Company Comment. June 2010
 
 


Company Comment
Master's Report
The Honourable Company of Freemen of the City of London of North America
By Commander Michael J. Green CD (Retd) Master

Under the Stewardship of Immediate Past Master John Bishop, 2009 was another excellent year for the Honourable Company of Freemen of the City of London of North America. In his closing remarks at the recent Annual Dinner, John highlighted a number of significant achievements based on goals he had established at the commencement of his 2nd term as Master. In this regard and on behalf of the Court and Membership I would like to acknowledge his fine Stewardship during his term a Master and for his hard work and dedication to preserving the fine traditions and fostering membership growth of the Honourable Company in North America.. I would also like to extend special thanks the Past Master Martin Walmsley for his timeless work and Stewardship with the University of Western Ontario Charity. We are proud on this relationship and look forward to seeing it grow and prosper with the addition of two new students for the 2010 year.
As I now embark on my term of office I would like to open by also thanking the Court Trustees of our Charity and membership for their past support and commitment to maintaining the highest standards expected of the Honourable Company and in preserving its fine traditions that have been carefully fostered over the years.

I will continue on the well established path of my predecessors in enhancing the profile of the Honourable Company within the community at large and upholding its best traditions and practices. I will be supported by an excellent Court and at our first meeting in June we will agree on a plan for the balance of the year that will include a number of key goals and membership events that I am pleased to announce

- We will endeavour to enhance our profile across North America through developing as far as possible relationships with the Livery Company members on the Continent.

-We will continue to provide our membership with timely Newsletters that will include inciteful articles about the Honourable Company and other contributions of specific interest to our members and I encourage you all to submit written contributions to Warden Norman Morris, Communications member who will be very pleased to receive them.

-We will investigate alternative ways in which we can improve our payment system. We want to simplify event registration and improve our payment options for members so that our cash flows can be maximized and ease the collection of annual Quarterage fees and donations and payments for events. I would like to emphasise that timely collection of monies is of optimum importance to the Honourable Company in order that we can continue to preserve our excellent credit and fine reputation that has been fostered with our suppliers.

-Under the Stewardship of Deputy Master and Honorary Treasurer Ken Foxcroft and Warden John Harris we will continue to improve our Accounting systems based on the new model developed in 2009 to include an accurate valuation of our silverware and items of value.

- We aim to increase our membership with at least 10 new members over the coming year. We will also encourage existing and new members to apply for their Freedom and continue to build on our excellent talent to ensure succession on the Court in the coming years.

-We plan an excellent year of events the first being the members garden party at the Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto. We held our first court meeting on June 9 and we agreed on the goals I had outlined for my year in office. We will keep you advised on our progress and on any new initiatives that we propose in order to raise awareness about the Honourable Company in North America.

I look forward to my year as your Master and I look forward to meeting all of you at some of our forthcoming events. For members who are permament residents overseas I look forward to keeping in touch with you through our regular newsletters.


The Annual Dinner at the National Club on Friday May 7th 2010
Honorary Clerk
By John Smith

We were blessed with favourable weather as we made our way to the National Club
in the financial district of downtown Toronto.

This year we were delighted to welcome more than 90 Liverymen, Freemen and their guests, this causing our reservation system to miss 6 and giving the dinner chairman severe palpitations before the evening had started.

This galvanized the Club staff into corrective action before everyone was led into dinner after the usual pre-dinner cocktails in the lounge.This gives attendees the opportunity to renew old friendships and meet new members and their guests.

Entertainment during the reception and through dinner was provided by two outstanding musicians Rose Atanassova and member Bolzidar.

Court Warden Hugh Pauwels again assumed the mantle as Master of Ceremonies an
office he handles with great professionalism and dignity.

The Honourable Company is always pleased to welcome its joint founding Master Captain Ray Gibson and our guest of honour was Ashley Prime,H M Deputy British Consul General in Toronto accompanied by his wife Silvia.

Everyone dined on a sumptuous meal including a smoked trout salad, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and blueberry pear tart washed down with excellent wines imported by Arthur Sellers & Co.(principal is member Jim Walker) and a vintage port.

The traditional Toasts were followed by the ceremony of the Loving Cup well managed by Past Master’s Tony Kemp and Brian Lechem.

Mr Prime, a new member, addressed the gathering on the City of London and it’s long history a subject on which he is very well informed through an extensive library in his home.

The formal part of the evening concluded with the Master’s report when John Bishop spoke of his 2 years in office and his pleasure at achieving much since his installation.

The Master chaired the Investiture of the new Court with the installation of Michael Green as the new Master. Full information on the new Court is covered in the report of the annual general meeting held in late April.
John Bishop was thanked for his impressive contribution to the work of the Honourable Company through his term and presented with his Past Master’s jewel.

