Episode 95. The Port of London in the Tudor Period

Join Hazel Baker as she talks with City of London tour guide Ian McDiarmid to discuss the Port of London in the Tudor Period, a subject which is not often discussed in detail.

Find out about eels, ermine and Antwerp in this Tudor-themed episode of the London History podcast.

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Your host: Hazel Baker

Hazel is an active Londoner, a keen theatre-goer and qualified CIGA London tour guide.

She has won awards for tour guiding and is proud to be involved with some great organisations. She is a freeman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors and am an honorary member of The Leaders Council.

She has been an expert guest on Channel 5’s Walking Wartime Britain (Episode 3) and Yesterday Channel’s The Architecture the Railways Built (Series 3, Episode 7). Het Rampjaar 1672Afl. 2: Vijand Engeland and Arte.fr Hannah Snell programme.



Ian McDiarmid

Guest: Ian McDiarmid

Ian qualified as a City of London tour guide in 2017 and has a particular passion for Roman and Medieval history, having in an earlier incarnation studied history at Cambridge and London universities.





Civitates orbis terrarum. Public Domain Mark 1.0

Port of London: Tudor Period

Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to our London History Podcast, where we share our love of London; its people, places, and history. It’s designed for you to learn things about London that most Londoners don’t even know. I am your host, Hazel Baker, qualified London tour guide and CEO and founder of londonguidedwalks.co.uk

Each episode is supported by show notes, transcripts, photos, and further reading, sometimes even video. All to be found on our website, London Guarded walks.co.uk/podcast and then select the episode that you fancy. If you enjoy what we do, then you will love our guarded walks and private tours that we offer throughout the year.

Joining me in the studio today is City of London Tour Guide Ian McDiarmid. Hello. 

Ian McDiarmid: Hello, Hazel. 

Hazel Baker: This week’s episode is about the Port of London, and as that’s a massive subject, we’re gonna be focusing on the Tudor period, which is a bit strange, isn’t it, Ian? And we don’t often hear about the Port of London in Tudor times.

Ian McDiarmid: No it’s surprising that when you read general books on London and this applies to both the 16th century and the Middle Ages, you can often read textbooks and they hardly make any mention of the port at all which is quite extraordinary given its absolute importance to London and its absolute importance to England as well.

And I’m not quite sure why that is. Maybe the sources aren’t great, but as we’re about to suggest the sources are in fact quite good for the first half of Elizabeth reign, which is what we’re gonna be concentrating on. In particular, we’ve got, at this time, we’ve got the beginnings of accurate pictures of London, and in particular, we have the first maps being made is maps.

Maps of Tudor London

What we’ve got the two main sources as it were for getting an image of London are the Agas map and something called Civitates Orbis Terrarum map or the Civitates map for short and Civitates Orbis Terrarum is Latin for ‘cities of the world’. So it’s an atlas. And this is an atlas that’s produced in 1572 in Cologne and within its hundreds of maps of cities from around the world.

It includes one of the Agas map. It is a large map made from wood blocks. I should say that the Civitates map is copperplate. It’s made from two copper plates and formed two leaves within the atlas. You’d open the Atlas and you’d have this map of London. The Agas map is bigger.

Agas map of Ealy Modern London. https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/agas.htm

It’s about two metres I think in length and was made up of eight wood blocks and because. Wood block engraving is cruder than engraving on metal. And metal engraving is much more expensive and the plates last a lot longer. And the Agas map itself is a little bit crude. And one of the things that when you see reproductions of it, you can see the joints between between the woodblocks, so it’s a, it is a little bit of a crude thing. But anyway, these are our two earliest images of London. The Agas map dates somewhere probably between 1561 and 1571. One interesting feature of both of these is that they both include the spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was a very notable landmark and which was destroyed by lightning in 1561. 

They both derive from an original, which is largely but not completely lost. And that original must have been a tremendously expensive product. It’s known as the copper plate map, and we have got three surviving copper plates, which is one of the reasons we know about it.

And it looks as though these two maps that I’ve spoken about are derived from that. And as a sense, it’s hugely important because it’s the first kind of accurate map of London.

