Newsletter Feb 2009

Master's Report
By John Bishop,                                                TOP

Fellow Freemen, since my last report we are progressing on two fronts, the Events and the Website.

We have enjoyed four successful events since May: Meet the Court in June; RCYC Buffet Dinner in August; the Wine Tasting in November; and our event at Dunvegan where we officially welcomed all our new members, including the departing British Consul General, Nicholas Armour.

I am delighted to report that each event has made a contribution to our Charity and while attendance has not grown significantly, the amount we have transferred to our Charitable Account has. On behalf of us all I would like to express thanks to fellow members Hugh Oddie, Michael Charles, James Walker and Nicholas Armour for their generosity and support to the Company in making these events so successful.

Our particular thanks must be extended to Nicholas Armour for his support to the Company since his arrival in Canada. Nicholas has generously made his official residence available to the Company on several occasions and allowed us to raise money from these events to support our Charity. He, like his predecessor Geoffrey Berg, has joined the Company and I hope in due course he will pursue Freedom and then the Guild. I know you join me in wishing Nicholas much success in his new position in the UK and we hope to see him back in Canada frequently.

Shortly after the Wine Tasting, I travelled to the UK and while there had the pleasure of receiving my Warrant from the Master of the Guild of Freemen.

The Deputy Master of The Guild of Freemen, Pauline Halliday
and John Bishop, Master of The Honourable Company

At an event steeped in tradition and attended by the Court of the Guild, some 20 new Guild Members were invested by The Deputy Master of The Guild of Freemen, Pauline Halliday, in the Tallow Chandlers Hall. We then adjourned to the “parlour” for a glass of wine and an opportunity to chat informally with members of the Court.

At our AGM we installed two new Court Members, Robert Thomas and Paul Wilson, who have subsequently resigned due to time pressures. I would like to thank them both for their interest in the Court and wish them well in their other pursuits. Martin Walmsley and Michael Charles have volunteered to temporarily fill the positions of Clerk and Treasurer respectively and on your behalf, I thank them both.

In my last message I set out the criteria for my first year in office and am pleased to report that the five points have either been completed or are well under way.

  1. The new Company website is complete and was launched in July at
  2. We continue to develop and improve attendance to the approximately seven events the Company holds each year.
  3. We continue our commitment to improve communications to our members.
  4. Events we have held continue to contribute to our Charitable Fund in support of the University of Western Ontario.
  5. Our membership continues to grow and we still seek new members to assist on the Court.

Your Court has also recommended extending the tenure of the Master, Honourary Treasurer and Clerk from one year to two years in order to allow a period of stability while regrouping and planning for the future.

In addition, two other changes have been proposed and adopted by your Court:

  1. This and future copies of the Company Comment will be published electronically and all those who have email will be advised when the new issue is available through the web site. Those without email will continue to receive a printed version in the mail. This will save on production, printing and mailing costs, whilst affording the Company more latitude in content and publication dates.
  2. This year we will be separating our Business affairs from our Annual Dinner and will hold our Annual General Meeting in on April 22nd, at 6:00pm in the Celebrity Club at The Performing Arts Lodge, on the Esplanade to which all members in good standing are invited to attend.

    Our Annual Dinner will be held at The National Club on Friday, May 8, Our Guest Speaker will be Mr. Anthony Cary, British High Commissioner to Canada. At which time we will enjoy a delightful meal, an excellent speaker and present and install the new Court, without discussing the business affairs of the Company, more details to follow.

If you have email and are not receiving announcements and communications electronically, please send an email with your current contact information to:   Rest assured, if you do not have email, you will continue to receive communications by regular mail.

Finally, I am looking forward to your continued support of our Charity. I welcome your comments or suggestions and invite you to contact me at any time by email:

Best  wishes to you all for 2009.

Honorary Treasurer's Report
By Michael Charles,                                         TOP

In the aftermath of the untimely and unexpected death in March of Robin Braithwaite, who at the time was Deputy Master and Honorary Treasurer, Robert Thomas, a friend of Robin's agreed to serve as Honorary Treasurer and was so elected at the Annual General Meeting in May.  In the event, Robert quickly saw that his duties as Treasurer would be incompatible from a time perspective with his ongoing professional interests and travel plans and he resigned. Master John Bishop invited me to serve as Acting Honorary Treasurer as a consequence of my familiarity with the financial affairs of the Honourable Company gained during my previous term as Treasurer from 2004-07.

