Category: History

Ireland and the Tudor State

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Booking has opened for Ireland and the Tudor State, an online only event hosted by the British Library, Wednesday 26 January 2022, 19.30-20.45.

Join a panel of experts to explore Ireland’s complex relationship with England in the period before the Great Parchment Book when the Tudor monarchs strove to complete the conquest begun some 400 years previously. The combination of social and cultural assimilation, military force and colonisation by Protestant English settlers has considerable resonance with the 17th century plantation. The panel will look at Ireland before the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, the impact of her reign and its legacy.

Further details and booking information are here.

Hillhouse of Freehall in Haberdashers’ Proportion

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It would appear that the younger, ambitious sons of English landed gentry and Scottish lairds, who were not going to inherit the family manor, took prominent roles in the various military campaigns and plantations of Ireland, and of North America, in the 17th century. Brian Mitchell looks at one such story concerning the Hillhouse family of Freehall, Limavady, County Londonderry in the Haberdashers’ proportion.

Starting Point

Family tradition in the United States records that Samuel Hillhouse, born c.1707, was from Limavady, County Londonderry and came to America as a young man. His parents were John and Rachel and they had a house/estate called Free Hall or Freehall, and his grandfather Abraham came from Failford, Ayrshire, Scotland.

Identifying the location of Freehall

Thomas Raven’s map of the county of Londonderry, 1622 (copyright Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library)

During the 17th century Plantation of Ulster, the townland of ‘Free Hall or Moneyvennon’ in the civil parish of Aghanloo, located three miles northeast of the town of Limavady, County Londonderry, was granted to the Haberdashers’ Company of the city of London. Most of the Haberdashers’ proportion was located in Aghanloo parish. The castle and bawn of the Habersdashers stood on the River Roe at a place known as Ballycastle which was probably the site of a Norman castle. The Haberdashers built a linear village at Artikelly, one mile from their castle, consisting of one street with two rows of thatched single-storey cottages set in rectangular plots. Freehall was located one mile to the east of the castle at Ballycastle and one mile to the northeast of the village of Artikelly.

Church registers

Church registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials, with their ability to build and confirm family links, are the building blocks of family history. However, to the family historian seeking 17th and 18th century ancestors in Ulster, with a few notable exceptions, church registers are frequently irrelevant, owing to their nonexistence, Unfortunately, there are no surviving 17th or 18th century church registers for Aghanloo Parish.

It is always worth checking the registers of the Church of Ireland (Protestant) Cathedral as it was in effect the parish church of the Diocese, and in the case of the Diocese of Derry that is St. Columb’s Cathedral in the city of Londonderry, 16 miles west of Limavady, the registers of which date back to 1642. An examination of its registers of baptisms, marriages and burials (which have been transcribed, indexed and published in three books from 1642 to 1775) reveal seven Hillhouse burial entries (including potential spelling variations of the surname):

Died: 17 November 1700, Mary, daughter of James and Lettis Hillis
Died: 28 August 1702, Henry, son of William and Lettis Hillis
Died: 6 November 1705, Jane, daughter of William and Lettis Hilhous
Died: 4 September 1714, Ann wife of William Hillows
Died: 12 June 1730, Ann, wife of Abraham Hillhouse
Died: 2 June 1730, Forgison, son of Abraham and Ann Hillhouse
Died: 27 May 1732, John Hillhouse

Beyond church registers

A wide range of sources are available, however, and an examination of them confirms that the Hillhouse family were a significant family in the Limavady area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Indeed, an examination of these sources reveals that two Hillhouse families were settled in County Londonderry from the early years of the Plantation prior to the1641 Rebellion, one in Freehall, Limavady and the other in Dunboe parish, Coleraine.


Although there is no guarantee that an ancestor made a will or, indeed, that a will has survived, as the bulk of Ireland’s pre-1922 testamentary records (wills, administrations, probates, etc.) were lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland during the Civil War in 1922, I would always recommend a search of any indexes that exist.

An examination of the Indexes to Irish Wills: Volume V, Derry and Raphoe, 1612-1858 (edited by Gertrude Thrift, Phillimore & Co, London, 1920) identified the following 17th century Hillhouse entries in County Londonderry: Abraham Hillhous, Ardikelly, parish Aghanloo, proved 1676; Adam Hillhous, Dunboe proved 1635.

Hence, it would appear that Abraham Hillhouse died c. 1676 at Ardikelly (spelt as Artikelly today) in the parish of Aghanloo and that an Adam Hillhouse died c. 1635 in Dunboe parish (just to the west of the town of Coleraine). Of course, what this source can’t do is tell us the nature of the link, if any, between Abraham of Artikelly and Adam of Dunboe.

The Great Parchment Book

Abraham Hillhouse (gentleman) was settled in Limavady by 1639 as the Great Parchment Book for the Haberdashers’ Proportion reveals:

On 17 August 1639, the Commissioners concluded and agreed that Robert McLeland, Gavin Kelsoe, Hugh Boyle, Alexander [?], Abraham Hilhouse and John McLeland shall have and hold all those six townlands called Artikelly, [?], Gortamoney, Maheraskeagh, Tullaherrenmore and Tullaherrenbegg in Aghanloo and have one weekly market on Wednesday in the town of Artikelly and three yearly fairs in town of Artikelly.

The minute books of Borough of Limavady

By 1665 Abraham Hillhouse was a serving Burgess of Limavady Corporation and in that same year John Hillhouse and William Hillhouse were ‘admitted and sworn Freemen’ of Limavady.

Sir Thomas Phillips described as “a pushing soldier of fortune” first arrived in Ireland as a military commander in 1599 and in 1610 he was granted 13,100 acres of land at Limavady which included O’Cahan’s castle, on a cliff overhanging the River Roe. One mile from the castle he commenced the building of the “Newtown of Limavady” which was laid out in a cruciform road pattern. By 1622, 18 one-storey houses and an inn had been built centred on the crossroads which contained a flagpole, a cross and stocks.

Newtown-Limavady (known as Limavady from 1870) was incorporated as a town on 31 March 1613 with a charter granted by King James I. According to this Charter the town was to appoint a Provost and 12 Burgesses who were to form the common council or Corporation, and to return two Members of Parliament (which ceased with the Act of Union which created, in 1801, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland).

Corporation records, the minute books of the Common Council of Limavady Corporation, date from 1659. Each set of minutes begins with date of the meeting of the Common Council and list of members in attendance. Edited abstracts from these minute books have been transcribed and published in Records of the Town of Limavady, 1609 to 1808 by E. M. F-G Boyle (published 1912, republished as Boyle’s Records of Limavady, 1609 to 1808 by North-West Books, Limavady, 1989). The following Hillhouse references are recorded:

Corporation Meeting of 24 June 1665: In attendance, Abraham Hillhouse, Burgess of the Corporation of Newtown-Limavady; John Hillhouse and William Hillhouse were ‘admitted and sworn Freemen’.

Corporation Meeting of 24 June 1696: William Hillhouse sworn Freeman.

Corporation Meeting of 29 September 1708: William Hillhouse sworn Freeman.

Corporation Meeting of 14 October 1718: In attendance, William Hillhouse, Constable.

The Registry of Deeds

An examination of the records of the Registry of Deeds confirm that the Hillhouse family were still residing at Freehall, near Limavady in the middle years of the 18th century. In 1745 the estate of Freehall passed from Abraham Hillhouse to his son Abraham James Hillhouse, who was a merchant in London, and a marriage settlement, dated 1717, shows that Abraham Hillhouse of Freehall married Ann Ferguson, daughter of Reverend Andrew Ferguson of Burt, County Donegal.

1641 Rebellion

Thomas Raven's plan of Londonderry ca. 1622 (copyright Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library)

Thomas Raven’s plan of Londonderry ca. 1622 (copyright Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library)

In 1641 the Plantation of Ulster faced its first serious crisis. On 22 October 1641 the native Irish, under Sir Phelim O’Neill, rose in rebellion in the counties of Londonderry and Tyrone, and the walled city of Londonderry became a refuge for Protestant settlers. A “League of the Captains of Londonderry” was set up to guard the city, with the raising of nine companies of foot soldiers, each assigned with a particular section of the walls of Derry to repair and to defend. By April 1642 the city was close to starvation, with the rebel forces led by Sir Phelim O’Neill camped at Strabane. However, the threatened siege of Derry was lifted on 17 May 1642 by the defeat of the Irish army, led by the O’Cahans (O’Kanes), near Dungiven, County Derry by an army consisting of east Donegal settlers and four companies of soldiers from Derry city.

A fully searchable digital edition of the 1641 Depositions at Trinity College Dublin Library can be searched at The 1641 Depositions consist of transcripts and images of all 8,000 depositions, examinations and associated materials in which Protestant men and women of all classes told of their experiences following the outbreak of the rebellion by the Catholic Irish in October 1641.

A surname search of ‘Hilhouse’ records four depositions relating to the death of John Hilhouse of Gortycavan in Dunboe Parish, County Derry, three miles west of the town of Coleraine.

Seemingly, after defeating and killing a party of English and Scottish men garrisoned at Garvagh, County Londonderry about 20 December 1641, Rory Duffe McCormacke and his brothers Art and Edmund McCormacke and about 30 to 40 men armed with long pikes set upon the British at ‘Gortecavan in the parish of Dunboe’ and killed John Hilhouse.

It is possible, but not proven, that John Hilhouse of Gortycavan, Dunboe parish, who died during the 1641 Rebellion, was the son of Adam Hilhous of Dunboe whose will was proved in 1635.

Fighters of Derry

Nearly fifty years later the Plantation of Ulster faced another potential reversal to its fortunes in the events surrounding the 1689 Siege of Derry, and a Captain Abraham Hillhouse of Coleraine is recorded as a ‘defender’ of Derry.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry Their Deeds and Descendants: Being a Chronicle of Events in Ireland during the Revolutionary Period 1688-1691 (published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1932) is a unique and unrivalled source for tracing 17th century Plantation of Ulster ancestors. This book names and, in many cases, provides biographical detail of 1660 “Defenders” and 352 officers of the “Jacobite Army”.

‘Defenders’ refers to all those people who were named in contemporary sources and accounts as playing an active or supportive role in the successful Williamite campaign of 1689 to 1691, which included the Siege of Derry of 1689.

The Williamite War in Ireland, 1689-1691, was, in effect, the struggle for the English throne between the deposed James II, the last Catholic monarch of the three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland who had the support of Louis XIV of France, and William of Orange with the backing of the English Parliament.

