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Title: Craft Gilds
Author: Cunningham, W.
Language: English
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A Paper ON CRAFT GILDS, READ BY
THE REV. W. CUNNINGHAM, D.D.,

_At the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Society for the Protection
of Ancient Buildings._


There is, as I understand it, a double object in the work of this
Society; it interests itself in the preservation of ancient buildings,
partly because they are monuments which when once destroyed can never
be replaced, and which bear record of the ages in which they were made
and the men who reared them; and in this sense all that survives from
the past, good and bad, coarse or refined, has an abiding value. But
to some folks there seems to be a certain pedantry in gathering or
studying things that are important merely because they are
curiosities, a certain fancifulness in the frame of mind which
concentrates attention on the errors of printers, or the sports of
nature, or the rubbish of the past. And much which has been preserved
from the past is little better than rubbish, as the poet felt when he
wrote:

    "Rome disappoints me much; I hardly as yet understand, but
    Rubbishy seems the word that most exactly would suit it. All the
    foolish destructions, and all the sillier savings, All the
    incongruous things of past incompatible ages Seem to be treasured
    up here to make fools of the present and future."

Still, the view Clough takes is very superficial; there is a real
human interest about even the rubbish heaps of the past if we have
knowledge enough to detect it; the dulness is in us who fail to
recognise the interest which attaches to trifles from the past or to
read the evidence they set before us.

But there is another reason why the vestiges of bygone days claim our
interest--not as mere curiosities, but as in themselves beautiful
objects, excellently designed and skilfully fashioned. There are
numberless arts in which the men of the past were adepts; their skill
as builders is patent to all, but specialists are quite as
enthusiastic over the work that was done by mediæval craftsmen in
other departments. Their wood-carving, and working in metals, the
purity of their dyes, the beauty of their glass, these are things
which move the admiration of competent critics in the present day.
Machinery may produce more rapidly, more cheaply, more regular work,
of more equal quality, and perhaps of higher finish, but it is work
that has lost the delicacy and grace of objects that were shaped by
human hands and bear the direct impress of human care, and taste, and
fancy. We may be interested in the preservation of the relics of the
past, not merely as curiosities from bygone ages, but as examples of
beautiful workmanship and skilled manipulation to which the craftsmen
of the present day cannot attain.

Most Englishmen--all those whose opinions are formed by the newspapers
they read--are so proud of the vast progress that has been made in the
present century, that they do not sufficiently attend to the curious
fact that there are many arts that decay and are lost. In this country
it appears that the art of glass-making was introduced more than once,
and completely died out again; the same is probably true of cloth
dressing and of dyeing. It seems to me a very curious problem to
examine what were the causes which led to the disappearance of these
particular industries. In each single case it is probably a very
complicated problem to distinguish all the factors at work--what were
the social or economic conditions that destroyed this or that useful
art once introduced? But into such questions of detail I must not
attempt to enter now. I wish to direct your attention to-day to a more
general question, to an attempt to give a partial explanation, not of
failure here and there, but of conspicuous success. In the thirteenth
and fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a very high degree of skill was
attained, not in one art only, but in many. It is at least worth while
to look a little more closely at one group of the conditions which
influenced the work of the times, and examine the organisations which
were formed for controlling the training of workmen, for supervising
the manner in which they lived, and maintaining a high standard of
quality in the goods produced. There is no need to idealise the times
when they were formed, or the men who composed them; the very records
of craft gilds show that the mediæval workman was quite capable of
scamping his work and getting drunk when opportunity tempted him. But
the fact remains that a very great deal of first-rate work was done in
many crafts, for portions of it still survive, and I cannot but
believe that some of the credit is due to the gilds which set
themselves to rule each craft, so that the work turned out should be a
credit to those who made it.

Herein, as it seems to me, lies the secret of the importance of the
craft gilds during the period of their useful activity. They were
managed on the principle that "honourable thing was convenable;" that
honesty was the best policy; the good of the trade meant its high
reputation for sound work at fair prices. It has got another meaning
to our ears; a time when trade is good means a time when it is more
possible than usual to sell any sort of goods at high prices, and the
craft gilds in their later days were contaminated by this lower view
of industry. The ancient anecdote of the Edinburgh glazier who was
caught breaking the windows of peaceful inhabitants for "the good of
the trade," may illustrate the modern sense of the phrase, while the
conduct of the stalwart citizen who thrashed him within an inch of his
life, and said at every blow "it's all for the good of the trade," was
in closer accord with the disciplinary character of mediæval rules.

