The Plumbers’ Company and the Plantation – a bottomless money pit

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Dr Patricia Stewart transcribing the Great Parchment Book

The Great Parchment Book records the landholdings in the Proportions allocated to the twelve Great Companies, but each of these Companies was also associated with many smaller Companies which could not afford to manage a Proportion in their own right. While the Great Parchment Book makes no mention of these smaller Companies, other documents reveal the tremendous burden of the Plantation on them. Dr Patricia Stewart, who transcribed and encoded the Great Parchment Book, has been looking at the archives of the Plumbers’ Company, an Associated Company of the Vintners, which held lands in the eastern part of Londonderry.

The Plumbers’ Court Records (which may be accessed at Guildhall Library reference CLC/L/PH/B/001/MS02208) show that both the Company’s individual members and the Company as a whole found the Plantation an unmanageable expense.

On 5 February 1629, the Company agreed to repay to the widow of the deceased Master Richard Green all the money that her husband contributed towards the Plantation in Ireland, ‘in respect of her extreame poverty’ (after first ensuring that any money still owed by her husband was deducted from the sum). That the Court had to include the caveat ‘provided that this be noe president for others in the like kinde’ is perhaps telling.

Vintners-lands with permission of Lambeth Palace LibraryDuring the first decades of the 17th century there were several surveys made of the state of affairs in Londonderry, and these resulted in serious disagreements between the Crown and the City of London/Livery Companies over whether they were honouring their obligations in settling the Plantation. In 1635, Charles I took the City of London and The Irish Society to trial in the Star Chamber for the mismanagement and neglect of the Plantation. The Plumbers’ Company Court Records for 9 June 1636 include a copy (in Latin) of the ‘letter of Attourney to Master Hooker to defend the Company’s suite in the Starchamber touching the Irish lands’. The trial ended in favour of the Crown, unsurprisingly, and the resulting wholesale seizure of lands held by the Livery Companies led to the 1639 survey recorded in the Great Parchment Book.

In 1641 Charles, motivated by his need to borrow money to finance various wars, promised to restore the lands to the Livery Companies. On 13 June 1642, the Plumbers’ Court Records show that the City of London was asked to lend Parliament £100,000, the Plumbers’ share of which was £250. Two Wardens of the Company, Samuel North and Richard Orton, and two Assistants, William George and William Haynes, offered to lend the Company £50 each to go towards this loan to Parliament. As security for the loan, some the Company’s plate and tenements were made over to them. An entry from 7 December 1642, states that as ‘the Companie stand endebted to severall persons (at interest) amounteing in all to three hundred pownds and upwards’, the rest of the plate should be sold to the highest bidder and the money be used to pay off these debts ‘and to noe other use or end whatsoever’.

It seems that the Plumbers didn’t pay the £200 lent by North et al. to Parliament, as an entry from 13 December 1642 indicates that a few days earlier the Company received a further official order for this money. The Company was required ‘to carrye in the same somme before Mundaye next on the afternoone or otherwise to appeare before the said Committee on tuesdaye next at three of the clocke in the afternoone at Haberdashers hall, to show cause of your not performeing the same’.

The Plumbers’ answer to this was to plead poverty. To begin with, they recently purchased land and built their Hall, and what with paying workmen and other charges, were in debt over £800 and had to mortgage the said Hall (and other buildings) for £500. Then there was the £100 plus lent for ‘the service of Ireland’ which should have been repaid to them in October of 1641 but hadn’t been yet. In addition, those members who were able to lend money had already done so, the Company had no Common Stock and no other revenues, and business was down. In short, the Plumbers were ‘not able to advance any more moneys nor dischardge theire said ngadgements for all which causes and reasons they humbly desire the said honourable Comittee wold bee satisfied with this theire humble and true answer without pressing them any further uppon the said Order’.

This was not the end of the Plumbers’ money problems, as several more entries running until 1643 detail requests from Parliament for other sums, and their efforts to pay these (or not). Records such as these show the ambivalence and frustration that must have been felt by the smaller Livery Companies (and by the larger ones as well) at their inability to escape what was turning out to be a bottomless money pit.



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