The eighteenth century: City government

Pages 229-240

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


City Government

Throughout the 18th century the corporation derived its income from four main sources: rents of property belonging to the city, fines for exoneration from office, payments from those who wished or were forced to become freemen, and loans. (fn. 1) The money was used to pay the salaries and allowances of the city's councillors and officers, to uphold and improve its standards of ceremonial procedure and hospitality, to maintain the public buildings and the streets and bridges of the city and to extend, albeit to a limited degree, various public services to the citizens. The accounts in which these activities are recorded were presented each year by the chamberlains but were no doubt in practice made up by the chief amongst them—the receiving or lord mayor's chamberlain. In the early part of the century the year of account began on 15 January and after about 1730 on Lord Mayor's Day, 3 February; (fn. 2) audit took place after Lord Mayor's Day by a committee appointed by the new house. The auditors rarely questioned the accounts. In 1728 they took 9d. in the pound off some bills for work done on Ouse Bridge; in 1790 one auditor wished to disallow the sums spent on the entertainment of Prince George but a committee of inquiry insisted that a majority decision by the auditors needed no further investigation. (fn. 3) For the most part they seem to have been content to check the arithmetic and accept their allowance of £2 for the audit dinner. It seems likely that neither auditors nor chamberlains did much to check the inventories of city funds and plate that were in their charge. (fn. 4) The chamberlains were chosen in Drake's time from young tradesmen—it was sometimes the first step upon the ladder of civic promotion— and it was their function, he says, 'rather to pay their money than receive any'. (fn. 5) Each of the eight, or, from 1739, six, paid in fact 20 nobles (£6 13s. 4d.), a fine which, in part, was supposed to exonerate them from the long-defunct offices of mure-master and bridgemaster. (fn. 6) The payment was only questioned once—in 1784 when the defaulters were pursued and had to pay costs as well. (fn. 7)

The chief source of income throughout the century was rent from the city's property. This was collected by the receiver or steward with whose office was combined in 1710 that of conservator of the property, the city husband. (fn. 8) The receiver was a salaried officer (fn. 9) but throughout the century conducted his office more as if he were a farmer. After 1704 the officer of the time, Alexander Harrison, ceased to present accounts and even after 1713, when the city's affairs were reformed, no more was done than to record in the House Book that the steward's accounts should have been received but were not —an entry that continues to be made until the end of the century. (fn. 10)

Probably as a result of this arrangement there are no receivers' accounts for the century. (fn. 11) The last legible one for the 17th century, that for 1690, lists some 200 properties in and around the city with a total rental of about £750. (fn. 12) The largest individual sums were for the farm of the common crane (£60), the rent of Thursday Market (£20), and for the city's estates at Tang Hall (£121) and Carlton Minniot (N.R.) (£33). The remainder was derived from property on Ouse and Foss Bridges, from moats and gardens round the walls, and from a host of miscellaneous shops and tenements in all parts of the city.

Arrears of rent amounted in 1690 to about £200 and the chamberlains' accounts show that between 1700 and 1725 income from this source only twice reached the full sum, supposing, that is, that it remained the same. Until 1720, indeed, the average was less than £500. Harrison died in 1721 or 1722 and his successor only held the office until 1725 or 1726 when he was dismissed. (fn. 13) From that point the rents mounted steadily throughout the century and reached the £2,000 mark by the end of it. (fn. 14)

The improvement was partly achieved by increasing rents. In 1739 the committee of leases was ordered to advertise available leases in the Courant a month before its meeting so that bidders might compete; the order was later amended so that tenants who had improved in expectation of retaining leases were not harshly treated; but the more progressive policy, combined with more frequent meetings of the committee, no doubt had its effect. (fn. 15) A comparable improvement might have been achieved by a vigorous policy about arrears but although attempts were made throughout the century to collect rents withheld 'on frivolous pretences', the effects can only have been sporadic. (fn. 16)

Partly, but to what extent it is impossible to say, the increase was due to the effect of capital accretion. It had long been customary for benefactors to place the administration of their charities in the hands of the corporation, who thus acquired capital and paid interest, as it were, in doles or stipends to the poor. On at least one occasion such a legacy was used for an immediate and particular purpose: £500 left by Lady Hewley in 1711 was used to renew the lease of the Tang Hall estate. (fn. 17) The money paid out on behalf of these charities rose from about £25 in 1700 to about £200 in 1750 and about £300 at the end of the century. Some of the capital thus acquired, and perhaps some acquired in other ways, was invested in property. In 1711 the house debated whether it was more profitable to buy an estate or lend their money out and decided to buy land at Laxton (E.R.) for £1,000; in 1721 Fawdington (N.R.) was bought for a few pounds less. (fn. 18)

The income from the city's rents thus increased throughout the century. It seems likely, moreover, that the sums accounted for by the chamberlains were rarely the whole of that income. The £1,000 used in 1711 to buy Laxton was in hand from some other source than charitable bequests; for Lady Hewley's money had been spent and was secured upon property already in the city's hands—Sir William Robinson's house on the corner of St. Leonard's Place. (fn. 19) Moreover, after 1725, the receiver delivered to the chamberlains not exactly what he had collected but so much as they required. Thus when, as in the 1760's, the city was acquiring money from other sources, the income from rents stayed down to a level near to that of the late thirties and early forties when income from other sources was small. (fn. 20) Most striking are the accounts for 1776 and 1788 when the income from other sources was so large that the chamberlains called for very much less than usual from the receiver. Generally speaking the difference between the rents collected by the receiver and the amount he paid to the chamberlains cannot have been large. In the later period, when, like Peter Atkinson the elder (appointed 1786), (fn. 21) the receivers were farmers rather than officers, the difference was probably considered their emolument.

