London, Volume 5

Knight, Charles
1843

CVIII. The Companies of London.

CVIII. The Companies of London.

 

 

It is with great institutions as with great men--if they would preserve their reputation unimpaired, they should never survive the loss of their distinguishing powers; or, we may rather say, the case of the institution is the worst, as being in every respect the most injurious of the . The accidents of life die with the man, and are forgotten, leaving all that is truly worthy of remembrance alone to be remembered; but institutions unfortunately will not die except by a slow, lingering process that too often wears out alike our patience and our gratitude, and at the same time makes us confound right and wrong together, by teaching us, however unconsciously, to infer their past from their present unfitness. Saddening are the degradations to which they are subject through this unfortunate tenacity of life. Who, for instance, can read without regret of the once mighty fellowships of London, being told by authority that their

ruling bodies are in effect mere trustees for charitable purposes or chartered festivals,

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and that the

freemen and liverymen, or commonalty, are persons entitled to participate in these charities, to partake of the feasts of the Company, and qualified to be promoted to the office of trustees; and in this light alone are the different orders of the Companies to be viewed

? [n.114.1]  It may be true; but, rather than that such things should have been said, cannot but heartily wish that the Companies had manfully perished in the breach when Charles II. opened his battery against them, and, after destroying their independence, left them to sink into inglorious inactivity. But the Commissioners in the above passage refer only to the principal Companies, those which had grown so rich in the days of their prosperity as to have charities that now, in their decline, require management-funds that will support

chartered festivals;

but how is it with the others? Why, whilst some have disappeared altogether, the Musicians, alas! are

very poor, and in debt to their treasurer,

and the Masons can only occasionally-and the occasions are very infrequent--have a dinner even on Lord Mayors' days? But the case that most touches our sympathies is that of the Pinmakers; there is a romance and a pathos about their position inexpressibly attractive and touching:

No returns relating to any bindings or admissions to the Company, whether in right of patrimony or otherwise, appear in the Chamberlain's books within the last

forty

years. It is supposed that

one

or

two

individuals belonging to the Company are yet living,

t bearing about with them, no doubt, in their mysterious obscurity, a high consciousness of the unsuspected dignities that have centered in their persons: but they are probably poor, as well as proud, and therefore doubly resentful of the neglect with which they have been treated: the very Commissioners said not a word more about them,did not even propose a commission of discovery to restore them to the civic brotherhood; so they will die and make no sign,--the very skies looking as bright or as dull as usual, in a state of perfect unconsciousness,brother corporators dining, or talking of dining, at the very instant, haply, that the last of the

Pin-makers

is leaving the world.

But now, forgetting awhile what the Companies are, let us see what they were or centuries ago.

It is the morning of the festival of Corpus Christi; and the Skinners are rapidly thronging into the hall, in their new suits or liveries, and falling into their places in the procession that is being formed. As they go forth, and pass along the principal streets, most imposing is the appearance they present. Scattered at intervals along the line are seen the lights of above a waxen torches

costly garnished,

and among the different bodies included in the procession are some clerks and priests, in surplices and copes, singing. After these come the Sheriffs' servants, then the clerks of the compters, the Sheriffs' chaplains, the Mayor's sergeants, the Common Council, the Mayor and Aldermen in their brilliant scarlet robes; and, lastly, the members of the Company which it is the business of the day to honour, the Skinners, male and female. The church of St. Lawrence, in the Poultry, is their destination, where they all advance up to the altar of Corpus Christi, and make their offerings, and then stay whilst mass is performed. From the church they return in the same state to the hall to dinner. Extensive are the preparations for so numerous a company. Besides the principal and the side-tables in the hall, there are tables laid out

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in all the chief apartments of the building, for the use of the guests and their attendants: the officers of the Company occupying , the maidens another, the players and the minstrels a , and so on. Plate is glittering on every side; the choice hangings are exciting admiration; the materials for the pageant suspended from the roof attract many an inquiring glance; the fragrance of the precious Indian sandal-wood is filling the atmosphere, though not altogether to the exclusion of the still more precious exhalations which come stealing up to the nose and thence downward into the heart of the anxious epicures, who you may perceive looking on with a sort of uneasy, abstracted air, whilst the true business of the day--the election of the Masters and Wardens--is going on in the great parlour, whither all the Assistants (the executive of the Company) have retired: the said epicures know, if you do not, to how many accidents flesh is heir in the kitchen, how easily the exact point of perfection between too much and too little done may be missed in the roasted swans, or the exquisite flavour of the mortrewes degenerate into coarseness or insipidity, if the cook swerves but a hair's breadth from the true proportions of the materials. The guests now seat themselves, the ladies according to their rank at the different tables, but in the best places at each; the Lady-Mayoress with the Sheriffs' ladies sitting, of course, at the principal board, with the distinguished guests of the day; the noblemen and others, with the Priors of the great conventual establishments of London--St. Mary Overies, St. Bartholomew, and . Of the dinner itself what shall we say that can adequately describe its variety, profusion, and costliness, or the skill with which it has been prepared? The boars' heads and the mighty barons of beef seem almost to require an apology for their introduction amidst the delicacies that surround them in the upper division of the table (the part above the stately salt cellar), where we see dishes of brawn, fat swans, congor and sea-hog, dishes of

