We’re proud of the work we do, tending to the roofs of the greatest city in the world. London has been a prime innovator in so much of what we see in the world and a glance at a document, effectively building regulations commencing from the year 1212, shows how the city was evolving long, long ago in history.
Everyone knows about the Great Fire of London in 1666 and its origins in Pudding Lane, but this week back in 1212 London was also hit by a major fire and the city council were quick to act to try and prevent a similar occurrence happening again.
The following document was issued on the 23rd July, the fire began on the 11th July and raged for a further 10 nights. The city was still smouldering as the city council met to draw up measures that would aim to prevent further fires. It’s interesting to specifically note the stipulations introduced regarding thatched roofs, indeed the only thatched roof in the whole of the city in the present day protects the rebuilt Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
This is the original document originally sourced from the Corporation of London Records Office and translated by Henry Thomas Riley in 1860.
Recommendations made by the council of reputable men for the purpose of calming and pacifying an angry citizenry, and to protect against fires, with God’s help.
Firstly, they advise that all scot-ales be prohibited, unless they have received a licence from the Common Council of the city at the Guildhall, other than for those who are willing to build with stone, so that the city may be protected; on condition that the proceeds are handed over to two reputable men and by them put towards the renovation of the building. And that no baker is to bake, nor brewer brew, at night with [a fire fuelled by] reeds, straw, or thatch, but only with firewood.
Carpenters may take [for wages] only 3d. a day with a meal, or 4½d. total without a meal.
Masons and tilers may take the same wages, but the workmen of masons and others shall be satisfied with 1½d. with meal, or 3d. total.
Masons of freestone [may take] 2½d. with meal, or 4d. total.
Whitewashers, daubers, and plasterers [may take] 2d. with meal, or 3½d. total. Their workmen, 1½d. with meal, or 2½d. total.
Excavators and wheelbarrow operators [may take] 1½d. with meal, or 2½d. total.
They recommend that all cook-shops by the Thames should be whitewashed and plastered, inside and out; and all internal partitions or compartments should be taken down throughout, so that there remains simply the house and its internal chamber.
Whoever wishes to build within city or Portsoken is to see to it that he and his [builders?] take care not to cover [the roof] with reeds, nor rushes, nor any kind of straw, nor thatch; but only with tiles, shingles, boards, or (if possible) with lead, or with the outside plastered.
All houses which until now have been roofed with reeds or rushes, and which are able to be plastered, are to be plastered within eight days. Those to which this is not done within the specified period are to be pulled down under supervision of the alderman and law-abiding men.
All timber houses which are close to the stone houses in the marketplace, whereby they post a threat to the stone houses or the marketplace, are to be repaired so that they are safe, under supervision of the mayor, sheriffs and the reputable men of the city, or [if that cannot be done] pulled down, no matter to whom they belong, without exception.
Watchmen and those who keep watch by night to safeguard [the city] are to go out [i.e. begin their watch] in daylight and return in daylight. Those who have to be summoned [to their duty] shall be amerced 40s. by the city. All houses in which there are bakeries or breweries shall be whitewashed and plastered inside and out, as protection against fire.
All for-hire workmen who are of the city or the Portsoken, if they do not observe and obey the aforesaid all their lands, houses and goods will be confiscated, and put entirely to the use of the city. No resident of the city or Portsoken, if faithful to God and the city, should pay them more.
Outsiders who come into the city as workmen and are unwilling to respect the above recommendations shall be held under arrest until they can be brought before the mayor and reputable men, there to hear sentence passed against them.
Every alderman should be in possession of a suitable crook and cord; whoever does not have them within the specified period shall be amerced by the city. They [i.e. the councillors] also think it would be advisable to place in front of each house a wooden or stone tub full of water.
These [regulations] were made on Monday, 24 July, 1212, at the Guildhall, Henry fitz Ailwin then mayor and other barons of the city then being present, their intent being to deliberate on behalf of the city on the calamitous fire which broke out here on 11 July of the same year for ten days thereafter. Which fire, to our greatest dismay, utterly destroyed London Bridge and many other splendid buildings, and sent innumerable men and women to their graves.