Almost all the rest of the city's income might be brought under the term 'expedients', 'casual receipts' as one heading in the accounts has it. One source, the chamberlains' exoneration money, was fixed and certain but only amounted to £40 or £50; fines from the courts due to the city were more or less regular but rarely amounted to more than £5. Money paid by those taking up their freedom was a regular but by no means fixed source of income. Those claiming freedom by patrimony were admitted without payment; (fn. 22) those claiming by apprenticeship paid £1; and those who could make neither claim paid usually £25 but sometimes more. It was the third class that contributed most to the city funds and occasionally a drive was made to force all unfree persons trading or manufacturing in the city to take up their freedom. In 1734 the first of many committees to inquire into trading by unfreemen was appointed; the most successful was that at work in 1776 when the income so derived reached its highest point. (fn. 23) Much of the income from this source, however, came by chance, for it was when there were parliamentary elections that entries into freedom were most abundant. (fn. 24)

From time to time admissions to freedom might be extremely profitable; men offering themselves as Members of Parliament for the city, like Robert Fairfax in 1713 or Sir John Lister Kaye in 1734 and many others, paid £150 for their freedom. Money acquired in this way was akin to that from another irregular but important source—fines for exoneration from office. The most regular income of this kind came from fines for the office of sheriff, for throughout the century the city preserved a policy of electing men who, for various reasons, most frequently non-residence, would be unable to stand. Between 1707 and 1722, for example, men living in distant parts of the East and West Ridings and in Leicester and Lancashire were sought out for the office and paid their fine. (fn. 25) No grounds for exemption seem to have been acceptable. A Scarborough Quaker was approached in 1717 in the full knowledge that it was unlikely he would accept the necessary religious qualification; a full-time Crown officer, the postmaster, was sued for his fine in 1743; by 1746 persons who could be elected but who would be unlikely to stand were known as 'outliers'. (fn. 26) The fine for the sheriffs was £100 in the first decade; it was reduced to £70 in 1710 because the expense of making feasts was 'not so great as formerly', and was raised to £150 in the thirties and to £200 in the eighties. (fn. 27)

Fines for exoneration from other offices were less common but produced greater sums. Since aldermen were likely to become mayors sooner or later, unknown freemen from places outside the city, even if they had been sheriffs or fined for the office, were not nominated. Even so it was not uncommon for men to fine for the office. The rate was £200 in the early part of the century, though the full amount was frequently abated, and rose to £300 in mid-century. By 1781 it was felt that the counsel of the 'best and most respectable' citizens was of greater value than the fines they might offer, and the practice very largely ceased, the policy being reinforced in 1793 by raising the fine to £500. (fn. 28) Occasionally a composite fee would be accepted for exemption from all office, a course forced upon men with business that took them frequently away from the city, upon Members of Parliament who were natural freemen and upon such full-time officers as the attorney in the Court on Ouse Bridge. (fn. 29) Finally, councillors who wished to resign their office, even sometimes on grounds of infirmity, were fined for the privilege. (fn. 30)

Table 6 City Finance in 1750 a
Income £ Expenditure £
Rents of city property and land 1,010 Lord Mayor's Day and other ceremonial 11
Fines of the courts 2 Local justice 8
Chamberlains' exoneration money 40 Legal fees 92
Other exoneration money 10 Salaries and allowances:
Mayor and principal officers £453 13s. 4d.
Others £119 15s. 2d.
Mayor's gown £7
Casual receipts 15 Street cleaning and lighting; paving repair 17
Freedom payments 418 Council chamber: cleaning and repairs 8
1,495 Mansion House: cleaning, repairs, rates 67
Balance from 1749 333 Rents:
Tang Hall £24 16s.
Fee farm and ancient rents £79 19s. 7d.
Judges 19
Races and Huntsman 25
Charity 17
Fire service 25
Office Stationery and printing 12
Petty cash 2
Interest on mortgage 24
Building and repairs:
Purchase for improvement £80
New Walk (repairs) £13 5s. 1d.
Paving and bars £30 5s. 9d.
Ouse Bridge £441 9s. 6d.
Charities and apprentices (as interest on capital held) 188
Balance forward to 1751 63
£1,828 £1,828
a Compiled from York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Bk.; figures are to the nearest £.

When these expedients failed the corporation borrowed money and did so in three ways. In the early part of the century they resorted to personal loans: in 1704 from two councillors and from a minster official, paying only 3 per cent. for the money; in 1722 from the lord-mayor elect; and between 1732 and 1740 from Darcy Preston, the town clerk, to whom, eventually, the Fawdington estate was mortgaged. (fn. 31) Secondly, from the late 1750's onwards, the corporation took to issuing £50 bonds. Between 1759 and 1775 at least £3,700 was borrowed in this way.

