The first part of Your Majesty's Commission relates to the circumstances of the
foundation of the Companies of the City of London, and is as follows:
"To inquire into all the Companies named in the second report of the Commission
appointed to inquire into Municipal Corporations in England and Wales, and into the
circumstances and dates of the foundation of such Companies, and the objects for which they
were founded, and how far those objects are now being carried into effect, and into any Acts
of Parliament, charters, trust deeds, decrees of court, or other documents founding, regulating,
or affecting the said Companies or any of them."
Number of Companies.
The "Companies named in the Second Report of the Commission appointed to
inquire into Municipal Corporations in England and Wales," are 89 in number,
12 great Companies, 77 minor Companies. Out of these latter (fn. 1) 13 proved to have
become extinct since the date of the Municipal Commissioners' Report, while 4 (fn. 2)
proved not to be "Livery Companies," and for this reason were outside the purview
of our inquiry.
History of the London Companies.
Roman "Collegia opificum."
The Mediæval Guilds in which the Companies of London had their origin, present
a close analogy to the "collegia opificum" which existed under the Roman Empire.
These were associations arising out of the urban life of the period, the primary objects
of which were common worship and social intercourse, the secondary objects the
protection of the trades against unjust taxes, and their internal regulation. They also
served as burial clubs, defraying the expenses of burial and funeral sacrifices for
deceased members, in some cases out of legacies left for that purpose. (fn. 3)
Were the guilds suggested by the "Collegia"?
It has been suggested that Mediæval Europe reverted to and borrowed this part of
the industrial organization of the Roman Empire, but the better opinion appears to be
that the mediæval guilds were not a relic of Roman civilization but an original
institution. (fn. 4)
Mr. Hallam's description of the mediæval guilds.
Mr. Hallam describes the guilds as (fn. 5) "fraternities by voluntary compact, to relieve
each other in poverty and to protect each other from injury. Two essential
characteristics belonged to them; the common banquet and the common purse.
They had also in many instances a religious, sometimes a secret, ceremonial to knit
more firmly the bond of fidelity . . . . . . They readily became connected
with the exercise of trades, with the training of apprentices, with the traditional
rules of art." A vast number of such fraternities existed throughout Europe during
the Middle Ages. Every hamlet had a guild of some kind. In the towns the guilds
were very numerous.
Social guilds and craft guilds.
The passage cited suggests a classification of the fraternities which has been adopted
by subsequent writers. The guilds have been divided into social or religious guilds,
and craft guilds. But the guilds of the former class, those which were not industrial
corporations, by no means limited their purposes to mutual relief and protection.
They showed much public spirit, and undertook public burdens of every kind. The
repairing of roads and bridges, the relief of pilgrims, the maintenance of schools and
almshouses, the periodical exhibition of pageants and miracle plays, are a few of the
objects which they promoted (fn. 6) .
(fn. 7) Another community differing from these, but which also was of importance
during the middle ages was the "guild merchant." It existed in the towns and was,
as compared with the craft guilds, an aristocratic body. The better opinion seems to
be that originally the "guild merchant" was an association of the owners of the land
on which the town was built, and of owners of estates in the neighbourhood. Many of
these patrician families carried on business in the towns, and for a considerable time
governed them through the guilds merchant. (fn. 8) Eventually, however, in every case
the aristocratic municipality had to give way, though sometimes not till after a long
and fierce struggle, to the general body of the citizens as represented by the more
plebeian craft guilds. In London the victory of the popular party had become assured
as early as the reign of Edward II.
Guilds merchant and craft guilds the origin of the municipalities.; Mr. Hallam's description
The guilds merchant and the craft guilds were thus the germ of the municipalities
of Europe. Speaking of the English communities from this point of view, Mr. Hallam
says: (fn. 9) "They are frequently mentioned in our Anglo-Saxon documents, and are the
basis of those corporations which the Norman kings recognized or founded. The
guild was, of course, in its primary character, a personal association; it was in the
state, but not the state; it belonged to the city without embracing all the citizens;
its purposes were the good of the fellows alone. But when the good was inseparable
from that of their little country, their walls and churches, the principle of voluntary
association was readily extended; and from the private guild, possessing already
the vital spirit of faithfulness and brotherly love, sprang the sworn community, the
body of citizens bound by a voluntary but perpetual obligation to guard each others'
rights against the thefts of the weak or the tyranny of the powerful."
The municipality of London and the livery companies.; Account given by the Bishop of Chester.
