Chapter III
The Plasterers' Company of the City of London


In Chapter II of this study, devoted to the personnel employed in the Royal Works, it was demonstrated that a high proportion of the plasterers engaged on work for the crown was drawn from the ranks of the London Company of Plasterers. The records of the Company can, therefore, be expected to throw some light on the working practices of those plasterers within the City itself. In addition, by examining the relations between the Plasterers’ Company and other companies representing the building trades it is possible to elucidate further the nature of the work undertaken by plasterers during this period.

Considerable interest has been shown by historians in recent years in the way the City of London worked as a socio-political, as well as an economic, community in the early modern period and the role of the livery companies naturally figures largely in such studies. In this section, most of the material which provides the context within which the Plasterers’ Company operated is derived from two studies. The first of these, by Professor Steve Rappaport,[1] draws its documentary evidence from a wide variety of companies, from different periods during the sixteenth century. Some of the interpretations which Professor Rappaport placed on his material have been challenged in the second study, by Dr Ian Archer,[2] who has pointed to the dangers of generalising from the evidence available because ‘it is difficult to do full justice to the sheer variety of experience among the companies.’[3] While Rappaport’s general account of the role of the livery companies is not disputed, Archer provides additional research and a more detailed reading of the evidence of the way in which particular companies operated.

Freedom of the City of London

At this period in London only freemen of the City were allowed to practise a trade or craft and the economic and political power of the livery companies was greatly enhanced because the vast majority of citizens chose to obtain their freedom by becoming company members. Membership of a company could be obtained ‘by patrimony’ (as a right which descended from father to adult son); ‘by redemption’ (a large outright payment made by an adult male); or by apprenticeship. The last of these methods was by far the commonest means of acquiring membership of a company and, with it, the rights attached to freedom of the City.[4]

‘Foreigners’ and ‘aliens’

Inhabitants of London who had been born in the country but who were not freemen of the City were referred to as ‘foreigners’, while immigrants from overseas were known as ‘aliens’ or ‘strangers’. Although the minutes of some companies differentiated between the various categories, as far as the companies’ trade jurisdiction was concerned there was no real difference between them. The plasterers were frequently taking action against ‘foreigners’ but seem to have been largely untroubled by immigrants. Only one plasterer is recorded in the Returns of Aliens between 1525 and 1625. This was Henry Morley who, with his wife Margerie, was living in the Ward of Farringdon Without in 1582-3, where they were members of the English Church.[5] Despite not being listed as a denizen,  Henry Morley was certainly a freeman of the Plasterers’ Company by this date as he had presented an apprentice in 1580.[6] After 1590 his name disappears from the Company records.

On only one occasion was an alien referred to in connection with a transgression of company regulations, when ‘a frenchman in Marke Lane’ was arrested in 1593.[7] More law-abiding was the ‘estranger’, Harman Michaells, who legitimised his apprentice by having him first presented by a company member, who immediately ‘turned over’ the youth to Michaells for a fee of 2s.[8] By the time his son, Henrdry, was apprenticed to another company member in 1620 Harman must have become a denizen or been naturalised as he was then described as ‘of London’.[9] Such a tiny number of references to aliens probably reflects the fact that plastering was not a trade followed by many of the refugees from the continent arriving in London in the sixteenth century. Despite the lingering tradition that foreign plasterers (usually Italians) were responsible for decorative work in this country, there is no hard evidence to support such a view; and the virtual absence of complaints against alien plasterers in London suggests that they cannot have been at all numerous.

City jurisdiction

The area which came under the control of the ‘City’ extended well beyond the walls of early-medieval London. By 1550 there were twenty-six wards, of which nineteen lay within the walls, three completely outside and four straddled the old City boundaries. By far the largest geographical area was covered by Farringdon Without, extending west from the city walls as far as Temple Bar and north to Smithfield. In 1550 the City further extended its control by purchasing the Crown’s rights in the borough of Southwark, which was comprised within the ward of Bridge Without; but its inhabitants were given no representative on the court of common council and no vote in the selection of their alderman. This made it possible for companies, including the Plasterers, to exercise some control over the ‘foreign’ craftsmen who tended to congregate in Southwark. Their jurisdiction also extended to the liberties, although the latter maintained their independence of City government.[10]

While the companies clearly played a dominant role in the political and social life of the City, for the purposes of this study it is their economic activities which are the most relevant. The London companies provided the structure which allowed for the regulation of the labour market, the maintenance of standards or production and the promotion of legislation for the benefit of the trade or craft of the members,[11] and it is within this context that the Plasterers’ Company will be considered.

Plasterers’ Company records

The records of the Plasterers’ Company have been preserved more fully than those of many of the London livery companies but they are by no means complete. The first company Charter of Incorporation survives from 1501, together with the confirmations and enlargements of the charter granted by Elizabeth I (1596/7) and Charles I (1643).[12] In addition to these charters there are records which provide evidence for the personnel and working practices of plasterers in the form of ordinances,[13] quarterage lists[14] and court minute books. The latter survive, virtually complete, for the years 1571-1662.[15] Earlier records had been kept but the only surviving traces of these exist in the fragmentary form of extracts copied out in the nineteenth century, covering the years 1522-25, in the Latin of the originals.[16]

City of London records

Disputes between company members and between the Plasterers’ and other companies over various matters were sometimes taken before the court of aldermen and were recorded in the repertories, now held by the Corporation of London Record Office. These records provide the most significant documentation for an understanding of the running of the Plasterers’ Company and its personnel; other relevant materials available in the Guildhall Library and the London Metropolitan Archives will be referred to at the appropriate point in the discussion.

The role and governance of the Plasterers’ Company

(i) the charter

The right to exercise their jurisdiction was obtained when a group such as the plasterers was granted a charter of incorporation by the crown. As the medieval craft guilds grew in size artisans with specialised skills tended re-group and form new guilds; and it was probably the growing skills and numbers of plasterers in London at the turn of the sixteenth century which led them to seek recognition as one of the London companies.

In 1501 the ‘Well beloved faithful and liege men of the mistery or art of “Gipsars” within our City of London commonly called Plasterers’ were granted a royal charter by Henry VII incorporating them as a guild or fraternity in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary.[17] Their charter thus recognised the dual nature of the body, which functioned both as a trade association with powers to police the craft of plastering in London, and as a social club with a part to play in community life, in the manner of the other London companies.

A Master and two Wardens were to be elected each year ‘to carry the burdens of business touching and concerning both the art or mistery aforesaid and that Guild or fraternity’; and their control over plastering within the city of London was confirmed by the granting of powers ‘for ever to search and try and on making and exercising the search both in on and of any stocks touching and concerning the art or mistery aforesaid, and in on and of all workers and men working in the same mistery. So that their works in this way may be just faithful and legal without any deception and fraud. And to duly correct the defaults and deceptions which in this manner they shall have found and to duly punish all persons in this manner offending according to their demerits and faults or to cause them to be punished by the survey of the Mayor of the said City of London for the time being.’

(ii) the coat-of-arms[18]

In January 1545/6 the company was granted a coat-of-arms, the shield of which depicts three of the tools basic to the plasterers’ craft – ‘a Trowell [for laying the plaster] in fece betwene two Hamers of the saide Crafte [for nailing the laths which provide the basic support for plastering work], under the saide Cheviron a hery brusshe of Fower knottes tyed’ [for finishing and whitewashing].[19]

(iii) the Ordinances

The rules which governed the functioning of the Plasterers’ Company were set out in Ordinances, a version of which survives from 1586/7.[20] The ordinances regulated the internal government of the company, determining the relationships between the various groups which made up its hierarchical structure. They aimed to give practical expression to the rights and responsibilities granted to the company in its charter; and to establish a system of fines for contraventions of the ordinances.

Although some alterations to the ordinances were made over the years the basic organisation of the company as stipulated in the charter remained the same, with a Master, an Elder and a Younger (or Renter) Warden elected by the court of assistants in September each year, from nominations supplied by the retiring officers. The fines for refusing officer were fairly steep, unless a good excuse could be found - £5 for the mastership and 5 marks (£3 6s 8d) for the younger wardenship.[21] These two posts involved considerable financial outlay, so the fines were intended to deter those who felt the prestige was not worth the investment from refusing to accept their election.

All those who had held office automatically became Assistants, and these were the men who formed the Court which controlled the running of the company, assisted by a Clerk and a Beadle. The court was required to meet monthly, with quarterly meetings to be attended by the whole company and the ordinances would be read aloud.

In the case of non-payment of fines and more serious offences, such as the refusal to amend bad work, the court could impose more extreme penalties, including short terms of imprisonment of up to ten days. Offenders, whether company members or ‘foreigners’ were carted off to the Compter on average three times a year in the early years of the seventeenth century.[22] The power of distraint was also vested in the three officers of the company, provided they were accompanied by a constable, bailiff or ‘serjeant at the mace’.

The company’s most significant weapon in its role as the regulator of all plastering work within its jurisdiction – laying of lime and hair, lathing, loaming, mortaring, whiting, sizing, oiling or colouring – was the power of search. The search was to be carried out quarterly by the master, wardens and some of the assistants, its main aim being to uncover all those who were plastering in contravention of the company’s ordinances, whether company members or not. The costs of the search were met by an annual levy of 4d on the livery and 2d on the rest of the company.

In return for the right to practise the trade or craft of the company all members were obliged to pay quarterage. These annual dues were paid in four instalments (hence the term) and records of these payments were entered in the Quarterage Account Books.[23] In 1612 the assistants paid 4d per quarter, the liverymen 8d and the yeomanry 6d. These rates reflect the division of the company into three groupings, but not the relative status of these groups. The most senior men, the assistants, paid the least, presumably because their role required the greatest expenditure of time and money on behalf of the company.

Beneath this upper echelon the members of the company were divided between the Livery and the Yeomanry. The latter was much the larger of the two, comprising the vast majority of those who had received the freedom of the company, whether they were journeymen working for wages or householders running their own businesses. From among these men were selected the few who constituted the ‘Livery’, either on grounds of skill or seniority, recognisable on ceremonial occasions by their fur-lined cloaks and satin hoods.[24]

One of the ordinances required the court of assistants to make provision for those apprentices whose masters died while they were indentured, but no reference is made to the status of the widows of freemen. It is quite clear from the quarterage lists, however, that widows were not only allowed to continue to run the businesses they inherited, but were also accorded the same status as their dead husbands. Widow Dungan, for example, continued as an Assistant after he husband’s death in 1609 until her own death in 1615; and in this she was not alone.

This situation only continued so long as a widow did not remarry, and the majority of them do not appear to have done so. The names of only two widows were annotated as ‘married awaie’ and ‘now married’, after which no further quarterage payments were recorded. The widow of John Welshe, who died in poverty in 1610, continued to pay quarterage until 1612, when she married her ex-apprentice, Thomas Malone (or Mulden). Although widows were clearly capable of running the workshops very few of them took on new apprentices (apart from their sons) on their own behalf.

Wives, no doubt, gained experience as partners in their husbands’ businesses, especially when the craftsman was absent from London. During the Civil War Abraham Stanyon, holder of the posts of City and Bridgehouse Plasterer, successfully petitioned the court of aldermen that, during his absence his wife ‘by her servants may be permitted to execute his place’ and receive payment of wages for himself and his men.[25]

The Court of Assistants usually met most months, sometimes more frequently,[26] with the minutes kept by the Clerk. In addition, the minute books recorded the business transacted at the four meetings held on Quarter Days, attended by the whole company, as well as the results of Election Day, which was scheduled for early September each year. It is apparent from the minute books that much the same kinds of business were transacted on court days as on quarter days, with arrearages of quarterage being paid, apprentices presented and freed, fines for contraventions of company ordinances levied and arbitration provided in disputes between members. The quarterly meetings also provided the opportunity for the payment of quarterage by all members, which constituted the regular income of the company.

The role of the court of assistants was, clearly, a varied one. As the governing body of the company in its role as a trade organisation, its activities were primarily directed towards the provision of an adequate supply of plasterers for London – neither too many nor too few – and the maintenance of standards of workmanship and materials for the consumer, within the framework of the ‘closed shop’ system which the company was created to perpetuate. Before discussing this role in detail, however, further consideration must be given to the way in which the membership of the company was structured.

The hierarchical nature of the company was apparent from the quarterage lists but the full complexities of the career path which could take a young man from apprentice to Master of his company can only be gleaned from the minutes kept by the Clerk of the meetings of the court of assistants. From the entries in the court minute books and the quarterage lists a catalogue of the names of plasterers and their careers within the Plasterers’ Company between 1571 and 1662 was amassed. From this a database comprising 2056 entries relating to apprenticeships was compiled.[27] This includes 1904 entries for named apprentices enrolled between 1571 and 1662, but in the early years, while the name of the master was given, that of the apprentice frequently was not. Full details of the apprentice and his background (the name and occupation of his father and place of origin) was well as his master’s name, only began to be added from 1597.


In 1556 the Common Council (London’s official legislative body, despite its subordination to the Court of Aldermen) had laid down the minimum age for citizenship as twenty-four years by apprenticeship or redemption and twenty-one years by patrimony. Most apprenticeships were to last seven years, but if apprenticed when younger than seventeen, a youth would have to serve a longer term so that he became free at the requisite age. Apprentices who were the sons of Londoners naturally tended to enter apprenticeship earlier than those from outside the city, to take advantage of their privilege of a lower age of adulthood.[28] The sons of members of the Plasterers’ Company were frequently indentured at the age of fourteen so that they would have served their seven years by the age of twenty-one.

It is estimated that apprentices accounted for just over 10% of London’s total population in 1550.[29] They were by their nature a transient social group (quite apart from the high wastage rate[30]), since no-one wished to spend longer than necessary as an apprentice. Although they were probably the largest group within the company, they were the least privileged and their names appear only occasionally in the minutes, once they had been presented to the court by their new masters and their indentures enrolled. On the whole they then disappeared from view until their apprenticeship was completed and they returned to the court. At that point their ‘[en]abling’ fees were paid and they were admitted as members of the company (entitling them to full citizenship) and joined the ranks of the Yeomanry.

The rights and responsibilities of both master and apprentice were set out in the legal contract, or indenture, which bound the apprentice to his master for a set term. This was usually in the range of seven to eleven years, but fifteen apprenticeships within the Plasterers’ Company lasted for more than fifteen years. During this time the apprentice lived as a member of the family and his master was responsible for his behaviour. An apprentice could appeal to the court of assistants if his master failed to abide by their terms of the indenture, and the members of the court did not always side with their fellow-employers in such disputes. For instance, John Wilson had been apprenticed to Thomas Grigg for just over a year when he was assigned a new master on the grounds of Grigg’s assaults and threats to his life.[31] It was customary for the master to pay the fees (abling) for his apprentice’s freedom and entry into the company; but if he was too poor, the company paid them. Apprentices changed masters not infrequently within the company but it is unusual for any reason to be cited on such occasions.

