Evidences, 1882: Mr. E.J. Watherston

Pages 143-151

City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.

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SIXTH DAY. Wednesday, 3rd May 1882.


The Right Honourable the EARL OF DERBY, Chairman.

His Grace the Duke of Bedford, K.G.

The Right Hon. Viscount Sherbrooke.

The Right Hon. Sir Richard Assheton Cross, G.C.B., M.P.

Sir Nathaniel M. de Rothschild, Bart., M.P.

Sir Sydney H. Waterlow, Bart., M.P.

Mr. Walter H. James, M.P.

Mr. Pell, M.P.

Mr. Thomas Burt, M.P.

Mr. H. D. Warr, Secretary.

(fn. 1) Mr. Edward James Watherston was called in and examined as follows:

Mr. E. J. Watherston.; 3 May 1882.

997. (Chairman.) I need hardly ask you whether you are a member of the firm which bears your name at No. 12, Pall Mall East?—I am.

998. Your firm are goldsmiths and silversmiths, are they not?—Yes.

999. And I think you are a member of the Goldsmiths' Company and a liveryman?—Yes.

1000. If I am rightly informed, you took up your freedom by patrimony at the age of 21?—I did.

1001. And you were elected to the livery 18 years ago?—I was.

1002. As a liveryman, you take no part in the government of the Company?—Not the slightest.

1003. We know that you have written on the subject of the duty on plate, and I understand that you have been of opinion for a long time that the connexion between the Goldsmiths' Company and the crafts is detrimental to the interests of the crafts?—I am decidedly of that opinion, so far only as relates to their compulsory powers over the crafts.

1004. I presume that you express that opinion upon general grounds of policy founded on what you conceive to be the proper limitations of the functions of the State?—Certainly.

1005. And I think you gave your opinion upon that subject generally before the Select Committee that sat on the question of hall-marking four years ago?—I did.

1006. Your objection, I take is, is twofold. In the first place, you object in principle to a compulsory interference with your craft, and in the next place you object to that control being exercised by a self-elected body of men, who have no personal knowledge for the most part of the requirements of the business?—I do.

1007. One of those objections, I presume, would apply even if the Goldsmiths' Company were composed entirely of members of the trade?—Undoubtedly. The interests of manufacturers and workmen and of dealers are altogether different. Such a body might do much good as a trade council, but they should not be permitted to assume compulsory powers.

1008. Can you tell us how many members of the court or the governing body of the Goldsmiths' Company at present are craftsmen?—I regard only four of the members of the court as craftsmen.

1009. I understand there are two other members of the court who are claimed as being craftsmen, but you do not admit that in strictness they are entitled to that designation?—That is so.

1010. Therefore, according to your view, there are only four members of the Goldsmiths' Company and according to their view there are six members to represent the interests of the craft?—Yes; I should say to misrepresent.

1011. And I think we may take it from you that there are something like 14,000 licensed members of that craft?—That is about the number; there are just under 14,000 members.

1012. And that does not include the workmen whom they employ?—No; and supposing a firm to have two or three partners, it would only include one out of the firm.

1013. I understand that you, at a not very distant date, endeavoured to obtain from the Company information regarding its affairs?—I did in February 1878, by a letter addressed to Mr. Prideaux, the clerk, of which the following is a copy:—"Dear sir,— Might I venture to ask you whether as a liveryman I am entitled to the following information respecting the Company of which I am a member? I desire to know (1) the names of all members elected to the court since January 1st, 1827; (2) the dates of their admission to the freedom, of their election to the livery, and of their election to the court; (3) their professions or occupations as described in the books of the Company; (4) the mode in which they took up their freedom, whether by redemption, patrimony, servitude, or special grant; (5) the names of all members of the Company admitted to the freedom by redemption during the 30 years ended December 31st 1877, their professions or occupations; and (6) the names of the four wardens for the years 1827 to 1877, inclusive."

1014. May we ask you what was the object with which that letter was written?— (fn. 2) Undoubtedly to disestablish the Company. I earnestly desire to terminate the compulsory connexion between the Company and the crafts. It will be no easy task. In the present block of Parliamentary business it will be most difficult to introduce such a reform as I think desirable. But if my contention be right that by the mode in which they have elected the court, and more especially in their appointments of wardens, they have forfeited their charters, my task will be easier. Their charters direct that the wardens shall be "elected by the trade," and that they shall be "true, honest, and sufficient men, best skilled in the said trade." Of course they are not "elected by the trade," and had I had the information sought for, it would have proved beyond dispute that, during the last half century, first, that only on rare occasions was there a "skilled" warden; secondly, that on many occasions all four wardens were utterly unskilled; thirdly, that the practice of admission to the Company by redemption had provided that the greater number of the present court owed their election to purchase; fourthly, that the status and position of those gentlemen who have been admitted by redemption were the sole qualifications for membership; and lastly, that but very few craftsmen were among the number. I may add that I entertain the conviction that their charters are legally forfeited by the mode in which they have constructed the court of wardens, and, directly the duty upon gold and silver plate shall have been abolished, it is my intention to challenge their right to compel me to obey their laws, or even the Acts of Parliament themselves which were clearly passed upon the faith of those charters. Even to raise such an issue, right or wrong, would go far to break the back of such mischievous laws as now beset my trade.

1015. Why do you consider it necessary to wait for the repeal of the duty on gold and silver plate before you can raise that legal question?—Because as long as the duty prevails the Hall mark is a safeguard to the revenue; and again, with regard to the duty, we are liable to the excise department of the Government. But with regard to the Hall marking laws the Government have nothing to do; they are simply in the hands of the Goldsmiths' Company. I wish, therefore, to wait until the taxation has been abolished.

1016. But if your objection be directed to any compulsory interference to your trade by any company, no matter how organized, is it material from that point of view to show that the Goldsmiths' Company does not, as a matter of fact, represent the trade?—I think it is highly desirable to show that, because it will go far to get the law altered so that that trade may be perfectly free, like other trades.

1017. We only want to get at your opinion, but as I understand it, if the Company were so altered that it really were composed of men for the most part skilled in the trade, still that would not remove your objection to compulsory interference?—No; I should object more strongly to the Company being composed entirely of craftsmen.

