City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
2181. (Chairman to the Master.) I understand that you have come prepared to lay before the Commission a statement of various points to which you wish to call their attention ?—That is so, my Lord. We have already sent in, as we think, a complete return to your questions, but we have understood that the Commissioners wish to acquire a general knowledge of the leading facts connected with the Company, and this statement has been drawn up for their convenience.
A.—The Grocers' Company have already, under protest, replied promptly and fully to the inquiries of the City of London Livery Companies' Commission, and in responding to the invitation addressed to them to offer statements and oral evidence, they are anxious to give the Commission all the information and assistance in their power. At the same time the Company respectfully submit that this action on their part shall not be considered as an admission in any sense of any special jurisdiction of the Crown, over the Livery Companies, or of the right of the Crown, without the authority of Parliament, to institute an inquiry into what has been judicially declared to be private property.
In 1833 the Company declined to appear before the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales. They could not, as they thought, appear without admitting themselves to be a municipal corporation, and the Companies were advised that they were not municipal corporations by the most eminent counsel. (fn. 1) Moreover, the Royal Commission in that case purported to give power to call for papers, to compel the attendance of witnesses, and to administer an oath; and it was believed that such powers were illegal and unconstitutional. No such powers are conferred on the present Commission.
The Grocers' Company hold the second place among
the 12 great companies of the City of London. The
Commissioners are aware that the senior Company, the
Mercers', have declined to avail themselves of the opportunity of offering oral evidence; and it is proposed,
with the leave of the Commission and of the Mercers'
Company, which has been obtained for the purpose, to
read the letter addressed by that Company to the Commission on this subject:—
"Mercers' Hall, E.C.,
14th December 1882.
" In reply to your communication of the 10th ultimo, I am desired by the Mercers' Company to thank Her Majesty's Commissioners for their courtesy in supplying the Company with copies of the statements made to them.
"The inaccuracy of many of these is, no doubt, mainly attributable to an imperfect acquaintance on the part of their authors, with the early history of the City Guilds. So far as regards the Mercers' Company, this defect is remedied by the series of facts which the Company had the honour to lay before Her Majesty's Commissioners in the first 15 pages of Return A, Part 1, of their answers.
"The facts there set forth have been collected and arranged at the expense of a great deal of labour, in the desire entertained by the Company to furnish all the information that can be gathered on the subject. They extend (as the Commissioners will have remarked) over a period of more than 700 years, and it would scarcely be possible, the Company believe, to throw additional light on the matter. But if the Commissioners would have the goodness to point out any particular with regard to which they feel a doubt, the Company will give their best endeavours to remove any ambiguity.
" In the statement prefixed to the returns of the Company to the questions of the Commissioners, the views entertained by the Company with regard to the tenure on which they hold their property were distinctly stated. Those views remain unchanged; and the Company are glad to find that they have incidentally received an unqualified confirmation in the oral testimony of a legal authority of the highest rank before the Commissioners.
"As regards the mode in which the Company's income is expended, the Company trust that the same sense of the duties attaching to the possession of property which has hitherto guided them in the administration of their own, will continue to do so; and they venture to think that in this respect they have no reason to fear a comparison with the most liberal among the wealthy gentry and nobility of the realm. But considering this point to be one affecting themselves only, they decline to notice either the censure or the commendation which may have been expressed by others in reference to it.
"While gratefully acknowledging, therefore, the
courtesy of Her Majesty's Commissioners in offering
to receive statements and to hear evidence on behalf
of the Company,' I am desired to say that any action
thereupon on the part of the Company appears to them
superfluous, and that they are unwilling to encroach
further on the time of the Commissioners.
"I am, Sir,
"Your obedient servant,
"(Signed) John Watney.
To the views expressed generally in this letter the Grocers' Company adhere. The statement of the law made before the Commission by the highest legal authority in the kingdom is supported by the judicial declaration of Lord Langdale, M.R. (fn. 2) and is consistent with the uniform practice of the Company. (fn. 3)
The Grocers' Company also concur in the opinion of the Mercers' Company, that the inaccuracy of many of the statements made before the Commission is mainly attributable to an imperfect acquaintance on the part of the witnesses with the early history, and, it may be added, the present management of the City Gilds. The Court of the Grocers' Company feel that, after furnishing complete returns, they might safely have left these misstatements to the judgment of the Commissioners; but the investigation must have thrown much additional labour on the Commission, and the object of the present statement is to present the case of the Grocers' Company in as concise a form as the subject will admit without too much detail or legal technicality, and with references to various erroneous views which have been put forward either in books or in the oral evidence given before the Commission.
As the Commission began their oral evidence by examining members and officials of the Charity Commission, it is proposed to take, first, the subject of the Company's charities; secondly, to deal with the origin and history and constitution of the Company; and, lastly, with its present administration and the application of its income.
Part I.—The Charities of the Company.
In the case of the Grocers' Company, these charities bear a very small proportion to the corporate income. They are set out in detail in the returns (pages 19, 20), and consist of two classes: (1) a number of small payments charged on property of the Company for the benefit of various parishes, hospitals, colleges, and similar objects. These amount altogether to 315l. a year, and are simply paid over by the Company to the authorities legally entitled to receive them, and the Company are not responsible for the application; (2) charities under the management of the Company itself. A considerable part of these have been appropriated by a Middle Class School Scheme. Those which remain amount to 433l. a year, (fn. 4) and a capital sum of about 4,700l. (fn. 5)
The Commission may, perhaps, think it right to consider how far these charities are safe in the hands of the Company. On this subject important evidence was given by Mr. Hare, in his report to the Charity Commissioners in 1863 after an inquiry into the condition and circumstances of the charities under the management of the Grocers' Company. The following is an extract from the report:—
"The Grocers' Company decline to exhibit any statement of their property not specifically charged by the respective founders of the charities. It has not been an uncommon circumstance in the case of the other City Companies that charitable funds given them are not found at present set apart in any definite form of investment, whilst the Company generally admit their liability and pay the interest or dividends from their general property. There can be no doubt that in the case of these ancient, wealthy, and liberal bodies the funds are practically secure."
