PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London almshouse renovation contracts craft guilds brewers building materials wages labourers masons daubers carpenters paving hardware gutter fraternities guildhall
Subject: Refurbishment of a building as an almshouse
Original source: Archives of the Worshipful Company of Brewers, First Brewers Book, ff.83, 90-93
Transcription in: R.W. Chambers and Marjorie Daunt, eds., A Book of London English 1384-1425, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931, 147, 152-59.
Original language: Middle English
Location: London
Date: 1423


After the Easter term, on 6 May 1423, it was decided to convert the same tenement into an almshouse, for the support of poor brothers of the craft and fraternity of the brewers of London, by common agreement; that is to say of Robert Smyth, William Crane, Hugh Neel, John Philip, masters of the craft and fraternity at that time, John Reyner, William atte Wode, John Mason, John Broke, William Smalsho, Thomas Haccher, Robert Carpenter, John Piken, and William Ferrour senior. The aforementioned Robert Smyth contributed £10 from his own resources to divide the house into various rooms, to cover masonry, carpentry, and daubing of various walls, along with paving the kitchen, constructing the stone wall for the reredos, and erecting a privy in the almshouse. And so all the costs for work incurred at that time were paid by Robert, with the exception of 2s.6½d, which is to be covered by the community of the craft beyond the aforementioned £10. The itemized expenditures, and what they were spent on, you can find set out clearly in the 7th leaf following, in the order that they were paid at this time.


The following are the items of expenditure paid to make the building held by tenancy outside the gate an almshouse for poor brothers and sisters of the crafts and fraternity of brewers of London, for which Robert Smyth paid £10, as was indicated previously.

First, for sawing of various pieces of lumber 17d.
Item, paid to Janekin Pekker carpenter for all his labour in carpentry, for he undertook the general contract, that is, for the piece work 40s.
Item, paid to John Stok lumber supplier for assorted lumber bought from him for the almshouse at various times 42s.
Item, for ale for the carpenters 1d.
Item, for 4 oak laths, at 8d. each 2s.8d
Item for for 4 pine laths at 6d. each 2s.
Item, to Nicholas Fuller for 1½ lb. of iron, called stirrups 3d.
Item, to Robert Cok labourer for half a day spent breaking down a wall in the tenants house called the almshouse 1d.
Item, to another labourer for 2 days 4d.
Item, to one John, a labourer, for 5 days of work, at 3d. a day 15d.
Item, as a reward to the same labourer 1d.
Item, to one Robert, a dauber, for 7 days spent on daubing, at 4½d a day including lunch 2s.7½d.
Item, to John Smyth labourer for 9½ days, at 4d. a day including lunch and a reward given to the same dauber 3s.3d.
Item, to one Piers, a labourer, for 3½ days, at 5d. a day 17d.
Item, to Robert Rowe dauber for 10½ days, at 6d. a day, for daubing various walls 5s.3d
Item, to the same dauber for his lunches 4½d.
Item, to one John, a labourer, for 1 day 4½d
Item, for straw for the daubing 3d.
Item, to John Smyth labourer, for carrying tiles 1d.
Item, to the aforementioned Robert the dauber, for 5 days making repairs, daubing and other tasks in various parts of the almshouse, at 5d. a day 2s.1d
Item, to the same Robert the dauber, for his work on lathing and daubing, for 3 days at 6½d a day including lunches 19½d.
Item, for freestone for the great door 2s.
Item, for transport of that stone 3d.
Item, to John Crowston mason for 1 step comprising 4 feet of solid stone, to go before the door of the almshouse 16d.
Item, to Goldryng mason for 2 freestones and masonry work thereon 4d.
Item, paid for 1 freestone for the side of abovementioned door 6d.
Item, paid to Ralph Worsted, freestone carver, for 7 days, at 8d. a day 4s.8d
Item, for his lunches during those days and a reward 2d.
Item, to William Batte mason for 6½ days, at 8d. a day 4s.4d
Item, to John Wolde mason for 9 days, at 8d. a day 6s.
Item, paid for ale for the masons, daubers and labourers 1d.
Item, to 2 masons in the employ of Henry Botston mason, for 2 weeks, at 4s.3d the week each including lunches, for building the walls of the privy and a wall called a reredos in the kitchen, along with paving the kitchen 17s.
Item, to William Walton labourer, to work under the masons for 11 days, at 5d. a day 4s.7d
Item, to another labourer to work under the masons for 6 days, at 5d. a day 2s.6d
Item, for stabilizing the old privy in the almshouse 2s.2d
Item for a gutter of new lead (26 lb. in weight) for that privy 22d.
Item, for making 2 teyes of pavement for that lead gutter, to keep the water out of the privy 16d.
Item, for 1 cartload of gravel for the same task 4d.
Item, given to Stephen Brewer for fetching stones out of the small cellar for the pavers to use in making the aforementioned pavement 4d.
Item for 68 paving stones for the kitchen of the almshouse 13½d.
Item for 112 Flemish tiles, at 12d. a hundred, for the kitchen 13½d
Item, for transport of those stones and tiles 6d.
Item, to John Tenterden for 5700 transom[-nail]s, at 10d. the thousand 4s.9d
Item, for twopenny nails, threepenny nails, sixpenny nails, and eightpenny nails 15½d.
Item, for 100 sprigg nails for the daubers 1d.
Item, to the lumber supplier in Wood Street for 200 fivepenny nails 10d.
Item, for 100 fourpenny nails 4d.
Item, [for] twopenny nails, threepenny nails, sixpenny nails, eightpenny nails 15½d.
Item, for two lead nails for the front door of the almshouse, and for the lock, latch, and bolts of that door 8d.
Item, for 1 door-lock, with 1 staple, and its installation in a room of the almshouse 8d.
Item, for two staples for the bolts of the middle door 1d.
Item, for repairs to the latches of various doors 1d.
Item, for a lock for the kitchen door, with 1 staple 6d.
Item, for 3 new keys, with adjustments to 3 locks, for various doors 8d.
Item, for 1 lock and 1 staple, with 3 keys, for the door of Robert Lynford's room. 12d.
Item, for installing a lock, with 1 staple, on the door of the room at the top of the stairs, next to Janet Awmbele 2d.
Item, for 1 hasp, with 1 staple, for the kitchen door 1½d.
Item, for 1 cramp with 1 catch for the kitchen window 1d.
Item, for repairs to a lock to the door of a privy in one room of the almshouse 2d.
Item, for 1 new key to the kitchen door 3d.
Item, for repairs to a lock in the dark room 2d.
Item, for various hinges for windows and doors, with 1 pair of garnet-hinges 15d.
Item, for 9 loads of lime for the almshouse 8s.10d.
Item, for 6 loads of sand for all work undertaken in the almshouse, at 5d. [the load] 2s.6d
Item, for 5 loads of loam for the daubing in the almshouse, at 4d. the load 20d.
Item, for transport of 6 loads of refuse to the field, at 3d. the load 18d.
Item, for 5 lb. of candles with wicks for the carpenters, daubers and other labourers [use] in mornings and evenings 7½d.
Item, for 1 earthenware pot, to hold water in the privy in one room of the almshouse 1d.
Item, for making a coal-bin for Janet Awmbele's room, and for fixing up the floor in another room with loam, over 2 days, at 3d. a day 6d.
Item, to the lumber supplier in Wood Street for 6 boards for various doors, and for a pipe for the privy, a window for the kitchen, 14 quarters [to serve] as supports and props and elements of the windows and doors 8s.2½d
Total: £10.2s.6½d  

