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Title: The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, vol. 06, No. 8, August 1900 - The Guild Halls of London
Author: Various
Language: English
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                          THE BROCHURE SERIES
                          The Guild Halls of
                             AUGUST, 1900


                            BROCHURE SERIES

                    1900.      AUGUST       No. 8.

                      THE GUILD HALLS OF LONDON.

Perhaps there are no corporate bodies now existing in England which can
trace their beginnings in a more unbroken line to the earliest recorded
historical events of the country, and surely none which have exercised
so great political and civic influence, as the famous trade-guilds
of London. There now exist in that city about one hundred such
associations, the twelve most prominent and influential of them being
styled as the Twelve Great Livery Companies, and these associations
exercise no slight share in the government of the world's metropolis.
From rights which have survived to them from ancient charters, their
members, although self-elected and not deriving their power from any
popular suffrage, still choose the Lord Mayor of London from among the
twenty-six aldermen of the city's wards, and his election takes place
at the Guildhall, or central office of all the companies.

The ceremony is a most interesting one. The floor of the Hall is
strewn with aromatic herbs, which is perhaps the only survival of the
mediæval method of carpeting a floor with rushes. The aldermen or heads
of the city wards, gather in their scarlet gowns, and are met by the
representatives of the companies, all clad in the robes or "liveries,"
which, by ancient grants bestowed upon them, they are privileged to
wear, whence their name of "Liverymen" is derived. To this assembly the
recorder or law officer of the city then makes a short, set speech,
declaring that from the time of King John the liverymen have possessed
the rights of election which they are now to exercise. The liverymen
thereupon proceed to choose, by vote, two of the aldermen for the
office of Lord Mayor, and from these two the incumbent Lord Mayor and
the aldermen with formal ceremony select one, who is to become Lord
Mayor of London for the ensuing term. This selection the liverymen
must ratify by stating that the man named is their free choice. On the
evening of his election the new Lord Mayor presides at a splendid feast
in the Guildhall, and among the illustrious company assembled not the
least picturesque figures are the liverymen of London in their gowns
edged with fur, wearing the golden chain-like collars from which depend
jewelled badges.


Not only do these private companies thus possess civic powers which are
strange to Americans of more republican traditions, but they exercise
other inherited privileges of no small importance. The Company of
Stationers records and grants all copyright privileges in England. The
Fishmongers Company controls and regulates the sale of fish in the
metropolis. Every piece of gold or silver plate manufactured in London
must be stamped or "hall-marked" at the Hall of the Goldsmiths with the
crest of their order, the panther's head. The Company of Clothworkers
still guard the silver yard-stick which is the standard for all
English and American measures, and other companies possess and exercise
similar public functions and authorities.

[Illustration: BUTCHER'S HALL      BOARD ROOM]

Through the increase of their common funds and from the numerous
legacies which have been left to them, these companies have become very
wealthy. The corporate moneys of sixty-four of them amount to £484,475.
The richest company is that of the Drapers, which administers £50,000
and the Mercers own, among one hundred ninety-five members, £4800.
In addition, the trust incomes of fifty of the companies amount to
£201,427 and the total income of all foots up to no less than £750,000.
These incomes are, however, by no means considered by the companies as
to be applied to their private uses. Much of the money is, as has been
said, in the nature of trust funds which they are bound to disburse
according to specified provisions; and in fact, with the exception
of a comparatively small amount set aside for public entertainments,
private feasts and ceremonies, and the maintenance of their halls,
their general incomes are either administered for certain set purposes
of trust, or expended in charities. Orphanages, almshouses, prisons,
schools, hospitals, technical training colleges and the like, all
share in the benefit of these funds. The Drapers gave £10,000 toward
the building of the People's Palace, and support a large training
school for boys in connection with it. Guy's Hospital was founded by a
member of the Worshipful Company of Stationers. A member of the Mercers
Company founded St. Paul's School; and the Mercers have recently opened
a great technical institute for both sexes. As an example of the trusts
which they administer, we may mention that the Apothecaries Company
owns a large estate in Chelsea on which a botanical garden was founded
in 1672, and given to the Company on condition that they should add
to the garden at least fifty varieties of rare plants annually until
the number reached two thousand. This they have done, making the most
complete collection of medical herbs and simples in the world. It was
in this garden that, in 1687, the first attempt was made to grow plants
in an artificially heated atmosphere. It will thus be apparent that,
though the members of these companies are self-elected, they are by no
means unworthy of the public trusts and functions which under royal
charters they still exercise.