In illustration of Mr. Hare's opinion, it may be mentioned that the Grocers' Company are legally bound to expend 300l. a year on the school and almshouses at Oundle. The rest of the income, under Sir W. Laxton's will, about 4,000l. a year, belongs to the Company, by Lord Langdale's decision, as their private property. But the Company actually expend upwards of 3,000l. a year on the school, and about 300l. a year on the almshouses; and have, within the last eight years, laid out 28,000l. on school buildings, masters' houses, and playgrounds.
In the case of Witney School there is no beneficial gift at all to the Company; but the Company gives considerable help from their corporate funds. Thus, in 1877, the Company gave 433l., and in 1878, 862l. In the case of Colwall School the Company is bound to pay 30l. a year, and actually expends upwards of 250l. There does not appear to be any beneficial gift.
In the case of the University Exhibitions the Company are bound to apply 40l. a year out of the income of the property, which now amounts to 670l. The Company actually give 575l. a year, exclusive of exhibitions from Oundle School. They are also maturing a scheme, with the advice of some of the most eminent scientific men of the day, for the endowment of original research in sanitary science. This will increase the expenditure under the head of exhibitions by 750l. a year, besides a quadrennial discovery prize of 1,000l.
These facts will probably satisfy the Commission that the charities of the Grocers' Company are, as Mr. Hare says, practically secure. It might be added that on more than one occasion when the Company contemplated large expenditure on their schools at Oundle or Witney, they applied to the Endowed Schools' Commissioners for a scheme, and in each case the Commissioners, influenced no doubt by the smallness of the endowment, preferred to leave the school in the management of the Company.
All the remaining charities of the Company were redeemed some years ago under the voluntary powers of the Endowed Schools Act, 1869, and the proceeds applied under the authority of a scheme in the building of a large middle class school at Hackney Downs. The date of the scheme is 24th March 1873, and it was the first scheme of any importance framed under the voluntary powers of the Endowed Schools Act. The Endowed Schools Commissioners expressly thanked the Company for setting what the Commissioners termed so good an example.
Mr. Hare in his evidence says he does not know of any City Company having applied for a scheme, and that the City Companies are not likely to apply for schemes. It is singular that he should be ignorant of the first, and certainly one of the most important cases in which the voluntary powers of the Endowed Schools Act were put in force. The reason probably is, that Mr. Hare is an official of the Charity Commission, and that he is not thoroughly acquainted with the proceedings of the Endowed Schools Commission to whose functions the Charity Commissioners succeeded in 1875. Mr. Hare's evidence on this point shows how easily witnesses, with the best intentions, may give a wrong impression as to facts. Mr. Longley also seems to have been unaware of the circumstances; no doubt for the same reason as Mr. Hare.
The capital value of the Company's non-educational charities appropriated under the Middle Class School Scheme was 27,000l. To this the Company have added upwards of 5,000l. out of their corporate funds, and a large and flourishing school has been established at Hackney Downs, the district selected by the Endowed Schools Commissioners; but the scheme fixes the tuition fees too low, and the Company now makes good the loss on the working of the school, which amounts to about 1,500l. a year.
Among the non-educational charities of the Company, appropriated by the Middle Class School Scheme, is Lady Middleton's gift of 20l. a year for necessitous clergymen's widows. The Company, with a desire to respect and carry out the wishes of the founder, where this can be usefully done, even though the charity has ceased to exist legally, perpetuate the name and wishes of Lady Middleton by now giving between 700l. and 800l. a year for the purposes she contemplated.
The recipients of the gift are carefully selected. The old ladies, who are successful candidates, are invited to the hall, courteously received, and entertained at luncheon. Every effort is made to render the gift as welcome to the recipients as the act of giving is to the master and wardens who distribute the Company's bounty.
Connected with the question of the Middle Class School is a subject on which a grave attack has been made upon the Grocers' Company by Mr. Beal, in his oral evidence; and the Commissioners could not have a better instance of the worthlessness of some of the charges made against the Companies. The case is this:—Among the charities appropriated by the Grocers' Company's Middle Class School Scheme, which has the force of an Act of Parliament, was a yearly sum of 9l. 2s. payable to seven poor members of the Company, and charged upon the lands and houses devised to the Company by Sir Henry Kebyll.
"The return of Keble's Charity is 9l. 2s. per annum; I turn from that to Herbert's ' Twelve Great Companies ' for his evidence of Keble's Trust, and I find that includes a mansion in Old Jewry and houses behind, in Grocers' Hall Court; the site of Grocers' Hall itself was part of Prince's Street behind, and part of the present Bank of England. I put that modestly at 25,000l. a year, and it is returned at 9l. 2s." Again, "In so far as I have attacked the honour of the Grocers' Company, it was upon the ground that they returned the 9l. 2s. only; they never said there was a return of 20,000l. behind it. This 9l. 2s. was the income from six cottages and gardens and yards somewhere about the year 1500. The entire income was given to be divided in certain ways; then I say, as a matter of law, that every shilling of that property, to whatever it may amount, must be used for the same purposes. Keble's case I take to be a sort of test;" and "if we had these gentlemen here and asked them questions about it, we should change the face of these returns."
It will be observed that Mr. Beal makes two distinct charges against the Company; one, of making a false return by not including the site of Grocers' Hall in the property devised by Sir H. Kebyll's will; the other, of committing a breach of trust in not treating the whole income of the property as applicable to trust purposes. Mr. Beal makes his charges plainly and confidently; he affects to regard the case of Kebyll's will as a sort of test by which the Company is to be tried, and he does not scruple to say, when pressed, that the Charity Commissioners were certainly wrong when they took the same view as the Grocers' Company as to the legal obligation to pay the 9l. 2s. only.
