CHEAPSIDE TRIBUTARLES, NORTH (continued).
Milk Street—Sir Thomas More—The City of London School—St. Mary Magdalen—Honey Lane—All Hallows' Church—Lawrence Lane and
St. Lawrence Church—Ironmonger Lane and Mercers' Hall—The Mercers' Company—Early Life Assurance Companies—The Mercers'
Company in Trouble—Mercers' Chapel—St. Thomas Acon—The Mercers' School—Restoration of the Carvings in Mercers' Hall—The
Glories of the Mercers' Company—Ironmonger Lane.
In Milk Street was the milk-market of Mediæval
London. That good and wise man, Sir Thomas
More, was born in this street. "The brightest
man," says Fuller, with his usual quaint playfulness, "that ever shone in that via lactea." More,
born in 1480, was the son of a judge of the
King's Bench, and was educated at St. Anthony's
School, in Threadneedle Street. He was afterwards
placed in the family of Archbishop Morton, till he
went to Oxford. After two years he became a barrister, at Lincoln, entered Parliament, and opposed
Henry VII. to his own danger. After serving
as law reader at New Inn, he soon became an
eminent lawyer. He then wrote his "Utopia,"
acquired the friendship of Erasmus, and soon after
became a favourite of Henry VIII., helping the
despot in his treatise against Luther. On Wolsey's
disgrace, More became chancellor, and one of the
wisest and most impartial England has ever known.
Determined not to sanction the king's divorce,
More resigned his chancellorship, and, refusing to
attend Anne Boleyn's coronation, he was attainted
for treason. The tyrant, now furious, soon hurried
him to the scaffold, and he was executed on Tower
Hill in 1535.
This pious, wise, and consistent man is described
as having dark chestnut hair, thin beard, and grey
eyes. He walked with his right shoulder raised,
and was negligent in his dress. When in the Tower,
More is said to have foreseen the fate of Anne
Boleyn, whom his daughter Margaret had found
filling the court with dancing and sporting.
"Alas, Meg," said the ex-chancellor, "it pitieth
me to remember to what misery poor soul she
will shortly come. These dances of hers will
prove such dances that she will sport our heads
off like foot-balls; but it will not be long ere her
head will dance the like dance."
It is to be lamented that with all his wisdom,
More was a bigot. He burnt one Frith for denying the corporeal presence; had James Bainton, a
gentleman of the Temple, whipped in his presence
for heretical opinons; went to the Tower to see him
on the rack, and then hurried him to Smithfield.
"Verily," said Luther, "he was a very notable
tyrant, and plagued and tormented innocent Christians like an executioner."
The City of London School, Milk Street, was
established in 1837, for the sons of respectable persons engaged in professional, commercial, or trading
pursuits; and partly founded on an income of
£900 a year, derived from certain tenements bequeathed by John Carpenter, town-clerk of London,
in the reign of Henry V., "for the finding and
bringing up of four poor men's children, with meat,
drink, apparel, learning at the schools, in the universities, &c., until they be preferred, and then
others in their places for ever." This was the same
John Carpenter who "caused, with great expense, to
be curiously painted upon a board, about the north
cloister of Paul's, a monument of Death, leading
all estates, with the speeches of Death, and answers
of every state." The school year is divided into
three terms—Easter to July; August to Christmas;
January to Easter; and the charge for each pupil
is £2 5s. a term. The printed form of application
for admission may be had of the secretary, and must
be filled up by the parent or guardian, and signed
by a member of the Corporation of London. The
general course of instruction includes the English,
French, German, Latin, and Greek languages,
writing, arithmetic, mathematics, book-keeping,
geography, and history. Besides eight free
scholarships on the foundation, equivalent to
£35 per annum each, and available as exhibitions to the Universities, there are the following
exhibitions belonging to the school:—The "Times"
Scholarship, value £30 per annum; three Beaufoy
Scholarships, the Solomons Scholarship, and the
Travers Scholarship, £50 per annum each; the
Tegg Scholarship, nearly £20 per annum; and
several other valuable prizes. The first stone of
the school was laid by Lord Brougham, October
21st, 1835. The architect of the building was Mr.
