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London in 1839

Part Three - Divisions, Wards, The Corporation

Divisions :-

The City of London is divided, for ecclesiastical objects and for the management of the poor, into 98 parishes within the walls, and 11 without the walls. For municipal purposes the City is divided into 26 wards, each of which is in some respects a separate community. The alderman and common-councilmen, who are chosen to represent the ward (as hereafter explained) in the City parliament form likewise a ward council, and they have the control of many of its local affairs. In most of the wards there are subdivisions into precincts, chiefly for the purposes of elections. The division into wards appears to have been made without regard to the parochial divisions, as the different wards consist of divisions of parishes as often as they are conterminous with them. An inquest jury is chosen annually in each ward, whose office it is to make presentments of nuisances and returns of non-freemen, and to perform such other duties as are within the province of a leet jury.

The comparative wealth and importance of each of the 26 wards may be estimated from the following statement of the amount of rental assessed in each for local purposes in 1771,1801,1831, and 1838 respectively :-


Amount of Rental





1. Aldersgate, Within and Without




£33, 297

2. Aldgate





3. Bassishaw





4. Billingsgate 





5. Bishopsgate, Within and Without 





6. Bread Street





7. Bridge





8. Broad Street





9. Candlewick





10. Castle Baynard





11. Cheap





12. Coleman Street





13. Cordwainers





14. Cornhill





15. Cripplegate, Within





16. Cripplegate, Without





17. Dowgate





18. Farringdon, Within





19. Farringdon, Without





20. Langbourn





21. Lime Street





22. Portsoken





23. Queenhithe





24. Tower





25. Vintry





26. Walbrook










The corporation of London consists of the whole body of the citizens, or freemen, under the style of ‘Mayor, Commonality, and Citizens,’ viz.:-

Lord-mayor : 1

Aldermen, in addition to the Lord-mayor : 25

Common-councilmen : 240

Officers of the Corporation

The Sheriffs, who are jointly sheriff of Middlesex.
Judge of the Sheriffs' Court and Assistant Judge of the Central Criminal Court.
The four Common Pleaders.
The two Secondaries.
The two Under-sheriffs.
Comptroller of the Chamber.
Solicitor and Clerk Comptroller of the Bridge House.
Coroner for London and Southwark.
Clerk of the Peace.
Bailiff of Southwark.
The four Attorneys of the Mayor's Court.
The four Auditors of the City and Bridge House Accounts.
Clerk of the Chamber.
The two Bridge-masters or Wardens.
The three Esquires, and other officers of the lord-mayor's household.
The four Harbour-masters, and other officers connected with the port of London and mooring-chain services.
The Clerks and Assistant Clerks to the lord-mayor and sitting magistrates in London and Southwark.
The Keepers,Ordinary and Chaplains, and Surgeons of the several Prisons of the city.
The Superintendent of Police, the City Marshals, and other officers connected with the police of the city and sundry officers employed in the civil government of the corporation, collection of its revenue, the markets, &c.

The lord-mayor is elected on the 29th September in each year, from among those aldermen who have served in the office of sheriff. Two such aldermen are nominated by the liverymen in common-hall, and of those two, one is selected, usually the senior alderman, by the court of aldermen. He enters upon the duties of his office on the 9th November following : if he refuses to serve, he must pay a fine of a £1,000. The lord-mayor elect must be presented to the lord chancellor, who signifies the assent of the crown to his election.  He must also be presented, on the day on which he enters on his office, to the barons of the exchequer when he takes the oath of office. The salary and allowances paid to him from the city funds during his year of office amount to £6,422, 8 shillings and 4 pence, in addition to which he receives sums from various sources which raise the official income to about £7,900. The expenses, chiefly arising from a sumptuous hospitality, usually exceed the income by about £4,000. He resides during the year of office in the Mansion-house which is handsomely furnished, and provided with plate and jewelled ornaments said to he worth from £20,000 to £30,000. The functions of the lord-mayor are multifarious. A great part of his time is occupied by magisterial duties. He presides over the courts of aldermen, common-council and common-hall. He is conservator of the Thames, and holds eight courts during the year of office, two for each of the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Essex, and Kent, ‘to enquire into all offences to the destruction of the fish, nuisances upon and impediments of the common passage of the Thames and Medway.’ He presides as judge in the Court of Hustings, the supreme court of record in London, which court is generally held once a week, whence it is frequently resorted to for obtaining judgements in cases (as of outlawry) where expedition is required.  He is first commissioner of the Central Criminal Court, and usually opens the sessions in person. He is a justice of gaol delivery for Newgate, and is named in every commission for that purpose.  He usually opens the London session in person.  He also opens and presides at the sessions in Southwark.  He is escheator in London and Southwark.  He is also admiral of the port of London, and is at the head of the lieutenancy of the city of London. He is properly clerk of the markets and gauger for the city. On the demise of the crown he is always summoned to attend the privy-council which declares allegiance to the successor. At the coronation, the lord-mayor acts as chief butler, and receives for his fee a gold cup.

The aldermen are elected for life, at meetings of the ward, called a wardmote, which must take place within 14 days after each vacancy shall occur. The electors are such house-holders of the ward as are freemen of the city and pay local taxes to the amount of 30 shillings per annum.  A person refusing to serve the office when elected may be fined £500, but is excused on swearing that he is not worth £30,000. With the exception of the alderman of the Ward of the Bridge (always the senior alderman, and who has no local duties to perform), every alderman appoints a deputy from among the common-councilmen of the ward. Every alderman is a justice of the peace for the city of London, and one of them attends, by a rotation among the body, for a week at one time in the justice-room at the Guildhall, for the transaction of magisterial business  In cases where two magistrates are required to determine any case at the Mansion-house, this sitting alderman proceeds there, and joins the lord-mayor for the purpose.

