The Merchant Taylors' Membership Index 1530 - 1928
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In 2005 James Legon, the founder of Docklands Ancestors, wrote to the Merchant Taylors Company asking permission to transcribe and publish the Company’s membership index 1530-1928, which is in four volumes (now Guildhall Library Ms 34037/1-4), and consists of some 36000 entries. The company has always had a large membership, and is one of the most popular for family history enquiries to Guildhall Library. It is also one of the “Great Twelve”, the twelve companies acknowledged in Tudor times to be the City’s wealthiest and most important. James was delighted when the company agreed that the project could go ahead. In return for the privilege and honour of taking on the project, Docklands Ancestors have agreed to contribute to the Company’s Livery and Freemen Fund a percentage of its search sales, and of the sales of the CD-Rom that will accompany the searchable database. All of us at Docklands Ancestors are proud that we were the first to make the baptism records of Tower Hamlets available in an easily searchable format, and this new project ties in well with our aims of making searching for your ancestors an easier, and more productive, experience.
Livery companies were organizations of master tradesmen which developed in the City of London during the Middle Ages. One of their principal purposes was to control the number and character of new members. Another principal purpose, especially before the Reformation, was social and religious fellowship. Originally the word “livery” referred to the special clothing of senior members, but later it became associated with distinctive costumes for grand occasions. Prosperous companies in the Middle Ages erected their own livery halls and endowed chapels dedicated to the patron saints of their crafts. Despite the huge changes that have taken place since, several dozen livery companies have survived until the present day. Some of them have in the process become extremely wealthy, and major charitable benefactors. In addition, new livery companies continue to be formed from time to time.
Strictly speaking, a livery company is a company that has received a grant of livery from the City Corporation, i.e. the right to elect “liverymen”. Only liverymen can vote at the annual elections of the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs, nor can anyone become Lord Mayor who is not first a liveryman of one of the companies. Most livery companies, including those founded in the modern period, will have passed through a stage when they were already accepted as companies (corporate bodies), but had not yet received a grant of livery. Two ancient companies, the Watermen & Lightermen and the Parish Clerks, have never received a grant of livery.
After the formation of the Fan makers in 1709, no new companies were formed for almost 200 years until the Master Mariners in 1926 (livery in 1932). There have been several since. Post-1709 companies are called modern livery companies. Formed in 1999, the Company of Security Professionals became the 108th Livery Company on 19th February 2008.
Ordinary members of livery companies are known as freemen. They become freemen (the technical phrase is “are admitted to the freedom”) by one of three means: apprenticeship to a member of the company, normally for seven years; patrimony, i.e. by right of legitimate birth after one’s father is already a member of the company; and purchase, known as “redemption”. Freemen of a company were then eligible to take up the totally separate freedom of the City of London, which in turn qualifies them for election to the company’s livery, or body of senior members. After that, liverymen can hope to be elected to the Court (governing body) of the company, and eventually to become Master of the company, normally for one year.
In the past, livery companies were responsible for the regulation of their trades, controlling, for instance, wages and labour conditions. Some livery companies such as the Goldsmiths continue to have a regulatory role today, while others have become inoperative except as social and charitable bodies. Those formed in recent years are usually both trade and charitable organizations.
Around forty companies still have a hall, where members and their guests can be entertained and company business transacted. The Merchant Taylors and Goldsmiths are among the earliest companies known to have possessed halls, as far back as the 14th century, and the Merchant Taylors have continued to occupy the same site in Threadneedle Street to the present day. Fragments of the medieval hall are still visible, incorporated into later fabric. Companies that do not have their own hall usually borrow another company's premises for social occasions.
In 1515, the Court of Aldermen of the City of London settled the order of precedence for the forty-eight livery companies then in existence. This was based on the companies' economic or political power. The first twelve companies became known as the Great Twelve, and included the Merchant Taylors. However, the Merchant Taylors and the Skinners have always disputed their exact precedence, so once a year (at Easter) they exchange sixth and seventh place. This is one possible origin of the phrase ‘at sixes and sevens’, although the phrase may well have been used earlier.
The “Great Twelve”, in order of precedence
The Worshipful Company of Mercers (general merchants)
The Worshipful Company of Grocers
The Worshipful Company of Drapers (wool and cloth merchants)
The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors (tailors) (alternates with the Skinners)
The Worshipful Company of Skinners (fur traders) (alternates with the Merchant Taylors)
The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
The Worshipful Company of Salters
The Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
The Worshipful Company of Vintners (wine merchants)
The Merchant Taylors' Company, or to give it the full name by which it is described in its royal charter of 1503, the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John Baptist in the City of London, is one of the twelve “Great” City livery companies surviving from mediaeval times.