Short-term loans, however, were clearly unsatisfactory for a corporation with a fixed income, and, although the 1776 drive against unfree traders helped to pay off £750, the bonds were not cleared until 1789. From 1783 onwards, therefore, the corporation began to offer annuities and from that date until the end of the century about £4,000 was obtained in this way. The returns for annuitants ranged from 8 to 14 per cent. according to age. (fn. 32) Even this proved not to be sufficient and in 1794 an order was made for another £1,000 to be borrowed on bonds at 4½ per cent.; the whole sum was not issued, probably because the corporation managed to sell a lease for £500. (fn. 33)

Throughout the century the city's income was spent chiefly in meeting its regular yearly obligations; abnormal expenditure had to be met out of the rare surpluses or by calling upon one or more of the expedients already described. The structure of expenditure is illustrated by the account for the mid-century (see Table 6). The year 1750 was, with the exception of a surplus of £333 from 1749, one of normal income and expenditure. The largest single category of expenditure is that for salaries of which the mayor's was the largest. Between 1700 and 1735 his salary was £50 and allowances of various kinds brought his total cash emolument to £115. In addition he was allowed the tolls of the corn and malt markets (which had been attached to the office since 1564) for a nominal rent. In 1736 the corn tolls were let to farmers for three years at £225 a year and the mayor was given a salary of £350 in lieu of this and all other emoluments. (fn. 34) His total allowance, therefore, up to 1735 may not have been much less than it was in 1736, though, no doubt, few mayors could have collected tolls as efficiently and as cheaply as a farmer. The corn tolls continued to be nominally linked with the mayor's salary until at least 1760. (fn. 35) The salary was increased to £400 in 1766, to £500 in 1771, and to £525 in 1792. (fn. 36)

How the mayor spent his money is not known, for although he had to keep accounts which were audited at the end of his term, (fn. 37) none has survived. There is much to suggest that it mostly went on entertainment, especially when the mayors began to use the Mansion House in 1730. Indeed the chief reason for building a mayoralty house had been to encourage the mayors to spend their time in the city and entertain citizens regularly. (fn. 38) Thereafter each mayor, upon swearing day, had to declare on which two days of each week he would open his house for public entertainment. Doubtless the term public was not widely interpreted but the upper house of 40 or so and the lower of 72 may well have been fairly frequently in the 'Great Room'. Besides, there was a large household staff— the town clerk and his men and numerous petty officers and servants—which it was the mayor's responsibility to feed. The practice did not cease until 1793 when the mayor made allowances to the petty officers in lieu of their meals. (fn. 39)

The remaining expenditure in this category covered the salaries of some 50 officers from the town clerk to the scavenger, from the recorder to the Mansion House cleaner. (fn. 40) Of the four chief officers, the town clerk and the recorder received relatively small salaries since they were entitled to many fees of office; the receiver, as has been said, drew his salary from the city rents; the fourth, the paver, drew the largest salary of any officer, £40, and more later in the century as his work increased. (fn. 41)

Apart from building costs, the 1750 account shows a further £620 of regular expenditure. The largest single item is the £188 paid to charities and for apprenticing and, as has been explained, must be considered as interest on borrowed capital; what accumulated capital sum was by this time in corporation hands from this source it is impossible to say. To this sum should be added the interest paid to Darcy Preston's widow on his loan. The second largest item was that devoted to rents. Of these £70 represented the reduced fee farm secured under the Act of 1536; (fn. 42) £10 was paid for small lands and properties acquired in the city for public use, such as the herb market; and the rest was for the Tang Hall estate—a payment that must shortly be discussed in another context. Of the other more or less regular payments only legal fees and repairs and rates on the Mansion House are of any size.

All these remain regular charges upon the revenues throughout the century; and although between 1750 and 1799 they increased by about 50 per cent. there is no doubt that had they been the only charges they could have been met out of normal income. But the city was liable for many other occasional charges; and there is some evidence of a growing consciousness of the need to extend the very limited public services provided by the regular charges.

Chief amongst the special charges was the cost of maintaining the streets, bridges, walls, bars, posterns, and public buildings of the city. The Mansion House itself was very costly but most of the initial cost of building between 1726 and 1733 was met from current income, from freemen's payments, from one or two heavy exoneration fines and by borrowing from Darcy Preston. Thereafter the house was costly to maintain but large capital sums were not spent on it again until the last two decades of the century. Streets and bridges were a constant drain, especially after the middle of the century, when the streets and roads linking the city with the newly established turnpikes had to be improved to bear traffic of a greater volume, weight, and speed. (fn. 43) And within the city street widening and improvement was frequently demanded to ease the passage of carriage traffic. All the bridges, but particularly that across the Ouse, were in constant need of repair: upon Ouse Bridge large sums were spent in the fifties (of which the payment in the 1750 account mentioned above was the first) and nineties. An equal if not larger amount was probably spent on the walls, bars, and posterns. (fn. 44)

