University of Toronto
Mayors and Sheriffs of London (MASL) is a searchable database covering at present all mayors and sheriffs of the city from 1190 to the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558. This list initially appeared in print as an Appendix (pp. 308-355) in London historian Caroline M. Barron's London in the Later Middle Ages, published by Oxford University Press in early 2004.
Such reference lists of London mayors and sheriffs have existed from early times: in medieval and early modern chronicle histories (in manuscript and in print), and in urban historian John Stow's A Survey of London (first published in 1598). Most of these early lists are, however, incomplete, and contain many inaccuracies, so that British institutions such as the Public Record Office and the Corporation of London Records Office have had to compile their own handlists, for reference, for staff working with London records. While more accurate than the original lists, these handlists are also not complete; the names, for example, of mayors and sheriffs replacing those who died in office are sometimes omitted, and the specific replacement dates are almost never included. Before the more modern handlists were compiled, C.L. Kingsford, a scholar working in the early 20th century on London chronicles, had already corrected Stow's Survey of London list in a two-volume edition of the Survey published in 1908; but Kingsford did not fill out to any significant extent the material Stow had provided. Above all, none of these early lists or the more recent records offices' lists normally include the livery company memberships of the two sheriffs (and occasionally, early on, of the mayor as well) holding office each year.
MASL includes for each mayor and sheriff not only specific term-of-office dates (including, for mid-term replacements, the dates of both election and swearing-in where these dates differ and can be found) but also, above all, the occupation or company membership of each individual, where this could be ascertained from early manuscript and/or print records. Company membership of mayors and sheriffs is an important factor for London historians to consider, given the importance of the companies from earliest times, as political organizations, in the government of the city. MASL allows its users to search for mayors and sheriffs by name, by year, or by company; it can also provide chronological listings of mayors and sheriffs for a defined period of time; and it notes the sources of all information provided, through a searchable list of references. It is currently in the late stages of construction, with links being provisionally added to the web sites — where these exist (as they increasingly do) — of the companies themselves. Once the 1190-1558 list has been tested and debugged, gradually more years will be added, in chronological order, so that eventually the list will reach the present day. Gradually also references such as biographical sources on the various mayors and sheriffs will be introduced. As a database, MASL can be revised, corrected (as more historical work is done), and extended in whatever directions its users find helpful.
A number of problems have been encountered in moving MASL from print form into an electronic database. For example, the spelling of names in the early period was not stable; and any one mayor or sheriff might have a name spelled in several different ways. When the user consults a printed list, s/he visually and rapidly scans the printed pages looking for an approximation or version of the name in which s/he is interested. The user of a searchable database, however, must type in a name, choosing a spelling. If this is not the spelling the database has used, the name will not be found. We have therefore had to wrestle with what to do about alternative spellings. Another problem is that a printed list will begin with an introduction explaining how it is to be used: for example, what its date ranges mean; but the user of an electronic database does not normally stop to read an introduction but simply types in the name or date s/he is looking for. How does one convey to such a user the information s/he needs, with a list as complex and problem-based as MASL, so that s/he will not misinterpret the information s/he is finding?
Yet another problem involves livery companies. At any given time in London's early history, about 100 of these companies existed — composed at first of members of specific occupations or trades, such as goldsmiths, grocers, shoemakers, ironmongers, and weavers — at first, for the purposes of regulation of trade, community religious worship, and the provision of social assistance to members in need, but increasingly, from the mid-15th century on, for purposes such as business connections of all kinds, political clout, and social status. Many of these companies still exist today, functioning as essentially private clubs, and as still an important part of political, social, and business connections in the city. Many of the companies from the earlier periods, however, no longer exist (some companies died; others grew up to replace them and in turn expired); and in order to provide appropriate information on company memberships to MASL users, who will not — unlike the users of the printed list — have a book on London history in their hands, a good deal of extra work will be involved in eventually linking information on these now extinct companies to their names in the database, along with providing links to the web sites of still-flourishing companies which have developed a web presence. Further expansions then also become possible: for example, references to reliable company histories.
MASL, in short, can be developed into an extremely useful reference tool for various aspects of early London history, and can be continuously updated and expanded, but presents interesting challenges in the conversion from print to database. One major advantage of the database, however, as correctable and expandable, lies in the fact that users will be able to make corrections and to add material from their own research; they will be invited to send to the MASL editor their corrections and additional information, which will then be checked and, credited to them, added to the site. Reference works such as MASL, which can be easily updated in this way, and also linked to other historical sites and records collections, would seem to be especially suited to electronic database format.
Barron, Caroline M.
London in the Later Middle Ages
Oxford University Press
Beaven, Alfred B.
The Aldermen of the City of London
Corporation of London
Brooke, Christopher N.L.
London 800-1216: The Shaping of a City
Secker and Warburg
Public Record Office: Lists and Indexes, #9
Public Record Office
1898; rpt. 1963
London Civic Theatre: City Drama and Pageantry from Roman Times to 1558
Cambridge University Press
The Rulers of London in the Twelfth Century
Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge
A Survey of London
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