London held a unique position in relation to the country as a whole as a centre for vocational training; and the Plasterers’ Company drew its apprentices from the same broad geographical base as other companies.[32] Between 1597 and 1662 the county of origin is listed for 1350 apprentices, showing that there was not a county in England which did not send some of its sons to London to learn to be plasterers, as well as a handful from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Table 2 (overleaf) shows the totals divided between five geographical regions,[33] but these group totals conceal some surprising individual variations, which require interpretation.

As might be expected, London and the Home Counties account for just over 35% of the total number of apprentices throughout the period, with the total for London on its own at 18%. This figure, is however, nearly matched by the numbers coming from the Midlands (32%), of which almost a quarter came from Northamptonshire. The reason for the high numbers coming from the Midlands, and Northamptonshire in particular, may be related to the high levels of building activity in these counties during this period. The number of

courtier and gentry houses under construction may have suggested to fathers that the building trades represented secure future employment opportunities for their sons, and the burgeoning popularity of decorative plasterwork in the seventeenth century would have reinforced this view. There was no major centre of plasterwork activity where the craft could have been learned any closer than London.


Geographical origins of apprentices in the London Plasterers’ Company, 1597-1662.



% of total

London & Home Counties






[Home Counties









South & West
















This was not the case in the south-western part of the country, where decorative plasterwork seems to have become established in the sixteenth century, with local workshops identifiable in Devon and Dorset. As a result, within the total of 154 apprentices from the far southern and western counties, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset contributed only 10 apprentices throughout this period. 

For the remainder of the south-western counties, however, London seems to have remained something of a magnet. Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire together dispatched 120 apprentices to London, or 78% of the total for the region. Somerset and Wiltshire had witnessed a great deal of courtier building in the sixteenth century and Bristol was a prosperous centre of merchant building in the seventeenth, so it is slightly surprising that insufficient local workshops seem to have emerged to train enough plasterers to meet the local demand. It was, perhaps, simply the surge in demand in the 1620s that accounts for the fact that four of the eight apprentices from the city of Bristol arrived in London in that decade. A fuller study of the plasterwork of Bristol and the surrounding area is required for a better understanding of the relationship which existed between plasterers and plasterwork in London and Bristol in the early seventeenth century.[34]

The drawing-power of London does seem to have been enormous throughout the period, with large numbers of apprentices coming from as far as Cumberland (31) and Yorkshire (41), where a Company of Bricklayers, Tilers and Plasterers existed in York.[35] What is also unexpected is the even higher total from Oxfordshire (48), a county in which a great deal of decorative plasterwork was produced in the early seventeenth century. Oxford itself was growing rapidly and the high level of building activity might have been expected to have resulted in the establishment of local workshops where apprentices could have received their training.[36] Research in the archives of the City of Oxford was undertaken in an attempt to find further evidence for the way in which the plastering trade was organised in Oxford, to provide a comparison with London. A brief summary of the evidence obtained will be found in Appendix A, which shows that the majority of young men from Oxford who chose to pursue a career as plasterers did so by obtaining apprenticeships in London rather than their home city.[37]

The families of young men did not necessarily despatch their sons to seek apprenticeships in London without first making some provision for them and numerous examples could be cited of boys being apprenticed to relatives or contacts from the same village. For example, Martin Eastbourne was presumably related to his junior namesake, presented by him in 1626, who was the son of Roland Eastbourne, a clothier from Holdbeck in Yorkshire; this was the village where Martin senior’s sister, Elizabeth, was living in 1666.[38]

Once contacts had been made they might be maintained by younger sons following their older brothers; thus John Smith accepted two pairs of brothers in succession (in 1628 and 1635, and again in 1655 and 1662), the sons of husbandmen from Clipstone and Crick, both in Northamptonshire, although he himself came from Ightham in Kent. Stephen Bricknell’s background is not known but he took two apprentices from Reading, Berkshire, both of whom were the sons of weavers, which suggest that trade as well as geography may have played a part in establishing contacts.

The village of Nassington, Northamptonshire provides a particularly rich example of the way in which networks of relatives and neighbours could operate in furthering the careers of young men. Edward Stanyon, son of a tailor, left the village in 1598 for London and in 1608, having completed his own apprenticeship, he took over William Willingham, an apprentice already presented (on the same date) by Hugh Capp.[39] Willingham had been baptised in Nassington on 7 June 1590 and was therefore eighteen when he began to train as a plasterer with Stanyon, with whom he remained until 1615.[40] In 1619 Stanyon took as apprentice George Billington, another fellow-villager. Meanwhile, he may have been instrumental in placing three unrelated fellow-villagers, Thomas Avis (1607),[41] Matthew Holmes (1612) and Thomas Barnewell (1616), with separate London masters, whose own places of origin are not given. One of Edward Stanyon’s later apprentices was James Avis, who was not enrolled in regular fashion and for whom there are, therefore, no background details available; but Avis himself took as apprentice Thomas Avis II in 1632, son of Robert Avis, a yeoman of the neighbouring village of Stibbington, Northamptonshire. Another village close to Nassington, Fotheringhay, was the place of origin of a young man who came to ‘put himself apprentice’ to Stanyon in 1628.

The strength of this tendency to support neighbouring families should not, however, be over-stressed. Edward Stanyon also took apprentices from Bedfordshire and Berkshire, in addition to his own son; while George Billington’s only apprentice came from Scotland. The majority of masters who were not native-born Londoners accepted apprentices with whom they had no obvious connections by way or family, geography or profession.

What can be concluded from this evidence is that the wide geographical area from which apprentices were drawn may have played some part in the spread of London plasterwork to the regions. There is a possibility that a proportion of those who completed their training in London then left the capital and returned to their county of origin; if this were the case, the London style of plasterwork could have been spread across the country by such means. There is, however, no documentary evidence either to support or refute such a hypothesis.[42]

Freedom by patrimony

Apprenticeship enrolments are not, moreover, a wholly reliable measure of the geographical (or social) origins of the young men training to be plasterers, since they take no account of the fact that the majority of the sons of company members were freed ‘by patrimony’, without ever having been enrolled as apprentices. Over the period 1598-1662, 118 sons of company members were freed in this way; the names of 88 (74.57%) appear for the first time at this point, while only 30 (25.42%) had previously been enrolled as apprentices.[43] A memorandum recorded that two masters both had sons whom they were bringing up as plasterers and they had therefore agreed to take only one apprentice each while their sons were working for them.[44] Similarly, the company found a new master for an orphaned son whose father had been training him as a plasterer.[45] None of these sons had ever appeared in the lists of enrolled apprentices.

This raises the further question of how many of the plasterers’ sons who were freed by patrimony were destined to pursue a career as plasterers themselves; but conflicting evidence makes it difficult to provide a clear answer to this question. Of the 33 for whom the quarterage records are available (1604-33), only 17 (51.51%) went on to enrol apprentices on their own account. Of course, it does not follow that those who did not themselves become masters were not practising plasterers and, in fact, 51.51% represents a better outcome than in the case of the plasterers’ sons who were apprenticed. Only 12 of the 37 who were freed (1601-61) took on apprentices themselves, which represents only 32.43%. Clearly other factors affected these outcomes but it does seem that whether or not a plasterer apprenticed his son officially did not have much bearing on his future career.

There are, however, a few documented instances of sons who gained their freedom by patrimony, maintained their quarterage payments, and yet did not work as plasterers. For example, Henry Waight, son of Edward senior (died 1641) was freed by patrimony in 1625, when he was described as ‘A Scholler of Cambridge’.[46] In his father’s will he is a ‘Clerk’ while his two brothers, John and Edward junior, were both practising plasterers.[47] Henry Waight was not the only son of a plasterer to pursue a course of higher education in preference to plasterwork. Mr Bette’s son had been a student at Cambridge in 1574, and he was followed there by Richard Terry’s son, Michael, in 1605.[48] In both cases the company was willing to provide financial support for these students, on three occasions in Terry’s case. Robert Whiting junior must also have obtained some measure of scholarly education since he was described as clerk to the Deputy Town Clerk of the City of London in 1632, when he was granted the reversion of the Clerkship of the company.[49] The younger Robert Whiting was the son of a leading company member who became Master in due course, but there is no record of Robert junior or his brother Edward being trained to take over what must have been a successful business. These may be rather isolated instances, but it is clear that one cannot assume that all the sons of plasterers who were made free by patrimony were going to follow their father’s career.

Nevertheless, one has only to look at the pattern that emerges from the career paths of the rest of the Waight family to realise that some of the sons and grandsons of a successful plasterer like Edward Waight the elder were quite likely to maintain the family tradition in which they were raised. John Waight was freed on the same date as his brother, Henry, without having been officially enrolled, and in the following year he took as his apprentice his younger brother, Edward junior. Moreover, both of John’s sons, Edward III and Thomas, were apprenticed to their father and mother respectively, making it clear that John (who died in 1648) and his widow, Jane, were still running the business they had inherited from Edward the elder.

Richard Terry has already been mentioned as the father of a Cambridge scholar; three of his other sons became members of the company but only Robert became an active, rather than nominal, member, who passed on the business to his own son, Thomas. None of these young men served an apprenticeship as required by the company ordinances. Similar patterns emerge among other families, suggesting that the small-scale nature of London businesses could not provide long-term employment for more than one or two sons of a master craftsman at most.

Where sons of plasterers did follow the correct procedure for obtaining their training it was not necessarily their fathers to whom they were apprenticed. In 17 of the 39 cases recorded (43.58%), a son was enrolled with his father or widowed mother; the remaining 22 (56.41%) were placed with other members of the company. The completion rate for both groups was extremely high – 76.47% and 77.27-81.81% respectively – which means that there was a much greater chance of sons of plasterers completing an apprenticeship in the trade than was the case for outsiders. As previously stated, less than half the total number of apprentices enrolled could generally be expected to emerge as trained freemen. Such examples would seem to support the view that there was a general tendency among the sons of Londoners to pursue the same occupation as their fathers; but that Plasterers’ Company members were not especially punctilious about observing the ordinances requiring apprentices to be registered with the company.[50]

Among the artisanal occupations listed for the fathers of apprentices the building trades figure largely (19.06% of the total). More than half of these (56.50%) were plasterers, but there were significant numbers of carpenters (14.22%), bricklayers (9.75%), masons (7.31%) and joiners (4.47%). This may represent an attempt on the part of some families t build a team offering a variety of building skills, whose members might be able to secure work for their relatives. This kind of network seems to have worked particularly successfully within the royal works,[51] but there is no reason to suppose that similar relationships were not built up in non-royal circles as well. Given the enormously varied backgrounds of the young men apprenticed to the Plasterers’ Company, one can see how apprenticeship provided them with more than a craft training. It also helped them to adjust to London life during the years spent living with their masters, and to educate them in the privileges and demands of citizenship.[52]

Freedom after apprenticeship

Having completed his period of indenture the apprentice was brought to the company hall by his master and paid an admission fee of 3s 4d before being presented before the Chamberlain of London to received the freedom of the City. From this point onwards his name would appear in the quarterage lists as a member of the Yeomanry of the company. This group comprised both wage-earning journeymen and householders who ran their own businesses.


The fifty-third item in the ordinances required that the technical competence of a newly-freed journeyman should be tested within one month of his freedom, and further training could be imposed if necessary. There seems to be only one reference to such a practice, when William Blackshaw, a foreigner, ‘made a tryall of his arte in setting up and makeing the kings stature in the Hall’.[53] A memorandum of 1657 reiterated the proviso that only those ‘essayed according the 53 Ordinance’ should be made free, which suggests that observance of this rule had probably become lax.[54]

A year’s journeymanship was required (during which a young man would live in his employer’s household) and a further four years were to elapse before a young man was to be ‘allowed for an housholder’, which gave him the right to open his own shop and enrol an apprentice (and one only) on his own account. The Plasterers decided to tolerate the fact that Richard Ford had ignored this requirement because he was following the trade of a chandler and his apprentices were not being trained as plasterers.[55]


On reaching this stage in his career within the company the young plasterer was required to pay a ‘beadleship’ fine, but it is clear that these restrictions were not at all popular with the members of the yeomanry. Fines to avoid the year as a journeyman are frequent, and periods of much less than five years elapsed before apprentices were enrolled by large numbers of the newly-freed yeomanry. Of thirty-four men freed between 1578 and 1587, thirty (88.23%) subsequently became masters of their own apprentices, and this may be why it was not felt necessary to distinguish between journeymen and householders in the quarterage lists. Contrary to the practice among some companies of creating as additional tier of government from the yeomanry, with their own wardens and quarterage payments,[56] the yeomanry of the Plasterers’ Company appears to have had no such separate existence.


The careers of the majority of plasterers never progressed beyond this level, but a small number of men would be selected by the assistants from among the yeomanry to enter the Livery. Belonging to the Livery was largely a matter of prestige, since it involved additional expenses, including two suits of the company livery (a best and second-best fur-lined cloak with satin hood), which were to be renewed every eight years. The liveryman paid higher quarterage fees and were charged at higher rates for assessments. In the Plasterers’ Company there were no compensatory rights in the form of additional apprentices or a vote in elections. Refusal to serve as a liveryman was, however, rare and the fine of £2 for such a refusal was not the only reason for this. There were two aspects of membership of this estate which were likely to induce men to accept the livery. In the first place, it was only liverymen who were involved in the election of officers for London’s governing body, and custom dictated that only liverymen could serve on the Common Council.[57] The significance of this promotion lay in the status it gave them within th eCity and not just within the company, and provided increased opportunities for making contact with potential patrons. Secondly there was the prospect of being chosen as Younger Warden, which not only carried the right to an additional apprentice, but opened the door to advancement to the highest estate within the company.

The Wardens and Master

From among the select group of the livery the Younger Warden was elected by the assistants, the nominations having been made by the master and wardens. The costs of taking up the post were, however, considerable as the Younger Warden was obliged to pay for a dinner, and the fine for refusal of office at five marks (£3 6s 8d) is accordingly high. There were also hidden costs, in that the duties were fairly onerous and must have made some impact on the profitability of the warden’s own business. Having served his year, however, the warden joined the court of assistants and became eligible for election, in due course, as Elder Warden and Master; and the additional apprentice which he was allowed presumably represented an economic advantage.