According to the Bishop of Chester, who has given the closest attention to the subject
of the origin of the municipal institutions of Europe, it is doubtful whether any primitive
merchant guild ever existed in London, and the process by which a popular form of
local government became established at the period just mentioned is obscure. There is
no doubt, however, that some of the corporations which are the subject of this inquiry
(some had existed before the Norman conquest), were, to a great extent, the instruments
through which the municipal independence of London was achieved. In the
following passage this learned historian describes the nature of the municipality of
London and the position of the guilds in relation to the municipality:—"During
the Norman period, London appears to have been a collection of small communities, manors, parishes, churchsokens, and guilds, held and governed in the usual
way: the manors descending by inheritance; the church jurisdictions exercised
under the bishop, the chapter, and the monasteries; and the guilds administered by
their own officers and administering their own property:—as holding in chief of the
King, the lords of the franchises, the prelates of the churches, and even the aldermen
of the guilds, where the guilds possessed estates, might bear the title of barons. It was,
for the most part, an aristocratic constitution, and had its unity, not in the
municipal principle, but in the system of the shire." (fn. 10)
State of English.
provincial guilds in fourteenth century. Returns to inquisition of Richard II. in 1388.
The early returns discovered by Mr. Toulmin Smith present a vivid picture of the
state of the social guilds and craft guilds of the provincial towns of England during
the fourteenth century. They are the answers of the guilds to an inquisition directed by
Richard 2nd and his Parliament sitting at Cambridge in 1388. Two writs were
ordered to be issued to the sheriff of each county, the first calling upon "the masters
and wardens of all guilds and brotherhoods" (social guilds) to send up to the King's
Council all details as to the foundation, statutes, and property of their guilds; the second
calling upon the "masters, wardens, and overlookers of all the mysteries and crafts"
( (fn. 11) craft guilds) to send up in the same way copies of their charters or letters patent.
These writs are in Latin. The returns are some in Latin, some in Norman-French,
some, a majority, in early English. (fn. 11)
Nature of the guilds.
(fn. 12) The provincial guilds of England in the reign of Richard 2nd seem to have been
associations of neighbours or of members of the same trade which assembled for the
purposes of common worship and feasting, and which served—to borrow the language
of modern life—as benefit societies and burial clubs. They were also private tribunals
for the settlement of disputes, and—the craft guilds—seminaries of technical
It has been computed that at this time there were about 40,000 such associations in
the provinces of England.
Women members as well as men.
From the mention of sisters in almost all the returns it may be inferred that women
were equally eligible with men for membership, and that they attended the masses
specially solemnized for the benefit of the associations, and their banquets.
The number of members varied indefinitely from a very few to 15,000. (fn. 13)
An oath of obedience to the ordinances was administered to each member as he or
Officers and servants.
The officers and servants consisted of an alderman, several stewards, a clerk, and a
dean or beadle.
The members met from once to four times a year, either in the guild hall or guild
house, if the guild possessed a hall or house, or at the houses of different members in
rotation. They arrived clad in a costume or livery, the colour and pattern of which
had been selected by the founders. At the meetings officers were appointed, new
brethren were admitted, and relief was voted. It does not appear whether all
the members were summoned for the transaction of ordinary business or whether
the aldermen or wardens and stewards practically themselves managed the affairs of
the guilds. After the business was over there was a common meal.
(fn. 14) On the "gild-day," i.e. generally the day of the saint to whom the guild was
dedicated (and nearly all the guilds were so dedicated), the brethren and sisters, arrayed
in their livery, and carrying candles, went in procession to church to hear mass performed
at an altar, the light before which was maintained by the guild. One of the ordinances
of many consisted in a special or "bidding" prayer which was said on this occasion,
and in some cases at the commencement of all the meetings of the fraternity. After
the conclusion of the mass alms were distributed to the poor by the stewards,
and the guild returned in procession to their hall to enjoy the chief banquet of the
Funerals and obits.
On a more sombre occasion too the brethren and sisters were seen in their livery,
viz., at the funerals of members, and at the performance of masses for the repose of
the souls of their dead. The guild provided the customary wax lights and the
An entrance fee, a fixed annual payment to the common purse, and dues to
the aldermen and officers were the contribution made by members to the funds of the
guild. In some guilds each member on joining had to undertake to leave the
guild a legacy at his decease. Many such legacies were left to the guilds, chiefly
of lands, where the guilds had licences in mortmain, as was commonly the case.
Usually these legacies were coupled with a condition that an obit should be annually
performed for the soul of the testator. The guilds themselves also invested their
savings in lands. Many of them by these means became large holders of real
Expenditure. Internal Expenditure. External expenditure. Relief of poverty. Religion. Education. Highways. Schools. Hospitals. Pageants.
