The College of Arms: Rebuilding after the Great Fire, 1666-88

Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1963.

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Walter H Godfrey. Anthony Wagner, 'The College of Arms: Rebuilding after the Great Fire, 1666-88', in Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, (London, 1963) pp. 11-19. British History Online [accessed 25 May 2024].

Walter H Godfrey. Anthony Wagner. "The College of Arms: Rebuilding after the Great Fire, 1666-88", in Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, (London, 1963) 11-19. British History Online, accessed May 25, 2024,

Godfrey, Walter H. Wagner, Anthony. "The College of Arms: Rebuilding after the Great Fire, 1666-88", Survey of London Monograph 16, College of Arms, Queen Victoria Street, (London, 1963). 11-19. British History Online. Web. 25 May 2024,


In September 1666 old Derby House perished in the Great Fire of London, but a petition made by the heralds in 1670 says that the records, rolls and books were by the diligence of some of the petitioners rescued and preserved. (fn. 1) It is supposed they were taken to Westminster by water. On 25 January 1667 a notice appeared in the Gazette that the heralds' office was kept in a room in the Palace of Westminster, near the Court of Requests, formerly called the Queen's Court. Stephen Martin Leake, Garter (d. 1773), tells us that a seventeenth-century painting on panel of John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1453), which has hung in the College at least since the early eighteenth century, once hung in Old St Paul's against a pillar over a monumental inscription to Margaret, this Earl's Countess. (fn. 2) It is therefore thought that a herald may have saved it at the time of the fire.

On 3 February 1668 (fn. 3) Chester was asked by the chapter to draft a petition for the rebuilding of the office. The matter was much discussed in the ensuing two years and a petition actually presented to the Crown on 7 December 1670. On 19 November 1669 Sir Thomas St George, Somerset, Henry Dethick, Rouge Croix, and Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon, were requested to go to the old office and consider the building up of the wall on the south side thereof and to report their opinions at the next chapter. (fn. 4) On 5 November 1670 it was agreed that Mr Sandford should confer with Mr Emott, a bricklayer, about building the old office and that certain debts he owed the College should be remitted 'in consideration of his pains taken at the funeral of the late Duke of Albemarle (fn. 5) and preparing a model of the new office'. (fn. 6) The 'Mr Emott' here mentioned is better known as Morris (or Maurice) Emmett. Born probably in 1646, he seems to have been the son of another Morris Emmett. (fn. 7) He was engaged on two City churches soon after 1670 and in 1677 had been appointed Master Bricklayer in the Office of Works. In this capacity he was employed at Chelsea Hospital from 1682, at Winchester Palace in 1683–4, at Windsor in 1685–6, at Whitehall in 1685–7 and at Kensington Palace in 1689–90. At Hampton Court, in 1689, he was involved in the collapse of some piers when, in the subsequent inquiry, Sir Christopher Wren declared himself 'very ill used' by Emmett. He died in November 1694 and was buried in St Margaret's, Westminster, where there is an enriched white marble tablet, with armorial bearings, to his memory. His will shows him to have been possessed of considerable house-property in and around Jermyn Street and in the City, while he had built himself a house in Cannon Row, Westminster.

Morris Emmett had an elder brother, William, whose career was somewhat similar. Born in 1645, he became a joiner and carver, succeeding his uncle, Henry Phillips, according to Vertue, in the office of Carver to the King, probably erroneous (see H. M. Colvin, Biog. Dic. of British Architects, p. 196). He worked on many of the City churches, at Chelsea, in the royal palaces and made and carved the oak reredos at the Temple Church. Both Morris and William, as well as Morris junior, presumably a son of the elder Morris and, like him, a bricklayer, played an important part in the building of the College, and as master craftsmen were not only capable of discharging the functions of the modern architect, but seem literally to have done so here. The fact that Thomas Lee, Chester Herald, signs a letter to Emmett on 31 May 1674, 'Your affectionate friend' shows the cordial relations between them. On 14 July 1687 the Emmett pedigree was entered at the Heralds' Visitation of London and shows William then aged 42 and Morris, 'his Majestie's bricklayer', aged 33 [sic].

