The Great Fire of London

01 September 2016

In September 1666, Derby House, the home of the College of Arms, burned down in the Fire of London. As the fire spread from Pudding Lane, sufficient warning was given to allow almost all the books and manuscripts to be rescued. These were taken, probably by boat, to Whitehall. The Officers of Arms regrouped, and were given a room at the Palace of Westminster from which to conduct their business. Heraldic, genealogical, and ceremonial work continued, while at the same time the task of building a new College had to be faced.

In November 1669, three Officers of Arms visited the site to consider what might be done, and a year later Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon, was appointed to enter into discussions with the bricklayer, Morris Emott or Emmett, about rebuilding the Office. Both Emmett, Master Bricklayer in thew Office of Works, who also worked for Christopher Wren, and his brother William, wood carver to the King, played important parts in the rebuilding of the College. Sandford, who was a surveyor by profession, prepared a model of the new College and Emmett laid a ground plot.

Raising the money for the undertaking presented great difficulties; demands on potential donors were high after the Fire due to the number of competing causes. In December 1670 the Officers of Arms presented a petition to the King, asking him to allow them to raise subscriptions for the rebuilding. The Warrant granting this permission is still held by the College. It is reproduced in part here, with a transcription of the eloquent wording employed in it to persuade the King's wealthier subjects to contribute.


In 1672 the Hall had been built and the west side of the building begun; in 1674 the Library was completed and the books and manuscripts returned. Work then stalled due to lack of funds, but in 1677 Sir William Dugdale, appointed Garter King of Arms that year, paid for the north west corner to be built. In 1680, Sir Henry St George, Clarenceux King of Arms, agreed to appoint deputies to undertake heraldic visitations of six counties and to donate the profits raised from fines on those using arms without authority. In 1683 the north and west sides were completed, but not most of the south and east.

In 1688, Ephraim Beacham, a stone cutter, was given three leases to build three houses on the east side. He is referred to in the Treasurer's Accounts for that year which are reproduced here. The leases reverted to the heralds in 1748, and the houses were let out on successive short leases until 1866, the year when Queen Victoria Street was built. In 1844 the Record Room was built in the north east corner. The building of Queen Victoria Street meant that the portions added to the east and west wings on the south side had to be knocked down, reducing the size of the College so that to compensate it took the houses on the east side back into its possession. From that point, the College is as you see it today.

1. Chptr Book 1 f 76r compressedThe first entries made after the Great Fire in the book of minutes of meetings of the Chapter of College. The first meeting, on 10 Nov 1666, is recorded as being held at Whitehall. The next meeting, on 25 Jan 1666/67* was held at Westminster, 'neare the Court of Requests'. The Fire is not referred to at all in the minutes of the first meeting, and although surprising to us, it is by no means the only occasion on which events of historical significance are not recorded for their own sake. The second entry orders that arrangements be made to let the public know the location of the temporary Office of Arms, by posting an advertisment in the Gazette.

* The official change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, or from Old Style to New Style dating, took place in Great Britain in 1752. Until then, the New Year commenced in March, so that what at the time these minutes were written was described as Jan. 1666 would in 'New Style' dating be Jan. 1667.

College of Arms reference: Chapter Book 1, f. 76r. 


Heraldic funerals were an important source of income for the Officers of Arms in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the form of 'largesse', whereby materials used in the ceremony, such as velvet, were given to them as gifts which could then be sold to generate income. Largesse was usually divided amongst the Officers who attended a funeral, and as only the funerals of those of the highest status required the attendance of all the Officers of Arms there was often some jostling for position when it came to who would attend.

2. Chptr Book 1 f 84v compressedHowever, these minutes of a meeting of the Chapter of College held on 25 June 1670 show the Officers coming together, with funeral largesse being sold to generate income to go to the College as a body, to be used for the rebuilding project. Sir Thomas St George, Somerset Herald and Henry Dethick, Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms, are here delegated to take charge of the sale of goods and collection of money. Of the two funerals referred to here the one which produced the most largesse was that of the Duke of Albemarle, more commonly known to history as General Monck, the chief architect of the Restoration of the Monarchy.

College of Arms reference: Chapter Book 1, f. 84v.





3. Acc 1978 6 hearse compressedThe funeral of the Duke of Albemarle was a lavish affair, and this illustration of the hearse shows some of the velvet and other materials that were used and which were granted to the heralds. It also illustrates the contemporary practice of surmounting the coffin with an effigy of the deceased.

College of Arms reference: Acc. 1978/6


4. Acc 1978 6 Officers of Arms compressedSome of the Officers of Arms who served at the time of the Great Fire, shown here in 1670 carrying the funeral achievements of the Duke of Albemarle.
From left to right: Sir Thomas St George, Somerset Herald; Thomas Lee, Chester Herald; Henry St George, Richmond Herald; Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald; William Dugdale, Norroy King of Arms; Sir Edward Bysshe, Clarenceux King of Arms

College of Arms reference: Acc. 1978/6.