great birds with little ones together,

dishes of Leche Lombard, made of

pork pounded in a mortar with eggs, raisins, dates, sugar, salt, pepper, spices, milk of almonds, and red wine, the whole boiled in a bladder;

and we know not how many other dishes of similarly elaborate composition; whilst the

subtleties

so

marvellously cunning ywrought,

tell in allegory the history of the Company, and of the Saviour as its patron, and reveal to us the artist--if not exactly the hero--as cook. After dinner, whilst the spice-bread, hippocras, and cohmfits go round, the election ceremonies take place. The Master and Wardens enter with garlands on their heads, preceded by the minstrels playing, and the beadle; then the garlands are taken off, and after a little show of trying whose heads among the Assistants the said garlands best fit, it is found, by a remarkable coincidence, that the persons previously chosen are the right wearers. The oath of office is then administered; beginning, in the case of the Wardens, with an injunction that they shall swear that they will well and truly occupy the office, that they shall

arear

no new customs, nor bind the commonalty of the said craft to any new charges, nor yet discharge any duty to their hurt; and that they shall not lay down any of their good old customs, or acts written, without the assent of the said commonalty. With renewed ceremony a cup is next brought in, from which the old Master and old Wardens drink to the new Master and new Wardens, who finally assume their garlands, and are duly acknowledged by the fraternity.

116

 

The play is now eagerly looked for; the tables are cleared away, the pageant is let down from the roof; the actors, in number, approach, and the entire audience is speedily engrossed in the history of Noah's flood. There remains but to pay for all the good things enjoyed--the members of the Company at a fixed rate for themselves, and at the Wardens' discretion for the guests they may have individually invited--to drink another cup of hippocras, and to depart. The annual solemnities are not, however, finished till the Sunday following, when, according to the ordinances (we transcribe from the Fishmongers'), the members

afore mete tyme

shall

be all present in the same church in their livery aforesaid, there to hear a solemn mass or requiem for all the souls of the same fraternity, and for all Christian souls; and at which mass the priest of the same fraternity, openly in the pulpit shall rehearse and recommend to all good prayers, by name, all the brethren and sisters, quick and dead, of the foresaid fraternity, and all Christians;

after which there is another, but minor feast, and then the liveries are paid for.

Following the newly-elected officers into the details of the business that awaited them, we begin to have some conception of the true nature of a metropolitan company at the period referred to. And , as to their chief duty-the domestic government of the craft. This comprised many parts; among which the ordinary matters of binding apprentices, admitting freemen, and so on, formed but the least important. If there were young men belonging to the craft who, giving themselves up to idleness and unlawful games, wandered about as vagabonds within the City, it was the duty of the Master and Wardens to desire and require them to work for reasonable wages, and to take them before the Mayor and Aldermen for punishment if they refused. If members of the Company were rebellious to its ordinances, as by taking unsold wares into the country, or by employing

forens,

that is, persons not free of the craft, and persisting therein, or were found to have spoken with disrespect of its officers, the Master and Wardens again had to bring back the rebel and the slanderer to due subjection and reverence, either by entreaties, or by the still more cogent influences of fine and imprisonment. A case in the Grocers' books may here be mentioned. Simon Potkin, of the Key, at , having been fined by the Chamberlain, said, with humorous audacity, that he had given money to the Masters of his Company that he might sell at his own will. He got into trouble with his Company in consequence, but was finally pardoned on paying for a swan to be eaten by the Masters, out of which he was allowed his own share. This took place under the mayoralty of Whittington, who was particularly watchful of the misdeeds of the retail publicans. Safe keeping of the trade secrets was a matter most carefully enjoined and provided for, not only in the oath taken by all freemen, but in specific ordinances, to disobey which subjected the offender to the heaviest displeasure of the Company, and of course to punishment. The names of craft and mystery, so often applied to the trades, are said to be from this source, though Madox derives them from the French, who, he remarks, use for a craft, art, or employment. The preventing or arranging disputes among the members formed another important branch of the duties of the officers. Among the ordinances of the Grocers was to the effect, that no member of the craft should take the house of a neighbour who

117

also belonged to the fraternity against his wish, or do anything to enhance his rent, on penalty of a heavy fine. In cases of personal quarrel, where party was evidently the offender, he was compelled to ask forgiveness; and in others, after an ineffectual attempt at mediation, parties were duly permitted to

go to the law.

