W. J. (William John) Loftie.

Rambles in and near London : or, London afternoons online

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But as there were no Guilds not religious, and as the
property of Guilds was held in Trust to provide burials,
masses, and sometimes chantries for deceased members,



THE CITY COMPANIES. 89

the Guilds and their lands, and their money, and their
priestly vestments, and their illuminated manuscripts, all
ceased to exist absolutely ; and not only so, hut it became
penal to revive them. A City Company which calls
itself a Guild renders itself liable to forfeiture a penalty
which would, of course, be rather difficult to enforce.
We may recommend some busybody with more money
than brains to prosecute the Merchant Taylors for call-
ing themselves the Guild of St. John ; or some artistic
or architectural enthusiast to prosecute the designers,
projector, and constructors of that worst of South
Kensington eyesores, the City and Guilds of London
Institute !

Aa to Guilds themselves, there is much to be read about
them, but that much tells very little. When a writer
speaks of Guilds with any degree of certainty, it is gener
ally found that he bases his views on rules made in the
fourteenth or fifteenth century, forgetting that rules made
in the fourteenth century, and still more in the fifteenth,
tell us nothing about the Guilds of the ninth. That we
have knowledge of Guilds being in existence so early we
owe to a study of local names. Guildford, in Surrey,
is mentioned in King Alfred's will, which took effect by
his death. The name suggests the existence of a sort of
Ninth Century Humane Society, not so much to rescue
travellers crossing the Wey on foot, as to provide masses
for the souls of such as were drowned, for that was the
form humanity chiefly took in the ninth century. The
name reminds us also of Bedford, " the precarious crossing."
The word guild, or part of it, occurs also in other local
names, some of them very ancient, such as the two
Guildens, one in Cambridgeshire and one in Cheshire, and
Guilford or East Guilford in Sussex, whence the North
family takes its title of Earl. But of all the examples



90 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

which may }>e mentioned, that of the Guildhall in London
is the moat interesting and, it must be confessed, the most
puzzling. It has been adduced by some authorities as
proving the antiquity of City Companies. What it does
prove is the very contrary. We know there was a Guild
in the City because there was, and is, a Guildhall. There
our absolute knowledge ceases. Other Guilds met and
commemorated their dead friends in masses, following
the service by a butt-filling, as it was called, and a feast
in which every man pledged his neighbour. These
societies very often consisted of twelve persons and one
woman ; at least, we know this about them at a later period.
The men represented the twelve Apostles and the woman
the Virgin Mary.

But although we cannot here go into the history
of the Guilds, and have sufficiently indicated the fact
of their extinction, we must ask how it comes to pass
that the City Companies are so closely connected in
our minds with City Guilds ? This close connection
before 1557 may lie accounted for in perhaps half a dozen
ways. We find that in 1557 the City Companies adminis-
tered the estates of a large number of Guilds, and of
foundations for " Guildable "that is, religious purposes.
Why the Guilds confided their property in this respect
to Companies, and why individuals bequeathed money
not to the clergy or to religious houses, indicates a state
of public opinion such as existed in London before the
Reformation, and exists in other places at the present
day. The old Londoners had a profound distrust of
their priests, and this distrust amounted to dislike of the
friars, black, white, grey, or crutched. To the clergy,
secular or regular, they had to go for masses, but they
went to the Guild, and through it to the Company, to see
the trust duly executed. A familiar modern example



THE CITY COMPANIES. 91

of this feeling is found at the present day in Ireland. If
the Londoner left his money to his family for the purpose
of securing the repose of his soul, he could not say hut
what his family might die out, as indeed happened with
awful frequency during the prevalence of the Black Death.
If he left it to the clergy he had no way of making certain
that they would observe the conditions of his bequest.
But if he left it to the Guild he belonged to, he had nothing
to think of except the continued solvency of that Guild,
and when the affairs of the Guild were administered by a
Chartered Company, no questions of any kind arose.
The dying man knew that he should be commemorated
at annual masses, " so long as the world should last," as
Henry VII. wrote to the monks of Westminster. The
City Companies, at the time they were deprived of
Guild property, had carried on some of these trusts for
centuries. It is well to keep these few considerations
in our minds. In the Middle Ages, as we call them,
people had views on religious subjects which were of the
most vague and shadowy character ; religion with them
was little but superstition ; but, on the other hand, they
were much more inclined to deal liberally and boldly
with the difficulties which teset the provision of religious
endowments.

