Trade card of Phillip Hunt, cabinet maker at ‘ye Looking Glas & Cabinet’ at the east end of St Pauls Church yd, c. 1690 (British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Heal Collection Ref. 28.104). <http://www.britishmuseum.org/collection>, British Museum, online [accessed 17 October 2016].
We are delighted to announce the launch of the first phase of the English Furniture Makers Online project (EFMO), a collaboration between the Furniture History Society and the Centre for Metropolitan History. The first phase of the project, generously funded by the Furniture History Society (as part of their 50th anniversary appeal) marks the beginning of a larger research project to investigate the nature and historical contexts of the artisans and craftsmen involved in the English furniture trade in the period 1600–1900. The wider project will combine scholarly research with advanced digital resource creation to enhance our understanding of the industry – the patronage, commissions, designs, production and methods of retailing in the period – and then to make the sources and analysis available to a broad audience. This audience will be made up of groups with varied interests, but will include furniture historians, architectural historians, social, economic and cultural historians, museum curators, as well as collectors and the commercial market.
At the heart of the wider project is the 1987 publication of the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers (DEFM). Digitising this resource, and making it available with a sophisticated interrogative user interface to allow rich interaction and detailed analysis, will mark a significant advancement in the study of English furniture makers and the trade in its own right. However it is proposed that a second phase of the project will build upon the work of the DEFM with new scholarship that has emerged in the thirty years since its publication, and with new archival and material research that has been identified in recent years.
The study of English furniture was originally conceived as an adjunct to art history at the beginning of the twentieth century. The subject has conventionally been approached through object-based examinations with the primary aim of establishing provenance. This methodology depends on the survival of labelled artefacts or documentary evidence which links objects to particular makers and consequently limits the examination to rare survivals, most of which are attributed to tradesmen at the top of the furniture-making hierarchy. This project will include furniture makers across the spectrum, from cabinetmakers who supplied royal households to humble artisans at the opposite end of the supply chain.
The Restoration is an era considered to have witnessed the birth of modern English furniture and London furniture makers were at the heart of this innovation. Furniture historians often argue that the single most important cause for this advancement was the jubilant restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The story goes that an influx of continental craftsmen came to London following Charles II’s return from exile and brought inspiration to the capital’s artisanal communities after the turbulent years of the civil wars and the dour, joyless decade of the Commonwealth. There is clearly some truth to this interpretation as the return of the king and his court certainly benefited the decorative arts financially: the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts document substantial payments to various types of craftsmen to rebuild and refurnish royal palaces. This had an effect on the wider community. Middling sorts were keen to emulate the social habits and lifestyles of their betters, thus spurring a consumer revolution of sorts which some economists have termed ‘the Veblen effect of emulative spending’. The seventeenth-century economist and financial speculator Nicholas Barbon wrote in 1690 that ‘it is not Necessity that causeth the Consumption. Nature may be Satisfied with little; but it is the wants of the Mind, Fashion and the desire of Novelties and Things Scarce that causeth the Trade’.
However, in over-emphasising the idea that the return of the monarchy was responsible for the birth of modern English furniture, historians neglect the influence of Asian and continental European designs and styles in England before the Restoration, and underestimate the prowess of London furniture-makers. Living conditions were unarguably difficult: standards of living in London during the late 1640s represented the worst slump since the 1590s. First-hand accounts describe the reality for tradesmen: the London turner, Nehemiah Wallington lamented that ‘workmen are gone and trading is dead’, and the Venetian ambassador recounted that ‘all shops are kept shut by order of Parliament with loss to merchants and inconvenience to the inhabitants’. Nevertheless, these circumstances should not obscure the fact that prior to 1660 many English artisans were already highly skilled and well versed in contemporary decorative styles and designs.
The late 1660s proved a pivotal period in transforming London into a modern European capital and the furniture trade made a substantial contribution to this manufacturing boom with the introduction of fashionable new objects that captivated retailers and consumers alike. Daniel Defoe remarked that in London, ‘the poorest citizens live like the rich, the rich like the gentry, the gentry like the nobility, and the nobility strive to outshine one another’.