Court of Assistants

Provided they lived long enough, the liverymen of most companies could expect to achieve promotion to the court of assistants in about eight to ten years, and perhaps sooner in the minor companies, whose courts were larger relative to the livery than in the great companies.[58] Certainly the Plasterers’ assistants outnumbered the livery in all but three years – 1621, 1622 and 1633. Fifty-nine out of eighty-eight liverymen rose to be assistants while twenty-two died before reaching their goal and six retired; one died after fifteen years in the livery, having refused the wardenship in the year he died.

Progression from yeomanry to livery to assistant, as described above, was the ideal pattern as envisaged in the company’s ordinances but, in practice, many pressures combined to force the ruling élite to accept exceptions to the rules.

The Custom of London and Company members who were not plasterers

The possibility that not all the freemen of the company listed as paying quarterage were, in fact, practising plasterers has already been raised in connection with the sons of plasterers. The ‘custom of London’ (an amalgam of traditions which had existed ‘time out of mind’) allowed a freeman to follow any trade or craft within the City’s jurisdiction. This meant that company members did not necessarily have to pursue the occupation for which they were trained, although thee was no widespread tendency to take advantage of this situation before the 1570s.[59] It is impossible to assess how many freemen of other companies were active as plasterers; but there is some evidence (mostly derived from the Court Minute Books) to suggest that the majority of the members of the Plasterers’ Company obtained their livelihoods by working as plasterers.

Archer cites the evidence of fines and building accounts to show that in 1582 fourteen assistants of the company were active plasterers, out of a total of sixteen.[60] This proves to have been typical of the situation throughout the period of this study and the entries for 1620 constitute a comparable example, with the names of all the nineteen assistants listed also appearing in the court minutes or the records of the royal works as working plasterers.

Freedom by redemption

One small group within the company which included some non-plasterers is represented by the twelve cases where redemption was used to purchase the freedom of the company and, with it, the citizenship of London. Just over half of the redemptions were purchased by or on behalf of men who had been enrolled as apprentices (including four young men who had married) contrary to company ordinances. These cases seem to have irritated the master and wardens of the company, who complained to the Court of Aldermen that the favour shown to some of the apprentices in the matter of redemption was encouraging others to become bold and insolent. The aldermen did their best to placate the senior plasterers by ordering, in 1609, that no further redemptions would be granted without the consent of the master and wardens of the company.[61]

Four of the remaining five cases involved men who had not served apprenticeships with the Plasterers’ Company at all. Thomas Haughton and Henry Harrison obtained their freedoms with the help of aldermen (Sir Thomas Bennett and Sir James Pemberton respectively) and it was with great reluctance that the Plasterers were forced by the aldermen to accept Harrison as one of their number in 1608.[62] Harrison must already have been a skilled plasterer by this date, since he was paid £9 11s 8d ‘for fretting one chamber in the upmost lodging’ at Syon House in 1605.[63] Whether Haughton was similarly skilled is not known.

James Whaffe was presumably obliged to seek his freedom by redemption because he was already a qualified plasterer who had come to London from Scotland in 1614 in search of work. A dinner was held ‘in Mr Waffes company ... when he being a Scotch man was made free’.[64] Whaffe subsequently took as apprentice Hugh Whaffe, the son of a Scottish gentleman, to whom he was probably related.

The case of Romayne Cocke was somewhat different in that he had served almost eight years of the nine of his indenture when the Privy Council directed the Lord Mayor to arrange for his freedom ‘not by service but by redemcon’.[65] Quite how he had attracted the attention of someone in the Privy Council is impossible to know, but it is probably significant that his master, Edmund Essex, was a senior member of the company who was employed in the royal works.

The final case of freedom by redemption involves a man who had no intention of pursuing a career as a plasterer. Hugh Alley (Allyson/Allye) spent much of his life as a professional informer and it may have been in recognition of his services to the Exchequer that Lord Treasurer Burghley requested that Alley be granted the freedom of the City in 1597.[66] On 26th October of that year Hugh Allyson was granted his ‘freedome per Redemption’ at the ripe old age of forty-one. The cost of freedom by redemption was cheaper in the lesser companies like the Plasterers’, where the rates were set by the court of assistants. The extraordinarily low charge of 3s 4d paid by Alley perhaps resulted from friendships which he could have made, and maintained, with plasterers who were working in the royal works during the period when he was a clerk of works, between 1574 and 1582.

One would expect most of the candidates who could afford redemption fines to be looking for the prestige of belonging to one of the greater companies, in addition to the freedom of the City, and it is not therefore surprising that so few men purchased their freedom in this way within the Plasterers’ Company. As a result, freedoms by redemption cause very little distortion in the number of practising plasterers reflected in the totals from the quarterage lists.

From the records available it would seem that the majority of plasterers operating in London had served some sort of apprenticeship and were members of the London company. This was, perhaps, less true of craftsmen with a talent for decorative work, like James Leigh or Henry Harrison, whose skills were in such demand that influential patrons could effectively ensure that they were allowed to pursue their careers in London regardless of the company’s ordinances.

Size of the Plasterers’ Company

From the quarterage lists it is possible to establish the numbers of free plasterers in London between 1609 and 1633 (with the exception of the period 1629-31, for which the records are incomplete). The totals are given in Table 3 (overleaf) and show that although the company grew fairly steadily in size until the mid-1620s it never had more than 287 members. This accorded with the pattern set by the majority of companies, whose numbers rarely exceeded a few hundred, encouraging a sense of common identity and social cohesion despite the hierarchical nature of the organisation.[67]

Growth of the Plasterers’ Company

Although the Plasterers’ Company was not one of the larger companies in City terms, the years between 1609 and 1620 witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of plasterers from 176 to 287, an increase of 63%. This rapid rise in the size of the company coincides with the emergence of the fashion for increasingly complex decorative plasterwork in domestic interiors and probably reflects the growing demand for craftsmen with the requisite skills. While the number of assistants remained fairly constant (ranging from 18 to 24), there was some attempt to increase the size of the livery in line with the growth in the numbers of yeomanry. By 1620 the livery consisted of only fifteen men, which was the same as the total in 1609; but in the latter year the yeomanry had numbered only 142, whereas it had mushroomed to 252 by 1620. Accordingly, eleven men were newly selected for the livery in 1621, raising the total by 53% to 23. (The deaths of some existing liverymen account for the apparent discrepancy in numbers.)




Source: Guildhall MS 6127/1                       


Officers &


































































































































Social networks within the Plasterers’ Company

The small scale of the company meant that all the members would be known to each other and the friendships and family relationships which developed between them are frequently reflected in their wills.[68] The following examples have been chosen from many that underline the extent to which the Plasterers’ Company provided support to its members, in death as in life.

Witnesses/overseers/executors of wills

Fellow plasterers were frequently called upon to act as overseers of wills, although their trade was not necessarily mentioned: Thomas Kellie appointed ‘Robert Browne, my neighbor’ to act as overseer to his will in 1589;[69] and in 1616 Hugh Capp left £3 6s 8d to each of his ‘loving friends’ who were to act as overseers, one of whom was Mr John Allen.[70] When Capp himself was Master of the Company in 1603 he had been appointed overseer by William Nicholles and it was not uncommon for the current master of the company, whether described as a friend or not, to be asked to fulful this role.[71] Ralph Bettes and Richard Barfeild each received 3s 4d ‘for theire payns’ in taking on this responsibility for John Laycock in 1590; and Ralph Bettes additionally acted as a witness on this occasion.[72]

Funeral arrangements

Although liverymen were obliged to attend the body of one of their colleagues

to the grave, it seems to have become common practice for an amount of money to be left to them, although whether as a reward or inducement is not quite clear. In 1599 Ralph Bettes requested that four of his ex-apprentices ‘carry my bodie to the buriall’ for which they were to receive 3s 4d each.[73] Thomas Kellie’s bequest of twenty shillings to the Master and Wardens of the company ‘for a recreation to be spent among them at the tyme of my buriall’ seems generous. This munificence was more than matched by Ralph Bettes, who included the whole livery in the ‘drinckinge or repast immediatlie after my buriall’ and allocated forty shillings for the purpose.

Bequests to extended family and friends

Not surprisingly, most plasterers left the bulk of their estates to their immediate family but smaller bequests were often made to friends. In 1592, after leaving the bulk of his estate to his wife, William Piggen the Elder divided the remainder between two of his friends, one of whom was Thomas Johnson, plasterer.[74] Ellis Piggen, plasterer, was to receive Piggen’s ‘beste liverie gowne’. William Bottom, who had served as Master of the Company, also left items of clothing to two of his fellow plasterers, Edward and Francis Broadbank, in 1592.[75] The residue of William Piggen the Younger’s very sizeable estate was left in 1621 to his brother, Ellis, who was also executor; but the Godbeheare family of plasterers were clearly good friends who were not overlooked. Peirce Godbeheare (ex-apprentice of Ellis Piggen) and his wife received £30 and £10 was left to William’s godson, John, son of the late John Godbeheare who had been William’s apprentice.[76]

Wills can also provide evidence of family relationships that might otherwise go unremarked. James Brigges, the son and heir of the plasterer, Richard Brigges, was still a young man when he made his will in 1591, leaving property to his uncle, William Brigges, and his cousin by marriage, Thomas Johnson, both plasterers.[77] It is apparent from Thomas Griffin’s will, made in 1681, that his daughter Elizabeth had married Thomas Crooke, a fellow plasterer, already deceased. William Newman seems to have followed the traditional route to success by marrying the daughter of  his master, John Langford as the administration of the latter’s estate was granted in 1621 to his daughter, 1621.[78]

Bequests to apprentices

William Bottom was one of those whose generosity extended to his apprentices, Darby

Moore and William Nicholles, to whom he left all his working tools and scaffolding, provided they served his wife diligently and faithfully until their apprenticeships were completed. Richard Graves’ apprentice, Richard Oker, was also fortunate to inherit scaffolding poles, planks, cleats, sieves and ladders (except the two longest ladders) in 1617, following the death of his master,[79] and such bequests must have been a considerable asset to a young man newly embarking on his own career. The two apprentices of Ralph Bettes were to receive not only all his working tools but also ten shillings apiece ‘at the expiracon of their severall tearmes of apprentishood’. Robert Sheppard included ex-apprentices among his bequests of small sums of money (ten or twenty shillings) and items of clothing, the residue of his estate being shared by his current apprentices and a maidservant.[80]

Bequests to the Company poor

When wealthier plasterers made their wills, donations to London’s poor were frequent, usually the poor of the parish in which they lived; but occasionally impoverished plasterers were specified. £5 was left to the ‘poore Freemen of the Company of Plaisterers’ by Henry Kidgell in 1686,[81] while John Walter bequeathed £10 to ‘the Pencioners and other poore’ belonging to the Company in 1659.[82]

Control of the number of plasterers in London

There were enormous fluctuations in the numbers of apprenticeship presentations from year to year (see Table 4, overleaf), which suggests that the Plasterers were no more successful than other companies in regulating the number of apprentices who were enrolled. Even if the company had been able to exercise such control, this would not have enabled them to predict the future size of the company with any certainty. The high


Annual apprenticeship presentations in the Plasterers’ Company 1571-1662


















































































































































































































































































































































































to Sept


 mortality-rate in the City, especially among young men, and the drop-out rate among apprentices, were factors over which they could have little or no control.[83]

The ordinances of the Plasterers’ Company restricted the vast majority of the membership to one apprentice at a time, with the exception of the assistants. The assistants were not slow to take action against members of the yeomanry who contravened the regulations, but with a large number of apprentices absconding, dying or being turned over from one master to another, it must have been difficult to keep a check on the number of men working for all the masters.

Most members seem to have been willing to abide by the regulations and, if caught infringing the ordinances during the search, they paid their fines without demur. If they denied their guilt or refused to pay the fine their case would be heard by the court and there is evidence that in some cases strenuous efforts were required to enforce the restrictions on the number of apprentices. For instance, although he was a liveryman, Hugh Capp was not entitled to the two apprentices he had acquired, but he refused to surrender one of them. The court concluded in March 1588 that he was to be ‘utterly expulsed and excluded’ from the livery at the company’s pleasure and took him before the Court of Aldermen. Despite a petition from Capp, the aldermen imposed more rigorous penalties, disenfranchising him forever and commanding the Chamberlain to shut up his shop. The company spent 3s 8d on the case but were more than reimbursed when Capp was readmitted after making a donation of £4 for the ‘benefytt of the house’ in October 1589.[84]

This would have served as a stern warning to others so tempted, but it had clearly been forgotten by 1631, when a memorandum confirmed the existing ordinances concerning apprentices and raised the fine for disobedience to £20. This suggests that a stronger penalty was needed because the number of infractions was rising.[85] The deterrent effect of this memorandum seems to have endured for some years but the 1650s witnessed numerous contraventions, including one by an incumbent Master of the company and another by a master craftsman with no less than four apprentices. The authorities clearly felt the situation was getting out of hand and in June 1659 the Master, wardens and clerk were ordered to attend Council ‘upon the ordinance for supernumerary apprentices’. The following month John Martyne was fined £3 for having one too many apprentices and was dismissed as an assistant in December of that year, until he conformed himself to the government of the company. By the following January, Martyne had decided to conform himself and paid a reduced fine of £2.[86] It seems likely that an exemplary punishment was required on this occasion to reassert the company’s authority.