Within a few years after the middle of the fourteenth
century a large iiuml^er of Companies had been formed
and chartered. Two or three circumstances contributed
to give them immediately a preponderating voice in the
governing of the City. Up to this date the Aldermen,
who formed a compact body originally of owners of
lands within the walls, were assisted by and recruited
from the Common Council. In these two bodies, with
the Mayor at their head, power was mainly vested,
though there was an appeal to a greater Council, con



92 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

slating of all citizens. This greater Council, after the first
election of a Common Council in 1200, very seldom
asserted itself.

The Husting Court is very carefully described by
Dr. Sharpe in his " Calendar of Wills." It used always
to sit on Monday in each week, as, indeed, it is supposed
to do still, though it has not been called together for many
years. Its principal business in the thirteenth century
was to grant probate of wills, to enrol the names of citizens
newly admitted to the franchise, and to hear pleas of
land. The first and the last of these duties were gradually
transferred elsewhere. The admission of freemen also
gradually ceased, and this brings the history of the Com-
panies into immediate prominence. To become a citizen
a man must be free he must belong, that is, to no lord ;
or, if he had escaped from servitude, and had resided and
worked for " a year and a day " in the City unclaimed,
he could be admitted as if he had been born free. In
addition to the small number thus made free of the City
by the Husting, a large number of the citizens were so
by descent, their fathers or grandfathers having held
the freedom before them. Finally, a third class con-
sisted of men who had been apprenticed to trades, and
who, when the Companies were formed, were easily
converted into citizens under the charters without any
recourse to the Husting. By a patent of Edward II.,
no one who was described as a foreigner that is, not a
Londoner could be admitted except by the Husting ;
but, of course, inheritors and apprentices were not reckoned
foreigners, and membership of a Company eventually
became a qualification, and the best. Since the reign
of Edward IV. the members of the Common Hall have
had the right not of electing the Mayor, as some say,
but of presenting two persons to the Aldermen for election.



THE CITY COMPANIES. 93

This Common Hall consists exclusively of the Livery,
or those free of a Company.

There are very bad mistakes, as Dr. Sharpe shows,
in the authorities chiefly relied upon by London historians
as to this matter. Here it is enough to point out the
state of affairs at the time of the first rise of the Companies.
It had by degrees been made compulsory that everyone
working at a trade in the City should belong to the Guild
of his mystery, and there were probably very few citizens
not so enrolled. The Fishmongers chiefly belonged
to Guilds dedicated to St. Peter or St. Michael. The
Skinners had also two Guilds, consecrated to Corpus
Christi and to the Virgin Mary. The Tailors had one
Guild that of St. John the Baptist. The Grocers devoted
themselves to St. Anthony. The Haberdashers were
a fraternity of St. Katharine. The list might be in-
definitely prolonged, but one thing is to be observed :
no Guild could make a man free of the City. This point
has hardly been insisted on sufficiently.

In addition to these Guilds among the workers in
particular trades, there were other religious Guilds in-
numerable, two or three being sometimes connected
with the same church. There were three at least in
St. Michael's, Cornhill, and in St. Sepulchre's, and two in
St. Dunstan's, Fleet Street. None of these were trade
unions ; and all were swept away, together with those
which were held by Companies, under Henry VHI. and
Edward VI.

The Fishmongers' Company claim to have received the
earliest charter. They assert that it was granted by
Edward I., in 1289. There are a good many reasons
for doubting the truth of this allegation. The charter
is not mentioned in any way, or even alluded to, in
the charter of 1363, granted by Edward HI. Of the



94 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

twelve great Companies, as they are called, eight received
charters from the same King. Kichard II. incorporated
the " Mistery of the Mercers in Cheap," and the Mercers'
Company now takes precedence among the twelve. The
history of the Goldsmiths has never been adequately
written. Long before they obtained their first charter ,
in 1327, they had exerted an influence on the trade, and
still more on the finances, of the kingdom. The first
Mayor was probably a goldsmith. The great value of
a charter to the brethren of the fraternity of St. Dunstan
was that they were allowed to hold an estate of twenty
pounds annual value, for the benefit of sick or aged
members. About the same time they obtained the house
of Sir Nicholas Seagrave, in the parish of St. Vedast, as
headquarters, and they have remained on the same site
ever since.