I trust I have said enough to justify my selection of this topic as
one which is not unfitting the attention of this society; the subject
is a very wide one, and I think the treatment may be somewhat less
diffuse if I draw most of my illustrations from a single centre of
industry, and speak chiefly of the craft gilds of Coventry. It is a
town which I visited recently, and where, through the kindness of the
Town Clerk and Mr. W. G. Fretton, the antiquary, I was able to make
good use of the few hours I had to spend. It may be convenient too, to
arrange the matter under the following heads:--

      I. The introduction of craft gilds.

     II. The objects and powers of mediæval craft gilds.

    III. The resuscitation of craft gilds.


I. There is a certain amount of assumption in talking about the
introduction of craft gilds, because it suggests the belief that they
were not a native development. The word gild is, after all, a very
vague term, much like our word association, and though we can prove
the existence of many gilds before the Conquest,--at Cambridge and
Exeter and elsewhere,--their laws contain nothing that would justify
us in regarding them as craft gilds. It is much more probable, though
Dr. Gross, the greatest living authority on the subject, speaks with
considerable reserve, that the hall where the men of Winchester drank
their own gild, or the land of the knights' gild at Canterbury,
belonged to bodies which had some supervision over the trade of the
town--in fact, were early gilds merchant. But I know of no hint in any
of the records or histories of the period before the Norman Conquest,
that can be adduced to show that there were any associations of
craftsmen formed to control particular industries. The earliest
information which we get about such groups of men comes from London,
where, as we learn, Henry I. granted a charter to the Weavers. It is
pretty clear that by this document some authority was given to the
weavers to control the making of cloth (and it possibly involved
conditions which affected the import of cloth). It is certain that
there was a long continued struggle between the weavers' gild and the
citizens, which came to a peaceful close in the time of Edward I.
There were weavers' gilds also in a considerable number of other towns
in the reign of Henry II.; Beverley, Marlborough, and Winchester may
be mentioned in particular, as the ordinances of these towns have
survived, and there are incidental references which seem to show that
the weavers, and the subsidiary crafts of fullers and dyers had, even
in the twelfth century, considerable powers of regulating their
respective trades. The evidence becomes more striking if we are
justified in connecting with it the cases of other towns, where we
find that regulations had been enforced with regard to cloth, and that
the townsmen were anxious to set these regulations aside, and buy or
sell cloth of any width.

So far what we find is this; while we have no evidence of craft gilds
before the Conquest, we find indications of a very large number of
gilds among the weavers and the subsidiary callings shortly after that
date. But there is a further point; so far as we can gather, weaving
before the Conquest was a domestic art; we have no mention of weavers
as craftsmen; the art was known, but it was practised as an employment
for women in the house; but in the time of the Conqueror and of his
sons there was a considerable immigration of Flemings, several of whom
were particularly skilled in weaving woollen cloth; they settled in
many towns in different parts of the country, and it seems not
unnatural to conclude that weaving as an independent craft was
introduced from the Continent soon after the Norman Conquest.

Institutions analogous to craft gilds appear to have existed in some
of the towns of Northern France time out of mind, and some can
apparently trace a more or less shadowy connection with the old Roman
Collegia. Putting all these matters together, it appears that craft
organisation first shows itself in England in connexion with a trade
which was probably introduced from abroad; and it seems not impossible
that the Continental artisans brought not only a knowledge of the art
of weaving but certain habits of organisation with them.

Some sort of organisation was probably necessary for police and fiscal
purposes if for none others. Town life was a curiously confused chaos
of conflicting authority; in London each ward was an independent unit,
in Chester and Norwich the intermingling of jurisdictions seems very
puzzling. The newcomers were not always welcomed by the older
ratepayers, and they might perhaps find it convenient to secure a
measure of _status_ by obtaining a royal charter for their gild. Just
as the Jews or the Hansards were in the city and yet not citizens,
but had an independent footing, so to some extent were the weavers
situated, and apparently for similar reasons; they seem to have had
_status_ as weavers, which they held directly from the King, which
marked them out from other townsmen, and which possibly delayed their
complete amalgamation with the other inhabitants.