Apprentices, of course, were still more directly beneath the supervision and control of the Master and Wardens; and some curious records exist in connexion with the discipline on this subject in the books of the Companies, as noticed in Mr. Herbert's valuable work.[n.117.1]  Here is an example of the correction of an apprentice for a of a particular nature. The Wardens caused to be made porters' frocks, like porters of crafts, and hoods of the same canvas, made after vizor fashion, with a space for the mouth and the eyes left open only; wherein, the next court-day, within the parlour, tall men, having the said frocks upon them, because they should not be known, (for otherwise the

bold prentices

would no doubt have effectually prevented any more such kind attentions from the same quarter,)

came in with twopennyworth of birchen rods, and there, in presence of the said Master and Wardens, withouten any words speaking, they pulled off the doublet and shirt of the said John Rolls, and there upon him (being naked) they spent all the said rods, for his said unthrifty demeanour.

Sumptuary laws also occupied the attention of the heads of the fraternity, and more particularly with regard to the class just mentioned, the apprentices. Those in the Ironmongers' Company, for instance, were to dress

in such wise that it be no dishonesty to the Company, but that they be apparelled reasonable and honest, that is to say, for the holy days, hose,

throwts,

shirts, doublets, coats, gowns or cloaks, with other necessaries, such as may be conveniently honest and clean;

and on the

working day such as may be honest and profitable to keep them from cold and wet;

and then it is emphatically added,

they shall not suffer their hair to grow long.

Fishmongers' apprentices were directed by their Company to wear a gown in the fish-market, but not out of it. As to the more general application of sumptuary laws, we find some noticeable entries in the books of the Merchant Tailors; in a member was committed to prison

for that he came to this house in a cloak of pepadore, a pair of hose lined with taffety, and a shirt edged with silver, contrary to the ordinances.

Another member, it appears, was warned that he had on

apparel not fit for his abilities to wear,

and enjoined reformation. But the most amusing illustration of the interference of the Companies in this matter is that given by Malcolm, on the authority of the Ironmongers' books. Elizabeth, it is well known, was scarcely less anxious about the dress of her subjects than about her own, with the difference, however, that her anxiety was to restrain the love of splendour in the case, and to encourage it in the other. So, fresh orders to her milliners, and fresh precepts to the Companies, flew thick and fast, and it was in consequence of of the latter that the citizens were regaled day with a rich bit of fun at Bishopsgate, where members of the Ironmongers' and of the Grocers' Companies were found stationed as early as o'clock to examine the habits of every who passed through. Lastly, there remain to be noticed, among the regular duties of the officers of the Companies, the Trade Searches, when the Grocers' Wardens were bidden

to go and essayen weights, powders, confections, plaisters, ointments, and all other things belonging

to the same craft;

those of the Fishmongers' to examine fish, the Vintners' to taste wines, the Merchant Tailors' to examine cloth, and measure the measure used in its sale, for which purpose they had a silver yard, with their arms engraved upon it; and most of the other Companies had a like power. Where anything wrong was discovered, the process was very summary-seizure of the article, if worth seizing, destruction if it were not, with the addition of imprisonment in very bad cases. In , certain makers of comfits being accused of mingling starch with the sugar in their delicacies, the stock--

a good quantity

--of of the chief offenders was put into a tub of water, and so consumed and poured out. That this power was really beneficial, and therefore necessary to such of the Companies as had it not, is evident from the petition presented to the Court of Aldermen by the Wax-Chandlers' Company in the reign of Edward III., where they speak feelingly of their craft being

greatly slandered of all the good folk of the said craft and of the City, for that they have not Masters chosen and sworn of the said craft

before the Mayor and Aldermen,

as other crafts have, to oversee the defaults which be in their said crafts:

the power they desire was accordingly granted them, of naming searchers, and their bye-laws were at the same time sanctioned, the of which explains the rule by which the searchers would have to be guided:

That no wax-chandler of the said craft make any torches, tapers, prykettes, nor none other manner of chandlerie of wax mixed with rosin and code, but of good wax and wick;

and to facilitate discovery of the wrong-doers, every chandler was to have a mark,

and it set to torches, torchetts, and tapers which he maketh.

We learn from these bye-laws that the members of the trade were accustomed to lend out wax tapers for hire; that the tapers were both round and square, and that it was customary for persons to bring wax to them to be made into tapers at a certain charge for the making, and more particularly for

torches, torchetts, prykettes, or perchers, chaundele or tapers for women ayenst Candelmas.

A few words on the chief places where the Trade Searches had generally to be pursued, or in other words, on the localities of the different London trades, may not be unacceptable. was, as its name implies, the chief mart of the Merchant Tailors' commodities, of the Goldsmiths, of the Ironmongers, and of the Fishmongers, the Mercery --a part of between Bow Church and Friday Street--of the Mercers and Haberdashers, and who were previously on the other side, where the Mercers' Hall now stands. Silks and velvets appear to have formed the chief articles of trade with the Mercers, as they gradually resigned to the Haberdashers the sale of all the less important wares. The Haberdashers dealt in hats, millinery, small articles of jewellery, pins--a lucrative commodity-and a other things, in addition to some of those which still belong to the trade. The Drapers did their chief business in Blackwell Hall, the site of the present Bankruptcy Court; the Grocers, or Pepperers, as they were once called, were mostly to be found in Soper Lane; the Butchers in , Newgate Market, and at the Stocks, the site of the present ; whilst the Tanners favoured the localities

without Newgate

and

without Cripplegate.