Late 17th century view of London by William Hollar
The Institute of Historical Research has been awarded a first-stage pass and development funding of £103,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a new interactive online resource tracing London’s history from the Roman period to the present day. The Centre for Metropolitan History, working with the Victoria County History, is leading the development of this resource that will create a multi-layered map of London drawing upon a wide variety of maps and archival materials, currently held in different collections.
A major element of the project will be to engage the public at borough level and city-wide, through crowd-sourcing, volunteer, schools and internship programmes, inviting them to upload photographs and personal histories. It will present the most comprehensive snapshot of London’s diverse history in one resource, and is unique in enabling the creation of new content by online users and volunteers, who will learn new skills and be encouraged to start new local heritage projects of their own.
Waterlow and Sons 1937 Map of London
A number of prestigious partners are involved, including: London Metropolitan Archives, Historic England, Museum of London Archaeology, The British Library, Senate House Library, The National Archives and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. The heritage assets contributed by the partners are incomparable sources of evidence and knowledge of all aspects of the history of London; they provide aesthetic, architectural, historic and scientific information on the city; and they have unique social and community value as records of everyday life, work and culture in the capital.
This post was written by Charlie Berry, a doctoral student at the Institute of Historical Research and cross-posted from the History Collections website.
As a research student, a lot of my time is spent beavering away in libraries and archives. My thesis topic, neighbourhoods in fifteenth-century London, means that I am fortunate in having most of the material I need all in one city.
The collections available in London libraries and archives are extensive and usually remarkably well-catalogued. Since I mainly work with documentary sources, the majority of my research time is spent either at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell or The National Archives at Kew. The collections at both are vast, covering a broad range of periods and topics, and it’s easy to follow trails through the documents all in the one reading room. I’m also fortunate in that both the LMA and National Archives have printed and manuscript indexes available for a lot of the material I look at, which is invaluable for pinpointing the records I need.
Beyond the large archives, there is an amazing array of diversity in the collections available to researchers in London. My thesis research has also taken me to the Guildhall Library, which mainly houses the records of London’s livery companies. Local Borough archives too offer a wealth of material which is perhaps underused by historians. My local archive in Hackney is a wonderful resource I used during my MA as well as whilst recently taking part in a local history project. That project is itself creating an archive of material at the Bishopsgate Institute Library, which has archival collections specialising in radical history.
There’s such a large amount of material out there in London’s archives, large and small, that there must be a million untouched research topics hiding in the files and folders just waiting to be explored, with friendly archivists there to help you find them! History Day at Senate House is a great opportunity to find out more about the kinds of collections available in London (and beyond).
The Dr Seng Tee Lee Centre, Senate House Library
October 27th 2015
The University of London’s Senate House Library will be hosting a symposium in connection with a new project to begin later this year being jointly run by the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House Library and the School of Advanced Study. The Passage project hopes to address a number of research questions arising from historical texts that describe or are structured around walking around London. It’s intended to be very broad in its disciplinary approaches, as well as its period of coverage (from Stow to the early 20th century), and its research themes will be wide ranging, including:
The topographical development of London at various periods
The associations of place with specific types of activity
The associations of place with types of morality
The development of consumer services
Reasons for and different types of walking around London (‘strolling, striding, marching’)
Changes in the literary genre of ‘travel writing’, broadly defined
The body of texts to be examined by the project include tour guides, travel journals of visitors, literary/polemical discourses ‘attached’ to walks, topographical surveys, administrative records (e.g. perambulation accounts), criminal records (e.g. trespass depositions) and governmental (control of walking routes/rights of way, enclosure, management of protest etc.).