Hazel Baker: Yeah. And when you say about the three copper plates, you mean the three out of the 15 that survived? 

Ian McDiarmid: Yes. And also, three out of fifteen.

And also they’re very badly eroded because they obviously were used a lot for printing and also they’ve been reused. So the reason they’ve survived is that people repurposed the plates and used them for making a painting on the other side. So this is why the three plates have survived.

But anyway, enough has come down to show that this was an incredibly expensive thing. It might well have been produced by Hanseatic merchants in the 1550s. They might have been presenting an elaborate gift to Philip II, who was the consort of Queen Mary I, lobbying for a renewal of their privileges.

When we say maps, the Civitates map is the one that’s closest to a map in the sense that the view is largely map, like I say, largely cuz it actually does your head in when you look at it because the perspective moves around the Agas map. Isn’t by Aus and it isn’t a map. This is the kind of thing that historians love talking about.

So, Agas was a surveyor in the reign of Elizabeth and the map was for a long time attributed to him, but it the, yeah it wasn’t by him and it’s not really a map cuz it’s done as a kind of view from an angle looking down at London. But nevertheless, they’re both very accurate in terms of reproducing what was there and therefore they’re extremely interesting and dominant in both, obviously, is the River Thames and you can see details on the Thames. And one of the things is that the London Bridge, which will come onto a little bit later on, I suspect, to go downriver of the Thames to the East, you can see this is quite well populated with large sailing ships and then up river from the Thames things change because you’ve got small boats and not sailing ships. And one nice little detail is that obviously deriving from the copper plate map, there’s a little detail of a barge being pulled and that is the royal barge making its way up river. 

Hazel Baker: And I’ll add links to these images in the show notes for episode 95.

Ian McDiarmid: I should say that the names Agas Map and Civitates, particularly the full Civitates Orbis Terrarum might be sound a bit off putting, but I think a lot of people, if they see the images they’ll recognize them because they’re very well known, aren’t they?

Hazel Baker: Yes, indeed. I even have one as my screensaver.

Ian McDiarmid: Yeah, it’s the kind of thing that provides no end of fascination to anybody interested in the history of London. And you can look up buildings and streets and Yes. Worth having a look at. But anyway, we’re focusing on the river.

Hazel Baker: You mentioned we have two sources. If the maps are one, what’s the other?

Ian McDiarmid: The other one is a major reform of the customs that’s begun under Queen Mary and then is carried on into the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. And the quay figure here is William Paulet, who is the treasurer. He’s a great political survivor, so he becomes Lord Treasurer under Edward VI is Lord Treasurer, under Queen Mary I, and then his Lord Treasurer again under Elizabeth I until his death.

The customs are an enormous source of revenue to the crown. They’re extremely important. But there are two main problems with them: One that Paulet faced was you’ve got this major source of revenue, but the problem is that there’s an awful lot of evasion going on. And the evasion takes two forms.

One is smuggling when you don’t pay any use at all. And the other problem is corruption amongst the officials administering the customs. The second problem is that the way the customs work is that they are mainly an ad valorem tax. So an ad valorem tax is a bit like VAT today, it’s a percentage of the value of them and they introduce a book of rates. The first book of rates was introduced in 1509, and it’s not really updated. They do issue a new one in 1545, but they don’t really make them, they don’t really update the prices. The way customs work, the two main sources of custom revenue were tonnage and poundage.

So tonnage is a tax on liquids coming in, tons or barrels, most importantly, wine, but also oil. And then poundage is on what we would call dry goods in whatever containers, nails, for example, were. Imported in tons, but you pay an ad valorem tax on the value of the nails and the ad valorem tax was one shilling in the pound.

Before decimalization, there were 20 shillings in the pound. So, a tax of one shilling in the pound would be. Put into modern parlance as a 5% tax. And the problem with that is if you’re not updating the books frequently, and they’re not, because it, it’s a huge task. Inflation quickly erodes the value of the tax.