It was reckoned that to build according to Sandford's model would cost at least £5000. According to an estimate presented at a chapter held on 22 April 1671 the first stage of the work, comprising foundations and a section of the building which would house the records, would cost £600. Thomas Lee, Chester, proposed that various fees due to the officers amounting to £350 should be put towards the work and this first stage put in hand. Since even so there would be a deficit and no further funds were in sight, there was room for two opinions on the advisability of this. Sir Edward Walker, Garter, was for delay, but Lee and Sandford, with Henry St George, Richmond (whom Walker called the triumvirate), were for pressing on. At an unofficial meeting held later on the chapter day Walker was persuaded to agree. Lee and Sandford asked Emmett to dinner and they agreed 'about the building an Office'. On Wednesday, 26 April, Emmett therefore began the work and on the Friday Sandford told Walker, who asked why they were so hasty to begin in the holidays and was answered, 'Because you should not hinder it'. Walker passionately said he would go at once and forbid the workmen, but on second thoughts did not and going the next day found the workmen digging a new foundation where formerly there was a garden. Walker's opposition, however, continued, and as late as 1674 he complained that, though he had himself given £70 towards the building and procured subscriptions of £380 more, 'to gratify the Triumvirate, Mr Lee, Mr St George and Mr Sandford, two heralds and a Pursuivant, the Earl Marshall has assigned them the lodgings there and since built, and hath given Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy, three Kings of Arms, four heralds and three pursuivants, lodgings in a Paper Designe'. (fn. 8)

The history of the new building continues with a royal commission, dated 6 December 1671, authorizing the heralds and pursuivants to take and receive subscriptions for the rebuilding from the nobility and gentry. The same commission appoints Henry Dethick, Rouge Croix, and John Gibbon, Bluemantle, as collectors and commands them to pay all moneys received to the two treasurers. Five parchment rolls record the names of subscribers or of some of those who were approached, as follows:

1. 1672. The Names of the Nobility (besides those of his Matys most honoble Privy Councill) whom I Edward Walker Knt. Garter Principall King of Armees have undertaken humbly to attend for for their subscriptions etc. There are forty names, twenty of which are marked as having subscribed (most £10: the Duke of Albemarle £30, two others £20). The dates are all in April and May.

2. A list of Subscriptions made by the Nobility of England of their voluntary Benevolence towards the rebuilding the Colledge of Armes in London consumed by the late Fire... Taken by F. Sandford, Rouge Dragon. Two names only, dated March and April 1672.

3. 12 Maii 1675. A list of Subscriptions Made by the most Reverend the Lords ArchBishops, the Right Reverend, the Lords Bishops &c. of their Voluntary Benevolence, towards Rebuilding the Colledge of Armes in London etc. There are twenty-eight names, with subscriptions against twelve of them (all £10 except the Archbishop of Canterbury, £30).

4. The Subscriptions of ye Right Honble. the Lord Mayor, & yt. honble. the Aldermen of the Citty of London towards the Rebuilding of yt. Colledge of Armes etc. Twentyfive names but only three have subscriptions against them. The first two are dated 1677 and 1676.

5. A list of Subscriptions made by the Baronets, Knights of the Bath and Knights of England and Wales...taken by Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon, 1672. Sixteen names with subscriptions between £5 and £20, all dated apparently between April 1672 and June 1673.

Besides these rolls, the names of the benefactors, their arms and pedigrees were registered in vellum books in a particularly handsome style as a mark of the gratitude of the College. Two such benefactors' books were completed and still exist in the College. (fn. 9) One dated 1673–8 represents subscriptions totalling £206. 6s. 8d. procured by Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald. The second dated 1672–6 represents subscriptions totalling £509. 5s. 6d. procured by Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon.