The Honourable Company has two sets of funds: Operating and Charity.  Both funds are in good shape.

The main sources of income to the Operating Fund are the annual quarterage paid by members and surpluses on some events.  Operating expenses relate to constructing and maintaining the web-site, publishing Company Comment, providing notices of meetings, providing insurance coverage for wardens of the Court, storing the Company's treasures and generally carrying on business.  At the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year, the operating fund balance was $20,523, inclusive of monies invested in low risk securities.

The main sources of income to the Charity Fund are the donations of members and the transfer of surpluses on events designated as "fund raisers".  The primary purpose of the Charity is to support the scholarship program at the University of Western Ontario along with other charities as determined by the Trustees, i.e. the three most recent past masters.  In addition to the scheduled disbursement to UWO, modest support has also been provided to the Performing Arts Lodges and to the Society for Mood Disorders.  At the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year the charity fund balance was $22,163, inclusive of monies invested in low risk GICs.  Annual reports are made to the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Operating and Charity reports for the 2007-08 fiscal year referred to above were presented to, and approved by the Court at its regular meeting in September.  Copies are available to any member who so wishes.

Events In 2008

RCYC dinner By Michael Charles

On a Sunday evening in late August, close to 40 members and guests took the launch Kwasind across Toronto Harbour to the island clubhouse of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. The weather was perfect for the occasion and those present enjoyed the views of the splendid hanging baskets on the facade of the clubhouse and of the yachts moored beyond the bowling green.

Pre-dinner drinks were served on the veranda overlooking the harbour.  Subsequently, with everyone seated in a semi-private section of the dining room, Master John Bishop offered a warm welcome and thanked Past Master Michael Charles for again hosting this event as a member of the Club.

The very fine buffet was enjoyed by all with lively conversation all around. The return journey provided a splendid view of the city lights as darkness settled over the calm water. It was an evening well spent.

Wine tasting By John Smith

We were able to repeat our highly successful 2007 wine tasting in November and fortunate to have the facilities of the Green Room at the Performing Arts Lodge at our disposal.
To put on an event of this kind requires the expertise of wine luminaries of the calibre of Jim Walker and his charming wife Hélène, who own and operate Arthur Sellers. They were very capably supported by our good friend Graham Nutter who had travelled all the way from his chateau, Château Saint-Jacques d'Albas, in SW France to promote his highly acclaimed wines.

Although the numbers were disappointing what we lacked in quantity we made up for in quality and those who attended were able to enjoy a wide range of wines and some champagnes supplied by Jim through his Arthur’s Cellars. The caterers provided the complimentary culinary delights to titillate the palate and through the generosity of several of our members we were able to boost our coffers with a very successful silent auction where one lucky winner will be visiting Graham and spending a week in the spectacular part of France from whence he comes.
Those who attended agreed we had once again hit the jackpot with our charity receiving all profits from the evening.

Consul General’s reception By John Smith

We were honoured to be invited to the delightful Forest Hill residence of the Consul General for the UK, Nicholas Armour, where we took the opportunity to welcome seven new members to the Honourable Company including Nicholas. Sadly he will be leaving us in the New Year to take up a new appointment in London where we wish him every success.
More than 50 members and friends enjoyed superb culinary treats provided by the Consulate kitchen and a very ample bar in an evening where new friendships were established and others renewed.
This event has become a highlight of our social calendar and our thanks go out to Nicholas for his generosity and support during his tenure in Toronto.

The Centenary Banquet of The Guild of Freemen of The City of London
by Peter Hovenden Longley, MA (Cantab) – Citizen and Barber                  TOP

2008 has been a memorable year for me, a year that celebrated both the 700th Anniversary of The Worshipful Company of Barbers whose Livery I joined in 1965 and whose celebration banquet I attended in February at The Mansion House, and the Centenary of The Guild of Freemen of the City of London, whose celebration banquet at Guildhall I was able to attend through reciprocacy with our esteemed company, The Honourable Company of Freemen of the City of London in North America.

