose of founding his plantation. A broadside was issued in 1610 by the Council of Virginia touching the plantation; another stating that a good fleet of ships, under the conduct of Sir Thomas Gates and Sir Thomas Dale, Knights, would soon be ready to sail, and directing good artificers and others desirous of joining to repair to the house of Sir Thomas Smyth, in Philpot Lane, before the end of January, 1612. A broadside was also issued in February, 1621, giving the number of the ships and people (one being the Mayflower) sent out from August, 1620, to February, 1621. The scheme soon failed, for in 1623 Captain John Smyth, some time Governor, published a 'General History of Virginia, the Lower Isles, and New England,' with the natures of the adventures and their adventures, the accidents that befell the Colonists, &c.
  • 3. Probably and error for "Edward."