The incomes of all the guilds were up to a certain point expended in much the
same way. The maintenance of the hall, the expense of the feasting, the payment of
salaries, the relief of poor members, and of the widows and orphans of poor members, the
finding of portions for poor maids, and the payments for funerals and obits were
the first purposes to which the common funds were applicable. The funds of the craft
guilds were secondarily applicable to trade purposes, such as the binding of apprentices,
loans to young men starting in business, the purchase of new receipts and inventions,
and the prevention of adulteration. Both the social and craft guilds also relieved the
poor, supplied the place of highway boards and bridge authorities, maintained churches,
endowed schools colleges and hospitals, and exhibited pageants, partly out of legacies
partly with the contributions of existing members.
Nature of the ordinances.
The rules of all the bodies were such as to inculcate respect for the law, commercial
honesty, and a high standard of conduct, together with kindness and consideration for
the brethren and sisters, and for the poor. They also breathe a spirit of very simple
Control by municipalities.
The urban craft guilds were subject to the jurisdiction of the municipal authorities.
Their regulations were liable to be declared void if inconsistent with the franchises and
liberties of the towns, and the mayors and town councils frequently issued precepts to
them with respect to the hours of labour, the methods of manufacture, the education of
apprentices, and the mutual relations of the different trades.
Double history (1) municipal (2) industrial and charitable, of the London companies.
The guilds of Norman London mentioned in the italicized parts of the above extract
from the work of the Bishop of Chester, were voluntary associations, precisely similar
to those provincial guilds which made the returns above analyzed. They have had
a double history, (1) a history in connection with the municipality of London, (2) a
domestic history, as industrial, mercantile, and charitable corporations.
Introduction of popular government.
1. By the time of Edward II., the government of London had assumed, partly in
consequence of the terms of the City's charters, partly as the result of civic revolutions,
a popular form, composed of both Anglo-Saxon and Norman elements, and substantially
indentical with the present constitution of the municipality. The old manorial jurisdictions had been swept away, a civic court of law had been established, and the servile
tenures had been replaced by "free burgage," the urban analogue of the rural free
soccage. (fn. 15)
Influence of the craft guilds in the movement.
(fn. 16) The craft guilds of London, which appear by this time to have absorbed the
"Knighten guild" and other similiar bodies, represented the popular party in the
contest, and in the result, substituted themselves, though for a short time only, for
the wards as the constituent parts of the municipality. The trades had at this time in
many cases their recognized quarters in the City, so that the temporary substitution of
the bodies which represented them for the wards still left the representation local.
This arrangement, however, lasted only till the next reign, when the machinery of
the wards, which survive to the present day, was revived, with the differences consequent upon the abolition of all feudal or semi-feudal privileges.
It is, as we conceive, no part of the duty which we owe to your Majesty under the
terms of your Majesty's Commission, to dissect the strange and composite constitution
of the municipality which was thus founded. That subject has been dealt with by the
Municipal Commission which was appointed by your Majesty's Royal predecessor King
William IV. in 1834, and by the City of London Commission which was appointed by
your Majesty in 1854, and is at present under the consideration of your Majesty's
It is only necessary that we should here state that (1) at the present day, notwithstanding the entire alteration in the constitution of the companies of London, which
is herein-after described, and notwithstanding the recommendations of the two abovementioned Commissions, the body called in those reports the "Common Hall," and
which is composed of members of the present Livery Companies, continues, jointly
with the Court of Aldermen, to elect the Lord Mayor and certain other civic functionaries; and that (2) from the time mentioned, which is five centuries ago, up to the
year 1835, membership of a city company continued to be a condition precedent to the
full citizenship of the City of London.
Present constitution existed prior to the incorporation of the companies.
2. As regards the domestic history of the companies as industrial mercantile and
charitable corporations, the early part is, according to the Bishop of Chester, (fn. 17) who has
carefully studied all the extant information, as difficult and obscure as the early part
of their municipal history. He believes that their present constitution, which is
herein-after described as involving three grades of membership, the court or governing body electing itself by co-optation, the livery, and the simple freemen, was
a departure from their original constitution, which may have involved a greater
measure of equality. The returns, though the archæological portions of several of
them are valuable, throw no light on this subject. The probability, however, seems to
be, that their present constitution, one obviously of great advantage to the Courts, has
existed since considerably before the reign of Edward III., in which, as it is well
known, they received their first charters. The distinction between the "twelve great"
and the minor companies seems to be of about equal antiquity.
Mayors members of the guilds.
