Evidences, 1883: Fishmongers' Company

Pages 322-324

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

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Fishmongers' Company

The deputation withdrew.

Deputation from Fishmongers Company.

The following gentlemen attended as a deputation from the Fishmongers' Company:—

Mr. John Hampden Fordham, Prime Warden.

Mr. Walter Charles Venning, a senior member of the Court, three times Prime Warden.

Mr. Joseph Trarers Smith, a senior member of the Court and past Prime Warden.

3059. (Chairman to Mr. Travers Smith.) I have read this document, and have no desire to crossexamine you upon it, because it sufficiently speaks for itself. I will only ask you what I have asked all the witnesses; you say that your property is in effect private property ?—So we believe.

3060. Except any that is held (if there is any in the Fishmongers' Company) upon special trust?— Upon special trust or condition. I may say that we have rather a larger amount of strictly trust property than some of the other companies.

3061. Perhaps not strictly trust, but you maintain it to be your own private property ?—We maintain that our corporate property is at our own absolute disposal.

3062. And that it would be the same if it were 10 or 20 times or 100 times as much ?—It would be the same; at the same time I may add that we quite recognise that there is a moral duty attaching to the administration of that property, though not a legal one.

3063. That is the case of every private proprietor, is it not ?—In a measure. I think I should like to say one word, if I may, because it is strictly apropos to what your Lordship has just said. I have taken out (knowing that was a subject to which the attention of the Commissioners had been drawn, and to which our attention was pointedly drawn in the first questions that were put to us) a few figures which I think may not be without interest to the Commissioners. Although we maintain that the property other than the trust property is at our own absolute disposal, I think the position of the matter is a little curious in this respect. The critics of the Company say you are bound to apply the whole of the increment upon the property which you receive for objects similar to those which are the objects of the direct trusts. We say, on the other hand, that it is at our absolute disposal; but while that is so, the Companies (at least the Company whom I have the honour to represent to-day) have really been spending on charitable objects and objects of beneficence and public utility very much more than the whole of the increment upon that very property; and not only so, but they have been spending very much more than the increment not alone upon that property, but upon the property which we claim to be at our own disposal as corporate property, even including in that corporate property such property as has been derived either from the fees or gifts or benefactions of our own members. I will give the Commissioners a few figures only in reference to that subject, and then I will not trouble them another moment. In the year 1700 the total net income of the Company was 2,078l. and some shillings and pence; in the year 1750 it was 5,797l.; in the year 1800 it was 9,728l., in the year 1850 it was 17,041; and in the year 1881 it had increased to 38,500l. Now giving a few figures as indicative of the distribution of our funds in the last year that I have mentioned (and that is the last year for which our accounts have been tabulated and made up) the 38,500l. in the year 1881 was applied in this way. In charitable and benevolent objects internal to the Company, that is their own members, within a few pounds of 15,000l. during the year; by way of increment to one of the charities which has been confided to us (that is St. Peter's Hospital and Alms-houses) 3,400l.; in external charities (these are votes to various public charitable and beneficent institutions) 4,000l., making 22,400l. applied to charities and benevolent objects out of an income of 38,500l. In addition to that we gave in that year 4,000l. for technical education, and we gave to trade objects 1,020l. The expenses of the entertainments and hospitalities of the Company were about (not quite but nearly) 5,500l.; so that in the year 1881, the income of the Company having been 2,078l. at the beginning of last century, and we having only received trust property that would pay an income of about 1,200l. a year since the beginning of the last century, we have spent, and that is not a greater proportion than has been in accordance with the universal tradition of the Company over a long series of years, 22,400l. in direct charitable and beneficent objects, besides 4,000l. on one particular class,—educational objects; and over 1,000l. (between 1,000l. and 2,000l.) on trade objects, and the prosecution of offenders under the Acts relative to the sale of fish, and assisting trade exhibitions and other matters of that sort. Of course there is a good deal that I might say in addition, but if the members of the Commission have no question to ask I will not intrude further upon them. I hope at any rate that the very short statement I have made will satisfy the Commissioners that we are applying not only the whole increment of any property that could have been treated as affected by a trust of any sort or kind, but I may say something like ten times the amount for charitable and beneficent objects, and that the proportion that we spend either on hospitality or entertainment or in a merely ornamental way is comparatively small.

3064. (Sir Richard Cross.) Do you take much interest in the Fisheries Exhibition going on?—A great deal. We are taking a very important part, I think I may say, in reference to that. We are advising constantly with the governing body of the exhibition, we have one or two members upon it, we are taking principal charge of the ceremonial connected with the opening, and have been really assisting them at all points. So, I may say, we did with regard to the Norwich Fish Exhibition, and we gave the use of our Hall and a very handsome subscription to the Shipwrights' Company, who are a small company and not a very powerful one, and with very small means. Really we paid their expenses in a large degree for them. That was a sufficiently important object to have brought the King of Sweden over for the purpose of inspecting the exhibition, and a great number of other foreigners of distinction. And in the same way we have done everything that has been done under the Acts for the condemnation of fish; wherever we hear of a breach of these Acts we immediately prosecute. No private person could do so, because it is exceedingly troublesome and exceedingly costly; we do it and do it successfully, and have never failed in any case. We have practically stopped the breaches of tho Acts, because we have no cases of the kind occurring now. Persons find that a powerful body like the Fishmongers' Company are independent of the result; they know that we have the best information; they know also that we have practically an unlimited purse behind us; they know that we are determined to succeed, and that we have succeeded in every past case, and the consequence is that we really have been the best and most effective organization that there could be for carrying out these Acts, and, I may say, that it was intended that we should act in that way, because the wording of the principal Act is this, that the prosecution of the offenders may be by any authority lawfully acting under any Act, Charter, or Byelaw, or by any person appointed by that authority. There is no doubt that those words were put in to enable the Fishmongers' Company, and their fish-meters, to prosecute in such cases, because that Act was promoted by Mr. Frank Buckland, who was in constant communication with our Company at that time, as indeed he was, I may say, during his lifetime with reference to all matters of interest connected with fish culture, and the protection of the trade. I hope (we all hope) that the Commissioners are perfectly satisfied not only that we have been desirous that they should have every possible information that the Company possesses, but that it still is and always will be absolutely at their command.