The banquet at the Mansion House had special meaning as it was the last city event that I was able to attend with my 93 year old father who was at that time ‘the father’ of the Worshipful Company of Barbers as its oldest member. It was also only the second time that I had dined in the Mansion House, the first being the Ladies’ Livery Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Barbers in 1965 when my father, Charles William Hovenden Longley, was Master and I had just become a liveryman through patrimony. Sir Lionel Denny, Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Barbers was then Lord Mayor and as such my father enjoyed considerable status during Sir Lionel Denny’s mayoralty, including a top table seat at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in Guildhall as well as a State banquet in Guildhall. I had always wanted the opportunity to dine in Guildhall and through our reciprocity with The Guild of Freemen of the City of London that became possible on December 8, 2008.

HRH The Princess Royal, is the Centenary Master for The Guild of Freemen of the City of London, and graciously attended the banquet in Guildhall on December 8. Invitations, therefore, came in Princess Anne’s name. My guest, Nicole Marie Glenn from Springfield, Missouri, and myself were bidden to arrive at Guildhall at 6:00 p.m. for a reception with the, Deputy Master Pauline Halliday on the first floor of the Art Gallery. An honour guard of the The Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company stood at ease with crossed muskets as we approached the reception. After being received by the Assistant Master, we entered the old part of the Gallery through a further guard of honour of Pikemen in resplendent seventeenth century attire. It was, of course, in 1666 that the Guildhall was so severely damaged in the Great Fire, but much around the banqueting hall was also severely damaged in World War II. This is still fairly obvious in the juxtaposition of old and new in the forecourt and Art Gallery of the current Guildhall. However, miraculously, as with St. Paul’s, little of the main Guildhall was destroyed by enemy action, only the roof sustaining serious damage. Nicole and I were by chance in a good position to see HRH The Princess Royal escorted by The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor, Mr. Alderman Ian Luder, the Lady Mayoress, Mrs. Lin Luder, and Mr. Peter Halliday and the Deputy Master Pauline Halliday arrive in the Art Gallery where HRH Princess Anne spoke to a few guests at random. She was dressed in silver and blue with a high collar that complimented her swept up hair giving her the regal presence somewhat in the manner of Queen Elizabeth 1. She wore the Centenary Master’s Jewel which had been commissioned by the Guild in celebration of The Princess Royal becoming the Centenary Master at the Installation Ceremony on March 19, 2008. The jewel is made of silver gilt with pearls capping the rays that emanate from the centre of the jewel. The centre of the jewel depicts the Coat of Arms of the Guild in enamel. The jewel is surmounted by a smaller reproduction of the City of London Corporation Shield, also in enamel, at its centre. Having never met HRH Princess Anne I was very agreeably surprised to see how beautiful the Queen’s daughter really is, photographs of her having never truly done her justice throughout her life. She had a radiant smile and looked completely relaxed so that none of us would have known until reading the Court Circular the following day that she had spent most of the day in Doncaster, fulfilling several royal duties in Yorkshire before returning to London to grace us with her presence at Guildhall.

Canapés and champagne were served in the Art Gallery before we filed into the Great Hall, so historic to the history of the City of London. Despite the destruction of the Great Fire of 1666, much of the 1411 medieval structure of the Great Hall has remained but there is only one small window that still holds glass pre-dating the fire. It was not far from our table in the vast hall, and Nicole reverently admired the ancient glazing. The huge gothic windows at either end of the hall, today depict the names of all London’s Lord Mayors and the sovereigns under whom they served their mayoralties.

