and Avon Branch of the Murray Club
Apprentice Boys of
The Worshipful Company Of Goldsmiths
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, more commonly known as the
Goldsmiths' Company, is the fifth of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the
City of London and received its first royal charter in 1327.
A ‘goldsmith’ has always been understood to mean a
worker in both gold and silver, and today encompasses those who work in platinum
and palladium as well. Gold and silver have always been essential for the
coinage of the realm and much sought after for ornament and display of wealth.
In the 1179-80 Pipe Roll entry (the earliest surviving reference to the city
companies) a ‘gild of Goldsmiths of which Ralph Flael is alderman’ is
referenced. The entry lists 18 guilds fined by King Henry II for operating
without a licence. The Goldsmiths head the list of these guilds with a fine of
45 marks, or £30, far higher than any other – an indication that even at this
time the guild must have been well established.
The Company Established
In 1300 King Edward I passed a statute requiring gold
and silver to be of a defined standard and requiring ‘les Gardeins du Mester’
(Guardians of the Craft) to test it and mark it with the leopard’s head. This
was supposedly taken from the royal arms and later known as the King’s mark.
This is the first legal recognition of the Company, and the beginning of
hallmarking in Britain.
In 1327 the Company received its first royal charter,
giving it the right to enforce good authority, the standards within the trade
and emphasising its standing over provincial goldsmiths. This marked the
beginning of the Company’s formal existence as a craft guild, with St. Dunstan
as its patron saint.
At this point the Goldsmiths decided they should have a
headquarters. The chosen property lay near the 'Goldsmithery' or goldsmith's
area, at the north end of Foster Lane in the parish of St. John Zachary. in
1339, nineteen goldsmiths bought it for the use of the Goldsmiths Company.
Though extended in area, this is the identical site on which Goldsmiths Hall
stands today. No other Company can claim a longer or earlier tenure.
In 1341, the Goldsmiths sought to extend their privileges in order to
help those injured at work, as well as the poor. They obtained a licence to
purchase and hold tenements and rents to the value of £20 for the relief of
infirm members but this later proved to be legally inadequate, possibly because
the Crown had resisted their full demands, fearing the amount of land that was
likely to pass into perpetual tenure. The final wording was left deliberately
vague so that it could later be called into question.
Further certainty would be given in a new charter from Richard II in
February 1393, allowing the Company to own property and rents to the value of
£20 yearly for specific charitable purposes
In 1363, goldsmiths and silversmiths required to have a mark unique to
them, to be struck on all their wares to identify the maker
During the medieval period, the whole Company met at least three times
a year when the ordinances were read aloud and decisions by the Wardens
ratified. Such questions as new leases, choice of almsmen, election of liverymen
and trade disputes were dealt with on these occasions. Two renters were annually
appointed to collect the rents and keep an eye on the condition of various
properties. These were men of standing on the Livery but unlike other companies
they were not Wardens. There were four Auditors, all past Wardens, also a Clerk
and a Beadle. The Wardens were chosen at a common assembly in April and took
office on 19th May, the feast of St. Dunstan, the Company’s patron saint. That
day would begin with a solemn procession to church and end with a feast.
Further extension of the Company’s powers can be seen in 1462. Edward
IV, after confirming the previous charters, granted that the Wardens and their
successors be a body corporate having perpetual succession and a common seal and
that as ‘the Wardens and Commonalty of the Mystery of Goldsmiths of the City of
London’ they may implead and be impleaded in any court. They were to be able to
make good and reasonable byelaws and ordinances for the regulation of the
mystery, to retain their right of search and powers of publishing offenders in
London and elsewhere.
This marks the high point in the history of the Goldsmiths' Company.
Other charters followed but they mainly examined and restated the position
achieved by the Goldsmiths in 1462.
1493 Cup in the Company's Collection
In 1478 a statute of King Edward IV made the Goldsmiths' Company
specifically responsible for wares found to be below standard, and for the
penalties involved. As a result the Wardens reorganised the system of assaying
and marking gold and silver, and the first assay office was established at
Goldsmiths’ Hall, overseen by a full-time Common Assayer.
A date letter was introduced to the marking system and workers were
required for the first time to bring their wares to Goldsmiths’ Hall to receive
Goldsmiths’ apprentices, who usually served their masters for a term of
seven to ten years, were expected to have reached certain educational standards.