(Mr. Venning.) I should like to say that we are desirous of removing from the mind of the Commission any unfavourable impression that may have been made as to the Company's management of their Irish estates in some of the statements, especially those made by Dr. Todd. We consider that our conduct has been very unfairly impugned by his statements.

3065. (Chairman to Mr. Venning.) If there is anything you wish to say in addition to the statement already sent in perhaps you will be good enough to say that first ?—It has been alleged and much insisted upon that our Irish estate is held upon trust. It is perfectly clear from the documents that no trust whatever applies to us. There were certain trusts applying to the Irish Society, but we hold our Irish estate as undertakers having a clear conveyance from the Irish Society without any trust implied or stated in any way.

3066. You say, as I understand, that the twelve Companies and the Irish Society are separate things ? —Quite separate things, but it was the aim of Dr. Todd to blend them. He spoke of certain public duties which certainly the Irish Society had to perform, and he applied them to the whole of the companies. It is perfectly clear that His Majesty King James I. when he proposed that the city of London should relieve him of the trouble of defending that part of his dominions from those whom he described as "the mere Irish," intended they should do so for their profit. He says so in so many words in the papers he put out.

3067. And possibly for his own profit?—Yes, for his own, undoubtedly, and to save the public purse, and the City Companies fully performed that duty. About the brightest page in Irish history (the raising of the great siege of Londonderry) was undertaken mainly at the expense of the London Companies. They supplied ammunition, they supplied provisions, and in fact they supplied the men. The deeds contained an express stipulation against alienation to the "mere Irish " and to persons who could not take the oath of supremacy. My friend, Mr. Fordham, reminds me that, in the great case of the Skinners' Company against the Irish Society, in which there were opinions taken with which I may perhaps trouble your Lordship, there are the opinions of Mr. Serjeant Joy and Mr. John Sylvester, a former recorder of London, that there was no subsisting trust.

3068. I think the legal members of the Commission are very well acquainted with that case?—Yes, no doubt they are. Then, my Lord, I can lay before you evidence to show that instead of having rack-rented the tenants, in the invidious sense of that word, we have been very indulgent landlords. We have never raised our rents except as the result of valuations made by Irish valuers. We have never sent a valuer or estate agent from England, or even from Dublin; but we went to Londonderry for our valuer, and every field was valued on its own merits after an examination of the soil and all other particulars. It may be an interesting fact, with regard to a large estate like ours, that up to the present time, taking the ten years over which your Lordship's inquiry ranges, from 1870 to 1879 (and I think it would be gratifying to many English landlords to be in the same position that we are)—that in those ten years our loss of rent amounted to a sum of only 22l. 12s. 6d., that being pretty good evidence, we imagine, that our Irish tenants cannot be very severely rack-rented. There are a multitude of facts of that kind if it were not that one would be afraid of fatiguing your Lordships by givi g them.

3069. Though it is a separate thing and independent of law the Irish Society is composed of the twelve Companies, is it not ?—My Lord, it is a kind of committee of the Common Council; there are four or five aldermen and the rest are members of the Common Council, not necessarily connected with any Company whatever.

3070. But as a fact, are they not always members ? —No, they are chosen from the Common Council: in former times, I believe, the Common Council were all members of Companies, but it is not so now. The Prime Warden reminds me that we took the management of the estate on the death of George the Third in 1820. During the years that have elapsed since, the rise of rent on our estate has been perfectly insignificant; it was valued and let in 1820 at 7,600l. and it is now rented at only a few hundred pounds more than it was in the year 1820. It was one of Dr. Todd's assertions that we had done nothing for our tenants. We have in the document with which we have troubled your Lordships, shown that during the last 60 years we have spent 189,000l. upon various public works, upon charities, and upon schools. We have at all times supported schools over the estate in which the children of working men as well as of tenants, are educated, and we have spent a considerable sum upon buildings and roads and plantations. In fact we have done everything which a prudent landlord would do under the circumstances, and the expenditure comes to that large sum of 189,000l. in the 60 years. Then another fact which we have shown to your Lordship in detail in our statement is the enormous sums at which our tenants sell their tenant right. Many of the tenants having leases with about 12 years to run have sold their tenant right from time to time (we have rather a long list of them), at an average equal to 25½ years, purchase, which really goes very far to negative the possibility of there being any "rack-rent" in our case.

3071. There again you see that is your view. I do not doubt the fact at all—Yes, it is our view; but we are prepared to prove every fact of this kind.

Adjourned sine die.