Records of the Cordwainers and Glovers.
IN the Middle Ages, Cardiff, like
other towns, possessed Guilds of
various kinds, of which the most
important were those of the merchants and traders. The Guilds
were associations by which men
banded themselves together for the
protection of common interests and
the furtherance of common aims,
and may be regarded as the benefit
clubs and trade unions of mediæval
times. They had a highly developed
system of rules, to the observance
of which the members were bound
under definite penalties, and a complete governmental and administrative organisation centering in a Master and two or more Wardens.
Besides its primary object of protecting a particular trade, the Guild
partook largely of a religious character, having its chaplain and its
chapel or, at least, its altar in the parish church. The Guild
meetings were devoted in the first instance to religious exercises,
next to business, and then to conviviality. It is held by competent
authorities, that municipal corporations had their origin in merchant
Guilds, and we are not without evidence that this was the case at
King Edward II., on the same day that he gave a Charter to
Cardiff, namely 4 March 1323/4, granted rights and privileges "to
the burgesses of the arts or crafts of Cordwainers and Glovers of
the town of Cardiff and to their successors for ever." This grant
was confirmed by Edward III. in the year 1359/60, and subsequently
by various Lords of Glamorgan. A new confirmation was given by
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, on 25 March 1444, ratified by Queen
Elizabeth in 1589.
Hugh le Despenser's Charter of 1340 to the Town of Cardiff has
these words: "Nor shall anyone keep an open stall of any merchandise,
nor a shop, nor make a 'Corf' in Our aforesaid Vill, unless they
lot and scot with Our aforesaid Burgesses and (he) be received in
the Guild of their liberty." (Vol. I., p. 25.) The reader must not
be confused by the faulty composition of the original Latin (ib., p. 21),
here literally translated, which mixes the singular and plural terminations of the verbs. The meaning is clearly that the qualification for
a retail trader in the town of Cardiff is his " lot and scot" and reception into the Guild Merchant. The Welsh word "Corf" (corff or
corph, from Latin corpus) seems to imply a trade union of subordinate
rank to the great Guild of the Burgesses, apparently referred to in
the next sentence: "Also We have granted unto Our same Burgesses
that they and their heirs may make a Guild among themselves, at
what time and whenever they will, for their own profit."
After exercising, during the course of several centuries, an
influence over the municipal life of our borough which partook of the
nature of a benevolent despotism, the Guilds were suppressed by
King Henry VIII. as institutions of a religious character, and their
belongings swept into the Royal coffers. There can be no doubt that
they owed their downfall to the wealth accumulated in the course of
their long existence. A statement of the lands and possessions of the
Cardiff Guilds will be found in Vol. II., p. 296, including their vestments and plate in the two parish churches. From my Abstract of
Burgage Tenements, given in Vol. I., p. 226, may be seen the number
of burgages held by the various Guilds. The two most important of
these associations were the Guilds of Holy Trinity and Saint Mary,
who held 16¼ and 16½ burgages respectively. Saint Mary's seems to
have been the Cordwainers' Guild, and probably Holy Trinity was
the Guild of Glovers. If the early history of these two could be
discovered, it would doubtless prove of very great interest; but the
older records probably disappeared at the Reformation, with the rest
of the Guilds' portable property. The Cordwainers and Glovers were
involved in some dispute with the law officers of King Edward VI.
concerning their property at Cardiff, and this brings us to a very
interesting bit of local history.
In 1550 six members of the Guild were indicted for forcibly
taking possession of Saint Peryn's Chapel in the parish of Saint John,
Cardiff, of right belonging to the King. By another Indictment the
Bailiffs of Cardiff were charged with (inter alia) holding the King's
said chapel, to the prejudice of his Crown and dignity. There is
nothing to show the upshot of these proceedings; but, although it
might have been supposed that in those days such a dispute could
only terminate in favour of the Sovereign, it would seem that the
result was otherwise, at all events so far as concerned the Guild's
possession of the chapel—for it remained in their hands for 250 years
Not the least valuable service rendered to history by the two
documents which record these proceedings is that of enabling us to
fix the exact site of the ancient Chapel of Saint Piran, referred to by
Giraldus Cambrensis (fn. 1) as having been visited by King Henry II. on
his way home from Ireland in 1172. This venerable sanctuary, we
are now able to state, was identical with the Shoemakers' Hall, which
stood in the lane called after it Shoemaker Street. It would seem
that, at the Reformation, Saint Peryn's Chapel was transformed into
the Guild Hall of the Cordwainers and Glovers. Probably they were
accustomed to hold their religious meetings in it. It is clear that
the Guild took over the chapel against the will of the Sovereign;
and it is difficult to understand how this association of traders,
powerful as it doubtless was, contrived to hold its own and
prolong its existence under circumstances which wrought the almost
complete destruction of such institutions throughout the country. It
is indeed remarkable that, in a remote provincial town, any Guild
should have survived the Reformation; yet the amalgamated associations of the Cordwainers and Glovers of Cardiff preserved their
corporate existence down to the 19th century.