It is clear from these books and rolls that a determined attempt to secure funds was made in the spring of 1672, but the heralds had already made a beginning with their rebuilding. We learn this from a valuable report to the Earl Marshal, made by Garter and Rouge Dragon in 1689 after a series of complaints on the part of Mr May, Chester Herald, the executor and successor of Thomas Lee. This report recalls that after the Great Fire the officers of arms contributed among themselves some £500 (fn. 10) and about the year 1670 built a new hall, library, a room for the Earl Marshal and eight other rooms in one 'pile or upright' which formed the centre of the north range of the quadrangle. This work must have taken some time for the hall was not ceiled until February 1673, and the final payment for this 'first pile' was not made to Morris Emmett until May 1675, although of course it may have been completed some time before.

It has already been mentioned that the hall of the new College occupied the opposite side of the quadrangle to that of Derby House, but the principal entrance was retained on the west side, approached from St Benet's Hill (Plates 4 and 5). The plans for the whole north and west ranges were already in existence when they were formally approved in a warrant issued by the Earl Marshal on 17 June 1673, dated from Arundel House, which directed the completion of those parts of the College shown thereon but not yet built. The plans are still preserved (Plates 30–34) attached to the warrant, and the Earl Marshal states that he has viewed the work already done and orders its continuance forthwith, appointing as overseers of the works and treasurers of the funds: Henry St George alias Richmond, Thomas Lee alias Chester, Heralds of Arms, and Francis Sandford alias Rouge Dragon, pursuivant. (fn. 11) Ten years, however, were to elapse before the contract for the west range was put in hand.

Some indications of the progress of the work on the northern range can be gleaned from the Chapter Book and the accounts. In February 1671 a workman was to be engaged in laying the foundations. In April 1672 Rouge Dragon was asked to reside in the College 'for the better putting forward the work of rebuilding the said College and preserving the lead and other materials from being imbezilled and for that end to make use of the superstructures over the new erected office and the hall there', also that 'Rouge Croix make use of such part of the Hall or room intended for the office for his present occasion'. In October 1672 it was ordered that Lancaster should 'have the present use of the two vacant rooms in the College of Arms over the hall for placing some household goods until further order'.

The report of 1689 goes on to state that the north-east section (that is, adjoining the east side of the office and hall and reaching St Peter's Hill) was built by Thomas Lee, Chester Herald, by 1675, from 'contributions of the nobility, etc.', and that it comprised five rooms which were to be shared between him and Richmond Herald. We get frequent references to this work in the accounts rendered by Francis Sandford, Thomas Lee and Henry St George, which cover the period from May 1672 to January 1677, and also to what is evidently the foundation work to the west range, including the paving of the gate passages (19 May 1675).

The report next states that the north-west building (between the hall and St Benet's Hill) was erected by Sir William Dugdale, Garter, apparently at his own charge. (fn. 12) Sir William was appointed Garter in 1677, the year that Thomas Lee, Chester Herald, died. The accounts for the work paid for by Dugdale are in the hands of his descendant, Sir William Dugdale, Bt., by whose kindness they have been made available in the preparation of this monograph. There is a contract dated 18 May 1677 between 'Nathaniell Hanwell Citizen and Carpenter of London' and 'Sr. William Dugdale Knt. principall King att Armes'. The other tradesmen are represented only by their accounts, but the receipts for certain interim payments to Morris Emmett, the bricklayer, contain the rates at which he agrees to work, made out in Dugdale's own handwriting, and there are certain estimates as well. The names of the tradesmen have been inserted in square brackets in the summary in Appendix I, by which it will be seen that he spent in all £300. 6s.