A craftsman, a member of the Mercers' guild, became Mayor in 1214, and before
the end of the thirteenth century, the Mayors were always members of the craft guilds,
particularly (1) of the Mercers', Grocers,' and Goldsmiths' Companies, which were no
doubt from the earliest times full of wealthy merchants and shipowners; and (2) of
Companies such as the early Woolstaplers' and Sheermens' guilds which represented the
trade in wool and cloth. (fn. 18)
They became a municipal committee of trade and manufacture.
About a century after this period, having regard to the fact that the head men of
the guilds were generally aldermen of the corporation, and that the corporation
exercised, as Mr. Riley's collections show, a minute supervision over the trade and
manufactures of London, we regard the companies as having become in effect a Municipal Committee of trade and manufactures. (fn. 19)
Incorporated in the fourteenth century a State department.
Soon after they had arrived at this position they were incorporated, and thereupon
became, in our judgment, while retaining their position under the municipality, an
institution in the nature of a State Department for the superintendence of the trade and
manufactures of London.
In saying this, however, we do not forget the facts that the charters granted
frequently recognise (fn. 20) a religious character in the guilds, and that among the
corporate franchises banquets are in several instances enumerated. Also the terms of
several of these instruments refer to the relief of the poor members of the guilds in such
way as to show that a main object of the incorporation and of the grant of power to
hold land in mortmain was the maintenance of almshouses.
For instance the preamble of the Mercers' charter is as follows: "In consideration that several men of the mystery of mercery of the City of London (fn. 21) often
by misfortunes of the sea and other unfortunate casualties have become so impoverished
and destitute that they have little or nothing in consequence to subsist on unless from
the alms and assistance of the faithful."
The Grocers' charter grants to the wardens and commonalty of the mystery that
they may "acquire lands" in the City and its suburbs "to the value of twenty marks
per year, to have and hold to them and their successors towards the support of the
poor men of the said commonalty."
The Fishmongers' charter similarly contains a grant of power to hold land "for the
sustentation of the poor men and women of the said commonalty."
The Goldsmiths' charter recites that "many persons of that trade by fire and the smoke
of quicksilver had lost their sight and that others of them by working in that trade
became so crazed and infirm that they were disabled to subsist but of relief from others;
and that divers of the said city compassionating the condition of such were disposed
to give and grant divers tenements and rents in the said city to the value of twenty
pounds per annum to the company of the said craft towards the maintenance of the said
blind, weak, and infirm."
Occasional absence of benevolent clauses.
Some of the charters do not contain clauses of this benevolent kind; but during
this period, a religious or benevolent object may generally be presumed as regards
Long before their incorporation, the guilds had held land, the sites of their halls
and almshouses and other real property, houses, shops, and warehouses.
Custom of City with respect to devise of "free burgage" lands.
The tenure in time became "free burgage." as herein-before described. An
incident of this tenure, and an important one as regards the Companies of the City,
was that it supplied the means of going beyond licences in mortmain. By the
custom of the City, public bodies could accept lands held by citizens in free burgage
and devised to them while so held without any limitation as to amount. The Companies appear to have become large purchasers of lands under the fiction of holding
them by devise in free burgage. A Company found the money and had the land
purchased and conveyed to trustees in trust to convey it to some one person in trust to
devise it to the company by his will. The association then obtained the purchased
land under the will of the nominee of their nominees (fn. 22) .
Legacies for religious and benevolent purposes, some internal, some external, were
early bequeathed to the guilds of London. The large trust estate, which is herein-after
described, dates from the 14th century. It for some time constituted, in conjunction
with the monastic and parochial endowments of the City, an organization of eleemosynary and educational charity, which was of great importance in the absence of a
poor law and State education.
The works of the Bishop of Chester, Mr. Green, and Mr. Froude, illustrate the industrial
and mercantile history of the Companies down to the Tudor period. By their charters and
byelaws, and also by grants from the municipality of London, between the Crown and
which there was much jealousy, the Companies obtained (1) monopolies, and (2) powers
of search. They assumed to prevent non-members from trading and manufacturing, and
they visited shops, manufactories, and houses for the purpose of testing wares, which
were required by Act of Parliament, municipal precepts, or their own private regulations, to be of a certain standard or quality. They also enforced a strict system of
seven years' apprenticeship.
London, a great manufacturing town, as well as a great port.