It is easy enough to see from the records of the
purchase of Segrave House that, even as early as 1323,
four years before they had leave to hold land, the Gold-
smiths had attained sufficient consistency to enable them
to buy the house, the sale being nominally to their chap-
lain, William Clift. They have, without remuneration,
continued to assay and hall-mark gold and silver plate
ever since. In this respect they and the Fishmongers,
who also occupy a site which has belonged to them since
the date of their incorporation, are alone among the twelve
great Companies. It is often asserted that all the
Companies have functions of this kind and neglect them.
One writer believed, though he never gave any authority
for it, that the City Companies are bound to teach a trade
to anyone who comes to them. The duties self-imposed
on the Goldsmiths and Fishmongers are a boon to the
public, and deserve every acknowledgment ; but as-
sertions as to the duties of other Companies are,



THE CITY COMPANIES. 95

to say the least, impertinent. Such duties are not
within the list of the purposes for which they were
founded.

Besides those already named, the great Companies
comprise the Drapers, Haberdashers and Cloth workers.
They, with the so-called Merchant Taylors, would seem
to have formed members of the great Weavers' Guild,
but the question of their origin is too obscure for treatment
here. A Weavers' Company, with a merely nominal
income, still exists, but it seems only to have been chartered
by Queen Elizabeth with a view to the benefit of the
refugee silk weavers. There are also among the minor
Companies several which were connected with the great
cloth industry. The Broderers', Dyers', Feltmakers', Gird-
lers', and Woolmen's Companies are all in existence. A
long treatise might be written on the social and political
influence of the cloth trade of the Middle Ages both in
England and Scotland. Its traces are strong in our
modern surnames, such as Lister, a man who lists ;
Calendar, a man who calenders ; Walker, one who treads
the web ; Webster, one who weaves it ; Dyer, one who dyes
it ; Sherman, one who shears it ; to say nothing of Fuller,
Winder, Cutter, Tucker, Packer, Boxer, Corder, and
many more.

Among the Companies which are still concerned with
trade the Stationers' is one of the most interesting,
although its charter only dates from the time of Philip
and Mary. Little as we know about Shakespeare and
the first appearance of his plays, we should know less
than half as much but for the registers of this Company.

" Entered at Stationers' Hall " is a very familiar sen-
tence. There was a Guild of Stationers, but it cannot
have been very flourishing at a time when so few read
or wrote. When printing was invented, the Stationers



96 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

rose in the world, but it was too late for their admission
to the ranks of the great Companies, nor are they very
remarkable for their wealth, although they distribute
large annual sums as pensions in the trade. The Tudors
had a dread of the printing press, and under Queen
Elizabeth the Company was made an implement of
religious and political tyranny. Printers everywhere
had to serve their time to a member of the Company,
and books could not be sold without its leave. There
were also many monopolies and privileges granted out-
side the ranks of the Company. The Queen's Printers
first, and afterwards the Universities, had leave to print
Bibles. Richard Tottel had a monopoly given him by
Queen Elizabeth for Law r Books. At present, since the
Copyright Act of '42, any publisher can register a book
at the Hall, and proceedings for a breach of copyright
cannot be taken till a book has been so registered. The
Apothecaries' (a very poor Company) does excellent work
in examining, and long cultivated the old " Physic
Garden " at Chelsea.

Another Company exercised for a time somewhat
analogous powers. The Barber-Surgeons were incor-
porated by Edward IV., and a further Act of Incorporation
was passed in 1541. At this time surgeons obtained
their licences from the Bishop of London and the Dean
of St. Paul's. The Company examined the candidates and
recommended them to the Ecclesiastical functionaries.

