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The Worshipful Company Of Salters

Sal Sapit Omnia, Latin for Salt Savours All

Crest of the Salters in a window presented
 in 1913 to the Guildhall in Londonderry

The Worshipful Company of Salters is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, 9th in order of precedence. The Company originated as the Guild of Corpus Christi, which was granted a Royal Charter of incorporation in 1394. Further Charters granted the Company the authority to set standards and regulations regarding the products of its members.

Originally, the Salters' Company included individuals whose trades involved the usage of salts and the preparation of chemical mixtures for use in food. As with many other livery companies, the Salters' Company has lost its direct connection to its original trade. Currently, however, the company supports the chemical industry and supports education in chemistry, for example by awarding scholarships to chemistry students. Furthermore, it is a charitable organisation.

Since before the Romans, the Anglo Saxons had developed methods of extracting salt and the importance of salt was well established. Roman soldiers were given salt rations and this “Sal” is the origin of the word “salary”. A soldier failing in battle or falling asleep at his post was “not worth his salt”.

By the fourteenth century, salt was an essential commodity in England. It was used mainly for preserving meat and fish before the advent of tin cans and refrigeration. Other uses included any operation where ‘chemical’ action was required, such as cleaning, dyeing fabric, bleaching, degreasing, dehairing and softening leather and in the formulation of medicines and ointments.

As well as dealing in salt, Salters were experts in the dry salting of fish and meat and also dealt with flax, hemp, logwood, cochineal, potashes and chemical preparations. The modern day association of The Salters’ Company with chemistry and science can therefore be traced right back to its roots.

By 1394, Bread Street in London was the home of many salt traders, replacing the original tenants who traded in bread and after whom the street was named. As trading in salt became more important in large cities and near ports where much salt was imported, these "Salters" began to group together to look after their own trading interests and welfare. As well as living in the same street, the Salters also regularly attended the same church, the Parish Church of All Hallows, Bread Street.

During this time there were numerous other craft and trade organisations operating in medieval England and quarrels began breaking out between crafts interested in manufacture or production and those whose main concern was trade. There were also internal disputes occurring between different sections of the same trade with lines of operations overlapping and some finding the policy of trade control too restrictive. Furthermore, in London the Mayor and the City administration tried to exert greater control and regulation, which further caused concern amongst the traders. One way of alleviating this was for Salters to become elected to the Court of Common Council in order to exert some influence to their advantage.

By 1394, the monarch of the day, King Richard II, had come to the conclusion that the best way to stop these disturbances and bring revenue to the Treasury was to issue licences to all traders in the form of letters patent which included a set of rules to bring the traders back into line and limit their power. Therefore in this same year a licence was obtained from King Richard II to found a Fraternity and Guild of Corpus Christi in the Church of All Hallows, Bread Street, and to convey property to the Fraternity. At that time, the Fraternity was composed entirely of those who followed the trade of Salter, whether or not they lived within the parish, but over the years membership has expanded to include many other professions.

The Royal Charter of 1607 reincorporated the Company under its present name of The Master, Wardens and Commonality of the Art or Mistery of the Salters of London and gave it additional powers of jurisdiction over all Freemen exercising the Art of Salter in the City, its suburbs and within two miles thereof. It gave the Court of Assistants of the Company powers of 'survey, search, correction and governance over all freemen of the Company using the Mistery and also over all wares exposed to sale in any way concerning the Mistery and to correct the weights and measures used by the Mistery within the area'. Note: The term "mystery" or "mistery", derives from the French "mestier" (now "metier"), meaning a job or trade.

In 1684 the Company was compelled to surrender the Charter of King James I and was granted a new Charter reaffirming its powers and privileges while reserving to the Crown a large measure of control. The Charter was annulled on the accession to the throne of King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689.

Salters' Hall, St. Swithin's Lane, was home of the company until it was bombed in 1941. The hall was during the 1700s the meeting place of Presbyterians and in 1719 the site of the "Salters' Hall controversy" a notable turning point in religious tolerance in England. The present Salters' Hall on Fore Street dates from 1976 and was designed by architect Basil Spence, best known for his work on Coventry Cathedral.