Size of workshops

In spite of these occasional displays of disregard for the company’s rules concerning apprenticeship there is no evidence of plasterers running large workshops. Even with an extra apprentice or two, together with a journeyman the team is unlikely to have numbered more than five or six; and the majority of masters never had more than one apprentice at a time. The sample of forty-five sons of plasterers enrolled between 1599 and 1654 shows that they were apprenticed to forty-one different masters, with only four masters (9.75%) presenting more than one apprentice during this period. This pattern follows the norm for most London companies in the sixteenth century.[87]

As a result, more than one plasterer might be recruited for a single job. For example, Symond Betawgh and Cornellys Hand worked together for eight days for the Carpenters’ Company in 1561.[88] Similarly, three plasterers were sub-contracted by a bricklayer to work at Lady Sheffield’s house by Blackfriars Bridge on 18th February 1576.[89] The work was to be completed by Easter (which would have fallen on 22nd April) and presumably three men were required in order to finish the work by the deadline, for which they were to receive £9 each. This arrangement was in direct contravention of the ordinance which stipulated that plastering work on behalf of a mason, carpenter, bricklayer or tiler could only be undertaken for daily wages and not ‘by great’; and the three men were risking a fine of up to £3 per man. For similar offences Henry Brigges was fined 13s 4d and John Clarkson 5s in 1599.[90]

The Merchant Taylors called on John Prichard for most routine work to their buildings between 1601 and 1609. He either worked alone or was accompanied by Edward Stanyon, plus a handful of other plasterers on occasion. The promise of a royal visit on Election Day in 1607, however, resulted in a flurry of activity and the requisite beautifying of the hall necessitated the recruitment of no less than twenty-seven plasterers for four, five or six days, not counting their labourers.[91]

Work on a similarly large scale, but over a much longer period, was undertaken at the Charterhouse when, in 1613-14, it was undergoing a major conversion from private house to school and hospital under the terms of Thomas Sutton’s will. Here, as in the Royal Works, plasterers were recruited in considerable numbers for such a large-scale project; the majority came from the London company. Several entries in the pay-books refer to the plasterwork undertaken by ‘Kellam Rodes & his parteners’; and although Kelham Roades was clearly the plasterer-in-charge, he was not paid more than some of his fellow craftsmen.[92] In some months Roades was working alone; in others he was accompanied by up to sixteen other plasterers. Most of them worked fewer days than Roades, with some earning 2s per day, like him; others only 20d or 22d.

The building accounts for Old Thorndon Hall, Essex, reveal that decorative work at a site might be undertaken by more than one plasterer at a time, without involving partnership. In July1587 Richard Barfield made a bargain to decorate the hall ceiling accompanied by his apprentice and a labourer, while in September of that year a further bargain was made with Robert Gassett ‘to make fretts in the old parlour’.[93] Unfortunately, none of this work survives to make comparisons between their work possible. Robert Gassett undertook fretwork again in 1596 when the Skinners’ Company wanted various ceilings in their hall decorated. On this occasion he worked in partnership with Richard Ratcliff ‘crestinge the seeling in the newe parlore’, amongst others.[94]

Some of the fines for bad work recorded in the Court Minute Book throw further light on the practice. By way of illustration, among the fines for bad work are those incurred by Richard Kelly (Ceelye) and William Piggen while working in Bucklersbury in 1590, by Randall Clarkson and Nicholas Boland at the upper end of end of Grub Street in 1591, and by Edward Harrison and Robert Cusack in the garrets at Mr Carr’s without Temple Bar in 1592.[95]

There is no evidence in the company records of how much men could expect to earn as plasterers but it is evident from donations made to the company and from the wills made by plasterers that some members ran highly profitable businesses. This subject will be discussed in more detail at the end of this chapter.

Trade secrets and trade disputes

The restrictions on numbers entering the companies was but one aspect of the “closed shop” system whereby the trades and crafts of London were controlled. Such a system depended also on the retention of trade secrets and the exclusion of non-members, as far as possible, from operating in the same trade or craft. Both these goals were, of course, impossible to total realisation; but it was in pursuit of their attainment that the Plasterers’ Company found itself in conflict both with ‘foreign’ plasterers and with other London companies, leading to the expenditure of a great deal of time and money.

That the concept of “trade secrets” was central to the purposes of the company is shown by its designation as an ‘Art or Mystery’ on the company seal. Evidence for the importance of the concept emerges on the occasion of the arrest of a man transgressing company regulations who was described as ‘one that wrought of oure arte’.[96] It was clearly in the company’s interests to maintain this aura of secrecy around the skills of plastering and in 1591 Richard Kelley (or Ceeley) was fined for disclosing the secrets of the house.[97]

Nevertheless, plaster was a material which was so widely employed by various craftsmen within the building trades – mason, bricklayers and tilers, slaters – that it was never going to be possible to restrict the employment of plastering skills to members of the Plasterers’ Company. As a result, the company’s actions against foreigners were directed as much against freemen of other companies as they were against non-free plasterers. The problems presented by these two broad groups were rather different and the company’s attitudes and reactions to them varied accordingly.

‘Foreign’ plasterers

In many ways ‘foreign’ plasterers ought to have presented the company with an entirely straightforward problem of enforcement. The charter of the Plasterers’ Company gave it the power to oversee all plastering activity within two miles of the City and to implement this power by means of a quarterly ‘search’. Provided the company could collect quarterage from the foreigners by this means there was little more they could expect to achieve. As with other companies, however, problems arose when the legal status of the plasterers’ ordinances was disputed. As an example, Archer cites John Parker’s dismissive remark about the company’s ordinances when he was sued in Star Chamber in 1598.[98] Archer does not point out, however, that Parker came to an agreement with the company and entered into a financial arrangement involving a loan of £10 to be repaid by him in five years’ time.[99] If action in the courts failed to solve the problem efforts were made to obtain parliamentary legislation, but this was rarely any more successful.[100]

If the company kept records of the quarterage paid by foreigners, these have not survived; and it is only in 1676 that the heading ‘Forriagners’ appears at the end of the quarterage list, with two names beneath it.[101] There is, however, some evidence of co-operation with the company on the part of those foreign plasterers who were involved in the search in April 1598 and for whom a quarter-day dinner was provided twice in the following year.[102] Collection of quarterage from foreigners is not specifically referred to again after 1601.

Some foreigners had begun their careers as plasterers within the company. William Crompton had been formally apprenticed in 1583 but, despite having failed to gain his freedom he was supported by the Chamberlain, Town Clerk and common Serjeant in his application to the company for their favour ‘in sufferinge him to work of himselfe without their molestacon’, for which he paid 20s.[103] Presumably he was sufficiently talented to have found work on his own terms, probably with an influential patron, and his name does not appear again. Similarly, John Kerpey must have decided to work as a plasterer in Whitechapel without completing the apprenticeship on which he had embarked in 1592, since he was warned not to carry out any more plastering work in 1597.[104]

On occasion, the company was capable of acting with generosity towards a foreign plasterer. William Blackshaw had been the apprentice of King James’s Master Plasterer, James Leigh, who was not a company member; and as a result Blackshaw was precluded from the freedom of the City. The company decided to admit him because he was an ‘approved artist’ and because several able members of the company had recently died. In view of his poverty they even waived his admission fine, accepting in lieu his “masterpiece” – the making and setting up ‘the kings stature in the Hall’.[105]

Such an amicable approach was, perhaps, exceptional, since examples of foreigners being arrested are far more common, although the pattern is not consistent throughout the whole period. In the economically difficult years between 1571 and 1600 twenty-four foreigners were arrested; and three company members were fined for employing foreigners. In the following thirty years only six foreigners were taken to prison, while nine company members were fined for employing foreigners. Either foreigners working on their own account became increasingly willing to pay their dues to the company, or the company became more lax in its searches; it must always have been easier to supervise those working inside the company than those outside.

Presumably the foreigners who were arrested had refused to pay the appropriate fine to the company when detected and it is difficult to assess what proportion of the unregulated labour market they represented. The numbers recorded seem rather small to justify the recurrent complaints by the company against the foreigners. Not surprisingly, these tended to peak during periods of economic crisis and after the difficulties of the 1590s payments were made in 1597 for ‘the engrosinge and writinge of the articles and dyvers peticon to the Counsell against the foreyners’; and in 1599 there were charges ‘in goinge to the Court about the Forrens troubles nowe hapninge’. Earlier that year the search had extended to Clerkenwell, Stepney, Walworth and ‘other forreyne places without the freedom’.[106] After this flurry of activity the problem apparently ceased to be a prime concern and no further action was proposed until 1635, when it was suggested that the new charter should include clauses against the foreigners.[107]

In 1657, when the company was trying to reassert its control after the dislocation of the Civil War, discussions were held with the foreign plasterers on several occasions, resulting in the latter’s agreement to appear on quarter days, to pay quarterage and to act as ‘searchers’. Among the twelve foreigners listed were three who had originally been apprenticed to members of the company and were now brought back into the fold – one had married while an apprentice and the other two appear just to have dropped out.[108] This agreement represented only a partial triumph for the company, however, and some foreign plasterers must have remained unwilling to comply since the company was willing to spend £3 19s 0d in prosecuting them as the Southwark assizes in March 1658. In May and June of that year further expenses were incurred in the drawing of eighteen indictments while prosecutions continued into 1659.[109]

Relations with other building trades

While the problem of foreigners was apparently in abeyance the company was heavily engaged in disputes with other London companies representing the building trades. In many of these cases the issue centred on the interpretation of what was comprised in ‘plastering work’. As one would expect from such attempts to operate a “closed shop”, demarcation disputes arose, with the plasterers as defendants in some cases and plaintiffs in others. Since the nature of the disputes differed depending on the other companies involved, highlighting different aspect of the work of the plasterers, the issues will best be dealt with company by company.

(i) Carpenters

For much of the period under study, timber-framed construction was the most popular method for building houses in London, which meant that the carpenters were in overall control of most of the work. The Plasterers’ Company was at great pains to ensure that the lath and plaster which provided the infill in the walls of timber-framed houses was carried out by its members, as the result of direct negotiation with the owner and not as a sub-contractor of the carpenter concerned. One of the 1587 ordinances allowed plastering work to be undertaken for other craftsmen as ‘daie worke only’, with a fine for disobedience of up to £3.[110] This was an insufficient deterrent for the fifteen plasterers who were fined for ‘taking work of a carpenter’ between 1581 and 1630, despite a repetition of the order in 1606 and further negotiations in 1618.[111] The following two decades witnessed a hiatus (perhaps related to the efforts made to discourage timber-frame construction in London in the 1630s and the dislocation of the Civil War in the 1640s) and the offence is not repeated until the 1650s, when twenty-eight fines were recorded between 1651 and 1662. One must assume that this was an area in which there would always be difficulties of enforcement, since it clearly suited some company members to ignore the ordinances, supposedly devised for their protection.

Occasions also arose on which carpenters themselves took on plastering work and a list of such offenders was prepared in 1591, probably to bolster the petition being sent by the company to their rivals.[112] There was, however, only one carpenter who was caught carrying out plastering work for which he was taken to the Compter and subsequently bound himself not to repeat the offence, with a suspended fine of £20.[113]

(ii) Bricklayers and Tylers[114]

Far more problematic than the carpenters wee those craftsmen who themselves used some form of plaster in their own building operations – most particularly the bricklayers and tilers. The work of both trades entailed the plastering of walls once they had been made, whether in brick or lath and plaster. The similarity of the skills involved is suggested by examples of apprentices being exchanged between the two companies (admittedly, without authorisation) and the decision of a newly-freed apprentice plasterer to spend his journeyman year with a bricklayer.[115] In such circumstances demarcation disputes were inevitable and dragged on for decades.

An attempt was made in 1580 by the Court of Aldermen to establish precise demarcation boundaries between the two rival companies. Since the techniques used were broadly similar, the main thrust of their ruling aimed to distinguish between the work of plasterers and bricklayers on the basis of the materials they used: the bricklayers worked with plain lime plaster whereas the plasterers added hair. The aldermen accordingly issued an order distinguishing between the plastering work belonging to each company depending on the presence or absence of hair.[116] This sounds clear enough but maintaining enforcement of the distinction proved less straightforward.

As this order provided the basis for all further confrontations between the two companies a summary of its provisions is worth including:

            bricklayers were not to use hair;

            they could roughcast outside walls (but not internal partitions),

            ovens and interior and exterior chimneys with lime and sand;

            it was up to the builder whether vaults should be plastered with

            lime and hair (by plasterers) or with lime and sand (by bricklayers);

            plasterers were to confine themselves to timber walls, partitions,

            ‘ceeling cases’, stairs and all things done with lath and nail;

            laying with loam, lime and hair or plaster;

            whiting and colouring;

            roughcasting with lime and hair, pencilling of brick walls


            the whiting, colouring or mending of the inside of churches could

            be done by plasterers, so long as they laid no brick, chalk, tile or


            none of these provisions was to have effect within the Royal Works.[117]

How disappointing it must have been for the plasterers, then, when they had to send to the Lord Mayor elect to dissuade him from employing a bricklayer ‘who would plaster for him’ in 1584.[118] Nevertheless, these orders were confirmed and entered in the Repertory in 1585.[119]

This was not the end of the wrangling and the disputes continued until, in 1619, the plasterers won a signal victory and the orders were once more confirmed by the aldermen.[120] In their decision in favour of the status quo the aldermen pointed out that if the bricklayers were permitted to plaster with lime and hair the brick walls that they had built, this might allow them to conceal any faults in the brickwork without anyone else spotting them.

In drawing attention to the possibility of subterfuge on the part of the bricklayers, the plasterers were attempting to safeguard their own livelihoods in face of the threat posed by royal proclamations (from 1615 onwards) demanding that new building in London should be of brick rather than timber-frame construction.[121] So determined were the plasterers to publicise the latest ruling by the City authorities in their favour that they paid £2 to have their own ‘proclamations’ (presumably posters of some kind) pasted on posts about the City.[122] In order to drive home the point, on 16 December 1619 the plasterers secured the committal to Newgate Gaol of a bricklayer who had been laying lime and hair in contempt of the order.[123]

Up to this point the plasterers had tackled the problem head-on by fining or arresting offending bricklayers and one had been threatened with distraint. Twenty-six offences by bricklayers were recorded (involving a slightly greater, unspecified, number of bricklayers) between 1571 and 1616. Despite having paid the plasterers £1 in 1595 to be allowed ‘to worke without the freedome’, Richard Hollock was among eight bricklayers who promised in 1597 not to carry out plastering work again.[124]

After 1616, this line of attack seems to have been abandoned and the plasterers concentrated their efforts on their own members who were ignoring the ordinance that they should not take work from other craftsmen, including bricklayers. Memoranda reiterating this ordinance were entered in the minute book in 1574 and 1606, but only two offenders were caught between 1575 and 1625. From 1626-1636 this number rose to twelve and from 1650-1659 a further eight culprits were apprehended, one of whom was a warden. It would seem that the company had decided that its efforts were more likely to bear fruit (in the form of fines) when directed against its own members.

This change of direction in dealing with offences seems to have followed the abandonment by the plasterers of their legal pursuit of the bricklayers. The endless expenses involved in their suits against their rivals, on occasion necessitating an additional assessment levied on all members, must have been a considerable drain on the company’s resources. Nevertheless, the plasterers must have felt that the threat posed was still sufficiently real in 1635 for them to contemplate laying out £200 to a Mr Berry, should the latter be successful in obtaining royal consent for a new charter, including additional clauses for suppressing foreigners and bricklayers.[125] The renewal of the charter was not obtained until 1643 and Berry’s name is not mentioned again; and as this charter has not survived it is not known whether the additional clauses talked of in 1635 were finally included.