1018. Then, in that case, I presume that the manner in which the Company is composed can, from your point of view, be a matter of no importance to you?— When their compulsory powers are taken from them, it is of no importance to me in the least.

1019. In point of fact you have come here to argue that particular point, that you think a compulsory power of interference with your trade, whoever exercises it, is undesirable?—Exactly so.

1020. You would have no Hall marking and no tax? —I desire to have no taxation of my trade, but I do desire that Hall marking should be a voluntary institution, not, as now, compulsory. I also desire that it shall be carried on in a manner very distinctly different from the present plan. It is very much better done in France, where it is done by what is called "the touch," and not by "the scrape and parting assay" as it is in this country. The Hall marking is admirably done in France, and very badly done in this country by reason of the antiquated manner in which it is conducted.

1021. (Sir R. Cross.) You object to it altogether in either country, as I understand, as a compulsory institution?—As a compulsory institution, most decidedly I do.

1022. What evil does the compulsory system work, or how does the compulsory system work in regard to your trade?—The compulsory system is a complete protection to the trade in this country. It prevents the importation of any foreign plate for the purpose of sale, and it works very badly as shown by the very small amount of trade done in the country. The amount of silver Hall marked during the last 25 years has decreased by about one third, namely, from about 994,000 ounces to 650,000 ounces; it is an absolutely decreasing trade year by year.

1023. (Chairman.) That, I presume, you ascribe mainly to the tax, or do you ascribe it to the tax and the system of Hall marking together?—To both, but more especially to the duty.

1024. (Sir R. Cross.) The tax has more to do with the decrease of trade than the Hall marking, has it not?—The Hall marking, I should say, has a very bad effect seeing that it would keep men out of the trade. Men will not take their capital into a business which has legal restraints upon it; it is against the principle of freedom of trade that there should be any compulsion whatever attached to it.

1025. (Chairman.) Do you mean that there is a certain amount of annoyance and vexation caused by the process that has to be gone through?—Yes, you can hardly form an idea of the annoyance that is caused by it. The goods have to be sent down under certain regulations, they have to be there at a certain time in the morning and to be fetched away again at a certain time in the afternoon. Then I may tell you a very extraordinary fact connected with it. Supposing I were to send down to the Hall, say half-adozen teapots, half-a-dozen sugar basins, half-a-dozen cream ewers, candlesticks, or anything else, what is called a parcel of goods; supposing that by malice or by accident on the part of the workman a little bit of the rim of one of the smallest pieces was found to be defective the result would be, you would think, that they would break up that small defective article and mark all that which was not defective.

1026. (Sir R. Cross.) You mean defective in the quality of silver?—Defective in the quality of silver, You would think they would break up that one article and mark all the other articles that were not defective, and return the article that was defective to you. The very contrary happens. They break up the entire parcel; that is the habit with the Goldsmiths' Company, I believe by law. I have had cases brought before me where a man has lost 24l. or 25l. in workmen's wages alone, by having an entire parcel broken up. That must operate as a great restraint upon trade.

1027. (Mr. Pell.) They would only break up the defective article itself, I suppose?—No, they would break up the whole parcel. There was a man who a little time ago had his work broken up in exactly the way I am now describing to you. That certainly operates as a great restraint upon trade.

1028. (Chairman.) Then, in point of fact, your objection is threefold. You object to the manner in which this privilege of compulsory Hall marking is exercised; you object to its being exercised by a company which is not, to any large extent, composed of craftsmen, and you object to its being exercised compulsorily under whatever circumstances or by whatever body?—Exactly so.

1029. Reverting to the facts which you stated, I believed you were refused the information for which you applied?—I was. On the 21st of March 1878, Mr. Prideaux desired me to attend at Goldsmiths' Hall. On Wednesday, the 3rd of April, I went and presented myself before the Court of Wardens, and was informed that I was not entitled to the information, and further that it could not be accorded to me by grace for the reason that I had publicly spoken offensively of the Company, referring to remarks made by me as a member of a deputation to the Board of Trade when I was endeavouring to get a select committee of inquiry into the laws relating to the Hall marking of gold and silver wares, the offence consisting in that I had stated that there were but three members of the craft on the then court, and that the four wardens at that time were respectively a civil engineer, a porcelain manufacturer, a stockbroker, and a merchant. That was my offence.

1030. Do I understand it to be your view that the Goldsmiths' Company (and possibly other trade companies) should be again more closely connected with the trade which it professedly represented?—I think that so far as their funds are concerned they should be directed to a greater extent to the development of the industries of the country.

1031. You are aware that membership in these companies has been hereditary, and that therefore for the last 300 years, at least, the great majority of the members have not been practically persons pursuing the trades which are mentioned in the names of the companies?—I am quite aware of that. Many of the companies never within living memory have had craftsmen on their governing bodies, or very rarely.

1032. Then in fact what you propose is not the doing away with the modern basis and reverting to a former condition of things, but establishing a condition of things which has never practically existed, at least in modern times, in connexion with the companies?—Undoubtedly.

1033. I think you have expressed an opinion that a larger proportion of the funds of the companies should be devoted to technical education have you not?—I have.

1034. Will you tell us a little more in detail in what manner you think they ought to be applied?—I should like to see more of their funds devoted to the technical education of goldsmiths and silversmiths. I think that such funds should be applied to the formation of high schools after the manner prevailing abroad, which I may shortly describe as the school in the workshop or the workshop in the school. They should be open to lads from the elementary schools at 13 years of age. General education should then be proceeded with, together with the use and application of tools and machinery; drawing, chemistry, modelling, chasing, engraving, polishing, finishing, &c., should be taught in addition to French and German, which languages are invaluable to art workmen as enabling them to visit with advantage the museums and ateliers abroad. In other words, from 13 to 16, I would prepare youths for entrance into the workshop proper by an education mainly directed to the craft for which they were intended.

1035. Would there, in your view, be any difficulty in establishing such schools?—Not the slightest. The London and other School Boards might safely be trusted to work such schools with immense advantage to all trades, if funds were forthcoming for such a purpose. I would refer Her Majesty's Commissioners to the able writings of Professor Silvanus Thompson upon this subject. I have brought some of his writings with me.