Bay Street was alive with stretch limousines as the evening ended.


TOP

The Keynote Address   
Deputy Consul General
By Ashley Prime,         

I am a Londoner. I say that in the same way as JFK said Ich Bin Ein Berliner (of course not a donut/danish) for although I was not born in the centre of London, in fact I was born some 25 kms south of the city, I have lived most of my life in the city. And I identify myself with the city, as do many who have lived in London. And that is the point. No matter what our background, our nationality, our position, our job or our status, London brings us together and we are therefore by definition all Londoners. The city makes no judgment. We are part of the city and we all make London what it is. That’s what we call London Pride.

But what is London? We all know that it is the capital of the UK. What it means to us as individuals is as myriad as the number of people who live, work with or come into contact with what, for me is simply called home.

The first question I would ask about London is why does it exist? And, why is it where it is? For most of the world, London is simply some 35 kms west of Heathrow or north of Gatwick. That is often our first entrée into the capital. London exists for two reasons. Firstly the river, and secondly the Romans. Before the Romans arrived some 2000 years ago, there was little evidence of anything apart from a few small settlements dotted along the Thames valley. The river in AD47 when Emperor Claudius invaded was broader than it is today, shallower and easier to cross at low tide. For of course then there were no bridges to afford easy access for the Romans to chase the Iceni tribes north, led by one of the Iceni’s most famous warriors, Boadicea. I say ‘north’ for in reality Boadicea came into contact with the Romans somewhere around where Kings Cross station now stands. Possibly and folklore states that she is indeed buried underneath platform 9 or 10. That’s what you call a season ticket! It’s also where you get the train to Edinburgh, or Hogwarts for Harry Potter fans.

Prior to the arrival of the Romans, the area was lightly rolling open countryside traversed by streams such as the Walbrook, the Fleet, the Effra and the Lea. Londinium was established at the point where the Thames was narrow enough to build a bridge, but deep enough to handle sea going marine vessels. Remains of a massive Roman base for a bridge were found in 1981, close to the modern London Bridge. But before the Romans were able to construct a bridge they of course needed to cross the river. The first point up stream on the Thames that the Romans could ford the river at low tide is approximately, give or take a few meters, where London Bridge now stands today. And for Freeman of the city, we have to thank the Romans, at least for location, for London Bridge today, where we are of course allowed to herd sheep. I look forward to trying that when I am next in London. The Sheep won’t be the only ones bleating. I’m not sure whether we are allowed other quadrupeds but perhaps the Master can inform me later which animals can be herded across London Bridge by Freemen of the City. I would like to try Moose or Raccoons or any other Canadian four legged mammals. I don’t propose to herd Grizzlies.

If the Romans were to arrive today, because the river Thames has changed its course, the first point upstream that they would now be able to ford the river to chase a present day Boadicea is some 25 kms upstream from London Bridge around Richmond or Teddington. Teddington derives it’s name from Tide end town denoting how far the Thames is tidal.

But there is one thing crucial about the Romans which affected the way London was to develop and the way we see London today. The Romans were a military invasion power, no doubt, but I would argue more importantly, they were traders. The Roman empire could only survive because of trade. The Romans brought with them commerce. And by that I mean that they brought Frank, Gaulish, Roman and other traders as well as Roman legions. This helped, at least for the first 4 centuries anyhow, Londinium’s position as a trading centre for Britannia and the rest of the Roman empire. Roman conquest was as much defined by economic integration of London and Britain with the rest of the Roman empire as with military conquest. Our first foray into the EU, as it were.

But London is like no other European capital, indeed no other city in the world. London became London for very different reasons to other European cities. It was never a Royal city, never a Paris nor Rome. I would say that London is neither as beautiful as Paris nor Rome. Certainly not as symmetrical. But it is to me, because it is an organic, not a planned town, and its variety is a lot more interesting. We had an opportunity in the 17th century to turn London into a Paris following the 1666 Great fire. Sir Christopher Wren designed plans to build piazzas, boulevards and vistas to match Paris or Rome. But because the City was still medieval in form with literally thousands of small property holders, it was never easy to sweep aside their rights and build the dream London that never was. London never had a Napoleon, or Louis 14th who were able to build, to shape the city to suit them. Dick Whittington was never quite in that category. London has often been wary of the monarchy. Although the Royal Family still live in London, the monarchy has not always had such a welcome as today. Shamed and dishonoured, Richard the 2nd signed his abdication in the Tower of London and Charles the 1st was of course executed in Whitehall. The last time a monarch ever lost his head over London.

