The William Piggin Charity


At the close of his life in 1621, William Piggin had evidently achieved some prosperity. He had been born in the country, perhaps about 1560, although there is no record of his birth. He had moved up to London to follow the family trade as a plasterer, had obtained his citizenship of the City and was a member of the Plaisterers' Company or guild. Over two decades in the London of King James I, there would have been plenty of business plastering wooden buildings inside and out as fire protection and perhaps also providing fancier work for the middle class and the rich. William's brother Elias is recorded as taking on a series of apprentice plasterers in this period, so the two men perhaps operated in conjunction.

But William had never forgotten his ancestral area, in and near the parish of Elvaston in the southern part of Derbyshire.

He appears from his will to have been childless, and his wife had died before him, so William resolved in his last years to create an enduring memorial and to do a good deed at the same time: to not only make legacies to his wider family and friends, but also to leave in his will a very substantial sum of money, 250 pounds, to be invested in real estate, with the rents paid by the future tenants to be given to poor people of the villages of Thulston and Ambaston and the hamlet of Elvaston itself where the church is located.

The Party

Astutely, William decided to couple the annual distribution of this bounty with a party for the trustees, the Drinking. He provided an additional 10 pounds as a stock to generate interest or rent. It is estimated that at least five shillings would have been available annually for this convivial drink in William's memory: a very generous "shout" at that time. The Charles Talber statement of the prices of goods at Southampton in 1625 indicates that plain ale by the mug in those days cost a halfpenny a quart or a farthing a pint. Five shillings would therefore have bought a quart per head for 120 people, or even more if the ale had been bought for the event wholesale by the barrel!

By inviting the trustees (but not the beneficiaries) to enjoy free beer (or claret or hock?) on a "Blessed William Piggin Day" every year, the donor ensured there would be an incentive to keep his charity alive, vigilance to prevent its assets being stolen by corrupt trustees and long-lasting gratitude from leading members of the community for his munificence.

A good deal about William can be learned from his will, which gives copious details of his favourite places, his family, his friends and his affections. He says he was born at "Bredsan", Derbyshire, which most probably means Breaston, a village which is quite close to Elvaston, though the writing also resembles the name of Breadsall, north of Derby city. Tax records of the City of London show him living from 1598 to 1600 in Dowgate ward, part of St Laurence Pountney parish, an area which is marked today by the streets Dowgate Hill, Laurence Pountney Hill and Laurence Pountney Lane. He had an interest in a brewhouse close by at Old Swan, which led to a legal dispute in 1598. Although he appears to have moved house to Thames Street, closer to the river, he continued to attend church at St Laurence Pountney, buried his wife there and ordained that he be buried at her side. The church (and his grave) vanished in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was never rebuilt. Here are some maps that show how the area might have looked in his lifetime:

He mentions that his latter-day home was properly in Allhallows the Less parish, so it would seem his house was on the south side of Thames Street. This would perhaps have given him access to riverside warehouse space where he could import and keep materials. Other streets named in the will include Bailey, Castle Alley, Wood Street, Great Ward Street and Fleet Street.

Many of the legacies are made to people in debtors' prisons, and it is plausible to suppose that William might have once or twice come close to financial disaster himself with major clients refusing to pay - a common danger to tradesmen - and that he had a clear conception of the desperation of people imprisoned for debt. He also left money to street children being educated at Christ's Hospital, an early public school, only asking that the pupils join the crowd at his funeral. Legacies were also made to London's other two royal schools for the poor, Bridewell Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital. The sick at St Bartholomew's, a hospital in the modern sense of a haven for the sick, also benefitted, though not on the same scale as the poor of Elvaston. He also left money for various London friends - churchwardens and fruiterers - to party in his honour, "if they please" bringing along their wives too, just as he was concerned for his Elvaston trustees to be merry without having to count the cost too closely. Oddly, he did not provide for any drinking among his fellow plasterers: perhaps he knew the business too well and did not regard them as needy. The precise value of his estate is not known, but he made legacies totalling about 1,400 pounds, of which about 735 pounds was reserved for his relations, so one supposes his fortune at death was about 1,500 pounds, making him quite a rich man. Approximately one sixth of the total was reserved for the Elvaston charity, including the Drinking.