Legal Quays of Tudor London

And when Paulet comes, he issues a new book of rates in 1559. And when he does it the value. The goods pretty much doubles in all the cases, almost doubles. And the other thing he does is he greatly extends the list of things that the customs cover the list of products. And finally, in terms of his reforms leading from these reforms we have a great picture of how London looked and operated because one of the things that he does is he reforms the system of legal quays. A legal quay is where you can legitimately load and unload cargoes, and your goods can then be inspected by customs. Now, before. Paul, it’s time. There were in theory three legal quays. They were at Queenhithe, Dowgate and Billingsgate, but in effect, they used a lot more and people were unloading and loading goods.

All the way up and down the river. And when I say all the way up and down the river it includes the South Bank, which was not included in Paulet’s system so that you could for example, you could, they were unloading goods at Deptford, Woolwich, Greenwich, all along the northbank, and then all along in, in the City itself, including Southwark and they just can’t keep an eye on this.

And so what he does is he says, right from now on, there’s gonna, A new system of legal quays and there’s 24 of them and they run on the north Bank of the Thames running from the east to the west. They begin at the Tower of London. There’s 24 of them, and they go as far as Queenhithe. Now, Queenhithe might not mean an awful lot to people listening to this.

So if you walk along modern day London on the northbank and you walk just beyond London Bridge heading Westwoods, you will come to what looks like a harbour, which is queen hide. And this is the footprint of the medieval wharf, which is established in the reign of Henry I. And the reason it looks like a harbour is that people were able to build either side of it so that basically, The embankment of the Thames was pushed out into the river on either side, and you’ve got the footprint of that, and it looks like a harbour.

And these legal quays go as far as that. And the incredible thing about them is the short frontage of these legal quays. It was 2000 feet. And before doing this podcast, I did a little check and. Around 610 metres. It’s a very short distance. And another interesting thing is that they go up to, but they don’t include Queen Hide, which shows that Queenhithe is completely redundant.

In Henry the first Reign, when Queen Hide gets going, it is the main wharf in the Port of London, but by this time it’s dead. And what we can do is we can follow these legal quays up. So you begin just beyond. The tower and you walk westward. So you’re walking up the river and the first one you would come to the most easterly of these was galley quay, which was as the name might suggest, was originally for loading it, but long lost that function.

And then you come to two slightly unusual ones. You come to Old Wool quay and Custom House quay. And to say these are unusual because one of the things that Paulet does is he buys these war. For the crown. All the rest of the water along the river are leasehold and they’re privately held, but these two are bought by the crown and we don’t quite know what he was up to.

But it looks as though this was the, in the beginnings of some grand, a plan for crown control, perhaps of the river bank, which never really got anywhere. And you might have thought if these quays are owned by the Crown, they’re gonna be better looked after than the other quays. But we’ve got lots of contemporaries complaining about them both.

Old Wool Quay was one of the quays that was made of wood. A lot of them are still wooden and there are lots of complaints about it being decayed at this time. And then Custom House itself, Paulet that spends a lot of money on, he builds Custom House. I was saying earlier how great these maps are as a source for how things look, but unfortunately, the various visual sources for the custom house vary. So we don’t actually know what the Customs House precisely looked like, but it was a brick built building and they’re the complaints about the quay, which is stone fronted this time. But people complain about it being too far from the river. So at low tide, it’s very difficult for small boats to actually use it because the water’s not deep enough.

Anyway, you progress on that side of the river and you come up to London Bridge, where you come to the 20th quay, which is Fresh Wharf. Is for where there was a market for fish and eels.

So this is one of the quays where fish and eels are unloaded. And then finally, once you get beyond the bridge, there are four more. And within these four, one of them is the steel yard, which is the base of the Hanseatic merchants, the German merchants in London. And the last one is Three Cranes Wharf.

And this is obviously an old name, but if you look closely on the two maps mentioned earlier, you can see little details of a crane 

Hazel Baker: and you still can go to the three cranes pub. 

Ian McDiarmid: And the thing that the big dividing line here on the river, which we’ve alluded to briefly already, is the bridge.

And you were telling me, Hazel, that there is good evidence. The bridge was still operable, ie. Still being open fairly late in the 15th century. 