London is, and always has been a city of money, trade, empire and merchants. Business is the blood that runs through the veins and arteries of London. And throughout most of its history, it has had the critical mass and wealth to attract and create art, music and literature, not only from within Britain but from across the world.

The full kaleidoscope of London throughout its history has made rich pickings for those who have written about it, and often shaped it. The obvious and famous writers are many. Shakespeare made London, and its infamous “stews”, his stage; and his theatre – the famous “wooden O” of the Globe on the South Bank – became the world. But the pageant continued: Milton, Chaucer, Pepys, Dickens, Sheridan, Johnson, Orwell, Woolf and Wilde. Pepys and Johnson defined their age, defined London. But other writers from across the world like Mark Twain, Henry James, Karl Marx and Silvia Plath have lived in the city, called it their home, which shaped their writing and certainly in Marx’s case shaped the world. He was living in Clerkenwell in London when writing Das Kapital. But the direct effect Marx’s had on economic thinking in the UK and specifically London has thankfully in the main been bypassed.

Samuel Johnson is for me the one who, as a father of the English language, at least as the first lexicographer, is one of London’s greatest sons. And there are many. Like many writers and thinkers of his time, he wasn’t born in the city, but that didn’t matter. He still defined himself as a Londoner and wrote about 18th century London with wit that few others have matched. Although there had been many ‘dictionaries’ written before Johnson’s, we still consider his to be the first. The ‘first’ which stood the test of time. And I would argue that the success of London, the global influence of the city of London created what is one of the greatest journeys in history. The voyage of the English language. At the beginning of the 17th century only some four million people spoke English. Today some 1.8 billion speak it as a first or second language.

London is a collection of random villages that have grown up into one mass of a city. Although Spitalfields, which is next Whitechapel, which neighbours the City, which borders Westminster which is next to Pimlico, they share little in common except their proximity. But the most important part, the beating heart of the city is the City. That one square mile that is one of the smallest yet most influential places in the world. It was and remains simply the place where the world comes for work.
London’s raison d’être is as a merchant’s city, which attracted and created some of the best literature, art and creativity. Without that wealth creation, little or nothing follows. No museums, no music, no art, no literature. But most importantly, in London’s case no defining global influence. It is not an overestimation to say that London shaped the world in which we live.

The poet John Bancks in his 18th century poem ‘A Description of London’ still brings the essence of London to life in a way, which for me is as true today as it was then.

Houses, churches mixed together,
Streets unpleasant in all weather,
Prisons, palaces contiguous,
Gates, a bridge, the Thames irriguous.

Gaudy things enough to tempt ye,
Showy outsides, insides empty,
Bubbles, trades, mechanical arts,
Coaches, wheelbarrows and London carts.

Lawyers, poets, priests, physicians,
Noble, simple, all conditions,
Women black, red fair and grey,
Prudes and such as never pray,
Handsome, ugly, noisy still,
Some that will not, some that will.

Many a beau without a shilling,
Many a widow, not unwilling,
Many a bargain, if you strike it,
This is London! How d’ye like it!

As I mentioned, London was, is and will always be less of a Royal city and much, much more of a city of trade, commerce and wealth. London remains today the No.1 European city for business and was voted the top city for the 20th year running in 2009, ranking first for easy access to markets, qualified staff, external and internal transport links, telecommunications, and languages spoken. There are over 300. So if we think of Toronto as multi lingual and multi cultural, London gives Toronto a good run for it’s money. London remains the Springboard to Europe: London is the gateway to the European Union’s 27 member states, the biggest single market in the world, with a population of nearly half a billion. It’s geographic location enables it to overlap with normal office opening hours for other countries across the world that account for 99% of world GDP. Notwithstanding Icelandic volcanoes- we gave them cash, they gave us ash; shows what a small, determined island can do - London boasts excellent transport links: there are direct flights to 530 destinations worldwide from London’s five international airports and high-speed rail services to Paris and Brussels. London boasts one of the world’s largest overground/underground rail networks and is the hub for the UK’s domestic transport networks. London is home to Europe’s largest regional workforce — more than 9.8 million, with one in three holding a university degree. Quite simply the world lives in London. You name the nationality, they live there. And that for me is the key to London’s previous and current success. It’s not only a world city, it’s the world’s city. London remains Europe’s leading financial centre: every leading financial institution on the planet is represented in London including all the major Canadian Banks. It remains a magnet for foreign investment: a quarter of London businesses are foreign-owned — with over 20,000 overseas-owned companies London. London remains the wealthiest area in Europe. It’s GDP is bigger than Holland and Belgium combined. Around 28 of the world’s billionaires have chosen to live in London— more than in any other city in Europe. Sadly I am not one of them nor do I know any of them. They may however have heard of me. London is a microcosm of the planet. As Wordsworth said: Earth hath not anything to show more fair.