The dinner seated some 700 freemen and guests on 17 tables covering the entire floorspace of this auspicious building. We were seated at Table P and had a good view of the Master’s Procession before and after dinner as it passed by to the traditional City slow clap. The entry procession was announced by trumpeters with an impressive fanfare from the gallery above Wellington’s Monument and opposite the Lord Mayor’s Canopy. From where we were seated we also had a good view of Churchill’s Monument and Nelson’s Monument. At our end of the Hall was the Orchestral Gallery where members of  The Salon Orchestra of the Honourable Artillery Company performed  appropriate selections of music throughout dinner under the direction of Director of Music Major EH Keely ARCM A(Mus)LCM BBCM psm and by permission of Lt. Col Alastair DC Caie TD HAC Commanding Officer. My family also had a strong connection with the HAC during the First World War when my grandfather, Charles William Longley, served with them in the trenches and won the Military Cross. I do not remember him in retirement ever donning the quaint attire of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers, however, to defend the Lord Mayor.

The banquet was set out with all the tradition and pomp of the city with fine silverware, a glistening array of glasses, candelabra in garlands of flowers and for the Centenary Master and the Lord Mayor, those two gilded chairs that can only be described as thrones although independent of the crown, for the City of London, although sworn in allegiance to the crown, is independent of Her Majesty’s Government. It is for this reason that the Lord Mayor invites the Prime Minister and Government in Westminster to dine at Guildhall every year, for the splendid banquet gives a platform for the Prime Minister to in essence make his ‘State of the Realm’ address to the Lord Mayor informing him, at least ceremonially, what is going on in the rest of the country.

But Guildhall is not all about dining. This vast hall was the center for the government of London’s trade. Beneath the gleaming banquet tables and plush carpets can be found the real purpose of the ancient hall. Here are the legal measurements set out in the stone floor to govern the sale of cloths for clothiers, ribbons for haberdashers, weights for goldsmiths and silversmiths, and measures for sacks of flour and tankards of mead.

At dinner, our companions were a past master of the Worshipful Company of Fanmakersand a couple, like ourselves, part American and part British, who were there as guests of her mother who had received freedom as a Commissioner with the City Police. Opposite might have remained blank as ‘no shows’ but the gap was filled with two delightful young girls who acted amongst other things as guides for the Guildhall and were able to fill us in on much of the history.

After the traditional sung grace from the Laudi Spirituali AD 1545, we were served Smoked Duck Rillettes with a glass of Esses Sauvignon Blanc, Riversleigh, 2006 followed by a beautiful piece of grilled halibut, one of my favorite fish and served with suitable accoutrements. Grilled Noisettes of Romney Marsh Lamb formed the main course, which was interesting as the following week it had been my intention to take Nicole to Winchelsea and Rye as she is an avid reader of Henry James, and I had already explained to her how in the late middle ages the sea had receded to create Romney Marsh and leave these two famous Cinq Ports two miles inland. The lamb was attractively matched with Clos Laggasa, Premier Cotes de Blsaye, 2005. A Bitter chocolate Delice was our dessert, all right for chocolate lovers of whom I am not one, but it was followed by a very good Churchill’s LVB port. Coffee, mint tea and hand made chocolates and Petit Fours followed with an opportunity for 12-year old single malt whisky or Duboigalant Cognac.

The traditional Post Horn Gallop ended the music program, and  ‘The Queen’ was proposed by the Centenary Master, HRH The Princess Royal. The Assistant Master, Deputy Pauline Halliday then proposed the toast for The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, The Princess Royal, Centenary Master  and the other members of the Royal Family.

The ceremony of the Loving Cup then followed in all its tradition. Newly commissioned loving cups were used at this banquet for the first time along with many other of the Guild’s fine collection of Loving cups, including the Victory Cup, which was presented to the Guild of Freemen of the City of London and originally used at the Victory Banquet on December 12, 1919.

Deputy Pauline Halliday then spoke of the company’s charities, with special mention of Christ’s Hospital School, which was represented at the banquet by two senior boys in their picturesque seventeenth century clerical uniform. Many of Britain’s private schools are run, governed or aided by the guilds of the City, the Barbers’ Company being sponsors of scholarships at Epsom College. My own school, Tonbridge, was founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde, Lord Mayor and Skinner, and the school is still governed by the The Worshipful Company of Skinners. (Peter Leach’s excellent history also appears in this edition of Company Comment.) Pauline Halliday then proposed the toast to The Lord Mayor, The City of London Corporation and Sheriffs.