Almost all these Guilds can trace their origins far back in English
history, although many important records concerning them were destroyed
in the great fire of London. The name "guild" is derived from the Saxon
_gilden_ meaning to pay, and the original guilds were formed to comply
with the exactions of a Saxon law, called "frank-pledge," by which it
was ordained that every freeman over fourteen years of age should give
securities to keep the peace. To afford such securities, groups of ten
families entered into association, and bound themselves to produce any
of their members who had committed offence, or, in default of this,
to make satisfaction to the injured party. To provide for the payment
of fines each guild maintained a common purse. Meantime, in order to
better identify the members, as well as, probably, to keep a closer
watch upon them, each association assembled at stated periods at a
common feast. It is in these associations that we see the germ of the
present trade guilds; and to this day the common purse and the feast at
stated intervals are invariable institutions among them.

Even during the Anglo-Saxon period a change in organization came
about, and instead of being banded together by families they combined,
as a more natural form of association, by trades; and such trade
associations not only fulfilled their original purpose, but added other
features for mutual protection and commercial advantage. At the time of
the advent of the Normans so firmly were these trade guilds established
in London that they forced William the Conqueror to recognize their
corporate existence by giving them the first royal charter which
is extant; and this charter still remains in the city archives,
beautifully written in Anglo-Saxon characters on a slip of parchment.
It may be thus translated:--

"William, the king, friendly salutes William the bishop and Godfrey
the portreeve, and all the burgesses within London, both English and
French. And I declare that I grant you all to be worthy, as you were
in the days of King Edward; and I grant that every child shall be his
father's heir, after his father's days; and I will not suffer any
person to do you wrong. God keep you."


Under the Norman rule, however, the growth of guilds was much
interfered with at first. Henry I. commanded that all should receive
royal license; and he subjected several guilds to heavy fines because
they had been established without license, or exercised their functions
independent of it. This penalty fell heavily on London, where the
confraternities were very numerous. They were encouraged by Henry
II.; but as they increased under this patronage, and were much given
to parading with their respective uniforms or "liveries" and banners,
collisions between rival trades became so frequent that at length,
under Henry IV., they were forbidden to wear their liveries. In
subsequent reigns they were permitted to appear in them at coronations,
and finally it became necessary to obtain the royal license for
appearing in public with their insignia.


During the reign of Edward III. the fraternities or Companies of
Liverymen as they had now come to be called, not only received specific
charters, but the king, having found that they were the main-spring of
trades in his kingdom, resolved to raise them in public estimation, and
became himself a member of the Company of Merchant Tailors, an example
which the nobility were not slow to follow; and it is a despised
Company that cannot now-a-days boast of many names of rank upon its

In the records of the thirty-sixth Parliament of Edward's reign, a
petition from the commons is preserved, which shows not only how
powerful these guilds had by that time become, but also that the evil
of "trusts," recently so much lamented, is not of such modern origin
as we may suppose. This petition recites that the Guild of Grocers had
become so great and monopolistic as to threaten ruin to the numerous
other fraternities that had now sprung up, and complains that they
"engrossed all manner of merchandise vendible, suddenly raised the
prices of such merchandise within the realm, and by ordinance made
amongst themselves, in their own society, kept such merchandise in
store to be sold at higher rates in times of dearth and scarcity."

From this time forward we find many records of charters granted
to these companies, and the granting of such charters, for which
the guilds were made to pay liberally, became a strictly business
transaction, being one of the methods by which the sovereigns raised
money for their numerous wars in France and Scotland. From 1280
to 1420, twelve companies were chartered; from 1420 to 1740, ten
companies received charters; during the fourteen years of Elizabeth's
reign, five companies were incorporated; and with the arrival of the
poverty-stricken Stuarts, a shower of charters were granted, James
granting seventeen and Charles twenty-two. With the expulsion of the
Stuarts, however, the granting of charters practically ceased, only one
having been issued since that time, and that one, appropriately enough,
to the Fan Makers in the bric-à-brac age of Queen Anne.

Under the Restoration the guilds fared hard. The great fire of London
destroyed their halls and warehouses. Charles's idiotic foreign
policy, and the high-handed "quo warranto" proceedings which their
wealth brought upon them, crippled their gains and liberties; and after
the advent of the German dynasty, with its importation of the German
aristocratic contempt for trade, the younger sons of nobles and country
gentlemen ceased to enter mercantile pursuits.

But we find--and to their credit be it said--that the guilds have on
the whole, and throughout their history, devoted themselves wisely to
the promotion of public advantage, always standing shoulder to shoulder
against every attempt at royal encroachment upon the freedom of the
commoner, advancing wise measures for the government of the city and
the undisturbed conduct of business, and taking all proper care that no
member of their fraternity or any merchant of their trade should sell
under weight or produce articles below a certain standard of quality.

The history of each of the companies is very similar. To briefly follow
one of them, the Worshipful Company of Grocers, for example, let us
quote the account recently given by Mr. Moore in the _Century Magazine_.

