London Bridge to Rakehill Road Back to the Main Historical Society page
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From London Bridge to Rakehill Road (with diversions)
How a House became a Field

from The Barwicker No.76
Dec. 2004

"Mr. John Rylie of London, Haberdasher gave to the Minister and Churchwardens of this Town and their Successors for ever, for and towards the maintenance of the Poor of said Town. One House situate on London Bridge formerly known by the Signe of the Cradle,... "

So runs the first entry on the Benefactions Board - dated 1830 - in the vestry of All Saints' Church, Barwick.

In John Rylie's own words, in a will dated 17th July 1577, the 'maintenance of the Poor' consisted of giving "to Twelve poore parsons, parishioners of the saide Towne of Barwicke in Elmett, in the parryshe Churche, betwixt the redinge of the Epistle and gospel in the service time, one peny loafe of swete and wholesome brede and one peny in money to every one of them."

The money to furnish the bequest was to come from the leasing of that house "on" old London Bridge. The executor of Rylie's will was charged with taking care that he found time "yearely every yeare during the continuance of the lease of my said house to paye or cause to be paide to the saide parsonne and Churchwardeins ... Five poundes four shillinges of lawfull money of England."

Some of us find it hard now to do the sums, but 5 and four shillings works out at 1248d (old pence), the exact amount needed to give each of twelve people the equivalent of 2d per week per year. And Rylie's generosity did not stop there. As a token of appreciation for carrying out the terms of the bequest, the parson and churchwardens were to receive yearly "to make merry withal amongst them, six shillings (72d)"

As we might expect at a time in our history when the law of the land was busy meddling in the consciences and religious practices of the citizens, the will includes a caveat. "... if the lawes of this Realme will not ne cannot permitt my bequest touchinge my said house to the saide parsonne and Churchwardeins to be good and to stand in full effect to them. Then I give and bequeath my saide house with thappurtenaunces to my said kynswoman Johan Taylor alias Rylie during her naturall life, and after her decease to John and Symon, her children, and their heires for ever."

The laws of the realm obviously did allow it, and the house passed in trust to the parson and churchwardens. What Johan thought about this we cannot know. Perhaps any disappointment she may have felt was compensated for by the generous provision made elsewhere in the will for her and her children. We are forced to wonder why someone who describes himself in his will as "Citizen and Haberdasher of London" would make a bequest to the poor of a village fully 200 miles away. The most obvious explanation is that he was in origin a Barwicker.

This possibility that a John Rylie may have gone up to London from his family home in Barwick may be in part confirmed by an entry for Barwick in the Skyrack Wapentake Lay Subsidy Roll for 1524. This document records the payment of taxes on wealth and wages raised by Henry VIII for the conduct of his war against the French. (See "Barwick pays its Taxes, 1524" by Arthur Bantoft in The Barwicker No. 16). On the list appears the name of William Rylay, who is recorded as having paid 4d - on his annual wages of thirteen shillings and fourpence.

To link that William Rylay with our John Rylie, we need to move forward some thirty years to 1554. On the 3rd of July in that year, the Freedoms Admissions Register of The Haberdashers Company, (the eighth most important of the Livery Companies), shows that a John Ryley was made free of the Company. That means he had finished his apprenticeship under a master - Richard Lambert in this case - and become a member of the Company.

Apprenticeships were usually served for 7 or 8 years, so if John had conformed to that pattern, we can calculate that he might well have been born around 1524, the same year in which we know a 'Rylay' was living in Barwick. (Barwick parish registers do not begin until 1600, so we cannot know for certain if William Rylay was John's father, but at least it is a likely possibility.)

(Unfortunately for the author, who likes things in black and white, it has to be said that there is yet another John Riley recorded as having been made free of the Haberdashers Company. This was in 1575. It is improbable that the space of two years would have been enough to establish a profitable business, however talented a haberdasher you were. Our benefactor was dead by 1577, and had a great deal of wealth to leave. But if he had been the inheritor of the business of the earlier John (because he was his son, for example), then he would have been an ideal candidate himself to be the Barwick benefactor. We would need to imagine him dying suddenly, whilst young himself, and without a wife or children to leave his wealth to. And that, of course, does seem to fit the situation of our man, as we learn from the other bequests in the will in question.)

Be that as it may, we have to imagine the first of these Johns as a thirteen or fourteen year old, leaving his home in Barwick to face an exciting but uncertain future in the capital, attracted, as another of the many Sixteenth Century provincial rural migrants put it, by the belief that "in London we find rich wives, spruce mistresses, pleasant houses, good diet, rare wines, neat servants, fashionable furniture, pleasures and profits the best of all sort."