So when we think of London, we should, in my view remind ourselves what it is, where it has come from and why it exists. And ultimately, if not perhaps crudely, it is money. Money is central to London’s existence. If you exclude the dark ages from the time the Roman’s left in the mid 4th century until the mid 8th century London has been a city of wealth and everything that wealth brings. It is that freedom to do business within the rule of law that has made London what it is. The British Empire and the Industrial Revolution both had their very financial existence centered around the City of London.

And although we have recently had tough times, as I said, don’t underestimate it. London never went away. But I will leave you tonight with one final thought. ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford’. True when it was written in 1777. True in 2010.

Thank you.


Spring Garden Party
Events Chair
By Hugh Pauwels

On Saturday, June 5th, The Honourable Company enjoyed our first Spring Garden Party at the Armour Heights Officer’s Mess, also known as the DND Staff College. The gardens, in full bloom, were very tranquil, serene and inviting for those of us who decided to go for a leisurely stroll. This is quite a surprising venue indeed, since it is practically located in the heart of busy Toronto at Avenue Road and the Highway 401. Amidst all the inclement weather we have all been experiencing of late, the weather cooperated wonderfully providing a very sunny and warm afternoon for all of us to enjoy. The atmosphere was further enhanced with the lovely music of Bozidar and Rose Atanossova. Those members who attended at the Annual Dinner in May will be familiar with their melodic repertoire.

The biggest disappointment, of course was our attendance; only 39 members and their spouses or friends partook of this delightful event. Too few enjoyed what was planned by so many! Peter deVooght, native of Oakville and our outgoing student from Western University was present. He will be enjoying a semester at the City College University in London on a Scholarship sponsored by our Honourable Company of Freemen. We are looking forward to a much better participation on Sunday, August 22nd dinner at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club on the Toronto Island. Please mark your calendars now.


Curriers' Company
By Peter Leach

Many thanks also go to Dr. Donald Adamson for his contribution in proof-reading the draft article and making numerous improvements and corrections.

The History of the Worshipful Company of Curriers

Continuing with our series of histories of London Livery Companies that contributed to the London, British and European Leather Trade, this time we look at the Worshipful Company of Curriers.

The Company is 29th in the official order of precedence of London Livery Companies but the existence of Curriers in London precedes all written records. As we have said before, leather has been such an important part of human existence and activity that the knowledge of tanning and leather preparation is common to almost all human development across the globe.

I will start by explaining the role of currying in the leather production process and then I will provide highlights of the formation, success, decline and re-emergence of the Worshipful Company.

The ‘Art and Mysterie1 ’ of the Currier
Men and women wore and used leather before the beginning of recorded history. The number of people involved in the making of leather and in its use in human endeavor may run in to the millions. Clothes, particularly hats, gloves, shoes, boots, jackets, jerkins and trousers, were popularly made of leather, and its use in farming, war, transportation and habitation has been and continues to be extensive. No material has been more important to human development than leather. Today, there are many competing materials that have displaced leather as the preferred material for many human needs, but leather continues to be the premier material in many former applications.

Over time, craftsmen developed skills associated with different aspects of the trade. Some still exist today - the tanner, cobbler and saddler. Other skills, such as those of the cordwainer and currier, are now rarities. Since man started to understand the process of leather preparation, craftsman in the various disciplines have become dependent on the skills of the others for their living. The trade of currying was a vital part of the leather industry and, while industrial processes have now made much of the currier’s art obsolete, some very exclusive leathers are still hand-curried.

Currying is the name given to the process of stretching and finishing tanned leather, thus, rendering it supple and strong for the use of a saddler, cobbler or other leather worker. The name currier is believed to have been taken from the Latin term ‘corium’. The corium is the central skin layer between the outer epidermis and the flesh underneath, made up of a complex series of fibres. The make-up of this layer dictates the difference in texture between leathers. Leather for the sole of your shoes has very different characteristics from your leather coat or your up-scale car leather seat.

Before the processes of leathermaking became known, animal skins were cured by treating them with animal fat. This stage was followed by leaving them stretched out to dry, either in the sun or before a fire. In Britain, due to the climate, the skin was normally dried in front of a fire. This basic system was in use thousands of years before Christ and was still used on buffalo skins by North American Indians in the late 1800’s. Medieval Europeans improved upon these methods and those tradesmen skilled in the methods of making skins into a flexible, durable material grew in importance.