There is yet another feature about these weavers' gilds; the business
in which they are engaged was one which was from an early time
regulated by royal authority. King Richard I. issued an assize of
cloth defining the length and breadth which should be manufactured.[1]
The precise object of these regulations is not clear; they may have
been made in the interests of the English consumer; they may have been
made in the interest of the foreign purchaser, and the reputation of
English goods abroad; they may have been framed in connexion with a
protective policy, of which there are some signs. But amid much that
is uncertain these three things seem pretty clear:--

          [1] Richard of Hoveden, Rolls Series, iv. 33.

1. That there were no craft gilds before the Conquest.

2. That there were many craft gilds in connexion with the newly
introduced weavers' craft in the twelfth century.

3. That they exercised their powers under royal authority in a craft
which was the subject of royal regulation.

So far for weavers; I wish now to turn to another craft in which we
hear of craft gilds very early--the Bakers. There is a curious
parallelism between these two callings. In the first place baking was,
on the whole, a domestic art before the Conquest, not a separate
employment; in the next place, it was a matter of royal regulation;
the King's bakers doubtless provided the Court supplies, and the gave
their experience for the framing of the assize of bread, under Henry
II. and under King John.[2] It may, I think, be said that in both of
the trades in which gilds were first formed, there was felt to be a
real need for regulation as to the quality of the goods sold to the
public; and it also appears that this regulation was given under royal
authority. So far the fact seems to me to be pretty clear; and it is
at least more than probable that the form of association
adopted--analogous as it was to associations already existing on the
Continent--had come over in the train of the Conqueror. These few
remarks may suffice in justification of the phrase the "introduction
of craft gilds."

          [2] Cambridge University Library, Mm i. 27.


II. In the latter part of the twelfth and the beginning of the
thirteenth century there was a very rapid development of municipal
life in England, and the burgesses in many towns obtained much larger
powers of self-government than they had previously possessed. They
became responsible for their own payments to the Exchequer, and they
obtained larger rights for regulating their own affairs; the town of
Coventry had indeed possessed very considerable municipal privileges
from the time of Henry I., but it shared in the general progress a
century later, and the new requirements were marked by new
developments. I have tried to show how the earlier craft gilds were
formed under royal authority, but as the powers of local
self-government increased and were consolidated, there was no need,
and there was, perhaps, less opportunity, for direct royal
interference in matters of internal trade. We thus find a new order of
craft gilds springing up--they were called into being, like the old
ones, for the purpose of regulating trade--but they exercised their
powers under municipal, and not under royal authority.

One craft gild of this type which still exists, and which is said to
have been formed by the authority of the leet in the sixth year of
King John, is the Bakers' Gild at Coventry; it still consists of men
who actually get their living by this trade, for it does not appear to
have received so many love brothers as to destroy the original
character of the body; it still has its hall--or, at least, room--and
chest where the records are kept. There are, probably not many other
bodies in the kingdom that have so long a history, and that have
altered so little from their original character during all those
centuries. None of the other Coventry gilds, so far as I know, can at
all compare with it. The weavers were a powerful body there in later
times, but I doubt if there is any evidence of the existence of this
and the allied trades in Coventry before the fourteenth century; we
may, perhaps, guess that it was one of the places where this trade
settled under Edward III. But, apart from the question of origin, the
Bakers have a unique position. Of some half-dozen other crafts which
still maintain a formal existence, none can trace their history back
beyond the time of Edward III., their members have no interest in the
craft which they were empowered to regulate, and a tin box in a
solicitor's office is the only outward and visible sign of their
existence. Such are the Walkers and Fullers, the Shearmen and Weavers,
the Fellmongers, the Drapers, the Mercers, and the Clothiers. Of the
Tanners I cannot speak so decidedly, as during a hurried visit to
Coventry I had no opportunity of examining their books.

