People Property and Charity

The Clothworkers' Company 1500-1688

Jesus Commons

James Finch's Will, Book of Deeds and Wills, 1508By his will dated 15 February 1508, James Finch bequeathed his interest in the property at Jesus Commons to the Shearmen’s Company.[1] Finch held the property on a ninety-nine year lease from the Abbes of the Minories without Aldgate of London, paying £3 6s. 8d.[2] He had undertaken significant repairs at the property, and intended that it should be used as a commons for priests.[3] Finch gave his term of interest to the Company, stating that any profits garnered from the lands, after repairs and rents had been discharged, should be retained by the Company for the use of the common box for common charges.[4] Under the terms of their grant, the Company maintained a strong interest in the property up until the late 1590s, when presumably, Finch’s term of lease ran out.

The Company Court Orders reflect this close management, with constant references to the state of the property. In 1561, the first entry relating to the property comes during the annual survey of Company properties. The viewers recommended that ‘the galery over the southsyde must be taken downe and amended, And the tylynge there to be repayred’.[5] By 1566, the surveyors were commenting on the actual religious practice at the commons, noting that ‘there is no commons kept there accordyng to the dead will’, reflecting the Company’s obligations to ensure that the property was retained as a commons for priests.[6] By 1567, the Company’s viewers were commenting again on the physical state of the property. Their attention during this annual viewing was directed towards the houses, which they noted lacked tiling, and where ‘the penthouses there [needed] to be amended’.[7]

In the late 1560s, the Company was in dispute over the property. It appears at this point that the function of the Commons had changed from a commons for priests to almshouses. The Court Orders note that in March 1569, Mr. Doctor Cole, the archdeacon of Middlesex, occupied and let out the property at Jesus Commons, at his own pleasure.[8] The Court Orders noted how he gained an annual rent of £15 or £16 from the property, but only paid the Company five marks a year, taking the rest himself without the authority to do so.[9] The Company decided to talk with Mr. Cole, forcing him and the other tenants to vacate the property, so that the almspeople of the Company might be placed in the houses of the Commons rent free.[10] By the end of the month, the Company had issued a lease of the property to Mr. Canne for seven years at £10 per annum, with the condition attached that he undertook to repair the property.[11]

In 1571, Martin and Elizabeth Canne received a new lease for the lands and houses at Jesus Commons.[12] The lease was granted for a term of forty years, beginning from Christmas 1570, with an annual rent of £10.[13] The couple also undertook to ‘pay one buck of 20s. each year’, and to repair and maintain all the tenements and lands during the term of their lease.[14] By the 1573 annual viewing of the property, the surveyors were reporting that the ‘comon privey is very noysome & muche defectiue to the greate Annoyance of the teynnants’.[15] Furthermore, the pump used by the residents for water was also reported to be broken.[16] By the following year’s report, the actual buildings had fallen into some disrepair with the surveyors noting that the property lacked tiling and plastering in places, and that once again, the common privy needed to be cleaned.[17]

The Company continued to wield strict control over the leasing of the property and any lands associated with it throughout the 1570s. In April 1575, for example, the Company took direct action against Elizabeth Canne following complaints from the parson, churchwardens and parishioners of St. John’s upon Walbrook, about the ‘filthines’ of Jesus Commons and the great burden they were under relieving and sustaining the poor people who lived there.[18] The Company called Mrs. Canne to the Court, where they asked her to answer the complaints. Canne surrendered her grant, title and interest in the property.[19] In turn, the Company agreed to pay her an annual pension of £6 13s. 4d., as well as the rents from Our Lady’s Day, 1575.[20] The Company also retained any timber boards and other possessions of Mrs. Canne that were currently in use within the property.[21] Following the complaint, the Company ordered a survey in May 1575.[22] By the following September, the Company had ordered that Elizabeth Canne’s pension of, would be retained by them until she paid her arrears of rent on her tenements and land at Jesus Commons.[23]