The Board

The trust board charged with distributing the Elvaston money comprised the churchwardens of the parish, led by the lord of the manor, Sir John Stanhope, who was soon after to build a grand country house, Elvaston Castle, near the church, yeoman William Osborne of Elvaston (from a family with which the Piggins intermarried), Thulston yeomen Thomas Lancashire and Richard Cope and the young Ambaston yeoman John Soar, all probably ex officio by virtue of being churchwardens. The vicar was named by the will itself to the panel, as were Richard Piggin and his son William, but the deceased's executor - his brother Elias - astutely persuaded the panel to co-opt himself and various other London friends and relations including the testator's great-nephew Henry Cox and his father, London dyer and businessman William Cox, who were beneficiaries of William's will, and cloth businessman Lovingcot Lamball (probably not a relation). The various Piggin kinsmen co-opted to the Drinking committee are further identified below.

Following William's death on June 5, 1621, the trustees used the money to buy a farmhouse and various pieces of land in Spondon parish, close to Derby town. They placed a monument to William inside Elvaston church - a stone tablet topped by three spires and a medallion with the date "1621". The original brass inscription at its centre appears from its style and spelling to have been made shortly after his death. A second brass plate was added to it in 1821 to explain alterations made at that time to the 200-year-old charity.

William probably had no notion that in addition to nourishing the poor and encouraging conviviality, he would also be appreciated nearly 400 years later for a further good deed. Literally so. The 1622 purchase deed for the real estate has turned out to be a boon to scholarship today, since it, along with his will, documents William's far-flung kinship. Vital records in the 16th century were still new, often faulty and give only sparse details about relationships (a point familiar to all scholars who have attempted to discover more about William Shakespeare the person). William Piggin's will and the later dealings of his trustees give an unusually illuminating picture of how and where the Piggin clan had spread. The panel included 10 Piggin relations in all, only two of whom were appointed by the will:

  1. Richard Piggin of Thulston, yeoman, specifically named in the will as a trustee
  2. William Piggin of Elvaston (identified in the will as Richard of Thulston's son)
  3. William Piggin, son of William above
  4. Elias Piggin of London, plasterer (executor and brother of the deceased)
  5. Thomas Piggin of London, plasterer (brother of the deceased)
  6. Richard Piggin of Loscoe, yeoman (most likely the testator's cousin)
  7. Thomas Piggin, son of Richard above
  8. John Piggin of Ashton, miller and skinner of London [perhaps Aston on Trent?]
  9. Elias, son of Thomas Piggin
  10. Robert Piggin of Ockbrook, presumed to be a cousin

This uniquely detailed listing of the Derbyshire Piggin family in the Stuart period shows that the tradesmen in London and the Piggin "colonies" at Ockbrook, 4 kilometres north of Thulston, and Loscoe, 15 kilometres north of Thulston, were all closely linked. These Derbyshire places were all within about 4 hours' walking distance of one another.


By 1677, the trustees who had survived the English Civil War had died of old age and it fell to John Soare, the last of them, formerly of Ambaston and now of nearby Shardlow, to renew the board's composition and ensure that the drinkings, by now a tradition after more than half a century, continued. This time he could only find three Piggins to serve on the panel:

  1. John, son of Elias Piggin of Thulston, yeoman
  2. William Piggin senior, yeoman
  3. William Piggin junior, son of the above, yeoman

The charity continued for a further 130 years, until change was forced on it by the conversion of common land at Spondon in 1789 to private ownership, making the scattered fields inconvenient to farm, although some of the common land had been awarded to the trustees. The farmhouse had also become very dilapidated and it was realised that a 50-per-cent increase in income could be gained by selling the entire property and buying a single, more easily managed property. The sale raised £3,120 (12 times what the property had originally cost) and part of the proceeds were spent on the new farm at Cossington, Leicestershire.