In looking more closely at the powers of mediæval craft gilds, it is
necessary to distinguish a little; a craft gild was a gild which had
authority to regulate some particular craft in a given area. I do not,
therefore, want to dwell on the features which were common to all
gilds, and which can be traced in full detail in the admirable volume
edited by the late Mr. Toulmin Smith for the Early English Text
Society. I desire to limit consideration to the powers that were
special to craft gilds. Like other gilds they had a religious side, in
some cases strongly developed, and the members engaged in common acts
of worship, especially in common prayers and masses for departed
brethren. Like other gilds they had the character of a friendly
society, and gave loans to needy brethren, or bestowed alms on the
poor. Like other gilds they had their feasts, when the brethren drank
their gild, and they had hoods, or livery, which they wore at their
assemblies. Like other gilds they took their share in civic
festivities and provided pageants at considerable cost; but all these
common bonds, important as they were in cementing men into a real
fellowship, and in calling forth such different interests and
activities among the members, were of a pious, social, or charitable
character. There was no reason why such associations should not be
multiplied on all sides; even when a gild consisted of men who
followed the same craft it was not a craft gild. The case of the
journeymen tailors in London who assembled at the Black Friars Church
may be taken as conclusive on this point. A gild was not a craft gild
unless duly empowered to regulate a particular craft; it might be
called into existence for this purpose, or an existing gild might be
empowered to exercise such functions, much as the brotherhood of S.
Thomas à Becket was changed into the Mercers' Company. The important
thing about a craft gild was that it had been empowered to exercise
authority in a given area and over certain workmen, as the weavers'
gilds had been empowered by charter from Henry I., and as the bakers
were empowered by the Court Leet at Coventry, in the sixth year of
King John.

Two points were specially kept in view in framing any set of
regulations. They were, first, the quality of the goods supplied; and,
second, the due training of men to execute their work
properly--admirable objects certainly. The machinery which was
organised for attaining these objects was also well devised; the men
who were thoroughly skilled, and were masters in the craft, had the
duty of training apprentices, and the wardens had the right of
examining goods exposed for sale, and of making search in houses where
the trade was being carried on--again, an excellent arrangement where
it could be satisfactorily carried out. And on the whole it seems as
if the scheme had worked well, for this simple reason--that while it
was maintained, so much work of excellent design and quality was
executed. I wish to lay stress on this, because the historian of craft
gilds is apt to overlook it. When craft gilds appeared on the stage of
history, it was because something was out of gearing, and the
institution was working badly. One is apt to infer that since they
worked badly whenever we hear of them, they also worked badly when we
do not; but I am inclined to interpret the periods of silence
differently, and to regard them as times when the organisations were
wisely managed, and when the craft gilds enjoyed the proverbial
happiness of those who have no history.

There were, however, three different dangers of disagreement, and
possible quarrel:--(1) Between a craft gild on one hand and the
municipal authorities on the other; (2) between one craft gild and
another; (3) between different members of a craft gild.

1. It is obvious that the gilds, if they were to exercise any real
authority, required to have _exclusive_ powers within a given
district; it is also obvious that these exclusive powers might be
misused, so as to be mischievous to the consumers of the goods; a
craft gild might take advantage of its monopoly to the gain of the
members and the impoverishing of the citizens. The feeling of the
citizens would be that the goods supplied by the members of the gild
were bad and were dear at the price. It was therefore of the first
importance that the citizens should be, in the last resort, able to
control the gild, and resume the privileges which their officers
exercised. There is a well-known case, which is detailed in Mr.
Toulmin Smith's book, which shows how the tailors of Exeter enjoyed a
charter from the Crown, and how much trouble they gave to the local
authorities under Edward IV.; but it was a matter of common complaint
that in many places the gilds had charters from great men which
exempted them from proper control.[3] Even in Coventry, where there
does not appear to have been interference from without, it was
necessary for the leet to keep a tight hand on the craft gilds. An
ordinance of 8 Henry V. runs as follows:--"Also that no man of any
craft make laws or other ordinance among them but it be overseen by
the mayor and his council; and if it be reasonable ordinance and
lawful it shall be affirmed, or else it shall be corrected by the
mayor and his peers."[4] At a later date we have another entry of the
same kind:--"Also that the mayor, warden, and bailiffs, taking to the
mayor eight or twelve of the General Council, to come afore them the
wardens of all the crafts of the city with their ordinances, touching
their crafts and their articles, and the points that be lawful, good,
and honest for the city be allowed them, all other thrown aside and
had force none, and that they make new ordinances against the laws in
oppression of the people, upon pain of imprisonment." In some other
towns the craftsmen had to yield up their powers annually and receive
them back again from the municipal authority; this was the case with
the cordwainers at Exeter,[5] but the Coventry people did not insist
on anything so strict.

