City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.
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Observations which Sir Frederick J. Bramwell and Mr. Prideaux desire to address to the Commissioners on behalf of the Goldsmiths' Company.
Mr. Prideaux desires, in the first place, to refer to the printed letter addressed by him on behalf of the Goldsmiths' Company to the Commissioners in November last; he desires either to read that letter to the Commissioners, so that it may be embodied in his evidence, or that it may be printed as an appendix to his evidence, and as having been referred to therein by him.
Sir Fredrick Bramwell and Mr. Prideaux desire to refer to the returns made by the Goldsmiths' Company to the Commissioners in answer to their inquiries. Those returns they believe to be as full and as complete as it would be possible for the Company to give to the inquiries of the Commissioners; and the Goldsmiths' Company desire, in referring to those returns, to rest thereon their claim, not only not to be interfered with, but to a favourable report on the part of the Commissioners upon the state of things regarding the Company which by those returns is disclosed.
Evidence affecting the Goldsmiths' Company.
All three of the witnesses appear to have been writers in the public papers, or in periodical publications, through which they have endeavoured to create an opinion prejudicial to the Livery Companies.
Mr. Phillips says he has written articles which have appeared in various periodicals upon questions which in this Commission are being considered, and that he is the author of letters signed "Censor."
Mr. Gilbert states that he was consulted by some of the guardians of one of the poorer parishes in the city, and asked by them to write a pamphlet upon this subject, and after he had done that he wrote some articles in the "Contemporary Review," "The Fortnightly," and "The Nineteenth Century," and a couple of books upon the question.
With regard to Mr. Beal, we think we may ask the Commissioners to consider whether he is trustworthy. We ask them to compare his statements with the returns which have been made by the several Companies, and thereby to ascertain whether these statements are correct. The memorandum sent to the Commissioners on the part of the Merchant Taylors' Company will show how entirely he has misrepresented the case of Donkin's Charity, and he has stated that the site of the Grocers' Hall is included in Keble's Trust, meaning that it was subject to the trusts of Keble's will, whereas it will be found from the returns of the Grocers' Company that Keble's will was made more than a hundred years later than the time when the property was acquired by subscriptions from the members of the fraternity. These are two of many statements which might be referred to as examples of Mr. Beal's inaccuracies; others will appear in the course of the observations which I propose to make.
With regard to his evidence on the subject of the invalidity of the charters of the Company, and of their title to their general corporate property, we need only observe that he has shown himself to be entirely ignorant of the law; and with regard to Mr. Phillips's opinion thereon, whose opinion, considering that he is a barrister, might appear to be of some value, we desire to call attention to his misrepresentation of the effect of the speech made by Lord Selborne in the House of Lords in 1877, and to the correction which he received from the Lord Chancellor, delivered to him on the 21st June, 1882, in his Lordship's evidence before the Commissioners.
With regard to the evidence of Mr. E. J. Watherston, a disaffected member of the Goldsmiths' Company, who has informed you that he desired to disestablish the Company, we will say no more than what has been stated in the letter addressed to the Commissioners in November last.
Recommended appropriation of the Corporate Property by the State or some Public Body
The Commissioners have been asked by these witnesses, either directly or indirectly, to recommend the appropriation by the State, or the transfer to some person or persons (it does not appear clearly whom) of the general corporate property of the Company. And this demand has been made entirely on the assumption that the general corporate property of the Livery Companies is impressed with a trust. This is an entirely unfounded assumption. There is no ground for it whatever; in proof of which we appeal confidently to the opinion of the Lord Chancellor, given before the Commissioners, and to the legal decisions which have been delivered from time to time on the subject; consequently if the assumption upon which the demand has been made is unfounded and fails, the demand itself must fall to the ground, and it is manifest that the property of the Companies cannot be dealt with, or the revenues thereof appropriated, except by what would be tantamount to an act of confiscation.
The Goldsmiths' Company received none of their property by way of endowment from the Crown, or from any person or persons outside the Corporation itself. Its property was originally created by subscriptions and contributions from amongst the members themselves, and from gifts and devises made to them by members of their own body.