The Guild was originally a religious and social fraternity founded before the beginning of the 14th century by an association of citizens who were tailors and linen- armourers. Linen-armourers made the padded tunics or gambesons worn under suits of armour. By virtue of various royal charters, commencing with that of Edward III in 1327, the functions and privileges of the guild were extended, and by c.1500 it controlled the trade. However, as many of its members ceased to be actual working tailors, and became instead general merchants trading with other parts of the world, so the position of the Company gradually changed too, so that by the end of the 17th century its connection with the tailoring trade had virtually ceased. It had become what it is today - an association of philanthropic and social character, devoting its energies to educational and charitable activities.
The history of the Merchant Taylors' Company is an integral part of the history of the City of London; it was upon fraternities of this kind - based on religion, the skills of their crafts, the initiative of their merchants and the humanity of their members - that the enterprise and the integrity for which the City has long been renowned were established.
The searchable database is derived from the List of Freemen of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, 1530-1928, compiled for the company c.1930 and now Guildhall Library Ms 34037/1-4. This contains a handwritten Introduction in the following words:
“This list is copied from the List of Freemen, 1530-1909 [now Guildhall Library Ms 34036/1-12], and has been extended to the end of 1928. A separate list of Honorary Freemen, 1351-1928, has been compiled [this has not been traced], but honorary freemen are included in this list also (described as admitted “by Presentation”). The sources for these are set out at the beginning of the separate list.
“The list from which this one is copied was compiled from the old Freemen's List, 1530-1909 (2 vols), begun in 1608 [now GL Ms 34035/1-2], and from the other sources set out in the following introductory notes to the later list.
“For the years 1530-1545 and 1557-1562 there are no records of admissions except the old Freemen's List, so the names for those years have not been checked with the original entries. With these exceptions, the records of admissions are contained in the following volumes.
Admissions to the Freedom Accounts 1545-1557, 1569-1625. Minutes of the Ordinary Courts 1562-1648. Presentment Books 1622-1909.
“The Court minutes and Presentment Books give the full date and, when the admission is by servitude, the name of the master, and when the admission is by patrimony, the father's name. From the year 1661, the occupation and place of residence of the freeman are usually given. The Accounts give the name of the freeman and, usually, the year only, but sometimes the full date. Freemen described here as admitted “Probably before 1545-6” have been found as presenting apprentices in the volume of Accounts for 1545-1557. In the case of admissions by servitude, the name of the father, with his occupation and place of residence, may be found in the Apprentice Books, which begin in 1583. Each volume contains an index, which in some cases is in two parts.
Admissions to the Livery Accounts 1545-157, 1569 onwards. Minutes of Courts of Assistants 1562-1654, 1663 onwards. Livery Roll 1667-1909 [this has been retained by the company].
“The Court minutes give the full date. From the year 1663, the occupation and place of residence are frequently given. The Accounts give the year only. The Livery Roll gives the full date, but is very imperfect for some years from 1667.
Admissions to the Court of Assistants Minutes of Courts of Assistants, 1562-1654, 1663 onwards. Livery Roll (this has “C.A.” against many names but no date.)
“The old Freeman's List does not give admissions to the Court and Livery. There are no records remaining of admissions to the Livery for the years 1530-1545; 1557-1562; and 1660-1663; and none of the admissions to the Court before 1562 and for the years 1654-1663. Some such admissions have been entered against the names of persons found mentioned as being on the Livery or Court subsequent to these gaps, but the date of admission cannot of course be given.
The dates in this List are given in the original entries, namely in the Old Style, the year beginning on March 25th, until after the year 1751.”
The original Index of Freemen consists of 4 volumes in alphabetical order:-
The index, and the searchable database, gives the name, date of freedom, method of admission (apprenticeship, patrimony or redemption), name of master if by apprenticeship, date of election to livery, and ‘Remarks’.
The Index 1530-1928 does not standardise the spelling of surnames, but rather gives each one in its original spelling. This means that the same surname can appear in many different forms, and therefore in different places in the alphabetical sequence, depending on the variation in each case. A search for a particular person on the CD therefore involves a certain amount of scrolling up and down the page, looking for variant spellings and possible likely entries in places other than one's starting point. In some instances, such as, for example, Bloggs/Blogges, the variants would appear pretty close to each other; in others, such as Smith/Smyth, they may be some way apart.
N.B. the company’s archives have been deposited at Guildhall Library, and company staff are therefore unable to answer enquiries about past members. Enquiries about access to the archives should be made to email@example.com.
Matthew Davies and Ann Saunders, The History of the Merchant Taylors’ Company (Maney, 2004)
CRH Cooper, “The Archives of the City of London Livery Companies and Related Organisations”, Archives, vol. XVI, no. 72 (October 1984), pp 323-53.
CM Clode, Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist, in the City of London: and of its Associated Charities and Institutions (1875) [NB the text of this volume is available on British History Online].
Merchant Taylors’ Company
Jim Sheppard - transcriber
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