Young’s book names the prominent supporters of Protestant interests throughout Ireland at this time, including those named on list of attainted in James’s Dublin parliament. James II’s Parliament, which met in Dublin on 7 May 1689 and sat for three weeks, passed ‘The Bill of Attainder’ which confiscated estates and condemned without trial over 2,500 persons, of whom 921 were from Ulster, of high treason. This book lists:

Defender 739: ‘Captain Abraham Hillhouse, of Coleraine, defender, so described, is among the attainted in James’ Dublin Parliament, and his signature is on the address to King William after the relief’ [after the lifting of the Siege of Derry of 1689].

Condemnation of assassination attempt on William III in 1696

In the Corporation of Londonderry minute book of 16 April 1696 (pp132-133, Volume 2, January 1688 to 20 July 1704) are tabulated in three columns, the names of 226 citizens of the city of Londonderry who signed a resolution expressing condemnation of the plot to assassinate King William. A James Hillhouse was recorded as one of these signatories.

William III ruled jointly, from 1689, with his wife, Mary II, until her death on 28 December 1694. There was a considerable surge in support for William, who reigned as King of England, Scotland and Ireland until his death on 8 March 1702, following the exposure of a Jacobite plan to assassinate him in 1696.

The Corporation of Londonderry minute books, which date from 1673, can be browsed online at

Local history publications

Local history publications can provide a wealth of material on the history of families and of place. Charles Knowles Bolton in Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America (first published in 1910), on page 113, writes:

“The Rev. James Hillhouse was born about 1688, the son of John and Rachel Hillhouse, owners of a large estate called Freehall, in County Londonderry. He studied at Glasgow under the famous Professor Simson and was ordained by Derry presbytery October 15, 1718. Coming to America in 1720, he was called to a church in the second parish of New London in 1722, where he died December 15, 1740. His son William was a member of the Continental Congress, and William’s son James was a Senator of the United States.”

With all this information the following family tree linking the Hillhouse family in Scotland, Ireland and America can be constructed:

In conclusion

It is well known that many people from Scotland migrated to Ulster throughout the 17th century and that many of their descendants settled for a few years or a few generations in Ireland before emigrating to North America in the 18th century.

It is claimed that 56% of Americans with Irish roots are of Protestant stock, whose roots in many cases can be traced back to the Scots-Irish (also known as Ulster-Scots) who settled on the frontier of colonial America in the 18th century –  Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. Potentially some 20 million Americans today have Scots-Irish origins.

Compiled by Brian Mitchell, Derry Genealogy,

The story of Henry Conway and the Plantation of Londonderry

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The story of Henry Conway and the Plantation of Londonderry

Henry Conway was sent to Ireland in 1623 by the Vintners’ Company to resolve the finances of Vintnerstown, formerly Bellaghy, the main settlement of the Vintners’ Portion in the barony of Loughinsholin; the town had been granted to the Company in 1613 as part of the plantation of Londonderry. Henry’s relationship with the company was tenuous but his position was improved by the intervention of the Crown which led to the compilation of the Great Parchment Book. However, it was disrupted again during the 1641 Irish Rebellion when he was accused of acting “most treacherously”. Dr Bethany Marsh from the University of Oxford tells the story of Henry and looks at sources for tracing refugees who travelled to London after the outbreak of the Rebellion.

The Vintners Company and the Plantation of Ireland

On the 17 December 1613 a meeting was held at the Guildhall in London to determine which parcels of land would be allocated to the livery companies of London for the plantation of Londonderry in Ireland. The Vintners’ Company, one of the Great Twelve livery companies, was granted 32,600 acres of land in the barony of Loughinsholin. The first agent to be employed by the Company was named Henry Jackson, who arrived in Ireland in 1614. Jackson chose the town of Bellaghy to be the main settlement of the Vintners portion and renamed the town Vintnerstown. The construction of new houses began in 1615, but progress was slow. Consequently, the Company employed John Rowley to continue the work.

Rowley had been an eminent figure in the early years of the plantation. In 1610 he had been appointed as the Chief Agent for the Honourable the Irish Society of London (the consortium of livery companies invested in the plantation of Ireland) and served as the Mayor of Londonderry. Rowley, however, was known to be a sly character. He was found guilty of defrauding city expenses in Londonderry to line his own pockets, though surprisingly he was never dismissed from office.

In 1617 Rowley died and his land in Bellaghy devolved to Baptist Jones, who had been an Agent for the Salters’ Company. Like Rowley, Jones was also of questionable character. In 1616 he was arrested by the Salters’ on the charges of misappropriating funds and failing to fulfil the duties of his commission. The court found him innocent, but the Salters’ Company pushed him to vacate his land and paid him £291 11s 8d in settlement costs. Shortly following his dismissal, Jones formed a partnership with Rowley. Upon Rowley’s death, the Vintners’ Company granted Jones a new fifty seven year lease of land at an annual rent of £120.

While Jones’s trustworthiness as an Agent was dubious, significant building work was completed in Bellaghy under his supervision. In a survey of the Londonderry plantation, conducted by Captain Nicholas Pynnar between 1618 and 1619, it was noted:

“[Bellaghy] is in the Hands of Baptist Jones, Esq., who hath built a Bawn [fortified house or castle] of Brick and Lime, 100 feet square, with two round Flankers, and a good Rampart, which is more than any of the rest have done.”

In 1618 Jones also secured funds to build a church, though his financial troubles meant the building of the church was not completed for several years. Regardless, Jones received a knighthood in 1621 for his work on the plantation. By 1622 many of the buildings in Bellaghy were complete. Thomas Raven’s map of the town shows fifteen timber-framed houses with brick gables, the Bawn at the top of the main street, a market cross and a church.

The appointment of Henry Conway

In 1623 Jones died leaving debts of over £300 to the Vintners’ Company. These debts were taken up by Henry Conway, who was sent to Ireland by the Company to resolve the town’s finances. Conway married Jones’s widow, Elizabeth, and was granted a lease of fifty one years in 1625, on the condition that he pay off Jones’s debts.

Conway was likely appointed due to his military background. The Native Irish were regarded widely in England as barbarous and needed to be bought under control. It was believed that this could be achieved by “rooting out or transporting the barbarous or stubborn sort, and planting civility in their rooms”. In practical terms this meant imposing English laws and customs through the plantation of English and Scottish Protestants. As Edmund Spenser, a poet and advocate of the plantation scheme, wrote: “Nothing doth sooner cause civility in any country than many market towns by reason that the people repairing often thither for their needs will daily learn civil manners”. Military men were essential for protecting the new plantations, particularly following outbreaks of violence against settlers in 1623. Conway had served as a cornet under Sir Arthur Chichester making him an attractive Agent for the Company.

Henry Conway and the Great Parchment Book

Conway’s position with the Vintners’ Company, however, appears tenuous. Throughout the 1620s and 1630s he failed to pay back the money owed to the Company, leaving him dependent on the support of his influential relatives to secure his future. Conway particularly relied on his kinship with Sir Edward Conway, appointed Secretary of State in England in 1623. Sir Edward wrote to Sir William Blake, “being a chief Instrument for the plantation of Ulster in Ireland”, in 1628 requesting Blake to use his connections with the Vintners’ Company to extend Conway’s lease in Londonderry. The implication being that Conway was possibly in danger of losing his estate for failing to pay Jones’s debts.

In the 1630s Conway’s position significantly improved due to the intervention of the Crown. In a case held in the court of Star Chamber it was declared that the London Companies had failed to fulfil their duties of plantation, resulting in the forfeit of all livery company estates to the Crown. By claiming these estates, King Charles I gained the power to create new and more profitable contracts for leases. The Great Parchment Book outlines these new contracts, including a new lease created for Henry Conway [ff. M6r-M7v]. Conway was granted lands in Bellaghy, including the town’s Bawn, and lands in the surrounding area. In return for these lands Conway had to build two “good and sufficient houses of timber, stone or brick in the manner and fashion of English houses”, plant “fifty young trees of oak, ash, and elm fit and likely to grow to be timber trees”, and keep five muskets, five corselets and pikes.

Henry Conway and the 1641 rebellion

On the evening of the 23 October 1641 armed rebellion broke out in Ulster. Members of the Catholic Irish gentry sought reparations for the loss of their lands to Protestant settlers, but the violence soon spread amongst the rest of the Irish Catholic population. The upheaval caused by the rebellion affected everyone in Ireland in some form, including Henry Conway. The vicar of Bellaghy, Charles Anthony, recounted that upon hearing news of the rebellion Conway persuaded all the residents of the town to retreat to the safety of his Bawn. Charles Anthony’s full account can be read on the 1641 Depositions website – MS 839, ff. 096r-097v, Deposition of Charles Anthony (12 June 1642).

It would be a mistake, however, to regard Conway as heroic. From the outset of the rebellion he denied military assistance to neighbouring towns who needed help resisting the rebels. Secret letters were also sent by Conway to rebel leaders to arrange terms of surrender. According to Robert Waringe, a resident of the nearby town of Magherafelt, Conway was in communication with Sir Pheilm O’Neill, an Irish nobleman who was one of the rebellion’s chief conspirators. They agreed that the town would surrender and in exchange the town’s inhabitants would be allowed to leave safely and Conway could retain his personal possessions. For Waringe, Conway acted “most treacherously” and “basely suffered this deponent and the rest that were protestants to be despoiled of their arms and ammunition and left all the other arms and ammunition…to the rebels” [MS 839, ff. 108r-111v, Deposition of Robert Waringe (12 August 1642)].

Refugees and the London metropolis

It is unclear where Conway and his family fled following the surrender of Bellaghy. Like many refugees, it is possible they travelled to England, Scotland, Wales or the Continent for safety and relief. Between 1641 and 1651 thousands of refugees fled to England in the wake of the Irish rebellion and subsequent Confederate Wars, with a large number fleeing specifically to London. The London metropolis was the economic and political hub of the nation, including within its environs the city of Westminster, the Royal Court, the Court of Burgesses, both Houses of Parliament, Guildhall, the Royal Exchange and the port of London. London’s political and economic importance attracted thousands of economic migrants, both foreign and domestic. Consequently, the population of the capital grew significantly during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By the 1650s London was the largest urban centre in Western Europe, with a population of around 400,000. In perspective, Norwich was the second largest city in England at this time and had a population of only around 20,000 to 30,000. London was a popular destination for wandering refugees by virtue of its size. The large migrant population in the capital made it easier for refugees to find permanent settlement, in comparison to smaller towns and villages where they would be recognised more readily as strangers and likely asked to move out of the area. The presence of Parliament was also attractive to refugees as those of a higher social status were able to petition Parliament for financial assistance.