In this grant of powers to the Wax Chandlers, we see example of the jurisdiction of the Mayor and Aldermen over the Companies; a jurisdiction so complete, from time immemorial, that the Brewers in , addressing the former,

119

style him

their right worshipful and gracious lord and sovereign, the Mayor of London ;

and precisely the same idea is conveyed, in different words, a century and a half later, when he is spoken of as

the Warden of all the Companies.

The duties arising from the connection between the Companies and the Civic Corporation, therefore, form the division of the duties of the officers of the former, and a great many unpleasant matters they involved. Some of them are interesting as illustrative of the working of the system. Thus, for instance, as to the monopoly enjoyed by the Companies, we may see that we should greatly err if we looked upon the constitution of the Companies as framed for that especial object, using the word monopoly in its present sense, though there is no doubt it had a great tendency to establish the evils that, under a different state of things, have made the very idea hateful to us. But this tendency the more enlightened governors of the City made it their business to repress, and in a manner that must have been tolerably effectual. The Brewers' records furnish a case in point, and Whittington is again of the principal actors. In he laid an information before his successor in the Mayoralty, Robert Chichele, in consequence of which the latter

sent for the Masters and

twelve

of the most worthy of our Company to appear at the

Guildhall

; to whom John Fray, the Recorder, objected a breach of government, for which

20l.

should be forfeited, for selling

dear ale

. After much dispute about the price and quality of malt, wherein

Whittington, the late Mayor, declared that the

brewers had ridden into the country and forestalled the malt to raise its price,

they were convicted in the penalty of

20l.

; which objecting to, the Masters were ordered to be kept in prison in the Chamberlain's custody until they should pay it, or find security for the payment thereof.

Another feature of the connection, arising no doubt from the just referred to, though we should hope not materially influencing it, is the system of making presents to the Mayor, of which we find many examples; among them,

for

two

pipes of red wine, to Richard Whittington's butler,

a

boar, price

20s.

, and an ox, price

17s.

to William Walderne, Mayor in -, who

behaved well to the Company until

two

or

three

weeks before his retirement from office,

when he began to annoy them, and they thus

assuaged his displeasure.

When these presents took a more circuitous route, the object was openly acknowledged, as in an entry in , in the Brewers' books, of

money given to divers Serjeants of the Mayor, for to be good friends to our craft.

After all there is nothing here to fix any stain of corruption on the eminent civic governors of the period; though some of them, thinking very rightly that the mere acceptance of such gifts not only looked like bribery, but might really have that tendency at times, eschewed them altogether. Under the date we read, that

William Crowmere, Mayor this year, was a good man, and well pleased all the citizens, especially the Brewers; when the Masters offered gifts to him, he thanked them, but would not receive any.

The general domestic government of London, of course, afforded many points of intimate connection between the officers of the Companies and of the City; when there was an Exchange to be erected, or a city ditch to be cleansed, precepts came from the Mayor to the different Masters and Wardens, to collect the sum of money to which their respective fraternities had been assessed, as their fair share of the expenses. Setting the poor to work, a still more weighty undertaking, was accomplished in the same way. But the most important labours which the Companies and the city undertook in matters relating to the domestic economy of London, was the supply of corn and coal in times of scarcity, to the poorer citizens, at a moderate price. The commencement of the custom, as to corn, may be dated from the early part of the century, when, with that princely liberality that distinguished so many of the citizens of London in early times, Sir Simon Eyre built a public granary at Leadenhall, and Sir Stephen Brown sent out ships to Dantzic,

causing [rye] corn to be brought from thence, whereby he brought down the price of wheat from

3s.

the bushel to less than half the money, for corn was then so scarce in England that poor people were enforced to make their bread of

fearne

roots.

[n.120.1]  At the cost of the supplies of corn to the granary (made, of course, always when the corn was cheapest), was defrayed by loans and contributions from the Mayor and Aldermen, and sometimes the citizens, but in the Companies were called on to assist, and from that time precepts of a similar nature followed with a most unsatisfactory frequency, until at last the Mayor and Aldermen had some difficulty in obtaining the sums required. The truth is, no doubt, that there was a continual loss on the business, and consequently that though funds were generally obtained, under the name of loans, they were in effect, gifts. The Companies were therefore desirous of leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, who were equally

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desirous of leaving it with the Companies. In an arrangement was finally concluded, that the Companies should provide the quantities of corn that it was deemed necessary to have in store- quarters, and that the City should provide a place of deposit, which they did in the Bridge-house, on old , where the garners were divided into equal parts for the great Companies (who seem to have had the general management imposed upon them), and where mills and ovens were erected. This arrangement was soon disturbed by the cupidity and meanness of the government, who frequently exhibited a desire to turn the affair, in various ways, to its own selfish advantage. So, when in , Sir John Hawkins applied for the use of the granaries and ovens for the royal navy, the Companies took the alarm; and although Sir John understood and gave way to the Mayor's reasoning--that if the granaries were taken, the Companies would neglect making their provision and plead want of room, the latter saw in his acquiescence only a stronger proof that it was the corn rather than the granaries he desiderated; and obtained permission of the Common Council to lay in stocks of grain on their own premises. This seems for a time to have checked the Court; who, however, in , returned to the charge, in a letter from James's Lord High Steward, the Duke of Lennox, and other great officers of the household. It is addressed to-