London was during all this time a great manufacturing town, in or near which
clothworking, the smelting of iron, the making of armour and bows, the working of
silk and leather, the manufacture of the precious metalś, and other minor industries
were practised with much success. It was also the chief port of Northern Europe,
and as all the merchants of the staple were members of the guilds, and corresponded
with the merchants of the staple in the provincial towns and on the continent, there
can be little doubt that the halls of the guilds were practically exchanges. The
leading members seem also to have given advice to the Privy Council as to the mercantile
policy of the Crown.
The heads of the industrial guilds were the principal capitalists or dealers, those of
the mercantile guilds, the principal merchants and shipowners.
Throughout the period, the State and the Municipality sought to regulate not only
the manufactures and commerce of London, but also the wages, habits, and even the
dress of the citizens to a degree not always consistent with personal liberty, and this
system of statutes and precepts was to a great extent administered through the agency
of the Companies. Artizans and tradesmen who made or sold bad articles were tried
by the wardens, and if found guilty, were punished by the civic power, or occasionally
by distresses levied by the Companies themselves.
As early, however, as the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., in which the first
charters are dated, the mediæval theory of status as the basis of the relations of
master and servant and of employer and employed was being gradually undermined as
villeinage disappeared, and the reformation began to make progress. From the time
of their incorporation, therefore, the guilds, which had their origin in an earlier
conception of society, appear to have excited the hostility of the artizans of
London (fn. 23) (fn. 24) . It is also obvious that the constitution of the guilds was only suited to a
limited area, to the inspection of factories and shops in one street or one quarter, so
that the spread of London beyond its walls and the growth of the great suburbs,
particularly those of Westminster and Southwark, must have seriously interfered with
their efficiency as superintendents of production. The later charters generally extend
the local limits of the trade control, in order to meet this difficulty (fn. 25) . Moreover the
monopolies and the power of search which the guilds derived from the Crown or the
Municipality, were of doubtful legality, and therefore liable to be resisted. (fn. 26)
Time of commencement of decadence.
These causes, probably from the earliest times, seriously crippled the guilds in the
capacity of a State Department and Municipal Committee, which we have ventured to
attribute to them. By the commencement of the Tudor period, in the opinion of
Mr. Froude, as given in the early pages of his history, they had become, to a great
extent, an obsolete institution as regards trade superintendence.
Cessation of control over trades.
They continued to receive charters at the beginning of every reign for a long
time after this date. Indeed, similar bodies were founded in the provinces as late as the
time of Charles II., (fn. 27) and the term of apprenticeship sanctioned by the London and
provincial guilds, viz., seven years, was adopted in an Act of 1662, which was not
repealed till 1814. (fn. 28)
Their attendance at Bartholemew and Southwark fairs was in some instances not
discontinued till a comparatively recent time, and, besides those statutable chartered
or customary functions which are herein-after mentioned, there were some privileges,
such as the charge of the City Beam by the Grocers' Company, and the superintendence
of Blackwell Hall by the Drapers' Company, which were continued after the guilds
had ceased to represent the trade and commerce of London. The date at which they
definitely ceased to do so, may be fixed at the Restoration.
Importance of Companies up to commencement of present century.
For a long time, however, after this period, these bodies were an important element
in the City. The wealthy bankers, merchants, and shipowners who traded in the City
had houses there, and belonged to the Companies. The commencement of the present
century is the approximate date of the cessation of the connection of the Companies
in this respect with the City.
State and civic burdens.
Some of our number consider it important to state what is undoubtedly the fact,
that during the Plantagenet and Tudor periods, and during those of the Rebellion, the
Commonwealth and the Restoration, the Companies, probably because they constituted
a convenient division of the citizens for purposes of taxation, were forced to contribute
large sums to the national exchequer, chiefly for the purpose of defraying the expenses
of wars, and that, under a custom of the City which has long been obsolete, they were
at one time bound to lend money to the municipality with which to purchase corn and
coals for the poor in times of scarcity.
Effects of (1) the Reformation; (2) the Great Fire; (3) the conquest of Ireland.
Three great events have exercised an important influence on the history of the
Companies, viz. (1) the Reformation, (2) the fire of London, (3) the conquest of
Restoration of confiscated lands.
(1.) In the course of the suppression of the religious houses, many lands held by the
Companies to superstitious uses, such as the performance of masses for the dead, and the
maintenance of chauntries, were confiscated. The Companies were, however, allowed
to redeem the lands, on a representation that they were required for the purposes of
the eleemonysary and educational charities of which they were trustees. (fn. 29)
Effects of the fire.
(2.) The halls, almshouses, and house property of the Companies suffered severely in
the fire. Its effects for a time greatly impoverished them, and large sums were raised
by the governing bodies for rebuilding.
Colonization of Ulster.