From the funds so acquired, a very considerable portion of their property was purchased from the Crown, after it had become vested in the Crown by the statute of the 1st of Edward the Sixth, and there is no more ground for interfering with it then there would be for the State to dispossess those landowners whose ancestors, after the abbey lands became forfeited, received grants of them from the Crown. If there really be any question as to the right of the Company to deal as it pleases with its general corporate property, the Companies claim that the question be decided by a court of law in the due administration of justice, and not by the opinion of Messrs. Beal, Phillips, and Gilbert.
Original intention of Foundation.
The original intentions of the founders of the Company are shown by the Company's returns: the protection of their trade or mystery was one of them, but there can be no doubt that there were other objects of a charitable and social character. In point of fact it was (to use the old name) a fraternity, and hospitality and social enjoyment amongst themselves were amongst its objects. It is clear that there has been, by an unbroken practice of at least five centuries, an indefinite and arbitrary, but a substantial, portion of their income applied to hospitality and entertainments. The expenditure in the year 1367 of 21l. 8s. 9d. upon a single entertainment, the value of money and the amount of the then property of the Company being taken into consideration, is an outlay which may compare with the costliest entertainment of modern days; and from that time down to the present such an application of a part of the Company's income has been habitual and continuous.
Upon the subject of the cost of these entertainments there has been the grossest exaggeration; and, indeed, the publications of the assailants of the Companies which preceded the appointment of the Commission are full of erroneous and prejudicial statements which never ought to have been made.
We will mention a few of them. In a book entitled "Municipal London," published in 1876, we find it stated at page 52 that "in those Companies where admission to the governing body is a matter of seniority, it is customary for members to enter their sons on the rolls of the Company before they are breeched, so that they may have substantial benefit from it in their early manhood." This is manifestly untrue, for no man can be admitted to the freedom and enrolled a member of any of those Companies until he is 21 years of age. Then at page 53 it is stated that "no advantage is, as a rule, now offered to any member of the particular trade who may wish to become a member of the Company, but he would be required to pay as much as anyone else." This is untrue as regards the Goldsmiths' Company, for a member of the trade or craft only pays half the sum paid by a person who does not belong thereto. Then at page 56 it is stated that "it is a matter of common repute that the estates of Companies are often leased to members at absurd rentals, enabling the lucky lessees to make an excellent profit in re-letting them." Upon this assertion we wish specially to remark.
The Commissioners, by their interrogatories, asked us to give an account of our property and of the leases under which it was held, with the name of the lessee or occupier, and it was asked whether he was a Member. After having read the passage last referred to in the work entitled "Municipal London," we can now understand what induced the Commissioners to make this inquiry. Now, although we cannot see any objection to a lease being granted to a member at the market value of the day, yet, as a matter of fact, in the case of the Goldsmiths' Company, Mr. Prideaux, in his long experience, does not know of any case in which any portion of their property has been leased to a member; and we believe the same may be said of the other principal Companies. The statement, therefore, is a very calumnious one.
The author, in the same page, speaks of the advantages which a member of the court of a City Company obtains. He speaks of the salary as if it was one of a very large amount. Now, a member of the court of the Goldsmiths' Company, if he be neither a warden nor a member of the Committee, were he to attend every court in a year, would receive under 50l.
The writer then says, "in addition to their salaries they sometimes find a bank note delicately secreted under their plates." So far as regards the Goldsmiths' Company, this is untrue, and we do not believe there is any foundation whatever for it as regards any other Company.
The Goldsmiths' Company have established 76 exhibitions at the Universities, which are given by competition and not by favour, and I never knew of anyone who was related to, or connected with, a member of the Court of the Goldsmiths' Company who held one of these exhibitions.
Furthermore, the writer says, at page 68, that "the Charters of all the Incorporated Companies expressly state them to be composed of working members of the different trades or mysteries which they represent." This, again, is incorrect. At the time when the later charters were granted, a great number of the members of the fraternities were notoriously persons who did not belong to the trades whose names the Companies bear, and at the date of the letters patent of James I. of the 24th July 1619, by which the King confirmed to the Goldsmiths' Company the possession of all the property which they then possessed, specifying the houses and tenements in a particular manner, neither the members of the Corporation nor of the Governing Body were exclusively members of the trade. Indeed, there is every probability that the majority of the members were not connected therewith.