London Bridge in Tudor times

Hazel Baker: Yes. Many people don’t realise that there was a draw bridge on the medieval London Bridge, and this was our only bridge in London that crossed the river Thames.

The drawbridge was raised to allow ships that were too large to go under. It’s arches, and it was also quite handy when you had hostile mobs coming towards the bridge intending to cross it and therefore entering the city so you could pull the draw, bridge up and protect your city that way. It was in 1497 where the draw bridge on London Bridge was deemed to be in poor condition and needed to be secured in.

However, in 1500 Henry VII decided he wanted his royal bark to be able to sail upstream. And so carpenters were paid to work throughout the night. So the drawbridge would open up for him, 

Ian McDiarmid: So that would indicate that the big ships have the possibility of going up river. However, I would guess that perhaps the bother of opening. It was a discouragement to them. This probably explains why there are only four quays further up the river from the four legal quays that are further up the river. 

Hazel Baker: Yeah it  was in 1577 that the stone drawbridge tower was so dilapidated that they demolished it. And that’s when the heads of the traitors that on the tower where then moved from the City side of the bridge to the Southwark side.

Ian McDiarmid: Oh, okay. And so when that happens, the bridge can no longer open. 

Hazel Baker: Yeah. I’m guessing that the drawbridge had all of its mechanisms for lifting mechanisms in the tower as well.

Ian McDiarmid: Okay. Talking about this sort of raises the question of what actually happened up river then. And I was saying that the legal quays run for 2000 feet up from the tower of London. The rest of the Thames side within the City of London was populated by Wharfs, but those Wharfs were used for inland trade.

So they’re basically for products going up and down the river Thames itself, but not to do with overseas trade. 

Hazel Baker: Yeah. That would make sense then, wouldn’t it? 

Ian McDiarmid: Yeah. And one other final thing to say about the river in its entire length we’re talking about tray, but. On those maps, the sort of small boats going, and we should mention that the river is an extremely busy place for traffic. Lots of people being ferried across the river. And one of the things you can see on the maps are stairways going down to the river itself. And a lot of these stairways survive and therefore people gain access to the boats, to taxi them across to the other side. 

London Trade

Hazel Baker: It might be worth looking at what the trades in Tudor London consisted of, and also the role that you played in England’s economy as a whole.

Ian McDiarmid: One of the extraordinary things about this period is how London completely dominates England’s trade. So in the Middle Ages, the outputs of the ports which aren’t London had been of some significance, but they are completely eclipsed by this period. And in Elizabeth’s reign probably London accounts for about 90% of exports by volumes are absolutely huge. 

There are several reasons for this dominance. One, one is that London, obviously, is the largest town. It dominates the national economy. As a result of this, it accounts for about 70% of wine imports. Talking of the wine imports, you’ve got a lot of aristocrats, nobles, and you’ve got the court spend.

A considerable amount of time in London. So they’re obviously one source for the consumption of luxury goods. London has much larger financial capacity than any other place in England. It’s got debts and markets and it’s got fairly sophisticated corporate structures. It’s got the larger dock houses and warehouses. It’s got the sailors and captains. But the crucial element of London’s dominance is all to do with cloth, and it’s all to do with English broadcloth which is by the state. The far most important export. And the big picture here is that at the end of the 14th century, the English began producing broadcloth at scale and began to export it.

And prior to this date, England had largely exported raw wool. It’s not just broadcloth. They also export other cloths and in particular, kerseys, which are a lightweight, fairly coarse wooden woo cloth. But the main thing is broad cloth and broadcloth. If people aren’t familiar with it, if you think of 18th and 19th century uniforms in the museum, whether they’re naval or military, that is broadcloth.

If you picture that you’ll get immediately the selling points of broadcloth, cuz it’s a very heavy cloth, but it’s very hard wearing and is weather resistant. And what happens with it is that it. Woven into cloth, but it is then finished, it’s fulled by being milled with heavy wooden hammers in, in soapy water, and then it’s allowed to shrink.