Our loving friends the Wardens and Assistants of the Company of Grocers: After our hearty commendations: Whereas, by the neglect of his Majesty's purveyors, his house is at this time altogether unfurnished with wheat, by means whereof there is a present want of

100

quarters of wheat for the service of his household, we do therefore pray and desire you, that out of your stock his Majesty may be supplied with

30

or

40

quarters of your best and sweetest wheat, until his own provisions may be brought in, the which we do faithfully promise shall be paid unto you again in November next, at the furthest; and because it is intended that, by the exchange thereof, you shall lose no loss, we have therefore committed the care thereof to Mr. Harvey,

one

of his Majesty's officers of

the Green

Cloth, who shall see the same duly answered and brought into your granary by the time appointed; and so, not doubting of your willing performances upon so present and needful occasion, we bid you, heartily, farewell. Your loving friends-Lenox; Thomas Edmond; John Suckling (father of the poet).

Whitehall

,

27th September, 1622

.

Sweet words, and irresistible! Mr. Harvey, who was in attendance on the Court when the letter was read, being called in, promised

so to mediate, that

10

quarters should be taken in satisfaction of the whole demand,

which were granted. Mr. Herbert adds, with a laudable sense of the bare possibility of its return,

whether it was ever repaid does not appear.

At the fire of London the granaries were burnt, and never afterwards restored. The coal custom was so exactly of the same nature as that relating to corn, that it is unnecessary to make any further allusion to it.

The last division of the business of the Companies is that relating to its connexion with the government, of which the royal application, incidentally referred to in the preceding passage, betokens in a great measure the character. The sovereigns of England, from the earliest times down to the extinction of the Stuart dynasty, looked upon the City of London generally, and the Companies in particular, as a kind of reserve treasury, not, certainly, to be resorted to when

122

they could manage very well without, but as undeniably theirs when they could not. The impudence, as we cannot but call it, with which Elizabeth applied for money in these quarters is really ludicrous. The Ironmongers once received from her the following exquisite specimen of the manner in which royalty borrows, in which the reader will not fail to remark how attentive the Queen had been to consider how they should get, as well as the conditions on which they were to lend, the sum demanded.

These,

writes the stately Elizabeth, through her mouth-piece the Mayor, and, as we could fancy, with her ruff and stomacher looking stiffer and fiercer than ever,

these are to will and command you that forthwith you prepare in readiness the sum of

60l.

of the stock of your hall, and if you have not so much in store, then you must borrow the same at interest, at the only costs and losses of your hall,--to be lent to the Queen's Majesty for

one

whole year,

&c., and this they were to fail in at their

peril!

But there is a still richer trait of the virgin Queen to be mentioned: having at time, by these and similar means, got more money than she knew exactly what to do with, she actually made the citizens receive it back again in loans of from to each, on security of gold and silver plate, or other equally satisfactory deposits, . There is nothing in Swift or Fielding's fictitious satires to equal this touch of positive truth. Elizabeth was, at the same time, too politic a guardian of her Exchequer to fill it by method only: if the scourge could not but be felt, still it was not necessary to make it always be felt in the same place; so, borrowing a hint from the continental governments, she established in our lottery, and her loving friends the Companies were immediately desired to avail themselves of its advantages. They did so, and, whatever they thought of the result, it was no doubt satisfactory to the ingenious author. Unfortunately, however, when another lottery was set on foot for armour, in , the Lord Mayor had to use, among his other arguments, of a very suspicious nature, but which, it seems, the experience of the former rendered necessary; he had to assure the Companies that there should be a

true

delivery of the prizes to the winners,

and to add something about the appointment of a body of persons to see justice done. To quicken his own and the Sheriff's zeal in

persuading every man to venture,

her Majesty promised, in respect of the

forward service of the said lottery,

basin and ewer, of value, to each of them. The Merchant Tailors' books exhibit a very clear intimation of their ideas on the subject at the period in the following couplet:--

One bird in the hand is worth two in the wood;

If we get the great lot, it will do us good.

From forced loans and lotteries we advance to the patents, a system of direct infringement upon the chief powers and rights of the Companies, for the most selfish purposes, and with the most reckless disregard of the certain evils that must accrue. The scheme was directed against the Brewers' Company, but failed at the outset. With the Leathersellers it was more successful. of the hangers--on of the court, Edward Darcy, obtained a patent from Elizabeth to search and seal all the leather through England, and found it, says Strype,

a very gainful business to him;

but the whole body of persons connected, directly or indirectly, with the trade, mustered their forces, and exhibited so formidable

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an appearance that, to avoid a tumult, the patent was revoked. The wardens of the Leathersellers' Company distinguished themselves greatly in this contest by their firm adherence to the rights of the fraternity lodged in their keeping, in spite of threats and actual imprisonment. But, notwithstanding these checks, the scheme proceeded, till there were patentees for currants, salt, iron, powder, cards, calf-skins, felts, leather, ox-shin bones, train-oil, and many other articles. Hume observes, that when this list was once

read in the House, a member cried,

Is not bread in the number?