A small sum was spent on placing the additional brass plate of 1821 on the old stone memorial to William inside Elvaston Church. It is not clear what happened to the rest of the money (£1,520 by my calculation). The charity was informally consolidated with two other parish charities, left by Elizabeth Wilcox and Jacob Osborne. The 1881 Kelly's stated the combined annual income of the three charities as £180 yearly from rents. The 1909 reincorporation scheme, which legally combined the three charities into one by authority of the Charity Commissioners of England and Wales, assessed the united charities' annual gross income as having diminished to £128, of which the 89 acres of Piggin land at Cossington was the source of 55 per cent of the total (the tenant at Cossington had paid the same rent for more than 50 years).

The Elvaston United Charities still exists as an institution in the 21st century and is listed on the Charity Commissioners website. Were he to be alive, William Piggin would no doubt be astonished to know that he thus has an official internet page as a constituent of the continuing charity. The combined annual gross income of the three charities has augmented, according to the Commission, to more than 5,000 pounds. Every four weeks the trustees distribute sums of money to pensioners resident in the parish of Elvaston. The fund for the Drinking is however much diminished and only 20 pence is available at each four-weekly distribution, too little to afford any beverage.


William PIGGIN: Still a lower middle-class resident of Dowgate (section in St Laurence Pountney Parish) in London, taxed 3 pounds, that being one tenth the value of his moveable goods, each year from 1598 to 1600. (Presumably the defendant in Kirbie v. Fountaine)

1598: London Subsidy Roll 369b (PRO E179/146/369b) Transcription

1599: London Subsidy Roll 394f (PRO E179/146/394f) Transcription

1600: London Subsidy Roll 434 (PRO E179/146/434) Transcription

Published by Alan H. Nelson

William PIGGIN 1613 referenced 0 Jas. I. Mich 29

Exchequer Depositions

in Society of Genealogists Great Card Index

William PIGGIN 1621 National Archives PROB/11/137; Will (here abridged: see the browser source code for a somewhat longer version)

The tenth day of Aprill, Anno Dominii 1621. I, William Piggin, cittizen and playsterer of this cittye of London, do ordaine make and declare my will: my bodie I committ to the earth from whence it came, to bee buried in the parish church of St Lawrence Pountney near Thames Streete in London soe neare to my late wife who was buried there in the same church as may be. And a stone to be laid over the corpe of me and my said wieffe with (letters?) engraven of the tymes of our deaths and otherwise, to be brought to the Church in such decent manner as my executor and overseer hereafter named shall think fittinge. [This church was destroyed in 1666 in the Great Fire of London and not rebuilt.]

In witness thereof I the said William Piggin have hearunto set my hand and seale the day and yeare first above written. Acknowledged for the last will and testament of the said William Piggin in the presence of us, Richard Lane senior, the marke of Barbara Wray, the marke of John Jennings.

Publication right to this edited text 2008-2034: Jean-Baptiste Piggin

Stanhope papers at the Derbyshire Record Office: Piggin charity deeds, land in trust for poor of Elvaston: messuage, Stonebridge meadow close, Megalaughton, Hobson Paddock, meadow closes, Bricksick Close and West-side Close (pasture), 3 leys in a close in Over-goodwins, dole meadow in Synderlands, parcel in St Mary-leys Nooke, 8 acres, 1 rood [rod] land in field towards Derby, 8 acres in field towards Borowash, 11 acres, 3 roods [rods] in Brinkfield, 2 beast pastures in Spondon Waste, all in Spondon. Sale and fine by Richard and Elizabeth Noton to William Boothouse, citizen and clothworker of London, for £280 and £60 (1617). Terrier and power of attorney. Fine (1622 Trinity) for £60 and bargain and sale for £265 by Boothouse to trustees for use of Elvaston poor: Sir John Stanhope; Robert Towneson, vicar of Elvaston; Richard Piggen of Thurleston, yeoman; Ellis Piggen of London, plasterer; William Osborne of Elvaston, yeoman; Thomas Lancashire of Thulston yeoman; Thomas Piggen of London, plasterer; Richard Piggen of Loscoe, yeoman, and son Thomas; William Piggen of Elvaston and son William; John Piggen of Ashton, miller and skinner of London; Ellis, son of Thomas Piggen; William Cox, citizen and dyer of London, and son Henry; Lovingcot Lamball citizen and clothworker of London; John Soar of Ambaston, yeoman; Robert Piggen of Okebrooke, yeoman; Richard Cope of Thulston yeoman (5 Jul 1622)

