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The Erber: tracing global trade through a London building

  • Sarah A. Milne (a1)


Through a case-study of one significant courtyard house owned by the Drapers’ Company and known as ‘The Erber’, this article argues that mercantile livery companies supported London's growing centrality within an expanding network of trade through the use and development of corporate properties. The micro-history at the heart of this article reveals that the ‘everyday’ built environment of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London was shaped not just by the city elite. Also relevant to that process were the different sorts of tenants of the Drapers’ Company, who benefited from the expansion at all levels of London's mercantile activity. The trickle-down effects of global mercantilism affected spaces small and large. The investigation of the Erber highlights the domestic implications of global commercial expansion.


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1 Fynes Moryson quoted in Archer, I., ‘Material Londoners?’, in Orlin, L. (ed.), Material London ca. 1600 (Philadelphia, 2000), 174–92, at 182.

2 Excepting the continuation of this type for institutional uses, for example by London's livery companies.

3 Stow, J., ‘The suburbs without the walls’, in Kingsford, C.L. (ed.), A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603 (Oxford, 1908), 6991; J. Stow, ‘Bridge warde without [including Southwark]’, in Kingsford (ed.), A Survey of London, 52–69.

4 Harding, V., ‘City, capital and metropolis: the changing shape of seventeenth-century London’, in Merritt, J.F. (ed.), Imagining Early Modern London: Perceptions and Portrayals of the City from Stow to Strype, 1598–1720 (Cambridge, 2001), 117–43, at 124; Alford, S., London's Triumph: Merchant Adventurers and the Tudor City (London, 2017), 116–18; Habib, I., Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500–1677 (Aldershot, 2008), 63, 65.

5 Davis, R., English Overseas Trade, 1500–1700 (Basingstoke, 1973); Dietz's economic study of overseas trade showed that between 1561–7 and 1607–13 imports entering the city more than tripled: Dietz, B., ‘Overseas trade and metropolitan growth’, in Bier, A.L. and Finlay, R. (eds.), London 1500–1700: The Making of a Metropolis (London, 1986), 115–40; Alford, London's Triumph, 103, 221, 229, 252; Brook, T., Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (London, 2008), 43; Brenner, R., Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London's Overseas Traders (Cambridge, 1993), 5, 11, 25.

6 Archer, I., The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London, paperback edn (Cambridge, 2002); Ward, J.P., Metropolitan Communities: Trade Guilds, Identity and Change in Early Modern London (Stanford, 1997); Rappaport, S., Worlds within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth-Century London (Cambridge, 1989); Ramsey, G.D., ‘The recruitment and fortunes of some London freemen in the mid-sixteenth century’, Economic History Review, 31 (1978), 526–40.

7 Pettigrew, W., ‘Corporate constitutionalism and the dialogue between the global and the local in seventeenth century English history’, Itinerario, 39 (2015), 487501.

8 Harding, ‘City, capital and metropolis’, 124.

9 Repton, J.A., ‘On the posts anciently placed on each side of the gates of chief magistrates of cities in England’, Archaeologia, 19 (1821), 383–5.

10 Drapers’ Company Archive (DCA), RA (Renter Accounts) 1580–81, fols. 13v–14r; DCA, RA 1588–89, fols. 14v–15r; for discussion of urban gardens, see Henderson, P., The Tudor House and Garden: Architecture and Landscape in Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries (London, 2005).

11 Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 83.

12 Grassby, R., The Business Community of Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1995), 229.

13 Wrightson, K., Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (New Haven, 2000), 191.

14 For comparison, see Goldthwaite, R.A., ‘The Florentine palace as domestic architecture’, American Historical Review, 77 (1972), 9771012; Goy, R.J., Building Renaissance Venice: Patrons, Architects and Builders, c. 1430–1500 (New Haven and London, 2006).

15 For further discussion of the role of the livery companies in early modern city development, see S.A. Milne, ‘Merchants of the City: the London estate of the Drapers’ Company, c. 1540–1640’, University of Westminster Ph.D. thesis, 2017.

16 Imray, J., ‘The origins of the Royal Exchange’, in Saunders, A. (ed.), The Royal Exchange (London, 1997), 2035, at 20; D. Keene, ‘The setting of the Royal Exchange: continuity and change in the financial district of the City of London, 1300–1871’, in Saunders (ed.), The Royal Exchange, 253–71.

17 Gauci, P., The Politics of Trade: The Overseas Merchant in State and Society, 1660–1720 (Oxford, 2001), 28.

18 This idea was discussed in the conference paper: L. Haydon, ‘Some outlandish fruits: foreign trade, domestic fruits’, Performative Spaces, Society of Renaissance Studies, University of Southampton, July 2014.