The project is still very much in its infancy at the moment – even the project website is yet to be launched! – but the symposium will provide an excellent opportunity for scholars and students from various backgrounds and disciplines to define the landscape. The symposium will fall into two halves: the first half of the day will focus on papers from invited speaks who will be discussing very different approaches to historical writing about walking in London. Speakers include Nick Barratt (SHL) will be talking about walking as recorded in official records, focusing on Medieval London; Sarah Dustagheer (Kent) will be talking about Shakespeare, walking and London; Richard Dennis (UCL) who will be talking about George Gissing, Charles Booth and 19th century walking in London; and Matthew Beaumont (UCL) who will be discussing nightwalking in London.
The second half of the day will include a round-table discussion of the themes that arise from the papers, and will also provide an opportunity to view interesting and rare examples of London walking literature. In the afternoon, Senate House Library’s Rare Books Library, Dr Karen Attar, will be displaying and talking about the Bromhead Library (http://senatehouselibrary.ac.uk/our-collections/special-collections/printed-special-collections/bromhead-library/), a collection from which many of works on walking come, as well as items from other collections that will be providing evidence throughout the Passage project.
This post has kindly been written for us by, Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian, Senate House Library.
Fashion catalogues from SHL
The Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research and the Imperial War Museum are holding a major conference on 20-21 March that will explore the ways in which London and its inhabitants were affected by, and involved with, the 1914-18 conflict. Senate House Library provided a display to support the conference of a few items that pertain specifically to London.
One item displayed is as parochial for the University as it is possible to be: the Roll of War Service, 1914-1919, which lists members of the University of London Officer Training Corps who lost their lives in the conflict. It is a chilling list of seven officers and some 670 cadets. Perhaps equally chilling is Alfred Rawlinson’s The Defence of London 1915-1918, which describes the defence of London during the First World War against zeppelins and against aeroplanes, about which Percy Scott states in the preface: “Colonel Rawlinson has written this book on our defence of London against attacks from the air by Germany. He has to admit that we had no defence.”
Fashion catalogues from SHL
Life was not entirely miserable. The most visual items displayed are a couple of catalogues from London fashion emporia, Dickins & Jones on Regent Street and Peter Robinson’s on Oxford Street. The war affected them: a catalogue held but not shown, from Bradley’s in Chepstow’s Place for its 1916 autumn and winter fashions, warns: “The increasing shortage of labour, coupled with the rapid advance in prices of all materials, is likely to seriously affect the possible output of all firms, even of a firm such as ours with its exceptional resources and capacity …”. Stock ranges from the severely practical (the well-cut farm suit of khaki gabardine advertised by Dickins & Jones) to the luxurious, with Peter Robinson’s advertising, for ten guineas: “Evening gown in Silk net over Charmeuse; corsage of handsome silver lace. The tunic effect is edges with opalescent beads and large hanging crystal bead tassels.”
Observations of an Orderly
Stories could be amusing. Ward Muir’s Observations of an Orderly (1918) describes the author’s experiences working during the war at the 3rd London General Hospital. Much of the work (waiting on the patients, washing up, checking linen) would have been the same anywhere in the country. But Muir describes how a colleague accompanied seven blind soldiers to a matinée at Queen’s Hall. They went there by bus, but insisted on taking the tube back. The corporal who was accompanying them consented. He had forgotten that the lifts at Oxford Circus tube station had been abolished in favour of escalators, judged unsafe for blind people. Having heard a comic song about escalators, they wished to sample “this metropolitan invention”. At the bottom they fell down, one on top of each other, with other hurrying passengers falling too. The soldiers regarded the affair as extremely comical, while an old lady who had tripped over the first soldier reproved the hapless corporal for his “callousness and cruelty to these unhappy blind heroes”.
The books shown come from two of the named special collections at Senate House Library: the Bromhead Library of about 4,000 items on the history of London, and the Playne Collection about 530 books and pamphlets pertaining to the First World War collected by pacifist and historian Caroline Elizabeth Playne.
