People Property and Charity

The Clothworkers' Company 1500-1688


As the number of benefactors to The Clothworkers' Company grew throughout the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many left particular instructions to the Company that their bequests were to be used in charitable activity within and without the City of London. These charitable bequests came as part of both their property grants and general bequests, which grew significantly in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. One of the most structured forms of charitable relief provided by The Clothworkers’ Company was the payment of annuities from the rental incomes of properties. Of the thirty-one property benefactors of The Clothworkers’ Company, only one appears to have made no charitable provision.[1] The charitable donations of these property benefactors ranged in scale from small sums towards Company member relief, to parish poor relief, to the building of almshouses for the Company poor. These property annuities were combined with numerous monetary bequests to the Company. The Court Orders recorded 122 non-property bequests to the Company from 1528 to 1680, including charitable and non-charitable bequests.  Some of these bequests contained multiple items. Of the 122 bequests made to the Company, eighteen related to loan schemes for young Clothworkers; thirty-seven offered money for distribution to defined poor groups; four established education grants; two gave money to a school and one gave money to a hospital. In addition, there were fifty-one bequests of silver to the Company during this period; twenty bequests of money for the Company’s use and three bequests for the building, refurbishing or furnishing of the Hall. Two bequests were granted for the preaching of sermons.

Poor Relief

Poor relief became one of the most common forms of Company charity from the beginning of the sixteenth century. Many property benefactors, for example, gave specific instructions for the rental incomes of their properties to be directed to parish and company poor relief. John Watson, who bequeathed property in Basing Lane, for example, gave detailed instructions that the Company should pay twenty shillings to the parish of St. Mary Aldermary and the residue of the rental incomes to the poorest Freemen of the Company.[2] Other non-property benefactors also included monies for poor relief in their bequests to the Company. Christopher Waller, who gave  13s. 4d. to the poor of the Company in 1575, was the earliest of this group of benefactors to donate money for poor relief.[3] In 1622, Sir Thomas and Dame Frances Trevor gave one of the largest donations for poor relief to the Company. They bequeathed £100, which they directed should be paid at the rate of six pounds per annum to six poor women of the Company, who would be selected by the Master and Wardens.[4] Other poor reliefs reflected the non-London origins of many clothworkers, as some benefactors including John Bayworth, directed money towards their home parishes for the relief of the poor there.[5]

Clothing Charities

Several benefactors offered additional support to the poor of the company and specified parishes by providing clothing. The well-known London philanthropist, and property benefactor of The Clothworkers’ Company, William Lambe, instructed the Company to provide gowns, shirts, smocks and shoes for twelve poor men and twelve poor women, who would in turn be present at an annual service in his memory.[6] Michael Parlor, who bequeathed a house at Garlick Hill to the Company, provided for gowns to be given annually to six poor men of the company on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.[7] Further support for parish and company poor reliefs came from Thomasine Evans, who directed the Company to provide two cart loads of coal to the poor of St. Katherine Coleman and St. Mary Abchurch parishes, from the rental profits of her properties at Crutched Friars.[8]

Loan Schemes

Loan schemes became a common feature of charitable activities within the confines of Livery Companies. They were initiated to provide capital to young Freemen to set up their own workshops, and were generally interest free, on the proviso that the loan would be paid back within specified times. Most requested that the recipient name two men who would guarantee the repayment of the money. Augustine Hynde, a former Master of the Company and City Alderman, endowed the earliest of these schemes.[9] In 1556, Hynde bequeathed £100 to the Company with instructions to lend £25 to four young men of the Company for three years.[10] Several such schemes were created from Clothworker properties. By his 1585 will, John Lute, a former Company Master, granted £100 to five young men free of the Company for a three year term.[11] Similarly, Samuel Lese, who gave the Company a house in Holborn, instructed the Company to set up a loan scheme in his name.[12]  In a departure from the traditional format of these loan schemes, Company benefactor, John Heydon offered the Company £100 in 1575 to be delivered to two young men trading overseas for four years, with guarantees in place.[13]

Schools and University Exhibitions

Many of the Company’s benefactors also funded schools and university exhibitions. Under the terms of his bequest to the Company, William Lambe requested that the Company use the rental incomes from the lands he bequeathed at Warley and Upminster to support the school at Sutton Valence. The Company also undertook to make at least one visit a year to the school and its surrounding lands to ensure that they were being maintained properly.[14] This was to begin a long association between the Company and Sutton Valence School. The association was borne out in the frequent references to visitations to the school, repairs to the property and also the appointment of schoolmasters and ushers to work there. It was also evident in the Company’s own Court Orders. Sir Rowland Heyward, a former Company Master, offered the Company £200 on condition that they would pay £12 per annum to the support of a free school that he established.[15] William Hewett, Thomas Ferris and Barbara Burnell all established university exhibitions of £5, £2 and £5 respectively at various Cambridge and Oxford colleges, to be paid to ‘good honest scholars’.[16]

Almshouses, Hospitals and Prisons

Further endowments were left towards the support of the City’s almshouses and hospitals. One of the Company’s several female property benefactors, Margaret, Countess of Kent, gave the Company control of her almshouse at Whitefriars, offering them £350 and her properties at Queenhithe and Fenchurch Street, as an incentive to maintain it. In return, the Company undertook to pay £18 a year to seven poor almswomen, resident at Whitefriars.[17] In 1640, John Heath, a Clothworker, granted the Company £1,500.[18] In an agreement, which was described in his will, the Clothworkers’ Company undertook to use £300 to erect five tenements of brick, which would serve as an almshouse for ten poor Clothworkers. He requested that the Company use the remaining £1,200 to purchase lands with an annual income of £60, which would in turn support the almsmen.[19] The Company built the almshouses at Islington, and still maintained them in the nineteenth-century.[20] In 1679, Sir John Robinson gave the Company £100 for the additional maintenance of the almswomen at Whitefriars. This bequest supplemented an earlier grant of £200 that he had made in his will.[21]