"On June 12, 1345," he writes,"a number of pepperers, as the grocers
were then styled, met together at dinner by agreement at the town
mansion of the Abbot of Bury in St. Mary Axe. They talked their
common affairs over, and agreed to form themselves into a voluntary
association to settle trade disputes, to help poor members, and to say
prayers for the souls of the departed members. They took St. Anthony
for their patron, elected two wardens to preside over them and a
chaplain to pray for them. Ever since, they have met each year on St.
Anthony's day and dined together, electing new wardens and crowning
them with garlands. In 1427 they bought some land in Old Jewry, a
street leading out of Cheapside, there built a hall, and there remain
to this day. After their association had been in existence eighty-four
years, the Grocers obtained a charter from the king, in the year 1429;
and soon after were given the public duty of inspecting and cleansing
all the spices sold in London. King Charles II. became their master,
and they always dine on the day of his birth, the 29th of May. At
the end of his reign, in 1685, they were nearly destroyed by the
tyrannical proceedings under which the king tried to seize their
charters and abolish their privileges and those of London and other
cities. They just managed to survive the horrors of the 'quo warranto,'
as this proceeding was called, and joyfully elected William III. master
when he came to the throne and made civil liberty once more secure.
From this day to our own they have grown richer, while their functions
as cleansers and inspectors of spices have slowly become obsolete. Now
with much good fellowship and cheerful hospitality they administer
charities, do good in other ways and harm to no one; so that all
citizens may heartily join in their grace, 'God preserve the Church,
the Queen, and the Worshipful Company of Grocers! Root and branch, may
it flourish forever!'"


Such, with slight variations in detail, has been the history of the
companies. Each began as a voluntary association, received in the
fourteenth century, or later, a charter from the crown, exercised
control over its especial trade, was nearly destroyed by Charles
II., and has since steadily increased in riches; while, with a few
exceptions, changes in the nature of commerce have worn away all its
mediæval functions except the happy one of promoting good-fellowship
among men.

Membership in one of these companies was originally to be obtained
only by going through a period of apprenticeship in its trade and by
money payment. In later times, however, the actual apprenticeship
became obsolete, so that the companies of London are now, in this
respect, practically upon the same basis as ordinary clubs, to which
an applicant who possesses the requisite qualifications may be elected
upon payment of an admission fee. Places in the membership are also
inherited from father to son, and families belong to certain companies
for generations. It has also become unnecessary for an applicant
to belong to the trade which the guild represents; and indeed only
three of the greater companies, the Drapers, the Apothecaries and the
Goldsmiths, retain more than a small minority of actual craftsmen among
their members.

[Illustration: DETAIL OF CARVING

With the exception of the public duties and the administration of the
charities before mentioned, the only functions of the guilds at present
are those of hospitality and good fellowship. The livery companies take
it upon themselves to do much of the hospitality of the city of London.
They give receptions to royalty and distinguished men; they take large
part in such civic festivities as the Lord Mayor's show; they make
gifts to the reigning family upon their marriages, and the fame of
their city dinners has passed into a proverb. The same writer from whom
we have just quoted thus describes one of these guild dinners:--


"Happy the man who is entertained by the Guild of the Body of Christ
of the Skinners of London, as the company style themselves in all
official documents. A beadle receives him with lofty courtesy and
calls out his name as he ascends a handsome staircase. At the top the
guest suddenly finds himself in the august presence of the master and
wardens. They shake hands with him and bid him welcome as if he was the
one guest who, long invited and never coming, had at last appeared and
satisfied a lifelong wish on their part to see him.

"The guest seems to have entered into their very hearts, when suddenly
he feels that they can smile on him no more, and that the absorbing
attention with which they receive him is exchanged in an instant for
total neglect. It is merely that these high functioners are receiving
another guest, and so another and another, till the list is complete
and dinner is served. All dinners of all companies are noble feasts,
and the tables of the great companies are brilliant with splendid
pieces of plate. Among the skinners' plate are some curious flagons
made in form of beasts and birds. The skinners like to tell how
these are used. On the day of election of master and wardens, the
court, or governing body of the guild, is assembled in the hall, and
ten blue-coat boys, with the almsmen of the company, the master and
wardens, all in procession, preceded by trumpeters blowing blasts,
march round the hall. Three great birds of silver are brought in and
handed to the master and wardens. The birds' heads are screwed off, and
the master and wardens drink wine from these quaint flagons.

"Three 'caps of maintenance' are then brought in. The old master puts
one on. It will not fit him. He hands it to another, and he to another,
and both declare that it does not fit. Then it reaches the skinner who
is to be master for the year. Wonderful to relate it fits him to a
nicety. The trumpeters flourish their trumpets, the skinners and the
almsmen shout for joy. The wardens next find out whom the cap fits,
with the other two caps of maintenance, and so the high authorities of
the guild are installed for the year."