The accounts of parish officers – churchwardens, constables and overseers of the poor – held at London Metropolitan Archives give an indication of the number of refugees who travelled to London after the outbreak of the Irish rebellion. Churchwardens in the parishes of St. Dunstan in the West and St. Dunstan in the East, for instance, provided relief to a minimum of 502 and 305 refugees respectively between 1641 and 1651. In some accounts the parish officers included interesting details about the people who fled Ireland. Mary Langhon, for example, received 2s 6d on 7 June 1644. She was travelling with her daughter and two grandchildren, their husbands having been “slain in Ireland” [P69/DUN2/B/011/MS02968/003, f. 678v, St. Dunstan in the West Churchwardens’ Accounts (1641-1645)]. On 11 September 1648 Elizabeth Leader received 1s. Elizabeth was a “poor widow whose husband and 2 of her children were killed at Waterford in Ireland by the Rebels and she herself so wounded that a piece of her skull was taken out of her head and lay a long time in the hospital for cure of her wounds” [P69/DUN2/B/011/MS02968/004, f. 100r, St. Dunstan in the West Churchwardens’ Accounts (1645-1651)]. Moreover, on 24 January 1642 Ellen Bourke received 2s in relief, her “husband was burnt in Ireland” [P69/DUN1/B/008/MS07882/001, St. Dunstan in the East Churchwardens’ Account Book (1635-1661), p. 174].


By 1659 Henry Conway had reclaimed his property in Bellaghy, amounting to 508 acres, which he likely retained until his death. On the surface Conway’s life appears to have left very little mark on the history of the Londonderry plantation or indeed the history of seventeenth century Ireland. His inability to pay the debts of his predecessor, Baptist Jones, meant his relationship with the Vintners’ Company waned over the course of the 1620s. The intervention of the Crown in the 1630s allowed Conway to retain his land under a new contract, but the disruption of the 1641 rebellion meant he was unable to fulfil the terms of his lease and improve the town of Bellaghy any further. Conway’s actions during the 1641 Irish rebellion, however, have left one significant legacy. Conway’s agreement with Sir Pheilm O’Neill ensured the survival of the Bellaghy Bawn. While most plantation castles and fortified houses were destroyed during the rebellion, the Bellaghy Bawn was spared and stands today as a monument to the history of the Jacobean plantation scheme and the 1641 rebellion. The Bawn is now a museum and is open to visitors all thanks to the “treachery” of Henry Conway.

Further reading

Hill, An Historical Account of the Plantation in Ulster at the Commencement of the Seventeenth Century 1608-1620 (Belfast, 1877), p. 586.

C. Dickinson and G. Donaldson (eds.), A Source Book of Scottish History (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1961), III, p. 261.

B. Grosart (ed.), The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Edmund Spenser (9 vols., London 1882), IX, p. 247.

The Down Survey of Ireland, accessed 30.03.2020.

Stedall, Men of Substance: The London Livery Companies’ Reluctant Part in the Plantation of Ulster (London, 2016).

Clarke, ‘The Colonisation of Ulster and the rebellion of 1641’, in T. W. Moody and F. X. Martin (eds.), The Course of Irish History (Revised and enlarged edition, Dublin, 2001), pp. 152-164.

Time to share!

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Has anyone got stories of tracing their Northern Irish ancestors and where and how they lived that they would like to share? If you’ve used the Great Parchment Book or related sources to find out more about 17th century Northern Irish people and places, we would be delighted to hear from you. While many of us are at home more than usual, and perhaps looking for things to occupy our minds, this seems an ideal opportunity to share our research with others and maybe help them along the way too. You can either comment directly on existing posts or send us an email via the link on the site or to and we can share your stories via the Great Parchment Book blog.

Colin Salter has previously shared his research about his ancestor, Paul Brasier who first brought the Brasier family to Ireland and was involved in the building of a riverside wharf in Coleraine.

And you can read the story of another settler, George Canning, the Ironmongers’ Company’s first agent here.

There must be lots of other stories out there about people and places in the Great Parchment Book – if you have one, please let us know!

And it you want help with tracking down online resources, we’ve got lots of articles and links to help you find your way around on the Great Parchment Book website. For example, have you checked out PRONI’s guides? Or do you know about other records online such as the 1641 Depositions – witness testimonies, mainly by Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds, concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion?

And finally, if you are not already a subscriber, please do consider subscribing to the blog, so you can keep up to date.


Help with 17th century Irish history

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Did you know that the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland has published many information leaflets online in its family tree and local history series, several of which might be useful for those researching Irish history and delving into sources such as the Great Parchment Book? The leaflets outline what records are available, what information can be found in the records, and how and where the records can be accessed.

The following are particularly recommended as directly relevant to the Great Parchment Book or introducing complementary sources, but it’s worth taking a look at the full list.

Your family tree leaflet 14: 17th century census substitutes lists a number of sources for tracing individuals between 1610 and 1698 including: Summonister rolls, 1610-84; Muster Rolls 1630; the Civil Survey of Ireland, compiled between 1655 and 1667 for County Londonderry and County Tyrone; Hearth Money Rolls from 1662; Subsidy Rolls listing nobility, clergy and laity from 1666; and Poll Tax Returns from 1660. (See also More 17th century Irish history online from the Great Parchment Book blog).

Your family tree leaflet 12: Militia, Yeomanry Lists and Muster Rolls list the most useful sources for tracing Protestant males between the ages of 16 and 60 liable to service in the militia from 1631 to 1832. (See also More 17th century Irish sources online: muster rolls from the Great Parchment Book blog).

Local history leaflet 1: The Townland outlines the origin of the townland, a small local land unit and sub-division of the parish, which had existed in Ireland since ancient times and was the basis for plantation grants in the 16th and 17th centuries. The leaflet also looks at other land measurements which you will find in the Great Parchment Book such as the ballyboe and bally or baile. (See also Puzzling Place Names from the Great Parchment Book blog).

Your family tree leaflet 24: A simple guide to Ireland is a very useful run through of the things to watch out for when researching Irish history and a must for those new to the subject.

(See also Great Parchment Book retrospective: historical importance and synergy with other sources from the Great Parchment Book blog).


Plantations in Ulster, 1600-41

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The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland holds a wide range of documents about the plantation in Ulster during the period 1600 to 1641. You can now access a digital copy of a new edition of Plantations in Ulster, 1600-41, reproducing 30 documents relating to the Ulster Plantation.

Between 1966 and 1975 PRONI published a series of facsimiles covering various aspects of Irish history from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries intended to introduce school students to archival material and to encourage further research in the archives. The pack covering the plantation period was meticulously edited by R.J. Hunter, a scholar who specialised in the history of Ireland in the early modern period, especially the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century. Containing 20 documents, it first appeared in 1975 and was reprinted in 1989, but it was then unavailable for many years.

In 2018 a new edition was published by PRONI and the Ulster Historical Foundation prepared by Ian Montgomery and William Roulston containing an additional ten documents making 30 in all. The documents are mainly sourced from collections in PRONI, but also include printed material and documents from the British Library, the Huntington Library California, Lambeth Palace Library, the National Library of Ireland, The National Archives, Trinity College Dublin and West Yorkshire Archives Service, a memorial inscription and a plaque. 

Each reproduction is accompanied by a description, a commentary and in some cases a transcription of the text. There is also a short accessible introduction to the Ulster Plantation, and a handy list of further publications including online resources such as the Great Parchment Book, the 1641 Depositions and the Down Survey of Ireland.

Highly recommended.

Interesting to read alongside Plantations in Ulster, 1600-41, is “The Significance of Landed Estates in Ulster 1600-1820” by W. H. Crawford in Irish Economic and Social History Vol. 17 (1990), pp. 44-61 (18 pages). Crawford’s article develops themes found in Hunter’s introduction and takes the story into the 19th century. Users of London Metropolitan and Guildhall Library can view the article free of charge online at, and you may be able to access it either onsite or online through your own library service.



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The project to digitally reconstruct the Great Parchment Book became a key part of the 2013 commemorations in Derry/Londonderry of the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls with the aim that this key document to the history of the Plantation would feature as the central point of an exhibition in Derry’s Guildhall.

The rest is history. The website which hosts the Great Parchment Book went live on 30 May 2013 and the exhibition Plantation: Process, People, Perspectives opened in June 2013 in Derry Guildhall. Both are still going strong.

But we have another commemoration this year and that is the 400th anniversary of the completion of the city walls in March 1619. To celebrate the anniversary a full and vibrant programme of events, entitled Walled City 400 Years, will run until March 2020. The programme is being led by our partners on the Great Parchment Book project, The Honourable The Irish Society and Derry City & Strabane District Council, as well as the builders and owners of the Walls and The Department for Communities’ Historic Environment Division. The celebration aims to provide a great opportunity or both visitors and locals alike to experience the Walled City at its very best and includes historical exhibitions, symposiums, and living archaeology demonstrations and workshops.

The Tower Museum in Derry has curated an exhibition using a treasure trove of objects and archive materials from its collections to tell the story of the Walls, the city and its people. Some of the objects on display have never been seen before, including pottery, ceramics, leather and currency unearthed in archaeological digs in 1970s & 1980s. These objects not only tell us about life and events within, without and around the walls from the last 400 years, but also help us to understand how people would have lived day to day. It is a fascinating story of social history that spans war, rebellion, peace and culture. The exhibition runs until 26 January 2020.

In tandem with this, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), located in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, is displaying a selection of material from the archaeological archive (from 2 August 2019).

You can find out more about the events here

Thomas Raven's plan of Londonderry ca. 1622 (copyright Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library)

Thomas Raven’s plan of Londonderry ca. 1622 (copyright Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library)

The Derry city walls are the largest ancient monument in state care in Northern Ireland and have the longest, complete circuit of ramparts of any of the remaining 30 walled towns in Ireland. The Friends of the Derry Walls is a voluntary organisation whose mission is to give a voice to the Walls, raising ambitions for their care and presentation, driving public engagement with the Walls and ensuring that the walls are fully exploited as a resource for educational, cultural and economic development. The Friends have been running a series of activities over the six-year period 2013-2019 of the quadricentennial. If you want to learn more about the walls, they have a website to help you explore this heritage site of national and international significance here

Dominus Hibernie/Rex Hiberniae: Pre-modern Irish records 1200-1801

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Booking has just opened for Dominus Hibernie/Rex Hiberniae: Pre-modern Irish records 1200-1801, a three day symposium at The National Archives, 21-23 March 2019

The symposium brings together historians of medieval and early modern Ireland to discuss continuity and change across six centuries of Irish history. The event will put into sharper focus the collections with relevance to pre-modern Ireland at The National Archives and consider the archival context and history of this vast collection.