Registration is now open for this major conference which will explore the ways in which London and its inhabitants were affected by, and involved in, the 1914-18 conflict. Organised by IWM (Imperial War Museums) in partnership with the Centre for Metropolitan History (IHR) as part of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, it will be held in the IHR new conference suite (20 March) and at IWM London on 21 March.
With a packed programme of wide-ranging papers, it is hoped that the conference will appeal to both academics and members of the public. Bookended by plenary lectures by Dr Adrian Gregory (Pembroke College, Oxford) on ‘London: a wartime metropolis in comparative perspective’ and Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck, University of London) on ‘London in the First World War: questions of legacy’, there will also be seven panel sessions over the two days, a conference reception on Friday evening, as well as the opportunity to view IWM London’s new First World War gallery before the Museum opens to the general public on Saturday.
On 20 March, the panel sessions will explore: ‘daily life and institutions’, with papers on local government and waste, policing and Kew Gardens; ‘enemy aliens’, focusing on riots, internment, deportations and the rise and fall of Sir Edgar Speyer; ‘transport’ – public transport, the Metropolitan Railway, and women war workers in the streets and railway stations; the ‘Empire view’, from the standpoint of Australian visitors, New Zealanders in London and African and Caribbean colonial troops. On 21 March, the session on ‘dissent’, will include papers on the peace campaigner, Caroline Playne, The Herald newspaper and anti-war trade unionists, the impact on the Anglican Church, and the East London Federation of Suffragettes; ‘air war’ will look at the interrogation of captured Zeppelin air crew, aircraft manufacturing and curating ‘The First World War in the Air’ at the RAF Museum; the final session will focus on ‘leisure’ – memory, work and leisure, Chelsea FC, and importing London to the Front.
This post was kindly written for us by Katie George, archivist of The Salters’ Company, with the help of the CMH’s very own Mark Merry.
September sees another new update to the Records of London’s Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO) project, with the publication of the membership records of two new Livery Companies and the expansion of the records of two already participating Companies. We welcome the apprentices and Freemen of the Musicians’ and Tallow Chandlers’ to the ROLLCO database across the period 1620 to 1900, as well as those which expand the Goldsmiths’ (from 1700 to 1708) and Salters’ (to cover the period 1636-1656) Companies’ records.
The records in this update form a good example of both the vagaries of archival survival amongst the Livery Companies (and indeed more generally), and of the way in which the ROLLCO project has obtained information about membership of the Companies across their long history. The apprenticeship and freedom records of the Musicians’ Company show a number of significant gaps during the 17th century, at least until the 1690s from which point they seem to have survived in a more complete form. This is by no means uncommon amongst the Livery Company archives. What this archive lacks in quantity, however, it more than makes up for in quality, especially later in the 18th and 19th centuries when the records are laden with consistently rich detail about the individuals making up the membership of the Company. The Musicians’ were clearly one of the Livery Companies where the members did not pursue their ‘craft’ as their principal means of making a living, as a glance at the occupations recorded in the registers indicate. Most numerous amongst the Musicians’ membership were individuals – men and plenty of women too – identifying themselves as victuallers (142), but almost every other occupation can be found too, from haberdashers to farmers, from butchers to apothecaries, and from perukemakers to tripe dressers. Only 56 out of the 6829 named individuals in the records are listed as musicians by occupation, although there are 12 musical instrument makers, 6 music sellers, 2 music masters and a Professor of Music. Another pattern that emerges from the Musicians’ records, and one that would perhaps bear closer inspection, is that a surprising number of their members gave as their address the name of an inn or tavern. Whether this was their place of abode or place of employment is unclear, but the pattern might suggest the broad involvement of the Musicians’ members in what we might now call the ‘service industries’ of the late 18th and 19th centuries.