1036. There is a movement in favour of technical education now going on under the patronage of the City Guilds. Have you considered that in reference to your proposals?—I have. But it is my opinion that we are beginning at the wrong end. First, we have lost much valuable time, and we must lose more valuable time before any result can be obtained from their technical college now in course of erection. Secondly, I maintain that technical education should be commenced at the earliest possible time, namely, at 13 years of age. The City Guilds scheme is far too ambitious, and in advance of the times, and will be comparatively useless if unaccompanied by schools such as I have described. Many years must elapse before professors have been provided; during all this time an enormous work could be accomplished if common sense alone were allowed to direct our operations, and if theory were, for once, to be allowed to give way to practice. It would be perfectly easy in London, Birmingham, or Sheffield, and other places to provide teachers of the several branches of trades in the precious metals, and all other handicrafts, provided only that funds were forthcoming.

1037. Do you consider that the trade represented by the Goldsmiths' Company is entitled to the benefit of the entire property of the Company?—I have no means of knowing under what conditions they hold their property, but I entertain a conviction that the greater part of it should be devoted to matters appertaining to the crafts. I can imagine no better application of their funds than that of improving the technical education of workmen, not only by schools such as I have described, but also by museums and libraries specially devoted to their instruction.

1038. Do you think that their work ought to be confined to London?—Certainly not.

1039. You think it should be extended to the country generally, do you?—Certainly.

1040. There is at present, I believe, a contribution by the Company to the Trade Charities; do you know the amount of that?—There are four charities to which they give 200 guineas a year each, making 840l. I do not consider that this is in the least degree adequate. They give many thousands of pounds annually to hospitals and other charitable institutions; I do not approve of that. They give 3,800l., I believe, to Oxford and Cambridge for exhibitions, and I fail altogether to see under what charter they devote such funds to the technical education of lawyers and clergymen. I do not think that, in the least degree, part of their functions. I may add that some little time ago, I believe, they built a church and endowed it; I do not think that that is a branch of their functions.

1041. In short, to put it briefly, you consider that the trade craft is morally entitled to the benefit of their property?—The greater portion of it.

1042. (Sir R. Cross.) Where do you draw the distinction? I can understand your saying they are entitled to the whole of it, but I do not understand your saying the greater part of it?—I should hardly know what to do with their large income without further consideration. I think that a great portion of it might be devoted to the craft, and really, if you press me, I think that we might say the whole of it might be devoted to the crafts if we were to include Birmingham and Sheffield, and other places where there are goldsmiths and silversmiths.

1043. (Chairman.) We shall be glad to hear any further suggestions you wish to make?—I should like to state, in order to show you how little we, as liverymen, are entitled to, even in the way of information, that to-day I wished to bring your Lordship a copy of the oath of the Goldsmiths; I therefore wrote to the Goldsmiths' Hall this morning for a copy of that oath, and I find that they decline even to give that to a liveryman. In reply to my request, I have this letter from them:—"Goldsmiths' Hall, London, E.C., 3rd May 1882.—Dear Sir, I am unable to comply with your request without first asking the wardens, whom I shall see to-morrow. I am, dear Sir, yours truly, C. R. Williams."

1044. (Mr Pell.) It is an oath that you have taken yourself, is it not?—It is an oath I have taken myself, but I have no copy of it, and I, as a liveryman, thinking myself entitled to a copy, sent down to the Hall for it, and on doing so I find that I am not entitled to the smallest possible information, or anything at all.

1045. (Chairman.) Have you heard and considered a proposal which has been frequently made that either the whole, or a part of the property of these companies should be applied to the lightening of the rates? —I have heard that, but I have not given much attention to it.

1046. (Sir Sydney Waterlow.) Do I understand you that you object to the influence of the Goldsmiths' Company over the craft, only so far as they exercise that influence under existing statutes?—Exactly so.

1047. Could you briefly tell us whether there is any compulsory power exercised by the Company under statute beyond the Hall marking of gold and silver?— None that I am aware of.

1048. So long as the duty is continued I presume you would agree that it is necessary to mark gold and silver in some way or other?—Most decidedly, such goods as are liable to duty, as a protection to the revenue.

1049. Then your objection would narrow itself surely to this point, would it not, that you think the Goldsmiths' Company by their officers do not do it so efficiently and so carefully and fairly as might be done possibly by a Government officer, is that so?—Not exactly. I think that they carry on the regulations relating to Hall marking upon the old fashioned principle of years and years ago. I think if they were to exercise their functions more in accordance with the times in which we live that that would be very advantageous to the trade so long as it was a voluntary and not a compulsory institution.

1050. But as their work in that respect is under the statute, can you give any illustration of their having exceeded their statutory powers in the way in which they have performed their work?—No, I cannot.

1051. Then your objection is to the Hall marking altogether?—Most decidedly.

1052. Is not that a question for Parliament instead of a question for the company? So long as the statute remains on the book which requires them to Hall mark gold and silver, are they not performing an obligatory duty?—They are performing a duty under ancient Acts of Parliament which ought to be abolished.

1053. Is not that a question for Parliament rather than for the discretion of the Goldsmiths' Company? —Undoubtedly, but then I think they might within the lines of their Acts of Parliament improve the modes of carrying on the work of Hall marking.

1054. Then as regards the Goldsmiths' Company your complaint narrows itself to an expression of opinion that in the exercise of the statutory powers, they do not perhaps sufficiently consider the necessities or wants of the trade, and that they might do so a little more than they do?—Quite so.

1055. Then it is a very narrow complaint against the company, is it not?—I am not here to make any grave complaint against the company at all. That is not my object. I desire to get the law altered.

1056. You said there were 14,000 licensed members who pay a license; that is not paid to the company, is it?—No, to the Government.

1057. Then is that any question for the company at all?—No.

1058. Then that is not their fault, is it?—No.

1059. I think you told the Commission that the company's funds should be expended in the education generally of craftsmen all over the country in connexion with the trade?—I did.

1060. Are you aware of the large sums which the Goldsmiths' Company have given towards the promotion of technical education?—I have already, I think, in my evidence, stated that I consider that what they are doing is all wrong.

1061. Are you aware of the amounts that they have contributed?—Yes.

1062. Are you aware that they have contributed 10,000l. down, and that they contribute 3,000l. a year, and that they have promised another 10,000l. ?—I am aware of it.