What this does is it brings the yarns in all very close together creating this rather heavy cloth. And you can’t see the weave in broadcloth. I think they use the phrase a blind surface to it. Or a blind face to the cloth, so you can’t see the weaves in it.

And there was this market takes off. It’s just enormous. And the main source of demand for exports of broadcloth are central Europe. So it’s going into places like Germany, modern Germany, modern Poland and these areas of demand are fed by areas around the Rhine Delta. But what’s crucial is that in the 15th century, the merchant adventurers who have a monopoly on the export of this cloth, so they’re like a guild, but a guild that is dealing with an overseas trade rather than with a domestic economic function.

They settle their mart i.e where they want to sell their cloth at and then the other extraordinary thing about the history of broadcloth is that it leads to this very brief period when Antwerp absolutely becomes the largest commercial centre in the north of Europe. So before Antwerp’s brief rise to glory Bruges had been the main centre.

But People running Bruges had been a bit hostile to English Broadcloth. Basically they didn’t want competition in their own domestic markets. But Antwerp was accommodating and. The English mark for broad cloth gets established there, and on the back of that and then attracts in a whole load of other things as well.

And one of the things that Antwerp is doing is it’s becoming a centre for most of the imports that go the other way into London, but it also becomes a big commercial centre for other parts of Europe as well. England, it’s odd the English economy in the sense that it’s dominated by the production of Royal Cloth, but it’s not exclusively that. England, as I mentioned, is exporting wool and then it’s exporting a limited range of raw materials. Things liked in in particular, but also things like leather, but essentially, England’s exports are absolutely dominated by broad cloth. It’s a kind of one product e economy.

And then on the other side it’s importing a huge range of goods. And these come largely, they are not exclusively from Antwerp. And I was saying that Antoinette’s position is a great financial centre, is brief, and so it’s from the, roughly from the late 15th to the late 16th centuries. And what happens is that the English relations with Spain go downhill as a result of the Reformation, but also the Dutch Revolt, and particularly they go downhill when the English starts intervening on the Dutch side in the Dutch Revolt, and then Antwerp itself becomes a victim of the Dutch revolt because the Dutch shut off the river Sheldt on which Antwerp stands, and that is the absolute end of Antwerp. So it reaches its apogee in the 1550s and then goes into decline, but it’s still of enormous importance, a huge importance at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign.

London’s main imports during Tudor period

Hazel Baker: And London imported quite a bit of wine, didn’t we?

Ian McDiarmid: We imported lots of things. Wine was the most important of the imports and as saying what a great source, Paulet’s reforms are one of them. One product of his reforms is the production of the Queen’s Books, which are later known as the Port Books and these are produced from 1565 onwards, and they’re basically accounts of the customs. So they. The ship’s name, the tonnage of the ship, the masters or captain’s name, the port of origin of the ship, and the port from which it sailed, and then it lists what they’re carrying. And these are really an unparalleled source that no other, I don’t think any other country has anything like them.

Unfortunately, they’re not complete for most of it, but for two, They are complete. And for one of the years, 1567 to 1568, the Port Book has been edited by the London Record Society, and it was edited by Brian Dietz sets in 1972. And this is a brilliant book. It’s so interesting. But Dietz’s edits are fantastic as well.

So he goes through a lot of the data and puts them into an appendices and basically this is a record of all the Native Trade, so it doesn’t include alien merchants. But Native trade includes the Hanseatic merchants, the Germans who were privileged merchants. And one of their great privileges was that they had, that they paid the same customs rate as English merchants.

One might add that they’re incredibly important, but they’re also widely hated. And you were saying that wine was the most is Dietz’s analyses the value of all the imports. And you can see this in the appendix. He’s got the total value and the largest coming in was wine, which accounts for 10 and a half percent of the total value of the imports.

And the next largest one, I think is interesting, is linen which comes in a very close second at nine and a half percent. So huge demand for linen and linen is produced primarily in flounders, but also comes Northern France. We at London Guided Walks have a particular interest in eels. If anybody doesn’t know why I’m saying that, there’s an earlier, which I thought was a very interesting podcast on the eel boats in the Thames, about which I knew absolutely nothing before you made the Podcast, a very interesting subject.