J. B. Bunning, of Guildford Street, Russell Square,
and the entire cost, including fittings and furniture,
was nearly £20,000. It is about 75 feet wide in
front, next Milk Street, and is about 160 feet long;
it contains eleven class-rooms of various dimensions,
a spacious theatre for lectures, &c., a library, committee-room, with a commodious residence in the
front for the head master and his family. The
lectures, founded by Sir Thomas Gresham, on divinity, astronomy, music, geometry, law, physics, and
rhetoric, which upon the demolition of Gresham
College had been delivered at the Royal Exchange
from the year 1773, were after the destruction of
that building by fire, in January, 1838, read in the
theatre of the City of London School until 1843;
they were delivered each day during the four Law
Terms, and the public in general were entitled
to free admission.
In Milk Street stood the small parish church of
St. Mary Magdalen, destroyed in the Great Fire.
It was repaired and beautified at the charge of the
parish in 1619. All the chancel window was built
at the proper cost of Mr. Benjamin Henshaw,
Merchant Taylor, and one of the City captains.
This church was burnt down in the Great Fire,
and was not rebuilt. One amusing epitaph has
"Here lieth the body of Sir William Stone, Knt.
"As the Earth the
Earth doth cover,
So under this stone
Sir William Stone,
Who long deceased,
Ere the world's love
So much it loved him,
For they say,
He answered Death
Before his day;
But, 'tis not so;
For he was sought
Of One that both him
Made and bought.
The Great Lord's Treasurer,
Who called for him
At his pleasure,
And received him.
Yet be it said,
Earth grieved that Heaven
So soon was paid.
"Here likewise lyes
Inhumed in one bed,
The well-beloved wife
Of this remembered Knight;
Whose souls are fled
From this dimure vale
To everlasting life,
Where no more change,
Nor no more separation,
Shall make them flye
From their blest habitation.
Grasse of levitie,
Span in brevity,
Fire of misery,
"Honey Lane," says good old Stow, "is so called
not of sweetness thereof, being very narrow and small
and dark, but rather of often washing and sweeping
to keep it clean." With all due respect to Stow,
we suspect that the lane did not derive its name
from any superlative cleanliness, but more probably
from honey being sold here in the times before sugar
became common and honey alone was used by
cooks for sweetening.
On the site of All Hallows' Church, destroyed
in the Great Fire, a market was afterwards established.
"There be no monuments," says Stow, "in this
church worth the noting; I find that John Norman, Maior, 1453, was buried there. He gave to
the drapers his tenements on the north side of the
said church; they to allow for the beam light and
lamp 13s. 4d. yearly, from this lane to the Standard.
"This church hath the misfortune to have no bequests to church or poor, nor to any publick use.
"There was a parsonage house before the Great
Fire, but now the ground on which it stood is swallowed up by the market. The parish of St. Maryle-Bow (to which it is united) hath received all
the money paid for the site of the ground of the
All Hallows' Church was repaired and beautified
at the cost of the parishioners in 1625.
Lawrence Lane derives its name from the church
of St. Lawrence, at its north end. "Antiquities," says
Stow, "in this lane I find none other than among
many fair houses. There is one large inn for receipt of travellers, called 'Blossoms Inn,' but corruptly 'Bosoms Inn,' and hath for a sign 'St. Lawrence, the Deacon,' in a border of blossoms or
flowers." This was one of the great City inns set
apart for Charles V.'s suite, when he came over to
visit Henry VIII. in 1522. At the sign of "St.
Lawrence Bosoms" twenty beds and stabling for
sixty horses were ordered.
The curious old tract about Bankes and his
trained horse was written under the assumed names
of "John Dando, the wier-drawer of Hadley, and
Harrie Runt, head ostler of Besomes Inne," which
is probably the same place.
St. Lawrence Church is situate on the north side
of Cateaton Street, "and is denominated," says
Maitland, "from its dedication to Lawrence, a
Spanish saint, born at Huesca, in the kingdom of
Arragon; who, after having undergone the most
grievous tortures, in the persecution under Valerian,
the emperor, was cruelly broiled alive upon a gridiron, with a slow fire, till he died, for his strict adherence to Christianity; and the additional epithet
of Jewry, from its situation among the Jews, was
conferred upon it, to distinguish it from the church
of St. Lawrence Pulteney, now demolished.
