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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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On City Companies

by Miss C. F. Yonge
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 39-50


A paper for the holidays.

"Busy companies of men."--Andrew Marvell.

The yearly pageant on November 9th of the Lord Mayor's Show is considered by most people a thing to be seen at least once, a sort of chronic curiosity in the way of shows, with its elephants and horses in gay trappings, and its quaint chariots on which are perched representatives of the old traders and guild merchants; its knights in armour, some of which is cumbersome enough to remind one of James I.'s remark on a certain suit of mail, that "it was an admirable invention which preserved a man from being injured, and made him incapable of injuring anyone else"' also, last but not least part of the entertainment, its gaily-dressed circus ladies, who add variety to the scene. To many persons the Lord Mayor's Day is an amusing opportunity of penetrating into the unknown City, and they go to some friend's office, from whose windows they can look on luxuriously, and at their ease, at the procession as it slowly files past; the friend has the unaccustomed interest of being "at home" to his society acquaintances, instead of to his usual business clients. And of providing the former with a big spread in the way of a lunch. It is a very grand day in the eyes of foreigners, who regard the Lord Mayor as second only to the Queen, and to the English populace it is a "gaze" which they would not miss for a great deal, and for the sight of which they would wait for hours, the crowds getting gradually denser, and encroaching on the road; it is then worth while to watch the well-trained horses of the mounted police gently backing the mob so as to make them keep to the pathway. One pities the children, who get tired, hungry, and pushed about for an interminable time before their sorrows are forgotten in the wonderful beasts, and still more wonderful people; many of their elders, too, resemble the old woman who gave one guinea to go to a treat, and later would have gladly given ten to be safe home from it! It seems merely a tinsel imitation of the pomp and power belonging to a bygone age, and yet this show, gaudy and ridiculous as it may appear in some ways, is really interesting as bringing to our mind the growth of commerce, and the long history of civic strength and gradually-acquired rights, which have made the City of London for many centuries such a powerful factor in the life and prosperity of the English people. The City companies are above eighty in number, and vary very much in date of existence, in importance, in their Halls, in the number of their members. Of some the name, history and charter only remain to tell of past glories. We might say that there are now only two companies, each of which can claim to have members strictly in accordance with its title, and they are those of the Stationers and the Apothecaries; the former dates from 1557, and long enjoyed the monopoly of printing all books published in England; it sounds rather a come-down to hear that they now chiefly print almanacks! The copyright of the books is still secured by their being "entered at Stationer's Hall." Hare's "Walks in London" mentions the grimy little garden at the back of the Hall as having many associations of the time of the Star Chamber, "when the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of its most active members, used frequently to send warrants to the master and wardens of the Stationers' Company, requiring them, on pain of the penalties of the Church, and forfeiture of all their temporal rights to search every house in which there was a press for seditious publications, which they were to seize and burn in the Hall garden." The Apothecaries' Hall, in Water Lane, has chemical laboratories, from which the Army is supplied with medicines.

There has been a great diversity of opinion amongst historians as to the origin of these Companies, or, to cal them by the old name usually mentioned in their charters, these Mysteries. Some writers attribute them to Roman influence, and think that the "Collegia" of Roman-British times survived to pass down through Saxon days and finally flourish among the English; they suppose that the "Collegium Fabrorum" is analogous to the Carpenters' Company, and the "Fabriciensium" to the Smiths'. Other authors, e.g., W. J. Loftie and the late Mr. Toulmin Smith differ diametrically from the above theory, the latter insisting that there is not even "the shadow of an analogy" between Saxon and Roman institutions of this kind as compared with English. Loftie says: "We have the king's officer, the wickreeve, mentioned as existing in the latter part of the seventh century; and, as we shall see very shortly he was still the chief civil authority in the latter part of the eleventh. If any municipality survived from Roman times, or even any guild, and was the root and origin of the Mayor and Corporation of the Middle Ages, how comes it that their authority was suspended from 673 to 1066, and the government of London as a commercial city was conducted by a wickreeve, or portreeve--the two words meaning exactly the same--who was appointed by the king?"