1063. Then I think you said that the money should go to promote schools for teaching persons connected with the craft a knowledge of mineralogy, especially in connexion with the precious metals, or words to that effect?—Yes.

1064. Are you aware that a good deal of their money has gone towards the establishment of a school which is now at work in Finsbury for boys of 13 years of age in connexion with the middle class schools?—I am aware of it.

1065. Is not that precisely what you are recommending to the Commission?—It should be done on a much more extended scale, and I may add that the school has only been opened a very short time.

1066. Then I think you stated that it would take a long time to engage professors; are you aware that under that scheme Professor Laydon and Professor Armstrong have been engaged, and that they are paid a large salary in order to retain their whole services for the purpose really of teaching that which you have described to the Commission?—I am acquainted with the technical schools abroad, and they are very far superior to anything we have in this country, and therefore very far superior to the school in Finsbury. I do not know whether you are yourself acquainted with the technical schools at Besancon, or Lyons, or of Paris, or many other places on the Continent, but they are carried on with very much more practical common sense than prevails in our own country.

1067. As those schools have been at work for years, and are supported largely by the State, surely it is only fair to give the companies credit for what they are doing, having regard to the limited extent of their funds, compared with the funds at the disposal of the countries to which you have referred for similar purposes?—Of course; but the schools abroad are not only well, but very economically managed.

1068. Are you aware that the contribution of the Clothworkers' and Goldsmiths' Companies are not confined to this object in London, but that they take in Bradford and Leeds?—Not the Goldsmiths'.

1069. Their contributions go to the general funds, out of which the schools are supported, do they not? —The Bradford school and the Leeds school are supported mainly by the Clothworkers' Company, and they are admirable schools.

1070. I think you will find, if you refer to the accounts in the institute, that they contribute also to other provincial schools. You object to the application of the funds of the Goldsmiths' Company in building a church. Have they not very large estates, and do you not think they were justified in providing churches for the large population that occupy the houses which have been built upon their own property?—The only excuse I can make for their building a church is that it was done to improve their property, and for no other reason.

1071. Do you not think that landlords have a certain moral obligation to provide religious education, especially a church in a large district which is created at their instigation and under their control?—I strongly object to any such trust funds being advanced for sectarian purposes.

1072. You told the Commission you thought the funds of the Goldsmiths' Company should be devoted almost entirely to some objects connected with the members of the craft. Is it not a fact that the larger proportion of their property has been given to them or subscribed for by members who did not belong to the craft?—I have no means of knowing how they obtained their property, but from the little I do know I should say that a greater portion of it belonged absolutely to the crafts.

1073. Does it not arise out of the gifts of members of the company during the last two centuries, and the operation of the system of purchase into the companies by which the funds have been largely augmented?— That may be, but then I object altogether to their allowing people to purchase their way into the company.

1074. Having obtained the money from such sources, surely those sources are entitled to some consideration in the distribution of the fund, are they not?—I think the companies have forfeited their charters by the mode in which they have done that. I doubt whether, if pressed, it would be found to be legal for any person to purchase a position by which he becomes a trustee. I think there is very grave doubt whether the money so invested is legally invested.

1075. Probably that is a question more for lawyers than for laymen, is it not?—Undoubtedly.

1076. (Mr. Pell.) I think you said that the Goldsmiths' Company devoted 3,800l. a year to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge for exhibitions, did you not?—Yes.

1077. Is it your view that that money would be better withdrawn from the universities and devoted to the purposes of technical education through the provinces and in London?—Undoubtedly.

1078. There are four charities receiving 200 guineas a year also from them, are there not?—There are the Goldsmiths' Benevolent Institution, the Goldsmiths' Annuity, and Pension Institution, the Clock Makers' and Watch Makers' Institution, and the Silver Trade Pension Society.

1079. They are all connected with the craft?— Certainly.

1080. Would you also devote that money to technical education, or think that a better application of it?—Certainly not; but I claim that we have a right to fully 2,000 instead of 200 guineas a year for each of those charities.

1081. I think you said that thousands of pounds were contributed to the hospitals?—I have no means of knowing precisely, but I should not be surprised to find that they give away 20,000l. a year to charities that were not connected with the crafts in the slightest degree.

1082. Then your objection is not so much to the contribution to hospitals as to hospitals who received people who are not goldsmiths, is that so?—My objection is that that is not a proper mode of spending money belonging to the crafts.

1083. Supposing these very large sums of money were to be devoted to the technical education of children, commencing at 13 and extending up to a period of 16 years of age, as I think you said, do you not think it likely that that might divert people to a business or to a calling for which they would not be naturally fitted, and that you will disturb the natural selection, if I may say so, of the professions of young people?—My hope is to see all the companies eventually providing these technical schools in different parts of London. In such a case a technical school in Clerkenwell would naturally attract to itself the boys of Clerkenwell. The sons of working goldsmiths and working silversmiths would, in all probability, find their way there. In Besancon, for instance (with which most likely some of Her Majesty's Commissioners are familiar), you find that children are being brought up to watch-making to a very great extent, because they live in Besançon, and the schools of Besançon are mainly directed to the instruction of children with the view to their becoming watchmakers; the result is simply this that children go into that line of life as a groove already prepared for them. I should like to see that carried on in London. The result would be that the Clothworkers would have their school in London, the Goldsmiths would have their school, the Haberdashers would have their school, in fact, there would be all kinds of schools and the boys would gradually get drafted into the school for which they were best fitted. Again, I believe what I may call technical elementary schools should be established, the great object of which would be to get children to love labour-saving appliances, to understand tools and machinery, and in fact to handle tools and machinery. The result would be that they would be able to be drafted into any trade towards which they showed the greatest tendency.

1084. That would be naturally a master's view of the case, but would it not be possible that you might overstock the market with employés of these particular businesses? However, I will not press you upon that?—The answer to that is "not if the schools "were properly managed." The Continental schools find no such result. Workmen emigrate. It would be better to glut the world with handicraftsmen than with clerks.

1085. Can you tell the Commission at what period of the history of those companies they began to devote money to what are termed charities in the vulgar sense of the word, hospitals and so on?—No, I am not able to do that.

1086. You cannot say when that practice began?— No, I cannot.

1087. You do not think it was connected with the difficulty of getting rid of their enormous funds in a way that would satisfy public opinion?—I should undoubtedly say that that was so.