The keynote speakers are Professor Robin Frame (Durham), Professor Patricia Palmer (NUI Maynooth), and Professor David Hayton (Queen’s University Belfast).

Other speakers include Dr Annaleigh Margey from Dundalk Institute of Technology whose talk is entitled “Thinking geographically: cartography and state administration in early modern Ireland”. Dr Margey has written previously for the Great Parchment Book blog on the Livery Company Maps of the Londonderry Plantation.

In this blog we have also looked at the maps of Ireland in the 16th and early 17th centuries held by The National Archives. Of the 68 maps depicting plantations, fortifications and townships in Ireland during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, more than 40 relate to Ulster in the years of the Plantation leading up to the formation of the Irish Society and the period covered by the Great Parchment Book.

Other speakers at the symposium will be looking at more general themes such as governance, administration and record keeping, politics and the economy.

Further details and booking information are here.

Continued evidence of interest in Great Parchment Book and the history of the Plantation

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The Great Parchment Book blog has been rather quiet over the last few months, but that’s not to say that interest in the content and the project has declined. To the contrary, the Great Parchment Book continues to prove relevant to research in the UK and across the globe. Page views to the Great Parchment Book website have now exceeded 160,000 and downloads of the XML data are also steadily increasing in number.

And it’s also good news for our partners Derry City & Strabane Museum and Visitor Services. Statistics recently received record that to 31 December 2017 nearly one and a half million visits (1,479,598 to be precise) had been made to the to the Plantation, People, Perspectives exhibition in Derry Guildhall. Just to put this in perspective and indicate the impact of the exhibition, this figure is many times the population of Derry itself and more than three quarters of the population of Northern Ireland. The exhibition is still going strong and we look forward to this year’s figures.

So, if you have done research based on the Great Parchment Book, why not share it more widely on this blog? Please contact the editor via for more information.

And finally, here are the updated statistics for the Great Parchment Book by numbers:

  • 1 Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society
  • 165 folios and fragments, stored in 30 bespoke boxes (originally 16)
  • 11 Great Twelve livery companies’ holdings recorded (should be 12, but the Merchant Taylors’ portion is missing)
  • 1095 personal names indexed on the website including variations in spelling
  • 992 place names indexed also including variations
  • 49 occupations and titles recorded such as barber-surgeon, fellmonger, muster master and winecowper
  • 120 entries in the glossary including occupations and titles, but also terms such as ballibetagh, creete, kill house, rampier, standall and vayle
  • Over 160,000 page views of Great Parchment Book website and blog to 9 November 2018
  • 148 blog posts published including this one
  • 270,000 visitors to Plantation, People, Perspectives exhibition in Derry Guildhall in the first year (opened 30 May 2013) when an original folio of the Great Parchment Book was on display. Nearly one and a half million visitors (1,479,598 to be precise) to the exhibition to 31 December 2017 (many times the population of Derry and over three quarters of the population of Northern Ireland). Still going strong.
  • 37 downloads in 7 countries across 3 continents of the Open Access set of 326 XML documents containing encoded transcriptions of the individual folios (2.56MB of data)
  • 6 presentations about the project in countries outside the UK across 3 continents, and innumberable links from other websites across the world
  • 20 project partners including 14 funders
  • 4 awards, 3 shortlisted/finalist, 1 highly commended
  • 1 inscription on UK Memory of the World Register (inscribed on 21 June 2016)

All summed up as 1 unique record of the 17th century Plantation of Ulster.

16th and 17th century maps of Ireland online

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We are always keen to share information about other sources relating to the history of the Ulster Plantation which complement the Great Parchment Book, especially those which are available online.

The UK National Archives holds a series of maps of Ireland in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Of the 68 maps depicting plantations, fortifications and townships in Ireland during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, more than 40 relate to Ulster in the years of the Plantation leading up to the formation of the Irish Society and the period covered by the Great Parchment Book.

Discovery, TNA’s online catalogue, contains detailed descriptions of each map and a high resolution image is downloadable for a fee directly from the catalogue entry (example, MPF 1/46  County Londonderry. Map of ‘parte of ye Baronie of Loghinisholin’ 1609). The original maps may be viewed for free at TNA in Kew.

For more information about the maps, including contextual information and details of other publications that explain their meaning and importance, please read TNA’s research guide Irish maps c1558-c1610.

The maps come from state papers Ireland, the main record of government business in Ireland in the early modern period. They have been extracted from series SP 64, and are now held in MPF 1/35-102. Papers associated with the maps may be found amongst the State papers Ireland 1509-1782.

The maps have also been published online by Findmypast, a subscription based family history website, as Ireland, Maps and Surveys 1558-1610. The maps are searchable, but only by place, year and archive reference. This online resource has been covered at length in the Irish Examiner which reports that New collection quite literally maps the colonisation of Ireland 500 years ago.

If you are especially interested in maps, you can read about livery company maps of the Londonderry Plantation in Dr Annaleigh Margey’s blog post here. For the period after the Great Parchment Book, you can find out more about Down’s Survey of Ireland, 1656-8 here. And search the Great Parchment Book blog for information about even more original sources, many of which are now accessible online, under History.

More stories from the Great Parchment Book: Paul Brasier and Coleraine wharf

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There are lots of stories just waiting to be discovered in the reconstructed pages of the Great Parchment Book. Colin Salter has found information about his ancestor, Paul Brasier who first brought the Brasier family to Ireland and was involved in the building of a riverside wharf in Coleraine.

Coleraine BrasierPaul Brasier arrived in Ulster in 1611 as part of part of the Plantation of James I and settled in Coleraine. His name occurs several times in the Great Parchment Book, principally as a member of a consortium commissioned by the Crown to build a riverside wharf in Coleraine. The book records in some detail the terms and conditions of the commission. The wharf must be a minimum size “from the full sea or high water mark down into the said river sixty foot at least and twenty foot at least in breadth, and the said quay or wharf shall be walled on the outsides next the water with good, sufficient, and strong timber” and the consortium must not use cheap materials; they “shall laid forth and expend in and about the building and making of the said wharf forty pounds sterling at the least.”

Coleraine Brasier 2In return for building this commercial asset to the town, the consortium could run and develop the quayside facilities “at their proper costs and their dues, to make, erect, build, and fully finish one crane and cranehouse on any such part of the aforesaid wharf as shall be most convenient” and thereby, it was to be hoped, make their money back; they “shall have and hold all profits, commodities, duties, and payments belonging to the said quay, wharf, and crane for the term of one and twenty years from the feast of Phillip and Jacob now last past, for and under the yearly rent of forty shillings sterling for the last twenty years of the said one and twenty years payable unto his Majesty, his heirs and successors.”

So the King took his cut, but Paul Brasier and his partners were hoping to profit by doing business with the new regime. It is certainly true that, at the same time that disillusioned settlers were leaving the plantation, the Brasier family’s land holdings began to increase. In 1649, he received a further grant of land in Ulster, presumably not from Charles I who had been beheaded in January that year, but from Charles’ executioner Oliver Cromwell. It is tempting to speculate that Paul was being rewarded in the aftermath of the massacres of Protestant settlers in the Irish uprising of 1641 – an uprising which another ancestor, Hugh Massy, helped to suppress – but that’s another story.

Find out more about Paul Brasier and Hugh Massy by following the links at

You can read the story of another settler, George Canning, the Ironmongers’ Company’s first agent at

There must be lots of other stories out there about people in the Great Parchment Book – if you know one, please let us know!

Articles, audio clips and animations: an online resource on the history of the Ulster Plantation

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If you want to make a start looking into the history of the Plantation of Ulster, then the BBC has a very good resource available within its online archive. Developed by BBC History under the overarching theme of Wars and Conflict, it’s an excellent introduction to the topic both for the general reader and those who’d like to dig a bit deeper. Through essays, audio, photographs and interactive maps, you can discover how the Plantation transformed Ulster.

BBC HistoryThere are two main sections. That on Ireland before the Plantation looks at the legal and religious systems that regulated political and social life in Gaelic Ireland and the indispensable role played by the bardic poets who charted its rise and fall. The section on English and Scottish planters touches on early Scottish migration to Ireland from the 14th century, before looking more closely at the history of Plantation from Elizabeth I’s first colony in 1571 until the 1641 Catholic Rebellion, and then examining the long term consequences of Plantation. Topics covered include the City of London livery companies, the economic background of the settlers and the social and economic conditions in Ulster, and women and the Plantation.

BBC History RavenThe resource also has supplementary pages on a variety of subjects including cartography, the connection to English settlement in America, Plantation architecture and the linguistic history of Ulster. The audio clips are extensive and there are maps, animations and other aids to help you dig deeper into the history of the Plantation.  Of particular note are the animations of Thomas Raven’s maps of 1622. These maps form part of the evidence submitted to King Charles I in support of the charge against the City of London and the livery companies that they were not fulfilling their legal obligations to implement the Plantation. This charge led to the compilation of the Great Parchment Book which documents their Irish estates.

Great Parchment Book logoThere are two major caveats about the pages. Archived web pages are not updated so new research, discoveries and interpretations will not feature and they become increasingly out of date. Most significantly from the point of view of this blog, an essential original documentary source for the Londonderry Plantation is not referenced. Of course, that source is the Great Parchment Book which was unavailable to researchers at the time the pages were put together (around 2000) owing to its damaged condition.

Derry and Strabane Guildhall exhibitionNevertheless, these BBC History archived pages on the Plantation are well worth exploring alongside the virtually reconstructed Great Parchment Book. Visitors to Northern Ireland can also find out more from the continuing exhibition at Derry Guildhall, People, Plantation, Perspectives which opened in May 2013 in connection with the 400th anniversary of the building of the City walls, the driver for the Great Parchment Book project to make available the manuscript which lies at the heart of the story.