Support for the City’s hospitals was also a major element of the conditions of many of the property bequests to The Clothworkers’ Company. These hospitals included Christ’s, St. Bartholomew’s, St. Thomas’s and Bethlehem. James Trussell, by his 1637 will, for example, gave the Company £400 to purchase a house at Lovell’s Court, and established an annual stipend of £5 to the treasurer of Christ’s Hospital.[22] John Hobby, a Haberdasher merchant, also gave a stipend of £40 per annum to Christ’s Hospital from the rents of the lands at Plumstead. By far the largest donor to these hospitals from the Company’s property benefactors was Thomas Dixon. Dixon had served as a Governor of Christ’s Hospital, so it is not surprising that he gave the hospital £250 in his will to purchase lands, from which the Christ’s Hospital were to receive £6 a year and the Clothworkers’ Company, £4.

These benefactors gave further money to the relief of prisoners in the City of London’s prisons. Much of the City’s prison population lived in squalid, overcrowded conditions in the early modern period, with the vast majority of inmates imprisoned for crimes such as failure to pay debts.[23] Endowments from benefactors ensured that they could be provided with food and other necessities to ease their stay.[24] Margaret Holligrave provided annuities of 5s. to four prisons in her 1595 will. These were the prisons of Newgate, Ludgate and the two compters.[25]

While the parish relief system was by far the most significant in the provision of charity to the poor of the City, there can be little doubt that The Clothworkers’ Company did have an impact on charity within the City. Much of their initial charity stemmed from donations to the Company by several property and monetary benefactors, who directed the Company to establish schemes and offer relief to both Company members and their families, as well as to numerous outside charities such as parish relief, almshouses and prisons. The majority of these benefactors were Clothworkers or their families, with the core of other bequests coming from members of other Livery Companies. Much of the Company’s charitable provision was insular. Benefactors gave money directly to young Clothworkers to set up their workshops, while others supported young apprentices in their training. Many more gave money to the relief of the poor of the Company. These monies were directed into the Company’s general benevolence and pension funds, and aided Clothworkers and their families. The extent of the Company’s relief in the parishes is unclear. Apart from references to annual stipends, set out in numerous benefactors wills, little reference is made to other forms of charity. It can be said that outward relief from the Company was in fact quite small in comparison to the monies diverted to clothworkers directly. The Company’s support of almshouses, prisons and hospitals, was again mainly confined to those established within benefactor wills. The residents that the Company supported in these institutions were also drawn from The Clothworkers’ Company community.



[1] The lack of information regarding the estate of Mr. Saunders within the Company records suggests that he did not leave any charitable outgoings by his will. The charitable provision of several of the benefactors, including Stephen Lound and Robert Peele, amounted only to annual obits, from which payments would be made to the Company and the parish.

[2] TNA PROB 11/39, Will of John Watson, 16 December 1555.

[3] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/1/2, f. 194v, Bequest of Christopher Waller, 17 May 1575.

[4] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/1/4, f. 260v, Bequest of Sir Thomas and Dame Frances Trevor, 12 November 1622

[5] John Bayworth directed the Company to pay 13s 4d to the poor of the almshouses at Farnham in Surrey each year, while 10s was to be granted to both school and church repairs in the parish. (The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/1/3/3/3, Will of John Bayworth, 21 March 1622).

[6] TNA PROB 11/62, Will of William Lambe, 10 March 1580

[7] TNA PROB 11/102, Will of Michael Parlor, 1 October 1603.

[8] TNA PRO/11/96, Will of Thomasine Evans, 11 October 1596.

[9] T. Girtin, The Golden Ram: a narrative history of the Clothworkers’ Company, 1528-1958 (London, 1958), p. 324

[10] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/1/1, f. 217v, Bequest of Augustine Hynde, 16 December 1556.

[11] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/G/Charity/Lute/A/1, The Will of John Lute, 12 May 1585.

[12] TNA PROB 11/166, Will of Samuel Lese, 26 April 1634.

[13] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/A/4/4, p. 145, Bequest of John Heydon, 11 March 1573.

[14] TNA PROB 11/62, Will of William Lambe, 10 March 1580

[15] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/1/2, f. 132r, Bequest of Alderman Heywarde, 16 May 1569.

[16] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/A/4/4, p. 142,.Bequest of William Hewet, 4 April 1599; The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/A/4/4, p. 329, Bequest of Thomas Ferris, 5 March [1630 ] and The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/1/6, f. 131r and The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/1/4/4, p. 182, Bequest of Barbara Burnell, 10 December 1632.

[17] TNA PROB 11/28, Will of Margaret, Countess of Kent.

[18] TNA PROB 11/186, Will of John Heath, 23 January 1641.

[19] Ibid.

[20] 'Report on the Charities of the Clothworkers' Company: Part I', City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 4 (1884), pp. 572-599. URL: Date accessed: 21 October 2010. >

[21] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive, CL/B/1/10, p. 528, Bequest of John Robinson, 27 November 1679.

[22] TNA PROB/11/171, Will of James Trussell, 10 October 1635.

[23] Jordan, The Charities of London, p. 180.

[24] Ibid., p. 181.

[25] TNA PROB/11/88, Will of Margaret Holligrave, 26 February 1596.