          [3] Rot. Parl., II. 331.

          [4] Leet Book, £37.

          [5] Toulmin Smith, "English Gilds," p. 332.

2. The difficulties between one craft gild and another might arise in
various ways; as time went on or trade developed there was an
increasing differentiation of employment, and it was not always clear
whether the original gild had supervision over all branches of the
trade. Thus in London the weavers' gild claimed to exercise
supervision over the linen as well as over the woollen cloth
manufactures, and this claim was insisted on on the ground that the
two trades were quite distinct. In Coventry the worsted weavers, the
linen weavers, and the silk weavers were one body, in later times at
any rate, though the arts cannot be precisely similar. In other cases
there was a question as to whether different processes involved in the
production of one complete article should be reckoned as separate
crafts or not. Thus the Fullers were organised in independence of the
Shearmen in 1438; and during the fifteenth century the sub-division of
gilds appears to have gone very rapidly at Coventry, as there were
something like twenty-three of them at that time; at the same time
from the repeated power which is given to the Fullers to form a
fellowship of their own,[6] it appears that they were from time to
time re-absorbed by the parent gild. Perhaps an even better
illustration of the difficulty of defining the precise processes which
certain gilds might supervise would be found in the history of the
leather trades in London--Tanners, Cordwainers, Saddlers, and so
forth. But enough may have been said to show how easy it was for
disputes to arise between one or more craft gilds as to their
respective powers.

          [6] Leet Book, f. 400; May 3, 1547. Quoted by Mr. Fretton,
          Memorials of Fullers' Guild, page 11.

3. There were also disputes within the gilds between different
members.

(_a_) There was at least some risk of malversation of funds by the
Master of the craft gild; and strict regulations were laid down by the
Fellmongers and Cappers as to the time when the amounts were to be
rendered and passed, but a much greater number of the ordinances deal
with the respective duties of masters and apprentices and masters and
journeymen.

(_b_) The question of apprenticeship was of primary importance, as
the skill of the next generation of workmen depended on the manner
in which it was enforced. There are a good many ordinances of the
Coventry Cappers in 1520. No one was to have more than two apprentices
at a time, and he was to keep them for seven years, but there was to
be a month of trial before sealing; nobody was to take apprentices who
had not sufficient sureties that he would perform his covenant. If the
apprentice complained that he had not sufficient "finding," and the
master was in fault, the apprentice was to be removed on the third
complaint, and the master was handicapped in getting another in his
place. Once a year the principal master of the craft was to go round
the city and examine every man's apprentice, and see they were
properly taught. The Clothiers, in regulations which I believe to be
of about the same date, though they are incorporated with rules of a
later character, had a system of allowing the apprentice to be turned
over to another master if his own master had no work, so that he might
not lose his time--this was a system which was much abused in the
eighteenth century: the master was to teach the apprentice truly, and
two apprentices were not to work at the same loom unless one of them
had served for five years. No master was to teach any one who was not
apprenticed, and he was to keep the secrets of the craft; this was a
provision which constantly occurs in the ordinances. Some such
exclusive rule was necessary if they were to secure the thorough
competence, in all branches of the art, of the men who lived by it. In
the case of the Coventry Clothiers there is an exception which is of
interest; the master might give instruction to persons who were not
apprenticed as "charity to poor and impotent people for their better
livelihood."

(_c_) The limitation of the number of apprentices, though it was
desirable for the training of qualified men, was frequently urged in
the interests of the journeymen. There had been frequent complaint on
the part of journeymen that the masters overstocked their shops with
apprentices, and that those who had served their time could get no
employment from other masters, while they also complained that
unnecessary obstacles were put in the way of their doing work on their
own account.