More 17th century Irish history online: the Civil Survey 1654–6

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The Civil Survey 1654–6 of landholding in Ireland was carried out by an inquisition which visited each barony and took depositions from landholders based on parish and townland, with written descriptions of their boundaries. The Survey covered 27 of Ireland’s 32 counties, but excluded the five counties in Connacht which had been the subject of the Strafford survey commissioned by Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford in the 1630s. The original Civil Survey records were destroyed by fire in 1711, but a set of copies for ten counties was discovered in the 19th century.

imcThe Survey was published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in the early 20th century and digital copies are now available. Of most interest in connection with the Great Parchment Book and the Ulster Plantation is the Survey for Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone originally published in 1937. The digital copy of the published copy is available here.

Down Survey 2The Civil Survey was separate from the Down Survey, a cartographic survey, which began while the Civil Survey was in progress, and made use of Civil Survey data to guide its progress. The Down Survey is also available online. Find out more about the Down Survey of Ireland in a previous blog post on 17th century Irish history online.

Men of substance

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A new book on the livery companies role in the Plantation of Ulster by Robert Stedall, a Past Master of the Ironmongers’ Company, has recently been published.

It was James I, who, in 1610, forced the London Livery Companies into colonising County Londonderry, then the most belligerent part of Ireland, and into fortifying Londonderry and Coleraine. He was looking for ‘Men of Substance’ to restore order among Ulster’s Irish chieftains, who were receiving Continental European support. Facing continuing attack from militant Ulster rebels, settlers did not arrive in sufficient numbers to establish control. Far from replacing the local Irish they needed their help to build their settlements. Charles I, frustrated at their failure to meet plantation objectives, expropriated their estates. This led to the City of London supporting Parliament in the Civil war, which cost Charles I his head. Meanwhile, in 1641, the Irish organised a concerted rebellion to destroy any remaining British settlements. It was only the walls of Londonderry, built by the City livery companies, which prevented them from re-establishing complete control.

men-of-substanceIn his book MEN OF SUBSTANCE: The London Livery Companies’ Reluctant Part in the Plantation of Ulster, Robert Stedall  explores the livery companies role in the Plantation from its beginnings in 1610 through to the 19th century when the Companies, realising their tenants’ plight, resumed control of their estates and commenced a period of rebuilding, development and community support. By 1900 though, most of the Companies had sold up, owing to the British Government’s policy of financing tenant purchases.

MEN OF SUBSTANCE: The London Livery Companies’ Reluctant Part in the Plantation of Ulster is published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.

The Ironmongers’ Company’s initial period in Ireland

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Robert Stedall, a Past Master of the Ironmongers’ Company, explores the Company’s initial period in Ulster and the work of its first agent, George Canning.

When efforts to establish the plantation in Londonderry were begun, the Ironmongers’ Company claimed that it did not have the means to participate. It was the least wealthy of the twelve Great Companies. Although the King was insistent, about half the members remained conveniently away from town. Pressure to assess members was applied, but the Company had to augment their contributions by borrowing. Although the first levy was paid, the second proved more difficult, and the third had to be met out of the its common stock. Yet, in February 1611, it confirmed that, with support from its associated Minor Companies, it would accept land in Ulster. Contributions were as follows:


On 17 December 1613, the Ironmongers drew an area of 19,450 acres, on the Bann river upstream from Coleraine. Being in several parcels, separated by church and native freeholds, it was indefensible. With its fragmented lay out, consideration was given to dividing it among each of the associated Companies, but this was dismissed in view of the difficulty in providing security. With the Ironmongers left in sole charge, it was named the Manor of Lizard. It was uncharted territory, and Simon Kingsland was commissioned to provide a map, which he completed quickly, but inaccurately.

The Company’s particularly good early records are supported by the letters of George Canning, the first Agent. The Company was lucky in its choice. His brother William was to become Master in 1617. They were great-great-grandsons of Sir Thomas Canninge, Lord Mayor in 1456. As the sixth son, George needed to establish himself and applied for the role at a salary of £100 per annum. He was ‘a country gentleman of the type most needed to make the Plantation a success’. As most agents only sought a quick profit, he was a rarity. On arrival in 1614, he received precise instructions with regard to ‘fencing of lands, establishing boundaries, letting land, collecting rents, and keeping accounts’. Having arrived with several bricklayers and carpenters, he had soon repaired some Irish cabins to provide shelter.

Canning chose to build his settlement at Agivey on the Aghadowey River, up which barges could deliver materials from the Bann. The land was excellent and local clay was used to make bricks, but good stone was in short supply. He balanced quality with economy, turning to Coleraine, for lime, timber, slate, limestone and lath, but poor winter weather prevented delivery. Although nails could be delivered for £1 from London to Coleraine, it cost a further ten shillings to bring them up river past rapids on the Bann and by horse and cart to the settlement. His carpenters were soon making timber frames and he completed a brick kiln. He preferred ‘half-timber’ for house building, despite transportation difficulties, but each one needed 26 tons of sawn wood. Chimney stacks were of brick and casement windows were hung on iron hinges.

Canning was soon able to offer leases to workmen, who would undertake to expel the Irish, and, during 1615, he granted fifteen leases to settlers, conditional on them building two English-style houses and assisting in church repairs. Boundaries were to be hedged and Irish nomadic-style farming was prohibited. By December 1615, leases for twenty houses were granted to English and Scots. For security he wanted settlements of at least six houses, but, although his plan had been to evict the Irish, they offered higher rentals than the settlers and were retained on short leases. Without them there would have been economic collapse. He was always cavalier. In 1616, one hundred and nineteen out of one hundred and twenty-seven under-tenants remained Irish. Yet high rentals left them ever more impoverished and seething with anger.


The buildings of the Ironmongers by Thomas Raven 1622 reproduced courtesy of the Drapers’ Company

Canning urgently requested a delivery of arms from London to combat rebels, who continued to strip clothing from the workers and stealing their tools. The castle and bawn was of critical importance. With timber being unsuitable for the walls, he used stone on the lower levels with brick above. He waited for good bricklayers, but was a respected employer, who paid promptly. The foundations needed piling on the boggy soil. Yet, by the end of 1616, he had completed a structure with walls four feet thick and thirty-one feet high, and a circular flanker at each corner. There were no interior fittings not even stairs. He claimed it as the best house built on any of the plantations, although others had been costlier. In 1619, the Government surveyor was impressed, but was concerned that the bawn had only three sides (with the river side still unbuilt) and no flankers.

Despite his problems, Canning pronounced Agivey with its six houses as ‘a great town in this country’. With thirteen further houses built by tenants elsewhere, he considered it ‘a good plantation’. He was soon generating a surplus. In 1617, with his standing well-established, he became head lessor, negotiating for himself a lucrative 41-year tenancy. This included the castle, five houses and nine townlands. He built bridges, erected a mill and repaired the church. At last, his wife and family joined him from England. Yet finding settlers was proving difficult; they would not pay what he was asking or build to the designated standard.  Meanwhile the Irish continued to offer higher rents than settlers could afford.

Nothing remains of Canning’s settlement; it was destroyed in the Great Rebellion of 1641, when the settlers were butchered. In 1635, they had been left in the lurch when the Companies’ interests were expropriated by the Crown. Although Canning escaped to Londonderry, his eldest son, Paul failed in an attempt to hold Agivey against the rebels. Canning’s second son William was killed with many others in a doomed attempt to defend Garvagh, a native castle further north. When the Cromwellians restored British control in 1649, Paul establish his own settlement there. Garvagh now became the Canning family estate, from which their later title takes its name. Although Agivey was returned to the Ironmongers, it was never rebuilt.

men-of-substanceRobert Stedall is the author of MEN OF SUBSTANCE: The London Livery Companies’ Reluctant Part in the Plantation of Ulster recently published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd


Livery Company Maps of the Londonderry Plantation

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The importance of the livery company maps of the Londonderry Plantation cannot be underestimated. Dr Annaleigh Margey, Lecturer in History at Dundalk Institute of Technology, has been examining the maps of Ireland and its regions during the decades of plantation from 1550 to 1636 and takes a closer look at eight of these maps from the livery companies archives held by London Metropolitan Archives at Guildhall Library. While to modern viewers, they appear as basic drawings with little by way of modern cartographic expectation, the maps became fundamental tools in the development and shaping of plantation landscapes in Londonderry.


In 2013, the City of Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland commemorated the 400th anniversary of its foundation and charter, granted under the auspices of plantation in Ulster.  On its foundation, the city was envisaged as a fortified settlement that would bolster the security of a wider plantation in its hinterland. This plantation, known as the Londonderry Plantation, gave rise to the establishment of a new County Londonderry, formed from the former County Coleraine and part of north Tyrone. Two towns – Londonderry and Coleraine – were also founded. The newly formed the Honourable the Irish Society became overseers of the plantation, while the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London each received twelve lots of the land of the new county to be managed, developed and financed from their company halls in London. Under the terms of their grants, the companies agreed to bring British settlers to, and remove native Irish from, their lands; to establish settlements; to pay rents; and to ensure the taking of the Oath of Supremacy by their settlers; among other regulations.

Locating surviving maps

In 1613, however, the individual livery companies knew little about the lands of Londonderry. Having been grudgingly enticed into the plantation, the companies became anxious to know more about the physical and cultural landscapes of their new lands. As a result, some individual companies began commissioning surveys and maps of their estates in the first decade of the plantation. Since 2001, I have been examining the maps that were made of Ireland and its regions during the decades of plantation from 1550 to 1636. This research has taken me to both public and private archives across Britain and Ireland, finding maps in places ranging from national collections, to stately homes, to an ensuite bathroom! As a result, I have now located 655 manuscript maps for the period.

The maps held by London Metropolitan Archives at Guildhall Library

Plate 1: ‘Macosquin’, possibly by Thomas Raven, c.1616 (CLC/L/MD/F/016D/MS34100/134).

Plate 1: Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors’ plan of ‘Macosquin’, possibly by Thomas Raven, c.1616 (LMA CLC/L/MD/F/016D/MS34100/134).

Of these, an estimated 105 relate to the Londonderry Plantation. These are located in the library of Trinity College Dublin, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, and Drapers’ Hall, Goldsmiths’ Hall, and Lambeth Palace Library in London. Eight of these maps, however, are held by London Metropolitan Archives and may be accessed at Guildhall Library in the City of London. These maps were deposited as part of the larger collections of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors (CLC/L/MD/F/016E/MS34100/208 and CLC/L/MD/F/016D/MS34100/134), the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (CLC/L/IB/H/002 and CLC/L/IB/G/097/MS17298) and the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers (LMA uncatalogued, formerly GL Folio 2, No. 8). All but one of the maps could be described as reconnaissance surveys of the estates of these companies as they sought to understand the geography of the new lands which had been granted to them. One map in the Merchant Taylors’ collection breaks this mould, giving an outline plan of the town of Macosquin (see Plate 1), which became the main settlement of the company in Londonderry.