It was not until 1682 that the College was in a position to complete the western range of which the foundations were already laid. The money was to have been provided by Sir Edward Bysshe, Clarenceux, who was asked to appoint deputies to make a visitation of the remaining counties in his province and devote the profits, after taking one quarter for himself, towards the building, in the proportion of a second quarter for his own lodgings and the remaining half towards the general work. He first refused and then agreed but died before any action had been taken. In 1680 his successor in the office of Clarenceux, Sir Henry St George, (fn. 13) agreed to give the profits of the visitations of six counties: Northampton, Rutland, Leicester, Warwick, Gloucester and Worcester to be visited by such deputies as chapter should recommend, towards the rebuilding. These visitations were made between 1681 and 1683 and the accounts for them are preserved at the College. (fn. 14) The profits totalled £530 but another £50 was needed to pay the builders and this was lent to the College by John Gibbon, Bluemantle. The contract was undertaken by John Hodge 'my lord duke's carpenter' for £546, and was signed on 5 February 1683. The roofs were tiled by September and the whole completed by the end of the year.

The specification for this west range and the priced estimate are interesting since they give us the first description of the form of the original building. They are printed in Appendix 2 and will be referred to again when the architecture of the College is described. The plan of the range apparently followed fairly closely the arrangement shown in the plans attached to the Earl Marshal's warrant of 17 June 1673, but the builders used their own discretion in varying the thickness of the walls and the width of the range, as can be seen by comparing the measured drawings of the present buildings with the original draught. These 'warrant' plans, which are reproduced on Plates 30–34, consist of five sheets of cartridge paper, marked respectively 'the cellars', 'the first story', 'the second story', 'the third story', and 'the garretts'. Apart from a porter's lodge, the hall and the heralds' office, the whole of the accommodation is distributed among the members of the College, most of them having rooms on three or more floors and sharing a staircase with their neighbours. Thus, Garter has the large basement room under the hall and uses a staircase entered at the north-west corner of the courtyard which brings him to the north-west room, adjoining the hall on the ground floor ('first story'), two more rooms on the first ('second story'), one each side of the stair, nothing on the second ('third story'), but a further room on the third floor ('the garretts'), perhaps for a servant—five rooms in all. Clarenceux and Norroy, similarly, have five rooms. The heralds have either three or four rooms each, the pursuivants one. On the ground floor, next to the hall, is an office (query library) and on the first floor is a room for the Earl Marshal.

These plans, as has already been remarked, show only the north and west ranges with the small return on the south of the latter. No elevations have survived except two sketches for the external face of the west range, one to a scale of rather under 8 feet to the inch and the other to a scale of something less than 6 feet to the inch. The former is reproduced on Plate 35 and they will be referred to under the architectural description (see pp. 29–31). Among the College muniments are several diagrammatic plans showing the rearrangements made at various times, and one set purports to set forth the principles on which the officers could choose their rooms while the College was building. The assignment of rooms set out in the plans accompanying the Earl Marshal's warrant of 17 June 1673 had to be revised by an order of 9 March 1682, since Garter had built the north-west corner of the College. This new arrangement was signed on 2 November 1683 and following this there were petitions and letters objecting to certain details which continued until the final report of 14 June 1689.

The setting out of the grounds of the College was carried out by Mr Oliver, the City Surveyor, in 1675, and he was paid his fee of 10s. on 29 August. This was in accordance with the Fire decrees which made it obligatory on all owners of property to obtain official verification of their sites as they existed before the Fire. (fn. 15) It is not clear if there had been an earlier inspection, which should have occurred before the north block was built. Discrepancies were bound to occur and there is a memorandum on a sheet of plans showing the arrangement of rooms in 1672; 'upon the measuring the Hospital ground adjoyning next below the Heralds' Office on St Bennet's side, which by the Hospital Survey book ought to be but 28 foot 3 Inches. There is to the outside of the wall 16 inches and a half over above the 28 Foot 3 inches belonging to the Hospitall which had it been a partition wall ought to have been but 9 Inches.' This hospital seems to have been the almshouse on the west side of St Peter's Hill 'lately founded', says John Stow, 'by Daniel Smith, Imbroderer, for 6 poore widowes, whereof each to have 20s. by the yeare'. (fn. 16)