The 9,650 apprenticeship and freedom records of the Tallow Chandlers’ Company begin in the 1620s, and do not appear to have been materially affected by the vicissitudes of the mid-17th century, despite the Company losing its Hall to the Great Fire. The information contained on the 22,162 individuals mentioned in these records benefits greatly from a vast and ongoing research effort undertaken by members of the modern-day Company, and the ROLLCO project is very grateful to Liveryman Lorraine Green in particular for making her work available. As with the Musicians’ records, the Tallow Chandlers’ are full of the kind of biographical detail that researchers crave – places, occupations, and career information are available for a high proportion of individuals mentioned in the registers. Many inter-generational and family connections can be traced in the records of the Tallow Chandlers’ membership. One such ‘dynasty’ can be seen in the Turner family, which included Benjamin Brecknell Turner (apprenticed to his father in 1830 and made free of the Company seven years later), one of Britain’s first photographers, a specialist in rural compositions whose work can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Hale family is another example, which includes the twice Master of the Company and Lord Mayor of London Warren Stormes Hale, made free in 1814.
The new Salter’s records for 1636 to 1656 have been drawn from a manuscript volume catalogued under the title Index to Freedom Register No Longer Existing, 1636-1656, a calendar of now lost volumes offering a tantalising glimpse of the life of the Company and its members. Historical researchers are used to working with incomplete archives, and hints and clues and theories – indeed the detective work is one of the attractions for many – and often indexes which survive in place of their parent volumes can form vital sources for crucial periods. As Katie George, archivist of the Salters’ Company, suggests, slender volumes such as this Index are vital components of reconstructing ‘history in the gaps’:
‘When I needed to identify some mysterious initials, ’FM’, on a very beautiful 17th century delftware plate belonging to the Salters’ Company, the equally mysterious ‘Index to Freedom Register No Longer Existing, 1636-1656’, held in the Company’s archives, gave me the lead I sought, and thus enabled me, with the help of external source material and the invaluable assistance of others, to gradually reconstruct the life of a hitherto unknown Salters’ freeman. Francis Mercer, (made free in 1638), lived in Southwark. He was a mealman and soldier by trade, serving as an officer in the civil wars. From 1654-56 he served in Barbados and Jamaica as part of Cromwell’s Western Design expedition, in 1658 married widow Elizabeth Townsend in Southwark and in 1660 was arrested under suspicion of involvement in an anti-restoration plot. In the 1660s he and his wife finally settled for a quieter (but no doubt quite lucrative) life of delftware production in Southwark. He died in 1669, survived by his widow and three children, including a married daughter from an earlier, mystery relationship. A colourful life indeed!’
For many Livery Companies the middle decades of the 17th century comprised the period of the greatest expansion in their membership, trade activities and influence within London and further afield. For some Companies, this is also the period when sporadic gaps appear in their archives, for reasons of administrative, political and actual physical crisis. The Salters’ archive has fallen victim to the destruction of their new Hall in the Great Fire of 1666 for example, but as Katie has commented, it is interesting to note that the Index was one of the records saved, when others were not. One can almost visualise the Clerk and colleagues dashing into the Hall by the church of St Swithin as the fire approached, rapidly determining which records were important to save and which could be sacrificed…
A prize of £1,000 will be awarded for the best essay by an early career or doctoral researcher on the history of London, in a new competition sponsored by the Curriers’ Company in association with the IHR and The London Journal.
Essays may be on any aspect of the history of London, from the Romans to the present day, reflect any relevant approach or disciplinary perspective, and can consider London alone or in comparison with other cities.
Essays must be based on original research, and should not have been previously published. The winning essay will normally be published in The London Journal. The deadline for submissions is 31 August.
The courtiers assembled, on hearing the news of the death of the Rt. Honble. Wm. Beckford, depicting Sir Fletcher Norton (possibly the 5th figure from the right, with the horns)
This is the second of a two-part post on the recent update to the Records of London’s Livery Companies Online project. Check out Part I.