One or two illustrations of these points may be given from the
Coventry crafts; the Fullers in 1560 would not allow any journeyman to
work on his own account. The Clothiers in the beginning of the
sixteenth century ordained that none shall set any journeyman on work
till he is fairly parted from his late master, or if he remains in his
late master's debt; journeymen were to have ten days' notice, or one
cloth to weave before leaving a master; their wages were to be paid
weekly if they wished it, and they were to make satisfaction for any
work they spoiled. Similarly the Cappers in 1520 would not allow
journeymen to work in their houses.

Some of the most interesting evidence in regard to the grievances of
the journeymen comes from the story of a dispute in the weaving trade
in the early part of the fifteenth century. "The said parties--both
masters and journeymen--on the mediation of their friends, and by the
mandate and wish of the worshipful Mayor, entered into a final
agreement." The rules to which they agreed throw indirect light on the
nature of the points in dispute. It was evidently a time when the
trade was developing rapidly, and when an employing class of
capitalists and clothiers was springing up among the weavers. It was
agreed that any who could use the art freely might have as many looms,
both linen and woollen, in his cottage, and also have as many
apprentices as he liked. Every cottager or journeyman who wished to
become a master might do so in paying twenty shillings. Besides this,
the journeymen were allowed to have their own fraternity, but they
were to pay a shilling a year to the weavers, and a shilling for every
member they admitted.[7] On the whole it appears that the journeymen
in this trade obtained a very considerable measure of independence,
but this was somewhat exceptional, and on the whole it appears that
the grievances and disabilities under which journeymen laboured had a
very injurious effect on the trade of many towns, and apparently on
that of Coventry, during the sixteenth century. There was a very
strong incentive for journeymen to go and set up in villages or
outside the areas where craft gilds had jurisdiction, and there is
abundant evidence[8] that this sort of migration took place on a very
large scale. I should be inclined to lay very great stress on this
factor as a principal reason for the decay of craft gilds under Henry
VIII., so that Edward VI.'s Act gave them a death-blow. They no longer
exerted an effective supervision, because in so many cases the trade
had migrated to new districts, where there was no authority to
regulate it. This is, at any rate, the best solution I can offer of
the remarkable manner in which craft gilds disappeared, as effective
institutions, about the middle of the sixteenth century. Their
religious side was sufficiently pronounced to bring them within the
scope of the great Act of Confiscation, by which Edward VI. despoiled
the gilds; but there was an effort made to spare them then, and I
cannot but believe that if they had had any real vitality a large
number would have survived, as some, like the Bakers and Fullers at
Coventry, actually did. At the same time, it appears to be true that
these cases are somewhat exceptional and that the craft gilds, as
effective institutions for regulating industry, disappeared. Part of
the evidence for this opinion comes from Coventry itself, for we find
that a deliberate and conscious effort was made to resuscitate the
gilds in 1584. It is of this resuscitation, involving as it does a
previous period of decay, that I now wish to speak.

          [7] Leet Book, f. 27.

          [8] Worcester, 25 H. VIII. c. 18.


III. The disappearance of the craft gilds appears to have been
connected with one of their accidental features, as I may call
them--their common worship. The attempted resuscitation at Coventry
was due to another--to the fact that each craft provided a certain
amount of pageantry for the town. I suspect that the so-called
"Mistery plays" were the plays organised by the different "misteries"
or crafts. The Chester plays, the Coventry plays, and the York
plays,[9] have been published, and they present features which force
comparison with the Passion Play which is being given this year at
Ober Ammergau; and they were most attractive performances. The
accounts of the various trading bodies show that these pageants were
continued through the sixteenth century; they were suspended for eight
years previous to 1566, and again in 1580 and three following years,
when the preachers inveighed against the pageants, even though "there
was no Papistry in them"; revived once more in 1584, they were finally
discontinued in 1591.[10]

          [9] Recently edited by Miss L. T. Smith for the Clarendon
          Press.

          [10] T. Sharp, "Pageants" (1815), p. 12, 39, and 39.