By 1576, the Company had returned to undertaking annual surveys of the property. Their 1576 report acknowledged continuing problems associated with the privies at the property, which they described as ‘verie filthie and noiesome’.[24] Furthermore, the surveyors recommended that the Company must make some provisions ‘to avoide most of the Teynnants and for the better orderinge of the Reste then heretofore hathe bene’.[25] In 1577, the surveyors reported continued problems noting structural issues with one of the properties, in particular.[26] On the north side, a house leased to Thomas Biggs, a haberdasher, was noted as having ‘Romes [which do] syncke very muche and the Chymney there almost redie to fall downe’.[27] The surveyors recorded that the properties lacked tiling and that the house on the southwest corner lacked lead, and had rotten principal timbers. [28] In October 1578, the Company granted a lease of a tenement at Jesus Commons to Mr. Naillor, for a term of three years at an annual rent of £10.[29] In December 1578, the Company exerted their control over the property by issuing a request to collect a debt of 12s. and 9d. from one of the property leaseholders, Mr. Harman.[30] In May 1579, the Company granted a lease of the properties held by Elizabeth Canne to Robert Willett, for a term of twenty-seven years.[31] Willett agreed to pay an annual rent of £16 13s. 4d., to keep it in good reparation; to pay Mrs Canne's pension and discharge the dyers rent.

In 1580, the Company ordered Mr. Willett to pay Mr. Devike, the Renter Warden, £4 4s. for the rent of Jesus Commons, which was due at Michaelmas 1579.[32] By 1584, the Company was again including Jesus Commons in their annual survey. They noted, for example, that a lead gutter running between their property and an adjoining property owned by the Skinners’ Company on the north side of the commons needed to be amended. The final entry relating to property recorded a dispute, which saw Mr. Champney, Mr. Hussey and Mr. Prior appointed to complain to the Lord of Canterbury about the wrongs ‘done to the Company and others by Mr. Willetts, son of Mr Thomas Willet deceased, in withholding the legacy annuity given by Robert Willett his uncle to diverse uses during the remainder of his lease in Jesus Commons’.[33] In 1598, the Company received an annual rent of £16 13s. 4d. from the properties at Jesus Commons, with an expenditure of £10 recorded in the Renter Warden accounts.[34]


[1] TNA PROB 11/16,  Will of James Finch, 15 February 1508.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Clothworkers’ Company Archive (hereafter CCA), CL/B/1/2, ff 18r-18v, Survey of Jesus Commons, 28 April 1561.

[6] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 87r, Survey of Jesus Commons, 20 March 1566.

[7] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 102v, Survey of Jesus Commons, 8 March 1567.

[8] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 127v, Dispute with Mr. Doctor Cole, 2 March 1569.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 130v, Lease to Mr. Canne, 30 March 1569.

[12] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 149v, Lease to Martin and Elizabeth Canne, 13 March 1571.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 169v, Survey of Jesus Commons, 9 March 1573.

[16] Ibid.

[17] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, ff 180v-181r, Survey of Jesus Commons, 29 March 1574.

[18] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, ff 193v-194r, Complaints against Mrs. Canne, 26 April 1575,

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 194r, Survey of Jesus Commons, 17 May 1575.

[23] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 197r, Mrs. Canne’s pension to be retained until full payment of her rent is made, 20 September 1575.

[24] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 201v, Survey of Jesus Commons, 2 April 1576.

[25] Ibid.

[26] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, ff 215v-216r, Survey of Jesus Commons, 11 March 1577.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 223r, Lease to Mr. Naillor, 14 October 1578.

[30] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 224v, Company to collect debts from Mr. Harman, 9 December 1578.

[31] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 231r, Lease to Mr. Willett, 12 May 1579.

[32] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1/2, f. 247r, Willett ordered to pay his overdue rent, 13 December 1580.

[33] CCA, Court Orders, CL/B/1, f. 183v, Dispute regarding property leased to Willett, 13 September 1598.

[34] CCA, Renter Warden Accounts, CL/D/5/3, Section 40, f. 3r and 7r, Renter Warden accounts, 1597-1598.