PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham contracts houses construction disputes lawyers
Subject: Dispute over a house construction contract
Original source: Nottinghamshire Archives, Borough court roll
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1883), vol.2, 26-28.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham
Date: 1405


Thomas de Maperley brings an action of breach of contract against John de Rotyngton. On 10 October 1401, Thomas made an agreement with John to rebuild, for a certain sum of money, on a plot within of the residential site of Thomas; that is: a chamber above the great gates, together with the gates themselves; four halls, with a chamber adjoining the said gates; three windows in the hall of Thomas' residence – viz. one great window above the entrance, a window above the hall passage on the west side, and another window above the hall passage on the east side; also to enlarge the pantry at the end of the hall; and to complete all these things, and whatever else is necessitated by them (such as [providing] locks and undertaking other things related to his craft), by the following Easter. On 29 January, John came to Thomas to say that he was ready to raise the timbers for the aforementioned buildings, and furthermore to tell Thomas to have the plot cleared, so that his work not be delayed by the plot needing to be cleared. At which point Thomas hired other carpenters and workmen for a certain number of days to pull down and remove an old house standing on the plot, at great cost to Thomas. Seeing the plot had been cleared, John told Thomas that he would have his timber transported to the site. At this point half of the work was still unplanned. Immediately afterwards, on 6 February, he stopped work without any good reason, leaving the task begun but not even half finished. The enclosure around Thomas' residence was left open and, as a result of the delay to the work, is lying open [still]; furthermore, the timbers put up there have almost entirely gone rotten and decayed, because of the delay to the work. Also, the rent [due] Thomas – viz. 40s. annually – has been lost from Easter until the present time. [All this] to the damage of Thomas of £26.13s.4d whereof [he produces suit] etc. John de Rotyngton comes in person and defends, etc., saying that he is in no way guilty of what has been charged; regarding which he submits himself to an inquest. Therefore [it is ordered that the bailiffs hold an inquest] etc.


Thomas de Mapperley was a prominent member of the Nottingham community, a successful lawyer with a wide-ranging clientele, who was chosen to represent the town at several parliaments between 1388 (having already served as a borough bailiff several years previously) and 1413, and elected mayor in 1402/03. He had also served as undersheriff of the county from 1387 to 1391, and was to become the borough's first recorder (legal advisor) in 1407. He acquired a number of properties within the town, and in 1395 was charged by the Great Tourn jury of having illegally built a house on land belonging to the community, as well as having carried off stones from the town walls (perhaps for his building project). He was in trouble again for blocking two pieces of community land – possibly thoroughfares – with timber and for diverting a community watercourse in 1408, although these types of charges were little out of the ordinary for the times. Worse crimes were laid at his door in other contexts, but these do not concern us here.

The building project which this contract evidences, and for which Thomas brought a suit against the builder on 26 August 1405, has been described as grandiose, although in fact it is no more than an expression of his growing wealth and status, as he provided services to and socialized with the county gentry (e.g. he married his daughter to the heir to a local manor) and wished for a residence that reflected this elevation. Whether his renovations and expansion was ever completed we do not know for certain, nor do we know what defence John de Ruddington offered. Mapperley's principal charge was followed up by another: that Ruddington's labourers had pilfered some of the old and new timber by night from the building site.

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Created: August 27, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2004