Amongst the records of the Bowyers’ Company added to ROLLCO we find the clergyman and astronomer Thomas John Hussey, DD. He was made free by patrimony of the Company in 1839, his father having been a Bowyer before him. Hussey seems to have led an altogether more retiring life than Admiral Smith, as is perhaps fitting for one of his occupation, contenting himself with his theological texts (culminating in the publication of a two volume revised edition of the Bible in the 1840s) and his privately owned telescope built at his Rectory in Hayes. Hussey’s interest in astronomy led to a wide-ranging correspondence with leading scientific, philosophical and literary figure of the day – including Charles Darwin, who didn’t seem to appreciate Hussey’s conversation – and to the publication of detailed star charts in 1831. His observations of the progress of Uranus across the skies led Hussey to theorise on the existence of a hitherto undiscovered planetary body affecting its orbit. Sadly, the leading astronomers of the day appear to have disagreed with the enthusiastic amateur, and dismissed his theories as being based on ‘observational errors’, leading Hussey to abandon his search for the hidden planet. Shortly before he joined the Bowyers’ Company, Hussey was forced to give up his hobby entirely due to some physical injury, and he sold his observatory ‘dome and all’ (Dewhirst, D.W. (1982), ‘The correspondence of the Rev. B.W.S. Vallack’, Quarterly J. Royal Astronomical Soc. 23: 552-555.). However he might have quietly enjoyed the finale of his astronomical endeavours as it was his star charts which – with the intercession of two fiercely competing scientists – led to the discovery of Neptune in 1846.
Finally we come to Sir Fletcher Norton, 1st Baron Grantley, freeman of the Girdlers’ Company and – as his freedom admission notes – “Right Honorable Speaker of the Honorable House of Commons” between 1770 and 1780. Following a well-trodden society path in the period, Norton trained as a lawyer before taking his seat as Member for Appleby. He was involved in a number of high profile political trials during the mid-eighteenth century, before being appointed as the Speaker in 1770. Throughout his political career he was known for his ‘choleric disposition’, and stirred controversy and ill-feeling during a number of run-ins with high profile political figures, including the elder Pitt and George Grenville. He certainly seems to have been no respecter of reputations. On one occasion his acerbity resulted in a six hour parliamentary session, the sole business of which was to induce Speaker Norton to apologise for harsh words he had uttered against another member (no apology was forthcoming). Norton’s moment of supreme free speech, however, occurred in the very year he was admitted to the Girdlers’ Company, 1777, when presenting for the royal assent a money bill relating to the civil list debt. This event marked a crucial turning point in his relations with the administration and his rising popularity with the opposition who were able to make political capital out of it. In the course of his speech he said that the Commons ‘have not only granted to your Majesty a large present supply, but also a great additional revenue, great beyond example; great beyond your Majesty’s highest expense’ (Cobbett, Parl. hist., 19, 1777–8, 213) (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20342?docPos=1).
His popularity with government waned somewhat after this, and he spent the remainder of a long and energetic political career revelling in his opposition to the administration (and providing inspiration for satirists, who had titled him Sir Bull-Face Double Fee, “a slur on both his appearance and his integrity”).
Characters such as these three figures, well known (even infamous) in their fields and gifted with different talents, connections and visions, were members of institutions which – even in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – still played a hugely important role in the governance and society of London. And these men were not by any means rare cases of high profile characters within the Livery Companies – at the dinners and committees in the Livery Halls they rubbed shoulders with business leaders, royalty, generals, lawyers and courtiers, and would have felt entirely at home.
The next ROLLCO update, due in a few weeks, will feature the records of a further three Companies: the Tallow Chandlers’, the Founders’ and the Musicians’. We shall eagerly wait to see what characters emerge from these.
Admiral Sir Sidney Smith by Louis-Marie Autissier, 1823
This post was written for us by the Centre for Metropolitan History’s Mark Merry.
The numerous Livery Companies of the City of London have evolved from their medieval forbears. Originally established as craft guilds to regulate specific trades, the Companies supervised the training of apprentices, policed standards of craftsmanship, controlled internal conflict and protected craftsmen from competition. Over the course of the centuries – for some earlier, others later – the role of most Companies became detached from their original craft foundations, and instead shifted their energies into the realm of charitable and educational endeavour. This development is clearly evident in the changing nature of their membership over time, something which can be traced through the Records of London’s Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO) database.