The following are items for a gutter above the kitchen of the tenant-house now called the almshouse

First, for 2 quarters for the transoms of the gutter 8d.
Item, for 1 long board for the bottom of the gutter 10d.
Item, to 2 carpenters for 1 day, constructing the gutter, 8½d each including lunches 17d.
Item, for half a hundredweight and 16 lb. of new lead, at 8s. the hundredweight, for the gutter, totalling 5s.2d.
Item, for the replacement of 1 hundredweight and 3 quarters of old lead, at 16d. the hundredweight, totalling 2s.4d
Item, for transporting the old lead out and the new lead in 4d.
Total: 10s.9d  

The following are items for a gutter above the hall in the tenant-house now called the almshouse

First, three pieces of timber for transoms for the gutter 6½d
Item, for threepenny nails, fourpenny nails, fivepenny nails, and sixpenny nails 6d.
Item, given to a man to assist the carpenter with the gutter and to lay the tiles 1d.
Item, for three boards for the bottom of the gutter 10d
Item, for three boards for the sides of the gutter 10d.
Item, for half an eastland board for a window in the great chamber of the tenant-house 3½d.
Item, to a carpenter for 4 days work on the gutter and other tasks, taking 7½d a day, lunch included 2s.6d.
Item, paid to a plumber for removing, working, and resetting the old lead in the gutter, along with 2 lb. of solder 18d.
Item, paid for 100 laths for the tiling of the houses near the gutter 8d.
Item, for 3 sacks of lime 6d.
Item, for lath nails 3½d.
Item, for a quarter of tiles 2d.
Item, to a tiler for 1½ days in tiling the houses, at 8½d. a day including lunches 13d.
Item, to his assistant for 1½ days, at 6d. a day including lunches 9d.
Item, for 1 load of loam for fixing various defects underneath the gutter 4d.
Item, to a dauber for 1 day in fixing those defects, including his lunch, at 8½d.
Item, paid to an assistant to the dauber for 1 day, including his lunch, at 6½d.
Item, for transport of refuse from that gutter 1½d.
Item, for 1 piece of new lead, weighing 26 lb., for a gutter of the tenant-house above the pentice of a window 23d.
Item, for lead nails for that lead 1d.
Total: 14s.3d  


Although not one of the major London gilds in terms of wealth and socio-political status, the brewers had one of the larger gilds and some members were sufficiently well-to-do to have aspirations. Our earliest reference to the brewers in a context which suggests they were organized comes in 1292, although they may well have had a gild for long before that. All crafts of any size had hopes of protecting their members' interests through a gild that obtained official recognition, even to the point of a royal charter of incorporation. This perhaps became increasingly important in London in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries as party politics was based partly on gild affiliations.