19 For detailed evidence of this, see W. Archer-Thomson, Drapers' Company: History of the Company's Properties and Trusts (London, 1947).

20 Williams, G., ‘Howel, Thomas (c. 1480–1537)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), online edn, Jan. 2008,, accessed online 5 Aug. 2015. For the protracted negotiations to retrieve these funds, which were pillaged during their transportation from Seville to London, see DCA, MB (Minute Book) 1B, fols. 583, 683, 732, and MB1C, fol. 758.

21 Slacks, D.H., The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy, 1450–1700 (Oxford, 1991), 31.

22 Ibid., 30.

23 Crittall, E. (ed.), A History of the County of Wiltshire, vol. IV (London, 1959), 148–82; Dietz, B. (ed.), The Port and Trade of Early Elizabethan London: Documents (London, 1972); The National Archives (TNA), C 78/59/4.

24 TNA, C 66/1489/1017; Stow, in Kingsford (ed.), Survey, 229–38; Strype, J., Survey of London (London, 1720), 202; Kingsford, C.L., ‘On some London houses of the early Tudor period’, Archaeologia, 71 (1921), 1754; TNA, C 66/357, Membrane 12.

25 Bindoff, S. (ed.), The History of Parliament, 1509–1558, vol. I (London, 1982), 203.

26 TNA, SC 6/HENVIII/6867; TNA, CC 397; TNA, PROB 11/39/79; DCA, RA 1558–59, fol. 12r; DCA, RA 1561–62, fol. 22v; DCA, RA 1562–63, fol. 22v.

27 DCA, MB1C, fol. 752.

28 DCA, MB1B, fols. 725, 727, 742.

29 For example, in the early 1580s, the principal house of Throgmorton was leased for £9 whereas the Erber's principal house was rented for £26 (DCA, RA 1581–82, fols. 15v, 16r).

30 Schofield, J., The Building of London: From the Conquest to the Great Fire (London, 1984), 141.

31 DCA, MB1B, fol. 727.

32 DCA, RA 1565–66, fol. 16r; DCA, RA 1556–57, fol. 13r; Rev. Johnson, A.H., History of the Worshipful Company of the Drapers of London, vol. II (Oxford, 1922), 458–60; Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 21, 32.

33 DCA, RA 1606–07, p. 11; DCA, RA 1630–31, p. 15; Johnson, History, vol. II, 458–60; Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 21, 32.

34 DCA, RA series; DCA, A X II 121; Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 21, 32.

35 Johnson, History, vol. II, 458–60.

36 Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 15.

37 Guildhall Library, MS 30708/1, fol. 56v; Mercers’ Company Archive (MCA), Acts of Court ii, 1527–60, fols. clxxii–clxxiij; for more discussion, see Milne, ‘Merchants of the City’, 106–19; and J. Kilburn-Toppin, ‘Crafting artisanal identities in early modern London: the spatial, material and social practices of guild communities c. 1560–1640’, Royal College of Art Ph.D. thesis, 2013.

38 Thornbury, W., Old and New London, vol. II (London, 1878), 152–70; Dale, T.C., The Inhabitants of London in 1638 (London, 1931), 6970; Foster, W., The East India Company at Crosby House, 1621–38 (London, 1913), 106–39.

39 MCA, Acts of Court iii, 1560–98, fol. 131.

40 Johnson, History, vol. II, 185; Alford, London's Triumph, 88–90.

41 It has been suggested that the surviving plan may be a seventeenth-century copy of an original 1596 plan. See Gerhold, D., London Plotted: Plans of London Buildings c. 1450–1720, ed. O'Connell, S. (London, 2016).

42 DCA, MB10, fol. 193r; DCA, MB11a, fols. 10r, 13v.

43 The case can be followed in the following documents: TNA, C 66/1489/1017; TNA, E 178/1382; DCA, MB10, fols. 222v, 236v, 238v; DCA, MB11a, fols. 10r, 13v, 34v, 30r. Also see commentary in Girtin, T., The Triple Crowns: A Narrative History of the Drapers’ Company 1364–1964 (London, 1964), 194–5.

44 It is an extraordinarily fine plan, dated to 1596 and held by the Drapers, that marks the Erber out as an especially interesting case-study. Treswell's drawings of the Clothworkers’ Company are a notable complement to this plan: Schofield, J. (ed.), The London Surveys of Ralph Treswell (London, 1987).

45 de Smelt, O., De Englelse Natie Te Antwerpen in De 16e Eeuw (1496–1582), vol. II (Antwerp, 1950), 137, 561.