The Lord Mayor’s response spoke of his office, engagements and plans in a predictable way with little illusion to the tough economic climate for which I am sure he has fears, but this was more than remedied by the Centenary Master, herself, when Princess Anne rallied the brains and good financial sense of The City to help get us ‘out of this mess.’ She spoke with great warmth about her year as Centenary Master and proposed the toast to The Guild of Freemen of the City of London.

At 10:30 p.m. just as our invitations had read, it was time for Carriages. Slowly, we filed from the great medieval Hall and with satisfied appetites faced an outside world of light rain. We might have wished for carriages, but instead stood for some time as 700 made their exit to try to flag down a cab. In white tie, tails, cloaks and capes and with Nicole’s hands working each cab that splashed along the wet street, we eventually found our way back to Rubens Hotel after an evening to remember.

The Worshipful Company of Skinners
by Peter Leach, Haberdasher and Freeman                                                  TOP
Following on from the history of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers article in the previous Company Comment, we will continue to examine the City Companies involved in the leather and fur trade.  The Worshipful Company of Skinners is 6/7th in the order of precedence, alternating (usually as 6th in even years) with the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors.

As far as precedence is concerned, the Company “predates” the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers (15th), the Cordwainers (27th), the Curriers (29th), the Sadlers (25th), the Loriners (57th), the Glovers (62nd) and the Coachmakers and Coach-Harness Makers (72nd).  However, it is clear from the remaining early records that the existence of leather artisans in the City substantially precedes the creation of the religious and trade groupings that were the precursors of the Mysteries/Fraternities and the resulting Skinners’ Companies.  It seem likely that even in Roman times, skinners and furriers lived in the same streets and worshipped at the same churches. These part-religious, part-secular fraternities of artisans involved in the fur trade eventually came together in one guild, dedicated to Corpus Christi, which became the Worshipful Company of Skinners – or today more frequently call the Skinners’ Company.

In medieval times, animal skins were the primary material for warm and rugged clothing. The best furs were very much a luxury item and their use was strictly controlled. Ermine and sable – costly furs from abroad – were reserved for royalty and the aristocracy, the middle classes were restricted to furs of lesser value such as bear, and fox, and the common folk had to make do with home grown lambskin, rabbit and even cat and rat.  At the same time, leathers were used in many activities to provide durable clothing, and especially protective clothing for soldiers and craftsmen in many trades.

The artisans who undertook the first process in the preparation of animal skin products were the skinners whose business was the rather gruesome activity of stripping the pelts from the dead animals and processing them to provide a clean, flexible and preserved material.  

While almost any serf or peasant could skin an animal, the knowledge of how to clean and preserve the pelts, especially furs, became a coveted skill and, as in so many trades as they moved into the world of commerce, there was a need to provide some level of quality assurance to the purchaser as well as some method of excluding unregulated competition.  With the artisans of the major cities all grouped together, the establishment of trade associations, formed under the auspices of religious and social connections, was easy to organize. 

The skinners were no different, and as a result, the power of the people who were so influential in keeping early Londoners warm and well dressed was substantial. As the trade in expensive furs flourished so did the wealth and influence of the Skinners. Like the other trade guilds, their power was enhanced by the grant of royal charters which afforded them legal protection and official control over their own craft.

The Skinners obtained one of the first charters from Edward III in 1327 and, remarkably, a handwritten 17th century copy is still in the Company’s possession.  The connection with Royalty continues with Queen Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI, who was entered into the roll of the Fraternity in 1475. Note here that the date of the Illumination in the Skinners’ Company Books is 1422, some 8 years before her birth in 1430, an unexplained inconsistency.

Furs were becoming very expensive as early as the middle 1400s and when other fabrics became fashionable the fur trade began to decline. In fact, a century later few of the most prominent Skinners were still in the fur trade – most had become general merchants.

The Skinners’ Company's Coat of ArmsDisputes

By the middle of the 14th century, the powerful traders of the guilds, especially those in the clothing business, were quarrelling amongst themselves, jostling for position and control over their regulatory empires.  There were many areas where the trades overlapped and disputes could arise; the Skinners were involved in the fur trade but so were the Leathersellers who sold skins, the Tawyers who treated skins for making up into furs, and the Tailors who sewed the garments.  These controversies frequently ended in street battles between apprentices and applications to the City Fathers and the Crown for resolution.