While the cartographers associated with a number of these maps cannot be identified, three mapmakers – Thomas Raven, Simon Kingsland and Thomas Croddin – all have surviving maps within this collection. Raven is perhaps the most well-known of these, having been the City’s surveyor in Londonderry during the early stages of the plantation. Kingsland has been noted as a book-keeper to the Livery Companies, while Croddin’s career as an estate surveyor spanned both sides of the Irish Sea (see Sarah Bendall, Dictionary of land surveyors and local map-makers of Great Britain and Ireland, c.1530-1850 (London, 1997), 122 and 297).

Maps of the Ironmongers’ proportion

Worshipful Company of Ironmongers’ Proportion, Simon Kingsland, 1613 (LMA CLC/L/IB/H/002)

Plate 2: Worshipful Company of Ironmongers’ Proportion, Simon Kingsland, 1613 (LMA CLC/L/IB/H/002)

Focusing on the maps of the Ironmongers’ Company gives something of an introduction to the content of these preliminary surveys. The most significant map within their collection is that titled ‘A Buttall of the Lands No 7 [lying] in the Baronj of Colraine belonging to the Worshipful the Company of Ironmongers’ (see Plate 2). The Company appeared anxious to obtain a map of their lands from their earliest dealings with their Irish estates. A request for a survey and map to be undertaken by Thomas Raven is noted in their Court Orders as early as February 1613 (CLC/L/IB/B/001/MS16967/003, f. 128v, February 1613). Raven, however, does not appear to have produced a map for the company, with much of the cartographic work on their estate attributed to Simon Kingsland. The surviving map measures approximately 774mm × 970mm; has a scale bar, which allows a modern estimated scale of 1:25,000 to be determined; and has a compass rose, with north above. The map also includes some basic embellishments such as a black line border, a decorative cartouche bearing its title and a coat-of-arms.

In terms of its content, Kingsland very deftly outlined the extent of the Ironmongers’ lands in Londonderry, situating it within the context of the surrounding proportions belonging to the Skinners’, Mercers’ and Merchant Taylors’companies. Within the Ironmongers’ estate, he also provided a snapshot of the boundaries of townlands and churchlands, inscribing place names, many of which were drawn from their native Irish heritage. The physical landscape of the proportion was also laid bare, with a keen focus on the rivers, mountains and woods. Their presence, of course, did much to determine the viability of the company’s estate. Mountains, for example, had to be excluded from areas of potential settlement, while rivers were important in determining areas for agricultural production. In turn, woods offered the basic building blocks for their new settlement.

Why are these maps important?

The importance of these maps from the Londonderry Plantation cannot be underestimated. While to modern viewers, they appear as basic drawings with little by way of modern cartographic expectation, they became fundamental tools in the development and shaping of plantation landscapes in Londonderry. It was their content, alongside written reports, that helped the livery companies, and other landlords, to reshape the landscape of Gaelic Ireland, moulding the lands into estates that were reminiscent of contemporary England. In turn, as the plantation took hold, they became monitoring tools for these changes, often showcasing the new developments, including the many villages and towns that became embedded in Londonderry’s landscape.

About the author

Annaleigh Margey is a Lecturer in History at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Her book, Mapping Ireland, c.1550-1636: a catalogue of the manuscripts maps of early modern Ireland will be published in 2017 by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

An essential and enduring online resource

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The Great Parchment Book website is proving to be an essential online resource in several fields of study, with even the blog itself used as a case study.

Examples which have come to our attention recently include:


If text then code websiteThe Great Parchment Book project is being used as a case study in an undergraduate course in the Digital Humanities. If text then code is taught by Dr Diane Jakacki at Bucknell University, a liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in the United States of America. On the course students write and critique code as a form of textual engagement, and amongst other skills, gain competency with TEI­-compliant XML, the code we used to encode the text of the Great Parchment Book and facilitate online accessibility. Currently, London Metropolitan Archives, in partnership with UCL, are looking at how we can make the XML from the Great Parchment Book more widely available.


1641 depositions learning websiteThe Great Parchment Book is referenced as an enriching research resource for understanding the history of the Ulster Plantation on Trinity College Library Dublin’s learning website about the 1641 Depositions. The digitisation of the depositions, which we have looked at previously on the Great Parchment Book blog, has opened up these sources for use in the classroom and 1641 Depositions Bridge21 Learning Resources website enables secondary school students in Ireland to hone their skills as young historians while learning about the plantations, the 1641 rebellion and their impact on Irish history.


NMCT case studiesThe National Manuscript Conservation Trust, to which we are grateful for funding the Great Parchment Book conservation project, features it as a case study on its website and also highlights the blog as one of the best about conservation projects that have benefitted from NMCT grants.


Cilip blogThe Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) also asked London Metropolitan Archives to write about the pleasures and pitfalls of writing the Great Parchment Book blog for their own blog as a case study.



Inside HistoryAustralia and New Zealand’s Inside History Magazine has included a link to the Great Parchment Book website in its latest issue as a handy hint for those searching for Northern Ireland ancestors, especially those from the County of Londonderry. This has been driving a lot of traffic to the website since it was published, and some of those visitors are then going on to look at other related Irish genealogical sources for which we provide information and links.


Sometimes we are frustrated as we can’t see exactly what the Great Parchment Book website is being used for. For example, we know it’s  referenced in an online learning module run by the University of Haifa in Israel, but we can’t see what it is as it’s for registered users only!


UCLThe Great Parchment Book website is used cross-discipline and worldwide, reflecting the comprehensive and enduring nature of the work it represents. Not least, the Great Parchment Book is used by our close partners at UCL in the Centre for Digital Humanities and Department of Computer Science and you can follow this on UCL’s own website relating to the project and on related pages.

Continuing the stories of the Great Parchment Book: Irish genealogy online

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There are an estimated 70 million people worldwide claiming Irish ancestry and we are very pleased that the Great Parchment Book project is now accessible and available online to all those who wish to trace their Irish roots.

To continue the story of those recorded in the Great Parchment Book, the genealogical collections of Derry City and Strabane Archive & Genealogy service offer another significant resource. These include a database of over one million records including traditional family history records such as birth, marriage and death records. Derry GenealogyThe Archive & Genealogy service is currently in partnership with Irish Family History Foundation to offer a Genealogy  service.  The database of over one million records, dating from 1642 to 1922, created between 1982 and 2007 as a project of the Inner City Trust, from the major civil and church registers of the city and county of Derry~Londonderry and Inishowen, County Donegal is now available at Please note that this is a subscription website.


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We are delighted to announce  that on 21 June 2016 at the UK Memory of the World awards at the Senedd in Cardiff, the Great Parchment Book of the Honourable the Irish Society was inscribed to the UK register of the UNESCO Memory of the World.

Copyright The Welsh Government

Philippa Smith, representing London Metropolitan Archives, was presented with the award certificate by Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones who gave the keynote speech. The opening speech had been given by Gary Brace from the UK National Commission to UNESCO. Chair of the UK Memory of the World Committee Elizabeth Oxborrow Cowan also spoke about the careful and skilful management needed to preserve our documentary heritage. The Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History, Chris Skidmore MP, sent a supportive message. Finally, a special award was made to George Boston and David Dawson who established the Memory of the World programme in the UK.


Copyright The Welsh Government


The following Inscriptions have now been added to Memory of the World (MoW) UK Register, recognising a wide variety of remarkable historical documents from across the UK, dating from the 9th to the 19th century:

  • Archive of Charles Booth’s Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People in London, 1886 – 1903
  • The Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society, 1639
  • The Exeter Book, c.965 – 975
  • The Laboratory Notebooks of Michael Faraday, 1820 – 1862
  • Medieval Archive of Canterbury Cathedral
  • Survey of the Manors of Chickhowell and Tretower, 1587
  • The Correspondence Collection Robert Owen, 1821 – 1858

In addition, congratulations are also due to the Churchill Archives and the Haig Papers.  These Inscriptions have been added to the International Register, which celebrates documentary heritage of outstanding international significance.

These Inscriptions reflect the diversity of the UK’s rich documentary heritage, which is filled with stories about people, places and events.  Documentary heritage is the documented memory of humankind, and it deserves to be cherished, celebrated, preserved and, above all, shared.

Great Parchment Book UNESCO certificateThe Great Parchment Book has been recognised as a hugely significant record of the Ulster Plantation in the early 17th century, providing a unique insight into an important period of the history of Northern Ireland for which there are few other original archives surviving.

It cannot be overstated how important the Plantation of Ulster was to the history of Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Ireland and it still has influence today. The Great Parchment Book is central to the study of the Plantation and the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political history of Northern Ireland.

The Great Parchment Book provides a key record of the population of early 17th century Ulster at the time of the Plantation, not just the Protestant settlers who came from both England and Scotland, but also the native Irish, and exceptionally many women, at all social levels. It contains unique information about the properties and individual buildings they inhabited, as well as the extent and layout of the towns of Coleraine and Londonderry.

The Great Parchment Book has considerable significance for the people of Ulster, Northern Ireland and Ireland more generally; it is regarded as iconic by the Irish Society and the City of London.

UNESCOUNESCO established the Memory of the World (MoW) Programme in 1992. The programme vision is that the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and permanently accessible to all without hindrance. The UK Register (one of several country-level programmes from around the world) recognises documentary heritage deemed by a panel of experts to be of outstanding significance to the UK. The seven new inscriptions join the 50 already listed on the UK register.

The addition of the Great Parchment Book means that London Metropolitan Archives, City of London Corporation has four items inscribed to the UK Register, the other items being the Charter of William I to the City of London, London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, and Robert Hooke’s Diary, 1672-83. This is more than any other local authority archive service and demonstrates the importance of the History of London collections held by LMA which, along with the printed collections at Guildhall Library, are also Designated as Outstanding by the Arts Council England.

Continuing the stories from the Great Parchment Book: records of Londonderry Corporation online

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The Derry City and Strabane Archive & Genealogy service is responsible for the preservation, interpretation and creation of access to the civic records of the Council and its predecessor, the Londonderry Corporation.

