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The Worshipful Company Of Merchant Taylors

In Harmony Small Things Grow

The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. Under an order issued by mayor Robert Billesden in 1484, the Company ranks in sixth or seventh place (making it one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies) in the order of precedence of the Livery Companies, alternating with the Skinners' Company. The annual switch occurs at Easter. The Merchant Taylors are normally sixth in the order of precedence in odd numbered years, and at seven in even numbered years.

One of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London. Livery Companies, or Guilds as they were previously known, began in mediaeval times as fraternities which were often religious but also there to protect the interests of particular trades. There are now 108 City Livery Companies.

The Company started as an association of artisans, ie working tailors, known as the Fraternity of St John the Baptist. This was both for trade regulation and also for a good funeral and for prayers for one’s soul in Purgatory after death. All these aspects were equally important before the Reformation. The Company’s first royal charter was in 1327, and the Company was incorporated by a further royal charter in 1408. The Company also possessed a chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral and, from 1413, almshouses in Threadneedle Street for its aged members.

At this time the Company was known as the Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers, linen armour being the padded clothes worn beneath metal armour.

From humble beginnings, the Company very gradually improved its status.  It acquired considerable wealth through gifts and benefactions. Many important people were admitted to the Fraternity, such as Henry V, the victor of Agincourt. Although many members remained working tailors, by the late 15th century the senior membership contained an increasing number of wealthy merchants, trading within England and also overseas. The first Mayor to be chosen from the Company was Sir John Percyvale, Master of the Company in 1489 and Mayor in 1508.  There have been many others since.

Its seat is the Merchant Taylors' Hall between Threadneedle Street and Cornhill, a site it has occupied since at least 1347. The Company's motto is Concordia Parvae Res Crescunt, from the Roman historian Sallust meaning In Harmony Small Things Grow.

It owns Merchant Taylors' School in Sandy Lodge and St. John's Preparatory School in Northwood, both in Hertfordshire, and is associated with Merchant Taylors' School, Crosby, Merchant Taylors' Girls' School in Crosby, Wolverhampton Grammar School, Foyle and Londonderry College, Wallingford School, and The King's School, Macclesfield. It is also associated with St John's College, Oxford, founded by Sir Thomas White (a Master of the Company) in 1555, and with Pembroke College, Cambridge. It donates prizes to St. Helen's School in Northwood, which is considered its 'sister school', and supports an opera student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It also supports Treloar School in Hampshire, a school and college for children with physical disabilities.

It has a major interest in charitable support for the elderly and isolated in Inner London, as well as for people living with disabilities. It is a major provider of almshouses in the London Borough of Lewisham and has plans to develop brand new accommodation for local elderly people

Milestones in the Company's history

14th Century

1327 Letters Patent of Edward III - Royal acceptance of the Guild by its first Charter.

1371 “The good men of the trade” of Tailors and Linen Armourers submitted an Ordinance for the approval of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to enable them to order and regulate their craft.

1390 Letters Patent of Richard II - authorising the Fraternity to give a livery garment and “to hold and keep in an honest manner the feast of meat and drink on St. John Baptist's Day.”

15th Century

1408 Letters Patent of Henry IV - granting Incorporation of the Fraternity with powers of self government.

1428 Evidence of "search" on the Eve of Bartholomew Fair (1445 hallmark on the Clothyard).

1439 Letters Patent of Henry VI - empowering the Guild to make "full search within the City and suburbs".

1465 Letters Patent of Edward IV - confirming the right of search which the Corporation had challenged.

1481 First Grant of Arms - to the Fraternity of Tailors and Linen Armourers by Clarenceux King of Arms.

1484 Lord Mayor Billesden awards Merchant Taylors and Skinners priority in precendence in alternate years: This is known as the principle of "sixes and sevens"

16th Century

1503 Letters Patent of Henry VII - the Charter which first recognised the Guild under the name of Merchant Taylors

1507 Ordinances for the government of the fraternity ratified.

1547 John Stow admitted after apprenticeship to the Freedom; and in receipt of a pension by 1579.

1565 Court of Assistants so named.

1566 Acquisition of the Mora estate (Moorfields) for the siting of racks or tenters in the making of cloth.

1572 Company required to provide 200 men for the defence of the City.

1586 Second Grant of Arms - to the Art or Mystery of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist.

17th Century

1607 King James I dines at the Hall; and 'God save the King' perhaps first played by Dr. John Bull.

1613 New Ordinances confirmed, which established the Oath to be sworn by new Liverymen.

1618 Irish Society grant an estate in Ulster to the Company, designated as "the manor of St John the Baptist".

1640 First barge built

1642 Return made to Lord Mayor of arms and ammunition held for the defence of the City.

1676 Festival of the Sons of the Clergy first held at the Hall.

1685 Letters Patent of Charles II: and surrender of Charters to the King in 1687.

1690 Letters Patent of William and Mary, repealing the "Quo Warranto" of 1684.

18th Century

1702 Hall rented by the East India Company; and in 1711 by the South Sea Company.

1719 Letters Patent of George I - the last and confirmatory Charter.

1727 Sale of the Irish Estates.

1751 Five Liverymen petitioned the Court of Aldermen unsuccessfully for the right of inspection of the Charters.

1786 £10,000 voted for the public service.

19th Century

1800 Last barge built (its sternboard on the wall of the Grand Staircase).

1802 Dinner in honour of William Pitt in the Hall; and subsequently the "Pitt Club" dinners.

1814 Alexander I of Russia and Frederick William III of Prussia dined in the Hall.

1837 Royal Commission on the Livery Companies.

20th Century

1972 Company's records put on microfilm and copies placed in Guildhall Library.

1982 Establishment of Merchant Taylors Catering Ltd to operate the commercial letting of Merchant Taylors' Hall facilities.

1984 Quincentenary of the Billesden Award.

1992 Ladies admitted to the Livery of the Company.

1996 Company's archives transferred to the Guildhall Library.