The charters constituting and confirming the privileges of this
Guild (or these Guilds) are known by a translation made in the 17th
century, which is now among the Fonmon Castle muniments, with the
latest Minute Books and papers of the Masters and Brethren. In
1861 all these were in the possession of Thomas Dalton, esq., Clerk
of the Peace for the County of Glamorgan; and in April of that year
some extracts, incorrectly printed, appeared in the Cardiff and Merthyr
As above stated, the Guild was by Edward II. endued with the
usual privileges of a chartered trades-guild, confirmed by subsequent
Sovereigns and by various Lords. Those privileges may be briefly
summarised as follows:—
A Guild Hall.
Two Masters and two Wardens.
Exclusive trade rights.
Power to impose fines.
Turning to the Registers or Minute Books of the Company (as in
later times it was called) of Cordwainers and Glovers, we find a form
of oaths for the Masters and Wardens, written about the year 1630,
with a list of Journeymen of the same date; but the regular entries
do not begin till 1663. The Minutes refer to such business as
freedoms, fines, moneys spent in conviviality at meetings of the
Brethren, and the costs of legal proceedings undertaken in defence
of their trade rights. These documents form a most interesting
record of the gradual decline and final extinction of what had been
a rich and powerful Trades Guild.
In 1589, in 1664, and finally in 1783, there are signs of attempts
to infuse new life into the venerable Guild, but the spirit of the age
was increasingly unfavourable to its existence. In 1798 the Brethren
granted their Hall to Mr. John Wood for ninety-nine years. From
1801 to 1806 there was no election of either Masters or Wardens;
and the end came when, in the latter year, the last elected Masters,
John Hussey and John Bird, shoemakers, with three other Brethren,
sold the fee simple of the Shoemakers' Hall to Mr. Wood for the sum
of £28 2s. 6d. With that record ends the history of the Guild of
Cordwainers and Glovers of the Town of Cardiff, which had existed
for five hundred years.
The reader should not overlook the deed defining the respective
rights of the Cordwainers and the Glovers in the corporate property.
The Glovers, like the Cordwainers, chose an annual Master, and each
trade admitted distinct members into their common corporation.
This accounts for the appointment of two Masters and two Wardens;
the senior or first named being the head of the Cordwainers, and
the other of the Glovers. The Glovers were allowed their share in
the use of the Hall, for a yearly rent of five shillings every Michaelmas; while the profits of the Hall, and the quarterage money of the
Journeymen Cordwainers, were to belong to the senior craft. All
the other profits of the united Guilds were to belong to both in
Numerous allusions to the Shoemakers' Hall will be found in
the course of the present work. Thus, the Survey of 1666 describes
it as a "house called Shoemakers' Hall," and states that the burgage
rent of the premises is unknown. Its situation is there given as
in the thoroughfare which runs from "St John's Church to Shoemaker's Street End." (fn. 1) The actual spot was off the south side of
Duke Street, towards the western end of the lastnamed thoroughfare. Its foundations were in 1861 covered by the office of the
Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian. At the present time (1901), a
narrow passage still runs up for a short distance from Duke Street,
between the shops of Mr. McLay (late Jones) and Mr. Colle, in a
south-easterly direction. This is all that remains of what used to
be the important thoroughfare known as Shoemaker Street, which
formerly came out into Saint John's Square, between Mr. Solomon
Andrews' fruit shop and Messrs. Fulton and Dunlop's premises.
This lane was gradually rendered impassable, and was finally built
across, not very many years ago.
Shoemakers' Hall was wholly or partly built of timber, with
shops on the ground floor, and an upper storey overhanging the
footway and supported upon posts. Before 1777 it had fallen into
great decay, and was so neglected as to have become a receptacle
for the ashes and filth of the neighbourhood. In this state it was in
1806 purchased of the expiring Company by Mr. Wood, whose
descendants in 1861 still held the property. After the purchase,
the ruins were demolished, the printing-house was built upon the
site, and Saint Peryn's Chapel and Shoemakers' Hall alike passed
into the realm of intangible history.
It may not be out of place here to remark upon so curious a
dedication for a Cardiff chapel as this in the name of the patron saint
of Cornwall. It is possible that Saint Piran, Peryn, or "Perran"
(as he is called by Cornishmen) may have had some associations
with Glamorgan that have long been forgotten. As Saint Ciaran,
or Kieran, this early Celtic missionary is well known in Ireland;
while in Cornwall Saint Piran has always been regarded not only
as the patron of the Royal Duchy but also as the special protector
of tinners. The reason for his commemoration by the dedication of
a chapel in the town of Cardiff has yet to be explained.
In the Middle Ages, Spanish leather was called "cordovan," from
Cordova. From this was derived the term "cordwain," meaning
goat-skin tanned and dressed, and "cordwainer" or "cordiner"
(corruptly "cordwinder"), a worker in cordwain, a shoemaker. The
French cordonnier has the same origin. Cordinarius was the LawLatin equivalent. The use of the term "cordwainer" gradually died
out in the first half of the 19th century.