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Company News

Past Master Peter Brunner has produced a fascinating article on how the Plumbers’ Company dealt with the Great Plague of London in 1665/6. You can read the text below or through the link. My thanks also to Past Steward John Carnaby for the additional research, including the copies of the City of London Orders at the foot of the article.

The Plumbers’ Company in the Great Plague

by Past Master Peter Brunner

The Great Plague of 1665/6 struck London very hard, killing about a fifth of the population. By early June 1665 it had entered the City, with reports of the death of, among others, two people close to our church, St. Michael’s Crooked Lane.

The first reference to the plague in the Company’s Court minutes is on 29th June 1665, by which date it was well established. Master Street had been summoned to take up the livery ( this was at a time when plumbers were summoned to take up the livery, in return for a hefty admission fine ). He attended Court, agreed to take up the livery and promised to pay his fine of seven pounds by the next Court meeting “ in regard it is supposed the sickness may be at the next house to him therefore he knows not whither he shall live or dye”. The Company subsequently had difficulty in getting Liveryman Street to pay that admission fine ( although that did not prevent him becoming Master of the Company twenty years later ).

The Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and Aldermen, to their great credit, remained in London whilst many, including the royal family, fled to the country. At the end of June 1665 were issued the “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the city of London concerning the Infection of the Plague 1665” . It is instructive to compare these detailed instructions, which are appended to this article, with the lockdown guidelines issued by our own government.

In the section entitled “ Orders concerning loose persons and idle assemblies” appeared a regulation directed to the livery companies among others: “ That all public feasting, and particularly by the companies of this city, …., be forborne till further order and allowance, and that the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection.”

And a great many poor there undoubtedly were, especially among craftsmen such as plumbers, because business in London came to a complete halt. Those craftsmen no longer had any income.

The Court convened again on 11th and 26th July 1665. However it could not do so in September, the normal meeting for the election of the Master, Wardens and other officers. By September 1665 the plague was at its very height.

On 6th November 1665, by which date the plague had abated somewhat, the Court was able to meet. The minutes begin: “ ffor asmuch as It hath pleased Almighty God to lay his heavy hand of visitacion upon this Cittie all this summer insomuch that according to the usuall custome of this Company this Company could not meet with safetie to make their eleccion of a new Master and Wardens and other Officers as usual for the year now ensuing …..”. It was ordered by the then Master, John George, and Wardens that they should continue in their offices for the year ensuing unless the Court should decide otherwise at any meeting within the next two or three months.

At the next Court meeting, on 2nd February 1666, it was confirmed that the Master and Wardens should continue in their offices until 21st September, the next election day court. We can observe, therefore, a close parallel with the arrangements made in our own Company this year.