These statements of Mr. Beal have induced the Company to institute a very careful investigation of the subject, and the result of this investigation is to confirm in every respect the accuracy of the Company's returns. The property devised by Kebyll's will is described with considerable minuteness, and can all be identified, and it seems as certain as anything can be, at this distance of time, that the will in no way refers to Grocers' Hall or its site. (fn. 6)
Mr. Beal's mistake is, however, a very old one. In the year 1686, when the Company were insolvent, and unable to pay their charities, they applied for an inquisition of charitable uses with the sole object of charging the whole of the Company's charities on the whole of the Company's property. For this purpose the Company's property was scheduled, probably very hurriedly, and under the head of Sir H. Kebyll's will was put—
"A messuage in the Old Jewry, then in possession of Sir Robert Clayton, a messuage then called Grocers' Hall, near the Poultry, in the possession of Sir Robert Jeffery, Lord Mayor of London, and a messuage, then several small messuages, in the parish of St. Peter's Poore."
The report of the Commissioners for inquiring concerning charities appointed by Parliament in 1818, quotes the will correctly, but also quotes the description given in the Inquisition, and this description was afterwards transferred verbatim to Herbert's book, which Mr. Beal quotes as his authority.
But if there is some excuse for Mr. Beal's mistake as to the property comprised in Sir H. Kebyll's will, there is no excuse at all for his statement that the entire income of the property devised by the will was specifically appropriated.
Sir H. Kebyll's devise to the Company was to the intent, and under the manner, form, and condition, that the Company should with the rents provide a chaplain, pay 6d. a week to seven poor freemen, and keep a yearly obit, with a gift over if the Company should make default. It is precisely the case put by Lord Cairns in his judgment in the Wax Chandlers' case stated fully in the Appendix to Mr. Longley's evidence. It is a devise upon condition. The devise is accepted, the condition must be fulfilled, and the money must be paid, whether the land devised is or is not adequate to meet the payment. The land is the land of the devisee, and every accretion to the value of the land belongs to the devisee. The charity which has the benefit of the condition has a right to nothing more than the payment. The same principle had been previously laid down by other eminent judges, among them Lord Eldon, (fn. 7) Lord Brougham, (fn. 8) Sir John Leach, (fn. 9) and Lord Cottenham. (fn. 10) But the present case does not depend only on a rule of law, however well established. There is also a gift over, which shows that the testator himself distinctly contemplated giving a beneficial interest to the devisee on whom he imposed the condition. (fn. 11)
It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that Mr. Beal has, in connexion with Sir H. Kebyll's will, charged the Grocers' Company with something like fraud, and the Charity Commissioners (fn. 12) with almost culpable ignorance or negligence. Not only are these grave and offensive charges altogether unfounded, but there is considerable reason to suppose that Mr. Beal has never even seen a copy of the will on which he has based them.
Mr. Firth, in his book " Municipal London," attacks the Grocers' Company in much the same way as Mr. Beal does. He says (page 79), "It is not without a certain aptitude that one recognises the motto of the Company, 'God grant grace.' It would have been interesting to know how the graceless grocers do dispense their vast trust property. For example, in 1636 one William Pennefather by his will gave 233l. 6s. 8d. to buy land of the yearly value of 11l. 13s. 4d., such sum to be divided yearly amongst seven poor almspeople. How much does the land bring in, and how much is paid over ? So a house given to the same Company to provide 4l. a year for an iron and glass lantern to be fixed in Billingsgate, and 6l. 10s. to the poor. If the house brings in (as it probably does) 300l. a year, how much is given to the poor?"
Without saying anything as to the taste in which this passage is written, it will probably be sufficient to observe that the 233l. 6s. 8d. given by Pennefather's will was never invested in land, and that the yearly sum of 11l. 13s. 4d., intended by the will to be secured, and the capital value of the house in Walbrook (176l. a year) devised by John Wardall were appropriated by the Middle Class School Scheme. (fn. 13) But the Commissioners will not of course assume, because the Company assented to the appropriation to the purposes of middle class education of the charities created for the benefit of poor members of the Company by Sir H. Kebyll, Pennefather, and Wardall, that there is any desire on their part to neglect their duty towards the poorer brethren of the fraternity. The Company have always considered their whole corporate property as applicable to the relief of their poor members, not as of right, but at the discretion of the court. The obligation to relieve unfortunate members dates from the earliest ordinances of the brotherhood, as far back as 1345, and it has always been observed. All applications from poor members are carefully inquired into, either by the court of assistants or by the master and wardens, and are dealt with on their merits, with a view to give liberal aid to the deserving, and to avoid anything like a system of doles. The expenditure of the Company under this head is about 4,000l. a year, upwards of 10 times the amount which, if the Middle Class School Scheme had not become law, the Company would have been legally bound to pay. Nothing could be more baseless than the imputation made by Mr. Firth on this subject.
Part II.—The Origin, History, and Constitution of the Company.
The first mention of the Gild of Pepperers is in 1180. The Pepperers of Soper's Lane, and the Spicers of Cheap, in the 13th and first half of the 14th centuries, represented the English element in London trade with the East, just as the terms " Brethren of St. Anthony," "Merchants of the Steelyard," and "Easterlings" (fn. 14) point to a foreign element. These merchants imported eastern products, practised the arts of coining and weighing, and to some extent banking.
As instances of the importance of the Pepperers it may be noticed that, in 1221, Andrew Bokerell, a pepperer, was keeper of the " King's Exchange." His duty was to receive old stamps or coining irons, and deliver new ones to all the mints in England. He was Lord Mayor for seven consecutive years, 1231– 1237. Also, that at the beginning of the reign of Edw. III. 1328, while the commonalty of the City elected the custodian of the small beam, by which silks, and other speciaria were weighed by the peso sottile, or pound of twelve ounces, the Pepperers and their trade allies, who weighed by averdupois, elected the keeper of the great beam of the King, at which the peso grosso, or merchants' pound of fifteen ounces was used.