1088. Without reference to the original foundation of the companies and the uses they should attempt to apply the money to?—I should say undoubtedly so. (fn. 3) With regard to my own company, I should like to place on record this fact, that only six years ago they were strongly opposed to technical education. I may say that my father is one of the senior members of the Court of the Goldsmiths' Company, and as one of those members he thought proper in the year 1876 to address a letter to his own company, and to the other companies, recommending that they should devote large sums of money to the technical education of the children of the metropolis.

1089. In that particular trade?—Of their particular trade; and with the permission of the Commission, I should like to read that letter:—
12, Pall Mall East, July 1876.
To the Masters, Wardens, and Court of Assistants of the [ ] Company.

"Menaced, as the City Companies have lately been, with a parliamentary inquiry into the amount of their property and their mode of appropriating it, with all the attendant annoyances of such an inquisitorial proceeding, no one will say that it is surprising that one at least of their members should have looked around him to see whether, to the whole body whose interests are involved, some suggestion may not be made, by which, if acted upon simultaneously, and with hearty good will, the dreaded evil (now only postponed) should be averted, and, possibly, for ever removed. Prompted by these motives, and in the full conviction that the stability of the City Companies will be considerably affected by the manner in which they shall decide upon dealing with the great subject of 'technical education' which has now for so long a time been pressed upon their attention, I have felt it a duty incumbent on me to address my brethren of the court of the Goldsmiths' Company on the subject, urging them to take the matter into their thoughtful consideration, with the view of letting it assume with them larger proportions than it has yet done. And, as this is a question which is likely to affect all the companies so deeply, I hope I may be excused if I venture to lay before your worshipful court the claims which, in my humble judgment, the cause of 'technical education' has at our joint hands, and the way in which, in my opinion, considerations of wisdom and prudence which suggest that they ought to be dealing with. My own company is expending 4,000l. a year upon exhibitions to Oxford and Cambridge, open to all comers; but in the face of all this liberality I have ventured to remind my brethren of the court (and I desire most respectfully to remind the courts of those other companies who are equally liberal in the same direction) that it is not simply 'literary and scholastic education' that is demanded of the companies, but 'technical education' (which means instruction in the art and mystery of the respective crafts), that public opinion has set its heart upon, and will not be satisfied until it obtains it on a scale commensurate with the resources of the respective companies. Now, if we seek to inquire (as I think we should do) why it is that this outcry is made for 'technical education,' we shall, I think, see that it is not such an unreasonable thing as many suppose, but rather an undertaking which the enlightened corporations of the City of London should not wait to be forced to, but, patriotically and honestly of their own accord, set to work to perform. The objects which the promoters of 'technical education' have in view may be briefly said to be these:—To improve our manufactures in every branch of industry, so as to enable them to at least compete successfully in point of taste, quality, and price, with kindred articles in the markets of the world, and thereby to maintain in many respects our national supremacy. This, it is affirmed, can only be accomplished by better educated artisans than we at present possess, such in short as are to be found in the workshops and ateliers of the manufacturing firms of the Continent, and to whose superiority over ours their great success of late years is very properly attributed. If these be the objects sought to be attained by 'technical education,' and these the only means of attaining them, who is to do the lion's share of the work? Does the duty not seem to belong pre-eminently, by right and title, to the City Companies, whose charters were given them for the express purpose of fostering trade and commerce? Assuming that each and everyone of them had continued carrying on the affairs of their respective trades would they have held back at the present time ? Would they have resisted the popular demand now made upon them? And if they would not, why should their successors, on whom has devolved the administration of such princely revenues? Certainly not because by the change of circumstances many of them are laymen and do not understand the respective crafts! That is no valid excuse; it is rather an argument why, in support of their own personal interests in societies, in which they are regarded by many of the public as intruders, they should urge, in the strongest possible manner, upon the members of the trades with whom they are associated in the courts, the wisdom, the justice, the prudence, the absolute necessity of their taking a prominent part in the great national work now before them. The companies individually and collectively may congratulate themselves upon the failure of the late attempt in Parliament to give them trouble and annoyance; but if they desire to prevent the repetition of such annoyance, they must not think that it can be done by attempting to stifle 'public opinion'; that 'opinion' has been plainly and strongly expressed that it will have 'technical education' at the cost of the companies; and any one who reads the signs of the times with the eye of ordinary intelligence cannot fail to see the desirability of giving it. Additional wings to hospitals are good things in their way; exhibitions and scholarships to the universities are equally good in their way; but for societies such as the trading guilds of the City of London, these are not the first duties they are called on to perform. Primarily they were founded for the fostering of industry and invention, and only collaterally for charitable purposes. In the courts of those companies where the members are exclusively laymen, they are manifestly unequal to the task of organising any system for supplying 'technical education;' and even in courts where craftsmen are a minority it would be presumption on the part of that minority to attempt, and bad policy for the laymen to allow them to try, to organise a system which would satisfy the trades. It is too intricate a subject for a mere handful of men to deal with without the assistance of the trades. What the companies should do is this, to take the trades into their counsels, and, with their aid, seek to discover the best means for attaining the desired end, themselves undertaking to furnish the necessary funds during their good pleasure, with the understanding that they, and they alone, in those cases where schools and colleges are established, have the right of presenting the scholars. Thus would a bounden duty be discharged, fault-finding be set at rest, and honour and applause redound to the doers of the work. One thing is certain, that most of the companies, were they only to look around them, would find that much of the work required of them could be done most satisfactorily by other hands than their own, without any trouble whatever to themselves; money, and only money, is wanted to set those agencies in motion. The Clothworkers' have made this discovery, and set a good example by assisting in founding and munificently contributing to the support of a College of Science at Leeds, designed to provide 'technical instruction' in connexion with the textile trades. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers could do good service for the mercers, the weavers, the drapers, the haberdashers, the ironmongers, the builders, and all those manufacturing trades which depend upon ingenious machinery for their successful development. All the resources of chemistry, at the cost of the companies, might be brought to the aid of the Dyers, the Weavers, and all other kindred trades which depend for success upon the beauty of their colours, while the Department of Science and Art at Kensington (which is a truly national institution with great capacities for usefulness) might be utilized in a most beneficial manner by the painters and the paper stainers, the braziers, and brass founders, the goldsmiths, silversmiths, and jewellers, and all the kindred trades which flourish or decay, in proportion to the amount of taste and skill displayed in their several manufacturers; the barber surgeons might possibly contribute some support to medical science; the fishmongers, if they could do nothing to improve our fisheries and oyster beds round the coast, might do good service in erecting and furnishing aquariums, those interesting and instructive exhibitions of the Divine power and wisdom; the grocers and vintners could probably diminish, if not entirely prevent, 'adulteration' by furnishing the means for its cheap and easy detection by the hands of skilful analysts. In short, there is scarcely a company which could not contribute its quota to the general improvement sought to be obtained by the means of technical education, and through its instrumentality to the well being of the community. And, although it may cost many thousands of pounds, who will say that it will not be money judiciously expended, if it prevented, as it most probably would prevent, the annoyance of the 'Royal Commission of Inquiry' with which the companies are threatened? No sensible people, we may be sure, wish to pull down such venerable institutions as the City companies, which have existed so long, and done so much good service; nor have they any desire to deprive them of their legitimate patronage, so long as it is exercised beneficially to the public. But radical reformers who desire to level all alike, have in the neglect of 'technical education,' a great grievance; of this they would be immediately and effectually deprived if these my suggestions were adopted: and no one, I think, can doubt that great good and glory to England would result from such an exhibition of praise-worthy patriotism. Believe me, gentlemen, faithfully yours,
"J. H. Watherston,
"Craft-member of the Court of Assistants of the Goldsmiths' Company."