ROLLCO has been designed to enable researchers and family historians to search the rich records of London’s ancient Livery Companies, to help them find information about apprenticeships and admissions to Company freedoms from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century. The detailed records drawn from Company archives allow users to reconstruct individual careers, families and trade connections, whilst providing fascinating insight into the social and economic roles of the Livery Companies, and by extension, the history of London’s development.
The latest update to the ROLLCO database has seen the addition of the membership records of the Bowyers’, the Girdlers’ and the Salters’ Companies to those of the project’s existing partners, the Clothworkers’, Drapers’, Goldsmiths’ and Mercers’ Companies.
The update comprises 7,061 new apprenticeship bindings and 3,468 freedom admissions added to the database, covering the period 1600-1900, providing details of a further 22,972 individuals, most of whom enjoyed membership of one of the Companies. This brings the total number of individuals appearing in ROLLCO to 320,941.
Sadly only a very small proportion of these individuals were entered into the Companies’ registers with any record of their occupation (something like 3%), but a greater number were afforded the privileges of rank through often detailed clarifications of their status. Titles, honorifics, military and clerical ranks and other descriptions of the loftier positions in society occupied by members are carefully noted by Company Clerks where appropriate. Most of the men and women who appear in the ROLLCO records were modest individuals working within their trades, but it is easy to trace the increasing participation in Company affairs of more notable personages as Companies became more and more divorced from their occupational origins.
Many of these individuals are well-known London and national figures – men like the goldsmith Sir Thomas Vyner, who was born in Gloucestershire, sent to London aged twelve in 1600 and apprenticed into the goldsmiths’ trade. He was made free of the Company in 1611, and then over the course of the next three decades, Vyner rose through the ranks of the Company and the City (as Sheriff then Lord Mayor) in a career that encompassed the major historic events of the early seventeenth century. He was present at the execution of Charles I and then knighted by Cromwell, and subsequently knighted a second time by Charles II at the Restoration, after persuading the new king he had been loyal all along. At his death in 1665, in the midst of London’s last great plague epidemic, Vyner left a part of his considerable fortune to support London goldsmiths who fell on hard times.
In the new batch of ROLLCO records we find similarly impressive figures. Representing the Salters’ Company, the fourth of the Great Twelve Livery Companies to join the ROLLCO project, is Admiral Sir (William) Sydney Smith, naval officer, sailor-for-hire, spy, rival of Nelson and the scourge of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In December 1801, after returning to England following the successful siege of Acre, Smith was admitted to the freedom of the Salters’ at the age of 37, at a time when he was receiving honours and pensions for his service to the State. The record of his admission (which renders his forename with a ‘y’ rather than an ‘i’) describes Smith as “Captain in Royal Navy and Knight Commander Grand Cross of the Royal Military Order of the Sword of Sweden”, the latter order having been awarded by the Swedish Crown for his exploits in the Swedish Navy fighting the Russians during the 1790s, exploits which were controversial and which made him unpopular amongst his British naval peers. In the elections of 1801 Smith became the M.P. for Rochester, an Admiralty borough, although his political career foundered for lack of support from influential figures – perhaps as he voiced opposition to government policy on matters military, or perhaps as he was rumoured to be having an affair with Caroline, Princess of Wales. The disaffection of his peers was something that appears to have dogged Smith throughout his career, but there is no denying the stature of the kind of individuals being recruited into the Livery Companies in this period. As his biographer Roger Morriss suggests,
The height Smith’s reputation had achieved after Acre was never attained again. Rather, his career hereafter was constrained by a reputation for impulsive activity that was not completely trustworthy because it was unconventional; an added restraint was the fear and irritation Smith engendered by his tendency not to consult or inform when his energy outran his discretion. The agreement of al-‘Arish did much to discredit him, while his own high opinion of his merits and long accounts of his adventures annoyed other officers
(Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25940?docPos=2).