46 DCA, RA 1556–57, fol. 13; DCA, RA 1557–58, fol. 25; DCA, RA 1558–59, fol. 12; DCA, RA 1559–60, fol. 9. Over's tenancy was followed by that of John Kendall and his widow, a couple about whom little can be traced.

47 Hume, M.A.S. (ed.), Calendar of Letters and State Papers of Spain Presented Principally in the Archives of Simancas, vol. I (London, 1892), 399.

48 Ibid.; Hume, M.A.S. (ed.), Calendar of Letters and State Papers of Spain Presented Principally in the Archives of Simancas, vol. II (London, 1894), 348, 353; Gairdner, J. and Brodie, R.H. (eds.), Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, vol. XX, part I (London, 1905), 457.

49 Kirk, R.E.G. and Kirk, E.F. (eds.), Returns of Aliens Dwelling in the City and Suburbs of London, from the Reign of Henry VIII to that of James I (Aberdeen, 1908), vol. I, 92, 135, 297, 355, 408.

50 DCA, MB8, fol. 100v.

51 Alford, London's Triumph, 16, 128–9.

52 DCA, MB5, fol. 243; DCA, MB8, fols. 28r, 33v.

53 Hume, Calendar, vol. II, 148.

54 Ibid., 353.

55 DCA, MB9, fols. 98v–99r, 142v. The Drapers also contributed £40 towards fitting up the house for his mayoralty as was their custom: DCA, Wardens’ Accounts, 1584–85, fol. 6r.

56 Kirk and Kirk (eds.), Returns of Aliens, 158; Gentil, P., Trattato del Successo della Potentissima Armata del Gran Turcho Ottoman Solimano (Rome, 1565), xlix.

57 Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 21; British Library, Lansdowne, MS 29, fol. 57.

58 Lambeth Palace Library, Talbot papers, MS 3197, fol. 311.

59 Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 21.

60 Evidence of Pullison's use of the house for his duties as lord mayor can be found in London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), COL/CC/01/01/021, fols. 143r, 149v, 445v.

61 Stow, in Kingsford (ed.), Survey, 231.

62 LMA, COL/CA/01/01/023, fol. 89r.

63 DCA, RA 1590–91, fol. 15r; Hasler, P.W. (ed.), The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1558–1603, vol. II (London, 1981), 54.

64 Andrews, K.R., English Privateering Voyages to the West Indies, 1588–1595 (London, 1959), 338.

65 Archer, I., ‘Bayning, Paul (c. 1539–1616)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2006).

66 Ibid.; Habib, Black Lives, 79, 88–9; Scouladi, I. (ed.), Returns of Strangers in the Metropolis, 1593, 1627, 1635, 1639: A Study of an Active Minority (London, 1985), 149; LMA, Parish Registers, St Mary Bothaw, 1536–1653, Burials 1603. Banning promoted three ships in 1599 bound for the West Indies. One transported more than 100 black slaves back to Spain, these persons were exchanged there for pearl, which was taken back to London (Andrews, K., ‘English voyages to the Caribbean, 1596 to 1604: an annotated list’, William and Mary Quarterly, 31 (1974), 243–54, 248.

67 DCA, RA 1592–93, fol. 13r; DCA, RA 1612–13, fol. 17r; DCA, RA 1621–22, fol. 19r.

68 DCA, C31/1–2; DCA, MB14, fol. 209r; Ashton, R., The City and the Court, 1603–1643 (Cambridge, 1979), 38; Fedorowicz, J.K., England's Baltic Trade in the Early Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1980), 115–18; Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 615.

69 Ward, Metropolitan Communities, 58–63; Stern, W., The Porters of London (London, 1960); J. Schofield, ‘The topography and buildings of London’, in Orlin (ed.), Material London, 317.

70 Machyn, H., A London Provisioner's Chronicle, 1550–1563, by Henry Machyn: Manuscript, Transcription, and Modernization, ed. Bailey, R.W., Miller, M. and Moore, C. (Ann Arbor, MI, 2015), fol. 156r,, accessed 3 Feb. 2015.

71 Stow, in Kingsford (ed.), Survey, 231; TNA, SC 6/HENVIII/2082; DCA, RA 1563–64, fol. 20v; DCA, RA 1624–65, fol. 18r.

72 Habib, Black Lives, 88.

73 DCA, RA 1595–96, fol. 11r.

74 The comparatively generously sized spaces depicted on the plan, alongside the lack of hearths in these larger rooms, suggest ground-floor warehouses.

75 Fairholt, F., ‘On an inventory of the household goods of Sir Thomas Ramsey, lord mayor of London, 1577’, Archaelogia, 40 (1866), 311–42; Schofield, J., Pearce, P., with Betts, I., Dyson, T. and Egan, G., ‘Thomas Soane's buildings near Billingsgate, London 1640–66’, Society Post-Medieval Archaeology, 43 (2009), 282341, at 331.