To understand the role performed by the Currier, it is necessary to look at the earlier stages in the leather-making process. An animal skin was first delivered to a tannery. There it was soaked and cleaned of any remnants of animal tissue. The skin then underwent the "liming" procedure, where it was repeatedly washed and left in a solution of quick lime to increase absorbency. After being cut to a suitable size, the skin was placed in successive tanks of progressively stronger tanning solution. The solution used for tanning was traditionally made from oak bark. The unfinished leather now passed to the Currier, whose craft was to transform the stiff material into a pliant, workable material for the final craftsman to transform into the finished product..

The art of currying leather was hard manual labour, needing great skill and a range of special hand tools. The Currier worked on a variety of hides, principally ox, cow, calf, goat, sheep, pig and deer. He may have occasionally dressed squirrel, rabbit and a variety of snakes. The hide was first stretched on a variety of different frames, depending on the type of leather to be curried. The Currier would gradually tighten the frame, notch by notch, from every direction until satisfied that the hide was as taut as possible. Another method of stretching the skin was by using an implement resembling a mangle or rack, where a handle was turned, gradually tightening the material.

Once stretched, the tanned leather was washed and scrubbed. The Currier then went to work with a ‘sleeker’, a short bladed knife. The sleeker forced the remaining tanning fluid from the hide. The skin was then ready to be dressed, to make it smooth, waterproof, strong and flexible.

The inner side of the skin was made more even by the use of a currying knife or ‘shave’. The blade of this knife ran at right angles to the handle, thus enabling it to be worked like a wood plane, shaving the surface of the leather. This part of the process called for great skill and judgment. Too steep a cut could render a valuable hide worthless. The currying knife was also used for the delicate task of splitting the leather into different thicknesses. The thickness required was dictated by the purpose for which the leather was intended. The suppler split leather was used for the uppers of shoes and boots. The heavier leather from the ‘butt’ or backbone of the skin was used for soles.

Once it had been trimmed to a suitable size and thickness, the Currier actually carried out the process of currying. That is, massaging into the leather equal quantities of beef tallow and cod liver oil. Once curried, leather could be used for a wider range of purposes, and also stained or dyed. The work of British Curriers was held in high esteem throughout Europe.

Like most trades, currying often became a family tradition with skills passed from father to son. The finished product was frequently taken by other members of the family for crafting into leather products.

The Curriers Company – The first 500 years
The earliest surviving record of currying in England is in the City of London Coroner’s Roll for 9 February 1276. This covers an inquest into the death of a Currier’s wife living off Newgate Street. She apparently died as a result of a broken leg after falling down drunk in the street!
However, the book “The Curriers’ Company – A Modern History”, by Donald Adamson , lists 1272 as the date when the Mistery of Curriers obtained separate working regulations, thus becoming an exclusive trade association. It seems likely, however, that such working regulations were not the first in Europe nor in London, but followed the experiences of other artisans’ organizations in France, Italy, Spain and in other London trades.

The earliest rules of the trade in London were recorded circa 1300. These laid down the maximum prices a Currier could charge a skinner for the dressing of skins. Four ‘searchers’ were empowered to enforce these rules, one of whom was a Currier. Any Currier charging too much would have a fine imposed. As an example, the Currier could not take more than 5s6d for dressing the skins of a thousand roskyn (fur of the squirrel in summer).

However, even with Ordinances in place, the leather artisans continually challenged the boundaries for their respective trades. Even the definitions of the various artisans became confused. For a century these trade boundary rules and ordinances were continually challenged and, as with many other inter-trade disputes of those times, street fights and rioting were regular occurrences between apprentices.

By the 14th century, Curriers were men of importance in towns and cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Until 1367, London Curriers had no sanctioned trade guild. In that year, however, the Curriers constituted themselves into a guild and religious fraternity in the “conventual church of the Carmelites” (White Friars) in Fleet Street.

English and especially London’s Curriers’ prosperity was due in part to the royal supply contracts for leather for soldiers engaged in wars with France and Scotland. Leather was used to link plates of armour, as well as for many items of soldier’s clothing and for tack for the horses used to move heavy war supplies.

In 1415 The Mistery of Curriers received grant of its First Ordinances by the act of Common Council of the City. These were further strengthened in 1488 by another act of Common Council. The penalties for disobeying these ordinances were huge. For instance, leather discovered improperly ‘tanned, sealed and curried’ could result in the Currier facing five days in jail and a 20-shilling fine - 10 for the King and 10 to the wronged party. If a Currier should carry out the tanning of a skin, he faced a fine of 6 shillings and 8 pence for each skin so treated. Today, 6s8d would be about £300.

By 1483, the wealth of the Curriers’ guild had grown substantially and their first hall had been acquired in the parish of St. Mary Axe by the Pappey, now London Wall in Aldgate.