The Pepperers were also correspondents of the Italian bankers and merchants of Siena, Lucca, and Florence, and were probably concerned with the transmission of Papal revenues collected in England by the Pope's instruments, the preaching and begging friars. The Eastern trade also brought Lombard merchants to London, and by the year 1250 these merchants were firmly established in Lombard Street, to which they gave its name. In 1338 Edw. III., being in urgent need of money for his wars in France, extorted a large loan from the Lombards within his dominions. This eventually caused the ruin of the Italian merchants of Lombard Street. The greatest of them, the Bardi and Peruzzi, held out to the last, and failed in January 1345. This was a very severe blow to the Pepperers and their allies in trade with the East; and from this time the name Pepperers ceases to be distinctive of a gild; but on the 9th of May in the same year some 20 Pepperers of Soper's Lane " of good condition," undaunted by their trade reverses, met to continue their connexion as the social and religious fraternity of St. Anthony, and adopted St. Anthony as their patron saint. The records of the Grocers' Company begin with a very ancient and probably almost contemporaneous account of this meeting. The actual record is now being reproduced in facsimile, and it is hoped will soon be ready for presentation to the Commission. Nothing can be more quaint or circumstantial than this narrative of the proceedings of the 20 Pepperers, and their ordinances, "pointz" as they are called, have been happily preserved to us. These ordinances show that the objects of the fraternity were social, benevolent, and religious, " for greater love and unity," and "to maintain and assist one another." (fn. 15)
Mr. Firth, in his work on "Municipal London," page, 47, refers to the origin of the Grocers' Company as described in "Herbert on London Livery Companies," and continues: "So amid prayer and feasting began the Grocers' Company, and, as it had begun, so it prospered, till, in the zenith of its power, as many as sixteen aldermen of the City were inscribed on its roll of members at the same time. . . . . And the origin of the Grocers' was typical of that of many other Companies. Every member of the Company was engaged in its trade, and had its interests at heart; he subscribed his quarterage regularly to the common fund; he was co-equal with all other members of his Company; he helped to regulate and control its expenditure; he had relief in case of necessity; and, if he died in poverty, he was followed to the grave and buried by the brotherhood, and the Company's private chaplain publickly prayed for the repose of his soul."
Mr. Firth follows Herbert's work published in 1837. Herbert simply copied the first edition of Baron Heath's excellent " History of the Grocers' Company," published in 1829. Subsequent investigations have shown that the Grocers' Company was not a craft-gild at all; that the first and crucial test of such a gild, that all members should be engaged in its trade, was not a rule of the Fraternity of St. Anthony or of the Grocers' Company, and that the institution of the Fraternity or Company was that of a social or religious gild.
It is true that the ordinances of the Fraternity of 1345 provide that no person should be a member of the Fraternity if not of good condition and of this mistery, that is, a Pepperer of Soper's Lane, a Canevacer of the Ropery, or a Spicer of the Ward of Cheap, (fn. 16) or other people of their mistery (fn. 17) wherever they reside; but only three years later Sir John de Londre, parson of St. Anthony, was admitted a member, though presumably not of the craft; so, in 1348, were Sir John de Hichan, parson of St. Anthony, and Sir Symon de Wy, parson of Bernes.
The ordinances of the Grocers' Company of 1376 expressly ordain that no one of any other mistery shall be admitted into the Company without the common assent, and should pay for his entry 10l. This clearly points to a practice of admitting non-craftsmen, and, combined with the custom of freedom by patrimony and by redemption, which began about 1460, proves, as far as proof is possible in such a case, that the Company was not an exclusive or craft gild. There was, in fact, no " craft." We know that as early as 1363 complaint was made to the King and Parliament that the merchants called grocers (grossers) engrossed all manner of merchandise vendible (fn. 18); that is to say, they were general merchants; and a "craft" of general merchants seems almost impossible at a time when every calling, trade, or handicraft was minutely defined and regulated.
In the leading work on the subject of English gilds, (fn. 19) they are distinguished as (1) religious or social gilds, (2) town gilds or gild merchants, and (3) craft gilds. Of these the most ancient form is the religious or social gild. The statutes of one of them, the Gild of Abbotsbury, drawn up as early as the beginning of the 11th century, actually remain. The object of that gild, according to the statutes, appears to have been the support and nursing of gild brothers; the burial of the dead and the performance of religious services, and the saying of prayers for their souls; a yearly meeting for united worship in honour of the patron saint; a common meal, and, in order that the poor might also have their share in the joys of the festival, alms on the day of the feast. Insults offered by one brother to another were punished on the part of the gild. He who had undertaken an office but had not discharged its duties was punished.
It is remarkable how closely these gild statutes agree with the ordinances of the Fraternity of St. Anthony of 1345, and the ordinances of the Grocers' Company of 1376. The same kind of religious and social duties are enjoined, and, making due allowance for the interval of three centuries, in similar terms. The modern representatives of this class of gilds are, it is believed, to be found only among the City Companies, which, owing probably to the commercial and municipal eminence of their members, survived the violent changes of the Reformation, when all other gilds of this class perished.
Of the other forms of "gilds," the learned authors of "English Gilds " tell us that the town gild or gild merchant was the whole body of full citizens, that is, of the possessors of portions of the town lands of a certain value, the " civitas." This, after many changes, has become the modern municipal corporation. The third form of "gild" was the craft gild. These gilds were originally the result of a struggle for independence on the part of the handicraftsmen. The leaders in this struggle were the weavers both in England and on the Continent. The contest of the Weavers' gild with the City of London from the time of King John to 1220 is an example of this, and the craftsmen appear to have been ultimately victorious. It was of the essence of a craft gild that all men of the craft, and none but men of the craft, should belong to it. The modern form of the craft gild is the trade union.
