City of London Livery Companies

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September, 2020

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On our self-guided tour of the “City of London”: a few weeks earlier, we’d stumbled across two Livery Company Halls, the Salters’ and Cutlers, and this sparked our interest.

In 1516 the 48 Livery Companies were ordered in precedence, depending on their wealth, by the Lord Mayor. Although their ranks have now grown to 100+, the order still stands and the first twelve are known as the Great Twelve.

These are: (1) Mercers, (2) Grocers, (3) Drapers, (4) Fishmongers (5) Goldsmiths, (6) Merchant Taylors, (7) Skinners (8) Haberdashers (9) Salters (10) Ironmongers (11) Vintners, and (12) Clothworkers.

The Livery Companies were, and still are, extremely powerful and influential, controlling many aspects of daily life and trade and are usually dedicated to education, fraternity and philanthropy.

Bearing in mind the two we’d seen, the Salters’ Company had a large garden and the Cutlers a magnificent terracotta frieze above the door, we thought it would be fun to create our own walking tour of the Great Twelve.

To prepare, we listed their addresses and plotted them on a map – Googling again to write this review, I discovered someone had already done this – here is the “link”: We then decided on our route starting and finishing at London Liverpool Street.

“SALTERS’ COMPANY”: – We started our tour at the company which had originally piqued our interest. As well as the large public garden, with more time, we noticed a stunning set of black wrought iron gates decorated with golden birds which date back to 1887. These were in stark contrast to the modern looking hall, built in 1976 after the original was destroyed in WW2 (they had no hall until 1976).

“IRONMONGERS’ COMPANY”: – This was incredibly difficult to find despite using a tracking app on my phone, possibly because of its location near the concrete monstrosity, the Barbican. We eventually prevailed on a security guard who pointed us up a series of steps where we found the elusive red-bricked Tudor style building with large stained-glass window at the front. On leaving a different way, we realised we’d completely missed a sign pointing it out. We also learned that it was a good idea to look out for a coat of arms on buildings.

Whilst on the train into London, we’d discussed how long we thought our walk would take and guessed at around a couple of hours. Bearing in mind the time we’d spent in finding the first two, we anticipated a long day.

“HABERDASHERS’ COMPANY”: – Having skirted around the north side of Bart’s Hospital, we found Smithfield Market (bookmarking it for another visit) and amongst a huge amount of scaffolding spotted the sign Haberdashers’ Hall. So not very picturesque at all.

“GOLDSMITHS’ COMPANY”: – Passing St Pauls Cathedral, we continued on to Goldsmiths which, as expected, was very grand with columns, carvings and crests adorning the building which dated back to the mid-1850s. The black wrought iron railings across the door had a lion above with a garland of flowers through its snarling mouth.

“MERCERS’ COMPANY”: – The most important of them all was next, but en route we passed the striking blue and gold door of Wax Chandlers’ Hall with white unicorns above and either side of their crest (sadly not in the top 12). Interestingly the address of the Mercers was Ironmongers Lane, and although we found the office and business entrances, despite walking right around the building we couldn’t find the grand entrance portrayed on Google images.

“GROCERS’ COMPANY”: – A short distance away we came across a sign for Grocers’ Hall Court which appeared to lead into a service entrance, but round the corner found two plain gates with colourful crests and words God Grant Grace, denying us entrance to the courtyard and actual Grocers’ Hall.

“VINTNERS’ COMPANY”: – It was then down to the river where, near Southwark Bridge, we found the colonnaded building pronouncing Vintners Place. Interestingly, although the Queen owns all the swans in open waters, in the 16th century, ownership was granted to landowners. Only two bodies still exercise this right and the ownership of swans in the Thames, is shared equally by the Crown, the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company.

“SKINNERS’ COMPANY”: – We next had to zig-zag and head back into the city, passing the Tallow Chandlers’ Hall with its small garden and distinctive blue gates. The entrance to the relatively plain, light coloured building had a set of ornate black gates, with gold coat of arms, bearing the motto, ‘To God only be all glory’, and smart matching streetlamps.

“FISHMONGERS’ COMPANY”: – Back onto the river and near London Bridge, we found Fishmongers’ Hall, which instead of having wrought iron gates as others did, had a rather plain wooden door. This is probably remembered as the location of a terrorist incident when two people were tragically stabbed in November 2019.

“CLOTHWORKERS’ COMPANY”: – Walking and admiring the tall gold topped Monument, we were pleased it was closed and we were therefore not tempted to climb the 202-foot column. The Clothworkers’ Hall was a bit of a mystery. At the address, Dunster Court, Mincing Lane, we found a large gated courtyard which appeared to house a number of buildings and we couldn’t pick out the Clothworkers’ Hall. Interestingly my walking app showed it in a completely different location.

“MERCHANT TAYLORS’ COMPANY”: – With the penultimate hall in sight, we felt we were on the home stretch. This was a long building on Threadneedle Street with bright blue gates and above the door a coat of arms with a couple of camel-like animals on either side.

“DRAPERS’ COMPANY”: – With slightly aching feet we found Drapers’ Hall on nearby Throgmorton Street. Aside the door were larger than life giant turban-clad atlantes supporting the architecture instead of columns. The drapers have occupied this site since 1543, when it purchased what was the London mansion of Thomas Cromwell.

All the Livery Companies have grand interiors and halls to be hired out for weddings, conferences etc. Drapers’ Hall was the only one I’d ever been in when I attended a charity Christmas Fair some years ago, although I’d seen the inside of the Grocers’ Hall when it was used for the 2019 Masterchef final.

We arrived back at Liverpool Street three hours later with over 12,000 steps on our app and over 100 photos on our cameras. On a Sunday morning, the city had been deserted of people and cars and it had been easy to walk around and cross the roads. Likewise, virtually all the pubs, restaurants and cafes were closed either because it was Sunday or due to Covid-19 with only a few Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local open.

It was therefore with much relief that we found the Railway Tavern at Liverpool Street open for business and we stopped for a reviving pint of cider and packet of crisps each.

Helen Jackson

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