In his book "A History of London" (from which the statement of the Sixteenth Century migrant was also taken), Stephen Inwood records that 60% of apprentices died - or returned home - before their seven years were up. Our John showed true Yorkshire grit, or had a strong constitution, in staying the full course of his indentures. (In fact, if the date of his birth is roughly accurate, and if he was himself our benefactor, he may have had a longer life-span than many people of that time. He was among the better-off and consequently longer-livers.)

The 40% who completed their apprenticeships, according to Inman, went on to become journeymen and about three-quarters of these became householders in their late 20s or early 30s, and were thus entitled to run a business on their own account.

On 15 January 1562, Sir Roger Cholmley, Lord Chief Justice of England (and interestingly, also a Yorkshireman, born near Easingwold) conveyed to John Rylie and his wife Elizabeth a property "commonly called by the sign of the cradle" in the parish of St. Magnus the Martyr. And this, I believe, is the house that our John Rylie left to the poor of Barwick.

In popular imagination, the house was actually perched precariously on old London Bridge, with all the romance that picture conjures up. Reality is, alas, more mundane. Correspondence in the 1970s between Councillor Ives and his wife Dorothy, both of whom carried out excellent research into our subject using the Corporation of London Records Office, (to whom also the present author is greatly indebted), shows it to have been on the north-west approach road to the Bridge, on the City side. (In our John Rylie's day, the approaches to old London Bridge were also misleadingly known as London Bridge.) Wyngaerde's drawing dated c. 1550 and the copperplate map of 1559 both show London Bridge with St. Magnus's Church at its north-eastern end. Opposite the church is a row of houses; one of these I believe to have been John Rylie's house. (There are, of course, no house numbers to guide us to the exact one.)

This is Bart Hammond's skilfully executed copy of Wyngaerde's drawing.
The roofs of the houses opposite St Magnus' can be seen, albeit sketchily drawn.

In 1666, with so many other old buildings, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Two drawings by Wenceslas Hollar of the City before and after the fire, show quite clearly the burnt-out ruins of the houses opposite St Magnus's church. Although shockingly damaged, a little of the church itself - in which a John Rylie had been buried on 28 July 1577 - remained; it was later rebuilt by Wren. That rebuilt St Magnus's church (mentioned in T S Eliot's "The Waste Land") still stands today, mercifully spared the worst of the Second World War bombing, in Lower Thames Street, near Billingsgate.

At the time of the Fire, (so the Benefactions Board states - and we have no other evidence for this) the property was leased by a Thomas Collett at 14 p.a. After the Fire he was granted a new extended lease for 21 years at 8.1Os in consideration of the fact that he had rebuilt it at his own expense. And by 1670 a new building of brick rather than of wood, (a requirement for rebuilding), stood on the original site.

The Great Fire had given an opportunity to remodel the ancient city of London to a new, elegant plan - several such plans were discussed with the King himself - but the urgent need for merchants' houses to rise from the ashes and resume "business as usual", as well as disputes over property rights, meant that in the main, the old street patterns were retained and the new houses built exactly on their ancient sites.

In 1720, as the parish registers record, Jerome Knapp, Clerk to the Haberdashers Company and a man of great importance, acquired the lease. (The Haberdashers own a portrait of him painted by Gainsborough.) The house was sublet to Thomas Preston, who in turn sub-let it to George Thorp, the last tenant before the house was pulled down. Over the years some confusion seems to have arisen over the tenancy. There is a somewhat enigmatic entry in the Parish Book. It is dated February 1752 and records the decision taken by the Vestry "to empower the Churchwardens for the time being to take such measures as may be thought advisable for setting aside the lease which the present tenant says he has of the House on London Bridge belonging the Poor of this Parish". How the matter was legally resolved is not known.

The house was always historically identified with St. Magnus's Church and with London Bridge. By the mid-1750s the old Bridge had been standing for over 600 years and over that period it had been in constant need of repair. Now it and the buildings which stood upon it were in a parlous state. The fine shops had gone, the wealthy no longer visited, the houses had become tenements in multi- occupation and, since 1749 there had been a fine new bridge over the Thames upriver at Westminster. The City Fathers decided the Old Bridge would have to be replaced. Plans for rebuilding were drawn up but the estimated costs seemed too great. It was decided instead to widen the original structure. An Act of Parliament, which came into operation on 25 June 1756, was passed to authorise the change and to empower the Common Council of the City to buy and remove the houses which stood on or near to the Bridge. This spelled the end for any direct connection between the house in its physical state and the Parish of Barwick.