It was clearly never going to be possible to police the regulations satisfactorily from the plasterers point-of-view, particularly bearing in mind the exemption of the Royal Works from the City’s orders, which provided employment for so many of London’s building craftsmen. Skills developed by the bricklayers at royal sites were unlikely to go unused on buildings for the nobility or commoners.

(iii) Painter-Stainers

The difficulties experienced by the plasterers at the hands of the bricklayers were repeated in their dealings with the painter-stainers, but in the instance the plasterers were the subject of complaints from the painter-stainers and the latter dound it just as difficult to enforce the terms of their charter against the plasterers, resulting in the same kind of protracted dispute as existed between the plasterers and the bricklayers.

The plasterers were already on the alert when the painter-stainers, who had presented a bill to Parliament in 1576, were finally granted a charter in 1581.[126] The plasterers seem to have been preparing a retaliatory bill from March 1581, but presumably abandoned the attempt following the success of the painter-stainers in July of that year.[127] The ordinances of the new company were confirmed in the following January but were hopelessly optimistic in attempting to extract quarterage from anyone who was ‘lyming, washing or laying ... or working any kind of colours ... with oil, size, gum or any other kind of temperature or mixture, ... painting or staining upon any silk, cloth, wool, leather, stone, iron, lead, tin, plaister, paper, parchment, vellum or other thing’, within four miles of the City.[128]

Such a broad-sweeping definition of a painter’s work was guaranteed to raise the hackles of the plasterers. In denying the plasterers the right to apply colour-wash to plaster the painter-stainers were attempting to remove a long-established practice from the plasterers’ domain. In such circumstances it is not surprising that hostilities soon broke out, with the plasterers spending money ‘in sute ageynst the painters’ in 1585 and in settling an action brought by a painter-stainer against a plasterer in February 1586.[129]

When the ordinances of the Plasterers’ Company were revised and confirmed in January 1587 the plasterers attempted to retrieve lost ground by stating that their search extended to anyone whiting, sizing, oiling or colouring plasterwork. The two sets of ordinances, which had both received the requisite approval, were thus mutually incompatible and litigation the inevitable outcome. A lawsuit against the painters was in hand in September 1595 and money was collected for suit against the painters’ bill from December 1597.[130]

Attempts at reconciliation were made in March 1598 by the aldermen, who tried to redraw the boundaries between the two companies, with the balance of favour swinging first in one direction and then the other.[131] In February 1599 the majority verdict was ‘that the plasterers myght use lawfullye the layinge of anye oyle collor in such manner and forme as in tyme beyond the memorye of man they used and accustomed’.[132] This must be what Edmund Essex was doing when he was ‘couloringe of a Carroll windowe at my Ladye Haywardes’, and in fining him for doing the work badly the Plasterers’ Company was asserting its right to jurisdiction over such work.[133] The painter-stainers responded by taking their case to the court of Common Council and the court of aldermen was forced to make further, fruitless, efforts to settle the dispute.

Parliamentary action was pursued by both companies and two acts provided the statutory basis on which all future disputes were founded. In 1603 the plasterers obtained the right to use white, black, red lead, red ochre, yellow ochre and russet, the colours traditionally mixed with size to be used in distempering plasterwork.[134] This restoration of the status quo was confirmed by an act in favour of the painter-stainers of 1606, which included the specific proviso that plasterers should not use oil paint of any colour.[135]

Although the demarcation boundaries were thus drawn quite clearly, the distinction made between the two crafts was not one of method or materials in general, but of specific colours and types of paint. It was never going to be possible for the painter-stainers to ensure that the plasterers used only their six colours in size, since a variety of colours could be obtained by mixing those six, and gypsum plaster surfaces would normally be painted with oil paints rather than size-based distemper. Occasionally plasterers were arrested by the painter-stainers but the individuals were sometimes surreptitiously supported by their company, even though the offence was blatant. In 1614 Thomas Widmore received a contribution towards his expenses in a suit again the Painter-Stainers; and a memorandum recorded in 1617 that in the suit brought against Robert Whiting ‘in the kings bench for layinge of a greene colour with size, that the Company shall see him defended in the same though they will not bee seene in it’.[136] In was in vain that the painter-stainers petitioned the Lord Chamberlain in 1626 to remove the exemption from the six colours and prevent the plasterers from using any paint at all.[137]

By the later 1640s the situation had not improved so far as the painter-stainers were concerned, with contradictory rulings emerging from different legal bodies. After the Restoration the painter-stainers were still struggling and their arguments in favour of another (unsuccessful) bill in 1664 indicate that plasterers must still have been involved in more than the laying of their six colours ‘plain as necessary for their profession about the seilings of rooms and such like.’[138] There are no examples of wall-paintings known to have been executed by plasterers to indicate whether they ever went beyond patterning the wall surface; but it seems unlikely, given the non-figurative nature of most decorative plasterwork. The painter-stainers complained that plasterers were producing wretched paintings at greater cost than painters, but patrons must have been satisfied with whatever kind of decorative painting was being undertaken by plasterers, or they would not have continued to employ them. The predicament of the painter-stainers demonstrates how difficult it was for the livery companies to maintain a closed shop when craftsmen and patrons were clearly unwilling to support them. The painter-stainers’ pleas went unheard and their claim that ‘in every house throughout this Realm the Plaisterer is set on work, and the Painter not in one house amongst a hundred’ suggests that the fashion for plasterwork was still dominant.[139] Faced with such stiff competition the painter-stainers could not obtain the influential support necessary to overturn the existing situation.

(iv) Joiners

The other livery company with whom the Plasterers had craft-related dealings was the Joiners’ Company but relations between them were not of the same confrontational nature as existed with the Bricklayers and Painter-Stainers. Only once is a dispute with the Joiners referred to, but no details are given.[140] Two freemen joiners were active in the Plasterers’ Company; but only one of them seems to have been officially translated (i.e. membership transferred from one company to another). This was John Allen, whose relationship with his adopted company was discussed in the section of Chapter II devoted to the royal Master Plasterer, John Symonds. Andrew Weldon seems to have made the transition less formally. A bond for ‘Weldon the Joyner’ was drawn up in 1600 and, although he was paying quarterage from at least 1604, he was still described as free of another company in 1605.[141]

As far as routine plastering was concerned there was no overlap between the two crafts; but joiners played a significant rôle in the working lives of plasterers engaged on decorative work, as the suppliers of moulds for the casting of friezes and motifs to be applied to fret ceilings. For example, while Richard Barfeilde and his assistant were creating decorative ceilings at Old Thorndon Hall (Essex) in 1587, David Harrison, joiner, was paid for piece-work which included carving moulds for the plasterers and a mould for a frieze.[142] The fact that demarcation disputes do not seem to have arisen between the two companies suggests that few plasterers made their own moulds but were content to purchase them as necessary from joiners or carvers. This situation will, in the final chapter of this study, be shown to have had a considerable bearing on the nature of the decorative work produced by London plasterers.

Standards of workmanship

The restrictive practices enforced by the company were accompanied by efforts to fulfil its responsibilities to maintain standards of workmanship. This was almost the sole justification of the closed shop system from the consumer’s point-of-view and the company certainly seems to have engaged vigorously in the detection of faulty workmanship by its own members. This encompassed materials as well as technique, so that fine could levied for ‘deceyving one Jones of stuff’ as well as for ‘evil work’.[143]

The search appears to have operated impartially in that the master or assistants were frequently fined for their own failings in this respect; but in 1607 this was not how the situation appeared to the young men of the company, who complained to the court of aldermen about the behaviour of the ruling élite.[144] There appears to have been some justification for their dissatisfaction because the aldermen set up, and intended to oversee, a rather elaborate procedure for the choice of ‘searchers’ from livery and yeomanry.[145]

Poor workmanship was by far the most common offence of which members were found guilty; but the court minute books rarely provide any further details and when they do, it is usually little more than a rather vague location. 478 of the entries recording fines for evil work give some sort of address and these show the extent of the area over which the company exercised its jurisdiction. Every ward north of the Thames is represented, with unsatisfactory work uncovered at buildings ranging from churches to inns and from domestic dwellings to public buildings.

Beyond the twenty-five central wards members of the company were found working in the suburbs at Shoreditch, Lincoln’s Inn and Clerkenwell; and further afield in Hackney, Edmonton, Newington, Walthamstow and Poplar. As London’s successful merchants and professional men prospered they tended to acquire suburban, or even country, retreats, as the ownership of land was regarded as an essential prerequisite of ‘gentility’. They would inevitably look to London craftsmen to decorate and furnish their houses and several entries would seem to reflect this trend. In 1630 the assistants incurred expenses when they viewed work carried out for Hugh Myddelton at Edmonton.[146] This probably refers to the house at Bush Hill, near Edmonton, which was acquired by Sir Hugh Myddelton while he was superintending the works on his New River project, and which subsequently became his country residence.[147]

Although it is unusual for the patron’s name to be supplied, the clientele seems to have been as varied as the geographical locations, ranging from Collyer, a glazier who lived without Newgate, to Lord Cavendish, whose London house was being plastered in 1609.[148] Further afield, the Greenwich residence of the Earl of Northampton suffered ‘evil work’ at the hands of Thomas Whitmore (more commonly, Widmore) in 1607, the year before he entered the Livery after nineteen years in the Yeomanry.[149]

The case of bad workmanship at Somerset House in 1611 seems somewhat surprising, since this was a royal palace where the culprit, Richard Browne, was employed on general plastering work from 1609-11.[150] This is the only instance recorded of poor workmanship in the Royal Works and one might have thought that the Master Plasterer would have been quite capable of overseeing the men working under him without the assistance of the Plasterers’ Company.[151] Richard Browne had a long and distinguished career within the company and had already been Master (1608-09) by the time of this offence.

Given the frequency of the occasions on which bad work was recorded, one wonders whether the closed shop system could ever really work in the customer’s favour. By aiming at fairness rather than competitiveness the activities of the London companies tended to reduce efficiency and only at times of high unemployment was the client likely to have the upper hand. Moreover, the detection of bad work by the company on the customer’s behalf did not necessarily guarantee that it would be satisfactorily remedied. Thirteen examples of bad work were discovered during the search held on 1st October 1653, but only three of these were subsequently cancelled.[152]

The court minute books thus provide evidence for the frequency of poor workmanship, the name of the perpetrator, sometimes the site and occasionally the name of the client. This continued until May 1643, after which date the Civil War seems to have caused the searches to be suspended and no further examples of bad work were recorded until October 1650. In October 1653 the company started a Work Quest Book, in which examples of bad work uncovered during an annual search held in the autumn (October or November) were recorded and cancelled when the faults had been remedied.[153] Very few examples of bad work are recorded in the court minute book after this date; only seven plasterers were mentioned in this connection up to 1662.[154]

Work Quest Book

Although the work quest book generally provides only the same kinds of information about bad work as the court minute book, it is occasionally more informative and provides some valuable evidence about the appearance of work being undertaken by plasterers, as well as their shortcomings. Unsatisfactory materials or lack of adequate preparation were detected by the failure of the plaster to set or by its cracking when dry. The laths might have been laid too close together or the lower layer of plaster not pricked up sufficiently to provide a key for the top coat. Earth was substituted for sand in the lime mix, with too little hair beaten in; or ‘Hoges herire’ was used instead of ox hair. On one occasion the back of a building was mortared with whitewash, which sounds quite inadequate as an exterior wall treatment.

Despite the best efforts of the Painter-Stainers, plasterers were still colouring the exterior walls of buildings in traditional style, russet being mentioned as well as whiting. This was, perhaps, in an attempt to make timber-frame buildings (old and new) blend with the brick buildings which were becoming increasingly commonplace. Plaster quoins were still being applied at the corners and the plaster marked to look like rusticated stonework in the same style that Douglas, Lady Sheffield, had required in 1576.[155] ‘Croked quoynes’ and ‘stones’ that were neither level nor plumb occur sufficiently frequently to suggest that this remained a popular alternative in a city where stone itself was not readily available.

Unlike the court minute books, the work quest book differentiates between plain and decorative plasterwork. Unfortunately, there are only four references to ‘fret work’ among 181 entries made between 1653 and 1662; but these are significant in providing evidence of decorative work undertaken by plasterers, three of whom do not appear in this connection in any other records. Furthermore, they demonstrate that the skills necessary for the execution of decorative work were probably more widely disseminated that might otherwise have been imagined.

Four plasterers engaged on decorative work 1655-60

The fretwork described in these four entries consisted of external work on three occasions. This was described as ‘Fretworke under the windowes’ of a row of houses in Norton Folgate; ‘ill done Frett worke & plaine worke’ for a front at Tower Hill; and ‘a payne [panel] of Freett worke under a window in Gutter Lane’.[156] These entries serve as a reminder of the extent to which timber-frame houses in London were decorated with pargetting just as they were in other parts of the country. It is only in nineteenth-century illustrations that any visual evidence of this aspect of the plasterers’ art survives. Two of these, showing houses in Little Moorfields and London Wall, were reproduced by George Bankart.[157] The front of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s house in Great St Helens was similarly decorated and dated 1662, making it contemporary with the work described in the work quest book.[158] The pargetting of all three houses indicates the extent to which the swags and scrolls of Inigo Jones’s decorative style had permeated the vocabulary of the London plasterers, even if the architectural framework which Jones would have supplied was lacking. The fourth offence involved ‘two Frett sealings in Leadenhall streete badly done’, offering a tantalising glimpse of a London plasterer engaged on interior decorative plasterwork.[159]

The four plasterers whose fretwork was found wanting were (in order of seniority): Henry Warden, Thomas Wright, James Tolley and Henry Kidgell. Warden, Wright and Kidgell were responsible for the pargetting; and Tolley for the interior fretwork. Despite his apprenticeship with a liveryman, James Tolley’s own career seems to have been slow to take off, as he did not pay his beadleship fine until nine years after gaining his freedom. However, four years later he had entered the Livery and then after that, in 1661, he was the unsuccessful candidate in the election for Junior Warden. Apprentices were indentured with him and his career was obviously prospering. Tolley (or Tally) was among the numerous plasterers engaged by the Royal Works at the Restoration and was busy at Whitehall in 1660 and 1662.[160]

Thomas Wright served his apprenticeship with Kelham Roades, a plasterer whose distinguished career encompassed the Charterhouse and the Royal Works and who was elected Senior Warden in 1628-29. Wright entered the livery in the same year as Tolley, but he had been free for five years longer and although he, too, was the master of apprentices, he had not progressed beyond the livery by 1662. He, too, was employed in the Royal Works, where he was repairing the fret ceiling in the Queen’s Chapel at Whitehall in 1662.[161]

The career of Henry Warden would not have led one to expect that he was capable of decorative work were it not for the work quest book entry. He had presumably been well-trained by Edmund Lake, who was Master of the company in 1632 and 1636; but after paying his beadleship fine in 1632, only a year after gaining his freedom, Warden made no further progress within the company hierarchy. He had taken no apprentices of his own by the time of his last appearance in the court minute book in 1657 and was presumably working on his own at the house on Tower Hill.