The term " grosser " or " grocer " is first applied to the Company in 1373. There is a break in the Company's records between 1357 and 1373. When they recommence in the latter year the title " Fraternity of St. Anthony " is dropped, and the Company of Grossers or Grocers takes its place. (fn. 20)
The rapidity with which the Company rose to importance towards the end of the 14th century has been already noticed. By this time the practice of garbelling, i.e., the cleansing or examining of spices, drugs, &c., to detect and prevent adulterations had been established. The first garbeller was Thomas Halfmark, a Grocer. About the same time, John Churchman, Grocer, founded the first custom-house for wool, and through him the duty of wool weighing devolved on the Company. In 1411 a descendant of Lord Fitzwalter who, in the reign of Henry III., had obtained possession of the chapel of St. Edmund, which adjoined his family mansion, sold the chapel to the Company for 320 marks, and in the next reign the Company purchased the family mansion and built their hall upon the site. The foundation stone was laid in 1427 and the building was completed in the following year. The expenses were defrayed by the contributions of members. Five years later the garden was added.
In 1428 the Company's first charter of incorporation was granted by Henry VI. (fn. 21)
The reason for the application was, no doubt, that the recent purchase of a site for the hall involved the necessity of a license in mortmain.§ The corporate name was "Custodes et communitas Misterii Groceriæ Londini." The Company are to have perpetual succession and a common seal, and are to be for ever persons fit and capable in law to possess in fee and perpetuity lands, tenements, and rents, and other possessions whatsoever : that is, the artificial incapacity to hold land created by the Act of Richard II. was removed. Then there is a further grant that the Company may acquire lands, tenements, and rents within the City of London and suburbs thereof, "which are held of us " to the value of 20 marks per year, and a charter of the following year provided that the hall and its site should be considered of the value of six marks out of the twenty. With respect to this charter it is to be noticed that it contains no reference to trade and no condition of any kind. It is the charter of a religious or social gild, not of a craftgild. (fn. 22)
In 1447 Henry VI. granted to the wardens of the Company the exclusive right of garbling throughout all places in the kingdom of England, except the City of London. This is not a charter affecting the corporate body of the Company, but letters patent directed to the Wardens." (fn. 23)
Charters were also granted to the Company by James I. and Charles I., enlarging the power to hold lands in mortmain, and giving authority to punish all delinquents, unduly or insufficiently carrying on, or exercising the mystery or art of Grocer. In these charters, the power to hold land (in the latter charter without limit) is unconditional, and the trade powers do not form an essential part of the incorporation, but are superadded; the exercise of the trade powers is not limited to members of the Company.
In 1640 the Company, on obtaining their charter from Charles I., furnished him, on his demand, with the sums of 6,000l. and 4,500l. In 1642 they lent 9,000l. to the Parliament, and the next year 4,500l. to the Lord Mayor " for the defence of the city in these dangerous times." The Company also granted loans or gifts of 2,000l. and 1,360l. to Charles II.
That these gifts or loans were very onerous there can be no doubt. They were met by the contributions of members, and by mortgage of the Company's property In the last resort the Company's plate was sold in 1642–3 for 1,204l., to raise the money required. In the case of the 1,360l. loan, the members of the Company were assessed as follows : Aldermen 9l., Assistants 7l., Livery 5l. each.
The Company throughout this period kept, in common with others, a store of corn, according to ancient custom, for the supply of the poor at reasonable prices when bread was dear. In the year 1560, the charge on the Company for this purpose amounted to 400l. The Company had regular granaries at Bridewell and at the Bridg House. The stock of corn was constantly kept up till the Great Fire in 1666. The money required was levied by a personal contribution from the members, and two of the livery were from time to time appointed by the Court under the name of "Corne Renters" to collect it.
The next year the Great Fire inflicted losses on the Company from which it did not recover for nearly a century. The Company's hall and all the adjacent buildings (save the turret in the garden, which fortunately contained the records and muniments) and almost all the Company's houses were destroyed. The first action of the Company was to endeavour to provide another hall. Their funds were exhausted, and there were heavy debts. An appeal was made to the liberality of the members of the Company in the form of a subscription, and the wardens personally solicited contributions. In 1668 Sir John Cutler came forward and proposed to rebuild the parlour and dining-room at his own charge. (fn. 24)
In January, 1671, a special court was summoned, to consider a Bill exhibited in Parliament by some of the Company's creditors praying for an Act for the sale of the Company's hall, lands, and estates, to satisfy debts; and to make members of the Court liable for debts incurred. The next year the hall was, at the instance of the Governors of Christ's Hospital, sequestered, and the Company ejected till 1679, when, after great difficulties and impediments, money was borrowed to pay off the debts, and get rid of the intruders. In 1680 the Court of Assistants agreed that the most effectual way of regaining public confidence was to rebuild the Hall. Sir John Moore set an example of liberality by contributing 500l., and he was followed by many other members of the Court. (fn. 25)
So pressing at this time were the parishes for their charities and arrears, that on one occasion the member of the Court raised 30l. out of their own pockets to pay Luddington parish, and so stayed Chancery proceedings; and they resolved in future to raise money out of their own pockets to pay annual charges to parishes.
In order to prevent a second sequestration, an Inquisition was taken in 1680, before Commissioners for Charitable Uses, and, pursuant to a decree made by those Commissioners, the Company in 1687 conveyed their hall, and all their revenue (subject to existing charges) to trustees, to secure the arrears and payment of the yearly sums and charities charged upon the property by the various donors. Under the decree a period of 20 years was allowed to the Company to discharge their debts. The trustees left the appointment of the receiver to the Court of Assistants, who nominated the clerk.
A minute of the Court of the 18th of August, 1687, throws light upon the reduced condition of the Company at this time, the earnest desire of the members to improve it, and the view then taken of the purposes of the Company and the management of the property. The minute speaks of the Company as" a nursery of charities and seminary of good citizens," but makes no reference whatever to any connection with trade.