Eel and Linen Trade in Tudor London

Hazel Baker: It is so interesting. So anybody who hasn’t listened to it, it is episode 83, Dutch eels in medieval London, and that’s when I talk with the lovely John Wyatt Greenley about the Dutch trade of eels in medieval London. 

Ian McDiarmid: Yeah. Anyway, I was just about to say that the total value of imports in, in, in the book for the, this year, 1567 to 1568 was the total value was £643,000.

And of that total eels, both fresh and sorted, accounted for £1,500 pounds worth and they would’ve been unloaded at Fresh Wharf, which is the one that we were talking about earlier on. And to give a kind of picture of how fascinating this book is; Dietz in one of his appendices, he provides a list of all the goods that were enumerated in these lists, and he does this alphabetically, and some of them go on for miles and miles.

But I thought I’d just do the letter E. And I’ve chosen the letter E simply because it’s one of the shortest but also it happens to cover the word e . And under e the listing goes as follows. It goes ear picks. Eeklo Cloth (from centre linen weaving in Flanders), eels (various kinds), Epithyme, which is used in medicine. I think the modern name for it is Doder and then the final one is Ermin. Now a couple of those need a little bit of elaboration. Eeklo Cloth, which is written with a double E I think they might have well said Eeklo Cloth. Eeklo Cloth was one of the Main production sites for linen in Flanders. And then the eels are interesting because they’re divided up. They’re divided up into dole-pimper-shaft and stub eels. And my understanding is that nobody has any idea what these words mean or rather what these words meant. So there you go. So further elaboration of the 16th century eel market.

Hazel Baker: That’s perfect too as it matches up with the blog post that I’ve recently written about Jewel, that Henry VII gave Anne Boleyn and one includes an ear cleaner. Read now

Ian McDiarmid: The other thing about these lists one of the, apart from listing the goods, obviously the ships are listed and they’re very interested and most of them, as I mentioned earlier, they, they mentioned the tonnage and most of them are about 40 or 60 tons. And to give an impression, we can actually give quite a good impression of what that looked like because on the South Bank of the Thames, today there is a reproduction of the Golden Hinde and I from memory, I think this reproduction ship was made in the 1970s and they’ve been restoring it lately. That had a tonnage of 150. So 150 for the Golden Hinde and about 40 or 60 for these other things. And I think inevitably, both you and I walk quite frequently by the Golden Hinde and I’m a bit nervous about saying this in case people who are experts in naval architecture come back at me for my general lack of knowledge.

But whenever I walk past it, I always have the thought that I really wouldn’t like to cross the channel in that boat. And yet, of course it’s famous because of Sir Francis Drake. Sailed around the globe in it. But so anyway, most of these ships are quite small, but one of them actually stood out in this list is the Barbara of Venice most of the ships are coming from Antwerp, this is an unusual one, sailing all the way from Venice, and that was 400 tons. So most of them are 40 or 60. This ship from Venice, 400 tons. And then it lists the master as Nicholas De Corsalo. And the main cargo on that one was butts of wine.

How were the customs actually raised?

Hazel Baker: This is somewhat of a practical question then, Ian. How were the customs actually raised?

Ian McDiarmid: You’ve got to have a fairly in theory, effective system for collecting this cause people have got quite big incentives to try and avoid it. And Customs house. They employed men known as waiters or servers who went to the border ship as soon as it dropped anchor and they required from the master a certificate specifying the ship’s name and its details and a bill of lading for the whole cargo. And from these the waiters could have a quick look at the cargo, make sure that it’s tallied with what the ship’s captain was saying. And then that was passed on to the officials at Customs House. And then the officials who actually collect the revenue took over.

And there were always two waiters and two collectors actually involved in collecting the customs and the reason you have two officials is that it makes collusion that much harder. And so you’ve got two books to be, in fact, you’ve got a total of four books, you’ve got the two collectors’ books, you’ve got the two waiters’ books, and then these are all looked at by the man in charge, the Controller, who then is responsible for handing over the money and also accounts to the exchequer.

