John Carpenter, town clerk of London

John Carpenter, town clerk of London

John Carpenter (1370?-1442?), was an important figure in the early history of the city of London. He left property in his will which eventually led to the founding of the City of London School.


In the 1200s merchants with the surname Carpenter were active in the wine trade from Bordeaux to London and seemingly in the wool export business. Roger Carpenter himself was one of the founders of the Worshipful Company of Grocers, formerly known as Pepperers. John Carpenter's own personal interests are revealed in his relationship with Henry Barton who was mayor of London in 1416, the year before Carpenter was appointed town clerk. Barton was a prosperous wool merchant and he and Carpenter had joint interests in various land holdings ("Close Rolls", June 12, 1434).

John Carpenter was buried in 1442 in the chancel of St Peters upon Cornhill, then the official church of the Worshipful Company of Drapers.

Documentary evidence

Other "Close Roll" documents from the late 1300s portray an elder and younger John Carpenter, as well as a Robert Carpenter, as inhabitants of the important cloth town of Lavenham. The two John Carpenters are described as drapers. The town clerk had both an older brother John and a younger brother Robert. The period of the Lavenham Carpenters coincides with civil unrest within London and particularly in London merchant circles. Events and other individuals in these documents have definite London connections.

It may be that two of the three sons of Richard Carpenter of London were drapers. In "London Assize of Nuisance" documents for 1412 and 1416 a John Carpenter can be seen as acting as an attorney. It has always been assumed that Carpenter attended the Inns of Court in London and received some manner of legal education.


Celebrated in history are Carpenter's ties to the mercer, brewer and London mayor Richard Whittington. Carpenter was partly instrumental with Whittington in the formal organization of the Worshipful Company of Mercers. Mercers themselves were cloth merchants. Many have argued that this was ceremonial. Carpenter the town clerk was certainly a relative and close confidant of John Carpenter, the bishop of Worcester (d. 1476) and with him was perhaps loyal to the Plantagenet house of Lancaster. Scholars of the period's merchant culture have always seen the principal players of the times as having diverse economic interests and activities. By the end of his life John Carpenter was a significant land holder and possessor of wealth. Some of his personal land holdings at death within the city of London eventually translated themselves into the formation and funding of the City of London School.


From his will we learn that his father's name was Richard and his mother's Christina. Carpenter's own wife Katherine was from Zeeland.

Carpenter's father Richard seems to be the Richard mentioned in the will of Roger Carpenter, pepperer, and described as a "relative". Richard Carpenter is described as still underage and under the guardianship of a John Beek (Bek) when Roger Carpenter died in 1348/9. Roger came from a long lineage of prosperous spice merchants in London and there are frequent references to them in the celebrated "Calendar of London Letter Books".


Carpenter was only partially documented by his 19th century biographer Thomas Brewer in his "Memoir of the Life and Times of John Carpenter". Brewer did not appreciate Carpenter's connections to London merchant history.


*Brewer, Thomas. "Memoir of the Life and Times of John Carpenter", Arthur Taylor, London, 1856.
*Douglas-Smith, A.E. "The City of London School", Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1965.
*"Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1959-60, vol. 3, pp. 1064-5.

*Bruce E. Carpenter, 'Addendum to Brewer's Memoir of the Town Clerk of London,' published in the "Journal of Tezukayama University", Nara, Japan, no. 4, 2000, pp. 57-115.

External links

* [] re. town clerk article
* [ Calendar of London Letter Books]

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