The Company still flourishes, though it has no very
large number of members, " the livery " consisting of only
ninety-two persons. Of course, there are many others
including, by the way, a lady who are free of the Com-
pany, but who have not attained the dignity of livery.
One more Company should be mentioned, though of
much later origin than most of the others. Nevertheless,



THE CITY COMPANIES. 97

" The Honourable Artillery Company " claims to repre-
sent, if not actually to be, a Guild of St. George, incor-
porated by Henry VIII. This Company was apparently
among those ruined by the statute against Guilds, and
before 1610 was extinct and the Artillery Garden given
up to the gunners from the Tower. The re-foundation
by James I., the suppression by Oliver Cromwell, and the
revival by Charles II. and by his brother, the first captain
of the modern corps, are facts which have been much
obscured in histories of the Company. It has lately
been reformed or rehabilitated, and may continue to
remind us of the old " trained bands " of the City, of
which Gilpin was an illustrious captain.

It is worth while to inquire into the expenditure of
one or two of the wealthier Companies. We may pre-
mise that, of the whole seventy-four, very few can be
called absolutely wealthy, and the great majority have
no estates at all. The twelve great Companies have over
ten thousand a year each, as have the Brewers, Carpenters,
Leathersellers, and Saddlers among the minor Companies.
Mr. Ditchfield, a well-known antiquary, versed in munici-
pal history, has for some time past investigated the
charities of the Companies. We take a few notes from
his interesting papers. The Mercers, who rank first
hi civic precedence, are first also in wealth, their gross
income amounting to 83,000. Of this, 35,000 is held
in trust for various useful purposes, and is gratuitously
administered by the officials of the Company. The rest,
48,000, is at the disposal of the members. It is curious
to observe that as lately as 1745 this great Company was
in difficulties. Money had been advanced to successive
kings, from Henry VIII. downward, and the Scots re-
bellion had emptied the till. Few or none of these loans
had been repaid. A Petition was presented to Parlia-



98 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

merit, showing that the Company's unfortunate position
was caused by its advances for the public service, and
it received a grant from the coal dues. But better
times came. Judicious investments in estates situated
in or near London have greatly increased in value. The
Mercers' badge of a maiden's head, said by some to repre-
sent the Blessed Virgin, by others Queen Elizabeth,
is to be seen on many houses in and about Covent
Garden. Their charities and other public works defy
enumeration. The Company is trustee of the great
estate of Sir Richard Whittington. A college of priests
011 this foundation was suppressed under Henry VIII.,
and a large slice of the Whittington estate was confiscated,
but enough remains for the great almshouse known as
Whittington College at Highgate. Here twenty-eight
poor women are provided for at a cost of 2,454. In
connection with the same trust, 4,550 is given in pen-
sions to some 130 deserving persons, and about 3,000
more in special donations.

The estates left by Dean Colet, the friend of More
and Erasmus, are also administered by the Mercers, of
whom Colet said in his will that he made them his trustees
considering their assured truth and circumspect wisdom
and faithful goodness, and trusting in their fidelity and
love. It is needless to point to the new St. Paul's School
at Hammersmith as proof that the Mercers have worthily
carried out the trust. Also they administer a large number
of separate bequests for scholarships and other bene-
factions to the school. They have, likewise, an excellent
middle-class school in the City, where a hundred and
fifty boys are educated, the cost to the Company being
about 3,000 a year. Further, the Mercers manage the
well-known school founded by Richard Collier at Horsham
in Sussex, and another, founded at Lavington by Alderman



THE CITY COMPANIES. 99

Dauntsey in 1542. They are also trustees of the Gresham
estate, and, besides innumerable grants on former occasions,
gave 63,000 towards the latest rebuilding of the Royal
Exchange. Then, again, they take charge of Lady Mice's
almshouses at Stepney, and of Lord Northampton's
Hospital at Greenwich, which is only one part of the
extensive trust. These are a few items from an enormous
list. That they should be in the hands of a great and
wealthy body like the Mercers' Company is an immense
advantage to the charities. Suppose, for example, that
the particular estate or fund bequeathed for one of them
should ever be deficient, the poor would suffer, and the
charity, standing by itself, would in all probability fail ;
but the Mercers take care no such catastrophe shall occur
in any scheme for which they are trustees. Other funds
are spent in large gifts to such objects as their committees
consider deserving. They lately spent 1,000 on the
decoration of St. Paul's, and large sums on St. Albans
and Gloucester Cathedrals, on the City and Guilds of
London Institute, on University College, and a hundred
other objects. Their offices more nearly resemble a
large bank than a " guzzling society," as some of their
detractors call them, and while no so-called religious
society does more for philanthropy, the extreme care
with which all cases are sifted and investigated, the re-
luctance to pauperise those they help, involve a large
expenditure.