And there were…Within this system there are two big worries from the authorities. One is smuggling and the other is corrupt officials syphoning off the money. And it’s very difficult to really get a picture of how much revenue was lost because by nature it won’t appear. In the records, however, we can make some general comments.

First of all, contemporaries were always complaining about fraud and negligence from the customs and officials. Secondly, the officials, and we’re talking about royal officials in London, were not paid very much. And then finally, there are lots of references to blind quays, by which people mean that the Customs House really didn’t have a great deal of visibility on the quays that were furthest away from it on the positive side. However, as we’ve already mentioned the actual distance of the legal quays is quite limited, 2000 feet. 

And then historians are rather reduced to generalities on this. And one, one of the comments which I like, I’m not sure how helpful it is, but it’s to point out that in the sweep of historical things, 5% rate of customs is not that big. When we think about smuggling, we think about the 18th century when it’s a huge huge industry. And then the customs on certain goods were 35%, so it might not have been worth it. Also, London merchants had their reputations to think about, these are men whose credit and standing in the community rely on their proberty. They also need to do accounts just to run their businesses, and they need to keep on the good side of the government as well. And finally, we can see that this system of having two officials probably made it harder to collude.

And the examples that we have of fraud come from officials who have been caught for fraud, but they’ve been caught for fraud after doing the books. Now this might be significant because it might suggest that before they actually draw up their books, their descriptions of the goods, it’s very difficult for them to indulge in fraud.

Anyway, one, one case is of a man named William Bird, who was caught in the 1560s, and he took his. After compiling his accounts, he then tried to make his handwriting look illegible, and he actually tried to erase some of the accounts to make them illegible. But it, but he was caught.

And as I say, for smuggling who knows? But, as I, I guess the assumption is it’s probably easier to do it out of London than in London. And one interesting thing is that we have this elaborate system, which I’ve described in the output. They didn’t bother with this, they just farmed the customs, which means that somebody leased the customs, They paid the.

The crown are some upfront, and then they are responsible for collecting the customs. And obviously that kind of privatises the collection of a revenue and it gives an incentive to the person with the farm to look after, to make, try and make sure that smuggling and fraud are limited and it’s on their own shoulders.

So we, I think a lot of people, think about it when they read about tax farming , which became very widespread in the 17th century. They think what a curious, primitive system. But actually it made quite a lot of sense. For the outputs at least.

Who were trading in Tudor London?

Hazel Baker: I think it might be worth discussing who was actually doing the trading.

Was it companies, guilds, individuals, or was it a mix? 

Ian McDiarmid: Yeah I think it’s a mix. So at the heart of it is individuals but they are largely operating within some kind of corporate structure. So that is to say that it’s individuals putting up the capital at risk, taking all the risks but they belong to wider structures, which provided them.

important means of support. And the most important of these organisations was the Merchant Adventurers, which as we’ve already said, was like a guild and which had a monopoly on the export of cloth, and it provided its members with Monopoly. But on the other hand, as with the girls, it had lots of benefits as well.

So if you’re on the if you were a merchant , the merchant adventure is to begin, Sorry, let me start again. Let me just go back. So like a guild, it was monopoly, but like the guilds this also, this structure conferred numerous benefits, particularly on its members, but also on other people.

And the merchant adventure is one of their main things is that if you, All the merchants are united together in one company, they speak with one voice and the merchant adventurers are able to act on behalf of its members and negotiate. These privileges are with Antwerp, which is the most important one. But they could also lobby the English crown, which was important.

They regulated their member’s behaviour. So if merchants were a bit naughty in a foreign port, like getting drunk or something like that the merchant adventures would take action on that and they could ultimately expel members. And though the company structure itself is useful for the crown because it means that the English crown has a means of enforcement, of controlling its merchants abroad.

And essentially this is what’s known as a regulated company. Others are created on its model. So there’s also the Spanish company, and the most important of these was the Eastland company which dealt with the Baltic and regulated company as the title implies. The company is like a guild.