Bread!

said every

one

with astonishment;

Yes, I assure you,

replied he,

if affairs go on at this rate we shall have bread reduced to a monopoly before the next Parliament.

This system, so vicious in itself, as transferring powers from highly respectable bodies of men, who had a deep interest in using them for the benefit of the community, to single individuals, whose only object or desire was to turn them to the greatest possible pecuniary advantage, was made infinitely worse by the practice of transfer of those powers as matters of bargain and sale from the original patentee to others;

who,

remarks the author just mentioned,

were thereby enabled to raise commodities to what price they pleased, and who put invincible restraints upon all commerce, industry, and emulation in the arts.

It was in the reign of James that the system rose to its highest point, then began to decline, and at last fell to rise no more in , when the Parliament fined severely patentees for obtaining a wine-license from the King, Charles. We may conclude these notices of the connexion between the government and the Companies, by or of a more agreeable nature. Whenever any great public occasion rendered a pecuniary demand upon the Companies reasonable, there seems to have been a liberality shown worthy of the metropolis; they assisted largely in the early voyages of discovery that at different times left our shores, and more particularly those in which the Cabots-father and son--were concerned. Whenever

124

armies were fitting out, their contingents formed a very considerable item in the whole: thus, on the Spaniards threatening us with their armada, the City furnished no less than men and ships. In ordinary times the Companies could always furnish a respectable force for their own and the City's defence, and had their armouries attached to their halls, though it was not till that they had a regularly enrolled standing army. In that year they selected from amongst their members of the

most sizeable and active young men,

who were immediately placed in training, and subsequently reviewed by Elizabeth herself in Greenwich Park: a locality that reminds us of another feature of the connexion between royalty and the Companies; the attendance of picked bodies of

handsome men, well and handsomely arrayed,

to attend the Mayings in Greenwich; and of the chief officers, with the Livery on all great state processions, as the entry of the sovereign into London, or of his bride, his coronation, or his funeral.

From this glimpse into the economy of the metropolitan fraternities in their prosperous days, let us for a moment turn our eyes backward to their origin and rise. We have already in our preliminary remarks on referred to the custom of frankpledge, which it is supposed formed the germ of the guilds, or, as we now call them, companies. When these guilds assumed positive shape and efficiency is unknown, but the weavers of London received a charter so early as the reign of Henry II., and that only confirmed liberties previously enjoyed: this, say the Commissioners, is the oldest of the Companies. In the

same reign, besides the licensed, there were no less than eighteen other London guilds, but unlicensed, and which were fined by the King in consequence. The only guild of which we know the exact origin is that referred to in the interesting story told by Stow in his account of Portsoken Ward, but which evidently was of a somewhat irregular nature:--

In the days of King Edgar, more than

six hundred

years since, there were then

thirteen

knights or soldiers, well beloved of the King and realm, for services by them done, who requested to have a certain portion of land on the east part of the city, being left desolate and forsaken by the inhabitants, by reason of too much servitude: they besought the King to have this land with the liberty of a guild for ever. The King granted to their

request, with conditions following: to wit, that each of them should victoriously accomplish

three

combats,

one

above the ground,

one

under ground, and the

third

in the water; and, after this, at a certain day, in

East Smithfield

, they should run with spears against all comers; all which was gloriously performed; and the same day the King named it Knighten Guild.

[n.125.1]  And, we may add, the locality in question forms, either partially or entirely, the present ward of Portsoken. Of these early guilds, perhaps the most striking feature is their semi-religious character, of which we have given illustration in the procession to church on the election day, and the praying for the dead on the following Sunday;--the designation of some of the Companies forms another: thus we have the

Guild or fraternity of the Blessed Mary, the Virgin, of the Mystery of Drapers,

and the

Guild or fraternity of the body of Christ of the Skinners.