During the period of the House of Tudor (1485-1603) the struggles between the leather artisans were intense and acts restricting and permitting the activities of workers in the leather trades were clearly a continuing battleground. The Curriers buying from tanners and selling to a whole variety of trades effectively made them the leather wholesalers, and they used this position to increase their profitability substantially. This resulted in many protests, with the result that the Mayor and Council acted through legislation to prevent Curriers from also acting as wholesalers. The effect of this was to squeeze smaller and poor workmen out of business as they could not afford to buy larger quantities of leather that the other purveyors of leather required. Again more protests, and the rights of Curriers to act as wholesalers were restored

In 1559, Parliament passed an Act affecting the leather industry, designed to improve standards and stop some improper practices. Curriers were forbidden the use of ‘stale uryne or any other deceipfull or subtill mixture’ to cure hides. No leather was to be stripped too thinly or sold with a blemish. Fines and forfeits were entered on the statute books.

The Curriers had to wait until 1583 before they were granted arms3, which, not surprisingly, featured the curry knife as the centrepiece.

The Guild continued to grow in strength and authority. In 1503, they obtained the rights of search and seizure; 1516 saw the rights of the Guild extended by Act of Parliament; Royal licence was granted by Henry VIII in 1517; Extension beyond the city was first licensed to the Guild in 1567; around 1580 the Guild was first recognized as a livery company. This all led to the granting of the first Charter of Incorporation4 in 1605. This lays down rules and regulations for Curriers belonging to the Livery Company, including such statutes as a ‘fine of 4 pence a day with meat and drink from the Master, if a Journeyman be unemployed through the Master’s default’ and a fine of 6 pence from the journeyman if he should absent himself from work.

The Company published bye-laws on 4 June 1605. These imposed fines for poor workmanship, and standardised regulations for premises where currying may be carried out. They should be ‘fitting and convenient for the use of the said art.’ Work on leather had to cease at noon on Saturday and the afternoon had to be employed in cleaning houses, sharpening tools and ‘grayning and shaving of boote legges against the next working day’.

On the overthrow of the Monarchy in 1649 the Royal charters were of little value throughout the Commonwealth period, except that the Court of Common Council supported the rules and regulations that the charters implied. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Curriers' original Charter was reinstated.

As with so many of the Livery Companies, the Great Fire in 1666 wreaked havoc within the core of the City. In the process, it destroyed the Curriers' Hall and most of its treasures and archives. As far as treasures are concerned, silver that was not lost was sold to help pay for the reconstruction of the Hall. It took 4 years for the Curriers to move into their new Hall (their third). The impact of the fire was huge. Curriers who lost homes and places of work had to move out of the core of the City while reconstruction took place, and many set up their businesses in their new locations, never to return.

James II recalled the James I Charters of all the Livery Companies in 1686, issuing new charters in 1687 which included powers that were distasteful to the Companies. The powers were granted for “the Profitt, Comoditie and Reliefe of the good and honest, and for ye Terror and Correiction of the evill, naughty and dishonest”. The interpretation of these categories left the Freemen with much concern, as did the requirement to be in “Communion with the Church of England”. Moreover, the appointment of officers and Clerk were subject to the approval of the King and they could be removed at the King’s pleasure. With the accession of William and Mary, the James II Charters were revoked and the earlier charters reinstated.

The Last 300 Years
After years of wealth and prosperity, the Company experienced money woes at the end of the 17th century, due to the dispersal of Curriers to the evolving suburbs of the City. The hall was let out to others for religious purposes, and the level of activity declined substantially. Later, the Company leased the hall for 7 years to the Pattenmakers.

Financial woes and problems of control over apprentices and journeymen continued. It became difficult to find members willing to serve on the Court. Even the imposition of substantial fines - £25 (about £2500 today) for the Renter and Upper Warden - was only just sufficient to prevent the problem continuing.

It was clear that the power of the craft guild was under increasing pressure with the emergence of the Trades Unions and the aggressive business practices of the growing number of capitalists benefiting from the industrial revolution and the industrialization of the leather making processes.

Within the leather trade in London, the Curriers and the other Leather Livery Companies fought to maintain their control and, as they paid their journeymen well, they were well supported by their employees. However, the other leather trades continued either to curry themselves or buy from cheaper curriers in the rest of the country and overseas. While fighting to maintain their position in the City, the Cordwainers started a prosecution of Curriers for cutting their leather into smaller pieces and wholesaling them to the smaller end-product makers. This dispute ended in the successful quest for an act of Parliament that permitted London curriers to cut leather for sale. However, at the cost of almost £2000, the company became heavily indebted and it was years before those debts could be paid off. In doing so, the Court allowed admission of members who were not involved in the currying trade (although they were not allowed to engage apprentices).