In the 1490s it was ordained that the apprentice must be able to read a passage
out loud to the Wardens and write in English and Latin in a book that was to
‘lie dormant’ in the Hall for the purpose. Occasionally the rule was relaxed,
most often when the boy was an orphan, but the master was then bound to teach
him to read and write and later had to produce evidence that he had done so.
The Company awarded its first university scholarships to Oxford and
Cambridge on 26 April 1564. Since that time the Company has always used part of
the charitable income for educational purposes. The minutes from the meeting
note that the Wardens agreed that:
'this companie shall mayneteyne one scholar at one of ye universities
with ye yearly allowance of viL.xiijs. iiijd (£6 13s 4d) for his exhibicion
condicinally that ye ende of his studie shall tende to divinitie. And that ye
same scholar shal be called ye first gold-smythes scholar’.
The Coat of Arms
In 1571, the Goldsmiths' Company was granted the right of a helm, crest
and supporters to the arms which it had ‘long tyme borne’.
The original grant of
arms was not known, if indeed there had ever been one, but from various
references it is evident that they were in use from the 14th century. The
leopard’s heads are an obvious allusion to the king’s mark of
1300, and the cups and buckles are meant to show that all categories of
goldsmithing are represented in the Company; the cups for the large or plate
workers, the buckles for the small workers or jewellers.
In 1588, The Goldsmiths’ Company were appointed as one of the Keepers
of the Troy Weight, the measurement of weight used for gold and silver. The nest
of standard weights has remained in the Hall ever since.
Written records of the Trial of the Pyx began in 1603. The trial, which
had been carried out by goldsmiths since the thirteenth century, would later
establish Goldsmiths’ Hall as the venue from the Trial in the 1870 Coinage Act.
The Tumultuous 17th Century
The seventeenth century marks a period of financial disaster for the
Goldsmiths as for the other city companies. The Crown had long looked to the
City as an easy source of revenue, especially at times of national emergency.
Now compulsory loans and gifts from the City became an important factor in the
policy of the Stuart kings to rule without a parliament whenever possible.
The Irish Society was formed as a committee of the Corporation of the
City of London and the sum of £52,000 was raised somewhat reluctantly by the
companies after several Wardens had been imprisoned for default. The Goldsmiths,
with the Armourers, the Cordwainers and the Painter Stainers, were given land to
the south-east of Derry, which now became known as Londonderry because of its
association with the City of London. The Irish lands proved to be a constant
source of trouble and a drain on the Company’s funds.
The second Hall was erected on the site of the original merchant’s
house, incorporating ten shops. The Palladian red-bricked building was the work
of Nicholas Stone, the King’s Mason, with advice from Inigo Jones, the King’s
Many other demands for loans to the Crown or new taxes followed,
including the imposition of ‘Ship Money’ at a time when the Company was striving
to save to rebuild the Hall. A second Hall was erected on the site of the
original merchant’s house, incorporating a further 10 shops, between 1634 and
36. The Palladian red-bricked building was the work of Nicholas Stone, the
King’s Mason, with advice from Inigo Jones, the King’s Surveyor. The Company had
to pay for a licence for rebuilding and, when the stone was delivered it was
immediately ‘detained for the King’s use’ and a further quantity had to be
purchased. The Company was forced to borrow heavily.
In 1637, 34 major items of plate were sold. The Company ensured that
the weights and names of the donors were recorded so that, when they were
financially able, they could have the pieces remade.
In 1640 the King demanded £50,000 from the City, £3,500 being the
Goldsmiths’ share. The Company, already heavily in debt, were forced to borrow
the money at a high rate of interest. Even greater demands followed; in June
1642 the City was asked for a loan of £100,000 a year, the Goldsmiths’ share to
be £7,000, said to be for the relief of Ireland.
By August of 1642, with the advent
of the English Civil War, Parliament had taken over the City Companies’ supplies
of gunpowder and 6,000 muskets and 4,000 pikes were demanded to arm the troops
under the Earl of Essex. The Goldsmiths’ Company made an inventory of those arms
it could supply and agreed also to provide an ‘ingine to quench fire’, also
ladders and fire buckets for the defence of the City. The Beadle complained that
he was unable to collect quarterage as so many tenants ‘have shut up shop and
gone for soldiers’. The garrets at the Hall were converted to store corn, a
tremendous fire risk.
During these years, it seems incredible that the Goldsmiths’ Company
managed to hold on to the remainder of its plate and indeed agreed to lend it at
the time both to Sir John Wollaston and Sir Thomas Vyner when they both held
office as Sheriff and Lord Mayor.