76 L. Orlin, Locating Privacy in Tudor London (London, 2007), 286–9; DCA, MB8, fol. 61r; DCA, MB13, fols. 11r, 175r; DCA, RA 1563–64, fol. 24r; DCA, RA 1597–98, fol. 12r.

77 DCA, RA 1563–64, fol. 25r; DCA, RA 1570–71, fol. 19v.

78 J. Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, vol. II, ed. W. Bray (New York and London, 1901), 24; see also Orlin, L., ‘Temporary lives in London lodgings’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 71 (2008), 219–42, at 223.

79 DCA, MB5, fol. 118r.

80 Clode, C.M. (ed.), Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London (London, 1875), appendix C: to memorial III; MCA, Acts of Court ii, 1527–60, fol. 273 d.

81 MCA, Acts of Court ii, 1527–60, fol. 219.

82 DCA, RA 1564–65, fols. 10v–11r.

83 Ibid., fols. 21v–22r.

84 DCA, RA 1589–90, fol. 14v.

85 DCA, RA 1575–76, fols. 9r, 18v; DCA, RA 1576–77, fol. 10r; DCA, RA 1580–81, fol. 9v. In 1615–16, the Renter Accounts still referred to a working saw pit in the yard at Dowgate: DCA, RA 1615–16, fol. 34r.

86 DCA, MB8, fols. 223r, 235r; DCA, MB9, fol. 4v; Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive, P/SLC/1/17/45.

87 Dietz (ed.), The Port and Trade.

88 DCA, RA 1579–80, fol. 20v.

89 Ibid., fol. 21r.

90 Ward, Metropolitan Communities, 58.

91 ‘Thomas Bewley’, in Boyd, P., Roll of the Drapers' Company (Croydon, 1934).

92 DCA, MB13, fols. 324r–324v

93 Stow, in Kingsford (ed.), Survey, 12.

94 TNA, SC 6/HENVIII/6867; TNA, SC 6/HENVIII/2086.

95 For confirmation of his status as a Merchant Taylor, see DCA, MB9, fol. 128; TNA, PROB 11/105/357.

96 DCA, RA 1563–64, fol. 20v. For confirmation of Clothworker status, see also D.J. Hickman, ‘The religious allegiance of London's ruling elite, 1520–1603’, UCL, Ph.D. thesis, 1995, Appendix 2.

97 DCA, MB9, fols. 98v, 100r; DCA, RA 1581–82, fols. 15v–16r.

98 DCA, RA 1607–08, fol. 21r.

99 DCA, C 32.

100 DCA, RA 1564–65, fol. 20v.

101 DCA, RA 1581–82, fols. 15v–16r. See R.G. Lang (ed.), Two Tudor Subsidy Rolls for the City of London 1541 and 1582 (London, 1993), 293; TNA, E 40/12811, 3 Feb. 1568; TNA, E 40/12204, 20 Oct. 1570.

102 DCA, MB9, fols. 128r, 152r–153r; DCA, RA 1579–80, fols. 16v–17r.

103 DCA, RA 1594–95, fol. 9v

104 DCA, RA 1595–96, fol. 11r.

105 DCA, RA 1597–98, fol. 10v.

106 DCA, RA 1605–06, fol. 24r; LMA, Parish Registers, St Mary Bothaw, 1536–1653, Burials 1598, 1602, 1600, 1604.

107 DCA, RA 1618–19, fol. 18r; DCA, RA 1619–20, fol. 21r.

108 Stow, in Kingsford (ed.), Survey, 204; for discussion of concerns of the Mercers, see MCA, Acts of Court iii, 1560–98, fol. 232.

109 Zell, M., Industry in the Countryside: Wealden Society in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, 2004), 182.

110 Keene, D., ‘Growth, modernisation and control: the transformation of London's landscape’, in Clark, P. and Gillespie, R. (eds.), Two Capitals: London and Dublin, 1500–1840 (Oxford, 2001), 738, at 30.

111 Brenner, Merchants and Revolution, 22–3.

112 For an account of this in relation to the livery companies, see Zahedieh, N., The Capital and the Colonies: London and the Atlantic Economy, 1660–1700 (Cambridge, 2010), 55136.

113 One exception, though for an earlier period, is Gschwend, A. Jordan and Lowe, K.J.P (eds.), The Global City: On the Streets of Renaissance Lisbon (London, 2015).

The Erber: tracing global trade through a London building

  • Sarah A. Milne (a1)


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