Henry Kidgell was much younger than the other three men and did not gain his freedom until 1649. His master was Arthur Toogood (or Doogood), a prominent and successful member of the company who rose from Junior Warden in 1653 to Master in 1663.[162] Kidgell waited five years to achieve his beadleship in 1654 but an interval of only three years then elapsed before Kidgell’s entry into the Livery in 1657, which suggests that he was either a very talented plasterer or a very successful businessman, or both. In fact, he seems to have been both. In 1674-75 he was called in to arbitrate when the Tallow Chandlers disputed the cost of the ceiling newly created for their hall by John Blount/Blunt. Kidgell received £1 ‘for his pains and care in attending and surveying of the Plasterer’s work in relation to the ceiling of the Common Hall’.[163] Blount must have been prepared to listen to the voice of experience and accepted reduced payments from the Tallow Chandlers after Kidgell’s intervention. Kidgell’s will, made in February 1686 and proved in March of that year, indicates that his business acumen had resulted in the accumulation of sufficient wealth for him to authorise his executors to spend up to £50 on his funeral and a monument for himself and his first wife. He was able to leave legacies to family, friends and the poor totalling nearly £400, in addition to bequests of property in Surrey and Middlesex, the residue going to a nephew, his nearest surviving relative. The poor of the Plasterers’ Company were not overlooked and three of his past and present apprentices were recipients of 50s each.[164] This all seems to add up to a sizable estate for a London artisan who evidently had the ability to capitalize on his craft skills.

These four examples demonstrate how unwise it would be to try to predict whether or not a plasterer was likely to have been engaged on decorative work on the basis of his career within the Plasterers’ Company. Although Henry Warden paid his beadleship fine he never bound an apprentice and he advanced no further within the hierarchy, while the other three all presented apprentices of their own and entered the Livery in due course. What the four men seem to have had in common was an apprenticeship with a master who was himself a successful plasterer. Tolley’s master, Henry Wilson, entered the livery and became the company’s Beadle; Kelham Roades, the master of Thomas Wright, rose to the level of Senior Warden; and the masters of Warden and Kidgell (Edmund Lake and Arthur Toogood, respectively) both served as Masters of the Company. Training with a master who was himself successful and, therefore, probably skilled at decorative as well as plain plasterwork, was an important asset for a young man who hoped to attain a high level of skill in all aspects of his craft.

Patronage and the posts of City Plasterer and Bridgehouse Plasterer

The choice of a master for an apprentice did not just determine the kind of training in plastering skills which he would be able to acquire. The importance of the kind of patronage which could operate between masters and ex-apprentices within the context of the Royal Works  was discussed in connection with Richard Talbott in Chapter II and will considered further in the final chapter of this study. Within the City it was no less relevant, as is shown by the careers of the men who occupied the top posts of City Plasterer and Bridgehouse Plasterer in the middle decades of the seventeenth century. Until 1616 the City Plasterer was William North and he was succeeded by John Allen. When Allen surrendered the post in 1627 it passed to one of the most accomplished plasterers of his day, Edward Stanyon.[165] Stanyon’s merits were sufficiently apparent for him to petition the aldermen, successfully, the following year to have the City Plasterer’s fee and livery upgraded to the same level as those of the City Bricklayer.[166] The year before he died Stanyon obtained the reversion of his post on behalf of his son, Abraham, and surrendered it to him.[167]

Abraham Stanyon lived to an even greater age than his father, who was fifty years old when he died, and Abraham’s tenure of the post of City Plasterer for thirty-eight years was unusually long. By the time he decided to surrender the position in 1668, when he was fifty-seven years old, he had also been Bridgehouse Plasterer for twenty-four years. He had acquired this post on the death of William Willingham, whose appointment in 1634 probably owed a good deal to the fact that he was one of Edward Stanyon’s ex-apprentices. When Abraham Stanyon finally decided to retire the two posts were once again bestowed on two individuals. Henry Hodgson (or Hodsdon) was appointed City Plasterer and Thomas Dalling (or Dalwen) took up the post of Bridgehouse Plasterer; and both of them had served their apprenticeship with Abraham Stanyon.[168] Such was the stranglehold of the Stanyons on the available patronage in the City that both posts were held by father, son or their apprentices for more than thirty-four years.

Job opportunities for plasterers in the City

In addition to domestic commissions and the two City posts, plasterers might look for employment with various corporate bodies such as the Inns of Court and other livery companies. Some of these have already been mentioned above in the section on plasterers working in partnership. Company halls and other properties owned by companies were in constant need of routine maintenance and plasterers are recorded working in this way at the halls of the Joiners,[169] the Ironmongers[170] and the Plasterers themselves. The same plasterer might be employed over several years and be described as the Company plasterer, a title which presumably guaranteed a certain level of regular employment. Richard Barfeilde (a senior member of the Plasterers’ Company with decorative work to his name) was retained by the Fishmongers’ Company in this rôle; but he finally forfeited his position as ‘the Companies plasterer’ and was sacked in 1602 ‘because he is very talkative & full of words’.[171]

Company halls could also be decorated to a high standard, reflecting the social standing of their members within the City.[172] A fashionable fretwork ceiling of enriched ribs was created for the Leathersellers in 1609-10 by Richard Radcliff, with pendants and half-pendants supplied by a carpenter.[173] Views of this ceiling were drawn before the demolition of the building in the nineteenth century.[174] (Fig. 59 in Chapter V). The Tylers and Bricklayers were less inclined to patronise their rivals and in 1630-31 spent only 2s 6d on a plasterer ‘to fitt the parlor seeling for the painter’. The painter received the more substantial sum of £8 for his decorative work.[175] In 1635 the members of the wealthy Goldsmiths’ Company were rebuilding their hall to the designs of Nicholas Stone, who also produced drawings for new wainscot, screen and a ceiling ‘of plaster Frett worke’.[176] Stone recommended a plasterer, a joiner and a carver to carry out the work and in May 1637 Joseph Kinsman was receiving payments for plastering work.[177] Further employment followed in 1638 and 1639; and it is clear from the entries relating to Kinsman’s decoration of the great parlour and the stairs that he was also responsible for the ‘Carpenters worke vpon the Ceelinge’.[178] This would only have been necessary if the ceilings were of the Venetian deep-beamed variety, introduced by Inigo Jones at the Banqueting House in 1620 and by the 1630s the height of fashion. Kinsman appears to have been the first documented plasterer to execute such ceilings in plaster rather than timber, not only in the City but also in the royal palace of Whitehall and at Ham House, Surrey, the home of the courtier, Sir William Murray, all in the late 1630s. Kinsman’s career will be discussed further in the final section of this study.

It is, however, possible that the Plasterers’ Company hall was decorated with a Jonesian ceiling before that of the Goldsmiths. A memorandum was agreed in December 1635 to levy contributions from the company members ‘for and towards the monie disbursed for the repaire of the Companies hall & the makeinge of a frett sealinge.’[179] The grand total that had been spent came to £122 0s 3½d, of which £36 1s 8d had been paid to Mr Willingham ‘for workemanshipp’. William Willingham, like Joseph Kinsman, had served his apprenticeship with Edward Stanyon and seems to have benefited from the training he received. He was freed in 1615 and took an apprentice on his own behalf in 1621, the year in which he was elected to the Livery. Despite various contretemps with the Company, Willingham prospered and was the plasterer chosen to create a new fret ceiling for the hall. Was this a typically Jacobean ceiling or was Willingham, like Kinsman, working in the new Jonesian idiom? With no description to guide us it is impossible to be certain. Willingham was engaged on taskwork at Somerset House between 1630 and 1636 of a non-decorative nature; but in 1636-37 he made ‘twoe frett Ceelings containing CCXV (215) square yards VI foote di (6½ ft) at VIs the yard’ and ‘another new Ceeling containing LVII (57) square yards I foote at VIIIs’.[180] These were expensive ceilings but the entries recording them provide no clue as to their appearance or where in the palace they were to be found. It seems likely that they were part of the re-ordering of the Privy Lodgings that took place from 1636-38.[181] Willingham would, therefore, have been exposed to the influence of Inigo Jones’s ideas on interior decoration and he may well have demonstrated the effect of such exposure in the ceiling he created for the Plasterers’ Company.

Just like the livery companies, the Inns of Court occupied numerous large-scale buildings where plasterers might expect to find employment; but the inns did not require any decorative work in either the existing or the new buildings of this period. As with other building accounts the records of this group (Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner and Middle Temple) rarely name the plasterers employed but when they do, the plasterer is always a member of the London company (where the records survive to be checked). For example, Richard Tyffynn was the master plasterer in charge of the small group involved in new building work at Lincoln’s Inn from February to June 1567. In 1569 they were succeeded by Thomas Radclyffe and Richard Bellowes who worked together for only 9 days at 16d per day, a typical payment for routine work. [182] All three were senior members of the company with considerable experience at their finger-tips. The gardens of the inns underwent significant development during this period and in January 1608/9 Richard Talbott was paid the very large sum of £5 4s 2d for plastering the mount in the new walks created in the gardens of Gray’s Inn.[183]

The Middle and Inner Temple provided more regular work for one man in particular. John Langford was described as ‘the playsterer to the howse’ at Middle Temple in 1615, which suggests he was employed on a fairly regular basis.[184] At the Inner Temple Langford/Langforth undertook maintenance work every year but one from at least 1607 until his death in 1621 (no plastering was listed for 1617-18).[185] His employment may have begun even earlier as he incurred a fine for his work in the Temple in 1595.[186] Most of the payments were relatively small, the largest sums being £12 3s 0d and £12 0s 2d for work in Mr Treasurer’s Chamber in 1610-11 and 1614-15, respectively. In July 1620, however, he contracted to undertake the plastering of a new building to replace ‘Mr Aske’s Chamber and Butler’s Chamber’, for which very precise instructions as to materials were laid down.[187] In March 1620/1 he entered into another contract which would have been even more lucrative. An agreement was made between Sir Thomas Coventry, Attorney General, and Sir Robert Heath, Solicitor General, and John Feild, Carpenter, Richard Brayman, Bricklayer and John Lanckford, Plaisterer, to erect a new building of three-and-a-half storeys ‘according to a Module or Platforme by the said John Feild allready drawne forth,’ and approved by the representatives of Inner Temple.[188] The very detailed contract, to which Langford put his mark, stipulated that the plastering work ‘vizt; Particons, seelings, stayres and stayrecases and playstering the Inner side of the walls’ should be ‘sufficyently meet and fitt for the same’, for which he was to receive £150.

Langford’s death in 1621 was probably unexpected as he left no will; but administration of his estate was granted to his daughter, Marthe Langford @ Newman, as mentioned above.[189] William Newman, his ex-apprentice, seems also to have been his son-in-law and was certainly his successor at the Inner Temple, where he worked virtually every year until at least 1659.[190] From 1619-22 a new four-storey building was going up in Fig Tree Court and it was Newman’s name that now appeared alongside those of Feild and Brayman.[191] In July 1622 arrangements for his payment were agreed as follows: ‘When the roofe is upp £20, When it is all lathed £26, When the seeling is layed £20’ and a final £20 ‘When all is finished’. In fact, he received the total in three instalments, signing his final receipt with his name in December 1622.[192] When the records for Middle Temple recommence in 1637 Newman was plastering the Temple Church (for which Inner and Middle Temple shared responsibility) and may, like John Langford, have been regarded as the house plasterer until that date. Additional work at Inner Temple had been undertaken in 1636-37 by William Draper and from 1638 Draper took over from Newman at Middle Temple, until payments were made to his widow, Jane Draper, in 1642.[193] Draper was succeeded by Henry Chippinge who worked every year from 1644 until 1655.[194] In March 1654 Thomas Millian put in an appearance but the two men were working separately in different buildings. Later that year, however, Millian was joined by William Newman and the two appear to have been working as partners on a large-scale project, a new building in Temple Lane, for which they received nearly £60.[195] Thereafter William Newman was the plasterer employed by Middle Temple until at least 1661. His name is occasionally joined by those of his journeyman and apprentice, John Parker and Francis Walter, and he also worked in partnership on one occasion, at the Temple Church with Nathaniell Kimnell in 1658.[196] Perhaps the hiatus in Newman’s employment by Middle Temple from 1638-54 was the result of too much work elsewhere. He had certainly been fortunate in succeeding his father-in-law in these semi-official posts which provided such regular and occasionally lucrative employment.

Social advancement – the example of Abraham Stanyon

The career of Abraham Stanyon exemplifies, in an admittedly exceptional manner, the possibilities for social advancement that were available to a successful artisan in seventeenth-century London. The wealthy esquire who was buried at the church of St Katharine Cree in 1683 was the grandson of a tailor from a small village in Northamptonshire. Although his father, Edward, left no will to indicate how much wealth he had been able to accumulate during his career as a successful plasterer, the fact that he had entered the livery and risen to be Senior Warden implies a certain level of affluence. Abraham presumably inherited a thriving business at the age of about twenty-three and rose to be Master of the company on two occasions. He also made a success of his position in the Trained Bands, the civil militia set up to protect London, in whose ranks he rose from Captain to Major and, finally, Lieutenant-Colonel in the Red Regiment. All captains of the Trained Bands joined the Honourable Artillery Company; and wearing the uniform of that august body he had his portrait painted in 1644, a sure sign of his rising status.[197]

Abraham Stanyon’s own material success is reflected by his ability to make bequests of money and plate valued at over £200, besides the interests in property and items of jewellery and silver left to his wife.[198] A leasehold interest in a house in Bury Street, near St Katharine Cree, was bequeathed to the two grandsons prudently named after their grandfather by his two sons. The residue of the estate passed to his son, Lawrence, whose marriage to Dorothy Knapp, the maternal aunt of Sir Richard Temple (the future 4th Baronet of Stowe and Viscount Cobham) must have given particular satisfaction of the upwardly-mobile plasterer.

