Review of our beadle-led visit to Merchant Taylors’ Hall: a guest post by London Historians Member Steve Cook.
It was a cold day but a warm welcome from Beadle Kevin McGetrick at Merchant Taylors’ Hall on Friday 16th January. The Hall has occupied the same site on Threadneedle Street since 1397 and – despite the Great Fire and the Blitz – still boasts its original medieval stone walls, most clearly visible in the spectacular double height kitchens (definitely up to modern catering standards but still essentially medieval, complete with a witch’s seat) and again in the crypt of St. Martin Outwich beneath the beadle’s office. On the walls of the reception area are two ‘Pall Clothes’, last used at the time of the Stuarts to cover the coffin at a Master’s funeral. Irreplaceable and therefore priceless, but still insured for £100 thousand apiece.
Originally ‘The Fraternity of St John the Baptist’ (the Baptist continues to be the Company’s patron saint) the Company received its first royal charter in 1327 being incorporated by a royal charter of 1408 as ‘The Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers’. The ‘linen armour’ being the gambersons or padded clothes worn beneath metal armour. ‘The Company of Merchant Taylors’ came into being with the royal charter of 1503 and since 1484 the Company has ranked sixth (normally in odd numbered years) or seventh (in even numbered years) among the Great Twelve, alternating with the Skinners at Easter. Despite their earlier rivalry, we were assured that relationships now are cordial and co-operative. the Hall
Like the company itself, the hall has undergone many changes since its medieval foundation.
The magnificent Dining Hall, Parlour and Drawing Room are part of the post-war reconstruction. The Dining Hall is still the same structure as it was before the Great Fire and the mahogany panelling that conceals the medieval stonework is said to have been obtained immediately after the war – at very reasonable rates – from the Bank of England. (Between them Peter Twist and the Beadle concluded that it is probably the taller than any other livery company’s dining hall!). Despite its height, the hall is overlooked by the King’s Gallery, named for James I who was kept separate from his subjects below, either to save him from the smell of them [vice-versa probably! – Ed], or to protect them from the sight of James trying to eat around his over-sized tongue. Either way, the Gallery was subsequently glazed so that the occupants could see – and be seen by – the diners below.
The 18th-century Chinese wallpaper in the Drawing Room was purchased at auction in 1957, still in its original export boxes! Ingeniously, it isn’t pasted onto the walls but mounted on removable panels.
The Court Room boasts two Company crests, one Catholic, topped by a virgin and child; the other Protestant , topped by the lamb in glory.
The cloister was enclosed as recently as 1927, without apparent detriment to the delightful courtyard it surrounds.
It is thought that there have been no working tailors in membership since the end of the 17th century. The Company is now a social and charitable organisation with a powerful interest in education.
Merchant Taylors’ School, founded in 1561 by Richard Hilles, Master of the Company, now a fee-paying public school educating 800 boys is the best-known foundation; but the Company also has interests in schools in Crosby, Wallingford, Ashwell, Wolverhampton, Foyle and Edinburgh. The charities that currently enjoy support from the Company continue the education theme: Killforce which uses ex-military instructors and largely practical training exercises to help students attain recognised qualifications; Westside School an ‘Alternative Provision Free School’ for young people excluded from a mainstream school or who are at risk of exclusion; support for the bursary programme at Pembroke College Cambridge; and XLP, a Church of England based youth project that works right in the heart of some of the most divided communities in Inner London.
At the end of our tour there was little to do other than thank Kevin, Mike and Augusta; and reflect on the thought that the Company’s motto “Concordia Parvae Res Crescunt” (“In Harmony Small Things Grow”) might just as well apply to London Historians!
There are much nicer photos than mine of this event on LH Member Andrea Liu’s Flickr album, here.
Livery Halls are one of our main themes of 2015. The idea is that we’ll visit at least one a month. Next up is Cutlers’ Hall on 24th February. You can book places via Eventbrite here.