Less onerous because more occasional was expenditure on fines for the renewal of leases, on legal costs, and on social and political obligations. In the course of the century at least £2,500 was spent on inserting lives into the Tang Hall lease; the rent for the century amounted to a similar sum and the property was let out for £120 a year, thus securing a profit of about £7,000 over the century. Legal fees, apart from those paid in the ordinary course of business, were not a frequent charge, but in 1776, for example, £450 was spent in this way in the drive against unfree traders, and in 1793, when £300 was spent in trying to protect the franchise of the commons against the Crown in the election of a recorder. The celebration of public events—victories of the king's arms and coronations, for example—generally called for a public thanksgiving feast paid for by the city; and in the pursuit of a happy relationship with the Crown or politicians, the city purchased several gold boxes in which the freedom of the city was presented: one worth 100 guineas for the 'Butcher' after Culloden, a similar one for Prince George when he came to the races in 1789, and one of 50 guineas to Fox in 1791 for upholding the principles of the Glorious Revolution. (fn. 45)

These were the chief calls for special expenditure. There was a host of smaller charges: some 'princes of Mount Lebanon in Syria' whose country was ruined by the Turk were given 15 guineas when they passed through the city in 1730; in the seventies and eighties the city offered bounties to men who would enlist with the navy; in 1772 the 10th Regiment of Dragoons was given 20 guineas for helping to fight a fire; £70 was spent in 1794 on the septennial fishing trip down the Ouse. (fn. 46) A complete list would touch upon almost every aspect of life in the city.

As has been said, extraordinary expenditure was met by expedients. The year 1789 will serve as an example of all such occasions. There was first a balance of more than £400 from the previous year; to this was added £2,200 from the city rents—it was the first year of Peter Atkinson's appointment and as a new broom he swept up £500 or £600 more than had been received in the previous decade; and in this year 29 men gained their freedom by redemption. Moreover the capital fund of a charity was paid in and the tenant of the prebendal house of Wistow in the minster yard (which was corporation property) renewed his lease, and from these two sources £200 was added to the funds. The chamberlains were thus able to face with equanimity the insertion of a new life in the Tang Hall lease at £450; the purchase of a piece of ground adjacent to the House of Correction at £117; the presentation of a cup worth £110 to the retiring recorder, Peter Johnson; a repair and furnishing bill for the Mansion House of £138; and a bill of £400 for entertaining the Prince of Wales. Their successors in 1790 were perhaps less complacent when they received the surplus of £1.

The corporation was not unaware of the unsure foundations upon which the structure of its finances rested, but the remedies were outside their grasp and would continue to be so until 1835. The actual handling of the money was always hand to mouth. In 1704, for example, the house thought that it ought to invest its surplus funds but recognized that intending borrowers might have to be compensated if the money were not immediately available, as apparently it was not; in 1708 the bill of a London solicitor was to be paid 'as soon as the chamberlains have the money' and this was not the only outstanding debt. (fn. 47) As a result, in the period 1708–11, there are many calls to retrieve city moneys out upon security and to improve interest rates. (fn. 48) At the same time, in 1711, the house was ordering that £1,100 'in the city's box' should be lent out at 5½ per cent. interest and that tickets should be bought in the Two Million Lottery. (fn. 49) The accounts do not indicate where such a sum might have come from, if indeed it was really there; nor is there any sign in later years that borrowers had been found. (fn. 50) Two years later a committee was appointed 'for trade and to find the means to lessen the city's expenses and to improve its income'. (fn. 51) In two months the committee prepared a wide programme of financial, economic, and administrative reform. Its financial proposals were extensive but shallow in effect: many of the petty officers were to be reduced in number, paid smaller salaries and given less livery; and several ancient but unjustified charges upon the revenues were to be abolished. The total saving was probably at most £20 a year and no recommendations were made about increasing the income. All the reduced salaries had been re-established at their old level by 1720. (fn. 52) Another committee was appointed in 1758 'to enquire what sum was needed to discharge the city's debts and how to raise it'. (fn. 53) As a result of its work there began the system that has already been mentioned of issuing city bonds as an expedient. Another committee was appointed in 1799 to inquire into income; (fn. 54) it recommended that a new rental should be prepared and that the rents should be more efficiently collected. But by this time some councillors were beginning to recognize the chief source of the corporation's poverty. Without drawing upon the resources of the citizens at large—and for this there were as yet no means—they could not sustain the ever-increasing burden of public works. Not surprisingly, some thought the best way was to remove the need for those works and in 1800 were pressing for an Act to remove the walls, bars, and posterns. (fn. 55)