6. Alph Sch C. 10 4 compressedThis page of accounts from 1672-3, submitted by Francis Sandford to the Earl Marshal for approval, shows the money he raised from subscribers to the building project, and money spent in pursuit of it. Many of the subscribers here were MPs and connected with the Court, such as Sir Gilbert Talbot, MP for Plymouth, who during the Civil War was imprisoned for his support of King Charles I, and on his release followed him into exile. Sir Stephen Fox, MP for Salisbury, was also with the King in exile. Some members of this group of subscribers were related to each other: for example, Sir Stephen Fox and John Fox were brothers, and Sir Edward Dering's daughter married Sir Robert Southwell. They were most likely connected socially in other ways: for example, Sir Joseph Williamson was President of the Royal Society (1677-80) and Sir Gilbert Talbot was a founding member of that organisation.

Expenditure includes paying tradesmen for 'glassing' (glazing), 'sealing the Hall', 'bracketing the Hall', and 'washing and clearing the chambers in the building'

College of Arms reference: Alph Sch C. 10/4.


7. Acc 1978 6 Fox Mason compressedSome of the men who contributed financially to the rebuilding of the College are portrayed in this engraving of the funeral procession of the Duke of Albemarle, 1670. Here Sir Stephen Fox and Richard Mason, the King's Avener (chief officer of the stables), accompany the standard bearer at the funeral.

College of Arms reference: Acc 1978/6.


8. Alph Sch C. 7 Warrant compressedRoyal Warrant of Charles II, authorising the heralds to receive subscriptions towards the rebuilding of the College of Arms, 1671. In it, the College, the value of its work and the consequences of the Fire, are described. Emphasis is placed on the importance of it to the nobility and gentry, and it was to these classes that requests for subscription were mostly directed. The Warrant states that the College: 'given by our Royall predecessors to their Corporation in perpetuity to bee a place for keeping and Preserving the Records, Rolls and Bookes of their faculty and for their residence and place of meeting was by the late dreadfull fire in London burnt downe and consumed. But their said Records, Rolls and Bookes being of great use to our said Nobility and Gentry were preserved and that the said Petitioners' Imployment haveing relation to matters of honour and Armes only the knowledge thereof would unavoidably weare out and cease and the said Records, Rolls and Bookes in danger to bee lost for want of such place for keeping them and for the Petitioners Residence and meeting And that the Petitioners had not any Revenue belonging to their Corporation Whereby to enable them to rebuild their said Colledge and the tyme limited by the late Act of Parliament for the rebuilding of London was very neer expiration soe as the ground whereon the said Colledge stood would bee lost and the inconveniences before mentioned unavoydably follow...'

College of Arms reference: Alph Sch C. 7.


9. Chptr Book 1 p 99 compressedThis extract from minutes of a meeting held on 15 April 1672 show that the rebuilding work in London after the Fire offered ample opportunities for thieves and crooked operators. The minutes state that work had started on the rebuilding and orders that Mr Emott, the chief builder, be asked to give an account of expenditure to date. Francis Sandford, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of Arms, is called upon to take up residence in the newly built parts of College 'for the better putting forward the worke of Rebuilding the said Colledge and preserving the Lead and other Materialls from being imbezelled'.

College of Arms reference: Chapter Book 1, p. 99.


10. Chptr Book 1 p 101 compressedOrder of the Earl of Carlisle, commissioner for the office of Earl Marshal, that work on the rebuilding of the College should continue, 30 April 1672.

College of Arms reference: Chapter Book 1, p. 101.


11. Chptr Book 1 p 107 compressedThis entry in Chapter Minutes for 24 April 1673 shows the co-ordination of fundraising efforts, with Officers visiting potential subscribers to persuade them to give. Sir Edward Bysshe (here spelled Bish) will wait on the Lord Chief Justice and other judges, and both he and Elias Ashmole will visit the Lord Mayor of London.

College of Arms reference: Chapter Book 1, p. 107.


12. Alph Sch C. 11 Bishops compressedList of bishops who subscribed to the rebuilding fund, May 1675. The third entry, for
Dr Henchman, Bishop of London, is an addition, as he was elected in December 1675 after the death of his predecessor Dr Compton, who is also listed here.

College of Arms reference: Alph Sch C. 11.


13. Alph Sch C. 11 Knights compressedList of Baronets, Knights of the Bath, and Knights of England who made donations to the rebuilding fund, and whose subscriptions were gathered by Francis Sandford. This list is signed by the donors. Two men were particularly generous, Sir Gilbert Talbot and Sir Joseph Williamson, each giving £20.

