The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

From printing house to coffee house

Last Friday a much-anticipated package arrived at the Folger, containing a series of fifteen deeds describing the successive ownership of two adjacent properties on Fleet Street (“The King’s Highway”) in London from 1543 to 1735. Deeds can be tedious to muddle through, repetitive and full of arcane terminology. And the Folger doesn’t actively acquire deeds unless they directly relate to a collection strength, 1 but when these were offered to us by a London bookseller, we couldn’t say no.

This group of deeds is remarkable for providing the exact location of Richard Tottel’s printing house, the Hand and Star, where he printed Songs and Sonnets, the first printed anthology of poetry in English (1557), now commonly referred to as Tottel’s Miscellany. The printing-house, described in Tottel’s colophons as being “at London in Fletestrete within Temple Barre at the signe of the Hand and Starre,” was previously thought to be on the north side of Fleet Street. These manuscripts reveal that it was actually located on the south side, and was carved out of two tenements that jointly abutted a wall of the Inner Temple garden (to the south), the gate of the Middle Temple (to the west), and another house (to the east).

"Richard Tottill, Cytezen and stacioner of London" (detail, line 2); click to enlarge

As the deeds for these two tenements recount, in 1543, three years after Henry VIII suppressed the monastery that owned them (the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, which had a priory in Clerkenwell), they were granted by the king to William Lambe (Folger MS Z.c.22 (50)). Lambe quickly sold both of them to one of the two residing tenants, Thomas Holbeck and his wife Elizabeth (Z.c.22 (51)). Holbeck’s son Robert sold his share to Tottel in April 1556 (Z.c.22 (53)), although Tottel may have already been leasing them before that date.

The purchase in 1556 was timely: Tottel’s patent for common-law books was renewed on May 1, 1556. In 1557, when he had at least four apprentices and several paid journeymen working for him, he published, in addition to his regular batch of legal publications, some of his best known products: the aforementioned Songs and Sonnets, the English edition of Sir Thomas More’s Works, Surrey’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid into blank verse, and Thomas Tusser’s bestseller, A hundred good pointes of husbandrie.

Tottel gained total freehold possession of the two tenements (which had been combined into a single tenement) and three shops (later combined into two) in 1572, when he purchased Holbeck’s widow’s share (Z.c.22 (54)—the deal was finalized in 1575). Tottel’s son William continued to reside in the tenement after his father’s death in 1593. In August 1594, the property was re-divided, and William Tottel sold the tenement to the east to John Gomershall, who had been sub-leasing it from another tenant. It is this deed that describes “the shoppe which the saied Richard Tothill or his assignes did latelie vse and occupye for vtteraunce and sale of bookes of the Lawe,” including a backyard area between the kitchen “vnto the side of one doore of the howse or Roome latelie ymployed by the saied Richard Tothill in the arte or mysterie of Printinge”:

Folger MS Z.c.22 (56) (detail); click to enlarge. Photo by Heather Wolfe.

The deeds also describe, in great detail, the evolution of this property into various other booksellers’ shops and coffeehouses in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A June 1680 lease provides new details about the foundation of the famous Dick’s Coffee House (one of the longest-operating of all London coffee houses, from 1680 to 1885), and provides concrete evidence for the last name of the original owner, Richard Turver (rather than Turner or other variants):

"except it be for a Coffee house" (line 1) and "Richard Turver" (line 7)

Another deed reveals the previously unknown names of two of Turver’s successors—William Gale and Edward Fruterell (Z.c.22 (62)), and yet another, the exact location of two other important coffeehouses—“The Rainbow” and “Nando’s”—both previously thought to be further down the street (Z.c.22 (63)).

"Nandoes Coffee House" and "Rainbow Coffee House"

Two additional details—Tottel’s son leased one of the shops on the property to the bookseller John Jaggard, his father’s former apprentice (and elder brother to William Jaggard, printer of the First Folio), who sold books there, under Tottel’s sign of the Hand and Star:

"John Jaggers of London Stacioner"

And Tottel’s great-grandson, Sir William Drake of Amersham, Bucks, who inherited the property and leased part of it (including Jaggard’s shop) to the grocer Roger Dade in 1630 (Z.c.22 (60)), is represented at the Folger by a legal and financial notebook (Folger MS V.b.331) and miscellany (Folger MS V.a.263), as well as marginalia in a Folger copy of A treatise of the interest of the princes and states of Christendome, written in French by the most noble and illustrious prince, the Duke of Rohan (which corresponds to some of the entries in V.a.263). Folger MS V.b.331 even mentions the quarterly rents collected for the Fleet Street property, ca. 1636-1638 (see fols. 147, 149, 155v, 156)! For more on Drake’s reading and writing habits, see Kevin Sharpe’s essay in the Folger exhibition catalog, The Reader Revealed, and his book Reading Revolutions. (Drake manuscript miscellanies survive in other repositories as well).

So, printing history and coffee house history are a little bit richer as a result of these deeds, we know a little bit more about Sir William Drake, and there are many additional research threads that remain to be followed.

These manuscripts are so new that they have not yet been cataloged in Hamnet, although a skeletal acquisition record has been created. Eventually, each individual deed will have its own record, in addition to an overall collection level record. We’ll update this post when that has been done.


  1. Although we do have well over a thousand of them—in Hamnet, try a subject search for Deeds or browse “Z.c.” as a call number


  • What a great collection of deeds! And especially exciting for providing information that corrects what we thought we knew about this location. Who had this collection before the Folger bought it?

  • The Folger purchased them from a London bookdealer, who acquired them at auction earlier this year. They were originally part of the Drake of Shardeloes papers (Tottel’s granddaughter Joanna married Francis Drake, of Esher, d. 1633, and inherited her father William Tottel’s new mansion of Shardeloes, near Amersham, Bucks.). Other Shardeloes papers are on deposit at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

    • As a Land Surveyor in New England, USA, I research deeds back into the early 19th Century and sometimes into the late 18th Century. I find the different handwriting styles to be quite fascinating, some are very ornate and beautiful, while others are simply utilitarian. I find that the scribes that are beautifully ornate tend to be more accurate in their transcription and far easier to read. Their impression seems to be less subject to fading also, this must be reflective of the great care that they take in what can only be described as their “art”.

      I have been studying, with great intensity, the handwritten inscription at the very end of the 1609 imprint of Shakespeare’s Sonnets held at the John Ryland’s Library in Manchester, England (it can be viewed on-line, along with the Title page that also has a handwritten inscription). This inscription has some interesting features that suggest that the author was purposely aligning his handwritten inscription with the printed text as seen through the page from the next to the last page of the long poem ‘A Lovers Complaint’. I am wondering if you, Heather, have ever studied this inscription, and if so, do you have an opinion of it that you would consider sharing with me? It appears that this inscription: “Commendacons to my very kind and approved frrind (sic) 2/3: M:” is very carefully constructed, beyond the neatness factor.

      • I wasn’t familiar with the inscription you mention and just found it here: Without knowing anything at all about the history of this particular copy of the Sonnets, all I can really say is that I don’t think it is *that* carefully constructed (other than being centered)–it is written in a typical English secretary hand. And I differ with you slightly on the transcription. It looks to me like: “Comendac[i]ons to my very kind and approued Frind B: M:/”

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