Ian Doolittle - History


The purpose of this website is to share the results of my historical research.

My Current work concerns the London property market before and after the Great Fire in 1666. The work is based on analyses of the Fire Court decrees.

My Previous work has also been principally concerned with London, starting with an Oxford D.Phil. thesis on the government of the City in the 18th century and leading to various articles in learned journals and also to books on the ‘modern’ history of the Mercers’ Company and the political survival of the City of London and its Livery Companies.

The list of Published work provides bibliographical references.

Another link describes my academic/professional Career.

Please Contact me to ask for copies of my work and/or share your views on my or your own research.

This website will have served its purpose if it helps me with my work and helps others with theirs.

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Current work

I am currently analysing the Fire Court decrees with a view to understanding the London property market before and after the Great Fire in 1666.

There are some 1600 decrees of the Court established by Parliament to settle disputes between landlords and tenants after the Fire. Four of a total of eight (and a bit) volumes were calendared by Philip Jones and published in 1966 and 1970. . Jones left a further volume calendared but unpublished and I have just published that, with the next volume in the series. That leaves the two odd volumes and I have started work on these.

In parallel with the calendaring work I am analysing the decrees to show what they tell us about the ‘mechanics’ – legal and financial – of the property market at that time. The decrees ‘lift the lid’, so to speak, on the way City of London property was owned, occupied and generally ‘used’. I first made a stab at this in a talk to Derek Keene’s Metropolitan History seminar in 2002 and published a summary version of it in the London Topographical Society’s Newsletter in the following year.

Since then I have considered trusts and settlements, women owners/occupiers and related issues in a discussion of ‘Law and Practice in 17th century London’, published in Urban History, vol. 42 (2015). In it I try to show how analysis of the decrees allows us to bridge the gap between the legal historians’ technical focus on the precedent-setting court cases and the ‘ordinary’ historians’ general focus on social and economic matters.

More work of this kind is planned. In the end we should have a much fuller picture of the way property law and practice played out, not just in the rebuilding of London after the Fire but also in ‘steady state’ market conditions.

I am also encouraging the use of the rich Fire-related evidence to recreate London in 1666: see my contribution to the London Topographical Society’s Newsletter in June 2014.

My talk at the famous ‘Quit Rents’ ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice on 9 October 2013 presented a ‘personal account’ of ‘Quit rents, freeholds and the Fire of London.’

In October 2016 I gave an illustrated talk in Guildhall Library on the ‘The Great Fire of London 1666-2016’.

I am currently completing an article entitled ‘Who owned the City of London in 1666?’, to be published in the next London Topographical Record. It is supported by a volume of evidence, (a) compiling a total of houses, principally from the Hearth Tax returns, (b) analysing the property-holdings of City ‘institutions’ and (c) describing individuals’ property ownership from the Fire Court decrees.

I plan to write a complementary article on ‘Who “owned” and occupied the City in 1666?’, looking at how individuals held leases, whether as investors or householders.

I will keep this section updated to show my progress. In the meantime please contact me if you would like a copy of any of the work mentioned here.

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Previous work

Before working on the Fire Court decrees as part of my analysis of the 17th century property market, I studied the various aspects of the City of London, especially in the 18th century. My thesis was on ‘The Government of the City of London, 1694-1767’ (Oxford D.Phil. 1980). This looked at a range of financial and administrative problems faced by the City Corporation as it tried to recover from the bankruptcy caused by a disastrous orphans scheme (as well as the long term effect of Crown ‘loans’ and then the Fire). I published a number of articles based on the thesis, including ones on the City Elections Act (1725), the Sheriffs controversy and (a new approach to) City politics from Shaftesbury to Wilkes: see my Published work for details.

Subsequent work on the City has included The Mercers’ Company 1579-1959, published by the Company in 1994, and The City of London and its Livery Companies: a history of survival, second edition published by the Guildhall Library in 2010. My lecture on the occasion of the latter publication entitled ‘“The Great Refusal”. Why does the City of London only govern the Square Mile?’ was published by The London Journal.

I published ‘The City of London in the 18th century: corporate pressures and their implications’ in an Oxford University Press volume honouring one of my History tutors, Paul Langford. The essay draws together much of my previous research.

While in Oxford I helped complete the work of my supervisor, Dame Lucy Sutherland, on the 18th-century volume of the History of the University, with a chapter on the administration of the colleges.