"This church, which was anciently a rectory,
being given by Hugo de Wickenbroke to Baliol
College in Oxford, anno 1294, the rectory ceased;
wherefore Richard, Bishop of London, converted the
same into a vicarage; the advowson whereof still
continues in the same college. This church sharing
the common fate in 1666, it has since been beautifully rebuilt, and the parish of St. Mary Magdalen,
Milk Street, thereunto annexed." The famous Sir
Richard Gresham lies buried here, with the following inscription on his tomb:—
"Here lyeth the great Sir Richard Gresham, Knight, some
time Lord Maior of London; and Audrey, his first wife, by
whom he had issue, Sir John Gresham and Sir Thomas
Gresham, Knights, William and Margaret; which Sir Richard
deceased the 20th day of February, An. Domini 1548, and
the third yeere of King Edward the Sixth his Reigne, and
Audrey deceased the 28th day of December, An. Dom. 1522."
There is also this epitaph:—
"Lo here the Lady Margaret North,
In tombe and earth do lye;
Of husbands four the faithfull spouse,
Whose fame shall never dye.
One Andrew Franncis was the first,
The second Robert hight,
Surnamed Chartsey, Alderman;
Sir David Brooke, a knight,
Was third. But he that passed all,
And was in number fourth,
And for his virtue made a Lord,
Was called Sir Edward North.
These altogether do I wish
A joyful rising day;
That of the Lord and of his Christ,
All honour they may say.
Obiit 2 die Junii, An. Dom. 1575."
In Ironmonger Lane, inhabited by ironmongers
temp. Edward I., is Mercers' Hall, an interesting
The Mercers, though not formally incorporated
till the 17th of Richard II. (1393), are traced back
by Herbert as early as 1172. Soon afterwards
they are mentioned as patrons of one of the great
London charities. In 1214, Robert Spencer, a
mercer, was mayor. In 1296 the mercers joined
the company of merchant adventurers in establishing in Edward I.'s reign, a woollen manufacture in England, with a branch at Antwerp. In
Edward II.'s reign they are mentioned as "the
Fraternity of Mercers," and in 1406 (Henry I.) they
are styled in a charter, "Brothers of St. Thomas
Mercers were at first general dealers in all small
wares, including wigs, haberdashery, and even spices
and drugs. They attended fairs and markets, and
even sat on the ground to sell their wares—in fact,
were little more than high-class pedlers. The poet
Gower talks of "the depression of such mercerie."
In late times the silk trade formed the main feature
of their business; the greater use of silk beginning
The mercers' first station, in Henry II.'s reign,
was in that part of Cheap on the north side where
Mercers' Hall now stands, but they removed soon
afterwards higher up on the south side. The part
of Cheapside between Bow Church and Friday
Street became known as the Mercery. Here, in
front of a large meadow called the "Crownsild,"
they held their little stalls or standings from Soper's
Lane and the Standard. There were no houses
as yet in this part of Cheapside. In 1321 William
Elsgup, a mercer, founded an hospital within Cripplegate, for 100 poor blind men, and became prior
of his own institution.
In 1351 (Edward III.), the Mercers grew jealous
of the Lombard merchants, and on Midsummer Day
three mercers were sent to the Tower for attacking two Lombards in the Old Jewry. The mercers
in this reign sold woollen clothes, but not silks.
In 1371, John Barnes, mercer, mayor, gave a chest
with three locks, with 1,000 marks therein, to
be lent to younger mercers, upon sufficient pawn
and for the use thereof. The grateful recipients were
merely to say "De Profundis," a Pater Noster, and
no more. This bequest seems to have started
among the Mercers the kindly practice of assisting
the young and struggling members of this Company.
In the reign of Henry VI. the mercers had
become great dealers in silks and velvets, and had
resigned to the haberdashers the sale of small articles
of dress. It is not known whether the mercers
bought their silks from the Lombards, or the London silk-women, or whether they imported them
themselves, since many of the members of the Company were merchants.