That letter was sent to all the companies, and my father received letters from very eminent persons highly approving of his suggestions; notably from Mr. Barnard, the banker; from Mr. Newmarch, also a banker; from Mr. Hesketh; from the Right Honourable William E. Gladstone; from Mr. Watney, the clerk of the Mercers' Company; from Mr. Jackson, the clerk of the Cordwainers' Company; from the Clothworkers' Company, the Coopers' Company, the Drapers' Company; from the Right Honourable W. H. Smith; from Messrs. Elkington and Company; Mr. Hunt, of the firm of Hunt and Roskell; Lord Hatherley, Mr. Dalton, the Prime Warden of the Drapers' Company, among others; but his own company on the 26th of July 1876 passed the following resolution: "It having been brought to the notice of the court that Mr. Watherston, one of its members, had recently caused to be printed and circulated amongst the members of the court of assistants of the City companies generally, a letter signed 'J. H. Watherston, a member of the Court 'of Assistants of the Goldsmiths' Company,' it was resolved that in the opinion of this court, a member of it is not justified in publishing his opinions in his character as a member of the court of assistants of the company, without having first obtained the authority of the court so to do; and that therefore the action of Mr. Watherston in this "matter is disapproved of." That resolution was, I may tell you, placed on the minutes, and then some few years afterwards they entirely altered their minds, and went in very strongly for technical education, and give, and they now boast of giving, enormous sums in favour of it; but they have never taken this resolution off the minutes of the court to this day. I put that forward to show that my company have woke up to the advantages of technical education very late in the day indeed.

1090. (Mr. James.) Is your father still a member of the court?—He is.

1091. All the fees which are paid to the Assay office go to the Revenue, do they not?—No, not the Hall marking fees. The Hall marking fees go to the company. The company have 1 per cent. for collecting the revenue; in Scotland it is 2½ per cent., and in Ireland 5 per cent., and the expenses of the Hall, I have always understood, are greater than the amount of the fees they get for Hall marking, and the allowance of the Government for collecting the duty. The amount of the loss is not very great, say from 50l. to 100l. a year.

1092. There is no revenue from it?—It is no source of revenue to the company, none whatever. There is another answer to that, there would be a considerable revenue to the company if the trade there is so limited as it is; being a very limited trade there is of course but little business to do in the way of Hall marking. Under a voluntary system of Hall marking the business would increase, and therefore the fees.

1093. In connexion with the position of your father as a member of the Court of Assistants, I hope it will not be considered improper for me to ask you a question, more particularly as the company have made some reference to it in their proposals under the head of "Reform." They say, "It is possible that the commissioners may hear of one or two freemen who may express themslves dissatisfied, but if such there be, we feel sure that their dissatisfaction may be traced to some personal ground, such as non-election to an office, or some alleged grievance connected with the Assay Office, in the management of which with impartiality it is often difficult not to make enemies." Has there been any dispute between your father and the members of the company?—Constantly, for the last 30 years, the reason being that my father is a consistent reformer, and when he became a member of the Goldsmiths' Company he thought it would be his duty to set to work for the internal reform of the company, and he did so; the result was that he was literally boycotted, he was sent to Coventry for five years, and never elected to the warden's chair, and he has never been prime warden of his own company; within my recollection he used to go down and dine at the Hall, and not a soul would speak to him, and that continued for four or five years, because of his being a reformer.

1094. In what sense did his desire for reform arise? —From my own personal recollection I can state that at the time of the 1851 Exhibition, my father desired to give considerable prizes from the Goldsmiths' Company to the trade for works exhibited at that Exhibition, and that gave grievous offence. I do not think I am abusing confidence when I say that one of the members of the court came up to him and said, "Mr. Watherston, you are a very young member of the court, I strongly advise you not to make such a proposal as that."

1095. The proposal to offer prizes you mean?—To offer prizes. It was considered quite wrong for him to even suggest such a thing. My father fought this question out in the court, and ultimately succeeded in getting a very considerable amount of prizes for the trade, so that they should go to work in order to try to beat the foreigners in that particular Exhibition—that was his idea. There were large sums (I think I am right in saying amounting to 1,000l.) given in prizes.

1096. Did he stand quite alone?—He stood quite alone for some time.

1097. Can you account for the reason why in so very laudable a desire he found no sympathisers?— No, he had no one to sympathise with him in many other useful reforms which he advocated. The result was that when his turn came to be warden he was passed over and never succeeded to the chair. That explains the remarks made in that report, from which you have quoted. I presume that I am the other individual referred to.

1098. Did you take much interest in the movement for the establishment of the Guilds' Institute and the Technical College, which is to built at South Kensington?—I took an outsider's interest in the question certainly.