At page 73 of the same book, the writer says, speaking of the Goldsmiths' Company: "It is commonly reported, with what truth we know not, the pension of a decayed Goldsmith is in some cases as much as 300l. a year." An examination of the returns made by the Goldsmiths' Company will show how utterly unfounded this statement is.
Again, at page 85, we find the following passage in a note: "It is said that the Goldsmiths expend more than 30,000l. per annum in dining, and the Fishmongers, Ironmongers, Clothworkers, Skinners, and Grocers are not far in the background."
An examination of the returns of the Goldsmiths' Company will show that the expenditure on entertainments, including, of course, wines, on an average of 10 years has been under 6,000l. a year, or about one eighth part of the total income of the Company.
Many of these erroneous statements are repeated in
Mr. Gilbert's book, entitled "The City," published in
1877. This writer, moreover, quotes a letter from the
"Weekly Dispatch," signed "Nemesis," in which the
writer says of the Goldsmiths' Company that it has a
total assumed income of over 150,000l. per annum, of
which we have no account except as regards certain
properties which he specifies, and of these properties he
mentions the following: —
6 houses at Alb. Hay,
5 " at Halle, and
6 " at Malton,
of which houses or places we never heard, nor have we the smallest idea to what properties he alludes.
Mr. Firth's Propositions.
In the work intituled "Municipal London," the writer sums up his case against the livery companies in nine propositions, all of which are, either partially or entirely, unfounded, except so far as they contain matter of opinion.
Connexion with Municipality.
This is directly contrary to the decision of the judges delivered in a judgment in error in 1775, which reversed the disfranchisement of Mr. Alderman Plumbe upon a prosecution of the common serjeant in the Lord Mayor's Court, for refusing to summon the livery of the Goldsmiths' Company, of which he had been at the time prime warden, to attend at Guildhall to hear His Majesty's answer to the humble address and remonstrance of the Corporation of London, in the mayoralty of Mr. Alderman Beckford, on which occasion Lord Chief Justice de Grey is reported to have said: "Thus far we know that the constitution of the city of London does not contain these companies. I mean originally and from their charters and all prescriptive rights: it is by subsequent action that they came now to bear the relation they do to these companies as livery. The livery are not formed out of their corporate body, some of them are supposed to have existed immemorially. They are not created by the King, but if it was a grant from the King they are not essential to the constitution, but might exist independently of it; therefore, whatever their constituent parts, their obligations, duties, powers, customs, and rights are, either as altogether or as individuals, they are no part of the city customs, but a subordinate detached and independent body—I mean independent with regard to their original institutions." And in another part of his judgment the Lord Chief Justice says: "Much less have we judicial knowledge of the particular subordinate rights of fraternities, companies, and guilds which make a part of the city, though not a part of the Corporation of the city originally, nor of their subordinate power, duties, and offices."
Now, with regard to this matter, we have to make a very grave complaint. It is this, that Mr. Beal in his evidence before the Commissioners has actually represented that the judgment was in favour of the Corporation instead of the Goldsmiths' Company.
By question 824 he was asked by the hon. member for Chelsea, "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?" to which he answered "Yes." He was then asked, "What was the effect of that decision?" to which he replied, "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;'" and on referring to "Municipal London," page 43. we find in a note it is stated that in the case of the trial of the Refractory Companies in 1773, "the Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company was successfully prosecuted in the Mayor's Court for inattention to a summons to Common Hall on other that election business."
The truth is that an information of disfranchisement was filed against Mr. Alderman Plumbe in the Mayor's Court, and a verdict given for the plaintiff. The defendant obtained a writ of error, and the judgment was reversed by a Court of Error on the occasion above referred to. It is manifest that if Mr. Beal's evidence, and the statement in "Municipal London," had passed unnoticed and uncorrected the Commissioners might have been entirely misled.