A chaplain was of the regularly-constituted officers of all the larger Companies. Although licensed, the guilds generally were not incorporated till the reign of Edward III., when that monarch, conscious of the growing strength and prosperity of the country through the instrumentality of the trades fraternities, raised them at once into the highest possible estimation and honour, by confirming--in many cases by letters patent--the privileges they had previously enjoyed more by sufferance than of right-and in return for the payment of the ferm-and then by enrolling himself as a member of of them, the Merchant Tailors. About the same time it was ordained that all artificers and people of mysteries should each choose his own mystery before the next Candlemas, and that, having so chosen it, he should thenceforth use no other. Edward also transferred the right of electing members to Parliament from the ward representatives to the Trade Companies, another important influence in raising them to their subsequent power. The number of Companies sending members to the Common Council towards the close of his reign was . Among these the Saddlers, the Weavers, and Tapestry-makers were next in importance, as sending members each, to the Grocers, Mercers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, and Vintners, who sent , and with them the Barbers ranked. It was not for a considerable time that the great Companies assumed their final position as regards the other fraternities; and many violent and occasionally bloody quarrels mark the history of the struggle for precedence. Their present order will be seen in the note below,[n.125.2]  where we have given the complete list of

126

the London Companies, including those which sprung up during the mania for incorporation that prevailed in the latter part of the and beginning of the centuries, or just when, through a variety of concurring causes, but chiefly that the trade and commerce to be directed had become much too mighty a thing for the directors, the old faith in the necessity and value of the Companies was disappearing, and with that their faith their own energies. And thus when Charles II. sought to destroy their independence by frightening them into a resignation of their charters, that he might re-grant them with such restrictions as he saw fit, having neither strength within nor without, they succumbed at once, and almost licked the dust off the feet of the spoiler in so doing. That to these causes rather than to the King's arbitrary proceedings we may attribute the decline of the Companies is evident, from the circumstance that, although at the Revolution of these proceedings were finally reversed, the Companies, with the exception of those which possessed large charities, or of those who still from peculiar causes continued in close connexion with their respective trades, steadily continued to decline from that time. Of the enumerated in the list, are practically extinct, and a , the Parish Clerks (the actors in the old miracle plays), has no connexion with the municipality of London. The others are divided by the Commissioners into classes-. Companies still exercising an efficient control over their trade, namely, the Goldsmiths and the Apothecaries. Both these also belong to class . Companies exercising the right of search, or marking wares, &c.; in which are included the Stationers' Company, at whose Hall all copyright books must be

entered;

the Gunmakers, who prove all the guns made in the City; the Founders, who test and mark weights; the Saddlers, who examine the workmanship of saddles; and, in a lesser degree, the Painters) who issue a trade-price list of some authority; and the Pewterers and Plumbers, who make assays. . Companies, into which persons carrying on certain occupations in the City are compelled to enter: such are the Apothecaries, Brewers, Pewterers, Builders, Barbers, Bakers, Saddlers, Painter Stainers, Plumbers, Innholders, Founders, Poulterers, Cooks, Weavers, Scriveners, Farriers, Spectacle Makers, Clock Makers, Silk Throwers, Distillers, Tobacco Pipe Makers, and Carmen. This last-mentioned fraternity is the only that exclusively consists of persons belonging to the trade, though the Stationers and the Apothecaries, with or others, have a majority of such members. Admission into the body of freemen is obtained by birth, apprenticeship, purchase, or gift; and thence into the livery, in most cases at the pleasure of the party, on payment of the fees, which are generally light where the claim arises from patrimony or servitude, but otherwise vary from a few pounds to as much as guineas. The government of most of the companies is now intrusted to Courts of Assistants, formed from the senior members of the livery, and comprising Master, Senior and Junior Wardens, and a certain number of assistants, who succeed in rotation to the higher offices. Among the officers and classes who have disappeared from the Companies, or changed their designation, are the Pilgrim, the ancient head of the Merchant Tailors, so called from his travelling for them; the Master Bachelor and Budge Bachelor of the Drapers; the Bachelor in foins of the Skinners; with the Yeomanry of most of the companies, who seem to have been the old freemen.

Recurring to the words of the Commissioners, in which they describe the

127

existing Companies as so many trusteeships for

charitable purposes

and

chartered festivals,

it is worthy of observation that of the earliest objects sought by the guild, in some instances apparently their primary , was the foundation of a common stock, for the relief of poor or decayed members. Large funds were established in course of time, and the charitable character thus attached to the Company led to their being chosen as trustees for the care and management of a variety of other charities founded by benevolent persons; who, in the earlier periods of metropolitan history, were so numerous, that Stow devotes some -and- folio pages of his

Survey

to the mere enumeration of their acts, under the appropriate and characteristic title of the Honour of Citizens and Worthiness of Men: a noble chapter in the history of London. The variety of these charities is as remarkable as their entire amount must be magnificent; comprising as they do pensions to decayed members, almshouses, innumerable gifts of money to the poor, funds for the support of hospitals, schools, exhibitions at the universities, prisoners in the city gaols, for lectures and sermons, donations to distressed clergymen, and so on through an interminable list. The most interesting, perhaps also the most valuable, of the charities has yet to be mentioned--the loans of different sums to young beginners in business, to an amount, and for a time, amply sufficient to start them fairly in life with every expectation of a prosperous career. Some idea of the magnitude of the Companies' charities, on the whole, may be derived from illustrations. The Charity Commissioners stated that the Goldsmiths' Company's annual payments to their poor alone amounted to about ; and we learn from the Corporation Commissioners that the Fishmongers, out of their princely income, averaging above a-year, disburse in all between and in charities in England and Ireland: in which last-mentioned country this and some of the other Companies have large estates.