Stow gives a list of portreeves, and it is probable that they were chosen from important landowners. The charter raising the portreeve to the rank of mayor, if ever there was such a one, is lost; Henry FitzAlwyn was the first Mayor, and probably so made about the year 1189; the office was first held for life, then for irregular periods, and later the mayoralty was for a year only, but with the possibility of re-election if wished, as in the case of the famous Dick Whittington, "thrice Lord Mayor of London." The title of Lord Mayor first came into use in 1354, and Thomas Legge was the first to bear it. Stow specially mentions the third Lord Mayor, Henry Pycard (1356), as feasting "the kings of England, France, Cyprus, and Scots, four monarchs, with many other great estates, in one day in the year of his mayoralty." Whittington was Lord Mayor in 1397, 1406, 1419, thus holding office under three different kings, if indeed in the disturbed state of the kingdom so near the end of Richard II's reign as was 1397, anyone could be said to be under him: he was a mercer, and in the Hall of the Mercers' Company is a portrait of him and his cat, inscribed "R. Whittington, 1546." So dated it is of course not from life, and the story of his cat is now supposed to be fabulous; anyhow the legend has many prototypes, in Persia, S. America, Denmark and Italy.* One theory of his connection with a cat is curious: up to his time the burning of coal in London was forbidden, and even punishable by death, as it was considered so dangerous in a city mostly composed of wooden houses. Leave to burn coal was first given at Whittington's request, and as coal was imported in the collier (catta), still called a cat, that may have given rise to the story in his case. The use of coal seems to have been discouraged even so late as 250 years after, as when funds for rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral after the fire were required, coals were among the first things taxed; so coal plays a prominent part in St. Paul's, originally by helping to build it, and now, day by day, giving forth the smoke, which darkens it with ever-deepening shades, adding to its grandeur; as Hawthorne says it would not be nearly so grand without its drapery of black.

It seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, for the Lord Mayors to be munificent, and Whittington advanced Henry V immense sums of money towards carrying on the wars with France, founded an almshouse for thirteen poor men, built Newgate,† the larger half of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and the library at Christ's Hospital, besides other works more or less important and useful.

Sir George Bond, Lord Mayor at the time of the Armada and the City companies, came forward well in aid of their Queen and country, as they fitted out thirty vessels with 2140 men, at a cost of £2,291 a month; a list is given of the subscribers' names, and after those of the Companies, are those of the "Straungers" or foreign merchants in the city, which is specially interesting, as lists of refugees and exiles of that time are rare. The documents relating to the "shippes sette foorth and paide upont he chardge of the Cittie of London" are among the Lansdowne MS. in the British Museum.

Sir Thomas Adams was another Lord Mayor, conspicuous for loyalty and disinterestedness. He belonged to the Drapers, who claim to have provided more Lord Mayors than any other Company. His loyalty to Charles I was so well known that his house was searched by the Parliamentarians when seeking for the king. During the exile of Charles II he remitted him £10,000, and when his restoration was agreed upon, Adams, then seventy-four years of age, was deputed by the city to go with the General Monk, to Breda in Holland, to congratulate and accompany the king home. He took great interest in the affairs of the East; he had the gospels printed in Persian, and sent them as a means of evangelising Persia; and he founded an Arabic professorship at Cambridge. He was born at Wem, in Shropshire, and gave his house there as a free school to the town, liberally endowing it. Pepys speaks of him and General Monk as follows:--"Feb. 11th, 1660. We took coach for the City to Guildhall, where the hall was full of people expecting Monk and Lord Mayor to come thither, and all very joyful. Met Monk coming out of the chamber where he had been with the Mayor and Aldermen, but such a shout I never heard in all my life, crying out 'God bless your Excellence' . . . Mr. Lock . . . told us the substance of the letter that went from Monk to the Parliament . . . complaints that he and his officers were put upon such offices against the City as they could not do with any content, or honour . . . the occasion of this was the order that he had last night to go into the city, and disarm them, and take away their Charter." Pepys goes on to say that while waiting for the result of his expostulation, General Monk declared his intention of retiring with his officers into the City, and thereupon the Mayor and Aldermen offered their houses to them for their uses, and promised also that his soldiers should lack for nothing. In the following May, Pepys writes, "Besides the £50,000 ordered to be borrowed of the City for the present use of the king, the twelve companies of the City do give everyone of them to his Majesty as a present, £1000." The twelve companies were those most important, not necessarily the oldest; those whose Charters dated furthest back were the Weavers, 1164, the Parish Clerks, 1232, and the Saddlers, 1280. The "twelve" were the Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant Tailors, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners, and Cloth-workers.