1099. Do you think that the college at South Kensington is likely to prove of service to the classes whom you desire to benefit?—Ultimately, decidedly; but I want a less ambitious work to begin with.

1100. Would not South Kensington be much out of their reach?—It is quite absurd to imagine that men from Clerkenwell, after their work at 8 o'clock in the evening, will go all the way out to South Kensington to that college. It is quite unreasonable to suppose such a thing.

1101. I am not sufficiently conversant myself with the object of the college at South Kensington; but do you not think that the tendency of building a large college in that part of London is to spend a great deal of money in bricks and mortar, and to have numbers of professers, while the advantages conferred upon the classes whom you wish to benefit are comparatively small and limited?—I am quite of that opinion.

1102. You rather lend yourself to the view that the college at South Kensington is a waste of money than otherwise?—It will be of great use hereafter; but it will be of no use unaccompanied by the small technical schools which I have described.

1103. You think that these schools should be distributed all over London, as I understand?—Certainly. A central college is a grand ambitious scheme, but in my opinion it is utterly useless for the practical work of technically instructing the youth of London.

1104. Do you not think that elementary education is even more important than technical education, or rather that no good technical education can be obtained except upon the basis of a sound elementary education?—Undoubtedly.

1105. Do you not think the elementary education of the middle classes in London at the present time is very deficient in many parts of the metropolis?—I believe it to be a fact that the London School Board can scarcely keep pace with the requirements of the growing masses of London.

1106. Do you mean the middle-class?—The London School Board, I have always understood, can scarcely keep pace with the demand for education on behalf of the masses in London. But little is being done for the middle-class in comparison with their requirements.

1107. If the London School Board cannot keep pace with the demand for elementary education, do you not think that the establishment of schools for technical education may be somewhat premature?—No, I think they should follow on. What I want to see is that the London School Board shall have money placed at their command for technical schools to which they could send such promising children as might get what may be called a scholarship at the elementary schools, passing them on at the age of 13, when they are bound to turn them out of the elementary schools; eleemosynary schools, as I may call them, in which there should be elementary education and technical education combined. In Germany and in France the curriculum of the school is this, the children in the technical schools are getting general education during a certain number of hours a day, and they are taught technical education (which comprises the use of tools and machinery, drawing, of course, chemistry, and all such technical instruction as that) at other parts of the day. The result is that, when a boy gets to 16 years of age he has had what I may call all the rough edge of the workshop taken off, and is able to be of use in the workshop; whereas, as you know, if a boy at 14 years of age enter a workshop he is of comparatively no use for years, and his general education is entirely neglected.

1108. I want to ask you one general question with regard to your own particular craft. Do you think the designs of modern plate superior to the designs of old plate?—I think the designs of modern plate at the present day are simply hideous.

1109. That is not a very satisfactory comment upon the existing schools at South Kensington, is it?—It is sad for a silversmith to say such a thing; it is humiliating, almost, to myself, to admit it. It is the result of bad laws, discouraging to art-progress.

1110. Do you think that large contributions or subventions for particular crafts and particular industries will tend to improve them and place them upon a higher level of art, or do you think they will thrive most if left to their own resources?—It will improve the art of the silversmith immensely. You have only to go along Regent Street, and half-way up you will find the shop of Hart, Sons, and Peard, who are in the brass trade. That is, as you know, a perfectly free trade, beating the silversmith out of the field, owing to the restrictions by which the latter trade is beset.

1111. (Sir Richard Cross.) Do you attribute that to the taxation?—I attribute that to the taxation of our trade, and to the hindrances by which we are beset.

1112. (Mr. James.) Some of the designs on old gold and silver plate of 200 years ago are splendid designs you may say. They had no particular schools in those days, but a workman had to rely upon his own resources, had he not?—Yes, but then they had the advantage of the old apprenticeship system. A master was in the workshop working and teaching himself.

1113. (Mr. Burt.) Did you state that there were but four craftsmen connected with the governing body of the goldsmiths?—There are only four that I hold to be genuine craftsmen.

1114. Then of the 14,000 licensed members are you able to state how many are members of the craft?— No, there are 14,000 licensed dealers all over the country, but they have nothing whatever to do with the Goldsmiths' Company. The number of craftsmen on the Goldsmiths' Company I really could not tell you, that is to say on the Court, on the Livery and Freemen. That would be impossible for me to answer, but I do know that the Livery is composed of 150, and that, as a rule, out of 10 liverymen elected they put three so-called craftsmen on. I may explain it in this way, when 10 liverymen are dead, the wardens nominate 15 freemen, and then the Court elect 10 liverymen. They generally upon those occasions elect three craftsmen, or what they call craftsmen, to seven non-craftsmen, so that if you have 150 on the livery you may say that you have about 35 craftsmen amongst that number. But bankers would be included among the number. Of genuine craftsmen, the number would be far less.

1115. Do you know anything about the total amount of salaries paid by the Goldsmiths' Company? —No. I have heard the salary of the clerk.

1116. Upwards of 4,000l. is the total amount, I believe. The question I was going to put was whether you think that a fair amount, considering the total income and the amount of work done that has to be done in connexion with the company? — I know nothing about the salaries.

1117. With regard to the broken up work of which you spoke, is it broken up in consequence of its being defective?—The plate is broken up if in the least degree below the standard. That is a question as to which I complain of the law, although I should think the Goldsmiths' Company could, if they chose, very easily get an alteration of that law, by which a large parcel of plate is broken up simply because one small article may be defective. It does not seem, in the light of political economy, to be a wise proceeding to break up 25l. worth of workmen's wages merely because one article happens to be wrong. And again, as a political economist, I should say that it should not be broken up at all, but that it should be sold on its merits for what it is worth. I see no good result that can arise from breaking up a work. It seems to me to be a destruction of the wealth of the country.

1118. Do I understand from you that it is compulsory upon them to break up the whole, if only a portion is defective?—By the strict letter of the law it may be so. I should think that an application to the Board of Trade would get that altered in a very short time; by means of a little bye-law or something of that kind it could be altered at once. Besides, I think the Government would leave it to the discretion of the Goldsmiths' Company not to break up plate if it were properly brought before them.

1119. You expressed an opinion that the larger portion of the companies' funds should be used for the development of the crafts?—Undoubtedly.