(3.) At the time of the colonization of Ulster, the Companies were compelled to
purchase and undertake the settlement of a large tract of country in the county of
Growth of estate.
The growth of the great estate which is hereinafter described, has been gradual
ever since the twelfth century. The Companies have been purchasers of land in the
City of London and elsewhere under licences in mortmain, or the custom above referred
to and many hundreds of legacies of land, or of money to be converted into land,
have been left to them for charitable purposes. Their wealth has probably increased
with each century, but the chief increase has no doubt taken place during the
present century, and as a consequence of the great recent rise in the value of house
property in the City of London.
Effects of patrimony.
It is right that we should here state that for many centuries with rare exceptions the
Companies have never consisted exclusively of craftsmen. Patrimony, which causes
the freedom of a company to descend to all the lawful issue, male and female, of a
freeman, has always been a recognized mode of admission. (fn. 30)
Suggestion as to villeinage.
It has been suggested to us that these corporations, by their power of admitting
to their "freedom," were one of the causes of the disappearance of villeinage. There
is no doubt that the custom of the towns by which freedom was obtained by means
of residence for a year and a day within the walls was along with manumission and
the growth of the copyhold tenure an instrument of enfranchisement, and that this
custom obtained in London; but the Bishop of Chester, whom we have consulted, is of
opinion that the influence exercised by the Companies of London was not in this respect
Provincial and Continental Guilds.
Provincial and continental guilds.
We have now to state the results of our inquiry into (1) the provincial guilds of
England, (2) the guilds of continental countries.
(1.) It is certain that of the 40,000 communities which are alleged to have existed in the
provincial towns and rural districts of England during the middle ages, only a very few
survive. Many were of course monasteries, nunneries or chauntries; these were suppressed,
and their lands were confiscated at the Reformation. Many again, though not altogether
clerical institutions, for instance, schools or hospitals, were so connected with the
dissolved orders or had so much property settled to superstitious uses, that they perished
along with the monasteries. (fn. 31) But there can be no doubt that a considerable number
survived the Reformation.
Effect of confiscation at the Reformation to place provincial towns at a disadvantage compared with London.
The Bishop of Chester, speaking of these provincial bodies and of the action of the
Government at the Reformation, says, that "the confiscation of the guild property together
with the hospitals, was one unquestionable cause of the growth of town pauperism. The
extant regulations and the accounts show how this duty was carried into effect; no
doubt there was much self-indulgence and display, but there was also effective relief;
the charities of the great London companies are a survival of a system which was once in
full working order in every market town."
The Bishop of Chester is no doubt right in saying that the loss of the land settled to
superstitious uses seriously injured the provincial companies; but it does not appear that
all the property of the guilds in these towns was confiscated, (fn. 32) and there is evidence
that one company at least was allowed to redeem confiscated lands (fn. 33) in the same
way as the City companies redeemed theirs. Their halls also are not likely to have
been held to superstitious uses.
Guilds of Bristol, Coventry, Newcastle, Norwich, York.
In the histories of some of the old towns of England, an account, though not a
full one, is to be found of their early guilds. We have caused these to be examined in
the cases of (1) Bristol, (2) Coventry, (3) Newcastle-on-Tyne, (4) Norwich, (5) York.
In these five towns there existed upwards of 150 guilds, corporations exactly in every
way resembling the London Companies, and some of them, such as the Merchants'
Company of York, the Merchant Adventurers' Company of Newcastle, the Merchant
Adventurers' Company of Bristol, and the guild of St. George of Norwich, bodies
of great dignity and opulence. These guilds have all disappeared, except the Merchant
Adventurers' Company of Newcastle, the Merchant Adventurers' Company of Bristol,
which has, at this day, a large amount of house property at Clifton, and a few
insignificant companies containing only a few members.
There are traces in the local histories (fn. 34) of the existence of many of these bodies up
to a period long after the Reformation, indeed, till the middle of the last century, or
later, (fn. 35) of sales by them of their halls, (fn. 36) of transferences of their almshouses, (fn. 37) and
of sales of their estates, particularly houses, (fn. 38) as the number of members decreased.
Sales of halls and houses and division of proceeds. Cases of Serjeants' Inn and Doctors' Commons.
We assume that the surviving members divided the proceeds of these sales, as,
according to the view of the law which is taken by some authorities, they were entitled
to do, unless they held the property subject to some trust. A similar course has been
taken in London by Serjeants' Inn, Doctors' Commons, and Clement's Inn. So too the
few surviving members of one of the ancient guilds of Newcastle recently obtained an
order from the Master of the Rolls to divide the remaining property and dissolve the
These were cases in which there was no trust estate; but many corporations, which
were trustees of charities appear to have dissolved without making provision for the
future maintenance of their charities. (fn. 39)
Dissolution of London guilds.