Edward Mayer asserts in the original history of the Curriers that the loss of power and fortunes of the company was actually due not to the Trades Unions, nor the capitalists, but to the problem of attracting enough journeymen and the huge growth in the demand for leather which outstripped the production capacities of the members. With a lack of will to change their processes, other producers gained substantial advantage by changing their production methods, thus generating lower pricing and greater profitability.

The trade steadily declined in the early part of the 19th century. At the start of the century, the financial woes of the Curriers continued. For instance, they declined to participate in the funeral cortege of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson because of lack of funds. This was compounded with the repeal of the Great Statute of Leather (1606) in 1808 and the consequent loss of power over the artisans and journeymen of the trade. In addition, the various properties that had been donated under the wills of several wealthy Curriers had become dilapidated, but the Company obtained sufficient funds from the Leather Companies' enforcement of the Flaying Acts (1801&1808) to be able to rebuild some of its properties.

With the repeal of the Flaying Acts (1824) the future of the Company was again thrown into question. Having little control over currying and no income from the quality control of leather, the Company was essentially left with its social and charitable functions only. In 1834, the Court of Common Council of the City officially recognized the loss of most of the Companies' function of industrial control and reduced the fee for admission to the freedom from £25 to £5.

It was very fortunate that Samuel Jackson, a master currier, bequeathed £800 to the Company in 1825, the interest from which was to be used for charitable disbursement, thus reaffirming the Company’s role in providing charity.

The wealth of the Company continued to be a concern as funds remained tight and money management depended on the aspirations of the officers and assistants. Possibly the only true example of consistent financial management was in the charities provided by William Dawes and Samuel Jackson. However, with the regular leasing of the Hall, which guaranteed a consistent income, and with other ground rents from properties in Curriers’ Hall Court and elsewhere, the fourth Hall was built in 1820, the fifth5 in 1874 and the sixth in 1876.

The 20th century started with continuing fluctuating financial uncertainty even though some large legacies were provided by former Masters and Liverymen. After the First World War, the resources of the Company were at a very low ebb, and, in 1920, the Court resolved to accept an offer of £30,000 by Imperial Continental Gas Association for the freehold of the Hall. It was sold in 1921, when the Company moved in with the Cordwainers, using their hall for livery dinners and with the use of ancillary rooms in Cannon Street as their offices. These arrangements placed the Curriers on a much sounder footing and the Court set about expanding the Livery, which had dwindled to less than 40.

The membership of the Company also changed dramatically. Many of the members were in the legal profession, and with more than 30 members in legal practice, no less than 10 were judges. Both the Court and the Dinners started to look like clubs for lawyers. There were very few practising curriers in the Company at this time.

The blitz and other air attacks during the Second World War destroyed much of the Company’s properties in Curriers’ Hall Court and also destroyed the Cordwainers’ Hall. Fortunately, most of the Company’s silver and other treasures were saved. Compensation for these losses was received and the Company put in place an investment portfolio which was originally intended as a holding pattern until ground rentable properties could be purchased. After the loss of the Cordwainers’ Hall, the Company contracted with the Tallow Chandlers for office space and meetings.

Issues of ownership of or partnership in ownership of a Hall have arisen numerous times, but, without the core resources to make such an investment, no such initiative has taken root. A major partnership was proposed in 1956 between the Coopers, Cordwainers, Curriers and Painter-Stainers but this was never carried though. This followed approaches from the Company of Secretaries in 1942, 1945 and 1948 and preceded approaches by the Company of Fan Makers in 1983.

In the absence of any linkage or trade activity, the Company's activities and purpose, like those of many Livery Companies, became social and charitable. Without the wealth and legacies of many of the other Companies, the charitable activities were limited and so the membership was essentially determined by the benefits of the social activities. The success of social activities depended extensively on the enthusiasm and creativity of the Court Executive and its Assistants. In 1965, the lack of people eligible, through service as executive officers, to serve as Assistants caused the Court to seek Assistants directly from its core of Liverymen. This new route to the Court brought in some enthusiastic new Assistants who were influential in rejuvenating the Company.

The 1970’s again raised the question of the future direction of the Company. Go for an expanded high profile membership of eminent men as a form of exclusive London club or remain family-line oriented and a smaller, less wealthy organization. The latter was chosen.

The sale of some of the remaining properties at Helmet Court (from the Dawes legacy), due to road-widening, produced funds in 1969 that were sufficient to pay for the building of a paediatric wing at the Brook General Hospital as a family care centre and also to purchase and upgrade a house in Lymington for up to seven lonely people. This was named Dawes House after the original donor. The Brook Hospital wing was opened in 1972 and Dawes House in 1973.