It is noteworthy that neither Edward nor Abraham Stanyon was ever employed on task-work in the Royal Works; and their prominence in the City presumably guaranteed a clientele which was largely drawn from that quarter. In addition to his City posts, Abraham was involved in active service on the side of Parliament in the Civil War, in his position as a Captain of the Trained Bands, which might suggest that he was less likely to look to the court as a source of patronage.[199]

Wealth accumulation by plasterers ... and the lack of it

It has already been shown that employment within the Royal Works could also be a road to affluence, to judge by the estates left by the royal Master Plasterers, Thomas Kellie and Richard Dungan. Even those who had not held official posts were sometimes able to amass sufficient wealth to leave sizable estates. The evidence of bequests made in plasterers’ wills does not always indicate the full extent of an estate, however. Leases on properties are not clearly valued and widows are frequently left an unspecified residue. Richard Barfield, for example, served as Master of the company in 1589-90 and made bequests of about £70, with the residue left to his wife, in his will of 1603.[200] His skill as a plasterer is attested by the entry which shows that he was engaged on ‘moldine and frettinge’ the roof of a new fountain at Hampton Court in 1591-2.[201] In the year before he died, Barfield fell out with Fishmongers’ Company, by whom he had been retained as company plasterer; but the position had no doubt ensured additional income up to that point.[202]

Much larger sums were bequeathed by several plasterers, including Martin Eastbourne (£230 in 1667), Hugh Capp (£540 in 1617) and Eusebius Gurrey (in excess of £1000 in 1677); all of whom also left several properties. It is difficult to tell in these circumstances how much wealth was accumulated by property speculation and how much accrued from their plastering trade. The largest estate was that left by William Piggen the Younger in 1621, with the residue after bequests of £1397 going to his brother and fellow-plasterer, Ellis Piggen.

Further evidence of the prosperity achieved by some plasterers is available not just from their wills, but also from the gifts or donations they were able to make to the company in their life-times. When the company hall was redecorated in the 1630s a silver gilt salt and cover weighing 20oz was bestowed by Edward Waight (who also left a legacy of £9 to be spent on new linen for the company).[203] Waight had served as Master of the company, as had Martin Eastbourne, who donated six Turkey leather chairs to mark the occasion in 1651; the Younger Warden, William Hollins, followed suit with eighteen green cushions.[204]

Another sign of affluence was demonstrated in a manner which reflected rather badly on the governing assistants of the company. In return for a ‘donation’ of £26 13s 4d the master and wardens were willing to elect Richard Fisher to the post of Younger Warden ahead of his place within the livery. This was viewed with the utmost disapproval by the court of aldermen, who required that the sum should be repaid; but the episode reveals that such a sum was available to an ambitious plasterer who regarded the wardenship as a sound investment.

On those occasions when the finances of the company itself were inadequate to meet the demands of mayoral assessments, it was just as well that there were company members in a position to make loans; and they were, no doubt, a rewarding financial investment for the members who made them. At least two members were sufficiently prosperous to make loans to the company of £100 each – Thomas Atkinson in 1616 and Martin Eastbourne in 1650 – which must reflect their shrewd business sense as well as professional competence.[205]

The hall occupied by the company, as well as some of the other buildings which they rented out to produce income, were also a result of the generosity of some of the wealthier plasterers. William Elder devised to the company the property which became their hall in Addle Street in 1545;[206] Robert Sheppard bequeathed the adjacent house in Wood Street in 1556;[207] and James Brigges left a corner messuage known as ‘The Three Tunnes’ in the same parish of St Alban’s in 1591.[208]

These indicators of the financial success achieved by some plasterers should not, however, blind one to the fact that downward mobility was also a possibility, perhaps as the result of injury or ill-health. The clearest expressions of such an outcome appear in the charitable doles or pensions issued to sick and/or elderly members and in the requests occasionally made by liverymen to be allowed to retire from the livery. Richard Allen made such a request in 1582 on the grounds that his ‘estate was not suche as to beare the charges which other of the lyverie of the same company do beare’.[209] The Court of Assistants was usually reluctant to accept such arguments but could not refuse when John Clarkson asked for his discharge on account of ‘weakenes and imbecillitie of his bodie’, although they extracted a fine before allowing him to retire.[210]

It is very difficult to understand how a talented plasterer like Joseph Kinsman, who was probably the first to respond to Inigo Jones’s decorative style in the Royal Works and who was the creator of the of the superb plasterwork at Ham House, Surrey, in the 1630s, could have failed to achieve success in his professional life.[211] There is real pathos in the wording of his will, in which he disposed of ‘that small pittance of worldly goods That god hath bin pleased to bestowe upon me’ by leaving 12d to each of his five daughters; and ‘As for the shoppe and lease and materiall therein I did not dispose of it because I did not knowe houw my estate might hold out to pay my debts and leave something for my poore wife’.[212] Kinsman died shortly after making his will in 1662 and one has to feel sad that the promise of his early career should not have brought a richer reward to enable him to provide for his family on his death. There is added poignancy in Kinsman’s situation arising from the fact that he was another of Edward Stanyon’s apprentices, who worked alongside Abraham Stanyon as a young man and in partnership with him later in his career. It is, perhaps, conceivable that those plasterers who had been employed in the Royal Works before the Civil War found it difficult to obtain official patronage in the London of the Interregnum.

It is clear that mobility was possible for the talented artisan, in both economic and social terms. It remains to consider the evidence for the decorative plasterwork carried out by the London plasterers which enabled some, but not all, to capitalise on the opportunities available to them.


[1] Steve Rappaport, Worlds within worlds: structures of life in sixteenth-century London, Cambridge, 1989. Throughout this section, references to this study will be given in the footnotes as ‘Rappaport’, with the page reference.

[2] Ian Archer, The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London, Cambridge, 1991, especially Chapter 4, ‘The framework of social relations: the livery companies’, 100-48.  Throughout this section, references to this study will be given in the footnotes as ‘Archer’, with the page reference.

[3] Archer, 101.

[4] A W Powley, The Worshipful Company of Plaisterers – London, London, 1974, 11.

[5] R E G Kirk & E F Kirk (eds), Returns of Aliens dwelling in the City and Suburbs of London from the Reign of Henry VIII to that of James I, Aberdeen, 1900-08, Huguenot Society Publications, Vol 10, Part 2, 301.

[6] GL MS 6122/1: 24th June 1580.

[7] GL MS 6122/1: 17th March 1592/3.

[8] GL MS 6122/1: 24th August 1608.

[9] GL MS 6122/1: 25th July 1620.

[10] Rappaport, 33-5.

[11] Archer, 100.

[12] These three documents are held by the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers at their Company Hall, 1 London Wall, London EC2Y 5JU. All other documents relating to the company are held in the Department of Manuscripts of the Guildhall Library. The first confirmation of the ordinances, granted by Elizabeth I in 1560, and that granted by James I in 1605, are no longer extant.

[13] GL MS 6132, covering the years 1587-96.

[14] GL MS 6127/1 (1604-33) and MS 6127/2 (1661-81).

[15] GL MS 6122/1-2 (1571-1662). Several sections of  Volume 1 have been bound out of order and the sequence runs as follows: 1571-November 1607; October 1619-May 1630; July 1612-October 1619; February 1608/9-June 1612; November 1607-January 1608/9; June 1630-1635. Volume 2 is catalogued as ending in 1663 and the final entry is dated ‘Election Day – 17th September, 1663’, but this was an error on the part of the Clerk. The election was the one held in 1662 to choose officers to serve for the year ending September 1663.

[16] GL MS 2192.

[17] A photograph of the charter, together with an English translation of the original Latin, is included in the handbook, A W Powley, The Worshipful Company of Plaisterers – London, published by the Company in 1974, 18-21.

[18] The original document (ex-GL MS 6131) was returned to the Company of Plaisterers in 1982. A copy of the grant of arms, made in the nineteenth century, is contained in GL MS 3555/3. The coat-of-arms is illustrated on the frontispiece of the Company’s 1974 handbook and a full description is given on p.38.

[19] Illustrations of the tools and explanations of their use are quoted in G Beard, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain, London, 1975, 14-15.

[20] GL MS 6132. This also contains the revisions made to the ordinances in 1596 and the confirmation of these dated 1604.

[21] This fine was levied on Robert Plowman when he refused election as Younger Warden in 1596 and on Robert Priestman in 1601, although the latter was allowed the status of an assistant, but not an extra apprentice until he had paid for his warden’s dinner (GL MS 6122/1: 10th September 1596 and 14th September 1601).

[22] The Compter in Wood Street, one of the prisons of the Sheriffs’ Court, was very close to the Plasterers’ Company hall, which occupied a site on a corner of Addle Street and Wood  Street (A Prockter & R Taylor, The A to Z of Elizabethan London, London Topographical Society Publication No.122, 1979, 8).

[23] GL MS 6127/1 (1604-33). Although the first entries are dated 1604, fire damage has resulted in the loss of parts of the manuscript covering the years 1604-08 and 1629-31.

[24] Rappaport, 218.

[25] CLRO Rep 57, f 223.

[26] Taking every tenth year from 1572-1652, the number of court meetings varied between eight and seventeen and averaged twelve per annum.

[27] This database was deposited at the Centre for Metropolitan History of the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London. 

[28] Rappaport, 295.

[29] Rappaport, 232.

[30] Less than 50% of those apprenticed obtained their freedom, largely as a result of the high mortality rate in the capital (Rappaport, 77 and 312).

[31] GL MS 6122/1: 21 March 1631/2.

[32] Rappaport, 78-81.

[33] The counties have been divided into regions following the pattern set out in Steven R Smith, ‘The Social and Geographical Origins of the London Apprentices, 1630-1660’, Guildhall Miscellany, 4 (4), April 1973, 199 and 206. For these three decades Smith provides comparable evidence from four companies – the Cordwainers, Fishmongers, Grocers and Tallowchandlers.

[34] The study by John & Jane Penoyre, Decorative Plasterwork in the Houses of Somerset 1500-1700, Taunton, 1994, was published by Somerset County Council and consequently excluded Avon and Bristol from the survey.

[35] David Bostwick, ‘Decorative Plasterwork of the Yorkshire Region 1570-1670, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of  Sheffield, 1993, Chapter 3.

[36] The importation of mason into Oxford by the patrons of major building projects in the early seventeenth century suggest that the building trades in Oxford at that time were not flourishing and there was a shortage of skilled craftsmen available (T W Hanson, ‘Halifax Builders in Oxford’, Halifax Antiquarian Society Papers, 25, 1928, 264-5.) This may have applied to plasterers as much as to masons.

[37] I am much indebted to Alan Crossley (when he was a member of  the VCH team in Oxford) for sharing with me his unpublished research and for guiding me to the sources of information regarding Oxford apprentices.

[38] TNA PROB 11/324. Martin Eastbourne’s will dated  6th January 1666.

[39] GL MS 6122/1: 29th July 1608.

[40] Northampton CRO: Nassington 217 P/1 (Nassington Parish Register).

[41] Thomas Avis’s details were not provided when he was apprenticed to Anthony Sharpe in 1607 but the Nassington Parish Register shows that a boy of that name was born in 1589, which would make him eighteen when he arrived in London, a likely age for a non-London apprentice. A family surnamed Sharpe also existed in Nassington but the name is not sufficiently uncommon to conclude that this is anything more than coincidence.

[42] Rappaport, 314-15.

[43] There may be some distortion in the figures before 1607 because of the greater frequency of anonymous presentations before 1600.

[44] GL MS 6122/1: 30th April 1616.

[45] GL MS 6122/1: 15th November 1613.

[46] GL MS 6122/1: 23rd April 1625.

[47] TNA PROB 11/186.

[48] GL MS 6122/1: 29th January 1573/4 and 25th April 1605.

[49] GL MS 6122/1: 22nd January 1631/2.

[50] In the mid-sixteenth century a smaller proportion of sons followed their fathers into the construction trades than into other occupations (Rappaport, 310); but in the Plasterers’ Company in the first half of the seventeenth century this was compensated for by the higher percentage of completed apprenticeships among this group.

[51] David R Ransome, ‘Artisan Dynasties in London and Westminster in the Sixteenth Century’, Guildhall Miscellany, Vol. II, No.6, 1964, 236-47.

[52] Rappaport, 294.

[53] GL MS 6122/2: 26th June 1646.

[54] GL MS 6122/2: 8th September 1657.

[55] GL MS 6122/1: 5th March 1607/8.

[56] Archer, 106-11 and Rappaport, 220.

[57] Rappaport, 358.

[58] Rappaport, 250.

[59] Archer, 114-5 and Rappaport, 91.

[60] Archer, 104-5.

[61] CLRO Rep 29, ff.50v-51: 27th June 1609.

[62] GL MS 6122/1: 16th October 1606 and 11th October 1608.

[63] Alnwick MS U.I.8b: Book of Disbursements for Works done at Syon beginning 4th April 1605. I am indebted to Colin Shrimpton, Archivist to The Northumberland Estates for a transcription of this entry.

[64] GL SM 6122/1: 25th March 1614.

[65] GL MS 6122/1: 15th June 1608.

[66] The details of Hugh Alley’s life are contained in I. Archer, C. Barron & V. Harding (eds), Hugh Alley’s Caveat, London Topographical Society Publication No. 137, London, 1988, 15-22.

[67] Archer, 114 and Rappaport, 215.

[68] Eighty-two wills and administrations have been examined with dates between 1575 and 1692, in which the testator described himself as a plasterer. The dates given refer to the date the will was made.

[69] GL MF CCL 9171/17, f 203v.

[70] TNA PROB 11/129, f 362v.

[71] GL MF CCL 9171/19, f 455.

[72] GL MF CCL 9171/17, f 270.

[73] TNA PROB 11/95, f 149v. I am indebted to John Lock for a transcription of this will.

[74] TNA PROB 11/80, f 248.

[75] GL MF CCL 9171/17, f 368.

[76] It is apparent from the wills of William Piggen the Elder and William Piggen the Younger that the two men were not father and son but were probably more distantly related.

[77] GL MF CCL 9171/17, f 348. Thomas Johnson married one of the daughters of William Brigges and another was the wife of Francis Broadbank, previously mentioned.

[78] GL MF ACL 9050/5, f 140. William Newman was turned over to John Langford on 12th February 1614 and freed on 23rd May 1619 (GL MS 6122/1).

[79] GL MF CCL 9171/23, f 91v.