The fact is, that the liverymen have the right of voting for some of the city officers (not all) if they are also freemen of the city of London; but a citizen may be a freeman and a liveryman of a company without being a freeman of the city of London, and it is possible that none of the members of a company might be free of the city. Some of the companies have no livery, and that this was so, so far back as the middle of the 17th century, is shown by the recitals in an Act of the Common Council passed on November 4th, 1651, which are as follow: "Whereas by the ancient charters granted and confirmed to this city, the election of the mayor, sheriff, and other officers of the said city ought to be by the citizens or commonalty, whereby it is evident that the commonalty, either personally (if without confusion it might be done) or by their representatives chosen by them for that purpose, were to have votes on all such elections; but of later times the masters, wardens, and liveries of the several companies of this city have used and taken upon them, with the exclusion of all other citizens, to make the said elections, which practice of theirs seems to be grounded upon an Act of Common Council, made the 23rd day of September, in the seveth year of King Edward IV., before which time the same elections had been made by a certain number of persons chosen out of every ward for that purpose, as appeareth by an Act or Order of the Common Hall, made in the 20th year of King Edward III., whereby to avoid inconveniences which happened before that time in general assemblies of the citizens, the method of elections by representatives was appointed. Now, forasmuch as divers companies of the citizens of this city have no livery at all, and so have no manner of vote in the elections by liveries, and for that by the constitution of most of the other companies, the liveries thereof are not chosen by the whole brotherhood but by a few, as namely by the wardens and assistants only, and thereby the greatest part of the citizens, members of those companies, are also excluded from having any vote, either in person or representation in the elections before mentioned; and so that great privilege of choosing their mayor, sheriffs, and other officers is wholly taken away from them to their great great grief, occasioning thereby their often complaining."
Before the year 1835 no person could be admitted to the freedom of the city who did not belong to one of the trade companies, but by a resolution of the Court of Common Council of the 17th March 1835, this condition was repealed, and it is no longer necessary that a freeman should be a liveryman, or a member of one of the city companies.
Public Trust Property.
London Tradesmen and Artizans.
Estates applicable to charitable uses.
This, again, is untrue. With regard to the Goldsmiths' Company, we appeal confidently to the report of Mr. Hare, which has been sent to the Commissioners, a report made after an examination, at the hall of the Company, into all the charities vested in the Company, which examination extended over a period of upwards of three months.
Connexion with Trade.
The Goldsmiths' Company notably perform all these functions at the present time. They are entrusted by statute with the supervision of the trade, and they help to train artizans by offering prizes for excellence in the design and execution of works in the precious metals.
Companies to be Members of Trade.
The sixth proposition is, that "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 admissable."
We know of no law which would compel the Company to admit any person a member of it, unless he were entitled to become a freeman by servitude or patrimony; and that they have admitted members, irrespective of trade, from time immemorial, is notorious.
Companies subject to the control of the Corporation.
The seventh proposition is, that "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."
That some sort of control was exercised by the Corporation in ancient times there is no doubt. It has long ceased to be exercised. The Municipal Corporation Commissioners, in their report of the year 1837, say: "The Corporation possesses a very slight, indeed hardly more than a nominal, control over the companies."
Companies subject to the control of the Crown.
The eighth proposition is, that "The companies are subject to the control of the Crown, and their lands and monopolous privileges were only granted on condition that they performed certain duties. They have ceased to perform the duties, but they continue to hold the lands."
This is not true. The companies are not subject to the control of the Crown. The Goldsmiths' Company have stated in their returns, at page 58, that it is an established principle of law that the Crown cannot derogate from its own grant, and that when a charter has once been granted, the Crown cannot afterwards interfere with the operation of its provisions, or with the privileges, rights, and liabilities incident to a corporation. This statement, we contend, is a true representation of the law; and, with regard to the assertion that the companies continue to hold the lands granted to them on condition that they performed certain duties, we have to remark that it does not appear that any lands were granted to the companies by the Crown, excepting those for which they paid, and that the lands that are held by the companies, and which constitute their general corporate property, were, for the most part, given to them by members of their own body, either upon trusts which have been duly performed, or without any trust for their general corporate purposes, and many of these gifts and devises were made at times when most of the companies had ceased to perform any duties whatever.