The Company Today
The Company’s Livery is now around 100 and includes a wide range of professional men and women involved in academia, accountancy, brokerage, finance, industry and law. Notably there are two practising curriers of leather. In addition to supporting the work of the City of London, its Mayoralty and its corporate governance, the Company provides support to leathercraft in its widest sense, and conducts an annual program of educational and charitable financing. It operates two charities.

The Company also maintains close links with 3 Military units: 101 (City of London) Engineer Regiment, 7 Squadron RAF and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing.
The Company has arrangements with the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers and hold Court Meetings and various other functions at the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall. Other events are held at the Apothecaries’ Hall, the Cutlers’ Hall, and the Saddlers’ Hall.

The Halls.
The building and/or acquisition of the Guild’s first Hall is uncertain but the first record of its existence is in 1485. It was in St. Mary Axe in the parish of St. Mary the Virgin, St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins. The actual location appears to have been by London Wall in Aldgate. It is believed to have been similar in style to the early small colleges of Oxford or Cambridge.

The second Hall was built about 1585 on the site of a public house that was willed to the Company by Thomas Sterne in 1516. It was located in St. Alphage’s parish between Philip Lane and Little Wood Street. This was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666.
The third Hall was built on the same site as the previous Hall and completed in 1670. It was similar to but somewhat smaller than the Apothecaries' and Tallow Chandlers' Halls of that time. By the late 1790’s, this Hall was in bad repair, as were many of the tenements in Curriers' Hall Court

With the end of the restrictions on the Company’s finances in the early 1800’s thanks to the enforcement of the Flaying Acts, a small and rather austere hall was rebuilt to the east of the old Hall in 1820.

With growing wealth, the Company approved a new Hall to be built in 1872 and contracts were placed in early 1873. At the same time vacant land in front of the new hall was advertised for sale at a ground rent of £1,000 p.a. A company wanting to expand rapidly in the area in 1873 offered to build a new Hall with frontage on London Wall in exchange for a ground rent and the land that would remain after the hall was built. With so little remaining money to pay for the fifth Hall, the Court consented. So even before delivering the fifth Hall, this was ripped down and the sixth Hall was built at a cost of more than £4,000 by the industrial company and completed in 1876.

The sixth Hall was 30 feet wide and 68 feet in depth with two floors over an extensive basement. The Livery Hall on the second floor was about 45 feet long and 22 feet wide with a high vaulted ceiling. The remaining space on the floor was the Committee Room. While this was small relative to many Livery Halls, it was quite appropriate to the Livery membership of the Curriers. Under the Hall was the Court Room and under the Committee room was the Clerk’s office.

This Hall was sold to the Imperial Continental Gas Association in 1921 for £30,000. ICGA sold it to the Chartered Institute of Secretaries in 1925 who offered it back to the Curriers in 1938 for exactly the same sum as ICGA paid for it. The offer was declined. The building was destroyed by enemy air action on 29th December 1940.

The Armorial Bearings
The Coat of Arms of the Worshipful Company was granted in 1583:

The Arms: Azure, a cross engrailed or between four pairs of shaves in saltire argent, handled or.

The Crest: On a wreath or and azure out of clouds proper, two arms embowed carnation, the shirt sleeves folded beneath the elbows argent, in the hands a shave argent, handled or.
Mantling: Gules, doubled argent.

Supporters: Dexter, an elk proper, attired and unguled or; Sinister, a goat argent, flashed sable.

1 There are numerous spellings of the word Mysterie, Mistery etc. The spelling has changed over time and by author. The word is derived from the French “métier” meaning trade.

2 See editor's note on information sources for this article.

3 See the description of the Coat of Arms later in this article.

4 The original charter, dating from 30 April 1605, is preserved at Guildhall.

5 See notes in the section on the Halls as the building of the fifth and sixth Halls has a convoluted history.

Contact with the Worshipful Company of Curriers
The Clerk to the Company is Group Captain David M Moss. The Clerk’s office is operated from Hedgerley, The Leaze, Ashton Keynes, Wiltshire, SN6 6PE, phone +44 1285-861017. Contact is easiest by email: clerk@curriers.co.uk.

Information Sources;
This article was constructed from information obtained from:

  • The website of the Worshipful Company of Curriers, (www.curriers.co.uk)
  • The official history of the Curriers “The Curriers’ Company: A Modern History” by Edward Mayer and Donald Adamson, ISBN 0 9500338 1 2, ©The Worshipful Company of Curriers 2008, which was kindly provided by the Clerk to the Worshipful Company
  • Notes on the Worshipful Company provided by the Clerk
  • “The Guilds of the City of London” by Sir Ernest Pooley, 1945

The article was written by Peter B. Leach, PM


 

 

 
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