The common-councilmen are elected annually on St Thomas's day, at a wardmote, the electors being the same as in the elections of aldermen. The number elected varies in the different wards, but not in proportion to their extent and presumed importance, the smallest number in any ward being 4, and the greatest 17. Any qualified freeman householder when elected, would be subject to fine and disfranchisement for not serving, but such cases seldom or never occur. The common-councilmen do not meet in any court exclusively their own, their sittings being always under the presidence of the lord-mayor and attended of right by the aldermen. The title of the court of common-council is ‘the Lord Mayor Aldermen, and Commons of the city of London in Common Council assembled.’ To constitute a court there must be present the lord-mayor or some alderman, his locum tenens, two other aldermen at least, and as many common-councilmen as, with the lord-mayor and aldermen present shall make up the number of 40. The senior law-officers of the city have seats in the court, but have no vote, and do not speak unless called upon to do so. Of late years the public have been allowed to attend, but must be excluded upon the motion of any member of the court. There are usually about 12 ordinary meetings of the court in the year. The lord-mayor may at any time call the members together, and on a requisition from a moderate number of members he seldom fails to do so. This court has now unlimited power of applying the funds of the corporation, and full legislative authority in all municipal matters, where not restrained a by statute. The members of the court are severally nominated members of various committees, and thus perform various executive functions. The common seal of the city cannot be applied to any instrument but by order of the court of common-council, which thus reserves power over the disposition of the landed property belonging to the corporation.

The two sheriffs are chosen annually by such of the free men as are liverymen of some one of the city companies. Every alderman who has not served the office is put in nomination as a matter of course. The lord mayor, between the 1st of April and the 14th June, may put in nomination any number of freemen not exceeding nine. Any person thus nominated remains on the list until he is elected or has paid the fine of £400 and 20 marks for not serving the office ; and on the day of election, Midsummer-day, any two electors may put any freeman in nomination. No person is liable to serve the office twice.

The sheriffs attend the lord-mayor on state occasions and at every court of aldermen. They present the petitions of the court of aldermen or common-council to the House of Commons at the bar of the House. In the cases of addresses to the crown they attend at court for the purpose of learning when the address will be received. They attend the common-hall at elections to take the votes. They are the returning officers of the members of the House of Commons for the city of London and the county of Middlesex. Either the sheriff or the under-sheriff of Middlesex attend at the execution of capital sentences within the city. They have the superintendence of prisons within the city, and present reports concerning their state at every court of aldermen. The sheriffs receive between them a payment from the city of £737, 6 shillings and 8 pence, and they have a few incidental emoluments which one year with another raise the income to £1,000 for the two  On the other hand, the state which they are expected to maintain and the entertainment of the judges and aldermen who attend the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey subject them to very heavy expenses, amounting for each sheriff to about £2,000 beyond the receipts. The shrievalty being vested in the citizens of London, some of its most important duties are assigned to the judge of the sheriffs court, and the secondaries, who are elected by the common council.

The recorder is elected for life by the court of aldermen. He must be a freeman, but the grant of freedom may immediately precede the election. The recorder has always been chosen from among barristers. The duties of recorder are those of an advocate and adviser of the corporation. He is advised with on all cases relating to the affairs of the city and holds a brief for the corporation in all cases, except in the courts where he himself presides. When the city is heard by council before either House of Parliament, the recorder argues the case. He is by charter a justice of the peace and commissioner of the Central Criminal Court, and a justice of the peace in Southwark. The recorder attends the lord mayor on all important occasions of state ceremony. He sits with the judges of the court of hustings to direct them in points of law and to give judgement. The recorder acts as one of the judges at the twelve sessions holden annually in the Old Bailey, and at the conclusion of each prepares a report of the case of every capital convict for the consideration of the privy-council, and he afterwards attends to take the pleasure of the Queen thereupon. He issues warrants for the reprieve or execution of the criminals whose cases a have been reported. The annual salary of the recorder is £3,000, in addition to which he receives the ordinary fees on all cases and briefs which come to him from the corporation, and some other trifling emoluments.

The common-sergeant, who has always been a barrister, is elected by the common-council on the nomination of some member of the court. His duties are :- to preside daily in one of the courts of the Old Bailey during the sessions for London and Middlesex, for which purpose he is always named in the commission ; he attends all meetings of the livery in common-hall ; he attends all courts of aldermen and of common-council unless otherwise engaged on behalf of the corporation ; he also attends the lord-mayor on all public occasions ; he advises in all law cases relating to the corporation, and acts as counsel for the city in the courts in Westminster Hall.  His salary is £1,500 per. Annum, in addition to which be receives fees with all cases and briefs sent to him on behalf of the city, and has some other small emoluments.

The town-clerk is appointed by the common-council, and holds his office by a grant under the common-seal during the pleasure of the court. He is the clerk of all courts holden before the lord-mayor and aldermen ; of the mayor's court, of the court of hustings, of the courts of common-council and of common-hall, and of the sessions for conservation of the waters of the Thames and Medway. His duties are exceedingly various ; they are such as are incident to the office of a secretary or town-clerk of a corporation, and need not be here detailed. In one year (1833) this officer attended 75 committees of aldermen and 502 committees of the common-council, in addition to the other duties. His emoluments consist of fees on licenses, on leases, and on admissions to freedom or to different offices, estimated at £700 per annum for himself, and £100 for his clerks : besides these fees ho has a salary of £1,300 per annum, and an allowance of £1,500 per annum for the expenses of his office. He resides in apartments at the Guildhall, free of rent and taxes.

It is not necessary to enter upon any detail of the nature of other offices held under the corporation. Their duties will generally be sufficiently indicated by their designations.