Stanhope papers at the Derbyshire Record Office: The Piggin charity trust of 1622: Lease and release by John Soare of Shardlow, yeoman, surviving trustee, to new trustees: John Stanhope, esq.; Arthur Francis, vicar of Elvaston, Edward Robbin, yeoman; William, son of William Holland, yeoman; John, son of Ellys Piggen of Thulston, yeoman; Edmund son of late Edmund Jaques of Elvaston; William Piggen, yeoman, and son William; Jacob, second son of James Osborne, yeoman; John, son of Luke Hutchinson of Thulston; William Cope of Thulston, yeoman; William Soare of Ambaston, yeoman; William Soare of Ambaston, yeoman, William Trowell son of John Trowell of Ambaston, yeoman. Abstract of title, 1617-76. 28 Jan 1676/7

William PIGGIN 1621 of Elvaston mentioned in Worthies of Derbyshire, appendix page 97

This reference seen in Nottingham Public Library local-history card index, but the referenced book was not seen (possibly this was the projected but never published 19th century book by John Joseph Briggs): presumably this part of the manuscript describes the memorial in Elvaston church to William.

PRODGERS, Charles Henry, and PRODGERS (Dorothy), Bartholomew’s Parish Church, Elvaston. A souvenir of the Restoration and Re-opening; Long Eaton, Printed for private circulation, 1905; pp. 277.

On the wall to the south of the tower arch is a monument to William Piggen. The date 1621 is in a medallion at the top, and there are two brass plates affixed to the stone. The first contains the words:

"William Piggen, Cittizen and Plaisterer of London dyed the Vth Day of Ivne Ao 1621, who by will gave 250l. to bvy lands. And the profitts thereof yearely to be distribvted amongst the poore of the three townes belonging to this parish of Elvason by the chvrchwardens & some of his nearest kindred here inhabiting & Xl. more hee gave as stocke for ever, & the yearely profitts thereof to remaine to the disposers of the said poores mony, to be spent on a drincking att the distribvting thereof; withall wch mony there is a howse & lands bovghte in divers feoffees names scitvate in the towne and parish of Spoonedon in this covntye of Darbye."

Below this is a narrow plate on which is inscribed the following:

"In the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty one the above estate was sold to advantage to several purchasers, and the money was laid out in the purchase of an estate at Cossington in the County of Leicester, which was conveyed to the nine following trustees, vizt: the Lord Viscount Petersham, the eldest son of the Earl of Harrington; the Honourable and Reverend Fitzroy Henry Richard Stanhope; the Honourable and Reverend William Stanhope; the Reverend John Swain, Vicar of Elvaston; and to William Lancashire, William Severn, Robert Briggs, Thomas Briggs, and John Hutchinson the younger, all of the Parish of Elvaston.

The first part of the inscription is also transcribed and described in J. Charles Cox's Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire (1879) and briefly mentioned in Nikolaus Pevsner's Derbyshire as: "Memorial to William Piggen, plasterer, 1621, handsome simple tablet with brass inscription".

Especial thanks are due to Evadne and Stephen Robbins of Thulston who kindly assisted with the research and explained how the charity has been conducted in the past 100 years.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009
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