Lands in hands of Corporations.
The ninth and last proposition is that "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."
If they were prevented from alienating their real property there might be some ground for the opinion here expressed; but they can sell in the same manner as any private proprietor, As to the public revenue, we have always considered that it would be right for corporations like those of the city of London to pay succession duty at stated periods.
This ninth proposition having been stated, the writer concludes with the remark that "if these propositions are established by the report of such a commission, there will not be much doubt as to what ought to be done with the Livery Companies;" and so he dismisses the case, apparently with perfect confidence as to the result.
To refer again to the subject of expenditure made on entertainments and hospitality, we wish to remark that entertainments, such as those of the Livery Companies, not only afford much enjoyment to the members of the companies themselves, but that they do real good in bringing together people of different classes and of different opinions. They are, in point of fact, English institutions; and the difference between the effect which is produced amongst Englishmen by differences of opinion, on matters of politics especially, from that which exists in the nations of the Continent, especially in France, may, we think, be traced to a great extent to the habit which Englishmen have of meeting together for purposes of good fellowship and conviviality. When a man who has rendered great services to his country abroad, returns to England, one of the first things that Englishmen do is to give him a dinner, which affords to a vast number of people an opportunity of seeing and hearing him. The Livery Companies of the city of London have enrolled amongst their members some of the most eminent men in England in all the professions. These men are frequently entertained with other persons at their halls, and it cannot be denied that these entertainments give them an opportunity of exercising an influence upon the community at large.
Mr. Prideaux remembers two eminent Frenchmen, each of whom, on separate occasions, after having dined at Goldsmiths' Hall, remarked to him how much he regretted that there were no such institutions as these companies in France. Those two persons were the late M. Odillon Barrot and M. de Lesseps.
This remark is gratuitously insulting. A dinner at Goldsmiths' Hall is conducted with as much decorum as any dinner of any body of gentlemen in the kingdom. It is not likely that Mr. Beal was ever asked to a dinner at Goldsmiths' Hall. Certainly he was never asked by any member of the governing body. We can only regard the above remark as a calumny of his own invention.
Before quitting the evidence of Messrs. Beal, Phillips, and Gilbert, we have to remark upon certain other passages therein. Mr. Phillips states he is the author of two articles in magazines, one in "The British Quarterly Review," the other in "Fraser." He is also the author of articles in papers signed "Censor." In answer to question 1470 he says: "Never in my life by one word that I have ever written have I suggested any dishonour to any single member of those companies."
This may be literally true. He has been too cautious; for to have singled out and named a member and imputed dishonour to him would have rendered him liable to the law of libel; but in one of his publications is the following passage, viz.: "The conduct of the companies has been such in their trusts as, if they had been private individuals, would have subjected them to be treated as criminals."
One of the points made by the three witnesses has been that what the Company have done in the promotion of objects of public utility, and especially of education, has been done of late years in consequence of the agitation which was instituted by themselves, or the persons whom they represent. In refutation of this, the Goldsmiths' Company appeal confidently to their own history.
At the commencement of this century the income of the Company was very small. By good management from that time to this it has gradually increased, and the charities of the Company and their expenditure upon objects of public utility, have, during the whole of that period, been commensurate with the increase of their income. As to education, it appears to have been always a favourite object of the Company. The voluntary expenditure upon Stockport school from the year 1830 to the year 1859, and also that on the schools at Cromer and Bromyard, as stated at page 56 of the Company's returns; the establishment of 76 exhibitions at the Universities, as also stated in the same return; the aid given to the Society for the Promotion of the Higher Education of Women, and the prizes for the encouragement of technical education in the design and execution of works in the precious metals, established by the Company 12 years since, are evidence of this.
