Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. I.: Of the Bills of Mortality, their beginning, and progress. 1 - The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 2
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CHAP. I.: Of the Bills of Mortality, their beginning, and progress. 1 - Sir William Petty, The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 2 
The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, together with The Observations upon Bills of Mortality, more probably by Captain John Graunt, ed. Charles Henry Hull (Cambridge University Press, 1899), 2 vols.
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Of the Bills of Mortality, their beginning, and progress.1
THE first of the continued Weekly Bills of Mortality extant at the Parish Clerks Hall2 , begins the Twenty ninth of December 1603, being the first year of King James his Reign; since when a weekly Accompt hath been kept there of Burials and Christnings. It is true, There were Bills ‖ before, viz. for the Years 1592, -93, -94; but so interrupted since, that I could not depend upon the sufficiency of them, rather relying upon those Accompts, which have been kept since in order, as to all the uses I shall make of them.
2. I believe, that the rise of keeping these Accompts was taken from the Plague: for the said Bills (for ought appears) first began in the said year 1592, being a time of great Mortality; and, after some disuse, were resumed again in the year 1603, after the great Plague then happening likewise1 .
3. These Bills were printed and published, not only every Week on Thursdays, but also a general Accompt of the whole Year was given in upon the Thursday before Christmas-day: which said general Accompts have been presented in the several manners following, viz. from the Year 1603, to the Year 1624, inclusivè, according to the Pattern here inserted2 .
The general Bill for the whole Year, of all the Burials and Christnings, as well within the City of London, and the Liberties thereof, as in the Nine out Parishes adjoyning tothe City, with the Pest-house belonging ‖ to the same: from Thursday the 18. of December 1623, to Thursday the 16. of December, 1624, according to the Report made to the King's most Excellent Majesty by the Company of the Parish-Clerks of London.
4. In the Year 1625, every Parish was particularized1 , as in this following Bill: where note, That this next year of Plague caused the Augmentation, and Correction of the Bills; as the former year of Plague did the very being of them.
A general, or great Bill for this Year, of the whole number of Burials, which have been buried of all Diseases, and also of the Plague in every Parish within the City of London, and the Liberties thereof; as also in the Nine out Parishes adjoyning to the said City; with the Pest-house belonging to the same: from Thursday the 16. day of December, 1624. to Thursday the 15. day of December, 1625. according to the Report ‖ made to the King's most Excellent Majesty by the Company of Parish Clerks of London.
5. In the Year 1626, the City of Westminster, in imitation of London, was inserted. The gross Accompt of the Burials and Christenings, with distinction of the Plague being only taken notice of therein; the fifth, or last Canton, or Lined-space, of the said Bill, being varied into the form following, viz.
6. In the Year 1629, an Accompt of the Diseases and Casualties, whereof any dyed, together with the distinction of Males and Females, making the sixth Canton of the Bill, was added in manner following.1
The Canton of Casualties; and of the Bill for the Year 1632, being of the same form with that of 1629. ‖
7. In the Year 1636, the Accompt of the Burials and Christnings, in the Parishes of Islington, Lambeth, Stepney, Newington, Hackney, and Redriff were added3 in the manner following, making a seventh Canton, viz. ‖
8. Covent-Garden being made a Parish1 , the Nine out Parishes were called the Ten out Parishes, the which in former years were but Eight.
9. In the Year 1660, the last-mentioned ten Parishes, with Westminster, Islington, Lambeth, Stepney, Newington, Hackney, and Redriff, are entred under two Divisions, viz. the one containing the Twelve Parishes lying in Middlesex and Surrey, and the other the Five Parishes within the City and Liberties of Westminster, viz. St. Clement Danes, St. Paul's Covent-Garden, St. Martin's in the Fields, St. Mary-Savoy, and St. Margaret's Westminster.
10. We have hitherto described the several steps whereby the Bills of Mortality are come up to their present state; we come next to shew how they are made and composed, which is in this manner, viz. When any one dies, then, either by tolling, or ringing of a Bell, or by bespeaking of a Grave of the Sexton, the same is known to the Searchers, corresponding with the said Sexton.
11. The Searchers hereupon (who are ancient Matrons, sworn to their Office) repair to the place where the dead Corps lies, and by view of the same, and by other enquiries, they examine by what Disease or Casualty ‖ the Corps died. Hereupon they make their Report to the Parish Clerk, and he, every Tuesday night, carries in an Accompt of all the Burials and Christnings happening that Week, to the Clerk of the Hall. On Wednesday the general Accompt is made up and printed, and on Thursday published and dispersed to the several Families who will pay four Shillings per Annum for them.
12. Memorandum, That although the general yearly Bills have been set out in the several varieties aforementioned, yet the Original Entries in the Hall-books were as exact in the very first year, as to all particulars, as now; and the specifying of Casualties and Diseases was probably more.
On the history of the London bills of mortality see the Introduction.
Maitland, writing before 1739, could not find the part of the Parish Clerks’ register for the years before 1664. He records that “the Company are of the opinion that the same was lent to Mr Graunt, to enable him to write his Natural and Political Observations, and by some accident never returned.” History of London, II. 738.
Graunt's conjecture of a connection between the Plague and the origin of the bills is confirmed by their earlier history. Cf. Introduction, also Creighton, Epidemics, I. 294–295, Ogle in Jour. of the Stat. Soc., LV. 438.
A printed weekly bill for 5–12 November, 1607, a MS. weekly bill for 10–17 August, 1609, and a blank form for a weekly bill with printed date of 1610 are preserved at the Record Office. State Papers, Dom., James I., XXVIII. 89; XLVII. 85–86; LVIII. 102. All vary in unimportant particulars from the pattern of a yearly bill which Graunt gives. The bill of 1607 lacks the entry of those buried of the plague without the liberties in Middlesex and Surrey, the bill of 1609, though it gives them does not include them in its total burials, while the form for a bill dated 1610 both includes them in its total and also omits to enter separately “the whole sum of all the burials in London and the liberties thereof.” The MS. bill of 1609 is further peculiar in that it consists of two independent parts. The second part is devoted to the nine out parishes enumerated by Graunt on p. 341 below. These parishes the bill locates “in Westminster,” and the first part omits their figures in making up the total of burials.
In the weekly bills, at least, every parish was particularized as early as 1532. See Introduction.
Properly St Anthony.
Properly St Augustin.
Properly St Benedict.
Otherwise St Vedast.
The diseases and casualties were reported to the Parish Clerks as early as 1604. Bell, London's Remembrancer, unpaged, Graunt, p. 346. Upon the back of the weekly bill for 5–12 November, 1607, the deaths due to each of twenty-one causes are enumerated in MS., and in the bill for 10–17 August, 1609, similar information is given, likewise in MS., for the parishes severally, e.g.:
This should be 973 to correspond with the tables at pp. 408 and 411, since both of them put the total burials for 1631 at 8562.
Probably a misprint for 266, which the first edition had. The plague burials, according to the table, p. 408 were 274 in 1631 and 8 in 1632.
In the bill for 21 April, see table, p. 426.
The Act erecting the parish of St Paul, Covent Garden, passed the House of Commons 7 January, 1645. Commons’ Journal, IV. 398.