It seems not improbable that some of the London guilds may have been thus dissolved.
We have been informed that at the time of the revival of the Needlemakers' Company,
the number of members had become very small, and that, but for the influx of new
members, the survivors might have divided the assets. But we have not met with any
actual instance of a London Company so dissolving itself.
Continental guilds. France.
(2.) We have obtained information through the Foreign Office and otherwise as to
the history of the guilds of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany,
Austria, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and Turkey.
Two learned archæologists, Mons. Pigeonneau, Professor at the Sorbonne, and
Mons. Levasseur of the French Institute, have been kind enough to send us interesting
communications on the subject of the French guilds. These gentlemen, like the
English and German antiquarians, adopt the classification of the mediæval companies
into merchant guilds, of which they choose the Parisian company of Mercers
as an example, and craft guilds. We learn from them that all such bodies in
France were suppressed during the third year of the Revolution, 1791. They had
existed from a period prior to the 12th century. They were reorganised by Colbert
in 1673, and their suppression was attempted by Turgot prior to the Revolution, during
his short ministry in 1776. They were very numerous. At the Revolution, 50 still
existed in Paris. They possessed halls, almshouses, and chapels, but not much other
real property. Their funds consisted chiefly of accumulations of dues and fines, and
during the eighteenth century they had become impoverished. At their suppression,
their property was devoted to State purposes, but compensation was in some instances
paid to existing members. Patrimony appears to have entered, though to a limited
extent, into the composition of the French guilds.
In Belgium the guilds were suppressed, and their property was confiscated, during
the French Revolution in 1794. (fn. 40)
In the Netherlands the trade guilds were suppressed in 1798; their property was
vested in commissioners. In 1820 the municipalities were directed to sell the property
and hold it in trust for the relief of indigent members of the suppressed corporations
and for that of the poor of the communes. (fn. 41)
In Switzerland many of the trade guilds still exist under the names of "abbayes" or
"zünfte," and have, especially, it is believed, at Berne, considerable real property.
Some have dissolved, either dividing the estate among the survivors, or applying it to
public purposes, particularly education. (fn. 42)
In Germany, under the "Gewerbe-Ordnung" of 1869, an Act depriving the
ancient guilds of their privileges, placing them under communal or state control, and
rendering them incapable of acquiring land without the consent of the communal
authority, the communities began rapidly to disappear. An Act of 1878 reversed the
policy of the "Gewerbe-Ordnung," and in 1881 an Act was passed for the encouragement
of the guilds. They have now power "to create industrial schools, to make rules for
advancing the technical education of masters and journeymen, to establish a system
of examinations, to create tontine and sick and invalid funds, and to appoint
tribunals of arbitration." (fn. 43)
In Austria-Hungary the "Innungen" (trade guilds) were abolished, and their
monopolies were repealed by a law of 1859. The Act establishes in their stead
"Genossenschaften" local bodies, representing the master manufacturers and the
journeymen—bodies apparently in the nature of trade councils and tribunals of
arbitration, and having in some cases technical schools attached to them. The
Act provides for the sale of the halls of the "Innungen" and for the payment of the
proceeds, after payment of the debts of the suppressed bodies, to the Genossenschaften. (fn. 44)
Norway and Sweden.
In Norway and Sweden the old trade corporations, which are described as having
been a serious drawback to the development of the native industries, were dissolved
in 1846. (fn. 45)
In Italy, (fn. 46) the ancient guilds, with a few exceptions, were abolished during
the present century, before the union of the kingdom. After the union in 1878 and
1879 Acts were passed abolishing all monopolies, but in these Acts provision is made
for the regulation of certain trades by the municipalities, and for "institutions of
mutual assistance," i.e., benefit societies in connection with such trades. (fn. 47)
In Spain many of the mediæval craft guilds, "Gremios," still exist. Their
rules as to apprenticeship were cancelled in 1836, but they were not dissolved, and
still survive as benefit societies and trade councils. They possess halls or houses of
meeting, but no other real property. (fn. 48)
In Portugal the craft guilds were suppressed in 1834. They appear to have possessed
little real property. (fn. 49)
Russia and Turkey.
In Russia and Turkey, two backward countries, there are at the present day many
institutions resembling the craft guilds of the middle ages. (fn. 50)
These foreign guilds more exclusively craft guilds than the London Companies.
In all these countries the guilds seem to have been much more exclusively associations
of members of trades than was ever the case with the London Companies.