The body that administered these moneys—the mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, the fourand-twenty, and the common council—suffered no constitutional change in the 18th century. Its structure was that devised in the Middle Ages and amended by the charters of 1517 and 1632. The mode of election to office underwent no change and the oligarchy remained self-perpetuating until 1835. Once elected, some attempt was made to see that councillors served, and impediments were put in the way of resignation. An alderman or even a common-council-man might be reminded of his duty or asked to explain his absence; (fn. 56) as has been said, the Mansion House was built partly to discourage mayors from 'retirement into the country'; (fn. 57) and the fines imposed upon ageing aldermen who wished to retire were a welcome occasional source of income—Sir William Robinson, who had long served the city as its M.P., and wished to resign his aldermanship in 1718 on grounds of ill health, had some difficulty in getting the house to accept his offer of £100. (fn. 58) On one occasion, however, the corporation was unable to exert sufficient pressure to fulfil its wishes completely in such a matter. Sir John Lister Kaye, in recognition of whose services as M.P. and lord mayor a portrait was in 1738 hung in the Great Room of the Mansion House, was elected to the mayoralty again in 1748 but refused to take office. The corporation immediately imposed a fine of £500 on him but Kaye wrote to say he would not pay it and that they were being unreasonable. Great confusion now arose and eventually a writ mandamus had to be obtained to elect someone else. Six months later Kaye came before the corporation to apologize for the trouble that had been caused and to plead his very evident ill health; he had already borne all the costs of obtaining the mandamus and now offered a fine of £100 which was accepted. (fn. 59) Even at a less exalted level the house took great care of its dignity. In 1727 it was found that a four-andtwenty-man was seeking an allowance because of his extreme poverty; to the credit of the house he was granted £15 a year but he was removed from the council. (fn. 60) In 1754 the newly elected chamberlains took the oath at the January meeting and immediately announced, to the great consternation of the house, that they would neither pay their exoneration money nor give the customary feast. By February they had all agreed to pay but were adamant about the feast and the town clerk was asked to search the records for a by-law that authorized the custom; he was still searching in July but although he found nothing the contretemps was not allowed to happen again. (fn. 61)

Two of the officers who served the corporation were important above all others—the recorder and the town clerk; both appointments, together with that of the recorder's assistant, the city counsel, were subject to political considerations. From 1722 the city insisted on the recorder residing in the city; the town clerk lived there as a matter of course. (fn. 62) Neither they nor any other city officer might be chosen to serve in the upper or lower house while still in office. (fn. 63) In 1708 Thomas Mace, the then town clerk, was given a deputy and there was no doubt some clerical staff which the clerks found themselves, as they did the office equipment and stationery. (fn. 64) Mace was succeeded in 1713 by Edward Gale Boldero whose tenure ended in disgrace in 1718 when he offered an 'insult' to an alderman. Boldero was called before the house but would not submit. By the threat of prosecution he was brought to agree to resign but was allowed to name his successor. Two of his candidates were rejected after a trial and it was not until a year later that he finally submitted a man who was immediately acceptable to both the upper house and the commons—Darcy Preston. (fn. 65) Preston and two other men, John Raper and George Townend (Raper's son-in-law), served the city for the remainder of the century to the corporation's often-expressed satisfaction. (fn. 66)

The great number of petty officers has already been mentioned; the variety of their tasks is some indication of the scope of public business in the period. Although much of the corporation's income was spent on maintaining the walls and streets, it would, of course, be anachronistic to think of the 18th-century corporation as a body aiming to provide public services. The Act of 1763 for cleaning and lighting the streets placed the responsibility and the power to collect the necessary rate firmly upon what no doubt seemed the obvious authority—the parish. (fn. 67) Nevertheless, a committee of the corporation had prepared the Bill and contributed £100 towards obtaining the Act. (fn. 68) And in this and the other major aspect of parochial government, the administration of the poor law, the corporation acted in a supervisory capacity—making suitable regulations for the overseers to enforce, advocating the appointment of an overseer and constable for the one-time extra-parochial district of Davy Hall, supporting Bills for the improvement of the Poor Law, and defending parish officers at the charge of the common chamber in suits brought against them in the execution of their duties. (fn. 69) In the relief of the poor by charity the corporation played a considerable part, administering— honestly, as far as can be told from the chamberlains' accounts—the large sums entrusted to them and maintaining the hospitals that had come into their charge in the 16th century. Sporadically, however, they did perform a few acts of charity: small sums might be given to women whose husbands were away in the army; the goods of a woman who had killed herself were returned by the mayor, to whom they were forfeit, to her son to pay for the funeral; in bad winters such as 1740-1 and 1788-9 money was found to relieve distress; the blind son of a poor citizen was given 15s. to buy a fiddle and the waits were asked to teach him to play it. (fn. 70)

This was not all. One way and another the corporation had a hand in many aspects of the secular life of the city. In its courts on Ouse Bridge and in the Guildhall was entertained a wide variety of civil pleas; the mayor and aldermen, acting as justices, dealt with criminal matters in sessions. The conduct of the civil courts, (fn. 71) the appointment of their officers, (fn. 72) and even the extension of their jurisdiction (fn. 73) or the possibility of establishing new courts, were surveyed from time to time. With the trade and industry of the city and with the crafts, the corporation had less concern than formerly but still too much for the health of its economy, both in upholding its own prerogatives and in enforcing those of the guilds. (fn. 74) Within the framework of freedom of the city and guild membership, the corporation was anxious to encourage trade and establish industry. The 1713 committee of reform had this as one of its terms of reference. For industry there was no hope, but trade certainly improved as the city became more and more of a social centre and the corporation played its part in encouraging this process. The New Walk was no Vauxhall, it is true, and the Assembly Rooms were built by subscription; but if these are taken together with its encouragement of the city hunt, its regular contribution to the races, its improvement of the streets and its support of the 1763 Improvement Act, it is clear that the corporation was not unmindful of this aspect of its public duty. (fn. 75)