Towards the end of the 17th century, the Company's right of garbelling fell into desuetude. The last mention of it is in 1687, when a Mr. Stuart, the City Garbeller, offered to purchase "the Company's right in the garbling of spices and other garbleable merchandise." The Court, finding that from long disuse their privilege of appointment to that office was weakened, accepted a small fine of 50l. from Mr. Stuart for the office for life, and 20s. a year.
No mention has yet been made of the writ of quo warranto, under the pressure of which the Company surrendered their privileges to Charles II., and received a charter from him in 1675, and two charters from James II. in 1688.
These charters were abolished and annulled by the Act of 2 Will. and Mary, s. 1. c. 8., which gave a parliamentary sanction to the status of the Company as it existed before the judgment on the Writ. (fn. 26) Mr. Beal seems to be pressed with this difficulty, and suggests that the words of the Act, "which they lawfully had and enjoyed at the time of giving the said judgment" operate to exclude the Charters of the Companies, by which he asserts a right of search was given inconsisent with liberty of trade, and therefore contrary to Magna Charta, which granted to all cities and boroughs "all their liberties and free customs." Mr. Beal does not show how these liberties and free customs were interfered with by the means taken to prevent the sale of ill-made, spurious, or adulterated goods; but, even if he were right, the original Charter of the Grocers' Company, which contains no reference to trade, would, on Mr. Beal's own showing, stand unaffected and good with the direct sanction of an Act of Parliament.
The last record of the indebtedness of the Company is in 1721. After this, the Company's affairs rapidly improved, and the public spirit and foresight of the members who, at the time of the Great Fire, and during the ensuing troubles and difficulties had, at great cost to themselves, maintained the Company's credit and preserved its hall and property, were ultimately rewarded by the Company's prosperity. In 1758, the finances of the Company admitted of the expense of the election feast being defrayed by the Company instead of by the wardens personally, and in the next year, the payment of quarterage by members was given up. By degrees the Company were enabled to increase their aid to indigent freemen, to administer their trusts with liberality, and to subscribe largely to objects of public interest and for the advancement of religion, education, and charity. In 1798 a sum of 1,000l. was given in aid of the assessed taxes.
It is hoped that adequate proof has been given that the Company is not, and never has been, a craft-gild or trade-guild. It may be added that it is not known that any conveyance, devise, or gift was ever made to the Company for trade purposes or in connexion with trade, and that of the 37 separate gifts of money intrusted to the Company by various persons for the advancement in life of young men, freemen of the Company, two only refer in any way to the business or trade of a grocer. It remains to be shown that the Company is not a towngild, i.e., not a municipal corporation or a part of the Corporation of London.
A municipal corporation, according to Blackstone, is a lay corporation created for the good government of a town or particular district." Some kind of territorial jurisdiction is essential to the idea of a municipal corporation. (fn. 27)
Mr. Hare says the Companies undoubtedly at present form part of the Municipal Corporation of the City of London, and he gives as his reason that the Companies form what is called the commonalty, the common hall. Mr. Firth assumes that the Companies are an integral part of the Corporation of London, and states that the Municipal Commission of 1833 considered the Companies within the province of their Commission. Mr. Beal says every Lord Mayor since 1189 (the beginning of legal memory) has been a member of a gild, and would not have been eligible for the office if he had not been a member of a gild; also, that the Corporation address the Crown in three distinct ways :—by the Lord Mayor and aldermen in their inner chamber; by the mayor, aldermen, and council in common council; and by the mayor, aldermen, and livery in the common hall; and that the Lord Mayor of his own authority may legally call a common hall. Mr. Phillips considers that the Companies are part of the Corporation, because they exercise municipal functions.
There appears to be a general confusion in the minds of these witnesses between the Companies as corporate bodies and the individual liverymen. A livery company, as such, forms no part of the Corporation. It is not subject to the jurisdiction, and it has no voice in the management of the Corporation. It consists of two classes, liverymen and freemen, the latter being the more numerous body, and the liverymen individually, if they are also freemen of the City, are members of the commonalty or common hall; in other words, the common hall consists of such freemen of the City as have the status of liverymen.
If Mr. Firth is right in saying that the Municipal Commission of 1833 considered the Livery Companies within the province of their Commission, the result (as stated by Mr. Beal) showed that the opinion of that Commission was wrong, for the Companies were advised to resist by the most eminent lawyers of the day, and they resisted successfully. Mr. Phillips admits that he knows of no case in the last 200 years in which the Corporation has interfered with the property of the Companies.
It is to be observed that not only is there the widest possible difference between the Companies as such, and the individual liverymen, being members of the Corporation of London, but the liverymen are only members, if at all, in an extremely limited sense. When we speak of the citizens or burgesses of a city or borough being members of the corporation, we mean that they are electors of the governing body, the town council, and themselves eligible for election. But in the case of the Corporation of London, liverymen, as such, are not electors of the governing body, the court of aldermen and common council, and they are not, as liverymen, eligible for election as aldermen or common councillors.
The election of Lord Mayor by the livery in common hall is a curious survival of ancient custom, but the importance of its bearing on the present question has been much exaggerated. The Lord Mayor is elected from the aldermen who have served as sheriffs. (fn. 28) The aldermen are elected by the same electoral body which forms the constituency of the common councillors; the qualification being either 10l. occupation, household suffrage, or lodger franchise. (fn. 29) A liveryman has no vote for the election of aldermen. Consequently the common hall or livery can only select out of the 26 nominees of a different constituency, and out of the 26 they must select two, between whom the court of aldermen decides. The election of Lord Mayor is obviously little more than a mere form. The two senior aldermen below the chair are always selected by the common hall, and the senior of the two is usually chosen by the court of aldermen. The livery have hardly any more real choice than a Dean and Chapter in the case of a congé d'élire.
"Have you read the address presented on behalf of the Lord Mayor and the Livery Companies in common hall assembled in 1775, in respect to an answer of the King?"—"Yes, in the reign of King George III."