Twenty years after the murder of Becket, the
murdered man's sister, who had married Thomas
Fitz Theobald de Helles, built a chapel and hospital
of Augustine Friars close to Ironmonger Lane,
Cheapside. The hospital was built on the site of
the house where Becket was born. He was the son
of Gilbert Becket, citizen, mercer and portreve of
London, who was said to have been a Crusader, and
to have married a fair Saracen, who had released
him from prison, and who followed him to London,
knowing only the one English word "Gilbert." The
hospital, which was called "St. Thomas of Acon,"
from Becket's mother having been born at Acre,
the ancient Ptolemais, was given to the Mercers'
Fraternity by De Hilles and his wife, and Henry
III. gave the master and twelve brothers all the
land between St. Olave's and Ironmonger Lane,
which had belonged to two rich Jews, to enlarge
their ground. In Henry V.'s reign that illustrious
mercer Whittington, by his wealth and charity, reflected great lustre on the Mercers' Company, who
at his death were left trustees of the college and
almshouses founded by the immortal Richard on
College Hill. The Company still preserve the
original ordinance of this charity with a curious
picture of Whittington's death, and of the first
three wardens, Coventry, Grove, and Carpenter.
In 1414, Thomas Falconer, mercer and mayor,
lent Henry V., towards his French wars, ten marks
In 1513, Joan Bradbury, widow of Thomas Bradbury, late Lord Mayor of London, left the Conduit
Mead (now New Bond Street), to the Mercers'
Company for charitable uses. In pursuance of the
King's grant on this occasion, the Bishop of Norwich
and others granted the Mercers' Company 29 acres
of land in Marylebone, 120 acres in Westminster,
and St. Giles, and St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, of
the annual value of £13 6s. 8d., and in part satisfaction of the said £20 a year. The Company still
possess eight acres and a half of this old gift,
forming the north side of Long Acre and the adjacent streets, one of which bears the name of the
Company. Mercer Street was described in a parliamentary survey in 1650 to have long gardens
reaching down to Cock and Pye Ditch, and the
site of Seven Dials. In 1544 the three Greshams
(at the time the twelve Companies were appealed
to) lent Henry VIII. upon mortgaged lands £1,673
6s. 8d. In 1561, the wardens of the Mercers' Company were summoned before the Queen's Council
for selling their velvets, satins, and damasks so dear,
as English coin was no longer base, and the old
excuse for the former high charges was gone. The
Mercers prudently bowed before the storm, promised
reform, and begged her Majesty's Council to look
after the Grocers. At this time the chief vendors of
Italian silks lived in Cheapside, St. Lawrence Jewry,
and Old Jewry.
During the civil wars both King and Parliament
bore heavily on the Mercers. In 1640 Charles I.
half forced from them a loan of £3,030, and in
1642 the Parliament borrowed £6,500, and arms
from the Company's armoury, valued at £88. They
afterwards gave further arms, valued at £71 13s. 4d.,
and advanced as a second loan £3,200. The result
now became visible. In 1698, hoping to clear off
their debts, the Mercers' Company engaged in a
ruinous insurance scheme, suggested by Dr. Assheton, a Kentish rector. It was proposed to grant
annuities of £30 per cent. to clergymen's widows
according to certain sums paid by their husbands.
THE "SWAN WITH TWO NECKS, "LAD LANE (see page 374).
"Pledging the rents of their large landed estates
as security for the fulfilment of their contracts with
usurers, the Mercers entered on business as life
assurance agents. Limiting the entire amount of
subscription to £100,000, they decided that no
person over sixty years of age should become a
subscriber; that no subscriber should subscribe
less than £50—i.e., should purchase a smaller contingent annuity than one of £15; that the annuity
to every subscriber's widow, or other person for
whom the insurance was effected, should be at the
rate of £30 for every £100 of subscription. It
was stipulated that subscribers must be in good
and perfect health at the time of subscription. It
was decided that all married men of the age of
thirty years or under, might subscribe any sum from
£50 to £1,000; that all married men, not exceeding
sixty years of age, might subscribe any sum not less
than £50, and not exceeding £300. The Company's prospectus further stipulates 'that no person
that goes to sea, nor soldier that goes to the wars,
shall be admitted to subscribe to have the benefit
of this proposal, in regard of the casualties and
accidents that they are more particularly liable to.'