Surveyors were appointed to assess the value of the property. Harry Adkins, for the parish, valued it at 638, and the City surveyor at half that amount. The Minutes of the London Bridge Improvements Committee, meeting on Tuesday, the 18th of May 1762 record:

" Mr Wray in behalf of the Parish of Berwick (sic) in Elmet attended and the Estimate of Mr Henry Adkins his Surveyor was delivered in and read as follows
Made a Survey in order to set a value of one Brick House of Forty pounds p(er) annum situate at the North end and on the West side of London Bridge and now in Possession of Mr George Thorp together with the Freehold and declared the same to be worth the Sum of Six hundred and thirty Eight pounds as witness my hand this 10th May 1762 Henry Adkins
And Messrs. Dance and Taylor Surveyors to the Committee acquainted them that they had not been able to settle the affair with Mr Adkins and that they apprehended the House was not worth above half the Money
Resolved that the matter be left to a Jury"

The matter was finally settled in July 1762, by the Jury, who found for the City, and after expenses and legal fees, the sum paid out was 334.6s.8d.. (One would have thought that the house had been bought to be demolished. Whether it was pulled down at this time or not, is unclear. An engraving made of the widened bridge shows houses still standing opposite St Magnus's. Further, the Benefactions Board, more accurately called "The Table of Benefactions", also suggests that in 1830 the property was now a public house called "The Gallon Pott". If this were the case, it was very nearly at the end of its existence. A new bridge, a hundred feet west of the old, was opened in 1831. In 1829, an Act of Parliament had been passed authorizing necessary demolition of buildings and the construction of the new approach roads. The house stood in the way of the northern approach and would surely have been pulled down then.

However, there might be a grain of historical truth buried in this legend of "The Gallon Pott". In 1678, a Thomas Collett, Citizen and Vintner, was granted a lease by the Mayor, Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London of a piece of ground adjoining the new passage leading southwards from the north end of London Bridge. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that this is the same Thomas Collett who subsequently held a lease of the house that Rylie left to Barwick. And perhaps, given his trade, the property had undergone a change of use. There is no record of "The Gallon Pott" in this location. There is, however a "Britania (sic) Alehouse " in the neighbourhood.)

In 1761, in anticipation of the sale, a book, now in the archives at Sheepscar, had been bought by the parish to insert "The Receiptions and Distributions of the Money for the House on London Bridge" . The book records that

"The Rev. Mr. Wray received of the Churchwardens Five Pounds, five Shillings, which was agreed upon by the Parishioners for his trouble at London about the said messuage upon London Bridge."

(The entry is dated November 12 1765. There seems to have been a time-lag in writing up the books! What we should make of an entry in the Accounts and Receipts of the London Bridge Improvement Committee under the Act of 29 George II, dated 19th April 1763 referring to about 1000 paid over to Barwick Parish would require an entirely different chain of research - that sum never became part of the Trust's finances.)

300 of the proceeds of this "compulsory purchase order" were invested in a bond with Mr. Fountain, merchant of Leeds, at an interest rate of 4.1Os per 100. Presumably this arrangement carried on until 1773. On 17 October of that year a Vestry meeting was held

'to choose Trustees in Trust for a parcel of freehold ground called Mapplegate Flatt lying in Barwick aforesaid lately purchased of William Eamonson Gentleman of Lazincroft in the said parish for the sum of three hundred pounds being the money rising from the sale of a house on London Bridge belonging the poor of Barwick in Elmet'.

(A memorial to Mr. Eamonson is to be found in Barwick church near the vestry door. It has grown dingy over the years but one can still read the inscription, 'To the memory of William Eamonson of Lazingcroft, who after having reach'd his 63d year in such Vigor as seemed to promise a long continuance of his Valuable Life, was snatched from his sorrowing Family and Friends on the 6th day of March 1781 by an inflammatory fever in the short space of three days. This plain monument is erected by Elizabeth Eamonson his widow.')

In all, five Trustees were chosen, among them dignitaries including Sir William Milner of Nun Appleton, Sir John Goodrick of Bramham Park and Granville William Medhurst, nephew of the late Lord Bingley.

"Mapplegate Flatt" itself is a field down Rakehill Road. It was rented out, and the income generated used to provide the "Penny and Pennyloaf" dole in furtherance of John Rylie's own instructions.

Now the land is leased by the present Trustees to a local farmer and the rent is applied to the same charitable purposes, that is, in the words of the Charity Commission, 'to relieve financial hardship'. And John Rylie, Citizen and Haberdasher of London, would doubtless be very pleased to know that 400 years after his death, although by means different from 'one peny loafe and one peny in money', the gift of his house 'to the poore of the towne of Barwick in Elmett, in the Countie of Yorke' is still being put to good purpose.


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