It seems that the question of precedence was one of the major causes of disputes and inter-Guild violence.  The first recorded occurrence for the Skinners came between them and the Fishmongers when the question of precedence was fought over with arms in Cheapside.  With extensive bloodshed on both sides, the City authorities were compelled to intervene.  The ringleaders from both sides were hanged, but it seems that this case of precedence was settled with the Fishmongers claiming fourth place on the list while the Skinners became 5th, only to be ousted later by the Goldsmiths.  Possibly the most notable of the disputes was that between the Skinners and the Merchant Taylors. This came to a head in 1484. Rivalry between the two guilds erupted into lethal violence during the Mayor of London’s river procession that year, an occasion which, for years, the two guilds treated as their private boat race. The Mayor, Robert Billesdon, resolved the issue of which guild’s barge should take precedence in the procession by proposing that the companies take it in turn to lead each year.  With this solution, the Mayor also instructed them to become reconciled and to dine with each other in their respective halls on their respective Saints Days, a tradition that continues to the present day.

When a fixed order for the first 48 companies was eventually laid down in 1516 the Skinners and Merchant Taylors were confirmed as alternating between numbers six and seven. This may have given rise to the phrase to be ‘at sixes and sevens’ but this assertion has been contested as similar terminology was used  by Geoffrey Chaucer  almost a hundred years earlier. 

The Skinners’ Company's Coat of ArmsThe 15th to 19th Centuries

Over time, like so many of the London Livery Companies, the Skinners role as protector of their craft and arbiter of trade disputes effectively disappeared as their crafts went into decline.  They were certainly one of the earliest to meet this fate but also one of relatively few that survived mergers of the Guilds that resulted from their respective losses of mandate.  This was almost certainly due status, influence and wealth of the Guild and of its most eminent liverymen.

In 1553, a leading Skinner, Sir Andrew Judde, started a boy’s school in Tonbridge, Kent.  On his death the school was transferred into governance of the Skinners’ Company under his will.  To provide for the school, Sir Andrew also bequeathed properties in the City of London and in the parish of St. Pancras as an endowment.  This was also placed into the hands of the Skinners’ Company. 

The foundation of the school and its transfer of governance to the Skinners was one of the first of educational initiatives taken by City Liverymen. Many would follow, but it would be another 334 years before the Skinners expanded this portfolio of educational initiatives.

Like many of the larger Guilds, the Skinners were major players in property development and land speculation.  They became owners of significant property in the City and in almshouses for the benefit of infirm Skinners and their spouses.  Then, starting in 1609, they became party of the City’s involvement in international settlements.  Under significant duress, the City Guilds were solicited to participate in the funding of the “Irish Society,” a committee of the City Corporation that was granted rights to develop the “Ulster Colony.”  More than 3.7 million acres of land in Northern Ulster were “acquired” by the participating companies, which included the Skinners and its junior partners.  From maps of the time, it appears that the Skinners and Drapers acquired the two largest tracts of land.  While the costs were high, the returns were miserable.  Only after many years did any profits start to flow and these were cut instantly in 1641 because of a rebellion in that area of Ulster.  It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Companies involved were able to fully extricate themselves and some reasonable recoveries made.

Shortly after the Ulster Colony was established with the floatation of the Irish Society, a similar scheme was proposed for the establishment of English settlement of Virginia.  Even with the recent disastrous experience of the Ulster Colony, 56 Companies stepped forward and became shareholders in the “Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London for the Colony of Virginia.”  This turned out to be a worse disaster than Ulster as the emigrants were principally vagrants, ships were lost at sea and they carried yellow fever and plague which caused havoc amongst the earlier inhabitants.  The losses to the Companies was very high, effectively bankrupting many of them and seriously straining the finances of all the others. The Crown eventually had to take over the settlement, leaving the emigrants to fend for themselves as a trading society in the increasingly hostile community that rejected the control of the British Crown.