The new Hall from the 1630s was gutted by the Great Fire of 1666,
leaving only the walls standing. The Company’s treasures and records were saved
by Sir Charles Doe, an assistant, who commandeered a cart and took them to
safety to a house in Edmonton. The restoration of the Hall was completed by
Edward Jerman in 1669, although a further fire in the Assay Office destroyed the
southwest corner of the new building in 1681.
The third and present
Goldsmiths' Hall in the second half of the 19th century
After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, great efforts were made
to replace the earlier plate losses. Nine cups were remade by Arthur Manwaring, but as a result of the Great
Fire of 1666 - which deprived the Company of the use of the Hall for three years
and meant loss of rent from much City property, - seven of the new cups and all
the old plate except for the Bowes Cup, Gibbon Salt and Rogers Salt were sold to
Sir Robert Vyner to help pay off debts.
Several leading goldsmiths who had for some time past been keeping
‘running-cashes’ in order to be able to lend money to their customers at short
notice, now all but abandoned the practice of making and selling plate in order
to run full-time banking houses and the promissory notes they issued formed the
style of our first bank notes. Prominent members of the Goldsmiths' Company such
as Sir Robert Vyner, Sir Jeremiah Snow, Alderman Edward Backwell, Valentine
Duncomb and Robert Blanchard made vast fortunes in their new businesses (and
some subsequently lost them in 1672 by Charles II’s stop of the Exchequer), and
were generous in their gifts to the Company
London goldsmiths had long had to compete against foreign workmen,
refugees from wars and religious persecution in their own country, and the
Company had been vigilant in protecting its own members; but a major problem had
to be faced at the end of the 17th century with the influx of Huguenots who fled
from France after revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Large numbers of
these refugees were now settling in London, either outside the City boundaries
or within the Liberty of St. Martin-le-Grand, to which the City regulations did
The Huguenot goldsmiths first evaded the hallmarking laws by persuading
a few London craftsmen who had their makers’ marks registered at the Hall, to
present the French work for assaying and marking as if it were their own.
Further petitions from indignant members of the London trade followed.
However, in 1725 the Attorney-General established unequivocally that the right
of entering a maker’s mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall could not be denied to anyone,
whether he was free of the Company or not. At this the London goldsmiths
reluctantly had to back down and accept the Huguenot craftsmen. The Huguenots
ultimately gave the trade a much needed boost, both in design and technical
The Return to Financial Viability
Meanwhile the Company continued to be heavily in debt and in May 1711,
besides announcing various stringent economies, it was decided to sell off the
bulk of the plate collection and buy tickets in the Government Classis Lottery.
Twenty tickets were purchased, but it appears the Company received no prizes.
The sale of the Irish Estates to the Earl of Shelburne was completed in 1729.
The money received from this paid off the most pressing debts and the residue
was carefully invested. The Company was becoming financially secure again, due
mainly to the efforts of Charles Hosier, whose portrait still hangs in the Court
Room, inside the Goldsmiths Hall.
Hosier also suggested that the plate that had been sold should be
replaced, resulting in the marvellous range of pieces all dated 1740-41 and
still in the Company’s possession, which were ordered from some of the leading
goldsmiths of the day, Paul de Lamerie, Thomas Farren, Humphrey Payne and
Richard Bailey. This plate is still displayed in the Livery Hall today. The
total weight exceeded 2,300 ounces and replaced plate sold over the previous
century to meet the Company’s financial requirements.
1741 Paul De Lamerie Dish & Ewer
With patriotic fervour, in 1798 the Court issued a list of economies to
be practised in the running of the Company’s affairs and announced that the sum
of £1,000 was to be given ‘in aid of the exigencies of the State, and that the
same be continued annually during the war’. Many special subscriptions were
raised for the relief of the widows, wives and orphans of the soldiers, sailors
and marines killed or wounded in the various campaigns. In 1816 an extraordinary
Trial of the Pyx was held at Goldsmiths’ Hall to test French gold money coined
by the Mint ‘for the greater facility of paying the troops under His Grace the
Duke of Wellington’, the British army of occupation in France. These coins later
caused great trouble in France where they were seized as counterfeit. Louis
XVIII, having given permission for the coining, failed to circulate this fact in
his own country.
The Company had been proud that its wartime economies did not hinder
its charitable activities, but the upkeep of the Hall had certainly suffered. In
the early 19th century some parts of the building even had to be
shored up with scaffolding.