The completion of the quadrangle can best be described in the minutes of the Chapter Book of the College. On 1 December 1687 'Clarenceux proposed a person who would take a lease of the upper ground of the office yet unbuilt and build 3 houses thereon and level the court and make the stone steps requisite and a new pair of great gates, etc. All which beside the bldg. he esteems at £250 charge and this without charge to the office.' On the 6th it was agreed that a draft of the proposals be made and that Mr Sandford, Lancaster Herald, be asked to assist.

An idea of the contemplated work can be obtained from a document endorsed: 'Proposals for building the East End of the College of Arms, 1687' (Appendix 3). The east range was to be built from Sir Henry St George's lodgings (namely, the north-east angle of the quadrangle) as far as the almshouses, 'with a Return of 14 foot on the South side, answerable to the Return at Sr John Dugdale's apartment' and 'a passage in the middle over against the great gate of 4 foot wide'. This would be an entrance to St Peter's Hill. The 'space on the south side unbuilt between the said 14 foot Return and Sr John Dugdale's lodgings shall be a terrace walk level with the ground floor of the Building already erected under which shall be a Vault'. This space below ground was to be used as 'one or more houses of office for the Society'. Between the two south return wings there was to be a wall 3 feet higher than the terrace and 36 feet long, except for the gates in the centre and such lights as were agreed for the vaults. This was in front of the terrace but on the southern boundary there was to be a 'handsom brick wall as high as the eves of the said Almshouses'. Further provision was made for levelling the courtyard, new gates to the entrance, sewer and rainwater pipes, etc.

The Chapter Book records further discussion on 15 December of proposals ascribed to Mr King, Rouge Dragon, and it was agreed that the officers should meet Mr Beacham 'the stonecutter'. His Christian name was Ephraim according to Anstis. (fn. 17) On 21 December Mr Beacham 'exhibited 2 drafts of an upright of the building intended.' He was apparently willing to carry out the work on a payment of £20 and the grant to him of a sixty-one-year lease at an annual ground-rent of 20s. if the plainer design of the two was accepted, but he would want £60 for the other design which followed the west front, with rubbed brick, pilasters, etc. It was agreed to carry out this second design 'with the circular pediment, rubbed front and pilasters'. The final terms were agreed at a meeting at the Horn Tavern, with an allowance of £40, a sixty-one-year lease at 20s., a peppercorn for the first year. The lease and articles were sealed and signed on 27 January 1688. There had evidently been an intention at one time to close the quadrangle with a complete range on the south side, since a draft plan of this survives, but the final arrangement left a wide opening, with terrace and railings, a rough sketch for which is among the papers. A sequel to the levelling of the court and the terrace was the complaint of Sir John Dugdale, who occupied the south-west building, that his kitchen and the vault under were darkened and the privacy of his parlour impaired by the terrace (1 March 1688). (fn. 18)

On 3 May 1688 a new lease and articles 'touching the buildings now erecting at the College' were drawn up, converting the original agreement 'into 3 distinct leases for the 3 tenements now erecting at the East side and South east corner of the College of Arms, receiving 6s. 8d. yearly rent upon each tenement'. These leases were sealed on 14 June 1688. John Anstis, in his collections at the British Museum, (fn. 19) under this date, refers to this agreement. He evidently disapproved of the business side since he observes that by this 'imprudent step the office not only precluded itself from an opportunity of receiving further benefactions towards its building, unless any would be so generous (which could be wished) to contribute towards the purchasing out the term now subsisting, but also from preventing the intention of some of the succeeding officers to enlarge their lodgings if there had been any ground left for that purpose'.

Thus by 1688, twenty-two years after the Fire of London had destroyed Derby House there had arisen, in the words of William Maitland, (fn. 20) 'one uniform quadrangular building, as it now appears, and is one of the handsomest and best designed brick buildings in London. And (he adds) the hollow arch of the gateway is esteemed a curiosity.'