Being right in the centre of the city – on Dowgate Hill – the Company’s original Hall was one that was consumed in the Great Fire. Not only was the Hall was lost but almost all its records, its art and silverware were destroyed.  After such a massive disaster to the whole core of the City, it took some time to recover but, by 1670, a new Skinners’ Hall had been built.  More on the hall comes in section below.

Skinners’ School for Boys

Towards the end of this period, the Skinner’s changed the enrollment of the Tonbridge School and after protest by the citizens of Tonbridge, they set up a second endowed school.  In 1887, the Skinners’ Schools for Boys was established in Royal Tunbridge Wells.  However, this did not satisfy the people of Tonbridge as the school was too far away.  In response the Skinners founded the Judd  School for Boys in 1888 with an endowment from the Judd Foundation in Tonbridge, and then in 1890, the Skinner’s Company School for Girls was established in Stamford Hill, Hackney.

This rapid expansion of educational interest made the Skinners into one of more educationally active Livery Companies in the City.  

The 20th and 21st Centuries

The activities of the 20th and 21st Centuries have focused on education, charity and social activities.  The Company remains active with its schools and has encouraged and assisted in the funding of improvement and extension projects.  There are over 3200 students enrolled at their four schools

he Company’s grant-making charities provide assistance to organisations for specific projects in disability support, preserving local heritage site, building local community infrastructure and support of the performing and visual arts. They also assist individuals, either for younger people in education and training, or to improve the quality of life for pensioners and disabled people.

The Company, through the Hunt and Almshouse Charity, provides quality homes for older people. Percy Bilton Court in Hounslow, West London, is a purpose-built sheltered housing scheme offering 38 self-contained one-bedroom flats. Skinners Court in Palmers Green, North London, offers 48 ‘state-of-the-art’ one and two-bedroom flats for frailer older people within an approach known as ‘extra care.’ Both sites are managed by Hanover Housing Association.

The Company has been more fortunate than many of its peer Livery Companies in that its second hall has not suffered major damage due to fire or war.  It has also been very carefully and beautifully renovated which has enhanced its appearance and utility while not impacting its great heritage.  Furthermore, its collection of plate is amongst the best of the Livery Companies and its Cockayne Cups are outstanding. These were made after William Cockayne left £120 in his will of 1599 for the making of five cups in the form of cocks. They were to be used in the annual election of the Master and Wardens on the feast of Corpus Christi; over 450 years later the cups are still used for this purpose. The heads are removable and the bodies are filled with wine and used to drink the health of the new Master and Wardens in the ceremony of the Cocks and Caps.

In this ceremony newly elected members of the livery parade the Cockayne cups and five caps, velvet circlets adorned with Company emblems, around the central table in the banqueting hall. The new livery members are usually led by regimental bandsmen so it is a noisy and colourful affair. The procession stops and the outgoing Master is given a cap which he places askew on the head of the chief guest; everybody boos loudly as it does not ‘fit’. When it is placed snugly on the new Master’s head everybody cheers. This part of the ceremony is thought to be one of the last surviving examples of a common ritual and the origins of the phrase ‘if the cap fits wear it.’ The Master and Master-elect then drink each other’s health from a cup and each new Warden is crowned with a cap and is toasted from a Cockayne cup in a similar fashion.

The Skinners’ Company's Coat of ArmsHalls

The first Skinners met in local taverns or churches to discuss problems but as they became wealthier they began to pay for more permanent rooms. By the end of the 13th century they were using the building that became Skinners’ Hall, then known as the Copped Hall. The frontage of this original property faced Dowgate Hill and was divided into five shops with rooms above. Behind the shops was the main hall, reached via a courtyard that gave ample space for the preparation of processions and pageants.

After the Great Fire, a new hall was built on the same site and, although extensively modified and refurbished over time, the Hall today continues to be based on this 17th Century building.  Visiting today, the ceremonial entrance leads to a cloister style courtyard from which guests can enter the Grade 1 listed hall and enjoy the splendour of that historic venue. Featuring a banqueting hall, court rooms, roof garden and gallery, the hall continues to be visited by historians, artists and architects as well as being available to the general public to hire for private or corporate events.