[80] GL MF CCL 9171/16, f 268.

[81] TNA PROB 11/382, f 249.

[82] TNA PROB 11/301, f 177

[83] Severe outbreaks of plague occurred in 1593, 1603, 1625, 1630 and 1636-7, which account for some of the particularly high levels of presentations in some years, but by no means all.

[84] GL MS 6122/1: 9th February 1587/8, 5th March 1587/8, 30th August 1588, 20th December 1588, 13th October 1589.

[85] GL MS 6122/1: 9th December 1631.

[86] GL MS 6122/2: 25th July 1659, 15th December 1659 and 11th January 1659/60.

[87] Rappaport, 243.

[88] GL MS 4326/3: Carpenters’ Company Wardens Account Book 1555-91.

[89] TNA E 210/D 10340. This is cited in G Beard, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain, London, 1975, 27, but the name of one of the plasterers is incorrectly transcribed as ‘Belle’ instead of ‘Bettes’. Beard suggests that ‘it was a small, typical transaction the exact nature and appearance of which has long been lost to us.’ The contract makes it clear, however, that only plain plastering and colouring of a timber-frame house were involved.

[90] GL MS 6122/1: 5th May and 24th September 1599.

[91] GL MF 300: Merchant Taylors’ Wardens’ Accounts, Vol. 8 (1601-04) and Vol. 9 (1604-09).

[92] LMA ACC/1876/F/09/48: passim.

[93] I am grateful to Malcolm Airs who kindly supplied me with his transcripts of these accounts, which are more detailed than the references to plastering in J C Ward & K Marshall, Old Thorndon Hall, Essex Record Office Publications, No. 61, Chelmsford, 1972.

[94] GL MS 30727/4: Skinners’ Company, Receipts and Payments 1564-96, ff.305-9.

[95] GL MS 6122/1: 26th Novermber 1590, 29th January 1590/1 and 4th September 1592.

[96] GL MS 6122/1: 7th August 1584.

[97] GL MS 6122/1: 29th January 1590/1.

[98] Archer, 135.

[99] GL MS 6122/1: 29th February 1599/1600 and 12th May 1600.

[100] Archer, 137 and 140.

[101] GL MS 6127/2.

[102] GL MS 6122/1: 21st April 1598, 23rd April and 14th October 1599.

[103] GL MS 6122/1: 21st April 1598, 23rd April and 14th October 1599.

[104] GL MS 6122/1: 30th August 1583 and 21st July 1591.

[105] GL MS 6122/2: 26th June 1646.

[106] GL MS 6122/1: 22nd January 1596/7, 2nd November and 16th March 1598/9.

[107] GL MS 6122/2: 21st August 1635.

[108] GL MSS 6122/1: 26th July 1613, 23rd April 1628, 22nd March 1632/3 and 23rd April 1632; 6122/2: 17th February 1657/8.

[109] GL MS 6122/2: 10th March 1657/8, 25th May 1658, 30th June 1658 and 12th September 1659.

[110] GL MS 6132.

[111] GL MS 6122/1: 5th May 1606 and 4th November 1618.

[112] GL MS 6122/1: 25th January 1590/1.

[113] GL MS 6122/1: 31st October and 4th November 1597.

[114] Some references to the disputes between the Plasterers and the Bricklayers are given in W G Bell, A Short History of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers of the City of London, London, 1938, 14-15. Although the official designation of the company referred to ‘Tylers and Bricklayers’ they wee always described simply as ‘the Bricklayers’ in their disputes with the Plasterers.

[115] GL MS 6122/1: 3rd January 1600/1, 26th March 1613 and 13th January 1614/5.

[116] CLRO Rep 20, ff 46v-47r, March 1580.

[117] GL MS 6132, Item 9, which is a contemporary copy of CLRO Rep 20, ff 46v-47r.

[118] GL MS 6122/1: 13th October 1584.

[119] CLRO Rep 21, f 154v, which is copied in GL MS 6132, Item 9.

[120] CLRO Rep 34, ff 195r, 260r, 271r-272r.

[121] HKW  III, 141-7.

[122] GL MS 6122/1: 15th December 1619. As this entry comes less than a fortnight after the hearing on 2 December, it is likely that the ‘new order’ referred to here is the decision about the Bricklayers.

[123] CLRO Rep 34, f 285v.

[124] GL MS 6122/1: 3rd December 1595 and 14th November 1597.

[125] GL MS 6122/2: 21st August 1635.

[126] The details of the painter-stainers’ side of the dispute are taken from W A D Englefield, The History of the Painter-Stainers Company of London, London, 1996 (2nd reprint of 1950 edition). In subsequent footnotes this volume will be referred to as Englefield, followed by a page reference.

[127] GL MS 6122/1: [blank] March 1580/1– 4th August 1581.

[128] Englefield, 78.

[129] GL MS 6122/1: 12th August 1585 and MS 3555/3, Bundle 8, no 3.

[130] GL MS 6122/1: 15th September 1595, 23rd December 1597 and 11th March 1597/8.

[131] CLRO Rep 24, f 205r.

[132] GL MS 6122/1: 8th February 1598/9.

[133] GL MS 6122/1: 2nd November 1599.

[134] Act I, Jac I, c 4, cited by Englefield, 86.

[135] Act 4, Jac I, c 20, cited by Englefield, 85.

[136] GL MS 6122/1: 21st June 1614 and 13th June 1617.

[137] Englefield, 104-5.

[138] Englefield, 132-8.

[139] Englefield, 138.

[140] GL MS 6122/1: 24th April 1594.

[141] GL MS 6122/1: 25th July 1600 and 25th April 1605.

[142] Essex CRO: D/DP A20. I am indebted to Malcolm Airs for this reference.

[143] GL MS 2122/1: 28th July 1581.

[144] Archer, 142-3.

[145] CLRO, Rep 28, ff 166r-v.

[146] GL MS 6122/1: 4th February 1629/30.

[147] DNB, Myddelton, Hugh.

[148] GL MS 6122/1: 2nd September 1586 and 8th December 1609.

[149] GL MS 6122/1: 12th September 1589, 26th February 1606/7 and 6th August 1608.

[150] TNA E 351/3244-45; GL MS 6122/1: 9th January 1610/11.

[151] Stow describes Somerset House as situated in the suburbs, in a liberty of the Duchy of Lancaster (C L Kingsford (ed), A Survey of London by John Stow, Vol II, 92) and this may have brought it within the company’s jurisdiction. The fact that the royal Master Plasterer at that date was not himself a member of the London company may have provided an additional incentive for its involvement.

[152] GL MS 6126.

[153] GL MS 6126: Work Quest Book (1653-1761).

[154] The dates of these transgressions all occur in spring and summer months only, rather than the autumn, whereas previously bad work was recorded at all times of year; and since there is no overlap between the entries in the work quest book and the court minute book, it seems likely that the company had not kept such a record previously.

[155] TNA E 210/D 10340.

[156] GL MS 6126: 1655, 1657 and 1660.

[157] G Bankart, The Art of the Plasterer, London, 1908, 67-8.

[158] A photograph of an anonymous engraving of this house is available in the Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art.

[159] GL MS 6126: 1658.

[160] TNA, Work 5/1and 5/3.

[161] TNA Work 5/3.

[162] Arthur was the father of Henry Toogood (or Doogood), freed by patrimony in 1658 and much employed by Wren on decorative work in the City churches. See G Beard, Decorative Plasterwork in Great Britain, London, 1975, 215 (for Henry Doogood) and 248 (for Arthur Toogood).

[163] I am indebted to Roy Wilde, Clerk of the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers, who provided me with details of this dispute.

[164] TNA PROB 11/382.

[165] CLRO, Rep 41, f 222r. This entry names Stanyon as Richard, but this mistake is corrected in subsequent entries.

[166] CLRO, Rep 42, ff 273r-v.

[167] CLRO Rep 44, f 320r. The Index to the Repertories, Vol 4, cites an incorrect reference (f 339v) for the surrender of the post by Stanyon in 1630.

[168] CLRO Rep 73, f 300r-v.

[169] GL MS 6122/1: Plasterers’ Company Court Minute Book. On 22nd November 1616 William Drew was fined for bad work at Joiners’ Hall.

[170] GL MS 16988/2: Ironmongers’ Company Wardens’ Accounts, 1540-91. Named plasterers were employed in 1548 (f 46v), 1566-67 (f 177v) and 1570-71 (f 212).

[171] GL MS 5570/1: Fishmongers’ Company Court Ledger No.1, 1592-1610. 29th March 1602.

[172] For a useful background account of the decoration of company halls see R Scourfield, ‘The Livery Company Hall 1536-1666’, Unpublished MA Report, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1993.

[173] I am grateful to Wendy Hawke, Temporary Archivist to the Leathersellers’ Company for transcripts of the Wardens’ Accounts relating to the new roof and ceiling of the hall.

[174] J P Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, London, 1805, Vol III;R Wilkinson, Londina Illustrata, I, London, 1819, Plate 30. W H Black, History & Antiquities of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers of the City of London, London, 1871, 72-4, quotes written descriptions by both these authors of the ceiling in the new parlour of 1567; but it sounds as though the heraldic decoration was in paint rather than plaster.

[175] GL MS 3054/1: Tylers and Bricklayers Account Book 1605-31.

[176] For a full account of this building see J Newman, ‘Nicholas Stone’s Goldsmiths’ Hall: Design and practice in the 1630s’, Architectural History, 14, 1971, 30-39.

[177] Wardens’ Accounts and Court Minutes of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Vol 19, S, Part 2, Sept 26th 1635- June 7th 1637, 474-5, 481 and 514.

[178] Wardens’ Accounts and Court Minutes of the Goldsmiths’ Company, Vol 21, Court Book V, 1639-42, 25, 29, 32 and 99.

[179] GL MS 6122/2: 10th December 1635.

[180] TNA AO1/2428/68.

[181] HKW, IV, 267.

[182] The Records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn. The Black Books. Vol.I. From AD 1422 to AD 1586, Lincoln’s Inn, 1897, Appendix 1, 448. I am indebted to Jo Hutchings, Archivist of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, for arranging access for me to the records of the Society; and to Paula Henderson for alerting me to references to plasterers at the Inns of Court.

[183] Gray’s Inn Ledger A, 1608-10, f 72v. I am indebted to Andrew Mussell, Archivist of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, for arranging access for me to the records of the Society. Talbott is incorrectly identified as a smith in D Jacques, ‘The Chief Ornament of Gray’s Inn: the Walks from Bacon to Brown’, Garden History, 17.1, Spring 1989, 46. For a full account of the subject see P Henderson, ‘The Evolution of the Early Gardens of the Inns of Court’ in E Goldring (ed), The Intellectual and Cultural World of the Inns of Court, Manchester, forthcoming.

[184] Middle Temple MT.2/TRB/19, 1614-15, 21r. This is the only year for which a Treasurer’s Account Book survives before 1637. I am indebted to Lesley Whitelaw, Archivist, for arranging access for me to the records of the Middle Temple.

[185] Inner Temple Treasurer’s Audited Account Books, FIN/1/1, 1606-48, passim; and F A Inderwick, QC (ed), A Calendar of the The Inner Temple Records, London, 1898, Vol II, James I (1603)-Restoration (1660), passim. I am indebted to Clare Rider, Archivist, who not only arranged access for me at the Inner Temple Archives but also provided me with details of the Inner Temple papers at the Bodleian Library and Worcester County Record Office.

[186] GL MS 6122/1: 3rd December 1595.

[187] Worcester CRO: Croome Estate Archive. Inner Temple Building and Repair Work 1619-25 Envelope.  I am indebted to Jill Tovey, Archivist of the Croome Trust, for help in locating the Coventry Papers at Worcester CRO.

[188] Worcester CRO: Croome Estate Archive, Box: Yellow 34A (F56) F58 2.

[189] GL MF 9050/5, f 140. The value of Langford’s estate is too blotted to be legible.

[190] Inner Temple Treasurer’s Audited Account Books, FIN/1/1-2, 1606-87, passim. No plastering was recorded in the years between 1647-8 and 1653-4.

[191] Newman’s signed contract is at Worcester CRO, Croome Estate Archive, F58 1, Fig Tree Court 1622 envelope.

[192] Bodleian MS 39679, Papers of Sir Thomas Coventry as Treasurer of Inner Temple, 1618-24, ff 69v-71v.

[193] Middle Temple Treasurer’s Account Book, (1) – (4), 1637-46, passim.

[194] Middle Temple Treasurer’s Account Book, (4) – (13), 1641-55, passim.

[195] Middle Temple Treasurer’s Account Book, (12), 62, 78, 79, 14, 117, 124, 125.

[196] Middle Temple Treasurer’s Account Book (12)-(17), 1653-61, passim.

[197] I am indebted to Sally Hofmann, Archivist of the Honourable Artillery Company, for access to the records of the Company, which are not normally open for public inspection. The portrait of Abraham Stanyon was displayed at the Tate Gallery in 1972, in the exhibition ‘The Age of Charles I – Painting in England 1620-1649’, curated by Oliver Millar. The portrait is described in the catalogue entry 169, where it is suggested wrongly, as it turns out, that Stanyon was a member of the Gentlemen Pensioners.

[198] GL MF 9171/38, f 438.

[199] CLRO Rep 57, f 223.

[200] GL MF ACL 9168/5, f 381.

[201] TNA AO 1/2415/21.

[202] GL MS 5570/1: Fishmongers’ Company, Court Ledger No.1 (1592-1610). The dispute is referred to in P Metcalf, The Halls of the Fishmongers’ Company, London, 1977, 23.

[203] GL MS 6122/2: 26th January 1634/5 and 2nd July 1641.

[204] GL MS 6122/2: 11th November 1651.

[205] GL MS 6122/1: 27th May 1616 and 31st January 1649/50.

[206] GL MS 6134. Among this bundle of documents relating to the first company hall in Addle Street, is a will made by William Elder in 1545, which contains only the bequest of this messuage to the Plasterers’ Company. The will bears his mark and a seal but was not witnessed; nor was it Elder’s last will and testament, which he made in 1552, and which contains no specific reference to this property (TNA MF PROB 11/37).

[207] GL MS 3555/3. This is a collection of nineteenth-century copies of documents belonging to the company relating to their properties.

[208] GL MF CCL 9171/17, f 348.

[209] GL MS 6122/1: 19th January 1581/2.

[210] GL MS 6122/1: 9th November 1621.

[211] Joseph Kinsman’s career as a plasterer will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter V.

[212] TNA MF PROB 11/309.

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