It’s providing a structure, but it’s the merchants individually who are, as I said, putting their capital at risk and undertaking voyages and undertaking business. Now, it’s also this period that you get the beginnings of joint stock companies and in a joint stock company, merchants invest. They pull their capital and they’re also.

Granted limited liability. So if the venture fails, the creditors can’t go after all of their wealth, they can only go after that bit, which was invested in this joint stock company. And these are seen as very important from what’s gonna happen later. But actually in this period they aren’t, that they aren’t.

That’s significant. For example, the Russian company which was formed in 1555 and the 11th company in 1581. And they are as the. Two geographical destinations imply there are places that are a long way away. They’re too risky, really for one or two merchants with limited diplomatic ties.

But both of these companies soon abandon the joint stock company and basically they’ve become like the regulated companies that we’ve been talking about. And then finally, at the very end of Elizabeth’s Reign 1600, you get the formation of the East India company which will become very important, but only in the course of the 17th century.

And. In addition to being part of perhaps the merchant adventurers or possibly one of these other regulated companies, the merchants would uniformly belong to gills. Now, the guilds might by this stage, have been involved in the trade for which they’re originally founded, but they could as well, could just as well not have been.

And again, these provide advances to merchants. They’re useful as a means of networking, securing a powerful ally to have a corporate body acting for you in case of disputes. They’re a mechanism for lobbying and the indications from. The lay subsidy in 1541 attacks imposed by the crown suggests that the most prosperous companies at this time were the Drapers, Goldsmith’s, Merchant, Taylors, Fishmongers and Vintners.

Hazel Baker: Makes sense, doesn’t it? I don’t want anyone accusing us of being remiss Ian. So when talking about London, obviously the City of London is important but what about the happenings downriver?

Ian McDiarmid: What’s happening is that, in a way, London is beginning, just beginning. It’s kind of an expansion. And the most important thing which is related to London as a port but not really related to commerce, is Henry VIII and the establishment of the Dockyards, the Royal Dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford. And this has given increased momentum at the, towards the end of Henry’s reign in 1545 when the combined forces of Spanish, Spain and France attempted to invade England. And they caused quite a lot of damage to the Isle of White and the South Coast.

And this sort of gives the impetus, further impetus for the need to build ships. And at this period Deptford is the largest shipyard in England. And part of the reason for development of them on the Thames is it is a lot safer than the South coast where the largest dockyards had been before that.

Also you’re getting the, in the 16th century as a whole, not just Elizabeth’s reign, but you’re getting an increasing growth of traffic on the river. At the beginning of the 16th century 1514, I think, Trinity House was formed and Trinity House is responsible for pilotage on the Thames. And by the mid-16th century, so getting toward Elizabeth’s reign, they’ve also taken over responsibility for things like the provision of beacons, buoys the supply of ballast conservation, the river, which basically, essentially making it sure that it’s still navigable.

And you also get the authorisation of the Thames Watermen. So in 1555 there’s an act which said that eight watermen were to supervise the Thames all the way from Greenwich to Windsor to prevent accidents and to ensure minimum dimensions for boats used for carrying passengers on the Thames. So the watermen are the taxi men of the day. Outside the confines of the city, you’re getting increased activity on the river and with these dock yards, you’re getting the gradual expansion of London and all the trades that go with ship building as well. In itself an important development.

Hazel Baker: Fantastic. Who knew the Port of London in Tudor London would be so interesting. Thank you, Ian. 

Ian McDiarmid: My pleasure.

Hazel Baker: Don’t forget, we are available for private tours as well as our scheduled guided walks, so just check that out on our website, which also has periods of London history, including Tudor London history, and you can check that out at londonguidedwalks.co.uk/history/tudor and see all the related content for. And that also gives you the opportunity to sign up to be the first to know when my brand new book, Royal Chew of Palace of London is published. That’s all for now. See you next time.

Recommended Reading:

Tudor London Podcast Episodes

Episode 80: Disability in Tudor Times

Episode 77: The DeLaunes of Blackfriars

Episode 76: Elizabeth and Mary: Tudor Cousins

Episode 50: History of Shoreditch

Episode 44: Tudor London and John Stow

Episode 35: A Tudor Christmas



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