A scheduled ancient monument, Skinners’ Hall is steeped in history and antiquities redolent of the privileged life style afforded by successful commerce throughout the centuries. The enormous banqueting hall has a minstrels’ gallery and is panelled with paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn.
The outer hall is open to the ceiling of the gallery above it creating a wonderful setting for the glass chandelier made for Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, and the large bell in the hall, cast in 1190, is one of the oldest in the country.

The court-room of 1670 is panelled in pencil cedar from Virginia, well known for perfuming the room and on hot days you can still smell the wood. The panelling wood choice may well have resulted from the Company’s involvement in the Virginia Settlement activities.

The Skinners’ Company's Coat of ArmsPaintings

In 1901 the court of the Skinners’ Company decided to put aside some money for decorating the banqueting hall. A past master, Thomas Lane Devitt, knew the work of the artist Frank Brangwyn as he had already sponsored him to paint a mural for the Royal Exchange, and it was decided to employ Brangwyn to paint a series of murals.

Frank Brangwyn was an extremely versatile artist and designer who was popular in his day and received honours from around the world. He was a complete polymath, the quintessential artist craftsman. Apart from his paintings and murals, he designed carpets, jewellery, metalwork, stained glass, pottery, posters and furniture. The Skinners’ paintings are typical of his murals – busy, decorative and rather like hanging draperies.

It was a frustrating commission for the Skinners as Brangwyn was not good at organizing his time and had too many commitments: the first 11 panels took eight years to complete. Ten of the paintings, placed along the side walls of the Great Hall, illustrate important occasions in the history of the Skinners, and Harmony was painted for the minstrel’s gallery. Nearly 30 years later two more panels, Charity and Education, were added in the hall corners. Brangwyn used some of his neighbours in Sussex as models in these later paintings. The well known actor Donald Sinden posed when a boy for some of the pupils in Education which also includes a self portrait of the artist as a schoolteacher.

Brangwyn’s work was rather neglected after his death but there is a revival of interest in this superb draughtsman and the Company is lucky that members in the past had the foresight to commission such a magnificent series of murals.

The Skinners’ Company's Coat of ArmsAt Sixes and Sevens

To be "at sixes and sevens" is an English phrase and idiom, common in the United Kingdom. It is used to describe a state of confusion or disarray. The similar phrase "to set the world at six and seven", used by Geoffrey Chaucer, seems, from its context, to mean "to hazard the world" or "to risk one's life." In Act 2, scene 1 of Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar," Portia, in confronting Brutus about his state of anxiety says:          

Why you are heavy, and what men tonight
Have had resort to you; for here have been
Some six or seven who did hide their faces
Even from darkness.

There are several other possible explanations, including one mention of a similar phrase, but with very different meaning, in the Bible (Job 5:19): “He (God) shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee”. Also Chaucer had used a similar expression, over a century before the Billesdon decision, in Troilus and Criseyde: “set the world at six and seven,” which is considered to mean “to hazard the world” or “to risk ones life.”

Many consider that the most likely origin is from a complicated dice game called "hazard." It is thought that the expression was originally "to set on cinque and sice"  (from the French numerals for five and six). These are the riskiest numbers to shoot for (to "set on"), and anyone who tried for them was considered careless or confused.  Why the numbers should have increased from five and six to six and seven does not appear to be satisfactorily explained.

Regardless of the original derivation, there seems little doubt that the Billesdon decision has helped to popularise the expression in the English Language.

Contact Information

More information on the Skinners’ Company can be found on the Company’s website at and details concerning renting rooms there are at

The Clerk, Major General Brian Plummer, can be contacted at:
The Skinners’ Hall
8 Dowgate Hill
London EC4R 2SP

Phone:  + 41 (0)20 7236 5629

Source Information

This article was compiled from the following sources:
The website of the Skinners’ Company,  The Guilds of the City of London by Sir Ernest Pooley, the websites of the Skinners’ Company’s four schools and Wikipedia (English) at

By Neil Purcell
The Editor regrets publication of new Members will be delayed


The February 2009 edition of Company Comment was compiled by Acting Editor Nigel Napier-Andrews who can be reached at .



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