The “Lost Histories of London” Shared Learning Project began in January this year and the U3A researchers worked in 2 teams. The City of London team were led by Peter Cox and the Greenwich and Deptford team led by Lore Arthur. This was a partnership with Roehampton University led by Andrew Wareham and Charlotte Berry, who have worked extensively on the 17th century Hearth Tax records.
This was a tax on the number of fire places in each house was a way of raising money for the government at the time of the Dutch wars during the reign of Charles 11. In recent years these records, which are held in various county archives all over Britain have been transcribed and it is hoped there will eventually be a volume published for every county, illustrating what can be found from these particular records.
The university wished to find what uses the transcripts could be put to by the ordinary amateur historian and what better place to find these interested and enquiring minds than in U3A?
U3A members principally looked into the back stories of the people tax had been collected from around the time of the 1666 Great Fire of London. Some things the researchers looked at were unusual occupations, relationships between people living in a small area, the route the tax collector had taken and the comparison with the streets then and now, which houses and families still existed after the fire and the lives of those living in the houses. One of the presenters commented on the fact that some of the few survivors around the Pudding Lane area, where the fire started, only lived for a couple of years after the fire and one said he suffered from terrible headaches. Might they have suffered from the same post traumatic illnesses recent fire survivors are going through?
There were quite a few people occupied as “Sugar Bakers”. These were the people who processed sugar coming in from Barbados and lived around the old River Walbrook, then navigable and a route from the Docks into the city. From 1665 to 1675 the consumption of sugar rose rapidly.
Another researcher commented that SLP research was apt to lead you along all sorts of esoteric byways and she never thought she would become so interested in the records of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Brickmakers.
We learned that there was once a water wheel on old London Bridge that pumped water up from the river to supply the city. It was powerful enough to send a blast of water over the Church of St Magnus the Martyr. The Hearth Tax was paid by the family of the inventor who resided at the Water House nearby.
Andrew Wareham summed up by saying that he was amazed by the fantastic breadth of work presented by the U3A teams and thanked all who were involved.
The project culminated in a presentation at the British Academy on Carlton Terrace just off the Mall in central London on Friday 29th June.
There are to be further Shared Learning Projects on the Hearth Tax Records and the next will be based in Warwick where U3A members will be looking at the collector’s records from parishes around the Warwickshire area.