It was not all work for the mayor and his brethren. Then, as perhaps always, civic junketings attracted much attention—generally envious and often hostile. Such occasions occurred fairly frequently. Every week, after the Mansion House was built, the lord mayor kept open house for two days. These regular entertainments were no doubt fairly sober but the mayor gave others that were more lavish, particularly that on swearing day when the citizens at large shared a little in the festivities by drinking the mayor's health at Pavement Cross when the procession reached it. (fn. 76) Even when the new lord mayor was installed it was customary for the old one to invite his colleagues—perhaps some 40 of them—to drink with him when they saw him home after dinner. (fn. 77) All members of the corporation were liable to give feasts upon appointment; the trouble caused by the chamberlains' refusal on one occasion has been described. Even when there was some excuse the house did not lightly forgo its pleasures: one of the sheriffs in 1743 was unable to entertain at home because of illness, but his offer of the Black Swan in Coney Street was refused because it would dishonour the city. (fn. 78) Feasts upon election, except such part of them as was provided for the common-council-men, were stopped by an order of the house of 1798. (fn. 79) One of the most splendid occasions was the septennial trip down the Ouse in the city barge on 'fishing-day' to vindicate the corporation's river rights. The trip of 1768 cost £33 and in the course of it were consumed, amongst other things, 208 lb. of meat, 8 gallons of spirits, 6 dozen bottles of wine, and 26 gallons of ale and beer. (fn. 80) Twenty years later the cost had doubled and the charges included one for large numbers of broken glasses. So that those who took part in these activities should be suitably dressed, liveries, from the lord mayor's scarlet court gown to the bellman's green coat and silver-laced hat, were provided and maintained for all; and to keep a dignified show at the table the city's plate and insignia were constantly repaired. (fn. 81)

The city's business was conducted in the council chamber on Ouse Bridge; elections took place always in the Guildhall, the upper house retiring into the inner room to make their selection from the common council's nominees. Occasionally an oath upon taking up office might be administered in the presence of a small group in the Mansion House. (fn. 82) From time to time there was difficulty in obtaining adequate attendance and a system of fines for absence imposed on common-council-men in 1704 and on the upper house in 1715 seems to have had little effect. (fn. 83) But business was not often impeded by lack of a quorum, the more especially in the latter part of the century when administration by permanent committees became more and more common. (fn. 84) To guide them in their work, sets of the Statutes at Large were purchased, maps were drawn of the city and the corporation's possessions within it, and tables of the city's money and plate prepared. (fn. 85)

Since 1517 the house had been bicameral and since 1632, when the connexion with the crafts was severed, the common council had increased both its powers and the scope of its work. Throughout the 18th century there is a slight but fairly constant increase in its influence so that by the end of the century the commons are called in to consider every act of the upper house that is of any importance. It was particularly jealous of its privileges in the two most important aspects of city government—elections and the spending of public money. Its part in the elections of mayors, aldermen, and sheriffs as laid down in 1517 was not questioned. (fn. 86) But in 1701 it was established that the commons must consent to appointments of recorders, town clerks, and receivers—the three most important offices available in the city. (fn. 87) In the same year it was argued that the commons should elect their own foreman and that his ward should take precedence over the other three in ceremonial matters. (fn. 88) Later in the century, their part in appointments was extended to minor officers such as the wool-weigher (who on this occasion was paying a farm for the office) on the grounds that they always had a voice in money matters. (fn. 89) Their right to be present when exonerations from office were granted was established in 1721 and on several occasions thereafter they took the opportunity to increase or reduce the fines. (fn. 90)

The accretion of power by the commons by no means went undisputed by the upper house. A crisis in their relationship seems to have been reached in 1746. In May of that year the town clerk searched the records and found that while the mayor was restrained by various orders of the house from spending more than £10 on any one item, either on public business or on the Mansion House, and that both his and the chamberlains' accounts were subject to scrutiny by committees of audit that included members of the commons, the consent of the commons was not necessary for payments up to £10, or for more in emergencies. Amongst the emergencies might be public works but a proviso in an order of 1734 had usurped the mayor's rights in this. It was, said the upper house, a noxious innovation and was to be struck out of the order. (fn. 91) A committee was immediately formed to investigate the rights of the commons in the business of the corporation and as a result of its work all the orders giving privileges to the commons, including those of 1701 relating to appointments, were rescinded and in future the commons was to have no voice in affairs as by right. (fn. 92) The time had passed when the oligarchy could act in so arbitrary a fashion. A new receiver was due to be appointed and the commons rejected the nominee of the upper house and supplied one of their own. To end the dispute both names were put in a hat but when the commons' nominee came out, the mayor and aldermen refused to confirm the election. (fn. 93) The dispute dragged on for eighteen months, for most of which there were two receivers, one appointed by each house, and only ended in December 1748 when it was agreed that in future the commons should supply three nominees for receiver for the mayor and aldermen to choose from. (fn. 94) Nothing is recorded about the other disputed privileges but they were in practice all recovered. A similar but less violent dispute took place between 1780 and 1782. (fn. 95)