The history of the Company's exhibitions furnishes a striking illustration of my assertion that the expenditure of the Company in charity has grown with its gradually increasing wealth. The first exhibitions were instituted in the year 1822, when three of 20l. each were established at each University. In 1828 the number was increased to five, and the amount to 25l. per annum. In 1829 the number was increased to six at each University. In 1834 it was resolved that a gratuity of 20l. be given to every exhibitioner who shall have graduated in honours. In 1837 three additional exhibitions were established at each University, and the amount was increased to 30l. a year. In 1839 two more were established at each University. In 1846 one more at each University. In 1849 five more were established at each University. In 1855 an exhibition of 50l. was established for a scholar of the City of London School. In 1860 an exhibition was placed at the disposal of Mr. Chase, the Principal of St. Mary Hall, for the encouragement of students at that hall. In 1865 the exhibitions were increased to 50l. a year. In 1871 ten more exhibitions were established at each University. And in 1876 the like number; so that at the present time there are 37 at Oxford and 37 at Cambridge, besides an exhibition at St. Mary Hall, and one for a scholar of the City of London School.
The Company have given the Commissioners what they asked for in presenting them with a detailed account of the expenditure of the Company for ten years. They would be perfectly ready to give such a statement for the last 30 years; and such a statement if given would show a gradually increasing charity expenditure, made out of the general corporate property of the Company, which has been continuous and commensurate with its increasing income.
In order that the Commissioners might have an opportunity of judging for themselves of the value of the expenditure upon general objects of charity and public interest so made, the Company have given for each year, as an appendix to their account, a list in detail of their donations, and they feel that they can confidently appeal to these details in proof of the care and discrimination with which the objects of their charity have been chosen.
Working classes benefited by the Company.
It has been the object of Mr. Beal and his friends to try to represent to the industrial classes at those public meetings of radical clubs which he has told the Commissioners he has frequented, that the working classes of the metropolis in some way or other would be benefitted by the transfer of the corporate property of the Livery Companies from the companies to some other body or trust, and used in some way for their benefit. We think, if the working classes listened to the counsels of a safer adviser, they would find that, instead of this being the case, a great deal of money which is now expended by the companies either directly or indirectly for their benefit would be withdrawn from them, and that they would not be likely to get an equivalent. Look at the expenditure in support of hospitals, dispensaries, working men's clubs, refuges, homes for working boys, orphan asylums, reformatory institutions, deaf and dumb persons, families of men who have suffered from explosions in mines, working lads' institutes, shipwrecked mariners, homes for incurables, surgical aid societies, and the pension society, asylums, and benevolent institutions connected with the trade whose name the Goldsmiths' Company bear.
Before we quit the subject of the donations made by the companies, we wish to call attention to the following passage in Mr. Phillips's article in the "New Quarterly Magazine," viz.: "Not a five pound note is voted by a single one of the eighty odd companies which is not ostentatiously advertised in every popular newspaper. Little do the public think that this show of charity covers a mal-administration of trusts and a reckless disregard of charitable intentions such as find no parallel. The fact is, that in many cases these votes of money to charitable purposes are neither more nor less than conscience money." All this is utterly untrue. The Goldsmiths' Company never advertised a donation made by them, and we do not believe that any other Company has done so. Some of these donations no doubt get into the public papers, but, in nine cases out of 10, we believe it would be found that the advertisement has come from the charitable institution benefited, and that it has been mentioned with a view to stimulate and encourage the charity of others.
As to the mal-administration of trusts, charged by the author, there is not the shadow of a pretence for the accusation. The whole passage contains a calumnious charge, for which there is no foundation—a charge which no public writer should have made without having ascertained that there were sufficient grounds for it.
With regard to the expenditure on the poor of the Company, which is made by the Company as trustees of several charities, we wish to state that the greatest care is taken in the investigation of overy application for relief. After each case has been visited and inquired into by a responsible officer, a written report is made to the standing committee of the Company, and, when the case comes to be considered the applicants are made to attend, if able to do so, in order that inquiries may be made of the applicants themselves. We desire to produce to the Commissioners the books containing the written reports upon these cases for the last 10 years. It is impossible, we believe, for greater care to be taken in the administration of the trusts reposed in the Company for the benefit of their poor. The amount of good done, and of real suffering and undeserved want which is relieved by these charities, is very great; and as a proof that they are administered with care and discrimination and so as not to weaken the spirit of self-dependence, we may mention that the number of members of the Company of this class who apply for assistance has been for some time gradually diminishing.