"With respect to what the rights of liverymen were?" —"Yes; and I think it very important that that should be read, because it sets out in the strongest possible form that they are, and they claim to be, an integral part of the Corporation."
"We apprehend that the head officer of every Corporation may convene the body, or any class of it, whenever he thinks proper; that the Lord Mayor for the time being may, of his own authority, legally call a common hall, and we see no legal objection to his calling the two last; we conceive it to be the duty of the proper officers of the several Companies, to whom precepts for the purpose of summoning their respective liveries have been usually directed, to execute those precepts; and that a wilful refusal on their part is an offence punishable by disfranchisement?—That is the extract."
"I will leave that branch, as to the action of the City, and ask you one further question. Have you read the decision in the case of the refractory Companies in 1775, when between the Corporation and the Goldsmiths' Company the question was contested?"—"Yes."
"What was the effect of that decision?"—"The Companies were found to be in the wrong, and that they were an integral part of the Corporation, and it is fully set out in your own book, ' Municipal London,' pp."
Nothing can be more circumstantial, or apparently correct; and this evidence, cleverly led up to, probably had some effect on the minds of the Commissioners. But, like several other facts stated by Mr. Beal, it will not bear investigation. The decision on which he relies was the decision of Mr. Recorder Glynn, one of the counsel who had signed the opinion, and the decision was unanimously reversed, on appeal, by Lord Chief Justice De Grey and four other judges. The socalled refractory Companies, who opposed Lord Mayor Wilkes's impudent proceedings, were the Grocers, the Goldsmiths, and the Weavers. The history is given fully in Baron Heath's "History of the Grocers' Company," pp. 162–170, 3rd ed. The papers are in the possession of the Goldsmiths' Company.
It may be added that freedom of a City Company does not involve freedom of the City, which must be taken up separately by a distinct act; also that the freedom of the City may be acquired by a person not free of any Company, nor under obligation to become so.
Part III.—The present Administration of the Company.
The foregoing sketch of the history of the Grocers' Company may be summarised as follows:—The Company was founded, in the middle of the 14th century, by some of the leading merchants and traders of London, as a social, benevolent, and religious fraternity, and this character, except as regards the religious observances of the brotherhood, has been maintained from the first meeting 538 years ago, to the present day; the continuity of the fellowship never having been broken even in the most troubl ous times. The hall and garden of the Company occupy the original site purchased by free contributions of the members between 1411 and 1433. The Company rapidly gained importance after its foundation, and before the end of the century was the most powerful body in the City, and became entrusted with the public duties of weighing and garbelling, which it retained for about 250 years. During the same period the Company contributed largely to political and municipal objects, by loans to the King or Parliament, by taking part in the colonisation of Ulster, by supporting the poor, and aiding in the defence of the City. But though the commercial and municipal eminence of various members exercised an influence on the conduct and proceedings of the Company from time to time during its long history, the primary and essential principles of the gild, as a social, benevolent, and religious body, were always paramount. The increase and independence of trade towards the end of the 17th century deprived the Company, weakened as it was by its losses in the Great Fire, of its public duties of weighing and garbelling, and of its power of trade superintendence; but the members of the Court, who came forward in the Company's great distress, and saved it from extinction by their personal exertions and liberality, went back to the fundamental principles of the gild, when they left a solemn record of their intention that the Company should again become, as it once was, a nursery of charities and seminary of good citizens.
It remains now to show how the original purposes of the gild, as embodied in the ordinances of 1345 and 1376, and the intentions of the second founders of the Company (for such they deserve to be called), as solemnly recorded in 1687, are now understood and carried out.
The religious element of the gild is observed in the Company's support of the National Church. The Company are patrons, wholly or partly, of eight livings of no great value, and, as patrons, they subscribe with well-considered liberality to proper parochial objects. Four of these livings have been purchased under the trusts of Lady Slaneys' will. The Company regard their livings less as a matter of private patronage than as a trust. In this spirit, when the living of All Hallows Staining, the only valuable living which the Company ever possessed, with an income of 1,600l. and a population reduced by changes in the City to 200, fell vacant in 1866, the Company applied for and obtained an Estate Act, under the powers of which the living has been united to a neighbouring benefice, the sites of the church and the curate's house sold, and the proceeds applied in building and endowing two district churches in the poorest parts of the east of London; and a third church will in due time be added. The Company have aided the work by an expenditure out of their funds of nearly 7,000l. on parsonage houses, parish rooms, organs, &c. They also contribute towards the support of curates and church expenses.
The Company have also subscribed largely to the funds of the Bishops of London, Winchester, and Rochester, with a special view to benefiting the poor of the Metropolis; and to the Irish Church Sustentation Fund.
The social element of the ancient gild is preserved in the hospitality of the Company. This is extended freely to public men, to illustrious foreigners, successful administrators, admirals, and generals; to dignitaries of the Church, and to men eminent in the law, medicine, literature, art, and science. The honorary freedom of the Company is, it is believed, highly valued. A most distinguished French officer is reported to have said of it on an important public occasion, that he had during his life gained very many honours and distinctions, but he valued none more than being the member of a society which had existed on the same lines for upwards of 500 years, and that he earnestly desired for his own country that such institutions were possible there.
The Company manage Sir W. Laxton's School at Oundle, a first grade school of considerable importance, schools at Witney and Colwall, and a large middle class day school at Hackney Downs. The Company give a considerable sum every year in exhibitions to the Universities, with special exhibitions to unattached students. In all cases the candidates are carefully selected on the three grounds of good character, poverty, and school or college distinctions. The Company give to their poor members about 4,000l. a year, to London hospitals about 2,000l., to clergymen's widows about 750l., to orphan asylums about 1,000l., to boys' homes, ragged schools, &c., 250l., to London police court poor boxes, 300l., to Mansion House funds, 300l., to benevolent and poor relief societies, 700l. All the charities and charitable gifts are personally managed or personally inquired into by members of the court.