Aiding the cause of education has always been a feature of the Lord Mayors and the City Companies, by building and endowing schools, giving exhibitions at the Universities, and of late years by encouraging the spread of technical education. The Chairman and head of the Governing Body of the People's Palace is the Master of the Drapers' Company; and that is a great and increasing centre of education in all branches, with its numerous work-shops, for arts of every sort, and its many professors and teachers. Till lately the Mercers' Company had entire management of St. Paul's School, which was founded by John Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, who died 1519. He was one of the twenty-one children of Sir Henry Colet, of the Mercers' Company, who was twice Lord Mayor. There are many schools in the country belonging to various companies; to instance only a few the Haberdashers support schools at Bunbury, Newport, Monmouth, the Grocers at Oundle, the Coopers at Egham, the Mercers at Horsham, the Skinners at Tonbridge. The charities are very numerous, many to assist the poor belonging to the Company; others point to the needs of former times, such as bequests to assist poor debtors (a help that the majority of "mysteries" seem to have given), for bread to various London prisons, for prisoners in Newgate, for apprenticing boys and girls to different trades. The guild of Painters have a benefaction of £10 annually for lame painters. The Mercers founded the Trinity Almshouses for old sailors, of which Besant gives such a charming description in "All Sorts and Conditions of men"; we fear that this year is to see those quaint old houses demolished. The Haberdashers have a fund to purchase Church livings, which will also probably soon be a thing of the past. The Ironmongers had a bequest left them, a sum of money, the interest from which was to purchase faggots for the burning of witches!

In the year 1376 the "mysteries" of London were thirty-two in number, but by an ordinance that year they were increased to forty-five; Grocers, Drapers, Fletchers--(it may not be always known that these three derive their name from the French, or Norman, i.e., marchands en gros, en drap, and from fleche, arrow, the fletchers being makers of arrows)--Masons, Ironmongers, Mercers, Brewers, Leather-dressers, Armourers, Fishmongers, Bakers, Butchers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Cutlers, Vintners, Girdlers, Spurriers (spur-makers), Tailors, Stainers, Plumbers, Saddlers, Cloth-Measurers, Wax-Chandlers, Webbers, Haberdashers, Barbers, Tapestry-Weavers, Braziers, Painters, Leather-Sellers, Salters, Tanners, Joiners, Cappers (cap-makers), Pouch-Makers, Pewterers, Chandlers, Hatters, Fullers, Smiths, Pinners, Wood-Mongers, Curriers, Horners. The Merchant Taylors were formerly the Linen Armourers, which points back to the age when quilted linen was worn, and scaled and ringed armour, i.e., horn scales and metal rings stitched on to the leathern or linen garment. The Needle Makers' is the only Company which possesses a charter direct from Oliver Cromwell; it was incorporated by him under Letters Patent in 1656, and rather curiously, this was afterwards confirmed by Charles II. The Goldsmiths obtained their Charter in 1327, and it ordained that "all of the trade of goldsmiths were to sit in their shops in the High Street of Cheap, and that no gold or silver plate be sold in the City of London except in the King's Exchange, or in Cheap, because of late, private merchants and strangers bring from foreign lands counterfeit of sterling gold and silver . . . and many of the trade of goldsmiths do keep shops in obscure streets, and buy vessels of gold and silver secretly, which may have been stolen . . . and the cutlers cover tin with silver so subtilely and with such sleight of hand, that the same cannot be discovered." The Charter further went on to say that "in all trading cities in England where goldsmiths reside, the same ordinance shall be observed as for London, and that one or two of every such city or town, for the rest of the trade, shall come to London to be ascertained of their touch of gold, and there to have a stamp of a puncheon of a leopard's head marked upon their work as it was anciently ordained." To be a Charter Company thus seems to have been a special protection to Goldsmiths, and a guard to those who had much plate to be stolen!