As to the

chartered festivals,

that form the other distinguishing feature of the Companies in the present day, we have already noticed the election dinner; and have only to add, that, notwithstanding the magnificence of the feasts given by some of the Companies, as, for instance, the Merchant Tailors, they are not for a moment to be compared with their predecessors of the same locality. There may be eminent men among the guests, but no king sitting down

openly among them in a gown of crimson velvet of the fashion

as a member, which Henry VII. once did: there may be speakers to please with their eloquence, and statesmen to flatter with the expression of kindred political views, but no Ben Jonson to prepare such an entertainment as that which greeted James I.

with great and pleasant variety of music, of voices, and instruments, and ingenious speeches;

no Dr. Bull, to make the occasion still more memorable by the production of such an air as

God save the King.

The halls in which these festivals take place present many features of interest, but none of them are of very early date, the Great Fire having swept away most of those then in existence. The hall of the Barber Surgeons, described in a previous number,[n.127.1]  and that of the Leathersellers engraved in this, may be taken as interesting examples of those which escaped. Of the halls recently rebuilt, the Goldsmiths',

128

of the most sumptuous specimens of domestic architecture in the metropolis, has also been fully treated of.[n.128.1]  The Fishmongers', with its fine statue of on the staircase, its stained glass windows, its elegant drawing-room with a splendid silver chandelier, and its grand banquetting hall, is built, decorated, and furnished on a similarly splendid scale. Of the remainder we can but briefly refer to Merchant Tailors' Hall, with its tabular lists of the kings, princes, dukes, and other distinguished personages, who have been members, making wonder who is not included in it rather than who is; Drapers' Hall, on the site of the building erected by Henry VIII.'s vicar-general, Cromwell, with its public gardens, where was the house occupied by Stow's father, which Cromwell so unceremoniously removed upon rollers when making the said gardens out of his neighbours' land; Mercers' Hall, with its chapel, standing where, several centuries ago, stood the house of Gilbert Becket, father of the great archbishop, and husband of the fair Saracen who had followed him over the seas; the Clockmakers', with their library and museum, richly illustrative of the history of their trade; and lastly, the Painter Stainers, who not only claimed a supervision over the highest branches of art, but had their claims admitted by the enrolment of such men as Verrio, Kneller, and Reynolds among their members.

 
 
 
Footnotes:

[n.114.1] Corporation Commission, Second Report, Introduction, p. 20. t Report, p. 298.

[n.117.1] History of the Twelve great Livery Companies.

[n.120.1] Stow's Survey, ed, 1633, p. 89.

[n.125.1] Stow's Survey, ed. 1633, p. 115.

[n.125.2] List of the Companies of London in the order of their precedence, the first twelve forming the Great Livery Companies, and those which are extinct being nmarked in Italics.--1. Mercers. 2. Grocers. 3. Drapers. 4. Fishmongers. 5. Goldsmiths. 6. Skinners. 7. Merchant Tailors. 8. Haberdashers. 9. Salters. 10. Ironmongers. 11. Vintners. 12. Clothworkers. 13. Dyers. 14. Brewers. 15. Leathersellers. 16. Pewterers. 17. Barbers. 18. Cutlers. 19. Bakers. 20. Wax Chandlers. 21. Tallow Chandlers. 22. Armourers and Braziers. 23. Grinders. 24. Butchers. 25. Saddlers. 26. Carpenters. 27. Cordwainers. 28. Painter-stainers. 29. Curriers. 30. Masons. 31. Plumbers. 32. Innholders. 33. Founders. 34. Poulterers. 35. Cooks. 36. Coopers. 37. Bricklayers. 38. Boyers. 39. Fletchers. 40. Blacksmiths. 41. Joiners. 42. Weavers. 43. Woolmen. 44. Scriveners. 45. Fruiterers. 46. Plasterers. 47. Stationers. 48. Broderers. 49. Upholderers. 50. Musicians. 51. Turners. 52. Basket-makers. 53. Glaziers. 54. Homers. 55. Farriers. 56. Paviors. 57. Lorimers. 58. Apothecaries. 59. Shipwrights. 60. Spectacle-makers. 61. Clock-makers. 62. Glovers. 63. Comb-makers. 64. Felt-makers. 65. Frame-work Knitters. 66. Silk-throwers. 67. Silkmen. 68. Pin-makers. 69. Needle-makers. 70. Gardeners. 71. Soap-makers. 72. Tinplate-workers. 73. Wheelwrights. 74. Distillers. 75. Hat-band-makers. 76. Patten-makers. 77. Glass Sellers. 78. Tobacco Pipe-makers. 79. Coach and Harness makers. 80. Gun-makers. 81. Wire Drawers. 82. Long Bowstring-makers. 83. Playing-card-makers. 84. Fan-makers. 85. Woodmongers. 86. Starch-makers. 87. Fishermen. 88. Parish Clerks. 89. Carmen.

[n.127.1] No. LXII.

[n.128.1] No. LXXV.