I also produced some articles on, and later (in 2001) a biography of, Sir William Blackstone. My final work him comprised two essays, first on his outwardly odd interest in the work of William Prynne and then on Thomas Winchester, Blackstone’s Oxford ally and Edward Gibbon’s famously maligned tutor.

My earlier published work concerned my then home town of Colchester, in particular its population and the often devastating plagues in the 16th and 17th centuries. This led to an article on the demographic resilience of towns at this time.

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Published Work

‘Population Growth and Movement in Colchester and the Tendring Hundred, 1500-1800’, Essex Review, 7 (1971)

‘The Plague in Colchester, 1579-1666’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, 4 (1972)

‘The Effects of the Plague on a Provincial Town in the 16th and 17th Centuries’, Medical History, 19 (1975)

‘The City’s Estate in Conduit Mead and the Authorship of The City-Secret’, Guildhall Studies in London History, 2 (1976)

‘The Half Moon Tavern, Cheapside, and City Politics, Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, 28 (1977)

‘Age at Baptism: further evidence’, Local Population Studies, 24 (1980)

‘A First-Hand Account of the Commons Debate on the Removal of Sir Robert Walpole, 13 February 1741, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 53 (1980)

‘Government Interference in City Elections, 1714-16’, Historical Journal, 24 (1981)

‘The City’s West End Estate: a “Remarkable Omission”’, The London Journal, 7 (1981)

‘Government Interference in City Politics in the Early 18th Century: the Work of Two Agents’, The London Journal, 8 (1982)

‘Walpole’s City Elections Act (1725)’, English Historical Review, 97 (1982)

The City of London and its Livery Companies (1982)

‘William Blackstone and the Radcliffe Camera, 1753’, Bodleian Library Record,11 (1982)

‘Jeremy Bentham and Blackstone’s lectures’, Bentham Newsletter, 6 (1982)

‘The City of London’s Debt to its Orphans, 1694-1767’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 56 (1983)

‘The Mansion House “racket”’, History Today, 33 (1983)

‘“Obsolete Appendix”? The City of London’s Struggle for Survival’, History Today, 33 (1983)

‘Sir William Blackstone and his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-9): a biographical approach’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 3 (1983)

‘College Administration’, in The History of the University of Oxford: Volume V (the Eighteenth Century), edd. L. S. Sutherland and L. G. Mitchell (1986)

The Mercers’ Company, 1579-1959 (1994)

William Blackstone: a biography (2001)

‘The London Property “Market” before and after the Great Fire’, London Topographical Society Newsletter, 56 (2003)

‘William Blackstone and William Prynne: an Unlikely Association?’, in Blackstone and his Commentaries: Biography, Law, History, ed. W. Prest (2009)

City of London Politics from Shaftesbury to Wilkes: Another Viewpoint (2010)

The City of London and its Livery Companies: a history of survival (2nd ed. 2010)

‘“The Great Refusal” Why does the City of London only govern the Square Mile?’, The London Journal, 39 (2014)

‘Recreating London in 1666’, London Topographical Society Newsletter, 78 (2014)

‘Property Law and Practice in 17th-century London’, Urban History, 42 (2015)

‘William Blackstone, Edward Gibbon and Thomas Winchester: the Case for an Oxford Enlightenment’, in Blackstone and his Critics, eds. A. Page and W. Prest (2018)

‘Parishes, Wards, Precincts and Liberties – solving a topographical puzzle’, London Topographical Society Newsletter, 86 (2018)

‘The City of London in the 18th Century: corporate pressures and their implications’, in Revisiting the Polite and Commercial People, eds. P. Gauci and E. Challus (2019)

PLUS articles in the New Dictionary of National Biography and reviews, especially in the English Historical Review.

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  • 1993 to date – Partner(now Consultant), Trowers & Hamlins
  • 1986 – Solicitor, Ashurst
  • 1980 – Oxford DPhil.
  • 1977-82 – Research Lecturer (Junior Research Fellow), Christ Church, Oxford
  • 1975-77 – Harmsworth Senior Scholar, Merton College, Oxford
  • 1974 – BA (Hons) (1st class), Modern History, Oxford University
  • 1971-74 – Open Scholar, Lincoln College, Oxford
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Last updated June 2020

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