The project to catalogue documents in the archive of the Court of Arches which are missing from the index published in 1965 has continued to make rapid progress. 200 documents have now been catalogued, representing 71 membranes and 248 paper leaves. They range in date from 1662 to 1734.

The documents reflect the range of the Court’s concerns (marriage, divorce, wills and legacies, defamation, clergy morals and conduct, dilapidations etc). Accusations, defences and eye-witness testimony provide rich and vivid glimpses into forgotten lives. Amongst the newly catalogued documents we find Thomas Hewetson , who, leaving a large brood of children and a wife crying on the quayside, sailed in 1688 to the Caribbean where he was licensed as a privateer. With his 50 gun flagship The Lion, and 350 lusty men on board, Hewetson  joined with Captain Kidd to sack the French island of Marie Galante, and to prey on French shipping. On Barbados he acquired a feisty mistress, Butler Chamberlaine, whom he married bigamously and who sailed with him, pausing only at New York to deliver their child. The divorce suit brought by Hewetson’s abandoned wife may have ended the affair, but Butler Chamberlaine continued her remarkable life by marrying a British spy.

No less remarkable is the new documentation on Sarah Fyge Egerton, a noted poet and champion of women’s rights. In petitioning in 1703 for a divorce, Sarah related her appalling treatment at the hand of her husband Thomas, the rector of Adstock, Bucks. The abuse was not only verbal (he called her ‘cheating jade, strumpett, sow, bitch, damned devil, damned jade, damned bitch, damned toad’ and threatened to send her to Bridewell or a madhouse), but also physical. Thomas is said to have punched and kicked her, to have dragged her out of the kitchen to put her under the pump, to have dragged her out of bed and torn off her clothes and so frightened her that she fell into fits.

Human frailty was daily laid bare in the Court proceedings. Two cases brought in 1699 and 1700 by Godfrey Lee, a proctor in the Court of Arches, against his wife Mary and her lover Charles Garrett,  a fellow proctor, brought to light reports of ‘a frolique’ involving cross-dressing and the singing of ‘obscene and smutty songs’ in the garden of Lee’s house at Streatham. Perhaps Doctors’ Commons was inured to such tales; the careers of Lee and Garrett were unaffected and both rose to be senior proctors in the Court.

The project focuses on class E: libels, articles, allegations and interrogatories. These documents often set out the core points at issue in each case and in many instances the newly catalogued documents are crucial to understanding the case as a whole.

Example of an Arches E document: Gallina v Cottington, 1674 (Arches E/5/137)

The Fire of London

At the 350th anniversary of the Fire of London, which began on 2 September 1666, this blog post highlights sources in the Library which shed light on this event and its aftermath, including a sermon preached soon after the Fire by William Sancroft, then Dean of St Paul’s (and later Archbishop of Canterbury).

H5133 920.08TP
Printed book H5133 920.08

The printed book collection also includes a Book of Common Prayer (this edition dating from 1681) which contains these ‘Forms of Prayer to be used yearly on the second of September, for the dreadful Fire of London’.


H5145.A4 1681fBbb
Printed book H5145.A4 1681


The papers of Archbishop Sheldon (volume 1 ff 25-27) include an Order of the King in Council dated 7 November 1666 requiring him to ascertain through the bishops in the Province of Canterbury the sums collected in each parish for the relief of those who have suffered distress in the Fire of London, and to make arrangements for the funds to be sent to the Lord Mayor of London.

Records in the Library also document the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. MS 670 is an account of income and expenditure covering from 1666 to 1700. MS 2872 folios 44-49 comprise papers of the Commissioners for Rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral dating from 1674-5, among them an order approving the new design and requiring them to proceed with the work ‘beginning wth ye East End, or Chore’, that the Surveyor with his assistants and officers should immediately set out the ground and lay the foundations ‘of so much of yt Designe as lies East of ye Cupola, or Tower, & pursue ye work with all Diligence so long as the Season of ye year shall permitt’. The signatories include Sir Christopher Wren.

MS 2872 f 46r

Among records relating to Doctors’ Commons, the association of ecclesiastical lawyers situated near St Paul’s Cathedral, there is a list (MS 2080 f 56) of those contributing to the reconstruction of their premises after the Fire. The story is further explored in E A Pickard and E Jeffries Davis, ‘The Rebuilding of Doctors’ Commons, 1666-72′, London Topographical Record (1931), xv, 51-77. This later print (dating from 1808), a recent gift from the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, shows the interior as rebuilt.

Print 027/20


Some records relate to the effects of the Fire on specific institutions situated within the City. The records of the library of Sion College (Sion L40.2/E58) include catalogues of the printed books and manuscripts saved from the destruction of the College in the Fire and carried to safety at the Charterhouse. They are in the hand of John Spencer, the Librarian. The shelf marks of the printed books differ from the Library’s earlier shelf marks and represent a new post-Fire arrangement of the collection.

Aside from the physical damage caused by the Fire, the records document its consequences for ecclesiastical administration in the City of London. MS 1701 comprises a set of tithe assessments, assessing certain London parishes for a rate in lieu of tithes, made according to the provisions of the Act of Parliament (22 and 23 Chas. II cap. 15) for settling the maintenance of clergy in parishes burnt in the Fire.

One piece of evidence is an absence rather than a presence. The Library holds the records of the Court of Arches, the court of appeal for the Province of Canterbury, which was medieval in origin: but few of its earliest records survive, being destroyed when the Fire ravaged the church of St Mary-le-Bow where the Court sat, and so the surviving archive predominantly dates from after 1666.