Friday, 24 June 2011

Tales from the Parish Clerks' Memoranda No. 1: The Collapsing House

Having, recently joined the IHR as Project Officer for the ReScript project, part of my role involves reading through the approximately 1.4 million words of the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda (PCM) from St Botolph’s Church in Aldgate, and key tagging the content so that you will be able to discover interesting facts and connections through ReScript. The PCM transcript was prepared by the Centre for Metropolitan History team as part of their ESRC-funded Life in the Suburbs project. These books cover much of the period between 1583 and 1625, and record in extraordinary detail the comings and goings of the resident population of this area of London. As I explore the documents over the course of the next few months I will be sharing some of the stories which I find particularly gripping and which I hope will interest you.

What has struck me so far is how details of very personal events can shine a light on much wider social issues. For example, an entry from 2 July 1616 describes how

A woman, and hir Child who by a fall of a House in Pond alley where shee lodged, were both slaine: after that the Coroners Quest had viewed them, they were buried in our new Church yard the second day of July Anno dm 1616, hir name none there could tell vs because shee was vnknowen. (City of London, London Metropolitan Archives, P69/BOT2/A/003/MS09223 f.254v)

This tragic story, in which a mother and child die as the result of their lodging house collapsing, highlights one of the darker facts of life in 17th century London: poorly constructed and maintained housing stock meant that collapsing buildings were not uncommon, and houses with a transient population were particularly likely to suffer from such dangerous neglect. At a time when this area of London was experiencing a dramatic population explosion, it would not be difficult for a mother and child to find themselves in such unsuitable and dangerous accommodation in a neighbourhood where they had no friends or family and were completely unknown.

Many thanks to St Botolph without Aldgate and London Metropolitan Archives for permission to reprint extracts from the Parish Clerks' Memoranda.

The Parish Clerks' Memoranda transcripts were prepared by the Centre for Metropolitan History team as part of their Economic and Social Research Council-funded Life in the Suburbs project (Grant Reference: RES-062-23-1260;

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