Moreover, it was provided that 'in case it should
happen that any man who had subscribed should
voluntarily make away with himself, or by any act
of his occasion his own death, either by duelling,
or committing any crime whereby he should be
sentenced to be put to death by justice; in any or
either of these cases his widow should receive no
annuity, but upon delivering up the Company's
bond, should have the subscription money paid
"The Mercers' operations soon gave rise to more
business-like companies, specially created to secure
the public against some of the calamitous consequences of death. In 1706, the Amicable Life
Assurance Office—usually, though, as the reader
has seen, incorrectly, termed the First Life Insurance Office—was established in imitation of the
Mercers' Office. Two years later, the Second
Society of Assurance, for the support of widows
and orphans, was opened in Dublin, which, like the
Amicable, introduced numerous improvements upon
Dr. Assheton's scheme, and was a Joint-Stock Life
Assurance Society, identical in its principles with,
and similar in most of its details to, the modern
insurance companies, of which there were as many
as one hundred and sixty in the year 1859."
CITY OF LONDON SCHOOL.
Large sums were subscribed, but the annuities
were fixed too high, and the Company had to sink
to 18 per cent., and even this proved an insufficient
reduction. In 1745 they were compelled to stop.
and, after several ineffectual struggles, to petition
The petition showed that the Mercers were
indebted more than £100,000. The annuities
then out amounted to £7,620 per annum, and the
subscriptions for future amounts reached £10,000
a year; while to answer these claims their present
income only amounted to £4,100 per annum.
The Company was therefore empowered by Act of
Parliament, 4 George III., to issue new bonds and
pay them off by a lottery, drawn in their own hall.
This plan had the effect of completely retrieving
their affairs, and restoring them again to prosperity.
Strype speaks of the mercers' shops situated on
the south side of Cheapside as having been turned
from mere sheds into handsome buildings four or
five storeys high.
Mercers' Hall and Chapel have a history of
their own. On the rough suppression of monastic
institutions, Henry VIII., gorged with plunder,
granted to the Mercers' Company for £969 17s. 6d.
the church of the college of St. Thomas Acon,
the parsonage of St. Mary Colechurch, and sundry
premises in the parishes of St. Paul, Old Jewry,
St. Stephen, Walbrook, St. Martin, Ironmonger
Lane, and St. Stephen, Coleman Street. Immediately behind the great doors of the hospital and
Mercers' Hall stood the hospital church of St.
Thomas, and at the back were court-yards, cloisters,
and gardens in a great wide enclosure east and
west of Ironmonger Lane and the Old Jewry.
St. Thomas's Church was a large structure, probably rich in monuments, though many of the
illustrious mercers were buried in Bow Church, St.
Pancras, Soper Lane, St. Antholin's, Watling Street,
and St. Benet Sherehog. The church was bought
chiefly by Sir Richard Gresham's influence, and Stow
tells us "it is now called Mercers' Chappell, and
therein is kept a free grammar school as of old time
had been accustomed." The original Mercers'
Chapel was a chapel toward the street in front of
the "great old chapel of St. Thomas," and over it
was Mercers' Hall. Aggas's plan of London (circa
1560) shows it was a little above the Great Conduit
of Cheapside. The small chapel was built by Sir
John Allen, mercer and mayor (1521), and he was
buried there; but the Mercers removed this tomb
into the hospital church, and divided the chapel
into shops. Grey, the founder of the hospital, was
apprenticed to a bookseller who occupied one of
these shops, and after the Fire of London he himself carried on the same trade in a shop which was
built on the same site. Before the suppression,
the Mercers only occupied a shop of the present
front, the modern Mercers' Chapel standing, says
Herbert, exactly on the site of part of the hospital
The old hospital gate, which forms the present
hospital entrance, had an image of St. Thomas à
Becket, but this was pulled down by Elizabethan
fanatics. The interior of the chapel remains unaltered. There is a large ambulatory before it supported by columns, and a stone staircase leads to
the hall and court-rooms. The ambulatory contains the recumbent figure of Richard Fishborne,
Mercer, dressed in a fur gown and ruff. He was
a great benefactor to the Company, and died in
1623 (James I.).