The income of the Drapers' Company comes next to
that of the Mercers, their corporate income being larger,
but their trust funds smaller. The Drapers had an
enormously long charter from James I., in which the
King, in contravention of the Statute, restored to the
Company the name of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin,
which had been abolished, at heavy cost to the Company,



100 LONDON AFFERNOONS.

by the Acts of Henry VIII. and Edward VI. The King'a
charter cannot legalise an illegal act, but the Drapers
have certainly a shadowy excuse for calling themselves
a Guild.

This Company support no lass than two hundred
almshouses in the neighbourhood of London alone. They
are also trustees for a large number of apprenticeship
charities, a form of education generally believed obsolete.
They apprentice a hundred boys, besides a number of
girls, annually, chiefly orphans, and, standing towards
them 171 loco parentis, look after their welfare till they
are well out in the world. The Drapers Avere probably
the largest donors to the foundation of the People's Palace,
as they subscribed 70,000, and still give 7,000 a year.
They ulso do a great deal of good with the schools of which
they are trustees, or for which they pay out of corporate
funds. The schools may be met with all over the country,
and in many cases have proved stepping-stones to the
Universities.

Among the many other useful objects wherewith
they charge themselves is an Arabic professorship at
Cambridge. The great school at Woodford was endowed
with money bequeathed by the eccentric Francis Bancroft,
and was built at a cost of 50,000 out of the corporate
funds of the Company. They have applied to educational
purposes some bequests made for the relief of prisoners
for debt, and, like the Mercers, spend larger sums on
schools, male and female, than on anything else.

It is impossible to picture to ourselves the widespread
distress and misery which any tampering with the Com-
panies would cause. We had a slight taste of this a few
years ago. Several Companies had estates in Ulster.
They had been induced, chiefly by James I., to take the
land as part of the " plantation " of the province, and



THE CITY COMPANIES. 101

the name of Londonderry is in itself a perpetual reminder
of the influence of the City on the newly settled districts.
The lands of the Companies were models of estate manage-
ment, except in one particular. The Companies did too
much : churches, schools, even meeting-houses and Roman
Catholic chapels, were provided for the petted tenants,
together with many other gifts and privileges. The
prosperity and contentment of the people of this region
made it particularly obnoxious to discontented tenants,
such as must exist on very large estates, and they
threatened and cajoled the rest into joining an agitation
against their landlords, the Companies. The story is
too long to tell in full, but the result was that the Com-
panies, or some of them, withdrew from Ireland. It is
almost incredible, but none the less strictly true, that
a fresh agitation was then got up, because the Companies
refused to continue the grants for the churches, chapels,
schools, and other institutions on the estates which once
were theirs.

We have only mentioned the Mercers and Drapers
at length, but every one of the great Companies has a
similar record. St. Peter's Hospital at Wandsworth,
for instance, is maintained by the Fishmongers. The
famous Grammar School at Tonbridge is the glory of
the Skinners. The Carpenters have almshouses both at
Twickenham and at Godalming. The Clothworkers have
given solid help to the technical colleges at Leeds, Bradford,
and other places interested in the manufacture of woollen
goods. The City Companies alone give no less than
50,000 a year towards the support of various charitable
institutions both in London and in the country. They
spend 9,000 a year on primary education, 5,000 on the
education of the blind, and 50,000 on exhibitions and
scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge, including those



102 LONDON AFTERNOONS.

for women. The total trust income of all the Companies
is estimated by Mr. Ditchfield at about 200,000, but
they are all wont to apply large sums from their cor-
porate income in supplementing and furthering the
objects of the trusts.

Here it may be well to point out a difficulty which
the so-called reformers will have to meet. If we endeavour
to analyse the position of the question, if question there
be, as to the existence of the Companies, we may put the


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Online LibraryW. J. (William John) LoftieRambles in and near London : or, London afternoons → online text (page 8 of 23)