There are often quaint notices of dress in connection with the Lord Mayor and Aldermen; by an Act passed in 1362 the Lord Mayor and his wife were respectively allowed to wear the array of knights bachelors and their wives; the Alderman and Recorder of London, and the mayors of other cities and towns, that of esquires having property to the yearly value of £40. No man having less than this, or his wife, shall wear fur of martrons (marten's?), letuse, pure grey, or pure miniver. On some old brasses may be studied more elaborate costumes, such as the one given in Waller's work on monumental brasses, of Alderman Field, A.D. 1474; the brass was inlaid with colour, to show the long red gown, edged with white fur, a leathern girdle form which hung the purse and rosary, and over all the alderman's cloak, striped, fur trimmed, and buttoning on the right shoulder. In the reign of Philip and Mary there is an order for "Mr. Mayor" to provide his wife, the mayoress, with a scarlet gown and a bonnet of velvet upon the pain of forfeiting £10. In the middle of the last century at a Court of Common Council it was ordered that for supporting the dignity of the Magistracy of the City of London, the Lord Mayor should be desired to provide himself with an entertaining gown again Easter at the City's expense, to be as usual a mouse colour, ornamented with gold drops and embroidery. In the Post-Boy newspaper of 1701 is mention made of "the maiden Queen who rid on the Lord Mayor's Day in the pageant in imitation of the Patroness of the Mercers' Company, and had a fine suit of cloaths given her valued at ninety guineas, a present of fifty guineas, and four guineas for a smock, and a guinea for a pair of gloves." Civic dress can also be seen in many portraits, and notably in Holbein's famous painting of Henry VIII giving their Charter to the Barber-Surgeon, which is in the Court Room in Monkwell Street, and which is mentioned in Pepys' Diary, 29th August, 1668. "Harris and I to the Chyrurgeons' Hall, where they are building it now very fine, and thence to see the theatre which stood all the fire, and (which was our business) their great picture of Holbein's, thinking to have bought it, by the help of W. Pierce, for a little money; I did think to have given £200 for it, it being said to be worth £1,000, but it is so spoiled that I have no mind to it, and it is not a pleasant though a good picture." Mr. Pepys would have been somewhat astonished could he have looked on to the future, and seen offers of £12,000, or upwards, refused for this painting by which he set so little store! He also mentions it before it was "so spoiled" by the Fire.

"February 11th, 1663. About 11 o'clock . . . walked to Surgeons' Hall (we all being invited thither, and promised to dine there) . . . we had a fine dinner, and good learned company, many doctors of physic, and we used with extraordinary great respect. Among other observables we drunk the King's health out of a gilt cup given by King Henry VIII to this Company, with bells hanging at it, which every man is to ring by shaking after he hath drunk up the whole cup. There is also a very excellent piece of the King, done by Holbein, stands up in the Hall, with the officers of the Company kneeling to him to receive their Charter."

The Mansion House is generally now the receiving-office of national subscriptions in aid of any disaster or misfortune at home or abroad, such as great colliery accidents, fires, shipwrecks, etc., etc.; it is also frequently the scene of large charitable and other meetings under the patronage of the Lord Mayor for the time being. The great State banquets are given in the Guildhall, a building which in part dates from the time of Henry IV. The old walls are so solid that they even withstood the Great Fire. The crypt is 75 feet long, by 45 feet wide, and is divided into three aisles by six clusters of circular colums in Purbeck marble, supporting a groined roof with curious bosses. The vaulting, with four centred arches, is one of the earliest examples of its kind in England. The crypt alone, almost, of the old building remains as it was originally. Among the trials famous in history which took place in the Guildhall, was that of Anne Askew, as a Protestant, afterwards burnt at Smithfield in 1546; and Father Garnet, of the Jesuits, executed in 1606. The Hall is 152 feet long, by 50 feet broad, and has a splendid timber roof. The library has a valuable collection of books and pamphlets on the history of London, and the drawings of old London are well worth studying; there is a portrait of Charles Pratt, Lord Chancellor Camden, by Reynolds, and a room with allegorical paintings by Thornhill. Except for the splendid plate, there is not much else to see. The Hall can dine over 6,000 people, and has seen some very famous banquets; e.g., that of the entertainment by Lord Mayor Whittington to Henry V and his queen, when he burnt the royal bond for the debt of £60,000, on a fire specially prepared of sandal-wood. "Never had king such a subject," exclaimed Henry, to which Whittington rejoined, "Surely, Sire, never had subject such a king."

On June 18th, 1814, Sir William Domville entertained there the Prince Regent and many noted foreigners, among them being the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, and others, rejoicing in the thought that Napoleon was safe in Elba and peace ensured; not being prophets enough to foresee that day year!

Many of the Halls are worth seeing, though most have been rebuilt since the Fire; a few things were saved here and there from the universal burning. The Clothworkers (41, Mincing Lane) show two gilt statues of James I and Charles I, and also their cash books, "brought forward" from 1480. The Mercers (4, Ironmonger Lane) have an ancient gateway which contains a shutter, in the form of a portcullis; it is elaborately carved, and in fair preservation. The Fishmongers (Adelaide Place, London Bridge) have a curious old picture of the Pageant of the Fishmongers on Oct. 29th, 1616, when Sir J. Leman, of their Company, became Lord Mayor; but a still more interesting possession is the chair made out of the first pile that was driven in the construction of Old London Bridge; the seat of the chair is stone, part of the stone in fact on which the pile rested, and according to all accounts, these two relics of Old London must have been under water for upwards of 650 years. The Vintners (68½, Upper Thames Street) have some old tapestry, and a painting which some judges credit with being a Rubens.