Many eminent citizens were buried in St.
Thomas's, though most of the monuments had
been defaced even in Stow's time. Among them
were ten Mercer mayors and sheriffs, ten grocers
(probably from Bucklersbury, their special locality),
Sir Edward Shaw, goldsmith to Richard III.,
two Earls of Ormond, and Stephen Cavendish,
draper and mayor (1362), whose descendants were
ancestors of the ducal families of Cavendish and
William Downer, of London, gent., by his last
will, dated 26th June, 1484, gave orders for his
body to be buried within the church of St. Thomas
Acon's, of London, in these terms:—"So that every
year, yearly for evermore, in their foresaid churche,
at such time of the year as it shal happen me to
dy, observe and keep an obyte, or an anniversary
for my sowl, the sowles of my seyd wyfe, the sowles
of my fader and moder, and al Christian sowles,
with placebo and dirige on the even, and mass of
requiem on the morrow following solemnly by note
Previous to the suppression, Henry VIII. had
permitted the Hospital of St. Thomas of Acon,
which wanted room, to throw a gallery across Old
Jewry into a garden which the master had purchased, adjoining the Grocers' Hall, and in which
Sir Robert Clayton afterwards built a house, of
which we shall have to speak in its place. The
gallery was to have two windows, and in the
winter a light was ordered to be burned there for
the comfort of passers-by. In 1536, Henry VIII.
and his queen, Jane Seymour, stood in the Mercers'
Hall, then newly built, and saw the "marching
watch of the City" most bravely set out by its
founder, Sir John Allen, mercer and mayor, and
one of the Privy Council.
In the reign of James I., Mercers' Chapel became
a fashionable place of resort; gallants and ladies
crowded there to hear the sermons of the learned
Italian Archbishop of Spalatro, in Dalmatia, one of
the few prize converts to Protestantism. In 1617
we look in and find among his auditors the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the
Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, and Lords Zouch
and Compton. The chapel continued for many
years to be used for Italian sermons preached to
English merchants who had resided abroad, and
who partly defrayed the expense. The Mercers'
School was first held in the hospital and then removed to the mercery.
The present chapel front in Cheapside is the
central part alone of the front built after the Great
Fire. Correspondent houses, five storeys high,
formerly gave breadth and effect to the whole mass,
Old views represent shops on each side with unsashed windows. The first floors have stone
balconies, and over the central window of each
room is the bust of a crowned virgin. It has a
large doorcase, enriched with two genii above, in
the act of mantling the Virgin's head, the Company's
cognomen displayed upon the keystone of the arch.
Above is a cornice, with brackets, sustaining a small
gallery, from which, on each side, arise Doric
pilasters, supporting an entablature of the same
order; between the intercolumns and the central
window are the figures of Faith and Hope, in
niches, between whom, in a third niche of the entablature, is Charity, sitting with her three children.
The upper storey has circular windows and other
The entrance most used is in Ironmonger Lane,
where is a small court, with offices, apparently the
site of the ancient cloister, and which leads to the
principal building. The hall itself is elevated as
anciently, and supported by Doric columns, the
space below being open one side and forming an
extensive piazza, at the extremity whereof is the
chapel, which is neatly planned, wainscoted, and
paved with black and white marble. A high flight
of stairs leads from the piazza to the hall, which is
a very lofty apartment, handsomely wainscoted
and ornamented with Doric pilasters, and various
carvings in compartments.
In the hall, besides the transaction of the Company's business, the Gresham committees are held,
which consist of four aldermen, including the Lord
Mayor pro tempore, and eight of the City corporation, with whom are associated a select number
of the assistants of the Mercers. In this hall also
the British Fishery Society, and other corporate
bodies, were formerly accustomed to hold their
The chief portraits in the hall are those of Sir
Thomas Gresham (original), a fanciful portrait of
Sir Richard Whittington, a likeness of Count
Tekeli (the hero of the old opera), Count Panington; Dean Colet (the illustrious friend of Erasmus,
and the founder of St. Paul's school); Thomas
Papillon, Master of the Company in 1698, who
left £1,000 to the Company, to relieve any of
his family that ever came to want; and Rowland
Wynne, Master of the Company in 1675. Wynne
gave £400 towards the repairing of the hall after
the Great Fire.