Mr. Firth could, it is hoped, have known but little or nothing of the proceedings of the Company when he wrote of the members: (fn. 30) "The stewardship of a few charities and of many dinners is responsibility sufficient for them." But Mr. Beal makes an even more offensive imputation against the Company with reference to the London Hospital. To this hospital, the largest in London, and situate among the dense and generally poor population of Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, the Company in 1873 gave 20,000l. for the erection of a new wing, and in 1876, 5,000l. to furnish it. The Company has since made an annual gift of 500l. and appointed two members of the court to serve on the house committee.
Mr. Beal states that the gift of 25,000l. for the London Hospital was made after his agitation began, "Why did they not give 25,000l. to the London Hospital before we began our agitation?" Clearly implying that the gift was made under the influence of the agitation.
It is confidently believed that at the time when the gift was made no member of the court had ever heard of Mr. Beal's agitation. The gift of 20,000l. was made in 1873. The City Guilds' Inquiry Society was, it is believed, formed in 1876, with Mr. Danby Seymour as Chairman, and Mr. J. B. F. Firth as counsel. Mr. Firth's book', " Municipal London," was published the same year.
The Company's first grant to the London Hospital was made as long ago as 1796, and numerous gifts were made between that year and 1873. When the grant of 20,000l. was proposed in 1873, 12 or 14 members of the court of the Company were also governors of the hospital. The member who proposed the grant was also on the house committee of the hospital, and was intimately acquainted with its wants, and has himself given 17,000l. to it. Another member of the court has given 9,000l. The proposal that the Company should build a new wing had been mooted eight or ten years before 1873.
These facts speak for themselves. The Grocers' Company deeply regret that they are compelled, by the unscrupulous imputations which have been directed against the Company, to mention such matters at all to the Commissioners.
The Commissioners are probably aware that the Company has given large sums for the promotion of technical education. The Company has also directed its attention to the desirability of encouraging original research in sanitary science. After consultation with some of the most eminent scientific men of the day, a scheme has just been matured for founding scholarships of 250l. a year each for the encouragement of research in sanitary science, and a quadrennial discovery prize of 1,000l. This is a form of endowment novel in character, which it is hoped may prove eminently useful in solving some of the sanitary questions arising from the dense aggregation of population in our great towns.
The Company find nothing in the official evidence from the Charity Commission, so far as it relates to matters within the jurisdiction of that Commission, to call for remark, except the unintentional omission to notice the Company's Middle Class School Scheme as already mentioned. That evidence appears to express general satisfaction with the management of charities by the City Companies.
The evidence as to the corporate property of the Companies is almost confined to the small knot of agitators who formed the City Guilds' Inquiry Society. The facts alleged by these gentlemen against the Grocers' Company have, it is confidently submitted, been completely disproved, and the theories propounded by them seem to have little or no basis of facts, and are inconsistent with each other. Sometimes it is said that the City Companies are municipal corporations, and that their corporate property is applicable to municipal purposes. At other times it is said that they are trade gilds, and that their property is applicable to trade purposes. Such arguments confute each other.
It is proposed to conclude with Mr. Firth's summary, in nine proposititions, of his case against the City Gilds, (fn. 31) with the reply of the Grocers' Company in each instance:—
The Commissioners will form their judgment on this point, so far as the Grocers' Company is concerned, from this statement and the Company's returns. The Lord Chancellor has recorded his opinion against Mr. Firth's view; Lord Langdale judicially declared the Company's property to be private property. In the very numerous cases in which the Attorney-General has proceeded by information against City Companies with respect to charities, it has, it is believed, invariably been assumed by judges and counsel alike that the question was one between the Company, as private owners, and the charity. Mr. Firth's suggestion of a public trust is inconsistent with the history of more than five centuries.
The Grocers' Company discharge strictly all their legal trusts, and, as has been shown, supplement them very largely from their corporate funds. In some cases, such as Oundle School and University exhibitions, they expend on the objects of the charity more than ten times the amount of the legal obligation; and even when the charity has legally ceased to exist, as in the case of Lady Middleton's gift for poor clergymen's widows, they perpetuate the name and wishes of the founder by the application of their corporate funds to a much larger amount than the founder contemplated.
6. "The Companies are, by charter, to be composed of members of a given trade in many cases, and are legally compellable to admit members of it. They admit members irrespective of trade, and impose restrictions on those who are admissible."
7. "The Companies are subject to the control of the Corporation, but as the members of that body are members of the Companies also, and are promoted in the latter concurrently with their advancement in the former, such control is never enforced."
The Companies are not subject to the control of the Corporation. When the matter was brought to an issue between the Companies of Grocers, Goldsmiths, and Weavers on the one hand, and the Corporation on the other hand, in 1773, the Corporation signally failed. The Grocers' Company know nothing about the advancement of members here suggested by Mr. Firth. No member of the Company has filled the civic chair for nearly a century. That the control of the Corporation is never enforced is true, for it is reasonably supposed to have no legal basis.
8. " The Companies are subject to the control of the Crown, and their lands and monopolous privileges were only granted on condition they performed certain duties; they have ceased to perform the duties, but they continue to hold the lands."
The Grocers' Company are not aware of any grant having been made to the Company on condition that they performed certain duties, except in the case of charges on lands devised, which are always punctually paid. As to the control of the Crown, the Company are not aware that they are in a different position to any other of Her Majesty's subjects.
9. "The continuance of a large amount of land in the heart of the City and in the north of Ireland in the hands of corporate and unproductive bodies is a hindrance to commerce and a loss to the public revenue."
It may be a fair question for consideration whether the Company should pay a composition equivalent to succession duty on their corporate property. They have never been called upon to do so. The Company some years ago sold their Irish estate, and the tenants, it is believed, regret the change. Mr. Hare, in his evidence, does not agree with Mr. Firth as to the inexpediency of land being held by corporate bodies. The abolition of "unproductive" landowners is a question extending far beyond the City Gilds.