But while the privileges of the common council were upheld and even a little extended during the century, its part in the government of the city should not be exaggerated. The deliberations of the privy council were, by charter right, secret and an order emphasizing this was made by the house in 1703. (fn. 96) The oath of secrecy was taken after election as sheriff, at a ceremony in which wine was drunk from the 'Black Bowl'—a vessel, says Drake, which 'the commons of York have an utter aversion to'. (fn. 97) The commons, too, was a confirmative rather than a deliberative or consultative body. Members did, nevertheless, deliberate: they complained in 1729 that all sorts of people came into the hall when they were considering the city's business and the tipstaves were set at the door to keep out intruders; ten years later a special room had been built for them in the council chamber and the extra comfort had so far extended their debates that the upper house decided that consent to orders made at one meeting should be sent to the subsequent one. (fn. 98) For all this, the orders were made, and continued throughout the century to be made, in the inner chamber.


  • 1. In what follows all that is said about the city finances is, unless otherwise stated, derived from a study of the Chamberlains' Accounts in York Corp. Rec. The final document of account was the chamberlains' roll but these are very defective for the whole period and, with very few exceptions, the chamberlains' books have been used. Very little discrepancy between the rolls and the books has been detected and from at least 1726 the books are made up and balanced in a manner that suggests they are becoming the final account and the rolls a formality. This is confirmed by the existence of several duplicate, working copies of the books for the latter part of the century. Both books and rolls are defective for 3 years 1702, 1715, and 1716; in each case the missing item is the income derived from city rents although it is possible that that for 1702 is included under another heading.
  • 2. Drake's account (Ebor. 185-7) makes it clear that the 'St. Maurice' of the accounts is 'St. Maure', on whose feast fell lord mayor's election day.
  • 3. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42, f. 109; 45, pp. 378, 381.
  • 4. The inventories appear on the rolls, not the books.
  • 5. Ebor. 183.
  • 6. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42, ff. 229, 230.
  • 7. Ibid. 45, p. 179.
  • 8. The office of husband was taken over by aldermen who were to view the works in the wards but the steward is called the 'receiver and city husband' as late as 1786: ibid. 41, f. 61; 45, p. 238.
  • 9. He received 2 increases in the 1730's because of the greater sums then being collected: ibid. 42, ff. 142, 177.
  • 10. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 40, f. 163; 41, f. 147.
  • 11. There are, however, city rentals for the last few years of the century: ibid. E/78A.
  • 12. Ibid. C/79.
  • 13. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 42, ff. 37, 77.
  • 14. Ibid. E/78A.
  • 15. Ibid. Ho. Bk. 43, pp. 16, 64, 459.
  • 16. Ibid. 40, ff. 171, 174, 177; 42, f. 2; 43, pp. 282, 320-1; 44, pp. 366-7; 45, p. 197.
  • 17. Ibid. 41, ff. 89, 92.
  • 18. Ibid. ff. 84, 89; 42, ff. 12-14.
  • 19. Ibid. 41, f. 77.
  • 20. Assuming, i.e. that there was a general tendency for income and expenditure to increase throughout the period.
  • 21. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 45, p. 238.
  • 22. With occasional minor exceptions.
  • 23. For the appointment of the committees see York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 41, ff. 153, 164; 42, ff. 187, 193; 43, p. 467; 44, pp. 321, 362; 45, pp. 149, 168, 221; 46, pp. 28, 69-70.
  • 24. See pp. 240, 243.
  • 25. Ibid. 41, ff. 15, 54, 141; 42, f. 24.
  • 26. Ibid. 41, f. 178; 43, pp. 91-92, 216.
  • 27. Ibid. 40, ff. 97, 222; 41, ff. 40, 43, 74; 42, ff. 191-2, 229; 45, p. 20.
  • 28. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 40, ff. 115; 41, ff. 76, 78, 103; 42, f. 66; 43, p. 315; 45, pp. 47, 70; 46, p. 11.
  • 29. Ibid. 41, f. 183; 43, p. 48; the town clerk and the recorder were the only officials exempt from office.
  • 30. Ibid. 42, f. 110; 45, pp. 291, 390.
  • 31. Ibid. 40, ff. 167, 169-70, 179, 190, 206; 42, f. 18; 43, pp. 39-40.