In Strype's time (1720), the Mercers' Company
gave away £3,000 a year in charity. In 1745 the
Company's money legacies amounted to £21,699
5s. 9d., out of which the Company paid annually
£573 17s. 4d. In 1832, the lapsed legacies of
the Company became the subject of a Chancery
suit; the result was that money is now lent to
liverymen or freemen of the Company requiring
assistance in sums of £100, and not exceeding
£500, for a term, without interest, but only upon
The present Mercers' School, which is but lately
finished, is a very elegant stone structure, adjoining
St. Michael's Church, College Hill, on the site of
Whittington's Almshouses, which had been removed
to Highgate to make room for it.
The school scholarship is in the gift of the
Mercers' Company, and it must not be forgotten
that Caxton, the first great English printer, was a
member of this livery.
Subsequently to the Great Fire, says Herbert,
there was some discussion with Parliament on rebuilding the Mercers' School on the former site of
St. Mary Colechurch. That site, however, was
ultimately rejected, and by the Rebuilding Act, 22
Charles II. (1670), it was expressly provided that
there should be a plot of ground, on the western
side of the Old Jewry, "set apart for the Mercers'
School." Persons who remember the building,
says Herbert, describe it whilst here as an oldfashioned house for the masters' residence, with
projecting upper storeys, a low, spacious building
by the side of it for the schoolroom, and an area
behind it for a playground, the whole being situate
on the west side of the Old Jewry, about forty yards
The great value of ground on the above spot, and
a desire to widen, as at present, the entrance to the
Old Jewry, occasioned the temporary removal of
the Mercers' School, in 1787, to No. 13, Budge
Row, about thirty yards from Dowgate Hill (a
house of the Company's, which was afterwards
burnt down). In 1804 it was again temporarily
removed to No. 20, Red Lion Court, Watling
Street; and from thence, in 1808, to its present
situation on College Hill. The latter premises
were hired by the Company, at the rent of £120,
and the average expense of the school was
£677 1s. 1d. The salary of the master is £200,
and £50 gratuity, with a house to live in, rent and
taxes free. Writing, arithmetic, and merchant's accounts were added to the Greek and Latin classics,
in 1804; and a writing-master was engaged, who
has a salary of £120, and a gratuity of £20, but
no house. There are two exhibitions belonging to
With the Mercers' Hospital, in the Middle Ages,
many curious old City customs were connected.
The customary devotions of the new Lord Mayor, at
St. Thomas of Acon Church, in the Catholic times,
identify themselves in point of locality with the
Mercers' Company, and are to be ranked amongst
that Company's observances. Strype has described
these, from an ancient MS. he met with on the
subject. The new Lord Mayor, it states, "after
dinner," on his inauguration day (the ceremony
would have suited much better before dinner in
modern days), "was wont to go from his house to
the Church of St. Thomas of Acon, those of his
livery going before him; and the aldermen in like
manner being there met together, they came to the
Church of St. Paul, whither, when they were come,
namely, in the middle place between the body of
the church, between two little doors, they were
wont to pray for the soul of the Bishop of London.
William Norman, who was a great benefactor to
the City, in obtaining the confirmation of their
liberties from William the Conqueror, a priest
saying the office De Profundis (called a dirge);
and from thence they passed to the churchyard,
where Thomas à Becket's parents were buried, and
there, near their tomb, they said also, for all the
faithful deceased, De Profundis again. The City
procession thence returned through Cheapside
Market, sometimes with wax candles burning (if it
was late), to the said Church Sanctæ Thomæ, and
there the mayor and aldermen offered single pence,
which being done, every one went to his home."
On all saints' days, and various other festivals,
the mayor with his family attended at this same
Church of St. Thomas, and the aldermen also,
and those that were "of the livery of the mayor,
with the honest men of the mysteries," in their
several habits, or suits, from which they went to
St. Paul's to hear vespers. On the Feast of
Innocents they heard vespers at St. Thomas's, and
on the morrow mass and vespers.