  • 1. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic (1670), p. 566.
  • 2. Coll. Arm. MS. SML. 65, p. 71.
  • 3. Coll. Arm. Chapter Book 1, fo. 79b.
  • 4. Coll. Arm. Chapter Book 1, fo. 81b.
  • 5. Francis Sandford produced a pictorial record of this very splendid funeral, with designs by Barlow, engraved by Robert White. It was printed in 1670 and comprised an account of the ceremonial, an engraved title and twenty plates of the funeral procession and lying in state, including incidentally portraits of most of the heralds of the day.
  • 6. Coll. Arm. Chapter Book I, fo. 88.
  • 7. He is called 'Maurice Emott, the Younger' (signature Morris Emmett Junr in a receipt of 27 November 1673 and Morris Emmett Junr in his account receipted 8 January 1675).
  • 8. Bodl. MS. Ashm. 1133, fos. 36–41.
  • 9. A. R. Wagner, Records and Collections of the College of Arms (1952), p. 22.
  • 10. This £500 included the profits from the Duke of Albemarle's funeral in 1670, already referred to on p. 11.
  • 11. This warrant seems to have been the official confirmation of a resolution by the chapter on 30 April 1672: 'That the West side towards Benett's Hill be next proceeded with according to the model until the shell thereof shall be raised and covered, then the foundation of the rest of the College to be laid out and proceeded with as money shall come in. Chester, Somerset and Rouge Dragon to be overseers of the rebuilding.'
  • 12. This seems to be generally taken for granted in various references to Garter's lodgings, but in a draft report to the Earl Marshal, subsequent to an order made by him dated 21 January 1686 to investigate a petition of William Dugdale, grandson of Sir William, the opinion is expressed 'that the sayd Lodgings were built with the Fees which accrued to Gartr between the death of Sr Edward Walker, Gartr and the creation of the sd Sr Will. Dugdale into that Office, which Fees of right belonged to the rest of the Officers of Arms in being during that Vacancy and were conferred on the sd Sr Will. Dugdale (as we have heard) merely for his encouragemt to build up the sd lodgings'.
  • 13. This arrangement is specifically mentioned in the following portion of a letter to Sir Henry St George, Clarenceux, soon after his appointment in 1680: 'Sr Henry, 'I am desired by the rest of my Fellows to put you in mind of the promise which his Grace the D. of Norfolk heretofore made to some of Our Societie; That in Case he did survive Sr E. [dward] B. [ysshe] the then Clarenceux, he would oblige the succeeding Clarenceux to perfect the buildings of this Office out of the Visitations in that Province which they do not doubt but you very well remember, and being now by his graces favor promoted to that office you will be very inclinable to make good without their application to his Grace for Enjoyning you so to do. 'And therefore desire unanimously, That you will declare unto them what part & portion of the profitts arising by such visitations You are free & willing to allow towards the finishing the said Buildings: It being Impossible they should ever be perfected by any other meanes whatsoever: And they will take Care to record as honourable a Memorial of such your Voluntary offer to posterity as you yor self shall propose. And endeavor to Express their gratitude for the same upon all occasions wherein it shall lye in their power to do you service.'
  • 14. A. R. Wagner, Records and Collections, p. 76.
  • 15. For the regulations see T. F. Reddaway, The Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire (1940), pp. 154–5.
  • 16. J. Stow, Survey of London, ed. C. L. Kingsford, vol. ii, p. 16.
  • 17. B.M. MS. Add. 9020, fo. 40; also Rupert Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors, p. 44, and The Wren Society, vols, i–xx, passim.
  • 18. Coll. Arm. Chapter Book 1, fo. 247 b.
  • 19. B.M. MS. Add. 9020.
  • 20. The History of London (1756), vol. ii, p. 862.