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Mary Bassett (fl. 1693 – 1712)

Mary Bassett was a milliner and tenant of the upper floor or ‘pawn’ of the Royal Exchange at the turn of the eighteenth century. Figure 1 shows her name recorded in tax assessments as the tenant of ‘a Shopp’ in the ‘exchange above’ in 1693/4.[1]

Figure 1
London Metropolitan Archives, City of London CLC/525/MS11316/008, f. 97v from the Land Tax Commissioners collection.

We can learn more about the array of goods sold by Mary Bassett – and her occupational identity as a milliner – from court testimony in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey. In 1694, Elizabeth Jones was prosecuted for stealing ‘Six Yards of Bonelace’ to the value of £10 16 shillings (a substantial sum!) from the shop of ‘Mrs. Bassett’ on the Royal Exchange.[2] Bassett testified that her ‘maid’ was keeping shop at the time of the attempted theft. Elizabeth Jones ‘cheapened some Lace to make a Pair of Sleeves, and afterwards shifted the Lace under her Petticoat; and rising out of the Chair, to go away, the Lace dragg’d after her’.[3] This indicates that she had entered the stall and had been seated in a chair, perhaps in order to survey the goods for sale in a more leisurely manner, and that Jones had discussed her reasons for purchasing the lace with the shop assistant. Figure 2 depicts an example of a seventeenth-century cuff of the kind stocked by milliners and lace-women.

Figure 2
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Cuff (one of a pair), British, Bobbin and needle lace, 30.135.141c.

Fortunately, livery company records allow us to trace Mary Bassett further. She was admitted as a new freemen of the Mercers’ Company by patrimony in October 1698.[4] Thereafter, she bound Alice Wyatt apprentice on 26 May 1699, followed by Elizabeth Staffe (19 October 1705), Mary Cutler (26 August 1709), and Anne Cutler (25 November 1709).[5] Anne and Mary Cutler were sisters and had travelled from Surrey in order to undertake their apprenticeships.

Mary Bassett was last recorded as the tenant of her shop on the Royal Exchange in 1712.[6]


[1] London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) CLC/525/MS11316/008, Land Tax Assessment Book Cordwainer, Cornhill, Cripplegate Within, Dowgate: ‘Exchange Above’ 1693/4, f. 97v.

[2] Elizabeth Jones was acquitted of theft because she did not actually remove the lace from Mary Bassett’s shop. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 8.0, 10 November 2018), August 1694, trial of Elizabeth Jones, alias Owen (t16940830-4).

[3] In this context, ‘cheapened’ means perused and bargained for.

[4] Mercers’ Company Archives, Mercers’ Company Acts of Court 1693–1700, f. 137r. Mary Bassett’s maidservant in the shop in 1693/4 was not formally bound as an apprentice because Bassett was not yet free of the Mercers’ Company. This indicates that there were far more women engaged in work as apprentices than binding books show.

[5] ‘Mercers’ Company, Mary Bassett’ on Records of the Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO):, accessed 11 February 2020.

[6] LMA CLC/525/MS11316/040, Land Tax Assessment Book Candlewick – Farringdon Within: ‘Exchange Above’ 1712, f. 114r.


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