The Mercers' election cup, says Timbs, of early
sixteenth century work, was silver-gilt, decorated
with fret-work and female busts; the feet, flasks;
and on the cover is the popular legend of an
unicorn yielding its horn to a maiden. The whole
is enamelled with coats of arms, and these lines—
"To elect the Master of the Mercerie hither am I sent,
And by Sir Thomas Leigh for the same intent."
The Company also possess a silver-gilt wagon
and tun, covered with arabesques and enamels, of
sixteenth century work. The hall was originally
decorated with carvings; the main stem of deal,
the fruit, flowers, &c., of lime, pear, and beech.
These becoming worm-eaten, were long since removed from the panelling and put aside; but they
have been restored by Mr. Henry Crace, who thus
describes the process:—
"The carving is of the same colour as when
taken down. I merely washed it, and with a
gimlet bored a number of holes in the back, and
into every projecting piece of fruit and leaves on
the face, and placing the whole in a long trough,
fifteen inches deep, I covered it with a solution
prepared in the following manner:—I took sixteen
gallons of linseed oil, with 2 lbs. of litharge, finely
ground, 1 lb. of camphor, and 2 lbs. of red lead,
which I boiled for six hours, keeping it stirred,
that every ingredient might be perfectly incorporated. I then dissolved 6 lbs. of bees'-wax in a
gallon of spirits of turpentine, and mixed the whole,
while warm, thoroughly together.
"In this solution the carving remained for twentyfour hours. When taken out, I kept the face
downwards, that the oil might soak down to the
face of the carving; and on cutting some of the
wood nearly nine inches deep, I found it had
soaked through, for not any of the dust was blown
out, as I considered it a valuable medium to form
a substance for the future support of the wood.
This has been accomplished, and, as the dust
became saturated with the oil, it increased in bulk,
and rendered the carving perfectly solid."
The Company is now governed by a master, three
wardens, and a court of thirty-one or more assistants. The livery fine is 53s. 4d. The Mercers'
Company, though not by any means the most
ancient of the leading City companies, takes precedence of all. Such anomalous institutions are the
City companies, that, curious to relate, the present
body hardly includes one mercer among them. In
Henry VIII.'s reign the Company (freemen, householders, and livery) amounted to fifty-three persons;
in 1701 it had almost quadrupled. Strype (1754)
only enumerates fifty-two mayors who had been
mercers, from 1214 to 1701; this is below the
mark. Halkins over-estimates the mercer mayors
as ninety-eight up to 1708. Few monarchs have
been mercers, yet Richard II. was a free brother,
and Queen Elizabeth a free sister.
Half our modern nobility have sprung from the
trades they now despise. Many of the great
mercers became the founders of noble houses; for
instance—Sir John Coventry (1425), ancestor of the
present Earl of Coventry; Sir Geoffrey Bullen,
grandfather of Queen Elizabeth; Sir William Hollis,
ancestor of the Earls of Clare. From Sir Richard
Dormer (1542) sprang the Lords Dormer; from
Sir Thomas Baldry (1523) the Lords Kensington
(Rich); from Sir Thomas Seymour (1527) the Dukes
of Somerset; from Sir Baptist Hicks, the great
mercer of James I., who built Hicks' Hall, on
Clerkenwell Green, sprang the Viscounts Camden;
from Sir Rowland Hill, the Lords Hill; from James
Butler (Henry II.) the Earls of Ormond; from Sir
Geoffrey Fielding, Privy Councillor to Henry II.
and Richard I., the Earls of Denbigh.
The costume of the Mercers became fixed about
the reign of Charles I. The master and wardens
led the civic processions, "faced in furs," with
the lords; the livery followed in gowns faced with
satins, the livery of all other Companies wearing
facings of fringe.
"In Ironmonger Lane," says Stow, giving us a
glimpse of old London, "is the small parish church
of St. Martin, called Pomary, upon what occasion
certainly I know not; but it is supposed to be of
apples growing where now houses are lately builded,
for myself have seen the large void places there."
The church was repaired in the year 1629. Mr.
Stodder left 40s. for a sermon to be preached on
St. James's Day by an unbeneficed minister, in
commemoration of the deliverance in the year 1588
(Armada); and 50s. more to the use of the poor of
the same parish, to be paid by the Ironmongers.