Some of the pictures best worth seeing are at the Apothecaries' Hall (Water Lane), the sketch by Reynolds of Doctor Hunter, for the portrait in the College of Surgeons; in the Barber-Surgeon's Court Room (Monkwell Street) Inigo Jones, by Vandyke, Lely's "Countess of Richmond, and also the Holbein mentioned before; the Ironmongers (Fenchurch Street) possess Admiral Hood's portrait, by Gainsborough, and the Merchant Tailors (30, Threadneedle Street) have paintings by Kneller, Lawrence Hoppner, Opie: the Mercers (4, Ironmonger Lane) have the portraits of Whittington, as before mentioned, Dean Colet, and Holbein's Sir Thomas Gresham.

What is there over which romance cannot shed its glamour! Love takes up the harp of life, even when existence is in populous city pent; and sentiment is not unknown in City annals. Sir Edward Osborne, who was Lord Mayor in 1583, and ancestor of the present Duke of Leeds, was the hero of the well-known London Bridge anecdote, having as an apprentice saved his master's (Lord Mayor Hewet) daughter from drowning, afterwards married her, and subsequently succeeded to his father-in-law's fortune. Stephen Forster, who was Lord Mayor in Henry VI's time, was, as a young man, imprisoned for debt in Ludgate prison; his good looks and melancholy air, as seen through the grating, impressed a young girl passing by. She obtained his release, married him, and as a thank-offering for their happiness they built a gatehouse for weary travellers. Gilbert A. Becket's romance of his release from the Saracens, and being followed to England by his love, who travelled over land and sea, knowing but the two words "Gilbert" and "London," is too well known to need repetition here.

The story of Peter Blundell, of Tiverton, shows as much perseverance and steady success almost as that of Whittington; born about 1520, he made his living as a small boy chiefly by holding horses of the carriers in the kersey trade; he saved money enough to buy one kersey, which he sent to London by a friend, who sold it to his profit, and that was the foundation of his fortune; he rose to be one of the most opulent of mercers, and spent over £40,000 in charity, and was the founder of the school at Tiverton, where many well-known Devonians have received their education, the present Archbishop of Canterbury among them. "Blundell's" is spoken of in "Lorna Doone," as "John Ridd" was a pupil there.

As we mention fiction, we may here speak of "Barnaby Rudge" and the pusillanimous Lord Mayor of the time of the Gordon Riots, whose only idea of how to awe a London mob was to place an alderman, or a javelin-man, at the window of any threatened house! He kept a whole skin by locking himself up in his house, when Newgate was burning, and the populace working their own made will; and, when later he had to answer to the Privy Council for such willful neglect of duty, he was well pleased to get off with a reprimand, and repeated with a huge satisfaction his memorable defence before the Council, "that such was his temerity, he thought death would have been his potion"! Smollett, who describes much of his own life in "Roderick Random," speaks of the Barber Surgeons' Hall, where he goes in 1741 to pass his examination before becoming surgeon's mate. A full account of the Whittington banquet, when Henry V and his queen were so royally entertained at the Guildhall, is given in Miss Yonge's romance, "The Caged Lion," with descriptions of the hall, with the Lord Mayor's new improvements, and the tables groaning under the weight of gold and silver plate.

Hogarth's "Industry and Idleness" exhibit the conduct of two fellow apprentices, the good one whose steadiness eventually leads to the Lord Mayoralty, contrasting with the bad one, whose crimes in later years bring him as a prisoner to be judged by his former companion, and who is finally executed at Tyburn. If the joy of youth mostly consists in dreaming of ideal possibilities, one might almost think how happy the lot of an apprentice must have been! To get together a little money, to trade with it successfully, to rescue from wonderful danger the master's daughter, to marry her, to become a civic personage, and eventually "His Right Worshipful," one thinks must have been the castle in the air of many a youth who read or heard of such histories as those of Whittington, Osborne, or Blundell. However, of course, in this as in all other lines of life, we hear only of those who come to the top, the successful ones, whilst history is silent on the many who, like Thomas Idle, went under through faults or incapacity. The strength of a nation is in its merchant classes, and the history of our English people shows how the backbone of government has been its civic power; there is no body of men who have lived for, acted in, and served their generation better than the Lord Mayor and his Aldermen; we assuredly need not disdain being termed a "nation of shopkeepers," when we reflect on the wholesome ambition and steady perseverance when have raised so many unknown men to the rank and power of merchant-princes, and has enabled them for so many centuries to be among the chief promoters of good government, of great charities, and of first-rate education.