DerryStrabane ArchiveGenealogy ServiceThe extensive archive collection constitutes an extremely valuable source of information both for the history of the City and the Council and provides a comprehensive record of the city’s development from the latter half of the 17th century to the present day. It consists of minute books, legal documents, architectural drawings and plans, and private collections. The material ranges from business collections, and items relating to industry, shirt factories, railways, political movements and social history. The genealogical collections includes a database of over one million records including traditional family history records such as birth, marriage and death records.

Some of the records of the Londonderry Corporation have been digitised and are available online in association with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) specifically:

The Londonderry Corporation minute books from 1673. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the city’s business life consisted of merchants and craftsmen such as butchers and bakers, tailors and shoemakers, smiths and saddlers, joiners and coopers.

Records of the Freemen of the City of Londonderry from 1675. In the 17th and 18th centuries, only Freemen of the City were entitled to conduct business, own property and receive protection within the walled city.

These records continue the stories of the inhabitants of Londonderry started in the Great Parchment Book.

Find out more about the records held by the Derry City and Strabane Archive & Genealogy service here.


Intersectionality in Digital Humanities

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The last few years have witnessed a movement towards a more open and inclusive Digital Humanities field. Intersectional studies are developing within Digital Humanities to try to bring a plurality of voices into the conversation.

KU LeuvenKU Leuven in Belgium is hosting a conference on Intersectionality in Digital Humanities, 15-17 September 2016. KU Leuven’s Digital Humanities Task Force invites individual paper proposals, panel sessions, poster sessions, and tool demonstrations related to intersectionality in Digital Humanities. Lists of possible topics are available via the link below. Please note deadline for this call is 30 May 2016.

Confirmed speakers include Professor Melissa Terras from University College London who has been closely involved with LMA with the Great Parchment Book project and research into multispectral imaging.

Venue: KU Leuven, Belgium

Dates: 15-17 September 2016 (immediately after the Digital Humanities Summer School, 12-14 September 2016).

Find out more here.

1615-1745: post-digital issues and concerns

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Previously on the Great Parchment Book blog we have looked at related sources such as the 1641 Depositions held at Trinity College Library Dublin.

1641 DepositionsThe 1641 Depositions comprise transcripts and images of all 8,000 depositions, examinations and associated materials in which Protestant men and women of all classes told of their experiences following the outbreak of the rebellion by the Catholic Irish in October, 1641. The 1641 Depositions Project had similar aims to the Great Parchment Book project to conserve, digitise, transcribe and make the depositions available online in a fully TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) compliant format.

You can hear more about the project and it’s future at the forthcoming CERL Dublin Manuscripts Conference 25-27 May 2016 being held in the Library of Trinity College where Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, one of the Principal Investigators on the project, is speaking on ‘The 1641 Depositions: what now?’ in a session on ‘Post-digital issues and concerns 1615-1745’.

cerl-logoThe conference is entitled ‘Unique and universal: challenges for the manuscript librarian’ and is the 7th conference of the European Manuscript Librarians Expert Group of CERL (the Consortium of European research Libraries).

The primary aims of the Group are to act as a forum for curatorial concerns, and to enhance understanding and practical cooperation among curators across Europe. The conference will focus on the themes of commemorations and anniversaries, materiality, and post-digital issues and concerns.

Find out more about the conference and how to register here.


Great Parchment Book retrospective: outreach

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The Great Parchment Book had been inaccessible to researchers for over 200 years owing to its fragile state. Our overriding objective with the project was to make the manuscript available again to as wide a range of people as possible, not just for the benefit of scholars and other researchers, but also for the communities to which it was most relevant. In our occasional series of posts looking back at the project, we turn our attention to engagement and outreach.

The original ambition was to produce a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls during Derry’s year as UK City of Culture.

Overall, the project was more successful than we could have hoped. The Great Parchment Book website went live on 30 May 2013 on the eve of the opening of the Derry Guildhall exhibition; it features a blog and an embedded video. Since its launch it has attracted 87,000 page views to date and counting, and has been a great success with a whole range of people around the world including academic researchers, local and family historians, conservators and those interested in the digital humanities.

Bernadette and Edward looking at an original folio of the Great Parchment Book

The exhibition curated by Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service entitled Plantation: People, Process, Perspectives opened in Derry’s Guildhall in June 2013. The exhibition had nearly 270,000 visitors in its first year and has had over 864,000 visitors to the end of 2015 including school groups. Such has been its popularity that it is set to continue for the foreseeable future. Visitor feedback has been very positive, including high praise for the original archive material which for the first ten months included an original folio of the Great Parchment Book and other documents from the Irish Society archives.

Great Parchment Book Day 2014

All aspects of the project have been celebrated and presented by LMA and University College London at various conferences and events including the Archives and Records Association Conference, Brighton 2012; Digital Humanities Conference, Nebraska USA 2013; Plantation Families event, Belfast/Derry, 27-28 September 2013; Opposites Attract: Science and Archives, LMA 21 March 2014; STEM from the City careers day, City of London Guildhall 27 June 2014; Great Parchment Book Day, LMA 25 July 2014; International Council on Archives annual conference, Girona, Spain 15 October 2014; University of Melbourne, Australia 31 October 2014; ARA Conservation Training Committee and Instructors, LMA 20 November 2014; Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography’s annual conferences, London 27 November 2014 and 22 October 2015.

The project has been published in a range of publications (the UCL project page has a list of the most significant and provides access to the free software produced in the course of the project) and is featured on many websites including the European History Primary Sources (EHPS) website and that of the International Council on Archives and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. The Great Parchment Book project has featured in an article in the Observer, 5 July 2015 on conservation technology.

It is used in teaching history at all levels especially in Northern Ireland, as well as for teaching students of conservation and digital humanities around the world.

You can find out more about events connected with the Great Parchment Book on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

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.



Great Parchment Book retrospective: historical importance and synergy with other sources

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Continuing with the occasional series of posts reflecting on the different elements which make up the Great Parchment Book project, we now turn our attention to historical importance and synergy with other sources.

The Great Parchment Book is a hugely important record of the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century documenting an important and formative period of the history of Britain and Ireland. It cannot be overstated how important the Plantation of Ulster was to the history of these islands and it still has resonance today.

So important was the Great Parchment Book to the Irish Society that it was rescued from the fire at Guildhall in 1786 and carefully preserved in spite of its parlous state as it provided evidence of its property, rights and legitimacy.

Thomas Raven's map of the Drapers' buildings at Monnemore (copyright Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library)Original archives and other artefacts are considerably lacking for this period of Irish history. If the Great Parchment Book did not exist, key data about landholding and population in Ulster at this time (not only the English and Scottish settlers, but also the native Irish) at this crucial period would be undiscoverable. It contains unique information about properties and individual buildings, as well as their extent and layout including that of the towns of Coleraine and Londonderry. It also contains unique and exceptional information about the population from all social backgrounds including references to women about whom there is otherwise very little.

1641 Depositions

Although unique, the information contained with the Great Parchment Book has a synergy with others sources for early modern Ulster and we have explored some of these on the Great Parchment Book website. They include Thomas Raven’s maps of Londonderry, 1622, held at Lambeth Palace Library and Drapers’ Hall, the muster rolls held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and the 1641 Depositions (witness testimonies concerning experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion) held at Trinity College Dublin Library which are also available digitally. It is also useful to connect to other digital and published resources such as the digital atlas of Derry–Londonderry and the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, and publications of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

You can find out more about the history of the Plantation on the website and the synergy of the Great Parchment Book with other sources for the Plantation on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

Great Parchment Book retrospective

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When we embarked on the Great Parchment Book project, we were very uncertain that we would be able to achieve our aim: a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls.

Great Parchment Book partners

The project was an ambitious collaborative undertaking committed to exploring new techniques and technologies; nothing else had any chance of success. Each element was a major piece of work in its own right and different partners and funders were approached for each aspect of the project.

Now with the successful outcome well-established and the project in the public eye once again, it seems a good time to reflect on the different elements which made up the project and look back on the journey.

Over the next few weeks watch out for posts about –

  • Conservation
  • Digital humanities: imaging, transcription and textual encoding
  • The history of the Plantation and synergy with other original sources
  • Public engagement and recognition
  • The legacy and the future

And to help you get your bearings here is the Great Parchment Book project timeline –

  • Initial discussions between LMA, University College London and other potential partners, March/April 2010
  • Imaging – Four year EngD at UCL, September 2010-September 2014 (first year taught so project got underway in September 2011)
  • Conservation, April-September 2012
  • Transcription and encoding, September 2012-May 2013
  • Great Parchment Book website launch, 30 May 2013
  • Derry Guildhall exhibition opened, 10 June 2013
  • Public engagement, recognition and future developments – ongoing

A contentious historical legacy

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The Great Parchment Book is a hugely important record of the Ulster Plantation of the early 17th century documenting an important and formative period of the history of Britain and Ireland. The Plantation had significant implications for the politics of these islands and left a contentious historical legacy which still resonates today.

New River Company 2

This legacy is also reflected in two documents in the latest exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives which relate to a later period – the time of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1803 French invasion seemed imminent, but there were serious problems within London too. Radicalism, industrial unrest and high food prices in the 1790s and 1800s led to plots and talk of revolution on which the government clamped down hard. The failed Irish Rebellion and French landings in Ireland of 1796-8 meant Irish labourers were seen as potential subversives within the capital.

New River Company 1

The documents date from October 1803 and comprise a letter from the Lord Mayor to the New River Company concerning a threat by Irish workers to prevent the supply of water to put out fires in the event of a French invasion and a list of names of New River Company workmen analysing nationality, address, number of years employed and whether the individual had a wife and children (LMA reference ACC/2558/MW/C/15/361/001). The threat was taken very seriously as the list was sent to the Secretary at War. The New Company was the capital’s largest water company and supplied water to the City, and East and North London.

War in London, which reveals the effects of five conflicts on Londoners and their city from the English Civil War to the Cold War, runs at LMA until 27 April 2016.

More 17th century Irish sources online: muster rolls

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The pages of the Great Parchment Book are scattered with references to arms such as pikes and muskets which the tenants of the City of London livery companies were required to “have and keep in readiness … for the service of his Majesty … furnished in such manner as the same shall and may be allowed by the Muster Master”. During the Plantation, landed estates were required to muster tenants for defence when areas were under threat from the native Irish and the provision was recorded in muster rolls. Some of the rolls, all now held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, simply stated the number of men on estates bearing arms, but others contain the names of adult males bearing or capable of bearing arms.