The most expensive and magnificent of the feasts ever given by the
united companies was that given to the Emperor of Russia, the King of
Prussia and the Prince Regent in 1814, in celebration of the end of
the Napoleonic wars. The associated merchants of London, whose gold
had made these wars possible, invited to their table the three most
powerful monarchs in Europe, and spent upon a single entertainment the
sum of £25,000, while the gold and silver plate upon which the food was
served was valued at equal amount, the larger part of it being the gift
of kings, and some of it the work of Benvenuto Cellini's own hands.

All of the most important of the companies possess halls of their own,
and there are more than fifty of these halls in London, each of which
contains something beautiful and curious. Most of them, as we have
said before, were burned in the great fire, but were rebuilt upon the
same sites. The fact that the interiors of these halls are so little
known is due to the exclusiveness of the companies, which do not invite


In exterior they are generally plain and the door which leads to them
is not labeled or in many cases to be distinguished from the doors of
offices or warehouses near it. "In a few cases," writes Mr. Moore, "a
small and insignificant brass plate near a bell-handle bears the word
'Beadle,' or sometimes even lifts the veil of mystery a little higher
and records a name, as 'Weavers' Hall.' To ring the bell requires
nearly as much courage as that of Jack the Giant-killer when he blew
the horn that hung at the giant's gate. The beadle, or more often
the sub-beadle,--for the beadle himself is too great to be lightly
disturbed,--appears. You feel instantly that you are intruding, that
you had no right to ring, and that you are in much the position of
a man who has impertinently rung at the door of a private house and
asked to see the drawing-room. If you have an introduction, above all,
if you know any one on the court of the company, as its governing
body is called, the beadle unbends a little, and you are admitted.
You enter a great paneled hall decorated with armorial bearings, with
portraits, and with banners. You are in the very heart of the city of
London, where land is worth £100,000 or more an acre, yet there is a
delicious garden, a court-yard recalling Italy, a splashing fountain,
or a noble old tree. This element of surprise, of contrast between the
rushing crowd in the street outside and the perfect fourteenth century
stillness within the halls of these ancient guilds, adds much to the
pleasure of seeing curious things at which you are not asked to look.
You feel in a few minutes how great a thing it is to be a merchant
tailor or a cloth-worker or a grocer, superlative and unattainable; and
you walk round the hall with the beadle in a deferential, humble frame
of mind only comparable to the sensation of a pilgrim who is just about
to kiss or has just finished kissing the toe of his holiness the Pope.


"The halls of nearly all the companies were consumed in the great
fire, so that most of their buildings date from the last years of
the house of Stuart, and in later times some have been rebuilt in
a style of profuse magnificence. Nevertheless, there is hardly
one which does not contain some picturesque bit of architecture or
wood-carving, curious portrait, quaintly carved figure, beautifully
illumined charter, or splendid piece of plate. The wood-carving in
many is superb,--in none finer than in the Brewers' Hall,--and the
combination of the dark color of old oak with the bright tinctures of
painted armorial bearings occurs in endless and always picturesque
variety. The quite self-content and the half-private character of the
guilds have prevented a thorough investigation of their history. They
themselves feel, as any one who with the feeling of ownership dines
often in such halls as theirs must come to feel, that no one but one
of themselves could do them justice; that a haberdasher alone could
write of haberdashers, a grocer of grocers, a vintner of vintners. One
or two good histories of particular companies have been written by
members, but all the general accounts are deficient in thoroughness.
It must be remembered, too, that these ancient corporations suffered
a terrible shock at the hands of the law-officers of Charles II.,
who forced open their muniment chests, asked why and wherefore about
everything, and demanded their money or their lives. The 'quo warranto'
was hardly forgotten when more modern attacks began; royal commissions
were threatened, and the guilds which had never done harm, and thought
that merit enough, were perpetually asked why they did not do good, and
those who obviously did good, why they did not do more.

"Thus assailed from time to time, but so far surviving assault, no
wonder that the companies are a little suspicious of strangers and not
too anxious to admit criticising historians."

                            Brochure Series

                           Competition "P."

Readers of THE BROCHURE SERIES who are amateur photographers, as well
as those who have made collections of architectural photographs, will
be interested in our newly announced "Competition P," details of which
are given, under that heading, in the advertising pages of this issue.


                          Transcriber's Note:

Italics are indicated by _underscores_.

Small capitals have been rendered in full capitals.

A number of minor spelling errors have been corrected without note.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration, vol. 06, No. 8, August 1900 - The Guild Halls of London" ***

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