2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the building of the walls and the incorporation of London~Derry, as part of the Plantation of Ulster, an event with which the City of London, and the livery companies in particular, has a close association.
The ‘Plantation’, in which foreign Protestants were settled on land from which native Catholics had been ejected, had begun several years before, but by 1613 the City of London had been forced by the Crown to take on the management of estates around the small towns of Derry and Coleraine. The formation of the Irish Society, to manage to the City’s estates in the newly-incorporated Londonderry, and the enrolment of the livery companies to manage ‘proportions’ of the new County of Londonderry (each one under one of the Great Twelve) were the City’s reluctant solutions to the King’s pressure; it made the venture a business.
However, the first incarnation of the City’s involvement was short-lived. In the late 1630s Charles I claimed the estates as forfeit after a politically-motivated case in Star Chamber ruled that the Londoners had not fulfilled their obligations of plantation. In 1639 Royal Commissioners were authorised to collect and receive all sums due to the King in Londonderry, to seize on the King’s behalf all castles, manors, lands and tenements lately belonging to the Londoners, and to conclude, on terms most profitable to the King, new contracts for leases of estates of inheritance with the existing tenants and others. Copies of all the contracts were entered in a ‘great parchment Booke’, which was presented to the King. This book subsequently passed into the hands of the Irish Society, when it was reformed at the Restoration, but a fire at Guildhall in 1786 caused such dramatic shrivelling and damage to the manuscript that it has been completely unavailable to researchers since this date. It represents a hugely important source for the City of London’s role in the Protestant colonisation and administration of Ulster.
As part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary, the book’s 165 damaged folios, held at London Metropolitan Archives with the rest of the surviving records of the Irish Society, have undergone ground-breaking conservation and digital imaging work, and the results can now be seen in a website devoted to the project: http://www.greatparchmentbook.org/. There is a fully searchable version of the text of the manuscript, high definition before-and-after images, as well as a blog mapping the progress that has been made over the last couple of years. The new imaging software which has been developed as part of the project may be of much interest to others.
In the original division in 1613, in which 30 companies were involved, the Stationers’ Company was allotted about 8,000 acres of land in the Skinners’ Company proportion at Dungiven (where smaller estates were also given to the White Bakers and Girdlers), whose 49,000 acres became known as the Pellipar estate. This was the largest of the estates of the Great Twelve. The Stationers’ contributed an initial £800 levy towards the Plantation. The Company held on to its estates until 1875, when it sold its interest to the Skinners for £40,000. Unfortunately, an initial search of the transcribed text of the Great Parchment Book does not reveal any reference to stationers.
The photo above shows on the left the vellum folios of the Great Parchment Book and an example of the digital imaging techniques developed for this project.
Conserved Charter returns to the Archives
Conservation work has been completed on one of the Company’s early charters, an exemplification of 10 August 1667 of the Royal letters patent dated 29 October 1603 and this impressive artefact is now safely back in the Company archives. The work was undertaken by LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) conservator Paul Thorogood, and included the relaxing of the charter itself so that it could be opened out. The charter is made of parchment and the conservator noted that in opening it some of the original ink lifted from the page. He advised that subsequent loss would collect in the corners of the box and should not be removed as it would be an indicator of the speed and severity of any continuing deterioration. The box was specifically made for the charter from conservation grade materials. As well as the charter the box also holds a facsimile seal. The original has been almost totally lost (although the remnants are snugly housed in the box) but by researching the date of the charter it was possible to ascertain which royal seal was in use and therefore to create the facsimile.
The artwork is spectacular and includes not just the splendid portarait of Charles II but, around the edges, images of flora and fauna. It is good to know that this beautiful document is preserved for and now accessible to future generations of Stationers. This work was carried out thanks to a donation from Tony Williams and those interested in helping with the conservation of books and charters from the Company's archives can find out more about how to do this via the Support A Book Page.