College of Arms  reference: Alph Sch C. 11.

Benefactors' Books

The King's Commission empowering the College to seek subscriptions for the rebuilding included the stipulation that in thanks for subscribers' generosity the College register their arms and pedigrees. These were collated in volumes known as Benefactors' Books. Two volumes were completed: one of donations amounting to £509. 5d. 6d, raised by Edward Walker; the other of £206. 6s. 8d raised by Francis Sandford. A selection of images from these volumes is included here.

14. Benefactors Book 2  pp 6-7 Ormond compressedThis entry in Benefactors' Book 2 shows 5 generations of the family of the Duke of Ormond, and his arms circumscribed by the Garter, symbolising his membership of the Order of the Garter. The Duke's titles and offices included Chief Butler of Ireland, Steward of His Majesty's Household, Gentleman of His Majesty's Bedchamber, Chancellor of the Universities of Oxford and Dublin, and a Lord of the Privy Council. Entries in Francis Sandford's accounts show the cost of preparing this 'certificate' and others in the book.

College of Arms reference: Benefactors' Book 2, pp 6-7.


15. Benefactors Book 1 p 4 Ailesbury compressedRobert (Bruce), Earl of Ailesbury, whose pedigree and arms are shown here, was a benefactor to the College in other ways, and in 1680 he donated some fine mediaeval royal pedigree rolls to its collection.

College of Arms reference: Benefactors' Book 1, p. 4.


16. Benefactors Book 2 pp 58-59 Lane compressedPedigree of Sir George Lane, Principal Secretary of State and Privy Councillor to Charles II in the Kingdom of Ireland. It shows that of the twelve children of his first marriage, sadly only three survived infancy. His daughter Charlotte, who was born in Brussels while her father was in exile with Charles II, was the King's goddaughter.

College of Arms reference: Benefactors' Book 2, pp 58-59.

Plans and Accounts

17. Alph Sch C. 9 2 compressedDrawing of proposed front elevation of College, 1677

College of Arms reference: Alph Sch C. 9/2.

18. Alph Sch C. 9 4 Ground Plan compressed

Proposed ground plan of the College, 1677
College of Arms reference:Alph Sch C. 9/4.
19. Alph Sch C. 9 5 Sketch compressed
Sketch of the front of the College, showing the buildings on the south side which in 1866 were knocked down to make way for Queen Victoria Street. The calculations seem to concern the potential interest to be accrued on the lease of the houses on the east side.

College of Arms reference: Alph Sch C. 9/5.


20. Alph Sch C. 9 6 compressed

With parts of the building completed, this document of 1677 lists further requirements and specifications, including for cellars, a terrace, and the levelling of the courtyard.

College of Arms reference: Alph Sch C. 9/6.

21. Chptr Book 1 p 176 compressed

St Benet's Church, opposite the College, has traditionally also been known as the 'heralds' church', and several Officers of Arms are buried there. Destroyed in the Great Fire, the new building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke. Work began in 1683 and it was open for services in 1685. This entry in Chapter minutes for June 1682 shows the Officers of Arms paying for the installation of pews, for their use, but with any surplus going to the church's other expenses.

College of Arms reference: Chapter Book 1, p. 176.


22. Treasurers Accounts p 53 compressed

Twenty-two years after the Fire, these receipts show payments to Ephraim Beacham of £40 for 'certain articles touching the Building the East end of [the] College of Arms' and of £20 for paving the terrace with Swedish marble.

College of Arms reference: Treasurer's Accounts vol 1 (1677-1707), p. 53.


23. Treasurers Accounts p 55 compressed

Treasurer's Accounts include some fascinating insights into the workings of the College in the 17th century. This page for 1687-88 shows payments to a plasterer, joiner and two bricklayers, and at the foot of the page includes expenses accrued at the Horn Tavern when treating with Mr Beacham about the new building. It also shows the Treasurer, Gregory King, entertaining Treasury Officers at the Swan Tavern on Christmas Eve, and spending £1. 16s. 6d. at the Dog Tavern 'upon receiving our Salary'!

College of Arms reference: Treasurer's Accounts vol 1 (1677-1707), p. 55.


24. Treasurers Accounts p 65 compressed

By the time of these Accounts, 1689-90, expenditure on the College building was more decorative, and includes outgoings on flower pots and cypress and fir trees to go in them, although payments to a smith and a carpenter are also recorded. It also gives information about College servants, showing that the Porter, Mr Amy, had died and that payments were made to his widow, including for her lodging (quarteridge). She is taken ill, and money is spent on taking her to St Bartholomew's Hospital. 18 days later, however, a record is made of the cost of her funeral.

College of Arms reference: Treasurer's Accounts vol 1 (1677-1707), p. 65.


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