Bill Macafee on his website dedicated to the family and local history of County Londonderry and North Antrim has transcribed and made available either as a pdf arranged by surname or as a fully searchable spreadsheet the most useful muster rolls containing names as follows:

1622 Muster Rolls for the City & Liberties of Londonderry, Town & Liberties of Coleraine & Vintners’ Estate, Bellaghy [PRONI: T510/2, T671/1]

1630 Muster Rolls for the County of Londonderry and for the Baronies of Cary, Dunluce, Kilconway and Toome, Co. Antrim [PRONI: D/1759/3C/3]

Muster roll 1630

Bill’s web page on 17th century sources gives lots more information about the 1622 and 1630 Muster Rolls and is well worth a look. The information in the rolls can be cross-checked against that in the Great Parchment Book and some of the other online 17th century sources for Irish history mentioned previously in this blog.

1641 Depositions

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The Great Parchment Book is a key source for the history of 17th century Ireland and the Plantation in particular. Also important are the 1641 Depositions – witness testimonies, mainly by Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds, concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion. This material provides a unique source of information for the causes and events surrounding the 1641 rebellion and for the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political history of 17th century Ireland, England and Scotland. The 1641 Depositions are held at Trinity College Dublin (Trinity College Dublin, MSS 809-841) and comprise 19,010 manuscript pages in 31 bound volumes.

Like the Great Parchment Book, the 1641 Depositions (as reported in a previous post More 17th century Irish history online) are also available online in a fully searchable digital edition including transcripts and images of all 8,000 depositions and associated material at

The 1641 Depositions have also been arranged for print publication in 12 volumes from 2014 onwards. The first three volumes have now been published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission as follows:

Volume I: Armagh, Louth & Monaghan

Volume II: Cavan & Fermanagh

Volume III: Antrim, Derry, Donegal, Down & Tyrone

Further details are available on the Irish Manuscripts Commission website.

Acts of the Corporation of Coleraine, 1623–1669

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Dr Bríd McGrath of Dublin, who is editing an edition of the Acts of the Corporation of Coleraine, 1623–1669 for the Irish Manuscripts Commission, has written to say how useful she has found the Great Parchment Book:

 “I really wish to congratulate everyone involved in this project on an extraordinary achievement. It’s an exceptionally useful source for the history of the period, including the extent and layout of the town and the defence obligations, not to mention the bits about women, about whom we have in general very little information.

It’s amazing how many members of Coleraine’s town council could not sign their names.  Quite astonishing, but absolutely in line with my view of them.”

The Acts of the Corporation of Coleraine, 1623–1669, which is still in private hands, records the decisions taken by the Common Council of Coleraine for the period 1623–1669. Sources for Coleraine are rather limited and the Great Parchment Book is invaluable in providing some identification and personal information about some of its citizens.  Dr McGrath is referring to it in the footnotes to her edition, identifying Coleraine’s inhabitants.

 It is hoped that Dr McGrath’s book will be published within the next few months. We will post more information here – watch this space!

Plantation exhibition news

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A rare book, ‘Pacata Hibernia, Ireland Appeased and Reduced Or, An Historie of the Late Warres of Ireland’, is to go on display as part of the Guildhall Plantation Exhibition, from April 2015.

The Plantation Exhibition, currently located within Derry Guildhall, allows for changing exhibits and Derry City Council’s Museum and Visitor Services is delighted be able to showcase this hugely interesting rare book to a wide audience.

Bernadette Walsh, archivist, explains: “This publication is extremely rare and is illustrated with eighteen engravings of seventeenth century Ireland, detailing the final years of the Elizabethan Wars in Ireland and contains a long list of the Irish Nobility who fled to Spain in 1607, after the defeat of the Earls in 1601. The publication contains the background history to the Flight of the Earls, and the inevitable lead up to the Ulster Plantation and will be a welcome addition to the hugely successful Plantation exhibition, that has been visited by thousands of people since its installment as part of a multi-million pound regeneration of the Guildhall. ”

Minolta DSC     Minolta DSC

‘Pacata Hibernia’ was originally published in London in 1633 for Robert Milbourne. It is believed to be almost entirely composed by Lieutenant Thomas Stafford, who served under Sir George Carew. The very detailed maps and plans show the battle layout, military formation, horsemanship and fortifications of the times. These items will add interest to the exhibition showing further images of cartography which played a strong role in developments of the seventeenth century.

“It is important the archive collection reflects this period of history; original artefacts and archives are considerably lacking not only in our own collections, but also within collections across the island. This rare item was purchased and will now form part of our successful Plantation exhibition at the Guildhall.”

The Digital Atlas of Derry~Londonderry

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A digital mapping resource is being developed which allows the user to compare maps of Londonderry for different time periods. It includes Thomas Raven’s map of 1622 which was surveyed just prior to the compilation of the Great Parchment Book.

The Digital Atlas of Derry~Londonderry is a collaboration between the Royal Irish Academy, Derry City Council and The School of Geography, Archaeology & Palaeoecology at Queen’s University Belfast.

Based on the Irish Historic Towns Atlas, no. 15, Derry~Londonderry by Avril Thomas (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 2005), the Digital Atlas provides users with historical and topographical information about the city of Derry for selected time-periods. The key map is a reconstruction of the city in 1831, which is presented in an interactive way. Streets, buildings, city walls/gates and public buildings are mapped and further detail such as name, dates and other historical information is provided in pop-up boxes.

Digital map of Derry-Londonderry

As well as the 1831 map, earlier and later historical maps, including Raven’s 1622 map, can be overlaid and compared. The different map layers reveal not only the way the city developed, but also the way that mapping evolved since the walled city was founded in the 17th century.

This web-GIS resource is still at an experimental stage, but is worth taking a look at.

More 17th century Irish history online

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The Great Parchment Book website is not the only online resource for the study of 17th century Ireland, its people, places and history. Trinity College Dublin has been involved with two projects presented through dedicated websites which explore sources which can be used alongside the Great Parchment Book: the 1641 Depositions; and the 1656-8 Down Survey of Ireland.

The 1641 Online Depositions Website provides a fully searchable digital edition of the 1641 Depositions at Trinity College Dublin Library, comprising transcripts and images of all 8,000 depositions, examinations and associated materials in which Protestant men and women of all classes told of their experiences following the outbreak of the rebellion by the Catholic Irish in October, 1641. The 1641 Depositions Project had similar aims to the Great Parchment Book project to conserve, digitise, transcribe and make the depositions available online in a fully TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) compliant format. The website not only gives access to the depositions themselves, but also provides technical information about the conservation, digitisation and transcription.

1641 Depositions

Taken in the years 1656-1658, the Down Survey of Ireland is the first ever detailed land survey on a national scale anywhere in the world. The survey sought to measure all the land to be forfeited by the Catholic Irish in order to facilitate its redistribution to Merchant Adventurers and English soldiers. Copies of these maps have survived in dozens of libraries and archives throughout Ireland and Britain, as well as in the National Library of France. This Project has brought together for the first time in over 300 years all the surviving maps, digitised them and made them available as a public online resource. There are two main components to the website. The Down Survey Maps section comprises digital images of all the surviving Down Survey maps at parish, barony and county level and all the descriptions (terrier) of each barony and parish that accompanied the original maps. The Historical GIS section, brings together the maps and related contemporaneous sources – Books of Survey and Distribution, the 1641 Depositions, the 1659 Census – in a Geographical Information System (GIS). All these sources have been georeferenced with 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps, Google Maps and satellite imagery.

Down Survey 2

Programme announced for Great Parchment Book Day

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LMA is holding a Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.



10.00am Registration, coffee and housekeeping

10.15am Welcome (Deputy Catherine McGuinness)

10.20am Introduction to LMA, collections overview, where the Great Parchment Book sits within those collections, why it became the focus for the project and why it mattered (Philippa Smith)

11.00am  TEA/COFFEE

11.15pm Accessing History through Innovative Technologies:
The Great Parchment Book Project Story
Conservation (Dr Caroline De Stefani)
Transcription/textual encoding (Dr Patricia Stewart)
Digital flattening (Kazim Pal)



14.00pm Welcome and introduction – impact, outcomes and wider context (Dr Tim Weyrich)

14.30pm Display of damaged original materials including Great Parchment Book and LMA Rogues Gallery; demonstration of digital flattening software; opportunity to discuss further possible applications of flattening software and other techniques being researched on LMA material; demonstration of textual encoding (Dr Caroline De Stefani, Marie Poirot, Dr Tim Weyrich, Kazim Pal, Dr Helen Graham-Matheson, Dr Patricia Stewart)

15.15pm TEA/COFFEE

15.30pm HISTORY FUTURES PANEL (Professor Melissa Terras – UCL, Chair, Dr Tim Weyrich – UCL, Emma Stewart – LMA, David Howell – Bodleian Library)
How new technologies can and may impact on challenging materials, access and availability, preservation issues – how can we take projects forward? HLF partner bid proposal, Q&A and expressions of interest

16.30pm  CLOSE

The event is already full, but if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please go to

Booking opens for Great Parchment Book Day on 25 July 2014

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LMA is holding a FREE Great Parchment Book Day on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies. A more detailed programme will be posted as soon as it is available.

In the meantime, you can book your place at


Friday 25 July 2014

London Metropolitan Archives

9.30 am – 4.30 pm

FREE, booking is essential; tea and coffee available, but bring a picnic for lunch.

Save the date!

Posted on

Planning is underway for a Great Parchment Book Day at London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.

Save the date now! A more detailed programme and details on how to book will be posted as soon as they are available.

Sources for family history research in County Londonderry

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Coleraine Family History Society has put a list of 17th century sources for family history research in County Londonderry on its website. The sources were mentioned by Andrew Kane in a talk to members of the society on 25 February 2014. Andrew’s talk mentioned how easily accessible they are and the surprisingly large number of names contained in them. Links to online sources are given, many of which are freely available, including the Great Parchment Book.

International peace expert praises Derry archive project

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Not the Great Parchment Book, but the ‘Accounts of the Conflict’ research project run by INCORE, the University of Ulster’s world-renowned international conflict research centre, which has received European funding to establish a digital archive offering long-term storage and preservation of stories related to life in Northern Ireland and the border region during the Troubles.

During her visit to the centre, international peace expert Iratxe Momoitio Astorkia, Director of the Gernika Peace Museum, delivered a seminar on the ‘How to deal with our recent past by making important materials or sources available online’. This is a theme which resonates with the aim of the Great Parchment Book project, to make available a digital reconstruction of the book providing a lasting resource for the history of Northern Ireland in local, national and international contexts.

Find out more about her visit and the INCORE project here.