Present condition of the London Companies.
Present condition of London Companies.
Thus while in the provinces of England the craft guilds have almost disappeared, and
while many of those on the Continent have been suppressed or reorganized by the
State, the guilds of London have continued in existence, and have never been interfered
with in any way by the Legislature (except indeed as regards the appointment of the
Charity Commission and of the Endowed Schools Commission, to which we hereafter
refer). The condition in which, with few exceptions, they have been allowed to continue in existence, apart from the administration of their trusts, has been, at all events
for the last two centuries, that of societies, in some instances very richly endowed,
the only purposes of which have been entertainments and benevolence.
Legal position of Companies.
It has been suggested to us that the Companies' charters, which seem to contemplate
a continuous connection between the guilds and their trades, might be cancelled by
process of law, on the ground of the cesser of this connection; but we are advised,
and we should be surprised if it were otherwise, that the trade franchises, i.e., the
monopolies and powers of search, are separable from the other corporate franchises,
and that, although it might be possible for the Crown to seize the former in an action
of Quo Warranto, the non-user of them at the present time would not be held to
avoid the charters altogether, and the incorporation of the Companies as social
communities and benefit societies under their more recent charters would be held
to continue good.
Statutable and customary present powers of the Companies.
As regards powers conferred by statute upon the Companies or at present exercised
by them by virtue of custom or in reliance on the terms of their charters, we humbly
report to Your Majesty as follows:
1. The Fishmongers' Company, relying on its charters but without authority by any
statute, appoints and pays "fish meters" who attend at Billingsgate Market, examine
the fish offered for sale there, and condemn any which may be proved to be unsound.
The company defrays the expense of deodorizing and removing the fish thus
The Fishmongers' Company also discharges the duty of prosecuting offenders against
the provisions of "The Fisheries (Oyster, Crab, and Lobster) Act," 40 & 41 Vict. c. 42.,
with respect to the sale of undersized fish or of fish during "close time."
2. The Goldsmiths' Company, under the Acts 12 Geo. 2. c. 26. (an Act obtained at
the instance of the company themselves) and 7 & 8 Vict. c. 22, are empowered to
assay and mark plate, and to prosecute persons who in any part of England sell plate
requiring to be marked which is below standard or who forge the company's marks or
utter wares bearing counterfeit marks.
Also under the Coinage Act of 1870 provision is made for an annual trial of the
pyx, and this trial, in accordance with a practice which has prevailed since the reign
of Edward 1st, takes place at the Goldsmiths' Hall.
3. The freemen of the Vintners' Company who have become such by patrimony or by
apprenticeship, and the widows of such freemen, enjoy by custom the right of selling
foreign wines without a licence throughout England.
The Company of Vintners also, by virtue of an ancient custom, employ a staff of
"tackle porters," who unload wines at the London Docks.
Vintners' and Dyers' Companies.
4. The Vintners' and Dyers' Companies are by ancient custom associated with the
Crown as joint protectors of the swans of the Thames.
Society of Apothecaries.
5. The Society of Apothecaries have powers under the Apothecaries Act, 1815, and the
Apothecaries' Act Amendment Act, 1874, to examine candidates for licences to practise
as apothecaries, to confer such licences, and to recover penalties from persons so
practising without licence.
The society also maintains extensive chemical and pharmaceutical laboratories in
connection with its hall, and keeps up a botanical garden in Chelsea, in respect of which
it employs a botanical demonstrator to give instruction in botany.
6. The Founders' Company stamp weights under the Acts 5 & 6 Will. IV. c. 63, and
41 & 42 Vict. c. 49, s. 67.
7. The Gunmakers' Company has a proof house in London, and has powers under
the Gun Barrel Act, 1868 (31 & 32 Vict. c. 113.) for enforcing the proving and
marking of guns, pistols, and small arms, and the prosecution of offenders against
8. The Scriveners' Company, under the Act 41 Geo. 3. c. 69. s. 13., conducts an
examination for admission to the office of a notary, and can prevent any person
practising as such who has not passed such examination.
9. The Stationers' Company, which consists exclusively of craftsmen, maintains a
register of all publications under the authority of the Copyright Act of 1842. This
Company also carries on in its corporate capacity the trade of a publisher, its principal
publications being Almanacs.
The [Eranoi]] and [Phiasoi]] of the Greeks, which have been compared to the mediæval guilds, were distinctly
religious communities, not in any way craft guilds, as is shown by Professor Newton, of the British Museum,
from the evidence of inscriptions in his "Essays on Archæology," pp. 170, 171.