I have lately seen the originals of the dialogue of the Weavers'
Pageant, with the separate parts written out for the individual
actors. During the fifteenth century, these pageants were performed
with much success, and several of the smaller trades appear to have
been united for the purpose of performing some pageant together. In
1566 and in 1575 Queen Elizabeth visited Coventry, and the pageants
were performed, and with the view of reviving the diminished glories
of the towns considerable pains were taken to reorganise the old
crafts; thus the Bakers and Smiths joined in producing a pageant in
1506.[11] The Fullers appear to have been reorganised in 1586, and
there was a very distinct revival of the old corporations about that
time. This same element, the manner in which the crafts had
contributed to the local pageants, was noticeable in connection with
the organisation of the bodies at Norwich; and I cannot but connect
the resuscitation of some of the Coventry Gilds at this time with the
desire to perpetuate these entertainments; certain common lands had
been enclosed by the town to bear another part of the expense.[12]
Though the interest in the pageants marks the beginning of this
revival at Coventry, it yet appears that during the seventeenth century
it continued. There was some general cause at work connected with the
condition of industry which called out a new set of efforts at
industrial regulation, but the power which called these gilds or
companies into being was no longer merely municipal; they rely, as in
the earliest instances, on royal or Parliamentary authority. It is by
no means easy to see what was the precise motive in each case of the
incorporating of new industrial companies in the seventeenth century.
The Colchester Bay-makers introduced a new trade, so, perhaps, did the
Kidderminster Carpet-weavers, but the movement at this time appears to
be connected with the fact that industry was becoming specialised and
localised. I am inclined to suspect that the companies of the
seventeenth century differ from the craft gilds of the fifteenth,
partly, at least, in this way, that whereas the former were the local
organisations for regulating various trades in one town, the latter
were the bodies, organised by royal authority for regulating each
industry in that part of the country where it could be best pursued.
It was at this date that the Sheffield Cutlers were incorporated, and
indeed a large number of organisations in different towns. Several of
the Coventry gilds, notably the Drapers and the Clothiers, were
incorporated by royal charters during the seventeenth century, and
if we turned to a northern town like Preston, we might be inclined to
say that this was the real era when associations for industrial
regulation flourished and abounded.

          [11] Fretton, "Memorials of Bakers' Gild," Mid-England, p.
          124.

          [12] Sharp, "Pageants," 12.

It is no part of my purpose to speak of the decay of these newly
formed or newly resuscitated companies as it occurred in the
eighteenth century. I have endeavoured to indicate the excellent aims
which these institutions set before them, and the success which
attended their efforts for a time. At the same time, it is a
significant fact that they failed to maintain themselves as effective
institutions in the sixteenth century, and when they were resuscitated
they failed to maintain themselves as useful institutions in the
eighteenth. Partly, as I believe, for good, and partly, as we here
recognise, for evil, business habits have so changed that whatever is
done for the old object--maintaining quality and skill--must be done
in a new way. The power which we possess of directing and controlling
the forces of nature has altered the position of the artisan, and made
him a far less important factor in production. The maintenance of
personal skill, the unlimited capacity for working certain materials,
is no longer of such primary importance for industrial success as was
formerly the case. There is another--perhaps a greater--difficulty in
the diffusion of a wider and more cosmopolitan spirit; the sympathies
of the old brethren for one another were strong, but they were
intensely narrow. No town can be so isolated now, or kindle such
intense local attachments as did the cities of the Middle Ages. There
has been loss enough in the destruction of these gilds, but we cannot,
by looking back upon them, reverse the past or re-create that which
has been destroyed through the growth of the larger life we enjoy
to-day. Let us rather remember them as showing what could be
accomplished in the past, and as pointing towards something we ought
to try to accomplish in some new fashion to-day. When we see that the
mediæval workman was a man, not a mere hand; that in close connexion
with his daily tasks the whole round of human aspiration could find
satisfaction; that he was called with others to common worship, called
with others to common feasts and recreations, and encouraged to do his
best at his work, we feel how poor and empty, in comparison, is the
life that is led by the English artisan to-day. But if there is a
better and more wholesome life before the labourer in days to come, if
new forms of association are to do the work which was done by the
gilds of old, we may trust that those who organise them will bear in
mind not only the successes, but the failures of the past, and learn
to avoid the mistakes which wrecked craft gilds not once only, but
twice.





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