1120. And you mentioned technical education as one of the objects. Sir Sydney Waterlow put a question to you as to whether a large amount is not now actually paid by the Goldsmiths' Company, and I think you admitted that that was so. Do you entirely approve of the present expenditure for technical education: do you think the money is wisely expended?—No, I do not. I have already stated as my opinion that the money is being wrongly directed.

1121. Do you consider that the property of the Company is absolutely theirs, or that it is held in trust for the use of the craft at large?—I regard the Goldsmiths' Company as trustees of public money which is mainly the property of the crafts.

1122. And I understand that you consider it is necessary that there should be some legislative changes in order to accomplish the reforms that you think are very desirable?—Undoubtedly, and I have for a very long time tried to get legislation, and I hope to succeed eventually. The Government have promised to bring in at the earliest possible opportunity a measure dealing with hall-marking, and they promise a complete reform in the laws relating to hall-marking, and I shall press that question.

1123. (Sir R. Cross.) What was the Report of the Committee on Hall-marking? — The Report of the Committee upon Hall-marking was to the effect that the duties on gold and silver plate should be abolished as soon as the state of the revenue should admit. They also reported that the laws relating to Hallmarking were in a very unsatisfactory condition, and they recommend a large number of reforms as soon as the Government could take the matter into consideration, the result being that Mr. Chamberlain has already indicated his intention to bring in a Bill dealing with the subject, and there is very little doubt that we shall get a very considerable change, and in fact exactly what I have been fighting for all along, that is, a voluntary instead of a compulsory system.

1124. (Viscount Sherbrooke.) Suppose you carry on this system of technical education on a large scale how would you propose to avoid the possibility of a glut, or the over-doing of the matter, so that there would not be employment found for the people?—I think that that will necessitate a considerable amount of care and discretion on the part of those who are entrusted with the working of the schools, but I should further like to say that the elementary technical education that I propose would fit the children for all kinds of crafts, for this reason, that a knowledge of labour saving appliances would apply knowledge of labour saving appliances would apply most distinctly to large numbers of crafts. Therefore I do not apprehend that there would be any probability of a glut.

1125. You propose to teach them their trade thoroughly do you not; you do not propose to stop at an elementary stage?—No, I do not propose to teach them very highly. You might have a high school, a higher school, and a highest school. You might really teach the entire craft, but my great object would be to work in England entirely upon the lines that they are working upon abroad; that is to say, the workshop in the school, the school in the workshop, preparing the children for work proper wherever they might happen to go according to their capabilities or inclination. For instance, your Lordship knows perfectly well that a great many men bring up their sons to their own trade as a matter of course, I was going to say, whether they are fitted for it or not. They get into their fathers' own crafts and ultimately succeed very well.

1126. Then you do not contemplate making them accomplished artisans or workmen, or whatever it is, but only imparting to them the rudiments?—I want the elementary part of technical education to be imparted, and then by means of scholarships to take a boy up into the lines of the professor; for instance, the great Technical College at South Kensington, which I think is a great mistake at present, will be undoubtedly of vast use hereafter, especially if we have the other schools.

1127. You have no fear of overdoing the thing?— No, I have not any fear myself, none whatever.

1128. (The Chairman.) I think I understood you in the earlier part of your evidence to say that you consider that the property of the companies, at least that the great part of it, belonged to the trades ?— Yes.

1129. I want to get more accurately your view upon that point. Do you mean that the property does so belong to them in law if the law were properly executed ?—I can scarcely reply to that question. I have looked at it more in the light of equity and judge of it from the history of the companies as handed down to us in Herbert's City Companies. For instance, in the Goldsmiths' Company, Sir Martin Bowes, I believe left us a large property, he was a goldsmith in Cheapside. I really do not know the other benefactors, for I have no means of knowing, but I have always understood that a great portion of their property has been left for purposes absolutely connected with the trade.

1130. When you say the property belongs to the trades you mean that in your judgment what would be morally wrong ought not to be legally right ?— That is what I mean.

1131. (Sir Sydney Waterlow.) I think you made a mistake involuntarily when you stated to the Commission that it was not till after your father's letter of 1876 that the Goldsmiths' Company woke up to technical education; are you aware that in returns which they have made to this Commission they set out special grants to technical education commencing in 1873, and that in answer to the question as to what they contribute towards general and technical education, their return shows a contribution of nearly 60,000l. to those purposes during a period of 10 years ? —That question suggests another "What is Technical Education?" For the last 10 or 12 years the Goldsmiths' Company have given 500l. per annum for what they call technical education, which is in fact for drawings for silver plate. First of all I have no hesitation in saying that prizes for drawings are not technical education. I go further and say that the money spent for drawings has been a great mistake throughout and ought not to be proceeded with in the future at all. The same pot-hunters go after these prizes for drawings every year. On one occasion I went down to Tufton Street, behind the building in which this Commission is now sitting, to see the prize drawings of the Goldsmiths' Company. They had been there for about three weeks, and I was the second man in the trade who put in an appearance to see them. I have no hesitation in saying that I would not have taken them away en bloc as a lot if it had involved the cost of a half-crown cab. And year after year the same thing has gone on. Lately they have been put into a little corner at South Kensington Museum. They have never been carried out on any single occasion, that I am aware of, and no person in the trade attaches any importance to them. Therefore I maintain that if they return that particular 500l. a year as having been given for technical education, the Goldsmiths' Company do not understand what technical education is.

1132. In order to correct another point, let me ask you whether you are aware that the technical school in Finsbury is within a mile of Clerkenwell?—Yes, I am aware of that.

1133. Are you also aware that in that school the boys are now being taught the elementary technical education which you recommended, a knowledge of machinery, and a knowledge of the use of labour-saving machines?—I am perfectly aware of that, but that was only commenced about two years ago. The companies are being driven into doing their duty, and I hope the result of this inquiry will make them do more than they have yet done. It is much needed.

Adjourned to Wednesday next at 4 o' clock.


  • 1. As to this gentleman's evidence, see the Memorial of the Goldsmiths' Company to the Commissioners, dated November 1882, page 302, infra.
  • 2. See the above Memorial.
  • 3. See the Memorial of the Goldsmiths' Company, p. 304.