  • 32. Ibid. 45, pp. 132, 147, 246, 308, 322; 46, pp. 72, 80, 133, 146-7.
  • 33. Ibid. 46, p. 76.
  • 34. Ibid. 42, f. 202; an attempt to raise his salary in 1729 was unsuccessful: ibid. f. 125.
  • 35. Ibid. 43, pp. 2, 63, 66-67, 158, 279, 431; 44, p. 15.
  • 36. Ibid. 44, pp. 204, 278; 45, p. 438; in the 80's the additional £100 was granted each year by the commons only after review: 45, pp. 257, 281.
  • 37. The accounts of John Peckitt (1702), e.g. were the subject of much scrutiny: ibid. 40, ff. 149, 152, 167, 173.
  • 38. Ibid. 42. f. 52.
  • 39. Ibid. 46, p. 29.
  • 40. The following list is probably complete for 1750: town clerk, recorder, surgeon, mace-bearer, swordbearer, 4 officers-at-mace, chaplain, paver, 4 tipstaves, 12 firemen, 4 waits, 2(?) trumpeters, gardener, common informer, Bow Bell ringer, cleaner (Ouse Bridge hall), cleaner (Mansion House), reader at St. Thomas's, sweeper (Foss Bridge), scavenger, lamp-lighter, news-writer (by this date in London), huntsman, Friargate Postern opener, clock-winder, cook, baker, porter (last 3 at Man. Ho.), Guildhall-keeper. Toll collectors and other fiscal officers were not by this time paid directly out of the city revenues.
  • 41. See p. 210.
  • 42. See p. 123.
  • 43. See p. 210.
  • 44. It is not always possible, particularly in the latter part of the century, to detect the object of all payment for building and repairs but much of it was probably spent in this way.
  • 45. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 43, p. 198; 45, pp. 350, 355, 419.
  • 46. Ibid. 42, f. 133; 44, p. 310; 45, p. 14.
  • 47. Ibid. 40, ff. 173, 183; 41, ff. 32, 33.
  • 48. Ibid. 41, ff. 20, 32, 41, 65, 77, 78.
  • 49. Ibid. ff. 82, 85.
  • 50. It is possible that part of this sum, if not all of it, was charity money for the Blue Coat and Grey Coat schools: ibid. 42, ff. 50-51.
  • 51. Ibid. 41, ff. 108, 124 sqq.
  • 52. Ibid. 41, ff. 178, 186, 197, 208; 42, f. 1.
  • 53. Ibid. 44, pp. 67, 68-69.
  • 54. Ibid. 46, pp. 289, 300, 307.
  • 55. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 46, p. 343.
  • 56. Ibid. 41, f. 109; 42, ff. 20, 91; 44, p. 201.
  • 57. Ibid. 42, ff. 52, 54.
  • 58. Ibid. 41, ff. 140, 157, 193-4.
  • 59. Ibid. 42, f. 225; 43, pp. 261, 267, 285.
  • 60. Ibid. 42, f. 89.
  • 61. Ibid. 43, pp. 438, 446, 450.
  • 62. Ibid. 42, f. 22.
  • 63. Ibid. 44, f. 79.
  • 64. Ibid. 41, ff. 29, 69, 208.
  • 65. Ibid. ff. 185, 188, 191, 193, 195-8, 202-3.
  • 66. Ibid. 43, p. 323; 45, p. 62.
  • 67. 3 Geo. III, c. 48.
  • 68. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 44, pp. 46, 156-7.
  • 69. Ibid. 40, f. 168; 41, ff. 28, 32, 84; 42, ff. 79, 221; 43, p. 192; 45, p. 412.
  • 70. Ibid. 40, f. 225; 41, ff. 2, 65; 42, f. 176; 43, p. 49; 45, p. 311.
  • 71. Ibid. 40, f. 153; 42, ff. 17, 20, 26, 47, 114-16; 43, p. 391.
  • 72. Ibid. 40, ff. 183-4, 226; 41, ff. 4, 22, 31; 43, p. 5.
  • 73. Ibid. 40, ff. 157-8, 160, 190, 195; 43, pp. 388, 402; 45, pp. 14-15.
  • 74. See p. 218.
  • 75. See pp. 245-6.
  • 76. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42, f. 140.
  • 77. Ibid. f. 141.
  • 78. Ibid. 43, pp. 115-16.
  • 79. Ibid. 46, pp. 214, 280.
  • 80. Ibid. Chamberlains' Bk. 1768, f. 37.
  • 81. See, e.g. ibid. Ho. Bk. 40, ff. 150, 203; 41, ff. 14, 92; 42, ff. 21, 120; 43, pp. 25, 49; and Chamberlains' Bks. passim.
  • 82. e.g. ibid. Ho. Bk. 41, f. 18.
  • 83. Ibid. 40, f. 188; 41, ff. 133, 151, 154-5; 42, ff. 39, 228; 45, p. 14.
  • 84. The committee for leases was formed in the 17th century; by the 1780's there were several more—for investigating unfree traders, for the Mansion House, and for auditing accounts, for example.
  • 85. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 40, ff. 123, 146, 156; 42, ff. 39, 97, 181; and see 40, f. 175; 41, f. 8.
  • 86. See p. 137.
  • 87. Drake, Ebor. 185 n.; York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 40, f. 118.
  • 88. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 40, f. 110.
  • 89. Ibid. 44, p. 284.
  • 90. Ibid. 42, ff. 9, 66; 43, pp. 121, 431.
  • 91. Ibid. 43, p. 206.
  • 92. Ibid. pp. 211-12, 221, 225 sqq.
  • 93. Ibid. pp. 239, 249.
  • 94. Ibid. pp. 258, 262, 281, 295.
  • 95. Ibid. 45, pp. 7, 26, 80.
  • 96. Ibid. 40, f. 143.
  • 97. Ebor. 186.
  • 98. York Corp. Rec., Ho. Bk. 42; ff. 122, 239.