During the fourteenth century, the brewers are known to have had a fraternity that met in the church of All Hallows on the Wall. Since women were heavily engaged in at least small-scale brewing, the gild accepted women members; the admission fee for a man was 12d., 8d. for a woman, and 20d. for a husband and wife. The gild did not obtain a royal charter until 1437, but it had already come under pressure to have its own home base and, probably in the reign of Henry IV (certainly by 1418), had established itself in a property that stood on the same site as the present Worshipful Company of Brewers headquarters in Aldermanbury Square, not far north of the city Guildhall, although at that time the address was Addle Street (of which only the western stretch now survives). This tenement, which stood on the north side of the street, had been purchased by brewer John Hore from a mercer in 1403, and over the next decade a series of transactions suggest trusteeships, probably on behalf of the Brewers.

Few gilds had halls, and those that did often acquired them through the gift or bequest of some particularly wealthy member. Perhaps this was the case with the brewers; certainly their property seems extensive. The almshouse was converted from a building by the gate into the property. The original hall and its outbuildings were burned down in the Great Fire of 1666.

Interspersed with the sections of expenditures on the almshouse were sections of expenditures on other works to the adjacent brewers' hall property. A passageway was built, or rather adapted from what is described as a "cloister", connecting the hall proper and the "great kitchen" and the floor of the passageway repaved; this seems to imply that the kitchen was in a building separate from the main structure. The interior of all buildings, except the hall itself, was tiled, disintegrating mortar in the the brickwork was repaired, and various other repairs or restoration work carried out. A large lockable cupboard was constructed in the kitchen, and a chicken coop in the yard outside the hall.

A further contract between the brewers' gild and carpenter John Pekker (interestingly, a Cambridge craftsman), for other work on the hall proper – notably for strengthening the roof supports and other structural timbers, and for making several new windows to let more light in from the south side of the hall – was copied into the brewers book a little further on. In that case he was paid £10, half in advance and half when the job was done, and had to provide some of the building materials himself. Each party put up a bond of £20 to guarantee its adherence to the contract. Despite this, problems arose when Pekker's brother, a vintner of the same name, refused to countersign the contract in support of the carpenter.



"same tenement"
The preceding passage refers to rents from the four terms of the year issuing from a "tenement near our great gate". The great gate refers to the main entrance to the property of the brewers gildhall, which was evidently a sizable building, since it accommodated large feasts and was regularly hired by numerous other gilds during the year (at 4d. a day) for their feasts, including the clerks, girdlers, football players, coopers, cooks, butchers, and socio-religious fraternities, as well as for a wardmoot on one occasion. Several other gilds owned halls they made available for rental; the barbers had two such halls and the fees became an important source of revenue for them.

The process of using clay, mud, or a mud/clay mix, tempered with chopped straw, to fill in spaces between the wooden frames of buildings or to overlay a framework of laths, prior to whitewashing or plastering with a finer substance such as lime.

A structure to enclose a fireplace, with particular reference to the rear; the purpose was to provide containment for an otherwise dangerous fire.

Thin planks used for walls and ceilings in house construction.

According to the editors, small U-shaped clamps or supports.

The original Fermyng seems to mean fixing up the structure so that it is sound. The partitioning of the building into separate residences evidently required each one to have its own privy, hence renovation of the existing one and construction of a new one.

This and following items deal with construction, or renovation, of a sewer.

The toise was a measure of length used in France before the metric system and comparable to the English fathom of 6 feet; but since the Paris foot was slightly longer than the English, equivalent to 6ft. 4½in. if linear, or about 4.5 sq.yds if area.

The original has j c and di. quarteron. From the price it is evident that a quarteron here refers to 25 (and therefore half a quartern would be 12½, but that makes no sense here); however, it was an imprecise term for volume or quantity whose meaning could vary according to context.

A transom was originally a cross-beam, although the term later came to have a more restricted meaning. Since it seems implausible that 5700 beams would have been necessary for this work, or would have cost so little, the reference is more likely to nails for securing those beams, particularly given the items that follow in the list.

"sprigg nails"
Small headless nails.

"fivepenny nails"
As can be seen from this example, this kind of name for nails referred to the cost per hundred, and the variation was probably due to nail size.

"dark room"
Probably some kind of storage room or closet.

A T-shaped hinge.

"to hold water"
I.e. for flushing.

Smaller pieces of timber, equivalent to today's 2"-by-4" or 4"-by-4".

At four quarters to a hundredweight and 28 lbs to a quarter, the total for this item doesn't quite work out.

"eastland board"
Timber imported from the Baltic or Scandinavia.

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Created: August 27, 2004 © Stephen Alsford, 2004