In 1829 the existing Hall, which dated from the 17th
century, was demolished, and construction began on a new structure. It was
designed by Philip Hardwick, the Company’s surveyor, and was opened with a grand
banquet in July 1835. The Hall still stands today, the third Goldsmiths’ Hall on
this site since the purchase of the land in 1339
In 1812, 20 almshouses were erected on the Perryn estate in Acton, west
of London. This land had been left to the Company by John Perryn in 1657. In
1832, a new schoolhouse was built by the Company in Stockport. The schoolhouse
was for the school founded by Edmund Shaa, a benefactor of the Company, in the
Re-Engagement with Trade and Design
Although hallmarking had always kept the Company engaged with the
craft, during the later 18th century trade membership fell. With it,
so did engagement with the practical side of goldsmithing. This did not last for
The Prince Consort became an Honorary Liveryman in 1840 and it may well
have been due to his enthusiasm that the Company decided to take a more
prominent part in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The company awarded £1,000 in
prizes ‘as a special encouragement to manufacturers of plate in this country’
and later purchased £5,000 worth of ornamental plate to commemorate the
The City and Guilds of London Institute
In 1871 the Company proposed a scheme for improving technical education
in the trade, and established an annual competition which offered prizes for
design and execution of works in precious metals. A master of drawing and
modelling, who was teaching goldsmithing apprentices in Clerkenwell, was
appointed to give regular free classes to students.
In 1877 the Goldsmiths’ decided to unite with other Livery Companies in
a major endeavour for the advancement of technical education in general
throughout the country. A provisional committee of representatives from the City
Corporation and the Livery Companies was formed and as a result of their
recommendations, the City and Guilds of London Institute was founded in 1878.
The Goldsmiths' Company has been a major benefactor to the Institute and its
interest and involvement continues, and the City and Guilds of London Institute
is today one of the main examining bodies for vocational qualifications.
New Cross Technical and
Land and buildings at New Cross, in
south east London, formerly used by the Royal Naval School, were purchased by
the Goldsmiths’ Company in 1889 and opened in 1891 as the Technical and
Recreative Institute ‘for the promotion of technical skill, knowledge, health
and general well-being among young men and women of the industrial, working and
artisan classes’. In 1904 the College was presented to London University and
changed its name to Goldsmiths’ College. The Company still has two
representatives on the college delegacy.
In 1903, the collection of economic literature which had been owned by
Professor Foxwell was purchased by the Company and given to the University of
London Library. In 1908, The Goldsmiths’, Silversmiths’ and Jewellers’ Art
Council of London was established by George Booth Heming as an annual
competition of craftsmen and schools in London. The Goldsmiths’ Company has been
a prominent supporter along with the trade itself and the competition continues
to this day under the title of The Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council.
In the same year, Readerships in metallurgy were endowed by the Company
at Cambridge, and in English at Oxford.
Design competitions began in 1926 for Ascot trophies, marking a long
and continuous involvement in modern design for silver wares through
competitions, exhibitions and lectures.
Life in the Company continued as best it could during the war until the
night of 29th December 1940 when the Assay Office was burnt out. The Trial of
the Pyx continued at the Hall, but the Assay Office’s salvaged punches and
equipment were sent down to Reigate where the assaying service was
re-established in 1941.
In April 1941, a direct hit destroyed the front south west corner of
the Hall. However, the outer Portland stone facing was carefully collected and
stored and replaced when that portion was restored after the war.
The damage inflicted on the trade by the war, and subsequent austerity,
galvanised the Company to increase its support for silversmiths and jewellers.
In 1946, a Design and Research Centre was established at the Hall with financial
help from the Company and government grants. The Company was also involved in
the 1951 Festival of Britain, and a series of major exhibitions of historic and
contemporary silverwork were staged at the Hall during the decade.
1961 International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery
A programme of design competitions and exhibitions which had begun in
the inter-war years grew in size and ambition.
The landmark ‘International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery 1890-1961’
at Goldsmiths’ Hall was a turning point for resurgent artist jewellers released
from the austere aftermath of the Second World War. The Company received
sponsorship in 1961 from De Beers consolidated mines which formed the nucleus of
a new collection of jewellery at the Hall.
Each year since then, the Company has purchased or commissioned
contemporary designed jewellery in precious metals.
In 1976, the first ‘Loot’ was held at the Hall. 2,000 exhibits were
chosen from 300 designers, and everything on view was also on sale for less than
£50. This selling exhibition grew into the annual Goldsmiths' Fair, first held
in 1982 and still a highlight of the Company’s year. Encouragement was also
provided by buying new work from contemporary craftsmen to add to the Company’s